By Chika Onyenezi (Nigeria)
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Under your power wait I
Watchman for the watch word
(Heavensgate by Christopher Okigbo)
A tale of the dead; a vision given to a wordsmith who slept beside an undertaker - the spirit said to the wordsmith ‘you fill the gap between mortals and immortals.’
It was a dying year of loss and gain, a counting of grains and sands of time. The earth stubbed out its ash on a dirty tray. The sea sang of pestilence. The air weaved like a cocoon. Who knew about death and his yellow coat? Who knew of his gentle smile and greasy grey mustache? He has stayed with us for several seasons; harvesting our pluming corn, morning roses, old cocoa and old seeds – leaving behind our chisels, guns, and mortar, and our tailoring materials for measuring our own coffin. He taught us to spend time dressing our coffin before we are laid into it.
It drew nearer; armour of dark cloud; knights and pawns of death drew their sword pointing at St. Andrews Parish at Owerri. The youngest fellow there would tell you about a quiet and husky speaking catchiest, who try to amuse the congregation with his humourless jokes during announcements. In the eyes of all, he was a holy man; the way he would stick out his tongue during communion said it all. He would put his two palms together, hold them over his chest, lightly he would stick out his tongue to receive communion. He carried out his duties very well and never complained of any remuneration of any kind. He was a retired civil servant; his pension was enough for him. Even if the government didn’t pay; his grown-up children would gladly cater for him.
Practically he had no worry, practically he was a holy man, and practically he was a good and principled father of two children. ‘Sir James’, the parishioners always called him when they wanted favour from him. If their intention was to blow his little misdeed, they would call him ‘James’. That was the parishioners for you. But what you said at his back never touched the hard-shelled Sir James.
Today’s mass ended with the new priest saying:
‘This mass is ended; go in peace.’
‘Thanks be to God,’ the congregation replied.
Sir James was the last person to leave the church. He looked upon himself as though God had assigned him to guide his property. Before he left, he went round and arranged the pews scattered by children and careless adults. He didn’t forget to say his Sunday devotion at the sacred heart of Jesus in front of the weeping statue of Jesus. Those who saw him during this moment of prayer always noticed tears in his black eyes. His thick eye brow would go up in agony as he called upon God. Today everything seemed strange, the statue still had its tears but on a closer look it would appear as if it was smiling; like the famous painting by Da Vinci’ - ‘Mona Lisa’. During this devotion something kept making itself of a regular appearance: a man with a yellow coat, red brimmed hat and grey mustache trance his mind. He quickly concluded his devotion and left the church.
He didn’t go to see the new parish priest as he promised because of this strange appearance and a sudden trick his mind played on him as he tried to look toward the parish house; it looked as if a thick cloud was covering the entrance. Then he realized that it was an omen beckoning on him to go home whether good or bad. He was the last man and, as it were, the last spirit to leave the church premises.
Sir James trotted down to cross the main-road. Trekking had become part of him; something that kept his body and soul together. Such exercise was responsible for his ever young looks. Whenever a parishioner that knew his financial capacity and the number of cars in his garage saw him trekking, he would ask:
‘Sir James, why not in your car?’
He had developed a reply for them:
‘Our forefathers never used vehicle, they trekked and lived longer, what our leg was created for is trekking.’
Sir James was fond of beer, and he drank it in the open. He would gladly tell his inquirers who pretended like the Pharisees:
‘Did Jesus say we shouldn’t drink? If he did, tell me where he said so? Rather, he turned water into wine.’
That’s why he likes the white priest that came to Assumpta Catholic Cathedral, who often smoked before he climbed the altar. For the Blackman, smoking was an immoral and irresponsible act. But Sir James could not see the difference between the stick in the Whiteman’s hands and the snuff in the Blackman’s little box: they are both tobacco, whether smoked or sniffed.
Sir James never drank anywhere except at the parlour of the catholic woman that sold liquor. She had on her door an inscription: BOTTLE FOR ALL. He passed the heaps of dirt along the road with his hands on his nose; not to inhale the putrid odour. With the aid of a little plank, he crossed the gutter in with stagnant water and green algae growing on it. The catholic woman saw him coming and ran to meet him.
