Fiction

The Funeral: A Short Story by Rosie R.

The next day, Chinyere the last born child of Ichie Samson’s third wife who just turned thirteen a day before her father died went to fill her aluminum bucket with water from the well the entire household shared.  Still half asleep she absently stepped into puddles of dirty water, ignoring the goats trying to get her attention for their morning feed.  She walked a few yards to the well and put the bucket down in order to reach for the pulley.  After filling her bucket, she crouched to lift it onto her head when she saw the village chief, sprawled over her father’s grave. His body was swollen and disfigured but she recognized him from his ceremonial garb and chieftain feathers now scattered everywhere around him.  His metal oji was cut in two and neatly placed beside his corpse.  She stood still for a minute, trying to breath to prevent herself from passing out, and then she let out a blood-curdling scream.

The village spent the next few hours planning another funeral.  This time there was no singing and dancing, though it was the most important man that had died.  He was buried that evening in a hastily dug grave, with nothing on his headstone.  It was an abominable way to die and if not for the intervention of his very powerful allies, he would have ended up in the forest for the wild animals to feed on.

The only person in the village who understood what had just transpired was Nwaego the intended bride of Ichie Samson.  Her family had already agreed to hand her over to the Chief as his third concubine. It was a very honorable role indeed for her poverty stricken family, to be the relatives of the chief’s concubine.  There were important contacts that would be available for her brother’s failing construction business, a market store for her mother in a prime area of the town market, (owned by the Chief himself) and gifts of clothe, perfume and a Volkswagen van amongst other things for her uncles.  The whole affair had been done at the urging of her three uncles whose greed knew no bounds.  If her father were still alive, this would not have happened.  They pushed and pushed until she agreed to go to the chief.  Then Ichie Samson made her a better offer, to be a wife with all the rights afforded to a wife.  Ichie Samson was just as wealthy as the Chief and definitely more handsome and more popular.  She accepted, to the chagrin of the Chief who secretly thought Ichie Samson was his most dangerous rival even though the man had him appointed through his influence and popularity.  She knew it was only a matter of time before a public confrontation would bring the matter to light but she had no idea that she would loose two suitors within a few weeks.  So, with quiet dignity she mourned both men.

In the following week, the elders of the village appointed a new chief.  As soon as the decision was made, the village became festive again.  There was a coronation to prepare for.  The women brought out huge iron pots and started the usual marathon cooking, courtesy of the new chief and members of his family.  Masquerades began dancing again as crowds gathered at the compound of the new chief.  Festivities went on like nothing had happened in the past week.  The most important thing was that the village had a reason to party again.  And what a celebration it was.  It was like they tried to make up for lost opportunity and the disgraceful affair of the past few weeks.  It was bad enough that other villages in Olulo were making comic sketches of Abah in their local theatres, and no one could endure the sneers and snickers of the other villages anymore.  So the coronation was slated as a payback event and representatives from all over the region were invited to rub their faces in it.  The town market, controlled by the wealthy villagers was closed for three days (to the annoyance of other villages), and the feast went on…

The new chief was Uchechukwumerije Obinwa Chukwudinka III was an egotistical bastard.  At least that was what half the village thought.  He was rich, richer than the previous chief, a bad politician and a sore loser.  He had tried often to get himself appointed Chief of Abah but what he had in business, he lacked in politics.  It was with glee that he watched his two rivals kill each other over a woman.  What better way to have his full revenge by taking the woman in question as his ninth wife?  It would be like icing on the cake, palm oil on his roasted yam so to speak.  He summoned Nwaego’s uncles and within a few hours convinced them to give him their niece’s hand in marriage.  The uncles as greedy, as ever could not pass up the offer of 100 acres of land with a few prize heifers thrown in.  Two months after the morbidly extravagant coronation, the village prepared for a wedding.  This time Chief Uche took care of the details himself.  Only the finest dancers, the most colorful masquerades, the fattest cows, and the plumpest chicken were used for the ceremony. People not dressed to impress were turned away at the entrance of the chief’s compound. The bride’s bridal cloth was imported from Benin; she wore the most expensive jewelry anyone had ever seen.  Even in Abah standards, it was the most expensive and well-attended ceremony yet and as usual, the arrogant villagers again rubbed their rivals’ faces in the extravagance of it all.

The next day, the village woke up to hear cries coming from the Chief’s compound.  Chief Uche was dead.  He died on his wedding night of a heart attack.  Normally, this would not be a thing of surprise for the sixty year old man never followed doctor’s orders of laying off red meat and eating more vegetables, but Abah was a village of superstitious people.  It never occurred to them that the chief might have tried to over exert himself with his new bride.  They instantly pointed accusing fingers at his new Nwaego.  Of course she had to be cursed.  Never in the entire village had tragedies occurred so close together and she was the only connection to these tragedies. Nwaego fled to her mother’s village 30 kilometers away.  The village prepared for a third funeral.  It was a lackluster event as the villagers were filled with suspicion and apprehension.  But no one seemed to care; it was an event they wanted to get over with quickly.

Choosing a new Chief was harder this time.  No one wanted the esteemed but deadly position.  After five days of selections and refusals, Ezenwa Obinigwe, a very quiet and unassuming man was chosen. The village heaved a sigh of relief.  It was embarrassing to be the laughing stock of the entire town.  Of course no one was to know that the village council of elders bribed Ezenwa with a few hundred acres of land, a new house to replace his dilapidated building which housed his entire family and numerous livestock.  In order not to tempt fate, the council of elders decided there would be no coronation to mark the event, just a quiet announcement in the village square.  To people of Abah and its surrounding villages, it was a quiet ending to an otherwise tumultuous season.

