On the morning a week after Marcelina Ngonadi died, the four stooped sister-friends are pensive, knowing that Henrietta will be the next. As they look upon Marcelina’s gleaming casket with its gold handles and at her jewelry—silver earrings and a necklace, bracelets and rings, a cabochon emerald brooch—they are preoccupied with thoughts of the superficiality of their own lives and the continual restrictions from doctors now that their knees are failing and their hair is thin. Surrounding her open casket at the body viewing, they contemplate the work the morgue attendants have done. One of them stares at Marcelina’s feet to be sure that she has on the shoes they had picked for her and that she has on the pantyhose they had collectively decided on, the soft brown shade matching her complexion. They stare at the stiffness of her face, her mouth pressed shut and her cheeks caved in so that it looks like she has no teeth. They stare at the sheen of her wig, her dark-as-blood lipstick, and they worry about the dullness of her skin. It seems that the morgue attendant didn’t apply as much seaweed oil as they had instructed be creased into her hands and the parts of her neck visible above her white silk maxi-dress, which her daughter had picked. For, like them, Marcelina never married. Like them also, Marcelina adopted a daughter.
In a single queue, Cecilia is the first to take her seat at the end of the pew, then Goodluck, then Clementina and Henrietta. Their communal gaze settles on Marcelina’s daughter, Ogadinma, a pharmacist at the teaching hospital in Lagos, seated beside her two children and husband, who is a top-earning Lagos investment banker. Trying hard to show strength she smiles at them, a false smile that never reaches her eyes. Inside the church are distinct scents: sharpness of burning incense, of melting candle wax, the mustiness from freshly polished pews, and the harsh scent of camphor balls from clothes that parishioners dug out from the bottoms of their trunks—all these buoyed by the hot weather. Meanwhile, Marcelina’s daughter smiles so much that she doesn’t realize that tears are running down her cheeks until Henrietta goes over to hand her a handkerchief.
At Mount Carmel Cathedral on Mission Road in Emekuku, the first and second liturgical readings are done by Clementina and Henrietta—they had agreed on who among them would. Ogadinma gives a fine eulogy, managing to control her emotions and the visible tremor in her arms.
“Didn’t she live her life with dignity?” the priest begins his homily. The parishioners are quiet. How she lived a life of goodness. All that could be heard was the humming of the oscillating industrial standing fan, so that the sudden shuffling of feet turns every eye to the back of the nave.
A gaunt-faced fellow wobbles toward the altar without genuflecting, wagging his finger at the priest. The village drunk, Brutus, in his characteristic brown shirt and washed-out-of-their-blackness three-quarter trousers, emerges as the center of attention.
“My sisters and brothers, I have come here to say something,” he starts in a voice clear as a gong. “How many of you cared about Marcelina when she was alive?”
He’s still wagging his finger at the priest, who has paused his homily.
“Enough of all this,” the priest says.
“Don’t tell me when it’s enough! My order doesn’t come from Rome. As I was saying, Marcelina was a good woman; it was she who told me who my mother is.”
With this the drunk reaches the front pew, where the sister-friends of Marcelina are seated to his right. Turning so his wagging finger is above Henrietta, he smiles.
“Henrietta,” he calls out, “when you people die, that is, follow your friend to the afterlife, these people that you see here will gather to—”
But before he can finish, two church wardens lift him with ease by his shoulders and legs like a toddler at the crux of a tantrum.
“Leave me. I came here to say something. I have a message to deliver. Tell these wild beasts to put me down. You better move on with life—” His voice trails as he struggles before disappearing with the footsteps of the wardens. No one seems surprised.
“If he had an actual flesh-and-blood family, they would have kept better watch over him,” the catechist seated beside the sister-friends whispers before hissing.
Marcelina’s daughter begins to cry again in the pew adjacent to where they all sit. They watch as she leans toward her husband; they notice her white lacy hair-scarf rippling down her back. Again, Henrietta goes over, picks it up, helping the weeping woman cover her hair. Then, returning to their pew, she genuflects before the crucifix in the nave of the cathedral, kisses her rosary, and takes her seat with the rest of her sister-friends. They all sit in deep waiting silence, shivering slightly, as though waiting to be possessed with the gift of speaking in tongues. The priest talks about how Marcelina tried to be at peace with all people. Dabbing a handkerchief on his forehead, he ends with the rejoicing in heaven when one soul is reunited with the creator.
