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Chapter 7: THE FUNERAL

I can do this.

I button my white dress shirt all the way up to my neck and straighten the collar.

The day of the funeral. I can do this.

Jahid: Are you going to do something to your hair?

I glance at myself in the full-body mirror in Jahid’s bedroom. My hair and beard look like a disaster. I’ve been due a haircut and a shave for a while now…

Valo: I guess I’ll comb it or something.

Jahid: That… that’s all?

I shrug.

Valo: I do need a haircut, but there’s no time for that now.

Jahid purses his lips.

Jahid: I could trim it.

Jahid: I’m a barber, remember?

I blink. Oh, right!

Valo: Sure.

Jahid directs me to the bathroom, makes me sit down on a chair and spreads a towel on my shoulders. He produces a pair of scissors and a comb from a cupboard and gets to work. He combs through my hair thoroughly, carding his fingers through the strands. He starts trimming my hair with the scissors. My eyes slip closed on their own.

Jahid: You had an undercut, right?

I blink, waking up from the reverie.

Valo: Yeah.

Jahid hums.

Jahid: Do you want me to trim it or do you want to grow it out?

Valo: Trim it, please.

Jahid: Yes, sir.

He digs through the cupboard again and pulls out electric clippers and its cord.

Jahid: How short do you want it? Nine millimetres?

I have no idea what that means.

Valo: Sounds good.

Jahid starts cutting my hair with the clippers. The buzz of the device is surprisingly calming.

Jahid: Your hair is… rather dry. What conditioner do you use?

Valo: I don’t use conditioner.

Jahid: …

Jahid: I see.

Eventually, Jahid finishes with the trim.

Jahid: How’s this?

He shows his handiwork to me with a small mirror. I give him a thumbs-up.

Valo: That was fast.

Jahid: I’m not quite done yet.

He gets some kind of product on his hands and rubs it through my hair, pushing it back from my forehead.

Jahid: There we go. I knew we could dig up a presentable Valo from there.

Valo: Can you shave my beard too?

Jahid: Of course!

He steps in front of me and bends his knees to inspect my beard.

Jahid: I’ve always been envious of how full your beard is…

He rubs his fingers on my jaw and chin. It feels so nice that I’m almost about to start purring.

Jahid: I can only grow a goatee around my mouth and the rest is only stubble…

His voice resonates through my chest and makes me feel warm. It’s making my heart flutter. He’s probably just being nice.

Jahid: Are you sure you want to get rid of it all? It’d be a shame…

I open my eyes (when did I close them?) and wow, holy shit, Jahid is really close. He’s staring straight into my eyes, waiting for an answer.

Shit. Fuck. What did he ask again?

Valo: Yeah, let’s go with that.

Jahid: Just a trim?

I nod, avoiding his eyes. Why do I have the feeling this has happened before? And who gave Jahid permission to have so many colours in his eyes? All those browns and yellows…

Jahid gets a pair of smaller scissors, gently tilts my head back and starts working on my beard. He’s so close to my face… I hope he won’t see the blood rushing to my cheeks. Just as I think that I can tolerate Jahid’s proximity, he moves to trim my moustache. His finger grazes my lower lip and my lip starts tingling immediately.

My lips have never been as dry as they are now. I have to resist the urge to lick them. It doesn’t help that Jahid’s scissors are so gentle that they tickle my skin.

Jahid pulls back and looks at his handiwork. He nods and steps back.

Jahid: Hold still. I have to brush the loose hair away.

He puts the scissors away and runs his fingers through my beard again.

Jahid: This is a treat for me, honestly. I get to style beards so rarely. Most of the time, people want it all shaved away.

He shakes loose hair from his hands and steps away to the cupboard again. He pulls out yet another container, rubs some of the contents to his hands and then rubs his hands on my beard.

Jahid: Beard oil. It’s a shame that not many people use it. Or even know that it exists.

I swallow. Yes. Beard oil. Very important.

Jahid carefully removes the towel from my shoulders and shakes the hair onto the floor. As he sweeps them into a dustpan, I stand up and check myself in the mirror.

It’s almost like going back in time. I look almost like none of the past month or so hasn’t happened. Almost. The tired, haunted look in my eyes and the huge dark circles are still the same, so are the bruises on my cheek and jaw from the university incident. Still hinting at the fact that my life has taken a nosedive.

