I check my watch and see the time is already 5:30pm. What a day this has been. I’m trying to shake off the scraping sounds the coffin made, as it was swallowed by the earth’s open mouth, early that morning. Even with the loud Bini music coming from the speakers, the children running around, and men talking on top of their voices, I can still hear it, somewhere in my head.
I need something to distract myself. I put my palm over my eyes, to protect them from the sun that is beaming down on us, even though it’s supposed to start setting soon. My sister, whom I’m trying to find, is still lost somewhere in the crowd, with my phone.
“Eheen, Osagie, I’ve been looking for you,” my mother literally pops out of nowhere, and pulls my hand. Her headgear is sparkling in the harsh sunlight, and I can see my grandmother’s picture on her wrapper. I start hearing the coffin again. I close my eyes and shake my head.
She drags me to a tall man, wearing a black top, over faded jeans. His eyes are covered by thick aviator glasses, and he takes them off when he sees me. “Ahaan. Iye Omoye. Na Osagie be this?” He asks and then pulls me to himself, mushing my face into his protruding tummy.
This is like the twentieth time today. My mum drags me to someone, who looks surprised that I’m grown, like, that isn’t what living things are supposed to do, then she’d ask me if I remember when they carried me as a baby, and I’d say no, and watch the light die inside their eyes.
“Osagie, I carried you when you were a baby, you were so small,” he says. How many people carried me as a baby? I try to smile and nod. “Do you remember your Uncle Osaro?” My mother asks, and immediately, I can see his eyes light up in expectation. I shake my head slowly, and his face gives away his disappointment.
“He was a baby then, he won’t remember,” he says but my mother wouldn’t give up. “Ahaan Osagie. Your uncle Osaro, that carried you when we were living in Abraka. That used to feed you with cerelac.”
Woman! How am I supposed to remember? I shake my head again. “No mummy”, I say. I’m looking past both of them, to the crowd, dancing in the space left in the center of the canopies. The Omoruyi family, had rented a large space in a boarding school that wasn’t in session for the burial ceremony of my maternal grandmother, who passed away two weeks ago.
About five large canopies were rented and arranged, to form a half square. The emcee of the event is saying something now. I think a popular army general just arrived or something.
Grandma was a well-known evangelist when she was alive. So the guest list is packed with Christian ministers and other renowned men and women in the state. I can see my sister now, and I want to leave, but my mother is still holding my hand.
“Iye Omoye, make Osagie come greet Epa,” my mum’s younger sister, Aunty Susan, saves me. Aunty Susan takes my hand and now it’s her turn to pull me. We meet my elder sister, Omoye on the way.
“Are you done calling your boyfriend?” I ask and Aunty Susan raises a brow. Omoye looks flustered. “Take your phone, bighead,” she says and hands me my phone. Aunty Susan takes her hand too. “We’re going to greet Epa,” she says.
Omoye looks at me, and I shrug so she knows I also have no idea who this Epa is supposed to be. I notice Omoye has gotten taller, as her head is almost reaching Aunty Susan’s shoulder. This is impressive, because Aunty Susan is the tallest of all grandma’s children. My grandmother had six children for her husband, of which my mother was fourth, and they were all girls. Aunty Susan is number six, and the tallest of all of them. Omoye seems to be catching up, and I feel jealousy churn in my stomach when I notice.
She takes us to one of the canopies, filled with old people; elders from several churches, few of grandma’s friends, grandma’s younger sister and now, this big heavily bearded man I can see my cousins kneeling in front of.
I wonder if all these old people have this voice, somewhere deep down, asking them, right now, if they’d be next. “Epa domo,” Aunty Susan greets and kneels in front of him.
“Eh Susan,” he says and gives a hearty laugh. Omoye and I kneel too and greet, and he blesses, and pats our backs.
I can see Grandma’s sister, staring absentmindedly into space, while the people sitting beside her empty a plate of rice. I imagine she’s most likely thinking of her own mortality. Man, being this old must be dreadful.
I soon leave the canopy to join my cousins in another one. All five of us, sharing a table. Ogochuckwu, the only son of my mum’s eldest sister has his ears blocked by beats speakers. He can be nice when he wants to, but he keeps to himself a lot, especially at occasions like this, filled with people. He notices me staring and winks.
I pull a seat, and sit beside Usman. Usman’s mum and grandma didn’t get along too well when she was alive, because his mother got married to a Muslim, and grandma didn’t approve. I like him though, he lets me play his PS4 when we visit, and has been borrowing me books since he learned I had a thing for novels. His two younger sisters, Aisha and Maryam, haven’t left their mother’s side since they got here.