Careful in their movements, Marcelina’s sister-friends dip fingers into the holy water stoup and with their wet fingers make the sign of the cross over their faces as they lead the funeral procession after mass, accompanying the hearse as immediate relatives are supposed to. The hearse blares its low siren as it makes its way on the tarred road back to Marcelina Ngonadi’s ancestral home, her final resting place. The grave has been dug up near the dwarf bushes of her flowers: poinsettia, queen of the night, red costus, and allamanda, all grown with the patience and delicacy of Marcelina’s touch, now pruned to make room for her grave.
A sudden hush falls on the crowd as the casket is lowered into the grave. Ogadinma is first to cast a shovelful of dirt on the casket, then her husband in his salt-white guinea-brocade kaftan. His presence is large and noticeable. He blows his nose into a light-blue handkerchief, the same handkerchief he folds in three quarters to dab his eyes as he swallows back a sob. Next, instead of calling on extended relatives, the catechist calls on the sister-friends of Marcelina. Their strides are slow, all four of them, each following behind the other. They wait for each to shovel dirt, murmur last respects to the casket, and one after the other they conclude, their shovelfuls of dirt making splattering sounds like hail on a zinc roof, staining the glossy brown of the casket with dust and dirt. Then leaders of the women’s and men’s wings from the cathedral do the same, then the youth leader, the catechist, and finally the priest, who also sprinkles holy water on the casket.
“Laa na ndokwa,” he says.
With that, the gravediggers begin to cover the grave. Ogadinma looks as though she has swallowed something that refuses to go past her throat. A small crowd gathers around her in consolation; her husband locks her in his embrace, releasing her only to another lady, whom the sister-friends think might be his sister. As the grave begins to fill, the son-in-law in his starched robe takes charge, controlling affairs from here to there, trailing his cologned presence. The sister-friends of Marcelina Ngonadi stand by and watch the grave being filled, as though it’s their duty alone. There are loud keens from neighbors and acquaintances, people who were never really friends with Marcelina Ngonadi but, in a place like Emekuku, will gather in her name. It isn’t hard to understand why these mourners wail. These people who have known Marcelina only from afar cannot help but pity her fate in life, which they pass on in whispered gossip.
“She was the third most beautiful woman in her days.”
Some of the mourners are from the Catholic Women’s Guild, some are from the League of Church Warden, some from the Sacred Heart of Jesus society. Some are from different pockets of Owerri Archdiocese. Some have come from Mbaise; some have come from Atta; a good number from Ulakwo; and the few of them flamboyantly dressed are from as far as Lagos, where Marcelina worked until her retirement. But Marcelina, while living, had tried to make known to outsiders only that which was possible from their outside gaze.
“They say the year she moved to Lagos to work—she must have been thirty-five then—she began wearing a wedding band on her ring finger.”
“I heard that in Lagos, she rejected a major general in the army.”
A neighbor wailing with hands on her head and her stiff black headscarf never shifting brings herself to a small cough, covers her mouth before saying, “He was a rear admiral in the navy, not the army.”
Before long the grave is covered. But before the mason man gets to work beautifying the grave-top, raising it above ground level, it is the sister-friends who are called upon to stomp on her grave.
“Yah, rejecting-rejecting, and so what? What did the beauty bring her? Did we not hear that she changed her status to widow on all her banking and pension documents?”
Tapping an itchy scalp, a woman pauses from weeping and says in a whisper, “And so what? It’s not as if she or her friends could ever keep a man or you know . . .” Here she pouts and then continues, “Birth children of their own blood. God forbid to be an old woman without her own blood children.” And then as if choreographed she goes back to wailing, her face and hands to the heavens.
With delicate feet, the sister-friends sidestep, and the mourners watch, until the former heap is a mere flattened earth. The mourners let out loud keens. When the sister-friends start to tire, they lock elbows. They stomp as if by stomping one more time, just one more, the ground will open and bring forth the dead. This is the time-old performance of final mourning.
Not to be undone, kinfolk crane their necks to see past each other, saying, “The death of a mother is the most painful thing.”
More mourners cry out as they whoop and holler, falling into each other’s arms in make-believe mourning.
In no time, the tunes of highlife music lighten up the mourners: from Celestine Ukwu to Chief Osita Osadebe, from Sir Oliver De Coque to Dr. Sir Warrior and the Oriental Brothers Band, from the Peacock Guitar Band to E. C. Arinze and His Music. “Obialu ije ga a-naa,” a woman sings along to Chief Osita Osadebe’s song about the briefness of life, while she gyrates her hips to the rhythm. These tunes, along with the smooth tenor of the singer fueled by guitars and percussion, cause the mourners to tap their feet and wiggle their arms impatiently, brightening them up. But not Marcelina’s sister-friends. Still in locked elbows, they stand before the flattened heap paying no mind to the swelling music, as if it is the call and response of birds. These lyrics about life not gone as planned, but also about hope not yet lost, cause them to be stone-faced in each other’s company, watching with reserved will. They read the lips of some mourners.