Jahid: What do you think?

I twitch. I forgot Jahid was still there.

Valo: Great. I look like a human again!

Jahid smiles. There’s a melancholic quirk on his brow, though.

Jahid: You looked like a human all along. But… a human who’s had some hard times.

Dear jesus, how can someone be so sweet?

Valo: What do I owe you?

Jahid blinks.

Jahid: Nothing! I’m not on the clock.

Jahid: Besides, trimming a beard is a treat on its own.

He grins, making my heart flutter again.

He… he’s just being nice.

After that, we relocate to Jahid’s living room to get my camera and our ties. A solemn silence falls between us as it sinks just where we’re going.

This is going to be the last time I ever see my mother…

Jahid: Can you get the tie yourself?

…I can’t. Tying it with a cast with one hand is hard. I nod and Jahid steps closer, bringing his hands to my throat. This is the second time I have to let myself be vulnerable in front of Jahid today.

I think back to when we were in upper secondary school. Our positions were often the opposite back then…

Jahid, unaware of my thoughts, swiftly twists the tie into a neat knot at the base of my throat. He turns my collar down and smooths the shoulders of my shirt also.

His hands linger on my shoulders.

Valo: …

Valo: Thank you.

Jahid: You’re welcome.

Jahid’s voice is quiet but warm, husky in a way I’ve never heard it before. He watches me for a few seconds before he steps back.

Jahid: Ready to go?

I nod.

We move to the door and put our shoes on.

Jahid: Do you have everything? Keys? Camera? Phone?

I nod at each item, even giving them a pat to ensure that they hadn’t run away since the last time I acknowledged their existence.

Jahid: And Lim said that Aalto would have the flowers for us.

Jahid: That’s all of our stuff, then. Shall we?

I nod again. Let’s just get this over with.

We get to the mortuary without an incident. Dad, Aalto and Sami, Aalto’s boyfriend, are already there, with uncle Vilho, mom’s brother and his new wife and Maria, mom’s best friend. Jahid and I shake hands and hug everyone.

After I introduce Jahid, I get some questions about the TTS and I get a short answer.

Aalto: I… I’m glad you could come.

Valo: I would never forgive myself if I missed this.

Aalto nods, crossing her arms.

Aalto: …

Aalto: Listen, I… Back at the hospital, I was a little… irritated. I’m sorry about that.

I smile at her.

Valo: No, it’s fine. You’re stressed as hell and that was the straw, camel’s back. You know.

Valo: Besides, I really needed to hear that. Like, really bad.

Aalto’s expression shifts. There is a fleeting hint of a smile before she blinks rapidly, eyes glistening.

Aalto: I still feel bad about it.

Valo: You shouldn’t.

Aalto smiles. It’s a sad smile, but I’ll accept it as a victory.

A mortuary employee opens the door and breaks the fragile feeling of levity we had. I swallow thickly and follow everyone inside.

It’s cool and quiet. Mom’s coffin is all ready to go. I watch her… the coffin being loaded in a hearse. After that, we move to the graveyard, where the rest of the guests are waiting. Everyone is dressed in the customary black, despite the heat.

I turn my camera on and take a few pictures of the crowd.

Dad, Vilho, Sami and some other male relatives get the coffin and carry it into the church. The guests follow, Jahid and me among them.

I get a nagging feeling that I should be one of the people carrying the coffin. I also feel like I don’t deserve that right, after how I’ve been ghosting my own damn family when they most needed me. When I most needed them.

Not that I could carry a coffin with a broken arm, anyway.

We sit down in the pews and wait for the event to start. Thank god it’s cool in the church. Otherwise this would be torture.

Eventually, all the guests arrive and it’s time to start. The priest thanks everyone for coming and gives a short speech about mom. Where she grew up, what she studied and where she worked. How she and dad met. Got married. About Aalto and me. Her love for engineering and baking. And how she was so suddenly and tragically taken from us.

I hear dad sniffle.

The priest finishes talking and we start setting the wreaths and bouquets around the coffin. First are dad, Aalto and me of course, as her closest family.

