“And now we call on the Chief Mourner to read his tribute.” The MC announced whilst moving on to a corner to confer with the Officiating Minister.
The crowd waited expectantly and yet the Chief Mourner did not make a move to stand and move to the podium. When the silence in the crowd had gone on for a long while, the MC announced again for the Chief Mourner to read his tribute, this led to murmurs from the crowd.
The family for the deceased sat together unwilling to move and none turned to look at the Chief Mourner, who sat a little separately from the deceased’s family; and yet most of them did not seem as preoccupied with sorrow as they were wont to. The Minister stopped conferring with the MC and moved to where the Chief Mourner sat.
“Sir, please it is time to read your tribute.” Not getting an immediate reaction, the Minister shook the Chief Mourner gently but firmly as if to rouse him from sleep. The Chief Mourner turned and looked at the Minister; his eyes which were a bit dazed couldn’t focus for a while till the Minister shook him again. While all these happened, none of the family moved or showed any form of concern save one; and now that one came to join the Minister.
“We all know you miss her dad but your mild show or drama is not going to score points for anyone neither will it make her wake, just go and read the tribute so we can all go home.”
The Chief Mourner turned and looked at the one who now spoke to him whilst the Minister looked on in consternation. The Chief Mourner shook his head as if to clear it and then stood up and moved to the podium.
He looked at the crowd that had come for the funeral of his wife. The crowd was a large one. The funeral was done in an open field and so even stragglers strayed in; anything for food and drinks even if it was at the expense of someone’s sorrow.
The Chief Mourner opened the programme for the funeral and looked at the words that had been written for him by another.
“I guess I am to read this tribute that has been written by someone else for my wife. I would not have written these bare words devoid of emotion. So, forgive me, if I do this.”
At these words, the Chief Mourner tore ‘his’ written tribute off the funeral programme. This action produced two set of reactions; it caused agitation amongst the deceased family members and amidst the Officiating Ministers but it caused the crowd to remain quiet perhaps because they knew that they were at a somewhat different funeral than what they were used to.
The Chief Mourner seemingly unaware of the distraction – an unsure thing since a gleam of satisfaction flitted across his face – bowed his head for a moment. When he finally raised his head, it was a changed and charged man that stood at the podium. Everyone held their breaths even if it was for different reasons.
“You all are gathered today to mourn my wife with me and even though I am impressed by the turn-out, I must ask you all this question ‘who invited you?’” Hearing the crowd gasp, he looked around more defiantly, his demeanor daring anyone to utter a protest.
“Yes, I have to know who did because I certainly did not. I did not write a tribute and certainly did not invite anybody nor would have I wanted to. You may think me callous but then who are you to judge me and decide if I am indeed callous? How could I have written a tribute when I now live in darkness? How could I have invited everyone when all I want is to be alone? Alone to grief for the jewel I have lost. For how can you all know the anger that festers in me, festers against the ones who claim to love her but gather as vultures waiting till – in their warped morality – she has been committed to the earth before revealing the ugliness that is barely hidden by their attires?”
The Chief Mourner bowed his head a second time and when he looked up this time, the naked pain on his face caused everyone to look away. When he spoke this time, his voice was somewhat subdued as if ashamed of its earlier outburst and yet this time, it wasn’t to the crowd; it was to someone else.
“I miss you so much it hurts. The way you wanted attention always and yet strangely remained detached. How we’d argue about gender equality and the next minute, you calling me to fix the light bulb and saying all the while that it was a man’s job. How you’d scold me for always looking for stuff and the next minute, you’d stand in front of me posing with that childish pout and declare that you couldn’t find your glasses. How you’d come up with crazy recipes and insist that we try them out saying that a couple was supposed to go through trials together. How you saw the good in everyone, myself, the kids, your family, everyone; how we’d call you gullible telling you that not every action was of good intention.”
At these words, some members of the deceased’s family starting sobbing, they knew how true the last statement was. The Chief Mourner seemed unaware of the fact that his last statement has caused a reduction of the tension that had earlier been thick. Perhaps, if he had known he might have stopped there and not gone further but in his seeming madness, there was a method to it.
“But my darling you were gullible because the family you thought highly of is waiting for your coffin to be covered with sand before fully baring their fangs. Your elder sister made a subtle move to take most of your jewelries, who does that to the one they claim they love? Your elder brother has demanded for a cow and several cartons of alcoholic beverages, a demand that has left me wondering how someone who is supposedly grieved could make up a list that is set to impress his drinking buddies.”
Some members of the family could be seen trying to restrain the deceased’s elder brother but the Chief Mourner continued speaking seemingly unaware of the commotion his words were causing.
“Your younger sister is the only one who hasn’t demanded for anything but that could be due to the fact that tradition does not recognize her position in the family setting. Your father has asked if you had any lands, I wonder if the fact that you were married and belonged to someone else meant nothing to him. Your mother is silent but we both know how sly a person she is.”
“The kids are getting unruly; they blame me for letting you die. They say a doctor shouldn’t have let his wife die of cancer and when they say this, I am tempted to believe that perhaps madness is part of the family trait and yet there is this belief that perhaps they have received tutoring from the mad people in your family seeing that I have no family; a fact that I have been constantly reminded of these past weeks. ‘A child from the orphanage’ they deigned to whisper the first few weeks but now say it loud especially when I refused to capitulate to their demands except of course to bury you here in your hometown than in a neutral cemetry.”
The crowd remained quiet still perhaps knowing that the Chief Mourner’s speech/tribute wasn’t over. The only agitation came from the family’s elevated stand; things were not going the way everyone had expected. The Chief Mourner spoke again, this time his voice broke with grief.
“I want to grieve alone not with this crowd half of which know you not. I don’t want to have to grief according to anyone’s wishes. Mourn you alone for how can I eat, drink as if to shut out my grief? Why would anyone want to shut out the pain of losing a loved one? I wish death had an appeal court; I would sell all I have to make a case for your return. I love you and always will. Sleep well my darling till we meet again.”
With these last words, the man looked round as if waking from a daze. The MC was not one with a quick wit and fumbled for words to say but his words were not heard. The outcry from the crowd was overwhelming. It was true that more than half of them did not know this woman personally but they felt an overwhelming sorrow for the man who had to deal with the loss of the woman he loved and with overbearing in-laws. When order was again brought to bear, it was obvious that the scale had been tilted. The man was the only one amongst the deceased’s family who sat with his head held high; the rest of the family had their heads down.