“Hmmm, but how is it that they do not wail, when their friend is gone, never to return?” the mourners murmur among themselves.
“This life is a marketplace. You come, you buy, you sell, and then you go,” Henrietta says under her breath, in a whisper, as the other sister-friends pucker their lips in unison, side-eyeing the once-mourners who bite into their turkey from plates of jollof rice, while sipping from their malt drinks. Others insist on accompanying their ugba with tankards of palm wine.
Ogadinma finds them where they are seated. Plain-faced in her flowing white kaftan with no embroidery, she begs them to make themselves at home, repeating what they know that she knows that they know: that they can never be guests in Marcelina Ngonadi’s home. She tells them that their own food has been kept in aluminum-foil trays in the dining room, separate from the others.
“Is Marcelina’s daughter separating the food for the childless from that of the fruitful like us?” one woman whispers to her companion, while mashing jollof rice with her fingers and feeding it to the toddler on her lap.
“If Ogadinma doesn’t know any better, why can’t these old women tell her the way to do things?” asks the companion as she breastfeeds her infant. In unison, their eyes meet with the sister-friend seated opposite them.
The sister-friends offer half-hearted smiles that only curve their lips, assuring Ogadinma that they are coming to eat. What Ogadinma doesn’t know is they have agreed between themselves that they won’t taste a thing served at Marcelina’s burial. Not even a bottle of water.
Among themselves they worry about the brittleness of their lives. For Marcelina Ngonadi to have died in her sleep of what the doctor called natural causes, without even a headache, still puzzles them.
“Something has to kill a person, something must. And whatever it is must have a name,” says Henrietta.
“Did she not survive a collapsed lung as a girl?” Clementina murmurs. The other sister-friends nod. “A fibroid operation and that car accident,” she continues, her voice so low that her lips move in almost inaudible explosions. The other sister-friends nod.
“Even the disgrace of opening her mouth to ask D. O. Thomas-Okike to marry her and he laughed like he had eaten laughing mushroom. Didn’t she remain unshakeable?” The other sister-friends do not nod along this time, for they remember Marcelina’s proposal night, the night that changed everything.
They will themselves to forget, watching as the youth of Emekuku head to the streets to accord Marcelina the twenty-one-gun salute. But they can’t forget.
Picking her teeth, one woman sneers. “Before we forget, twenty-one-gun salutes are for women who actually gave birth to their own children. Mothers who know that kind of joy. Did Marcelina and her friends ever push?”
“Push indeed! The most they did was get transferred to the food directorate in Orlu as penance for going to that dance party in June of ’68,” says a man with a potbelly, before dipping his snuff.
The mourners look upon the sister-friends of Marcelina sitting comfortably in their chairs, their feet swinging but never reaching the ground.
“That transfer is what happens to wakabouts, people who suffer from diarrhea of the legs, those who go to places they shouldn’t be, just because Chubby Checker is playing on the stereo.”
Out of the corner of her eye, one mourner notices something and nudges the other; like a ripple on a lake surface, the nudge spreads. They watch a drunk woman tighten a piece of lappa around her waist, and as the first strains of a Dr. Sir Warrior and the Oriental Brothers Band tune enter the speakers, she wriggles her hips. To improvise on this move, the drunk woman, already pulling a small crowd, turns her back to the mourners, bends over so that her fingers are on the ground as she gyrates her hips to the beat. “Look at that waist,” says retired magistrate Ejimofor, ninety-seven and near senile. Old men, grinning toothless widowers of the town, gather around the drunk woman, cheering. Her husband and her eldest daughter start to draw her away from all the attention.
The sound of the twenty-one-gun salute fills the air. The sister friends watch, tears trickling down their cheeks and trembling along their slackened jaws, an inverse to the mourners guffawing as the drunk woman tries to sneak one more dance move in before being swallowed into the crowd that once formed for her. The mourners ponder whether the sister-friends are weeping for their dead or from stifled laughter.
“It was at that same Chubby Checker dance party that they said D. O. Thomas-Okike put Marcelina in the family way.”