I leave my camera on Jahid’s lap as I walk to the open coffin with dad and Aalto.

I realize I haven’t seen mom since before she died. Like opening a champagne bottle, a flash of panic bubbles in my chest. I don’t want to see her in the coffin. It will be too real proof that she really is gone.

I grind my teeth and lift my eyes to the coffin. Mom is lying inside. She’s… she’s so pale. Her hair is fanned on the pillow and her eyes are closed. There’s a little blush on her cheeks to make her look like she’s just asleep, but she still… she still looks like…

Aalto rustles the bouquet and holds out the banner on it so dad can read it out loud.

Dad: We leave our goodbyes to our dear mother and beloved wife.

His voice breaks on the last word. I swallow thickly, trying to keep my composure. My throat feels tight.

Aalto sets our bouquet near the coffin. We return to our seats in the pews.

Jahid returns my camera to me. His hands linger on mine for just a moment.

After us, Vilho sets down his wreath and leaves his goodbye to mom. I move to a better position to take photos from and realize that no one got a photo of us. Fuck.

As the seemingly endless parade of relatives and friends come along and leave their wreaths and bouquets, I find that focusing on taking pictures and making sure that we have something to remember this day by helps me distract myself from… how empty I’m feeling. Pretending I’m at work at someone else’s funeral helps me distance myself. After all, I can’t take good professional photos if my eyes are blurred with tears.

After what feels like a blessed eternity, all the wreaths and bouquets have been placed around the coffin and all the banners have been read. People start getting ready to go outside again.

Priest: Should we… close the lid now?

Dad: Not yet.

Dad: Valo… take a few pictures.

I nod and turn my camera on again. I get a few nice ones of the flowers, but when I try to take a pic of mom…

My hands twitch just after I press the shutter. The picture comes out shaken. Fuck. I’ll delete it later, I’ll just take another one.

My hand twitches again.

Goddammit.

Jahid: Is everything okay?

I almost jump a little. I didn’t hear him come up to me.

I nod to him and try to take another picture. It takes a few tries before my hand is steady enough to get a good one.

Dad: Are you done?

… I guess I am. I swallow and nod to him.

The coffin’s lid is closed and screwed shut. My throat tightens as the coffin bearers wheel the coffin outside. The guests follow them and I hear a few people complain about the heat.

We start our slow march towards the grave.

I distract myself with photos.

All too soon we arrive at the grave. The coffin bearers lift the coffin slowly, gently, with the ropes that had been set under it just for this purpose.

I distract myself with photos.

They bring the coffin over the grave and carefully lower it into the earth.

I take photos and ignore the feeling that I should be one of the people lowering the coffin.

Gently, the coffin reaches the bottom and the ropes are removed. People get shovels and start filling the grave.

I take photos and ignore the feeling that I should be one of the people filling it.

I take photos and ignore that… it’s my mother. In the grave.

I take photos…

I… I can’t take good professional photos if my eyes are blurred with tears.

I have to lower my camera to rub my eyes.

Hand on my shoulder. Jahid.

Jahid: …

Jahid: Everything okay?

His voice is so soft, so gentle.

Valo: …

I shake my head and rub my eyes again. I can’t even express…

Jahid pulls me into a hug.

Valo: …!

Unexpected, I freeze.

Jahid: I… I’m really sorry. About all of this.

Valo: … Nn…

That does it. My resolve, my self-control, my composure, it all melts away in the warmth in his arms. Tears overflow and fall down my cheeks. My breath hitches and I let myself fall apart, sobbing into Jahid’s shoulder.

Jahid just holds me and rubs my back.

Jahid: You’re not alone anymore. I’ll be here for you.

Valo: Mm…

By the time I calm down, the grave has been filled. I wipe my cheeks and face the grave again. People have started setting their wreaths and bouquets on it. I wait for them to finish before getting a few pictures of it.

Guests start wandering back inside from the heat, Jahid and me among them.

I’m exhausted all of a sudden. I slump a little, bumping against Jahid’s shoulder. Jahid doesn’t miss a beat in wrapping an arm around my shoulders.

After that, the guests get lunch and coffee. It goes fine. I get a bunch of good photos. I socialise with some relatives, awkwardly because I’m still confined to the TTS.