‘Catchiest nno, welucomu,’ she said in a thick Owerri accent and bowed as though Christ was with him. She adjusted her head tie to cover her ears and ageing white hair. Sir James sat at a corner close to the door. Two quaint looking fellows with thick hair and quaint trousers were sitting at the far end. The liquor woman gave Sir James his brand; chilled Guinness beer.
The only source of light was through the little window by which the two men sat. The rays made them look gloomy.
Sir James opened the bottle and took his first gulp, wiped out the white foam on his mouth with the back of his palm and sighed. His sighing wasn’t of sorrow nor trouble but a mere habit he formed during his youthful days when life was as sweet as palm wine.
Suddenly the power supply was restored. One of the fellows at the far end spoke through his nose in anger and in state of drunkenness:
‘These stupidi peopul,’ he raised his two fingers in the air to emphasize their cruelty. ‘Since two weeks…we have notu seen light,’ He was looking at Sir James as he made the comment. But Sir James didn’t welcome the idea of laughing with drunkards. So, he turned his attention to his drinking companion with a twinkling gaze.
‘Stupid people,’ the second man replied. ‘Deadi men! Only Satan will eat our government, angels have refused them.’
The woman was busy with her old JVC radio that refused to join the scrap society. Famous highlife music was playing; it was the music of Herbert Udemba titled ‘bottom belle’, one of the earliest high-life music that opened the stage during sir James youthful days. The men tried to dance in a quaint manner. They also tried to carol it:
Woman giveme bottom belle coolu ma heart o!
Women giveme bottom belle coolu ma heart o!
As the dance went on the men’s images suddenly turned blurred in Sir James’ sight. He noticed a third man in their midst dancing as well. The strange fellow was wearing a yellow coat and red brimmed hat. He was a good dancer. Sir James knew the man wasn’t of the ordinary; he also knew he was not sinister since he hadn’t hurt a soul. He gulped the last drop in his tumbler, called the woman, paid her the exact amount which was forty Naira and left.
The road to his little mansion stood like an inclined plane, ending at the sea. Going to his house was like throwing a heavy drum down a hill. His little mansion stood at the foot of the hill, beside the little stream, Nwaorie, that played endless lyrics to him.
As Sir James approached his house, it looked fairy and strange. It didn’t look like the place he built with his own hands. It appeared as though bidding him farewell. As a traditional man who was later converted to a Christian, Sir James still had faith in some African beliefs. He still upheld the tradition of the Ibos into which he was born. He believed in itu ogu and igo ofo; the only means by which an Ibo man could run away from that which he knows nothing about.
In those days, to perform the sacred act of itu ogu, you have to find your way to a T-junction and proclaim your innocence before the spirits. As regards the igo ofo, it is a symbol of truth in Ibo land. It is given to the first male child of the family. Sadly some have burnt theirs. Sir James burnt his when the Whiteman asked them to bring out such objects as a sign of renouncing their traditional beliefs. Sir James believed in that single act of raising one’s hands before God to proclaim innocence when one felt threatened by evil spirits. Though Christianity had consigned these two sacred traditions to the museum, pure Ibo men like Sir James could not do without them. He rose up his hand in imitation of this sacred tradition but in a Christian fashion and said:
‘Our father in heaven bears me witness. I have never taken any soul. I no longer slaughter fowl before the moon, “Let my farm blossom and that of my neighbour” have been my creed. A stranger has lifted his banners against me. Help me oh God.’
He thought the recent strange appearance was an attack from a stranger that was after his life.
His one storey building stood nonchalantly before those of his neighbours who could not afford to build a rival house. He unlocked his front door; stepped back to take another look at the building to see if these little stupid kids had stoned his glass. Everything was okay except for the crack in the glass the window pane which was broken by children playing football some days ago.
Sir James removed his shoes and dusted it. He disliked entering his house with dirt. He liked his house clean and well arranged. He stepped into his sitting room that resembled a mini-church. An old woman once told him that his parlour was large enough to contain half of the parish members. The interior decoration portrayed the social status of his children: a plasma television, cushions, split-unit air condition, an imitation of The Last Supper by Da Vinci, the pictures of his children living at home and abroad, and carpet tiles floor. The light smell of petrol mixed with chemicals would tell you that the interior was recently repainted. He sat down in a cushion at the far end of the parlour beside the window facing his patio and his first son’s graduation picture. A set of Chinese tea cups lined like athletes in a small cupboard beside him.