“It was Clementina. And if it was the same dance party I heard about, then it was at midnight of June 30th, so basically it was in July,” says a man sipping from a bottle of stout.
“Okay-okay, it was July, and everyone knows it was actually Henrietta. But I heard from someone who heard from someone who heard the bekee doctors saying it wasn’t actually in a family way. It was done by force.”
“Taaah, D. O. would never do such a thing. What we heard was that it was the Nigerian soldiers. Marcelina and her friends went to ahia attack, buying and selling this and that in enemy territory.”
There might be some truth to that one. The townspeople know of or have heard of children fathered at the time of their once-seceded country by Nigerian soldiers. Pregnant women. They gave birth to children with taut bellies and rust-colored hair. They gave birth to babies with weak limbs. They gave birth to children with yellowing skin. They gave birth to children who as soon as they sensed the thick hunger permeating the seceded country made that breath their first and only. They gave birth even though they had taken the fermented roots the old midwife gave them. Bastards, some of the townspeople called them, marking those children by their birth.
“What I still cannot understand is giving Marcelina the twenty-one-gun salute.”
“Because money can cover a multitude of things,” says a crinkle-faced woman with iron-gray hair who had earlier requested leftovers in a plastic bag for her guard dog. She continues, “They were all pregnant at the same time, that’s why they were all transferred to the food directorate.”
Scratching their temples with new realization, the mourners are itching to tell their wives while on their matrimonial beds, to tell their husbands while speeding on a motorcycle along a dirt road. Someone remembers when the sister-friends returned from the food directorate, each with an orphan.
“But they fooled no one. We saw the stretchmarks on their bellies.”
As cities and towns in their seceded nation fell, General Gowon’s blockade forced everyone to eat boiled leaves and roasted grasshoppers and unripe fruits, until they begged for better. More stockfish. Salt. More powdered egg. Sugar. The mourners remember those airlifts that brought them rationed food and offered to take their sick children to Gabon. Was it the Red Cross or Caritas? No one seems to remember now. In those days, a story made the rounds that the sister-friends, acting like adherents to a new religion, offered the orphans they brought back from the food directorate. Except Henrietta. She maintained that the baby boy she had been caring for had convulsed the night before and died, the story went. The relief worker who gave them the papers to sign squinted in disbelief, telling whoever wanted to hear that their palms were caked with blood as if from a completed blood oath. Therein rose the suspicion of the townspeople.
“Why else do you think Henrietta got no rest until the late organist, that Anglican one, and his wife just happened to find a baby in the bush?” asks a man sucking at an ice cube so that he made sloppy noises.
The mourners remember the childless organist and his wife naming the infant Brutus in the same year the leader of their seceded country fled with one of those airlifts. By the time General Gowon of the blockade declared no victor, no vanquished, Brutus had learned to walk and resembled Henrietta in the face only. As he grew, the townspeople watched him, and when he made trouble, children who had heard from their parents asked if he did not know that the organist and his wife were not his real parents. “You’re a bastard and a born-by-mistake at the same time,” they mocked Brutus as they excluded him from their game of police and thieves.
The years went and Brutus grew into a teenager, and the aged organist and his wife died, abandoning Brutus to shepherd himself. The sister-friends like the other townspeople noticed him deteriorating into drinking but focused on their own lives. Breaking the hearts of their family members by not finding love enough to result in a marriage, the sister-friends caused suffering to people who loved them, the kind that seemed inconsequential to them but that burdened others. They chose to live their lives in such a way as not to care how the people of Emekuku might act toward them as time passed. It took years of living and working in different cities, each of them adopting a child at different times. Upon retirement, knees failing them sometimes, having great difficulty in chewing meat and corn, they had packed up their properties and returned to Emekuku, to be greeted then by the whispering of judgments behind jalousies and also by the notorious drunken misbehavior of Brutus.
Gifted with life for now, Marcelina’s sister-friends sit under the yellow and blue canopy. All dressed in kaftans with turbans, on their necks are white freshwater pearl necklaces contrasting the black of their kaftans, just as they had agreed to dress. As they reflect on what lies next for them, there’s no need to search their hearts. Staring at each other, they know Henrietta is next. The pact must be seen to fruition.
To the left of where the sister-friends sit, Brutus staggers and struts between canopies. His mere presence turns heads. He’s still in his signature getup but with his trousers tied around his waistline with an old tie. Between belches, he whistles at the mourners who are eating and drinking. He clutches a sweating bottle of half-finished beer under his armpit, and an empty satchel is strapped across his chest. He sings with a shaky voice between belches.
