Leonard received a message from Marta with a peculiar request; she wanted to visit Morgan Ayodele’s grave. This excited Leonard because it meant that Marta might be willing to discuss her relationship with his former teacher. He was surprised to find Morgan buried so nearby, in a cemetery less than two miles away, and it made Leonard wonder about how many other acquaintances might be scattered beneath the countless headstones. If this pseudo investigation had made him aware of anything, it was how true the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ was. He parked a little way from the entrance and walked in, the central pathway was cobbled and dusted with pebbles and other shingle. The groundskeeper’s shed was tucked in on the inside right just beyond a World War 2 memorial, and it was there that Marta had suggested they would meet. He walked over to it to find someone other than Marta; the groundskeeper himself.
“Can I help you?” The man asked as he was about to climb onto his industrial lawnmower, and he wore a green jumper with thick, protective gloves.
“No, I’m just waiting for someone,”
“Could be waiting a long time mate, this lot here aren’t the sort to be on time,” he said with a grin which caused creases across his eyes, cheeks and forehead. Leonard realised that he was referring to the deceased who inhabited the cemetery and responded with an awkward moan that was supposed to be a chuckle.
“The person I’m waiting for is alive,”
“Them lot are even less reliable,” he muttered as he fired up the lawnmower and it shuddered to life, before both man and machine gently accelerated away. Leonard saw a bench by the World War 2 memorial and decided to sit down as he waited. The graveyard was quiet and the air had a light, grassy stench that was not unpleasant. A plethora of well-kept flowers flanked the entrance before becoming more wild as his eyes combed the outer limits of the yard, and a few trees provided a sense of perspective revealing it to be a large cemetery. A compact 4×4 vehicle wobbled along the outer road before finding its way on to the main path, he watched as it grew louder with proximity and soon disappeared past the gates. It would take a further ten minutes before Marta could be seen entering the graveyard and stepping past the monument, she waved as she noticed him sitting on the bench.
“Sorry I’m late,” she apologised, “let’s get started because it’s a bit of walk,” she continued as they started on their way and it would take them a further minute, walking at a brisk pace, before they were there. Morgan Ayodele had an austere black ledger-marker designating his resting place, and the inscription was written in gold. It read:
HERE LIES MORGAN AYODELE
BELOVED BROTHER, FATHER AND FRIEND
MAY HE BE BLESSED BY GOD’S ETERNAL MAJESTY
The grave itself was marked by dirt and dried rain, and the grass around its sides was almost as tall as the headstone itself. A modest bouquet rested on its surface and it had started to harden and flake, and so Marta picked it up and replaced it with one she had brought with her today. Leonard felt embarrassed that he hadn’t thought to bring a bouquet of his own and so he offered to take the dying flowers to a bin; Marta passed them to him gratefully. The bin was located next to an odd contraption that looked like a trough and was overfilled with water, unfortunately the bin was full. He tried to stuff it in but couldn’t and since another mourner was starting to take notice, he walked at a busy pace to find another bin. By the time he had returned to Marta he saw her sitting on the headstone with her head bowed and her hands clasped in prayer; not wanting to interrupt her, he too clasped his hands and closed his eyes as he listened to her words.
“Morgan I hope you are happy where you are and that you are looking after Karim. You two never really got a chance to meet but I’m sure you would have been close. I pray that you are in heaven and that you are enjoying God’s grace, and that God can share some of that grace with me because I have difficult days and dark days when it’s not so easy. I’ve,” she paused and turned to look at Leonard, who opened his eyes when he realised that she had stopped talking.
“Would you like a minute alone?” He asked and she nodded, and so he walked away to give her some privacy. Once she had finished she came to join him, and he wasn’t entirely sure if her eyes were bleary because they had been closed or because she had been crying.
“Thank you for coming with me today, most of Morgan’s family live oversees so I don’t have anyone else to come with me,”
“What about Morgan’s, um Paulie’s mother?”
“She passed away when Paulie was a child.”
“Really? I never knew!” Leonard gasped, as a sombreness shortly overcame him.
“I’ve already asked a lot of you today, but would you like to come with me to visit Karim.”
“Of course! Is he buried here?”
“No, I had him cremated. We’ll need to go back to mine,” she explained as they left the cemetery together.