He breathed heavily, his eyes blinking, till he began to snore. Soon he began to dream; the same man in yellow coat called on him from the far end of an ixora garden; a serene peaceful garden with the scent of honey.
‘Sir James!’ the fellow bellowed, bowed as though addressing a king, walked up to him and offered him his hand for a shake. Sir James didn’t know if to shake this fellow with odd coloured dress and gloves. The fellow had an attractive aspect; his smile was irresistible - something even a Miss World could not resist. As Sir James made to shake him, he bowed saying:
‘Permit me sir to remove my glove.’
‘Permitted,’ Sir James said and withdrew his hand.
The strange fellow removed the black glove from his hands, exposing fleshless fingers. Sir James expressed shock at the sight by moving backward. He had never seen such horror save in television or biology classes.
‘Who are you?’ Sir James asked
The fellow moved closer, placed his skeletal hands on Sir James’ shoulders and whispered ‘death’ into his ears. Quickly, Sir James woke up; but his spirit had been separated from his dead body. His body sat lifeless on the cushion. He moved aside to take a closer look at his body; he tried to touch it, but it was like trying to hold wind. He ran to the telephone to inform his family of his demise, but he couldn’t hold the telephone; everything of the human seemed like wind to him.
All was sealed; the death of a soldier of Christ, a noble fellow. Like a corn field we must all be harvested on the harvest day. We turn into fate; only the farmer can decide what to do with his grains. But verily, grains with insect bites are thrown away, while the good ones are kept for consumption. But both have the same fate; they would certainly end up in the stomach of an animal; either the farmers’ or the squirrels’.
Sir James’ corpse was discovered the next morning by his cleaner. This gentleman came every morning to clean up the house. Usually in the morning sir James would sit on the balcony saying his rosary. But on this day, he was surprised at the absence of his best friend in his usual position. Sir James was his best friend. He had travelled from the northern part of the country down to the east for greener Pasteur. In the north the Muslims referred to such migrants as Alamajiri- travelling Islamic student. Like most of his likes he began as a beggar. His journey from Sokoto to Owerri was quite hectic. It was a three-day journey in an open truck under a heavy downpour. This fellow who knew neither mother nor father entered Owerri with only a belief in fate; whatever would be would be. He took life easy, believing that ants must be ants and elephants must be elephants. He wandered round Owerri, begging for alms in order to support his stomach.
It was on a rainy day; Sir James was plodding down the road when he found him. He took him in and made a coffee for both of them to drink. While drinking, Sir James asked him why he was begging under the rain. He told him of his life and all the pains he had encountered. Sir James pitied him and offered him work as a gateman.
This fellow proved trustworthy, performing duties he was not even paid for, such as washing his master’s cloth. By and by he became known to the family. Seeing Sir James’ children studying at various universities, he fell in love with western education. He used the little money Sir James paid him to procure study materials. He engaged himself in home studies and was learning fast. Soon Sir James noticed effort towards learning and swore to take him to any height he wished in education. He seized the opportunity and begged Sir James to purchase the General Certificate Examination form for him. Sir James did so and the fellow took the exams with determination and got credit in all his papers at a sitting. When Sir James saw his papers he decided to make efforts to ensure he gained admission into a university. The same year he procured a Joint Admission Matriculation form for him, which he took and scored high. He gained admission to study Literature in English at the Imo State University under the sponsorship of Sir James sponsored his education. He was now in his final year in the university. While undergoing his studies he went to Sir James’ house every morning to clean up his things for him.
That was exactly what he had come to do this morning when he discovered his master had not come out of the balcony to pray.
When he saw him sitting on the cushion inside the room, he decided not to disturb him, as he thought he was resting. Sir James’ spirit was standing beside the telephone trying to hold it when he entered.
‘Ibrahim my friend....’ the spirit called. But the fellow couldn’t notice the spirit. He beckoned on him again; ‘Ibrahim help me… I am dead.’ He tried to touch Ibrahim but couldn’t.
As Ibrahim closed the door and left, Sir James ran to open the door, but everything turned windy. Out of anger he made to smash the door, but the earthly barrier couldn’t hold him. He found himself outside the house. Quickly he ran after Ibrahim, trying to touch him and to tell him to go back and check his body; but his own instrument of communication had been attuned to the spirit world. He calmed down when he realized that he was no longer human.
‘I am now a spirit,’ he said to himself.