In the village of Abah, funerals never seemed quite normal.  They were more like weddings or child-naming ceremonies.   The village was well known for its loud and over-celebrated festivities.  Weddings, house warming parties, chieftaincy title ceremonies were lively, colorful and very flamboyant.  These were opportunities for the residents of the village to show off the latest trend in expensive wear, new wives and husbands, new cars and the flashiest jewelry.  The village was home to some of the wealthiest people in town of Olulo and they were not averse to showing it.

Masquerades danced in resplendent costumes. If the deceased happened to be important, now there was a reason to really throw a party.  It was tradition.  The ancestors had to be placated so the deceased would reach them without losing his or her way.  Showing off wealth was a secondary reason, or so the villagers like to think. Although preceding events of the days before the funeral had been disturbing, no one was in the mood to spoil the promise of a fun-filled day with the doomsday prophecy of naysayers.  The villagers were not going to allow superstition and a few minor incidents ruin their chance of three days of free drinks and food.

The deceased was not the village chief, but he was the unofficial right-hand man.  The entire village knew no decision was made without his input.  Outwardly, he was a kind yet strict disciplinarian. He had a charming personality that won him a lot of admirers, thus he had four wives and was about to marry a fifth when he died under mysterious circumstances.  The local physician preferred to call it pneumonia but as it was the month of May and the rainy season had not started, the physician’s opinion carried little weight.  Everyone knew one could only get pneumonia from the rainy season, to them western doctors knew very little of the traditional healing methods.  So, the wives pointed accusing fingers at each other, his political rivals pointed accusing fingers at each other, his siblings pointed accusing fingers at each other, but the deceased, Ichie Samson, was such a friendly man it was difficult to decide who or what to blame, so it was agreed all would conveniently blame pneumonia.

The morning of the funeral started in full swing after the burial. In Ichie Samson’s compound, Masquerades were already dancing in a frenzy hoping to get the day started with a huge crowd.  A few yards away from the spectacle, a the babble of women had been cooking for the past 48 hours, trying to keep up with the demand for more akpu and varied soup dishes.  There were complaints and scoldings as mothers tried to stop their young children from dashing around.  The children took advantage of the festivities to get away with as much as they could.  The women would occasionally get up to stretch, moan and groan aloud, commenting on how long each had been without sleep and how much they hurt all over, then spontaneously and miraculously break into a dance matching the beating drums, their pain suddenly forgotten.

At exactly 11 a.m., the drums stopped. The chief had arrived.  There were cries salutations all around as he walked around the compound waving his fan before taking a seat on his stool perched on an elevated platform.  The drums started up again as more villagers joined in the dancing.

After an hour and a half, the drums stopped again, signaling the beginning of the funeral ceremony.  The chief stepped down from his stool, taking slow steps amidst cheers and blessings.  He was going to say the traditional prayer or libation offered to the gods. He held his oji in his right hand and a cup of palm wine tapped by the village’s master wine trapper, in the other.  Suddenly a small wind blew into the crowd, lifting sand and dust everywhere.

Some people laughed as they tried to get rid of gritty particles in their eyes. They shielded their faces with their arms as the wind picked up speed and ferocity.  The chief waited for the small wind to blow over. It got worse.  Then pandemonium broke.

Ichie Samson’s grave tucked away in the corner of his compound became engulfed in what had become a sand storm.  Obikwa, the village mad man was busy foraging around abandoned half eaten meals. He had once been the most skilled wrestler in Olulo.  Very tall, muscular and successful, he was quite a celebrity until one day he boasted he could wrestle anyone, man or god.  When he became crazy a week later, some figured it was his punishment for challenging the gods to a wrestling match.   The mad man suddenly stood upright and in a voice many recognized as Ichie Samson’s, shouted, “You killed me!  You killed me!”  Guests tried to scramble for safety and in the noise and confusion, fell over one another. The howling wind got louder and tossed people, chairs, tables and their contents, canopies, and tree branches everywhere. Then just as quickly as it had started, it stopped.  The once festive atmosphere was replaced with cries of pain and terror.

The village chief cowered behind a tree; his bodyguards were nowhere to be found.  Obikwa, standing still with a distant look in his eyes, suddenly walked towards the chief, carefully stepping over people and debris.  He looked comical in his dirty clothes and he appeared untouched or unfazed by the commotion around him.  He stopped a few yards away from the tree and pointed to the chief and once more in the eerily familiar voice of the dead man cried, “You killed me!”  He turned on his heels and walked away, out of the compound.

The few individuals that witnessed the incident were too stunned to believe it.  Others were busy running for their lives, away from the wrath of the angry gods they believed were responsible.  The bodyguards picked themselves up from where the wind had thrown them and returned to their master.  They picked up the chief and half carried the terrified man, now a blubbering and scared mess with clothes torn and dirtied, to his Mercedes.

The rest of the day was spent cleaning up and gossiping about how the gods spoke through a mad man.  No one dared mention the dead man or what he or she thought really happened.  It was an abomination for the dead to come back.  As for Obikwa the mad man, he went his merry way, tattered clothes, unkempt hair and all, not realizing the disturbing situation he had been involved in.

The village council held an emergency meeting that evening to discuss how to appease the gods.  After three hours of heated arguments, three cows, five goats and fifteen chickens were slated for slaughter the following day at the shrine of Nruala the god of health and well-being, protector of the village.  The chief was absent from the meeting, having retired early on with an upset stomach.

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