The old and bad-tempered Pa Jimoh was dead, to begin with, but he did not go to his grave. And this deprivation of proper interment prevented among mourners any thought of planting over his head a mango tree. The real cause of his demise, however, if brought to focus, would result in an esteem more mirth-inducing to any spectator at the sight of the incident than to the actual victim on whom such tragedy befell.
Pa Jimoh had already hoisted himself to the apex of a rather lofty palm tree before he met his end. His intention behind this ascent was merely to tap in the early wine, but instead, he found his own hand tapping on the delicate nest of snoozing hornets. Not many mortals, if placed behind a judgemental desk, would put too much blame on the piqued wasps for their collective efforts in the attack on the feeble curmudgeon. And it would be unfair if this little but fatal brawl between insect and man was not elucidated in full detail.
The kind of irritation this swarm fostered could only be imagined after putting oneself in their thorax. Just imagine yourself a wasp making passionate insect love to your spouse in your apartment erected feet high on the branch of a palm, then suddenly poof!, your castle was demolished by the single stroke of a hand. And this destruction came not just from any hand but from the hand of Man; that specie with whom you have never been (and possibly will never be) of benign companionship. In this instance, the last thing a patriotic wasp would care about was decency; no male wasp would scramble to a wardrobe searching for a pair of trousers to cover its privates, and neither would a female scream for her pants and bra. What would they do? They’d call on immediate neighbours whose mansions had also been reduced to rubble and launch immediate attack on the human intruder.
Initiating the divide-and-conquer techniques, some wasps made their own attack on the human’s skull; thereby, in the process, reshaping the dimension of the tapper’s occiput into that which was totally different from the Creator’s initial design. But this was not what resulted to the old man’s demise; of course, something more brutal sufficed. While some wasps’ families were busy assaulting the old man’s skull, others lodged themselves into the dark comfort of his rather oversized pair of trousers. The poor man wouldn’t have launched into that extraordinary wail even people far away had sworn hearing if those bees had shown kindness on their intruder. The offensive had found it incubent to sting him on the delicate tissue of the sac dangling between his thighs, while some were satisfied by only sticking their proboscis on the flesh of that tender rope that always comes with the sac. The agony can only be best described by someone who’d experienced a nearly equal attack. So, it can be deduced that the latter attack was more brutal than the former, for it was at this moment that the old man forgot about the precarious position he was in; he’d disremembered that he was still perched against the stem of a tall tree. And because the pain was getting unbearable, Pa Jimoh let go. Witnessing the brutal event could cause one to see only figuratively the morals behind the anecdote that ‘the higher you fall the higher you bounce’, and the old man literally bounced when his slim body came in contact with the earth. And these mean insects returned to build another nest only after accompanying their victim to his final destination. A rather eccentric writer may be inspired to coin a catchy title from this tragedy: ‘Death by Sting’ would go the title.
Pa Jimoh was really dead. There was no doubt whatsoever about that, for he truly and undeniably died from half a thousand stings and a broken vertebra. He knew about his own death? Of course he did. How could it ever be otherwise? Because Pa Jimoh died a virgin, there was really not a wet eye for his funeral. The reason behind his decided celibacy would forever remain a mystery even to the most seasoned of all detectives alive today.
Now, the mention of Pa Jimoh’s funeral brings the magic of the pen back to the first line of the immediate paragraph before this. Pa Jimoh was really dead. This must be distinctly assimilated or there would be nothing of consequence to fathom from the extraordinary sequence of events that succeeded his demise. And when a man dies and is still refused the peacefulness of a grave, then most people will agree that there is something still amiss with the world, as it has always been.
Jimoh, being the last of his race, was of no known family member to claim his corpse, let alone rewarding him with a befitting burial. It was only the kind indigenes of Ogbomosho that took it upon themselves to plant the loner, but they refused to do it without a coffin available. It was part of their culture in the remotest part of the village not to bury any corpse in the soil without first locking it in a casket. But the only coffin-maker they knew had his shop in the city, which was many kilometres away from the village. Having no other known builder of coffins, the village elders gathered together their resources and employed the service of Saka, a gifted coffin-maker. These elders exhibited their generosity over the tapper’s corpse to a commendable degree. If they’d allowed themselves the pleasure of considering Pa Jimoh’s manners in his life they wouldn’t have made any step at burying him; they’d rather have watched the corpse rot and become meat for fowls of both air and land, for Pa Jimoh was known to be tight-fisted in his life; a squeezing, wrenching, grasping, scraping, clutching, covetous old man. He was a well from which no bucket had ever fetched any generous water. No beggar who knew him implored of him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman in the village ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Pa Jimoh. Even the blind men appeared to recognize him; for when they sensed him coming ahead, would tap their canes and make their ways to their doorways. It almost seemed as though whenever it came to situations pertaining Jimoh, they revelled in their affliction. Some of them would console themselves by saying, ‘No eye at all is better than an evil eye!’
