It isn’t easy to write an obituary. This is not only because you either knew the deceased too well or not well enough at all. But also because there is inevitably a word limit. In this case, it was less than 2000 characters. The first pain the writer felt, already a sensation of being put upon, or weighed down, slipping into the skin around their eyes, was the restriction being given to them in characters. What does that mean in terms of words? Or chunks of text upon the page? Utterly without a clear frame of reference the notion of counting characters to read about the dead seemed reasonably, but the actual process of knowing character totals, in an interface, provided by the newspaper, that didn’t offer a character count, was rude at best, and provocative at worst. As though one could marry writing freely with such mathematical precision. Then it dawned upon the writer, she should just channel whatever frustration this banality imposed upon her creative instincts into the obituary itself, and draw from this irrelevant impediment a lustful raging at mortality itself. To open with the phrase, atypical for drab obituaries, you cannot fit death into 2000 characters.
She embraced me, standing just to do so, and I could feel, as she refused to lean forward to take in my body, pulling me to her more than holding me, that she believed the act. She muttered something in broken English and I remembered I was the only native speaker of that language in this bar. She was proud she spoke it, but second, even third hand, and her pride had been swelled purely at the lack of comprehension the Iranians showed towards me. But I wished to tell, if I didn’t need her to think me senile, they all understood me well. Better than she did. They would not acknowledge their proficiency in English, gleaned from their excellent underground educational system and pirated exposure to American television, because of fear of appearing pro-Western, and therefore suspicious in the eyes of any overly enthusiastic regime lackey. Anyway, her lack of sensitivity to detail, her inalert immediacy was a kind of pure attention that I had grown fond of, I will admit. She was present, if she was anything. She sat knocked the plastic garden table between us, nearly snapping its cheap flexing legs. Everyone turned to look. An old man, a young woman. Nothing really remarkable in that. She offered me a cigarette and I was regretful that was in equal measure interesting and dull. I realised it was my fault. This kind of perception of people only comes to you as you get older, and don’t give up but simply are overwhelmed by the volume of human beings who have passaged through your life.