“And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; but rather be afraid of him who can destroy both soul and body in hell….” Matt 10:28(AMP)
Ara watched as the golden brown coffin that held Bamitale hostage was carried out of the hearse by four undertakers who wore black suits. They sang the hymn, It Is Well With My Soul, and the crowd proceeded into Rest Home Cemetery. Ara stood close to Mum, her brother, Lomi and sister, Sile. They were all dressed in black.
Bamitale’s siblings – Anti Taiwo, Buroda Kehinde, Anti Idowu and Tejumola – were dressed in black and held one another’s shoulders and waists.
Their spouses: Anti Taiwo’s husband, Broda Kehinde’s wife, Anti Idowu’s husband were directly behind them. Their friends followed them closely. Anti Taiwo, the eldest, would miss him the most.
Apart from the emotions that clung like glue to her voice the day she informed Ara of his death, she had been normal. Ara had never seen her cry or show any emotions. She acted as though his death did not shock her, yet Ara knew it rudely did. It looked as though Anti Taiwo accepted it without questioning, without fuss. Ara had not known her to be a deeply religious person but at that time Anti Taiwo seemed to draw strength from a statement which seemed full of strength: God giveth and taketh.
Yet Ara once overhead her telling her friend, Mrs Ojuirin, that she had accepted her brother’s destiny. Who was she to query God? Crying and wailing would mean she was questioning his brother’s Creator, the one who dashed him that destiny. Why would she query Eledua about what Bamitale chose from heaven? Mo ti gba f’olorun. It had happened. Tears could not raise him from the dead. K’olorun f’orun ke. May God grant him peace in heaven.
Destiny? Ara had walked away angry. Who said it was Bamitale’s destiny to die in a bomb blast?
Was God so wicked as to attach death by bomb blast to someone’s destiny? No! The Striking Anaconda killed Bamitale. He was in the wrong place at the wrong time. He was born in the wrong country. Insecurity killed him. If the security personnel had been efficient, the suicide bombers would not have entered the building that housed several foreign agencies.
Some days after that, Sile had told her she overhead some people say that Bamitale must have offended Ogunlaka aye osimole, the god of iron. Bomb was made of iron. Ara laughed through her tears. People were just preposterous and impossible.
There were lots of sighs interspersed with silence and occasional singing. The atmosphere was charged. And the silence screamed anger, sadness and pity. Anger at the The Striking Anaconda for their incessant bomb blasts; sadness and pity at the death of so many people in the blasts. Nobody survived the last blast at the Foreign Aid Mission building where Bamitale worked. What did The Striking Anaconda want to turn the country into?
Two weeks ago, she went with Anti Taiwo to the mortuary of the Teaching Hospital to identify his corpse. That was her first time in the mortuary; in a mortuary.
Outside, there were a lot of people. A woman, restrained by so many hands, was shouting and calling on Amadioha to strike The Striking Anaconda. May Agbala twist their necks till they see their back. They would not live their days. They would die before their time. Her red eyes were closing and opening. Her laced fingers were on her head and her face was bathed with tears mixed with snot. She said some other things in Igbo that Ara could not decipher.
Further down the drive way, a man sat on the ground, bit his lip and quietly sobbed. The men who stood close to him looked lost, confused and dejected.
As they entered the embalming unit, Anti Taiwo perceived the piercing odour of formalin and coughed so much that she could not go inside. Ara entered the mortuary with the Mortuary Attendant – who looked like someone so used to corpses that he could sleep next to several stiff ones – and walked down the hall before she was told to stand at the entrance. She could not go in more than that. The dead should be respected. They were in their natural state. Naked and stiff.
She tried her best not to throw up. The smell of formalin was pungent. A table with a corpse which was covered with white cloth was wheeled towards her. She resisted the urge to run. Her vision was blurred and before she could say jack, tears ran down at break-neck speed.
The Mortuary Attendant stopped and fixed his gaze on her. No Madam. Nobody cried in the mortuary. Crying was done outside. If she continued crying, they would not show her his body. She said alright, like a child who was being threatened with injection. She stopped crying and ran the back of her palms over her eyes.
The Mortuary Attendant laced his gloved fingers. She should not waste time because people outside wanted to identify the corpses of their relatives too. He gesticulated. They were not yet ready so they could not enter; they were still crying. The gloves were made of rubber and they made his fingers bigger than normal.
He removed the white cloth from the corpse, exposing only the head. She tried to swallow the lump in her throat that was determined to stop her breath. Bamitale’s
hair was burnt and what remained was soot.