But even Jimoh himself did not give a trifle care to this obvious neglect; it was the very thing he liked, and he always defended himself by preaching about how he was the oldest inhabitant of the village at seventy-five, and that every other villager should always accord him the respect for an elder. Although he always emphasized how he was a year older than any other old man in the village, everybody knew that he was never an hour richer. And to have such an evil-embodiment die in the village without the benefit of a burial might spell misfortune for the growing generation of the village.
Saka worked round the clock to make a presentable coffin for Pa Jimoh, and when the work was ready the next day, Saka was impressed at his own achievement; because he’d never, until now, completed a casket in a single day. It was as though the spirit of the dead palm-wine tapper urged him to hasten up. He knew quite well that his client would likewise be duly impressed at the rapidity with which he completed the work. He also knew that the villagers could not wait to inter Jimoh and get it done with. But in the modern world, there was always Murphy’s Law that could not be avoided. And in this case at hand, everything worked together to make sure that the coffin built for Jimoh did not arrive Ogbomosho in time.
Pa Jimoh had chosen the wrong time to die; he kicked the bucket when fuel scarcity was rampant in the city yonder.
With his faithful work of art beside him, Saka waited impatiently at the bus-stop, but the road was practically devoid of vehicles. The very few that plied the quiet road didn’t give the carpenter a second glance, and even those who gave were shied away at the sight of the corpse apartment. Most motorists believed that the presence of a coffin in their vehicles could cause doom to their journey, with or without corpse. Sometimes though, some braver ones would adorn their automobiles with leaves of unknown botanical nomenclatures, believing therefore that this action was enough to ward off both potential evils and evil potentials. Besides, everything in life has always boiled down to faith; but faith itself is limited. Would you believe so much in faith that you’d take a bold step to the middle of a rail track with the firm belief that the speeding locomotive would bounce off you at impact? And it is not unusual to find that it is only readers who’d not misplaced their mental gadgets would find the mission an extremely ludicrous one. And if you trust otherwise, then the writer can only shrug his shoulders and urge you to prove him wrong.
Saka was already at the verge of giving up and returning home when he sighted an approaching lorry. There, he decided within himself that this one vehicle would not pass him by, no matter what it took. This was the perfect six-wheeler to transport him, coffin inclusive. He was determined to make the driver stop, and hand-flagging might not achieve that. When the vehicle was closer, Saka suddenly leaped to the middle of the road. There was no one at the bus-stop to stop him from engaging in this suicidal mission. Everywhere was silent, as if the situation was not only inflation in fuel price but also an imposition of curfew. Although this feat was not unlike that of the demented incipient already mentioned in the former paragraph, Saka was one of the sanest people in all of humanity; because it takes a large degree of sanity and ingenuity to build such a remarkable coffin. Fortunately, Saka was not flattened by the wheels of the truck, though almost. The driver had managed to repair the brakes the day before. The vehicle stopped at only a few inches from the carpenter.
‘Are you crazy?’ Screamed the driver in a thick Yoruba language. As he poked his head out through the window Saka could not help noticing the brutal tribal marks on the man’s cheeks. Whoever had carved this tally on his face had no intention of bestowing pulchritude. The lines were not even symmetrical; the driver’s ugliness was classic.
‘No, I am not crazy, just desperate. There’s a difference between insanity and desperation.’ answered Saka in like language.
‘What do you want?’ The facially-challenged man asked impatiently.
‘My name is Saka and I urgently need to get to the town of Ogbomosho.’
‘How does that concern me?’
‘You are going to drive me there.’
‘And a dozen beauty queens would fight over me.’ Spat the driver, whose name was Dawodu; an ugly name among ugly names.
‘Listen carefully to me, Prince Charming; I’m not leaving here unless you agree to transport me.’
Dawodu scoffed amusedly, ‘And you think your rigid presence here is a threat to my tipper? I can just run you over.’
Maybe Saka’s sanity had reached such a boiling point that a regular prefix had been added to his ‘sanity’, or the spirit of the deceased client was influencing him negatively, because the coffin-maker’s reply was sensationally inane. ‘I’ve memorized your plate number.’
