I am in that wonderfully pleasant state, somewhere between sleep and awakening, where everything and nothing seems possible and the mind is not troubled by anything more than simply being. I become vaguely aware of the theme tune to Minder playing somewhere in the middle distance.
Why is the theme tune to Minder playing? That’s strange.
Then, I realise. That’s my ringtone. That must mean that my phone is ringing. Bugger!
I notice that my bedside clock is telling me that it is five twenty five as I scramble and fight my way free of the duvet. Half asleep and feeling slightly sick, I force myself upright and out into the hallway where my phone is on charge. I answer it.
“Deputy Head Porter, are you awake?” It is Junior Bursar.
“I am now, Sir,” I reply, not half as sarcastically as I should.
“You must come into College immediately. I am afraid I have some very bad news. Professor K is dead. Please get here as quickly as you can.”
I do not have an opportunity to reply, as Junior Bursar ends the call abruptly. Although there was nothing in his voice to suggest so, I get the feeling he is very upset.
The full weight of Junior Bursar’s words don’t really hit me until I am in the shower, hastily getting ready for work. Professor K is dead! I let out a little, animalistic whine as the concept washes over me. He was very old and he did come over quite poorly the other day. He seemed fine when I took him his breakfast but… I guess you just can’t tell. He was my friend. My friend has died. An emptiness begins to creep its way across the bottom of my stomach and slowly crawls upwards. By the time I am at the sink, brushing my teeth, it reaches my heart, imploding on impact, forcing great sobs from my throat and tears from my eyes.
I have to do my duty, as a College servant. My duty to Old College and my duty to dear old Professor K. This is all I can focus on right now and it is all that prevents me from freezing up completely with shock and grief. The drive to Old College passes me by almost unnoticed and when I pull up in my parking space I have little recollection of how I got there. The thing to do is focus on the necessary. I have never had to deal with a death in College before, but I suspect there will be work to be done. Arrangements to be made. Tasks to be carried out. Practicalities to consider. This is a good thing.
I make my way to The Porters’ Lodge. It seems like the sensible thing to do. Night Porter is still on shift, waiting for the morning man to relieve him. The Night Porters always look a little sombre anyway at this time of the morning, but the recent news is obviously weighing heavily on him.
“You’ve, heard, I take it?” Night Porter asks gravely. I nod.
“When did he die?” I ask.
“Sometime in the night, ma’am. I found him a couple of hours ago.” Night Porter takes a deep breath as he steadies himself to continue. “About quarter past four, I noticed his lights were still on when I was conducting my patrols. I thought, what with him being ill recently and that, I’d better take a look. I found him in bed. Looks like he went peacefully in his sleep.”
That’s a phrase that keeps cropping up.
“Thank you, Night Porter” I reply. “Have you seen Junior Bursar this morning?”
“Yes, ma’am, I called him right after I found the Professor. I think he’s in his rooms.”
“Okay, thanks. Have we notified Nurse or called an ambulance?”
“Junior Bursar told me to leave everything to him, ma’am” Night Porter says this as if he is unhappy with this arrangement. “I haven’t done anything else.”
“Right. I’ll go and see Junior Bursar,” I say “Are you alright? I mean, it can be quite a shock finding a dead body.”
“I’m alright,” replies Night Porter, quietly.
“As soon as the morning man gets in you’re to go straight home, okay? You’ve had quite a night of it.”
“Yes ma’am, thank you.”
What follows next is a bit of a blur, to be honest. I find Junior Bursar in his rooms, accompanied by Nurse. The atmosphere is sad, but business-like. This is a sensible and healthy approach to the early stages of bereavement, I find. Nurse is certain that Professor K didn’t suffer and passed away peacefully in his sleep. This is, at least, of some comfort. Not all sleep is as peaceful as it seems…
I have several duties to attend to during the course of this unhappy day. I grimly hoist the College flag to half-mast; my fear of heights is noticeably absent today, the greater purpose of this act overtaking the normal human emotion and phobia. The lack of wind means that the flag doesn’t flutter majestically but instead hangs sad, limp and still. I find this small detail particularly upsetting, I don’t know why.
The everyday comings and goings of The Lodge are punctuated by the arrivals of various persons in black. Some officials, some mourners, some I have no idea who they are. It is always the ordinary and everyday things that seem so pertinent after a death. The post is still delivered and then collected. Keys are still lost and found. Tourists and visitors still pose happily, cheesy grins and jaunty stances, by Old College landmarks. That’s the thing about life. It goes on.