The daughter of a cassava processor had just been declared dead by Abia Ibok, the local herbs man. Her death brought grief and immerse sadness to the small agrarian community. Although the village had just mourned the death of one it’s illustrious sons two weeks ago; tonight was different, this news left everyone with a bitter taste in the mouth. Perhaps, it was because the deceased had been the only child of her parents after many futile attempts to conceive. Hence, so much empathy was shown to her mother, who they believed, by now, would be so devastated, and most likely attempt to take her life. It was dark, so was the mood. Even with the heavy lunar presence- one perfect for the usual tales by the moonlight- no such gathering was planned tonight. The town wore a forlorn look.
A fortnight ago, Mfon, as she was fondly called, had developed a terrible illness which had initially- as it was with fever- appeared mild and innocuous. And as weeks passed, it grew worse by the day, mostly accompanied by severe convulsions. Having applied every panacea known to halt it, members of the community concluded that these symptoms were not earthly and were obvious signs of a possessed spirit. They opined that nothing could be done, except appease the river goddess of fertility, Ison, who was attributed to have brought her into this world in the first place. Now, no one knew if the Aniekans had carried out the sacrifice as suggested, but Mfon’s death was highly an indication that Ison probably wasn’t responsible. Tonight, the villagers trouped in numbers to the Aniekan’s compound to have one last look at the corpse. She was sixteen, and as such, traditionally expected to be buried before sunrise. Ekomobong, her father, was seen sitting outside his hut on a bamboo stool with woolly edges, his stocky legs were spread apart, with his hands in between them. Although stoic, he cut a figure of a man who had began to question his whole existence. His pupils appeared dilated and bloodshot, but they produced no tears. Afterall, he was a man, and no man of this great village was expected to cry. No matter the circumstance. Crying was ascribed an effeminate feature.
Inside the hut produced even more sorrowful ambience. A group of women who had come to show solidarity, sang dirges. So sad it was, death must have had a rethink if it were present in the room. Also, a cross section of the crowd tried to calm Imaobong, who had become aggressively insistent that her daughter wasn’t dead and only in a trance. What more was expected from a bereaved mother who had just lost her only child? Her visitors thought. Interestingly, Imaobong may have had a point, as Mfon’s body appeared not to have stiffened, and infact, showed a great deal of limberness. But again, there were no signs of a pulse or heart beat. Although the kerosene lamp that sat across the corpse failed to illuminate the room properly, it somehow managed to make her skin clammy and almost transparent.It was time for her to be buried, as Abia covered her with a loin sheet. By then Imaobong had become stronger in her claims, and had also shifted her pleas to the Abia Ibok, who was visibly growing impatient with her ..
‘’do you want to teach me my job”?
‘’ but Abia, all I ask is that you give me another day. Please do not bury my Mfon. She is only too weak to open her eyes and not dead’’
“and also too weak to breathe? Woman, your daughter is as dead as a log of wood. And you would be doing yourself and family good by not incurring further tragedy associated with keeping her corpse till sunrise’’, he said with a compassionate smile, and immediately made a gesture to two young men. They wore no shirts, and seemed very eager to dispatch their duties. Tonight, they would carry her to the family grave site, and once again, feed her to the insatiable earth……And then days went by, although not so far for a new planting season, but significantly enough for the Aniekan’s tragedy to be discussed less. However, it was discussed, debated and argued, as Imaobong’s mental health took a nose dive. She had remained defiant on her claims that her daughter had not died and was buried alive that night. People said they saw her everyday sit on the ground at the centre of the village square, almost unclad and crying:
‘’eyen mi ki pahga’’(my daughter did not die)
‘’afo ayem adi buke ayen’’(you buried her alive)
‘’I hear her cry to me every night- she says to me;’ mama, mama, help me’’’
‘’you, you , you , you, you ,you buried her alive’’.
