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Wednesday February 27, 2013

Death in paradise

On my regular morning runs to Soller port I have often shared nods and pleasantries with an elderly Majorcan gentleman. I have never known his name or much about him but that doesn’t matter. Come rain or shine I always find him plodding methodically along the promenade in his beige mac and wearing a rather stylish black beret on his near bald head. As a portly man, he huffs and puffs a lot and so it is with some relief for us both that we are able to stop to share a few words about the weather and to catch our breath.

Uncharacteristically, my elderly friend never crossed my path last week and I began fretting about his whereabouts. You see, over the years I created my own story for him: a lonely widower who took the morning air and enjoyed passing the time of day with a few locals and near strangers like me.

And then yesterday I discovered the truth in the usual brutal way here. In my village grocery store his face loomed large on a death notice flyer on the counter and it was all I could do not to utter an exclamation. Instead I took one of the A5 sized sheets to study at home in order to say my own farewell to him if not in person, at least mentally.

Death ‘flyers’ crop up regularly in my mountain town. As soon as a local bites the dust the family usually rushes out a small flyer showing the face of the dearly departed together with details of the manner and time of death. The notices are distributed around the town in cafés and stores to be seen and discussed by sombre friends and acquaintances.

Over time I have learnt of the death of many Majorcans in the valley this way. Although some have their deaths reported in our two weekly newspapers, it is often the case that some locals miss out and so the little death flyer comes into its own. Much as I don’t relish reading these regular death bugles –and rather come to dread them- I do at least feel that they serve a purpose allowing us all, even mere strangers, to show respect for those who have passed on. Of course the deaths of expats are rarely highlighted in this way because it is simply not a part of our culture and many of my British acquaintances here find the habit deeply morbid and somewhat sinister.

I have grown to accept the custom and in some ways am thankful for it. Otherwise I would never have known that the courteous elderly man who greeted me so warmly these past years had slipped this mortal coil. And happily his black tinged flyer informed me that contrary to being a lonely widower, he had a loving wife, grown up sons and grandchildren. Shed a tear as I might that I would never see my old chum again, I was able to take comfort in knowing that in this life at least he had been deeply cherished.

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