“Osagie, I’m tired,” he says when I’m seated. “I know right. This thing is just annoying,” I reply. I’m still pissed at the fact that the ceremony was supposed to start 2pm, as was stated in the invitation, but people started arriving at 4. My mum told me its something normal, but I still can’t see how.
Tumi, Aunty Susan’s daughter is sitting on Omoye’s lap and playing with her phone. Wisdom, Aunty Joy’s son is sleeping, with his head on the table, and his mouth wide open. Probably tired from all the adults he has had to greet and tell he can’t remember. His elder sister is currently in the University of Lagos, preparing for her exams. She was distraught when she found out Grandma had passed, but her mum felt it would be better for her to focus on her coming final year exams. If she does well this year, she might graduate as the best student in her department, and hopefully the whole school.
Out of my mother’s sister’s, Aunty Faith is the only one without a child, as she had not been able to settle down with anybody. Her first husband, whom we called Uncle Sneakers because of how he spoiled us with sneakers chocolate bars, turned out to be abusive. Then she started dating this nice man, Uncle Bamidele, who got arrested last year for internet fraud.
I can spot Aunty Faith and Aunty Susan, talking to a big woman who just arrived. How are people just coming for something that was supposed to start two pm? I can picture the burial ceremony, stretched out till night and it makes me shudder.
I turn to look at my cousins, wondering why the table is so quiet. Ogochuckwu hasn’t taken off his head phones. Ever since he started going to school in the U.K, Ogochuckwu started acting more different, I can’t describe how exactly, but then, he somehow managed to become more introverted than he originally was.
“I’m going to miss Grandma,” Omoye says, perhaps to start a conversation. Usman grunts. “Yeah,” he says. “She was a sweet old lady. My Dad didn’t like her much though. They couldn’t have a normal conversation without her trying to convert him.”
I turn to look at Usman. His eyes are fixed on his feet. “Why couldn’t she just respect his religion? Our religion.”
“Uh, because she didn’t want you to go to ‘hell’,” Ogochuckwu answered. I didn’t even notice when he took off his headphones, and I’m just realising he put air quotes on hell. My sister frowns. “What’s that supposed to mean?” She asks.
“That Grandma is about to meet the greatest disappointment,” Ogochukwu replies. “Omoye, there’s no heaven, nor hell. No God, no devil, all this, is as pointless as life itself.”
I look at my sister who folds her hands and raises both brows. Wisdom yawns a little too loudly and wakes up. “Is it over yet?” He asks, nobody answers, we’re all looking at Ogochukwu, who’s staring back, with his eyes daring us to counter the bomb he just dropped.
“You do realise Grandma was an evangelist,” is the best I can come up with.
“Yes? And?” Ogochukwu asks.
“I dunno. . . God exists.”
“Wow, thanks so much Osagie. That explains everything”, Ogochukwu laughs.
“What’s happening?” Wisdom asks, looking from face to face. Again, none of us answer him.
“God exists Ogochukwu,” Usman says
“OK then, prove it.”
Usman looks at me for back up, and I shrug. “See, Africa is just a continent of hopeless, poor, sick, backwards people, dependent on a magical man in the sky, for threads of hope. To feel like they matter.”
“Jesus man, where is this coming from?” I’m annoyed that Omoye hasn’t said anything since. She knows more about this kind of stuff than I do, but she’s just watching, with a face I can’t read. While Wisdom still looks clueless.
“Osagie. They all preach about a God of love, but do you see that love anywhere. Nope, just self-righteousness, gullible sheep milked for all they have by pastors who can’t be questioned, because ‘touch not my anointed.’ Its genuinely sad, especially as the God in question doesn’t exist.”
“He does,” Wisdom says under his breath.
“OK then Wisdom. If he does, why do bad things keep happening in this world?”
Wisdom doesn’t answer, and neither does Usman or me. I look at Omoye, who finally speaks. “Ogochukwu, are there barbers in this town?” She asks. I frown, and so does Ogochukwu.
“Uh. . . yeah. . . I guess,” he replies
“Then why are there people with bushy hairs, why is your hair so rough then?”
Ogochukwu instinctively touches his hair, and gently pulls on a strand. His hair is kind of rough. Usman passes him a comb, and he starts digging the teeth into it, wincing a little.