Ibrahim sensed something sinister in his master’s manner of sitting. ‘No my master cannot be sleeping at this time,’ he said to himself and ran back to the sitting room. He touched him, but he body was cold. He put his ears on his chest, but there wasn’t any sign of life. Ibrahim felt for the good man, but this wasn’t the time for emotions; he quickly rang the family doctor.
The doctor lived close to Sir James house; he had been their family doctor ever since Ibrahim came to the house. Luckily he was still at home when his mobile phone rang. In no time the genteel fellow was at Sir James’ door, knocking. But due to the urgency of the situation, he didn’t wait to be ushered in as usual. He ran to the dead body.
Sir James’ spirit followed him gently; and waited quietly to hear the worst from the doctor. He heard the doctor telling Ibrahim:
‘He is dead!’ Tears like drops of water on a green leave trickled down the doctor’s black cheek; he flopped on the nearby cushion. Memories filled his head. He remembered Sir James; a man he greeted yesterday. He remembered how Sir James always came to his house to pick his children for the catholic ritual called adoration. ‘A rare gem is lost,’ the doctor said. He knew within him that a good man was dead. With his mobile phone he called the ambulance.
Sir James’ body was removed from his mansion, as he called it. He always told his friend that he built the house with bare hands, even though he never worked with the labourers nor mixed cement with the builders. He was only talking metaphorically about how he made the money for the building. He built that house when the civil servants were being paid very low salaries in Nigeria. Even the meagre amounts were never paid on time. Those days a labourer would proudly say ‘as poor as the civil servants’. But Sir James didn’t build his house with salary; he hustled as a taxi driver. After government work he would use his private car as a taxi.
Sir James had a son and a daughter with his wife. Both of his children studied at Imo State University. As fate would have it, his only son went abroad for further studies, his only daughter worked with Fidelity Bank, Abuja branch. His son sent for his mother as soon as he found his feet on a soft ground in London.
Both were now in London, living at Sheffield and coming home regularly on holidays.
Presently, she covered herself with thick woollen clothing to shield the cold; yet she was still feeling the fangs of cold around her. She had been disturbing his son about her garden; she wanted to go and weed it. She didn’t quite like London because of the cold weather. For her, Owerri was more enjoyable than Sheffield; hot sun was better than the strange cold. The Christian women’s wing at Owerri was fun. There they tell stories and learn of God and good living. But in London churches were attended only on Sundays, after which everybody went on his separate way. No greeting of any sort among the worshippers.
Last night something strange happened; she had a bad dream. She dreamt of the little garden in her backyard. In the dream the tallest pawpaw tree was struck down by thunder. To the Ibo, this was a bad omen; they would tell you such a dream professes the death of the eldest man in the family. She wondered why a Christian mother like her should be having such an ancient dream, she wondered, trying to push aside the thought. ‘Our fathers deceived themselves with wrong beliefs, I believe in God almighty,’ she said to herself. ‘I believe nobody will die in my family,’ she said repeatedly, as she sat watching the television.
Then the phone rang. She picked it; it was the voice of Ibrahim. A trunk call like that was unusual. She was the one to call poor Ibrahim not the reverse. The voice was emotional.
‘Ibrahim speak now…you are killing me,’ she said, agitated.
‘Sir Jam-e-s is d-e-a-d,’ Ibrahim dropped the bombshell. On hearing this she slumped on the floor. Ibrahim, at the other end, was crying into the receiver.
She wept and wept; the journey of her life seemed to be over without Sir James. Darkness had fallen upon her morning; she wept.
But she was a strong woman who had witnessed war and massacre as a young girl. She had beheld soldiers kill her father in the northern part of the country during the Biafra war. She and her siblings and mother narrowly escaped to the east. She stood up, picked up the receiver and told Ibrahim to control himself. How to break the sad news to her son was now the problem. The son resembled his father in many respects; tall, black and handsome. The only difference between him and his father was his gait; he walked with his head up as though searching for a bird in the sky. The Junior James worked in a soap factory in Sheffield while attending Sheffield Hallam University.
