“No one wants to die. Even people that want to go to heaven don’t want to die to get there. And yet death is the destination we all share. No one has ever escaped it. And that is as it should be because Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new” – Steve Jobs
“Cowards die many times before their deaths; the valiant never taste of death but once” – William Shakespeare
“When your time comes to die, be no like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death, so that when their time comes, they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home” – Tecumseh
“The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living” – Marcus Tullius Cicero
Today is not All Souls’ Day…but I felt I gotta write a tribute to the dead; an Ode to the Lost Ones. I am sitting under the Satsuma tree, with a plate of cucumbers and carrots, wondering when this diet is gonna end. Holy Mother of Christ! This thing no dey funny again o! I don lean like bonga fish since I started this diet!
In addition, there is no petrol to power the generator, so I am sweating like an mkpi being taken to the backyard to be slaughtered. I’ve not watched CNN to know whether the Burundi President has finally been deposed. No calls or text from shawty for two freaking days. My neighbor’s kids have been screaming on top of their voices. The dogs have been barking and phucking and kpanshing incessantly. The cats are nowhere to be found. My dietician said no alcohol for me for 6 freaking weeks. My world was gradually crashing around me. Phuckery! My mind was also racing fast like a bunch of stallions chasing after some Mexicans in the Wild West. In short, I was feeling some type of way (sic). And to crown it all, I got a call that my home boy had been murdered a couple of weeks ago in Malaysia. Second Phuckery! This felt like the apocalypse…like the rapture; but in this case, there were no white horses descending from heaven with angels wearing white sitting on the backs of the beasts. When would death and all his friends leave us alone, I thought?
My mind kept drifting off to the past and I thought about the lost ones I knew. Back in elementary school, we all came to school and realized one of the booti girls that usually tormented us (the kpako ones) with unadulterated English wasn’t in her seat. The white class teacher stood up while dabbing her eyes with white hankies and sadly announced that Chigirl had passed away after a brief illness and wouldn’t come back again. We said a short prayer for her amidst sobs from the classmates and sang some Christian songs before we proceeded with the day’s activities. Back then, I was indifferent. I guess it was because she was a sworn enemy of mine or maybe because my budding mind couldn’t fully comprehend what it meant to die.
Fast forward to a couple of years later, and I was in secondary school. We had come back from the long vacation and everyone showed off new gadgets they got during the holidays. I told false tales of my escapades in France when the truth was that I was holed up in my home at Nsukka. But there was this cool kid that usually spent his holidays at his mum’s place in New York so everyone looked forward to hearing his stories and some gifts he got for the classmates. Surprisingly, he was nowhere to be found. 2 weeks later, we got the bad news; he died in a car crash during the holidays. TRAGIC!
A couple of deaths occurred over the coming years that got me questioning my religion and the essence of living a good life. It seemed the good kept dying while the bad ones were thriving and enjoying seemingly healthy and fulfilling lives. Then pops passed away in ’08 and that event hit me hard. It shook me to my marrows but succeeded in transforming me into a man not afraid to handle his responsibilities and face his fears.
The first death I witnessed as a doctor was another life changing event. It was on a weekend during harmattan and I was rushing to the hospital to commence the weekend call. Upon arriving at the Paediatric ward, the nurse on duty quickly showed me a young girl gasping for breath. Before I could say Jack, she passed away. Every effort to resuscitate her proved abortive. When I confirmed her death, I simply went outside and wept. I pondered on what I could have done to prevent the death. I blamed myself, I blamed the government, I blamed the devil…in short, I blamed anyone or anything that came to mind at that instant. But my mind got hardened when I recorded a few more deaths over the coming weeks and I eventually developed the ‘fuck death’ attitude.
We all have come a long way as humans. We have learnt to accept that dying is part of living. We’ve all lost dear ones…we’ve witnessed events that were life changing and forever etched and engraved on the walls of our minds. For some, they’ve succeeded in relegating these events to just memories. I believe that the dead deserve a place in our hearts. No amount of gold, rubies or ornaments can replace the special times we shared with these wonderful people that are gone. Nothing could replace the love and affection we shared with the lost ones. Every once in a while, it is important to take out time and cherish the dead. Because in all honesty, our lives are just similar to a ticking time bomb; it is only a matter of time before we trade our earthly lives for death.
So here I am, still staring at my plate of cucumbers and carrots, looking into the distance and staring at nothing, wondering when my time would come to depart this world. I wonder how it would be; maybe it would be me getting hit by a reckless keke napep driver, or catching a heart attack and falling headlong into a canal, or getting shot by a snitch. Whatever means death chooses to come by, I just have to be ready for it. So I take another bite of cucumber, spit some out on the ground in the memory of the lost ones and walk into the house. I quickly fall asleep on the couch, hoping to wake up in time for evening mass or pass away in my dreams.