“Uuh. . . I haven’t gone to any barber for some weeks now,” Ogochukwu says, and my sister smiles, “that doesn’t mean no barber exists. It’s the same thing with God,” Omoye smiles as she hits her point.
“That doesn’t make any sense,” Ogochukwu retorts.
“I dunno man, sounded quite sensible to me,” Usman says.
“I’m tired of playing this game I want to play temple run,” Tumi taps Omoye, who helps her select the game she wants to play.
“Why are you on their side Usman?” Ogochukwu asks him
“Because I believe in God?”
“Which God? The one Grandma said is not the way to salvation?”
“Yeah, but she was old school, she couldn’t get that we all find our way to him,” Usman says.
“Uh, actually, Jesus is the only way,” Omoye says.
“This is what I don’t like. Have I ever told you that you are foolish for believing in a prophet, that is definitely not God? No, I always respect your religion, like my father taught me to. Too bad your parents never trained you guys that way.”
“Ahaan?” Wisdom comments
“What?” Usman asks, visibly annoyed. I can see it in how he’s folding his brows and rapidly tapping his foot. He always taps his right foot when he’s upset.
“Usman, Christianity is way more than a religion, it is life, and Jesus is the only way, period,” Omoye replies. I don’t know if she has noticed he’s getting worked up, or she just doesn’t care.
“How about, Christianity, and Islam, are just figments of man’s imagination?”
“Explain miracles then. Just last year, I saw Grandma, tell a lame man to walk and he did,” Wisdom says, and I nod. Grandma was widely known for the miracles that followed every service she ministered in, even when she was already grey, and a little frail.
“I don’t believe in miracles Wisdom.”
“So what, you’re saying Grandma was a fraud?” Wisdom looks like he might dive at Ogochukwu any second.
“Nope, never said that. I just don’t believe miracles. Even so, the human mind is capable of much more than we give it credit for.”
“Uh, I don’t understand,” I say.
Ogochukwu looks at me and shakes his head. “I’m saying, if miracles are real, we make them happen. Our minds are powerful enough to bring what we believe to reality,”
“Dude, we only use like ten percent of our brains, imagine the possibilities if we use one hundred.”
Usman rolls his eyes. “I can’t take you seriously anymore. Bringing Hollywood logic to an argument. Ogochukwu, read a book or something,” he says.
“What?” Ogochukwu asks.
“The whole ten percent brain thing is stupid. If you used hundred percent of your brain that means you’d control your breathing yourself, your blood circulation, your digestion, like what do you think controls all your body processes that you don’t do manually?
“Yes,” Omoye cuts in, “and look at the intelligent design of all the human body systems, you are trying to tell me you believe it all fell into place by chance? That the universe was born by chance?”
“Not chance. Have you ever heard of the big bang?”
Usman groans. He opens his mouth to say something, but then his mum comes to the table with his sisters. “Have you people eaten?” She asks.
“Uh ye–” Usman elbows my stomach before I can say yes.
“No mummy, we haven’t.”
I’m bent over, with my hands on my belly, while Maryam and Aisha are laughing their heads off, I can hear Ogochukwu chuckling too. “Kai, Usman, you and food,” his mother comments.
“I’ll tell somebody to bring pounded yam here,” she says and walks away, while we echo, “thank you aunty.”
“To be honest I prefer Semo,” Ogochukwu says, and Wisdom’s mouth falls open.
“What did they do to you in school?” He asks, and we all laugh. Just like that, the discussion changes route, and now Ogochukwu is trying to explain why Semovita is way better than pounded yam, even though everyone is arguing against that, including Tumi.
I laugh, and massage the spot where Usman hit me. But still I wonder. What’s really at the other side? Is Ogochukwu right? Is everything just pointless? Or was Grandma right, and there’s a heaven waiting, a heaven where she is right now?
If she is right, then there is a hell too, and there are people there. People like Ogochukwu who don’t. . . I shake the thoughts off my head immediately. Surely, God wouldn’t send Ogochukwu to hell right? He’s funny, and kind, and, wouldn’t even hurt a fly.
I don’t really know how this thing works though. I make a mental note to ask Omoye later. Three ushers get to our table, carrying trays of pounded yam, and Wisdom gets off his table and does a weird dance that makes us laugh again.
I do believe God is real. My Dad told me, he is everywhere. So I guess he’s with us right now. Maybe he’s laughing too, as the ushers are placing the trays on the table, and Wisdom is dancing, with his trousers a little loose and revealing his butt crack.