Elu uwa nke-a leee
Elu uwa nke-a leeee
Ala eze eluigwe amam ebem ga e-bido e-bido
He sings a Dr. Sir Warrior and the Oriental Brothers classic tune; his voice wavers drunkenly. The mourners hail him as they egg him on to drop his satchel and double over in a dance. He refuses, snatching the satchel from the one who tried to get it from his shoulder.
“The way you are holding this bag so tight, one would think you have dollars and pounds inside it,” someone shouts.
Brutus sucks his teeth, does some fancy zigima footwork while making his way before the sister-friends, chucks his thumb toward the mourners as if to say, imagine these people.
“Go and ask anyone that has seen Bright Chimezie perform, this is the same zigima step that he did for Mandela,” he says, licking his lips. “Have you people seen him perform?” he asks, looking at one sister-friend then the other. They pay him no mind.
“Why are all of you quiet? Remember, to move forward is to seek life, to move backward is to find death. You and your friends better not stand still, because if you stand still this world will move on—you cannot stand in one place,” he finishes with a loud belch, staring at Henrietta as he turns another bottle of stout into an empty plastic bottle. He starts to shove the empty into his satchel, then remembers something and decides against opening the shoulder-bag.
Henrietta says nothing and does not react.
“Somebody find me a polybag to put my drinks in,” he says to no one.
“You have a bag, put it in there. Nobody has a bag for you to put your beer in.” The commanding voice is from the gap-toothed woman.
“Will you shut up there? Do you think I was vomited? I too have a mama. Or is it because he is your son that you told him not to bring me ordinary beer?”
“People that were born are talking, those that were picked from the road too are talking,” the gap-toothed woman says in a low voice before finding a seat. Brutus looks from her to the sister-friends, madness lurking in his eyes as he staggers off to find a bag.
The mourners see the craziness of his life, to have a bag, yet to ask for another as though he does not have one. The sister-friends of Marcelina read meaning into Brutus’s words and search their own lives for interpretations. How will it feel to die? Is it the only way they can truly understand the emptiness of life? Maybe this must be how it feels to lose a husband? Is it any different from losing an aged parent? They will never know. But they think about their own lives, about the emptiness their deaths will bring to the children they leave behind. The momentary joy they will bring to feasting mourners and the temporary supply of alcohol to Brutus or many other of the town drunks.
Their days have not come yet. All in their eighties, surely all they have left is the now. Here and there, mourners, already tipsy, now begin to dance slow unsteady dances, the kind fueled by surplus alcohol. The sister-friends watch babies strapped to the backs of young women, small children perched on the laps of teenagers, women in cheap lace blouses, meticulously tied headscarves and double lappas around their waists. Women who surely are mothers tuck the tips of their white handkerchiefs in their waists and start gathering food in plastic bags, food that will sustain their families for days. Jollof rice, fried chicken, peppered cow-foot, roasted goat meat all tightened in plastic bags. With their bags full, they look over their shoulders for their children. The children, sipping their Fanta and Coca-Cola, are instructed to take these first bounties home. Before they can return to finish their drinks, their mothers will have different types of soups in plastic bags ready to be sent home like the earlier bounty; the children’s constant worry is that their sweating bottles of Fanta and Coca-Cola next to their mothers’ feet may be warming up with the idle heat of the mourners. With arms folded below their breasts, the sister-friends remain seated under the canopy, withdrawn from the entire feast as they have been all afternoon. Their dangly single-pearl earrings shake as they turn at intervals to watch others, unaware that they too are being watched by Brutus. The next to die will be Henrietta.
Henrietta is next because the year the war ended, just before they left for the cities, they reached a pact. In addition to what had happened to them, they took an oath never to tell anyone about the baby the organist and his wife had named Brutus. They were not betting women, even as they lined up a sensible distance before a brick wall, each with a shilling coin nestled in her palm, steadfast in what they were about to do. Before any coin was tossed, they made their pact. When death comes calling for one, then whoever has the heads-up coin closest to the wall would be next to die. But only after the deceased had been buried. Old women getting older agreed, not out of fear or regret but because by then there was nothing left for them to do. Henrietta is next because that morning as the youngest she tossed her coin first, before the others followed ranked by age. The last shall be the first. When all the coins were tossed, they went over to see whose was heads up and closest to the wall. Henrietta’s.
