He died twenty-three days ago and today was his funeral.
So many people have come. He had been that popular and that well-loved.
His mother was wailing. I could hear the loud, piteous cries from
outside the window of the room where I was kept. He had been her only
son, her most priced jewel.
She wasn’t the only one crying; his
sisters too were; his uncles and aunts, with his innumerable cousins,
they too were crying. Crying, not wailing like Mama. Somehow their grief
had a measure of self-restraint. No one consoled the other. No one from
the teeming number of family members. They were all the chief-mourners;
none was more aggrieved than the other. They had all lost a priceless,
I wasn’t wailing. Not in Mama’s way.
I wasn’t crying, not in the restrained relatives’ way.
But the glistening of tears covered my eyes and blurred my vision as I
stared straight ahead in that small mourning room that was provided me
in his parents’ home. It was just his mother’s home now as his father
had passed over a decade ago. I sniffed, intermittently, and blew my
nose into the ragged, green face-towel I held crumpled in my hand. It
had belonged to him. It is odd how now it dried my tears and bore the
burden of the phlegm that came from my nostrils.
I heard the sound
of a snuffle close to me and I added my own, dragging mine out as I blew
my nose noisily. One must not mourn more than the bereaved—that was the
saying of our people. The one bereft must cry loudest, sniff more and
moan more miserably at the loss of their loved one. But some wanted to
compete with the true mourners. They would cry longer than you and
sniffle repeatedly as if the loss was personally their own.
The term I have recently coined for their gratuitous display of grief. I
did not consider sane thought something a bereft person was capable of
until I became a widow and the long days and quiet nights provided the
hours I seemed to have lacked for reflection. He was gone and suddenly I
could think, and for myself. He was gone and for the first time in
years, my thoughts were not prompted by another person and they were not
rebuffed even before they were fully formed. I spent hours in thought;
there was little else I could do sitting on the mat laid out for my
My thoughts journeyed from the past to the present and
then travelled far into the future. What was will be no more. What is
will change as each new day dawned. What will become swirled with its
waves of uncertainty and possibilities.
My life has changed. He was
dead, and without warning, my life was changed. The change still
stunned and bewildered me. The change still shook and overwhelmed me.
The change was still yet indefinable. It was not yet clear what it will
be, but it has come and it will never go away. Not to the past, at
The rustle of a rising body pulled me from my pondering. I
blinked and a tear dropped as I raised my head to focus on my mourning
partner. She wasn’t really a partner; we were not co-wives, or even
co-widows. She was only assigned to keep watch over me and console me
when I grieved too hard. Tradition, no one can escape it. I did not need
her and something told me, she did not wish to be constantly imprisoned
and punished just because I had lost my husband. But it was tradition
and duty, so neither she nor I could violate it.
“Time to pay your last respect to him.” She said.
Her voice was raspy from her crying. She too was a cousin; three times removed, I think.
I said nothing. A response wasn’t expected as talking lessened the
depth of one’s grief. The only kind of speech expected of me was the
wailing words that accompanied the loud, rather dramatic, howls of
grief. Any other kind should be low-toned mutters of request to do the
natural and inevitable.
She led me out to a white decorated room
that had until the night before been the living room where visitors were
welcomed and entertained. There were people there now but they were not
visitors, not today. Today, at his funeral, everyone was a mourner,
none was a guest.
“Honour him for the last time.” My mourning
partner instructed, nudging me forward towards the casket that was set
on a white lace decorated table and left open.
His coffin was
black, I noted even as I stepped forward with heavy, grief-laden steps. I
thought it apt. Black was his favourite colour. And even more apt, he
was dressed in a black suit. I knew the suit. It was one he’d worn on
our wedding day two years and three months ago. They hadn’t asked my
opinion on what he should be worn for his interment and they hadn’t
asked where they could find the suit. They hadn’t needed to; they now
kept the keys to our flat in the city. Everything that was his was now
theirs. A wife had nothing acceded to her when she lost her husband,
except the change in title. And for that change in title, she was
expected to mourn a full year, at the very least.
I looked at him.
Through the blur of my tears, I could see him. He did not look like
himself. Once he was tall and big and vibrant. Today, on the silky white
bed of the black coffin, he looked shrunken, small and lifeless. He was
indeed dead. The realisation hit me, afresh, and it brought a wail,
high-pitched and drawn, through my lips.
A single cry that earned many grunted sounds of consolation, some even of approval, at the reverent show of grief.
was indeed gone. My husband was gone. My marriage has ended. My lips
trembled and shuddered against each other as my wails dropped to groans
and soundless cries. I looked at him. I did not touch him. That was not
expected and would probably be rebuffed.
I looked at his face. It
was blank, without expression. But I saw, in fast-moving succession, the
different expressions his face had worn in the two years and three
months of our marriage. I saw myself seeing those expressions and
cringing visibly before them. I would never again have to cringe, not
before those dreaded expressions.
I moved my gaze to his mouth and
remembered his kisses. Passionless and brutal. I bit my lips and
sniffled because the future before me would spare me those
My reverential gaze of grief swept over to
his hands. These were the hands that struck me, each in turn, against
the cheek and when clenched into fists, dealt me blows for having
unwittingly erred. These hands, constricted around my neck, had nearly
snuffed the life out of me one Sunday morning exactly a year after our
wedding day and all because I had allowed his cousin, a younger male, to
hug me in church that day. After today, when they would be swallowed up
by the already six feet deep dug earth with the rest of his body, they
would never again return to chastise me with physical pain.
of him—not the mouth that viciously kissed and hatefully cursed me, not
the hands that brutally and repeatedly struck me, not the feet that
rammed into my sides or back when his hands were not enough to do the
job and not his manhood which he plunged into me, without affection or
passion, to satisfy his God-given husband right—none of them would ever
again possess the power and the right to bring me pain.
I was free.
Two years of sorrow, anguish and regret, and finally, I was free. The
future before me was uncertain but in its uncertainty, there lay too
many possibilities. I placed my hand against the child that was warm and
unseeingly present in my womb, and allowed the last of my reverential
tears to fall. Then I turned and walked, with my child, into that future
AT HIS FUNERAL
Tuesday, 3 April 2018