This, divided the community. A section pitied her. The loss of one’s only child was potent enough to leave one in a such state. The other group described her as overreacting and unbearable. It was somewhat disturbing that she would accuse the entire village of burying her daughter alive. Was she the first to lose a loved one? Or didn’t she see that Mfon had no life prior to her burial? They argued, whilst throwing a fair share of the blame on Ekomobong, who they believed asserted little as a man, and failed to put his wife to order. It was true that Ekomobong was a man of little words and action, but he’d indeed tried to savage the situation. Three days after the tragedy, he had summoned a meeting with Imaobong’s family to help put sense into her. Despite the meeting which her father presided over, she still didn’t see reason. Imaobong was too far gone. Her husband had given up. Her father and the entire village had given up on her….she was dubbed Idad- the mad woman……………………………Apparently, Imaobang had not given up on herself, and infact, showed more resolve than ever. This time, she took her protest away from the village square to the compound of Utibe, the village head chief. This move might not have gained any recognition if she had not accused Utibe of masterminding the burial of her daughter alive
‘’perhaps, we exhume her daughter’s corpse for her to see’’
‘’the mere sight of her putrefied corpse will sink into her head and bring her back to reality’’
Chief Utibe had had enough of Imaobang’s embarrassment. And acting upon the advice of his deputy, he’d called for a meeting with the rest of the chiefs, with Ekomobong present. At first, he’d suggested Imaobang be incarcerated in the hands of Ediomo – the old priest who took custody of people who had made contact with the dead and deemed unfit to live with the rest of the villagers. Many in the room knew how unpleasant this idea was. Not one single person had been taken to Ediomo and brought back alive. They either did turn up dead floating on Mbe river, or they were never seen nor heard from again. So, it was with these considerations and pleas from Ekomobong that a more logical approach emerged and Edimo’s discarded. It was now all agreed that Mfon’s body would be exhumed for all to see and hopefully, Imaobong would get her senses back..
Not long had the meeting ended, the entire village had been swept with the news. It had spread like an epidemic. At least this would put an end to Imaobong’s constant embarrassment. And just as they predicted, it did. Imaobong, having heard the news, left Utibe’s compound and hurried for home. She took her bath- an activity long forgotten after the death of her daughter- and also prepared a meal for herself. She could feel a tingly sensation run through her stomach. She was suddenly full of doubt…had she been wrong all this while? What had she done to her husband, her home? She was selfish. And she felt the guilt.‘’I just want to see my Mfon again’’ she muttered, with fresh tears streaming down her cheek…………………………..and as it is with the feeling of emptying one’s full bladder, she slept………………..
The rooster crow seemed to have woken everybody at once, as a large crowd had made Utibe’s compound a meeting point even when the moon had barely made way for the sun. Market women, children, skills men, everybody were all gathered there. This was not an event one heard from another’s mouth, rather one, which was to be witnessed..An hour later, Utibe appeared before the crowd, who were beginning to express their displeasure over what they termed, unnecessary protocol. ‘’do we have to wait all day for us do something as simple as exhuming a corpse?’’. A masculine voice was heard from behind. ‘’perhaps they think we have nothing to do’’. This time, a woman with a crying infant tied to her back. Apparently, Utibe seem to care less. He was a man known to be meticulous in his dealings. He took his time, and urged the crowd to be of good behavior. Moments later, the journey to Mfon’s tomb began. All by foot, a great number had formed a stratum to each clique they belonged to. Imaobong was seen walking alone. A decision which seemed likely deliberate. Her husband, on the otherhand , moved with the rest of the chiefs. He was at his usual expressionless self. Suddenly, a funny incident occurred and had caused a slight distraction amongst the crowd. A woman was been heavily chastised for beating her child mercilessly. ‘’should I not beat my erring child that I bore in which none of you had a hand with. Ehn’’? Nsikak mumbled. ‘’maybe you should kill him then. Afterall, if you were whipped for every crime you committed you will not be alive to journey with us now’’. Said, the village drunk. The crowd found it worthy of a reply and hilarious. Nsikak didn’t. She resorted to speaking loudly and acerbically. Nsikak was a middle aged woman, who had been divorced thrice and currently with her fourth husband. She was believed to be hot headed and overly belligerent . Owing to this, the crowd paid no attention to her and went about their business…The crowd fell to a silence at the sight of Mfon’s tomb. The screeches from a tribe of vultures did nothing to cheer the crowd. And the once delinquent youngsters, now clung tightly to their mothers. Imaobong made a squint at the two young men who approached the grave with shovels. They were the same who had put her daughter to the ground. And with the same eagerness they had shown that night, they began to dig the earth…..‘’pong adi tempe udi ado’’(stop digging the grave)
‘’pong adi tempe udi ado.’’
Two young men joined the diggers, but this time with a rope. With apt precision, a green rope was attached to the coffin, which was now visible. Slowly, the young diggers began to pull the coffin up. Dusts filled the air, and minors were soon asked to stay clear the vicinity. At last, a poorly constructed wooden casket emerged. Mfon’s body had been exhumed. Imaobong’s heart sank. It all happened so fast that Ekomobong was now seen with his wife, holding her tightly in show of solidarity. The young diggers turned their focus to chief Utibe, who then gave them a facial expression to go ahead..And with the usual eagerness shown throughout, they began to pound heavily the casket with an iron rod…..Suddenly, the screams from the crowd said it all..To their horror, they discovered Mfon lying on her side, her hands badly bitten, an indication of a premature burial. In her struggle, she had torn frantically at her face, bitten the nails of her fingers and scratch marks above the roof of the casket..