At the back yard, more cooking takes place. Red onions are sliced in rings, steamed meat seasoned, chicken gizzards marinated in spicy curry broth, and since no occasion would be complete without it, Ofe-Owerri, thickened with cocoyam, cooked in palm oil with tender snails, beef tripe, goat meat, ukazi, and ugu leaves, then flecked with assorted smoked fish, is ready. With cooked-till-tender stockfish aroma wafting over the entire place, one of the caterers goes to inform the mourners that there’s still more to eat and drink, and that the funeral will go on through the night and into the morning. The men relax as more crates of beers are brought out. The women take miserly sips from their own beers as they scout around for more plastic bags. When they find none, voices are raised over loud highlife music, sending already rebellious children home to fetch more plastic bags or they will have no breakfast tomorrow as punishment.
From where he sits, tipsy and gulping a beer that appears dark ruby red in a transparent cup, Brutus focuses on Henrietta. It is true, he thinks to himself, we have the same nose. The same eyes and the same shape of face. Marcelina had burst out of spite that evening, just because he had asked her for spare change while vomiting by the wayside, “Me, give you my money so you can buy dry gin as usual? Are you not ashamed of yourself, Brutus? I have told you to get a job like your fellow men, but you’re still here.” She paused and eyed him, her head moving up and down, and then she said, “I just wish Henrietta had left you in the bush to die instead of at the church where the organist found you.” He remembers that drunkenness cleared from his eyes as Marcelina went on her way, but he was too weak from vomiting to rise from his stupor that evening. Sober by morning, the story everyone woke up to was that Marcelina had died.
“If I lay my hands on this boy, he will not believe I am his mother,” a woman says to other women about her rebelling son. The voices of more mothers are raised over the loud music.
“Is it not common knowledge that Marcelina’s daughter and her husband slaughtered two cows for this burial?” a woman asks, as if talking to herself, as she kneads her fufu.
“Are you telling me? Can one who doesn’t have money attempt to cook Ofe-Owerri?” another asks, opening a sachet of Andrews Liver Salt into a cup of water and gulping the bubbling mixture.
“This is the kind of burial that people will talk about for years and years to come,” says a man with the back of his palm over his mouthful.
“Like the case of the woman who lived to a hundred and one in Azara. Her eleven children made her proud in the afterlife,” his companion answers with beer foam on his moustache.
As the merrier-sounding highlife songs of Oliver De Coque, Bright Chimezie, Saro Wiwa, and, by popular consensual demand of youngsters, Flavour N’Abania begin to blast through the speakers, the people of Emekuku do themselves proud with their dances. Women break into the ever-infectious egwu ukwu with hips gyrating.
Ukwu nwanyi-owerri, a cluster of mischievous young men shout between cackles as they watch the women dancing. The men do the one-foot, two-feet steps, side-to-side zigima twitching, accompanied by complicated arm twirling.
Ogadinma calls the sister-friends into her mother’s bedroom. With small cracking of arthritic joints they follow her inside the room left almost as the day their friend died in it. Surfaces choked with clutter—small-framed photos of saints, bottles of blessed oils and holy water, stacks of prayer books, crosses, figurines of angels, and as with the altar of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, there’s an enormous framed photograph of Ogadinma and her family—Marcelina’s personal shrine. Ogadinma shows them all the things she intends to keep as memorabilia of her mother’s life, then she asks her mother’s friends to pick whatever they want. One of the sister-friends nudges Henrietta.
“Ogadinma, is there any need for these things?” Henrietta asks in a small voice on behalf of the others. Henrietta twiddles a fist-sized porcelain pietà, but what is the point?
Outside, the sun retreats behind the thick blanket of the clouds, darkness descends, crickets chirp. Security halogen lights flood the compound with light, the crowd of mourners grows, people ask for more food and more drink. More, more, and more. The grave-top has been laid with ash-colored gravel the same color as the smooth-as-whetstone rectangular border of the grave. Sand, stomped upon and pressed, covers the hole, and the shiny, cream-colored gravel, smooth as pebbles, tops the sand. The sister-friends of Marcelina Ngonadi have laid white lilies and pale-pink carnations on top and stand before the grave. The mourners are already drunk and without worry for tomorrow. The sister-friends are still standing before the grave, Prince Nico Mbarga and Rocafil Jazz Band’s “Sweet Mother” blaring from the speakers.
When I dey sick, my mother go cry cry cry
She go say instead wey I go die make she die
She go beg God, God help me, God help me, my pikin oo
Sweet mother eeeeee, sweet mother oooo eee
Brutus suppresses a smile as he walks toward them, as if in a moment of clear-eyes, and retrieves from his satchel a dagger.