Sir James’ spirit was at home thinking of how to inform his son of his demise. At that instance he found himself in Sheffield walking towards the factory where his son was working. He saw his son loading soaps unto a van; cold vapour puffing out of his nostrils and mouth. A big-bellied Whiteman came out of the factory building and shouted at junior;
‘Boy, if you really want to eat load that faster!’ Sir James’ spirit stood watching with pity at his son’s suffering. He wanted to hold his son, console him and tell him nothing good comes easy. But something strange happened; as junior was loading the soaps he saw his father beside the truck passing down the road. At first he didn’t believe his eyes. Then it happened again. He wanted to shout his name, but on a second thought, he kept silent and quickly joined the crowed and began to trail him. Suddenly, he couldn’t see him again.
Sir James never meant to put fear in his son. He had been visiting people but none of them had the ability to behold him. Why would my son see me? He thought. The man on yellow suit tapped Sir James’ shoulder from behind and said:
‘Sir James, welcome to London, a place I’m currently working.’ Sir James understood fully well the nature of his work; death upon earth. Both of them were now leveraged to the same frequency; so nothing to fear.
‘Why did my son see me?’ he asked.
The man removed his wide brimmed hat and said:
‘Love and blood.’
But the answer didn’t satisfy Sir James’ curiosity. He wanted to know more.
‘How?’ he asked.
‘My friend the day you impregnated your wife, you didn’t transfer only semen, you transferred a part of your spirit into her. So, wherever you are, a link is there. You are blood of his blood, through your bone he had bones, and through your flesh he gained flesh.’ Then the man disappeared.
Junior ran home after the apparition. To his surprise, he found his mother weeping. Without being told he realized that it was his father’s spirit that visited him. Sir James his father, his hero, had died. He could neither cry nor talk. He fell into the cushion. Millions of memories were trying to spring up in his head at the same time. He was a committed Christian father that brought him up in a Christian way. He was also full of fun; he fulfilled all the obligations of a father to his child. He remembered the advice he gave him when he reported to him about a child bullying in primary school.
‘Junior, never be afraid,’ he had said. ‘No one feeds the other on earth; you must always see what to eat. So when any boy tries to bully you, look into his eyes and tell him exactly what you see; you will gain respect.’ That was exactly what he did to Mr. Pot today. This man had been a bully to him since he started work in that factory; treated him like a piece of rag. Today as he saw his father, he walked up to him, looked into his eyes and said: ‘You are a wicked man, you are a racist, and I am no longer your slave.’He threw the carton of soap on the floor and walked away. He though the man would have called the metropolitan police and charge him for assault; but he couldn’t utter a word, he watched him till he disappeared. Today he gained his full respect as a Blackman. Rivers of tears filled his eyes.
SEASON OF MOURNING
A register was opened for Sir James at his residence. The parish priest was the first person to sign, and then members of the parish council, the parishioners, and catechists. Others were non-church members; his friend, Ibrahim, the doctor and his fellow pensioners.
The news of his death spread throughout Owerri like a virus on a living tissue. His obituary was broadcasted over the air. Left to mourn him were his wife, son and daughter.
During these four days of morning something strange happened. In the physical world it was very strange, but to Sir James it was just a way of letting the people know that his death was not his wish. He wished to fulfil the psalmist words: Seventy years is all we have, eighty if we are strong. He joined this strange world at the age of sixty-five; without enjoying all he laboured for in life. The strange thing that happened was that a dog came to his gate from nowhere and cried for four days; day and night. It was like the tears of a lover. On the first day they sent Ibrahim to chase the strange dog away. The dog lay on the pavement in front of the gate; as though weak from walking. It looked old and shabby; the type that usually search for morsels in dustbins. Tick were sucking his blood dry, flies feasted on his ears, making a buzzing sound as they sucked his blood. All these made Ibrahim furious. But each time he tried to chase it away, the dog would remind him of his long journey to the east, it reminded him of what love should look like in Nigeria. It would remind of how Sir James, a former Biafra soldier who fought gallantly with the famous 8th Division along the Nsukka axis rescued a destitute northerner and turned him into a gentleman. Then he would drop the grit and cry along with the dog. Soon he began to feed the dog with part of his food and water. Whenever he made up his mind to chase it out, he turned out giving the poor dog some food. One day Sir James’ son barked at Ibrahim:
‘Why can’t you chase this miserable dog away?’ He took a heavy rod to strike the dog to death. But as he raised up his hand something heavy came upon his heart; the dog reminded him of a good man - Sir James.