Vilho’s wife: So… Jahid, right?

Jahid swallows a spoonful of cake and nods.

Jahid: Yes.

Vilho’s wife: How long have you two been dating?

Jahid, who is just about to take a sip of his coffee, jolts and almost spills.

Valo: We’re just friends.

Vilho’s wife: Oh? I could have sworn…

She glances at Jahid, whose eyes are the widest I’ve seen in a while. He shakes his head, just a little.

Jahid: Just… just friends.

Vilho’s wife: Oh. Okay.

It feels like it takes years, but eventually the funeral ends. Dad packs some leftovers for me and Jahid, before we are free to go.

Jahid: Ready to go?

Valo: …

Valo: I wanna go by the grave before we leave. With dad.

Jahid: Okay.

I get dad and we walk back to the grave. The wreaths and bouquets are still on it, still full of colour. I wonder when the sun is going to roast the flowers to crisp.

… But I didn’t come here to admire the flowers. I came…

I came to say goodbye. To mom.

I came to tell her what I couldn’t tell her when she… When she still was here. I came here to tell her that I’m not… the son she thought me to be.

… But how can I tell her what I don’t even know myself yet?

I sigh and my head rolls back.

Valo: Remember when I came you to you and mom?

Dad smiles. His smile, though, is saturated with melancholy.

Dad: I do. You were so nervous that you almost couldn’t say it. I thought you had gotten in trouble. Marja thought you had gotten someone pregnant.

Dad: When you finally said it, she was so relieved that she started crying. Then you saw her crying and started crying too. I started crying because I was happy that you were honest with us.

Valo: In the end, the only one who didn’t cry was Aalto.

Dad laughs quietly.

Dad: Yeah. Aalto called us all stupid for getting so riled up over nothing.

We share a chuckle. But it slowly dies out and we stand in silence.

Dad: Is… there a reason why you’re bringing it up?

Valo: Yes.

Valo: I need to tell you two something. But I don’t know how to put it yet.

Dad: How so?

Valo: There’s a lot going on right now.

Valo: But for now… I don’t think that I am… I’d appreciate if you didn’t call me a man or masculine terms. Does that make sense?

Dad nods.

Dad: … So, instead of “son”, I should call you… my child?

Valo: Yes.

Dad: Okay.

Valo: I don’t know what I am, in terms of labels, but I’ll tell you once I’ve figured it out. After I figure out the other stuff.

Valo: I’m sorry I couldn’t tell you sooner.

Valo: So um… Wait for me. Wait until I’m ready.

Dad nods again.

Dad: Take all the time you need. We’ll wait for you.

Dad: I want you to know that whatever happens, we still love you. You’re still our child.

I feel a pressure in my throat.

Valo: Thanks, dad.

He smiles and hugs me. I say goodbye to him and find Jahid. Then we head home.

As we’re walking, Jahid starts talking.

Jahid: Um…

Jahid: I’m here for you, if you ever need me. To talk to or… anything.

I nod. I know he is.

Jahid: I… I can’t say I’ve been in the exact same situation as you are now, but uh…

Jahid: You know how I was in upper secondary school. I was… not in a good place.

I nod again. I do remember how gloomy Jahid used to be. I used to listen to a lot of Jahid’s venting.

Jahid: I was still figuring out that the depression I was having came from dysphoria and that I am a trans man.

Jahid: And when I did figure that out and started transitioning, I found out that transitioning is really hard too.

Jahid: M-my point here is that, uh… the reason I’m so… content with my life now is because I reached out.

Jahid: I came out to my parents. I got a therapist. I talked to people close to me and I accepted the help I needed instead of isolating myself.

Jahid: Sometimes you have to accept that you can’t deal with your issues alone.

Jahid: And that… that’s not… that doesn’t make you weak.

Jahid: Do you remember all those times I texted you at who knows what hour? And I would rant at you for ages?

I nod.

Jahid: Those conversations… they were invaluable to me. I… I’ve never thanked you for them.

Valo: But all I could say was “that sucks, I’m sorry.”

Jahid: Still! The fact that you listened to my angsty, chaotic rambling at four in the morning meant the world to me! It still does!

Jahid: I… I hope you can reach out too. And I hope I can help you with that. Let me repay all those rants.

