Nigerian writer Sylva Ifedigbo attempts to demystify death and conquer the fear of it in this impersonal conversation between a human being and the dreaded spirit of death.
Let me take you out on a date, Death. We could go have a drink or see a movie, bowl or do any other thing that catches your fancy. We could even go clubbing. Yes. I figure yours is such a boring life. I mean, who exists just to bring sadness? You must be one hell of a sad fellow. Allow me then to pop up some happiness in your life and while we are at it, could you kindly suspend your activities? For just a minute or an hour, perhaps even for a whole day. Can we be sure that there is no death anywhere on earth? You certainly can do this for me, won’t you?
I’m not so sure what your drink taste is. Something strong, something smooth or just soft? I imagine you’re some kind of drunkard. Perpetually tipsy. Drunk not of wine but of tears. The tears that ensue the moment your job is done. Those trickles that form a cesspit in the hearts and memories of the bereaved. You relish the drink from this pool I believe. But it does not quench your thirst. No, I figure it increases it, like a shark at the sight of blood. As petrol is to fire. That pool of tears never runs dry, because you are perpetually thirsty. Well, today, you can’t draw from that pool, you shouldn’t I really should say. I would mix you a drink, and get you drunk on the drink of the living.
I plan to get you sufficiently drunk to reveal yourself to me. What are you Death? Some call you an angel. Angel of Death. I try to imagine what you look like. An Angel with dark wings and long blood-smeared claws. Seems really ugly to me. Really ugly. Little wonder everyone on earth is scared of you. We do everything we can; research new cures to diseases, develop new safety standards for just about everything, pray and scream to the Heavens to keep us safe daily. Yet, you have your way whenever you wish. You must have rib-cracking bouts of laughter while you watch us make efforts to evade you. You must think us foolish or is it ignorant or both?
So yes, we try but we fail. We, all humans, walk around with an expiry date engraved into our foreheads. You can see it I believe. Perhaps that’s how you identify who next to cut down. As we tag along tonight, perhaps you will let me see with your eyes? Perhaps I will view the Best Before on the forehead of the people we meet…the taxi man, the bar man, the children hawking in the traffic, the faces in the newspaper. Perhaps I could view mine too. My expiry date. Perhaps you could tell me how it would happen. What will make it happen? Would it be a pothole on the road the government has failed to repair or an adulterated drug imported by one of my greedy country men?
Really, I marvel at how always in a hurry you are to take away the good men? Why do you allow evil men reign, their reign boosted by longevity? Is there something special they do for you? Do they share some of the spoils of their evil with you? You don’t seem to me like one who would accept bribes. Yet your mode of operation smacks of foul play. Why then do you happily visit helpless innocent people and leave their oppressors? Or are you some puppet with no control of your own will?
You must be ecstatic each time another senseless war breaks out. Thrilled you must be, to take away a large number at a go, like one single night of madness in Rwanda between Hutus and Tutsis, or on September 11th when some characters turned the World Trade Center into rubble of dust. You were excited right? Or were you overwhelmed by the volume of work you had to do… like a teenager would grumble at the sight of the heap of dishes to be washed after a family lunch? Well, most times you don’t even have to do it yourself. You possess people…that’s what you do right? You fill them up and they become harbingers of death while you sit back and get drunk from the cesspit of blood and tears. You possessed the Germans when extinguishing Jews in gas chambers was a favourite pastime. Just like you possess the religious bigots in my native Nigeria who raid villages at night and leave in their wake women and infants with butchered arms and heads in the name of some God. Or don’t you?
Your victims, do they know? Do you give them a sign? Like some silent alarm bell in their brains? Can they resist you albeit unconsciously? Would the victim of a car crash for example have remained alive if he had remained home? Or would you have caste your shadow over him even in the safety of his bedroom, if by your schedule his time was up? And at that defined moment, do they feel life leaving them? Like a battery draining out or a clocking ticking down to a halt? Do they plead with you, cry and struggle to hang on? Or is the attraction to go so much that they leave willingly? And when your job is done, do they really go on a journey…like on a space cruise to the other side? Or do they hover around and watch us cry and bury them?
Is there indeed an ‘other side’ or is it one big fallacy successfully handed down from generation to generation? Just wondering if you pluck people here only to plant them somewhere else, the way you uproot vegetables from a nursery bed and plant them on a ridge. The nursery, the earth; the ridge, the other place — heaven, hell, or someplace in between. So on this other side (assuming there is one), are they alive there? Do people die here, and then come alive again there? Do they eat, sleep, dance and make love there? Is there another death at some point in the other side as well or does your job description end here?
O, Death, hasten, let’s get going for the evening is far spent. You don’t know how proud I am to be walking with you, side by side. What celebrity status among the living. Fear transformed into reverence. They don’t fear their creator half as much as they fear you. Indeed they still worship a creator because of you. I am not scared of you though. I ceased being scared of you a long while ago. After watching scores — siblings, relatives and friends — fall at your feet, I have decided it was clearly a waste of my emotions…to haunt myself over a mystery I too will be consumed by. But I am curious. I want to know why. Why? Why you would pluck a healthy person suddenly while scores with terminal illnesses lie begging for you to end their miseries. Why? So many Whys?
So I hope that by the time this night is done, by the time I have treated you to everything that we the living live on and you have gotten drunk on wine…real wine not the mixture of blood and tears which you are accustomed to, perhaps I would have understood better this obviously boring job you do. Perhaps I would have demystified you and decolonised my sensibilities of you. But I wish. That’s what this is all about. Wishes. Fantasies. I imagine you mock me with your silence. Laughing at my ignorance. At what I don’t know. At what I would never know. At what I really wish I could get to know. But I persist, for this battle is not physical. It is of the mind. Yes, the mind. That’s all you leave us with when your job is done. Memories. The mind in rewind. And it is with the mind that I shall conquer you.
“Dark Force Angel” h.koppdelaney @ Flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.
Guest Author Bio
Sylva Ifedigbo, a Nigerian creative writer and freelance journalist is the author of The Funeral Did Not End, a collection of short stories coming soon from DADA Books Nigeria. He lives in Lagos Nigeria.
Blog / Website: www.nzesylva.wordpress.com