Marta didn’t know how to drive, so they both got into Leonard’s car and she directed him from the front passenger seat. It was a bit stuffy in the car, so Leonard pressed a button to open their windows which allowed a much needed breeze inside. Leonard, as was his gregarious nature, attempted to start a conversation with Marta however he soon realised that she wasn’t in the mood; she rested on the door and gazed at the passing street as though deep in thought. Leonard was ok with the silence and, thankfully, it wasn’t an awkward one as they were comfortable enough with each other to not need to force unnecessary chatter. Leonard pulled down the sun visor as the sun was high and bright, and Marta shortly responded in kind. As fifteen minutes became twenty minutes, and twenty minutes became half an hour Leonard realised how far Marta lived from the cemetery. It would be an awkward journey to take by public transport and so wasn’t the kind of trip one would make flippantly. Leonard pulled off the side of the main street and took two right turns to find himself at a brand new apartment block. It wasn’t overly developed and probably housed a maximum of twenty residents; there were a number of freshly cut lawns and an intricately paved central area which was in stark comparison to the grime of the high street.
“How long have you been here for?” Leonard asked as he slowed to a stop.
“About five months now, this place is closer to where I work and it’s a nice enough area,” she replied as they both exited the car. Marta was currently employed as an office manager in a business that sold educational resources to schools, teachers and relevant businesses. He had originally believed her to be a teacher however her Facebook profile was outdated; her connection to Karim’s death made DBS checks difficult and potential employers wary, so she was forced to abandon teaching. It hadn’t taken long for both Marta and Leonard to realised that her company was responsible for selling the textbook Leonard was currently developing, and this in turn further endeared them to each other. It also helped to explain Marta’s continued willingness to excavate her past for Leonard, as without him she wouldn’t have known that she was selling her own life experiences to the general public via textbook. She had originally joined the company as part of the online team, and was responsible for posting listings and checking that the language used was au fait with the national curriculum. Following a successful year for the company, her job rapidly morphed from being “Content Editor” to “General Content and Office Supervisor” within a couple of months. The pseudo-promotion did come with a pay rise, however, it wasn’t an easy adjustment and in hindsight the pay rise was, in her estimation, inadequate and offered before the full extent of her responsibilities was revealed. They went through the central doors and used the elevator despite the apartment building only having two floors, and the second floor hallway had a waxed wooden floor and smooth stone walls that gave it a modern vibe. Once inside her apartment Leonard felt a pang of jealousy, her home had an upstairs area and was much larger than his own apartment. The one equaliser, however, was that her place was noticeably bare and that aside from a few chairs and a potted plant in the corner, it looked as though she has only just moved in.
“It was either a nice flat with no amenities, or an ugly flat with all the amenities and then some. So you can guess what I picked,” she explained as though she could read his mind, and the way she rolled out the comment suggested it was something she had to frequently explain.
“Would you like anything to drink?” She asked.
“Just a glass of water, my word it’s a hot day! Where did the sun come from?” He replied as she nodded her head in agreement and handed him a glass of water. He sat down on a red wraparound sofa that was the only form of seating aside from the handful of chairs around the kitchen table.
“I’ll just get it,” she muttered in an odd tone that suggested she was answering a question that he had asked. She disappeared upstairs and he could hear the thud of her steps as she retrieved whatever it was she was looking for. He heard a sliding door before her footsteps promised her return, and she stepped downstairs carefully with an object in her hand. It was a blue metallic star with round edges and had an etched message which he couldn’t properly read because her hands obscured it.
“This is Karim,” she explained and Leonard’s eyes widened in acknowledgement as he realised he was staring at the ashes of a young boy.
“Can I hold it?” Leonard asked and she nodded as she passed it over, and he turned it around delicately between his two hands. A lump formed in his throat as he traced the inscription with fingers: K A R I M.
“I asked the inscriber to use his handwriting, I gave them a sheet Karim had been using to spell his own name,” she commented as she noticed where Leonard’s gaze had fallen.
“I’m so sorry,” Leonard said as the gentle weight of the urn brought with it a certain reality that his search had, as of this moment, existed without. Strange; he had thought that the urn would have been weightier, he found it hard to believe that a child weighed so little. It once again reinforced the aphorism “out of sight, out of mind” as he glumly acknowledged that the weight of things removed had almost no weight at all.
“It’s a lovely urn,”
“Thank you, blue was Karim’s favourite colour.” She replied as he handed back the urn.
“Why did you cremate him?” Leonard asked before continuing, “if you don’t mind me asking?”
“No it’s fine, it’s just how we do things in my family. The only person who was buried was my late uncle who married into the family and had superstitious views about cremation. Both great grandparents, and from what I’ve heard distant cousins, have all been cremated.”