The truck-driver stared at Saka for a long moment; what was running through his mind could be explained by only him, because he quietly but firmly replied, ‘My fee is ten naira.’ Of course, the amount charged during this prehistoric time was a direct equivalent five hundred times its value fifty years aft.
‘What!’ screamed the wide-eyed Saka. ‘That’s a fortune! I can only afford five naira.’
‘Come and let’s hoist that to the back of the lorry.’ Saka pointed at the coffin he’d left at the site of the road prior his maniacal bound before a moving engine. It was at this moment that Dawodu noticed the wooden object.
‘What’s that?’ he asked incredulously.
‘It’s a spaceship.’ Saka replied absent-mindedly.
‘It looks like a coffin.’
‘Wow, that’s very brilliant of you. You’re right, it’s a coffin,’ Saka said impatiently, ‘Now come and assist in lifting it.’
‘You are not planning to put that in my lorry, are you?’
The coffin-maker looked at the driver as if he had just said something incredibly silly.
‘No,’ he answered in anger, ‘I’m planning to string it on my waist like a bead.’
‘I’m not putting a corpse in my car!’
‘The coffin is empty, genius!’
‘Prove me wrong.’
It was only after Saka had opened the coffin to show that it was truly empty that Dawodu assisted in lifting.
Then the journey began.
Little did Saka know about the misfortune that was bound to inhibit the success of the journey. They’d barely travelled five bus-stops when they encountered another lone traveller at the side of the road. The man, who was of a receding hairline and pot-bellied, was visibly weeping. This sob wrung such pity from the truck-driver that he was forced to step on the brake and demand the reason behind the smartly-dressed young man’s cry.
‘I’ve-I’ve been waiting here for over two hours with no vehicle to transport me. It’s so sad, so sad!’ he continued wailing.
‘Why didn’t you return home when you couldn’t find a vehicle?’
‘You don’t understand, sir. See, I have an interview to attend today; I’ve been jobless for years and today’s interview is the first in years, I can’t afford to miss it.’
‘Where is the company?’ asked the sympathetic driver.
‘It’s a cassava processing company in Ogbomosho.’
Dawodu knew the company, it was a popular one named Ogbomosho Cassava Barns.
‘Do you mind if I transport you there in my convertibles?’ The driver’s generous offer was not only the result of his kind heart but also because he was not totally comfortable with having only a coffin-maker beside him and a coffin behind. He felt like there was something quite ominous in this situation. Having the presence of a third party wouldn’t hurt terribly.
The job-seeker’s joy was demonstrated in a rather uncommon manner; he flew on Dawodu like an elated beau and kissed him on one of the disfigured cheeks. Saka almost puked with disgust at beholding such an unsightly sight. The man climbed into the vehicle and perched himself jubilantly beside Saka. The odour that immediately greeted the coffin-maker was redolent; the man smelt of ginger. He extended his hand towards Saka in greeting.
‘Hi, my name is Sule.’ he smiled, revealing wretched gums in the process.
‘My name is Saka. Do you know that there is a coffin behind this lorry?’
The shock that came to the face of Sule was instantly replaced by a terror which could match the fear of someone who had come face-to-face with a ghost.
‘The coffin is empty,’ The handsome truck-driver quickly chipped in. He was sure the young man was ready to excuse himself from the lorry with a hasty retreat. But the assurance from his new saviour made the job-seeker relax back in his seat and a grin was perfectly plastered on his face.
Then the journey continued.
Hardly had they journeyed another fifteen minutes when another remarkable traveller was spotted trying to flag down the lorry. The man was not only perspiring like a swimmer but also strangely dressed; he was white-skinned and was donned in a white garment that was in that time popularly worn by religious fanatics of the cherubim and seraphim gatherings, but the white linen was already turning black with sweat. And of course, the truck-driver pulled over to help the angel out. Dawodu, on getting down, discovered a stranger thing about the stranger he was about to help; the albino was barefooted. When asked, the stranger replied that strapping any footwear while still in the cloak of purity was against their religious beliefs. This explanation made Dawodu wonder whether his newest host was wearing anything under the white robe. Even the lower portion of the dress was swollen in such a trigonometrical proportion that would make Mary Magdalene run for cover. However, because the pronunciation of this religious man’s name tends to harden the arteries, the man told the driver to simply call him Sutana.
‘Where are you going, Sutana?’ Dawodu asked, evidently ready to help.
