I stepped out of a darkened hospital corridor into bright sunlight and the smell of flowers. I squinted briefly, adjusting the amount of light piercing my eyes, and saw them all standing there.
In an orderly row, shoulder to shoulder, they were all there. All the ones who have left me during a lifetime of happiness interspersed with sadness. All the ones who, for some reason, are no longer on this side.
They all looked exactly as they did the last time I saw them. Unaltered by time and bereft of all traces of the illnesses or injuries that claimed their lives.
They had not aged, not since their departure date anyway. The old and frail shuffled forward to greet me with open arms, slowly and steady, but with no signs of discomfort. The young ones were just as I remembered, full of energy and eager to get the greeting over and done with. They would stay young forever. A kind of reward for their early departure.
Grandad Jaime was first to speak.
'Hello engineer, lovely to see you' (my nickname due my childhood habit of dismantling all appliances in my quest to find out how everything worked)
Grandad looked sublime. Crisp stylish clothes, perfectly tailored. Shoes immaculately buffed to a high sheen and trilby slightly to one side.
I smiled back, unable to speak, overcome with emotion.
Paulo strolled over, in his vest and fatigues, wellies caked in mud, bringing me a cold beer and the latest CD he picked up from HMV.
" Hey Giuseppi, nice to see you bro"
Paulo's smile was warm and kind. His glossy brown eyes reflected sadness and pity. He seemed aware of the pain left in his wake.
Danny followed, smiling shyly, holding a paperback to his chest. He seemed apologetic, as if sorry for leaving so early and unexpected. Sorry for not keeping in regular contact with mum and the rest of us while on his travels across the globe.
And Michael Finn was there, smiling broadly and about to say something funny. He always had something to say and always something funny.
Joe Santos, Helena Pereira, Uncle Pepe, Granny and many others. All the ones who have gone and taken a part of me with them, were there also.
I was delighted to see them. I could say all the things I didn't say while they were around. I could tell them how much I miss them and how painful it was to say goodbye. I could tell them how much I love them.
But then I thought of all the others still around. The ones here and now. The ones I don't want to loose. The ones on this side.
It is painful here, but it would be just as painful on the other side.