“It’s my great-grandfather's funeral today," Edward informed me. He stared into his almost empty glass. “But I didn’t go. Not because we had a falling out or anything, you understand."
I didn't, but remained silent. I had had a bad day at the office, so was not inclined to get into a deep, philosophical discussion about funerals, or football, or any other topic. My silence was intended to discourage him. As soon as I had perched on the bar stool, he had sauntered towards me. I had not been quick enough to find somewhere else to sit. Now, I was stuck with Edward. The other customers, knowing Edward had found himself a companion for the night, relaxed into their own conversations.
Edward did not take my hint. He looked at me with unfocused determination etched on his alcohol-numbed features.
"He was a great man, Jack Saunders. I loved him. I was invited, but I wouldn’t go. He was a war veteran. One of the last survivors. A very old man."
"I didn’t know Jack Saunders was your great-grandfather."
"Yes," Edward said, with pride. "They ... the Government, have planned a big funeral for him, a hero’s funeral." He frowned. "Exactly what he wouldn’t’ve wanted. He was a humble man, won loads of medals, but a humble man. He’d’ve hated all the attention."
"A country needs its heroes," I observed.
"They were all heroes, every one of them who took part. Great-granddad never saw himself as a hero."
"Isn't it good that his heroism is being recognised?"
"Don't you think it would’ve been better to do it while he was alive? Where were all the politicians then, huh? Every winter when he could barely heat his little hovel? When his arthritis kept him indoors on summer days? Were they interested in him then? No. They waited ‘til he was dead and then they turned his funeral into a … a media show. With the great and the good vying for the best seats in the abbey, in front of the cameras."
"Isn't it an honour?"
"We weren’t asked. It was just assumed we’d be delighted with the honour. But it’s not our choice. The person who should’ve been asked was Great-granddad, but he never was, and it would never have occurred to him that something like it could happen to him. He would’ve preferred a quiet funeral, in our village, with his family and friends. Not in some huge cathedral filled with people he’d never met, or who didn’t even know him. No, they took his final, private moment from him, from us, from his family.”
Edward pointed at the television. On the screen, the coffin bearing the remains of Private Jack Saunders was being carried up the aisle of Westminster Abbey watched by hundreds, thousands of people who never knew him.
“That's why I’m not there."