“Is it reassuring to have him so close?”
“Sometimes, other times it’s unsettling. Every so often I’ll toy with the idea of dispersing his ashes somewhere but I can never go through with it. I’m embarrassed to admit it but I keep his urn in a cupboard in my bedroom.” She grimaced as she placed his urn on the coffee table and rested her head on her hands.
“Does Karim’s father ever come to visit?”
“I don’t know where he is nor where to find him, Karim was a, shall we say, holiday present.”
“I had kind of hoped Morgan could be Karim’s father, but then he passed away.” She sighed as she walked over to the kitchen area to pour herself a glass of water. Leonard eyed the urn nervously as the conversation started to head into the desired direction, yet he considered changing the topic out of respect for the occasion. He scuttled these fears, however, as he realised that there wasn’t ever going to be an ideal time for this discussion.
“What’s the story with you and Morgan?” Leonard asked bluntly as she returned to sit next to him.
“We’ve been together on and off for years, and our relationship began just after I started working at the school up until his death. We had to keep it secret though, because he was afraid it could affect his job at the school.”
“Enough people suspected!” Leonard commented to which Marta offered a knowing sigh.
“He couldn’t keep his hand off me, and even though he was the one who wanted to keep it quiet he was also the one who kept spilling the beans. He did whatever he could to keep me in his lessons and made sure that I was always involved with the Languages Club even when I wanted to stop. During that time though it was always fun and exciting.”
“What happened after we both left the school?”
“We stayed in touch although he was a very jealous person and would accuse me of things, so we took a break. He was afraid that I was seeing other men and even though I wasn’t, and wanted us to be together, I couldn’t stand the constant accusations. Eventually I had enough and I went abroad to teach English for a year and that’s when I got pregnant.”
“Did you still care for him?” Leonard questioned as he leaned forward in his chair.
“Yes especially since he was surprisingly accepting of my pregnancy. It was crazy how much he loved me, he loved me too much and I suppose that’s why he was so afraid of me cheating on him. It was almost as if when I became pregnant, he could relax because his fears had been confirmed. Morgan never needed exclusivity with me, I actually wanted us to get married but he was against it. For Morgan it was all about…” she stuttered and clicked her fingers as she looked for the right word.
“Control?” Leonard finished for her as she nodded her head in agreement.
“Yes, control,” Marta confirmed as she leaned back in her chair and took another sip of her water.
“Where was Paulie in all of this?
“Paulie wasn’t around much, or at least he wasn’t around whilst I was with Morgan.” Marta replied with a blank look in her eyes.
“Did he have an opinion on your relationship?”
“He didn’t really seem to care about us, although I suspect he was the one who started the rumours at school.”
“Why would he do that?”
“No idea, I never understood Paulie. He was always sweet one minute and really snide and cutting the next; I think he never really got over his mother’s death. She died when he was eight or nine, and I think he would have been that way with anybody who was in a relationship with his dad.”
“How was Morgan with Paulie?”
“How do you mean?”
“Did you see anything…inappropriate?”
“You’ve should already know, since you’ve read the court documents!” She replied with a sudden bitterness, causing the conversation to come to an abrupt end. Leonard uttered an apology to which Marta shrugged her shoulders before accepting it in a mild tone of voice. Leonard wanted to know more, however, he knew it would only annoy her if he continued this line of questioning.
“Do you keep in touch with anyone from the Languages Club?”
“Not really, aside from you everyone was either much younger than me or not much of a talker. I don’t know if it was because I was a TA but the rest didn’t talk to me like you used to.”
“Really? I never picked up on that.”
“I guess it’s easy to miss when you’re not involved,” she murmured in agreement as they continued to reminisce and chat about their mutual acquaintances long into the evening.
When Leonard arrived home he found the lights turned off and a plate of foil wrapped food on the kitchen counter. He carefully waded through the dark as he stroked his way to the slit of light that could be seen beneath their bedroom door. For the briefest moment he felt like a burglar robbing his own house, and hunched his back as he stalked his way towards the door. He hoped that he would be able to scare Marianna and so burst in, however, upon entering he noticed that she looked quite peeved and a sudden discomfort gripped him.
“What time do you call this?”
“I, I mean it’s not that late.”
“Well you’re too late to hear all my gossip from work so it is that late.”
“I can still hear it Marianna,” he replied as he removed his trainers and socks, he sat on the bed before moving to the desk chair so that he could look at her as they spoke.