‘I’m going to church, and I’m almost late. This fuel scarcity is something else.’
‘Where is your church?’
‘At the outskirts of Ogbomosho. I just wish this sun was not as honest as it was today. I’m being baked alive here.’
‘Would you mind if I transported you there in my private jet?’
Sutana stared at the driver a moment before staring at the ‘jet’ itself; then he said to Dawodu, ‘The jet does not look like a private one to me, with those two marsupials perched inside.’
‘But that is the problem, there is no more space in the front seat,’ he thought about this and added, ‘You’ll have to use the back, that’s if you don’t mind.’
‘I don’t have a choice.’
‘But-er, there is a coffin at the back.’
The religious zealot’s expression, on hearing the new revelation, suggested he doubted the driver’s rationality, even his own. ‘A coffin?’
‘Yes,’ Dawodu replied quickly, ‘but it’s empty. I’m only helping out that skinny man in my lorry. I assure you, the coffin is empty.’
Sutana smiled broadly, ‘That’s not a problem; coffins don’t scare me, neither do corpses.’
‘I work in a mortuary.’
Now it was the turn of Dawodu to be scared. ‘I see,’ he said, though he was seeing nothing horror at what the man said. There was always something ominous in an albino wearing a white robe. Before he could change his mind about admitting the strange fellow in his lorry, Sutana had climbed the back, thereafter urging the driver to step in and start driving. A monkey couldn’t have impressed Dawodu more than he was at beholding the acrobatic display of Sutana as he climbed the vehicle. The driver slowly climbed into his vehicle, and as he drove on, he wondered if allowing the white-skinned and white-clothed man in the back of his lorry was a clever decision.
The journey continued steadily.
Then suddenly, without warning, the sky changed, the clouds gathered, and rain was threatened to be released soon. At this time, the trio that occupied the front of the truck had totally forgotten about the fourth man behind them; the man who would not look good in church if he got wet now.
Then the rain fell. It came very hard and loud; and within minutes, the road was about gathering potential floods. Sutana, however, could not help beating at the front for protection against the rising splats of the rain. His quest for help was rendered useless by the loud thunders that seemed not to take a moment to catch their breaths. There was no way anyone was going to help him out, he realised; the rain was going to bath him.
But Sutana was a fast-thinker, unfortunately. Before the rain could entirely drench him he came about a better means to guide against the downpours: the coffin. He stared for a moment at the object; it was smoothly scraped and painted brown—the maker had done a good job at it. Sutana approached the coffin and opened; the insides were padded white and it was looking quite cosy. For a moment, Sutana envied the dead, and he almost looked forward to dying. Without much ado, the white-clothed worshipper took the place of a corpse and closed himself inside the coffin. This was the only way he knew he could protect himself against the element, considering the circumstance. But sadly, the comfort of the coffin was too warm that it caused a soporific effect on its first inhabitant. Before long, Sutana was deeply asleep.
Less than half an hour later, the rain stopped and the weather became clear and cool. And as already mentioned, the lorry driver and his two passengers had totally forgotten the white-garmented man that had once occupied the back of the vehicle.
While Sutana remained asleep in the coffin, the journey continued surely.
Twenty and five minutes later, the kind motorist stopped to assist another stranded traveller; a tall fat man who claimed to be a prince of Ogbomosho land. The driver doubted the veracity in the robust man’s statement, because very few people of royal status would dress like beggars. The fat man’s bushy hair and beards were unkempt, and lice seemed to have taken dwellings deep in the thick shadows of his beard. The man, who also claimed to be named Kamoru, was dressed in an undersized agbada, and the pair of sandals on his feet screamed for salvation, for the once thick soles of these foot wears had been reduced to flat slivers as a result of numerous peregrinations subjected them by their master. Prince indeed!
‘The king would be so worried about me.’ lied Kamoru.
Maybe he was really being honest when he said he was a prince, reflected Dawodu. He wanted to ask Kamoru if he’d been mad for many years and had just miraculously regained his sanity. He had learnt about so many witches and wizards that had pitched tents in Ogbomosho since the time the little village was founded. Suspecting that the reply he might get was inimical to his own safety, Dawodu swallowed his question. That was not the kind of interrogation you make with a recovering lunatic, if he truly were. The motorist wasn’t ready to lose any of his teeth, not quite yet.
‘Okay,’ said the driver, ‘Would you join my caravan?’
Kamoru smiled, ‘With all pleasure.’