I stare at him for a while, digesting his words.

Valo: Thank you.

I do need to start doing damage control, fixing myself and reconnecting with people I cut off.

I should start with…

> Getting a therapist > Calling my boss
Valo: Are you still seeing a therapist? Valo: I hope I’m not fired yet.
Jahid: Yes. Jahid: Oh wow, yeah.
Valo: Do you think they have time for another patient? Jahid: What’s your boss like? Will they fire you for the past few weeks?
Jahid smiles. Valo: I mean… I am the only person who works there, with my boss.
Jahid: I’m sure she does. Valo: And he often says how he’s glad that I’m young and will be working there for a while so he doesn’t have to look for another employee.
Jahid: I can give you her number when we get home. Valo: So… maybe I’m still good?
Jahid: Let’s hope so.

We make it back to Jahid’s place, put the leftovers in the fridge and change into casual clothes. We settle to lounge in the living room while Jahid helps to piece my life back together.

Jahid’s phone rings.

Jahid: It’s Ivy.

Valo: Answer it.

Jahid Accepts the call.

Jahid: Hello. … It went well. … Yes, I’m home. … They’re right next to me.

Jahid: Oh, okay.

He removes his phone from his ear and turns the speaker on.

Jahid: You’re on speaker now.

Ivy: Okay, good!

Ivy: Hi, Valo!

Valo: Hi.

Ivy: I’m sorry for your loss.

Valo: Thanks.

Ivy: Anyway! I have some bad, but predictable news.

Ivy: Nigel broke out. As we expected.

I feel Jahid stiffen beside me. He glances at me.

I have to suffocate a groan. I’m so emotionally exhausted that I can’t even feel scared for myself.

Ivy: To add on that, we are fairly sure he’s going to try and find Valo now.

Ivy: But I also have good news! We have a plan on how to catch him.

Jahid: Can’t we leave that to the police?

Ivy snorts.

Ivy: We did that already and they fucked it. We have to take care of this ourselves.

Jahid: … Right.

Ivy: We need you to come to Sonela’s place tomorrow so we can go through the plan together and shit.

Jahid: She still lives where she used to, right?

Ivy: Yu-huh. There will be Dix’s pastries for your troubles.

Jahid: You are really bribing us to be there, huh.

Ivy laughs.

Ivy: Hell yeah we are.

Ivy: Okay, that’s all.

Ivy: For now, you two rest. Take it easy and be careful.

Ivy: Valo, you shouldn’t go out alone.

Valo: Got it.

Ivy: Eeh, that’s all I had for now.

Valo: Wait, what about the university?

Ivy: What about it?

Valo: Do they want to press charges?

Ivy: Oh right, yeah.

Ivy: Funny story, they checked their security camera footage and they couldn’t see you anywhere.

Ivy: They say that you waited outside for the whole time and Nigel and his android went in by themselves.

What the fuck.

Valo: What the fuck?

Ivy: Yeah, I have no clue what that’s about. Weird.

Her tone is light, too light.

Ivy: But you might want to thank Irantu the next time you see them.

Oh.

Valo: …Okay.

Ivy: Anything else?

Valo: That’s all for now.

Ivy: Alrighty. I’ll see you tomorrow at Sonela’s.

Ivy: Buh-byeee!

Jahid: Bye, Ivy.

Valo: Bye.

Jahid hangs up and sighs. He sets his phone on the coffee table and rubs his eyes.

Jahid: Ya Allah… Are you okay?

I shrug.

Valo: It hasn’t sunk in yet.

Jahid huffs a laugh.

Jahid: A lot did happen today.

Valo: M-hm.

Valo: I’m exhausted. I could use a nap.

Jahid sighs again. His posture slumps.

Jahid: Me too.

I watch his slumped shoulders and his arms.

Valo: Your bed can fit two, right?

Jahid blinks and looks at me, eyes wide.

Jahid: Are you asking me to nap with you?

It takes me quite a lot of willpower to answer his gaze.

Valo: Yes.

Jahid’s cheeks flush a little, but he smiles.

Jahid: Okay.

Jahid: Shall we?

I grin tiredly.

Valo: We shall.

And so we relocate to Jahid’s bedroom for a well-needed nap.

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