“Well it’s old news now, I needed someone to be hear when I got home and you weren’t about so I shared it with the neighbours instead.”
“I’d still like to hear about it,”
“I’m tired we can talk about it tomorrow,” she yawned as she turned away from him. He saw her body gently illuminated by the lamp, and the contours of the duvet framed her ample physique.
“You look beautiful you know,”
“What?” She asked with a dry and tired voice.
“I just said that you look lovely,”
“Oh just get to bed,” she complained as she rolled to the side to give him space to enter. Leonard sighed as he returned to the kitchen to put the food in the fridge, before changing into his sleepwear and getting into bed.
Across the next few months Leonard continued his informal meetings with Marta and was dismayed by the lack of progress he had made since the graveyard trip. His investigation was rapidly declining in urgency and purpose, as he had become less of a detective and more of a friend. It was hard for him to ignore the urn and having held the ashes in his own hands, he wished that he could view what happened as just a tragedy but he couldn’t; his desire to understand why Karim died remained. It was clear that he was stuck between a rock and a hard place, or his curiosity and his condolences to be more specific, as he realised that while he couldn’t let it go, he didn’t know how to get back on track.
On a lazy Sunday he ate a pot of yoghurt on the sofa, as Marianna aimlessly chatted to him about bits and pieces whilst she ironed their clothing. He could hear the sound of a van being unpacked outside and the room was softly lit by the six o’clock sun, he licked the spoon forlornly having finished the yoghurt pot.
“Every day is so awkward knowing what I know, you know what I mean? They’re going to close the gym and a lot of people are going to lose their jobs except for me and a few others, in fact I’m even getting promoted.”
“It’s good for you though, you deserve it. Crazy how it’s happened, I can see why it’s got you in a mess.”
“It definitely has because it’s like there’s always an elephant in the room, but I’m the only one who can ignore it because I’m the only one who knows it’s even there in the first place.” They fell into a relaxed silence as Leonard’s mind was peacefully blank, he listened to the gentle dragging sound of the iron being raked over clothing.
“Can you pass me a yoghurt?”
“Fair,” he replied as he snapped out of his trance and meandered to the fridge; he wanted to take the last strawberry pot but he knew the others didn’t like the cherry flavour, so he took that one instead.
“So why is the place being closed?”
“Two reasons; the first is because the company is losing money, so there’s a restructuring and rebranding process going on. That’s why I’m getting the promotion, they want me to be involved in coming up with a strategy for South-East London. The other reason is because Lola had no idea what she was doing and our gym is an absolute mess! The financial records are a jumble, we have dozens of registered members who stopped paying and attending years ago and our health and safety information is severely outdated. If head office didn’t close us down, an inspector would have!”
“When is it official?”
“In six to eight months’ time, and I have no idea why they’re dallying with it,”
“So no one suspects huh?”
“Well a few of the staff are gossiping and I imagine that they’ve noticed we’ve had a lot of upper management coming in to visit, so they’re on edge. I keep wanting to ask them what they think is going on, but if I do that I’d have to tell them. It’s hard being the boss when you used to be a co-worker, I guess I’m not used to being out of the loop.”
“I reckon you should ask them anyway; it might put your mind at rest?”
“Maybe I will,” she replied as she unplugged the iron and put it safely on the kitchen counter. He heard the metal scrape as she folded the ironing board and slid it into place in between the fridge and the freezer. Leonard switched on the TV as he continued the evening alone, and he took the solitude to think about the rut he had fallen into with regards to his investigation. He eventually decided that it was due to two main reasons, firstly he had become quite fond of Marta and so during their last few meetings he had asked soft questions and avoided unpleasant topics. Secondly he still didn’t know if she knew about Paulie’s abuse at the hands of his father, and without knowing this he couldn’t make any genuine progress at all. Ultimately if she didn’t know then Leonard would probably give up his investigation, after all it would mean that Paulie could have targeted anybody from their school because his decisions would have been based on paranoia and not facts. If this was the case it’s likely that no reasonable precautions could have been made to stop him from doing what he did, or something similar at some other point in his life. On the other hand, if Marta did know about his abuse, then Paulie did target her for a specific reason and that coloured things in a more concerning way. It would mean that Marta was complicit in his abuse, to whatever degree, and that she ultimately played a meaningful role in the death of her son. Upon realising this Leonard felt a sudden dislike for these two people he had once considered to be his friends, coupled with a feeling of powerlessness due to his ignorance that these horrible things had even taken place.