‘But the front seats are occupied. How about staying at the back? We’re already half-way to Ogbomosho anyway.’ Dawodu had totally forgotten about the coffin, let alone the white-garmented zealot who was still busy snoozing in the death mansion.
With efforts, Kamoru managed to hoist his bulky self to the back of the vehicle, and the lorry had already engaged in motion by the time he sighted the coffin. The kind of horror that registered itself on the prince’s visage was sensational. Kamoru, although gigantic and robust, was a helpless feretrophobiac (someone with little fondness for coffins). This fear had been made manifest in him since the day he was wise enough to know their use. His fear disallowed him even from attending funerals. He’d always believed since childhood that corpses were always after him, trying to get him to join them in heaven. He believed firmly that a corpse could rouse from a coffin and come after him because he’d dreamt about it many times than he could count; where corpses in large numbers struggled to pull his limbs. Each time that happened they were usually suspended between the realm of the earth and the underworlds. He was always waking up screaming and sweating and begging corpses that were not there to leave him alone.
On beholding the coffin now, the beat Kamoru’s heart skipped also skipped a beat. He prayed fervently that this was just another useless dream. Kamoru didn’t know that if you were in a dream you didn’t always remember to pray that the disaster befalling you in a dream was only a dream. Sweating even under the cool weather, Kamoru gave himself a tight pinch on the arm, expecting to feel no pain as a confirmation that he was really in a dream, but it was not to be; the pinch hurt as hell. The realization that what was happening to him was real brought him terror. He stifled a scream bobbing up from the depth of his mouth and what he was not able to control was the meek but innocent whimper of a kicked puppy. He was sure the coffin contained a corpse, and screaming aloud might wake the slumbering ghost. He wondered why the motorist refused to tell him about the presence of the coffin. Or was the motorist a ghost himself? And his passengers also messengers of Death? Were they trying to drive him straight to Old Salem? Kamoru quickly dismissed the silly ideas. Maybe nobody knew about this coffin. Maybe it just materialised there by sorcery.
He kept as much distance between himself and the coffin as he could, praying that he might reach his destination safely before the deceased took a visit back to the land of the living. Each gallop the vehicle made as it plied the bad road was a significant bump in Karimu’s heart. He also wondered why the vehicle was not adorned with an anti-ghost leaf at least.
Then suddenly, there existed a movement in the coffin. Kamoru bolted upright in an instant; his mental pendulum began swinging from side to side at a breakneck speed. The volume of sweat that immediately oozed out from his skin trebled the initial. Kamoru was certain about the movement of the content of the coffin, but he still wanted to prove himself wrong; to know if, perhaps, it was his mind playing tricks on him, yet he dare not move closer to the coffin. And before he could dismiss the idea of opening the coffin the movement came again, this time more conspicuous than the former.
A definite yawn came from within the coffin and Kamoru felt like fainting.
‘Oh, I can’t believe I slept off.’ the occupier of the coffin proclaimed.
Before Kamoru could collapse into unconsciousness, the lid of the coffin suddenly banged open and a very white man in white garment slowly came rising up from within.
Most times in this case, fainting was never a wise decision; it could become just a one-way ticket to heaven. Therefore, anyone in Kamoru’s shoes might deem it fit to flee – and flee was what Kamoru himself actually did.
‘Ghost!’ Kamoru screamed at the top of his lungs. He had never seen an albino before, until now.
Then all hell broke free; the driver, on hearing the shriek, remembered the coffin and quickly stepped on the brakes. Dawodu, the wonderful driver, was the first person to break a fast getaway; he was a gifted runner. The passenger beside Saka did not take time to open the door; he made his own escape through the window. The beholder of the corpse – Prince Kamoru – ran like he was being chased by a cutlass-wielding masquerade; occasionally falling down and rising up with renewed vigours and the determination to slip away from the abomination he had just witnessed—a corpse had come to life to take me! Kamoru’s survival instinct was undeniably the sharpest among the bolting trio.
Sutana, just rising from a pleasant sleep, came instantly awake at seeing men running in such a maniacal frenzy. Suspecting that there was maybe a riot in action, he also scurried off without asking questions. But he was running in the direction the three men went. And when Kamoru looked behind him and saw the ghost bounding after him in his flowing gown, he ran with the speed of a bullet.
As Sutana was trying to catch up with them, the three men increased their speed, as though they’d each been fitted with a gear mechanism. They ran, ran and ran!
But Saka knew nothing about driving, so he spent the rest of the day with the lorry and his coffin as both ghost and men chased each other to the end of the earth.