It was a season of mourning, pain and cries; a season of loss counting by the living, a season of joy for the spirits. Death is a mere trick played on the living, revealed to them in many ways. The earth lacks the strings to play endless music; but the death strings are as strong as the word ‘everlasting’.
Sir James’ spirits discovered that due to non-obstruction by earthly barriers, he could pass through anything without being stopped; trees, buildings, anything. Just by mere trying to visualize a place he would be there.
Four days after his death, he continued to wander around, visiting people; parishioners he used to visit when he was alive. He went to see Mr. Nonso, the catchiest of the small station nearby; St Thomas More. As he approached the gate of the man’s house, something fell from the tree:
‘This is my territory, back-off,’ a fat hairy spirit said. ‘Leave now!’
‘I have not come to share your territory with you,’ the spirit of Sir James pleaded. ‘I only come to visit the catchiest of St. Thomas.’
The spirit came closer to him and said, ‘fresh’. He looked into his eyes and added; ‘Peaceful and sad. Visit your friend.’
Sir James ran to his friend’s door but he couldn’t knock. He saw his friend come out but he couldn’t speak to him. Then he left.
As he was wandering he met many spirits; some resided in shells or trees, few inhibited rocks (and these were the most stubborn of them all). As he was passing through the shrine beside his house (not too close), he met his ancestral spirits. A spirit told him that he was his great grand father.
‘What are you doing here?’ Sir James questioned him.
‘I died at an early age in the famous battle between our village and neighbouring Mbieri people. Before my death I was a dreaded warrior who never believed human weapon could pierce his body. Then one day a warrior from the neighbouring town and cut me down in a battle. Here there is no growth nor is there time; your time is gone and your weather is new: it doesn’t wither. Then mortal men kept us in bondage called shrine to be performing their heart’s desire; they wouldn’t let us rest in peace. They turned us into blood licking gods of justice. Look at them…’ There were hundred of souls on top of the tree; some resting, some discussing.
‘Why don’t you leave here?’ asked Sir James.
‘Mortal men have paid a lot of prices, blood and flesh, to have the thing of the spirits. Only blood and flesh can keep us on earth else we would be elsewhere. They pay the price and we give them the things of the spirits in return.’
Sir James stood there watching the chief priest performing some incantation. He danced round the tree calling on the spirits.
‘I must leave now,’ said the spirit. ‘They want us to strike someone with thunder; like we did in the ancient times.’ He wanted to leave then he turned and said, ‘You don’t look like us. Choose a boon.’
‘Be at my burial.’ Sir James replied.
‘Sure there I must come that day,’ said the ancestral spirit.
The world of the dead is mystery reveller; places where knots are untied. Samples and samples of souls are flying everywhere, waiting to be released in the real world of the dead. Any soul dwelling on earth is said to be trapped under some terms. Most of our ancestors are trapped under seal and terms. And so they would remain. Flesh and spirit keep on struggling for the earth. These blood sucking spirits inflict death on men, so more souls could be trapped on earth and help spirits overthrow men. That’s why we have strange pestilence; scientists producing death, technology advancing to destroy man. They want mankind extinct. These spirits roam more in Africa; because African is fond of invoking their ancestral spirits to fulfil their selfish interests. They roam like angels of darkness.
Christian wake keeping overshadowed the traditional one, which was conducted by the kinsmen of the deceased. The night was graced by the ancestral spirits from the village shrine. The men and women of Okohia village were also present: even the two fools, Udo and Ngwo, who came with two bottles of palm wine tucked under their armpit, singing aloud for the bereaved family to notice them. To keep them silent, Ibrahim supplied them with enough wine, which they drank till they slept off.
Though Sir James was a catchiest, he was also an Ozor titled man by inheritance. So the famous masquerade, Ofuzo, cried that night. The masquerade is not seen by woman or children. Only the titled Ozor men, participating in their activities, see the masquerade. It cried throughout the village, but didn’t enter Sir James’ compound because he was no longer their member. This masquerade is known for his spiritual powers. The oldest man in Okohia village once narrated a story about the masquerade to show its power:
During the new yam festival, the spirit masquerade called Ofuzo would pass round the village at the sight of the full moon. It visited only the titled Ozor men. On this particular day it set off from Okohia shrine to drop its greeting on their doorsteps. He visited almost every Ozor in the village including a man called Ugo. Ugo’s house was the last to be visited. From outside the spirit-man called him; ‘Ugo isi mu batawa –Ugo should I enter?’