Vertically, half of his face was totally burnt. It was blacker than the darkest night. Transparent liquid oozed from the eye that popped out. His nose was so flat and when she saw his blistered lower lip, she remembered their last kiss. That French
kiss. She sobbed more, trying her best to stifle it. He asked if the body was her relative. She said yes. He was her husband. Husband tumbled out of her mouth before she knew it. Husband? She said yes, even though they were not officially married as he wanted to make more money before they settled down. Mum hated the fact that they lived together and she said it was a sin. And when, the last time they spoke about it, she had asked Mum where it was written in the Bible, Mum’s eyes flogged her and she called her name in full: Aralola! and her name sounded like an insult in Mum’s mouth.
He removed the cloth from the body entirely and a naked corpse lay before her. The hair on his chest and pubic region were burnt. His tummy was extremely flat and the cap of his phallus had peeled off. What remained was stiff and black.
She could not look again. She grimaced, screamed and ran out, howling as she did.
And Anti was there to hold her before she fell. She reeled in Anti’s arms so much that Anti could not control her.
She re–echoed the curses of Mama Risika, her neighbour, the day before. “The Striking
Anaconda o! Sanponna would kill you! Sango would strike you! Ogunlaka aye osimole would swim in your blood! Iyemoja would make sure you drown! Esu laroye would kill you! God punish you! May your mothers cry over you!” Inbetween rolling and screaming and falling out of Anti’s hands and spears of sorrows thrusting deeply into her heart, she heard so many footsteps come in her direction. Several hands gripped her and bundled her into her car.
The burial procession moved slowly under the hot sun. It Is Well With My Soul. ****************************
After the pastor read the Bible passages at the graveside, it was time to lower the coffin into the ground. Two men, naked from the waist up, came from somewhere behind and jumped into the grave. Four thick ropes held the coffin at its angles and were used to lower it into the grave, as the men in the grave received it and placed it down gently. Someone was already sobbing out loud. Then another. And another.
During the funeral service, the charismatic Pastor had, in the midst of excessive jumping and shouting, told them to pray and declare fire, gale and hailstone on The Striking Anaconda. May 3D thunder strike them. The Holy Spirit should pour hot water on them. Ice blocks from heaven should destroy them. The frying pan of heaven
should pour hot palm oil on them. The demons of heaven should wee wee on them. Angels should poo on them. The congregation had stood up and prayed the prayers with aggression. After the prayers, the sermon was, Is your name in the book of life? But Ara was not listening.
Bamitale was gone. She was doomed. She was a walking corpse. A part of her was bombed with him. She was like a smoked cigarette. Half of her was gone. Ashes remained. Grey ashes. Why did she not have a premonition of his death? Why did providence not smile on him that fateful morning by giving him acute watery diarrhoea? Why not throbbing headache? She thought about how life could be so precious and ephemeral, how sad things could be, how yesterday would go and memories would fade, how love could turn and not come back to what one could remember and how life’s single flip could drag excruciating pain along with it. Love was the light of her life and when love was gone, light was gone for good.
He was everything she needed in a man. Before him, there was Bayo and Chuks and when she met him she thought she had got to her last bus stop. Their quarrels went down as soon as they came up. She remembered his body which they both enjoyed. It was now charred. The pastor said vanity upon vanity. His body with which he did things that floated her in a high erotic realm was now a charred stiff stick. Bamitale was a gymnast in bed. He loved and worshipped her body. Made her feel like a natural woman. Vanity upon vanity. Now it was over. What would you tell God when you stand before him? the Pastor said. She shivered at the thought of those words.
It got to her turn to do the dust to dust rite; she grabbed the shovel and rested on it, as if she would collapse if she did not. She had told herself she would not cry that day. As she packed earth, it dawned on her again that that was the end.
She was not seeing him again. He was never going to walk into the living room and gather her in his arms anymore. He would never make her laugh again. Her brain, which could not comprehend the thought, threatened to burst. The hole pain bore in her heart threatened to tear it into two. She poured sand on the coffin and much as she tried to stifle it, she howled. It was as if everyone was waiting for her to start because their cries soon formed a din.
Before Ara knew it, someone jumped into the grave and laid on top of the sandy coffin, rolling and screaming, Bury me! Bury me with him! We are going together! Buroda Bamitale ooo! It was Tejumola. Everyone screamed. There was fear. Apprehension. Commotion. The two men beside the coffin immediately grabbed her and carried her out. Buroda Kehinde gathered her in his arms and carried her away as she struggled and struggled. Mum and Sile held Ara on both sides as she hid her face behind her palms and walked away.
The Striking Anaconda had done its worst.
To everyone who died in a bomb blast…