‘Batawa agbara wu mmadu - enter spirit-man.’ The masquerade came to his frontage but refused to enter the house. He called the man again and said: ‘Ugo! Nwaeze, ihe ukwu ga eme –Ugo! Son of king, a strange thing will happen.’
‘I said you should enter,’ said Ugo.
To make the spirit enter, he threw a white cock at him. And the cock disappeared. Having been appeased the masquerade followed him into his obi, where the Ibo man receives visitors. They performed ritual together after which the masquerade left. At sun rise the next day, Ugo found his son dead inside the barn.
The boy hid inside the barn; that was the reason why the spirit refused to enter at first. But the master of the house forced him in by performing the ritual.
Deafness kills the child, say our elders. Let blame be upon that child who hears but do not do. Let blame be upon that man who sees but do not talk.
The body of Sir James was removed from the mortuary very early in the morning and put in an ambulance. He was brought to St. Andrew Parish for the last time. They said a mass for him; the homily was read by the new parish priest, while his son and daughter red the first and second reading. After the mass, his forefathers (ancestral spirit) jumped into the ambulance to be with him. His son sat in the front with the ambulance driver while his wife and daughter drove in Sir James’ car; the one he used for special occasions.
Something spectacular happened on their way back home; an argument came up among the spirits. They refused to let the car enter Sir James’ compound. The spirit of his great grand father, the young ghost, insisted his body must not leave the place unless they performed a gun salute. The driver tried to start the car engine but it didn’t move. All the escort cars stopped; everybody started to wonder why Sir James refused to enter his house. The new parish priest was flabbergasted by this strange occurrence. At last an old man told them what to do before they could enter the house. At first everyone thought it was a joke. The wife suggested that since they were very close to the house the corpse should be taken inside by the undertakers. They ancestral spirits held the casket strongly; ten undertakers couldn’t lift the corpse.
Then his son ordered that the ritual be performed. Twenty guns were fired into the sky with a loud noise that told the living and the dead that, ‘I am going to mother earth.’ The spirits leaped with joy at the sight of the ancient tradition. Then the car started moving automatically, the driver had to control it quickly.
With red swollen eyes his son read the long oration of the Sir James. The oration was compiled by Ibrahim. It reads:
FARWELL TO SIR JAMES
Sir James was born in 1940 into the family of Mr. and Mrs. Okoro. He attended St. Mathew Catholic Church where he obtained his standard six certificate. His burning zeal for more education took him to Holy Ghost College, Owerri, where he obtained his senior school certificate. Due to lack of fund to further his education, he started a career as a teacher. Then he joined the army during the Biafra war, where he fought gallantly with the famous 8th division and came back without a scratch. He saw death, blood and war. And this made him to become a full Christian after the civil war. He joined the civil service and Gods service after the war.
He married from the family of Ngodi; fairy princesses of his dream, Miss Chioma Ngodi. They wedded at St. Andrew, his home parish. God blessed them with two lovely kids; Mr. James Jnr. Okoro and Miss Janet Okoro and both are successful in their various endeavours.
As a devoted Christian Sir James identified himself as a practising catholic Christian. His elevation to the catholic knighthood (knight of St. John) bears eloquent testimony of to this. His ardent love for God and humanity cannot be quantified. He served the church in various capacities.
-He was the catchiest of St. Andrew parish Okohia from 1974 till his death.
-Member of the diocesan council 1976-1978.
-Chairman foundation laying committee; St. Andrew Parish, Okohia, pro-cathedral
As a community leader who has equipped himself with the knowledge of administration and leadership, Sir James contributed in the development of Okohia, his village.
Sir James means different things to different people. He was the father of all. He took the poor as his son. He picked men from another tribe to be his companion; not minding terms used in the radio such as ethnicity, tribalism, not minding religion differences. He is to all what he is to me - a father.
The ancestral spirits congratulated him Sir James on a life well spent and deeds well spelled out. The black lustrous casket was opened for all to see his stiff lifeless body for the last time. The whole village took a peep at Sir James corpse; some glanced at the body, some gazed at it. Sir James stood beside the wall looking at them; he could read their hearts. Some were saying:
‘Oh! Is this Sir James, oh! God receive his soul.’
‘You, you refused to give me my baptismal card,’ said another person. ‘Now you are dead.’
‘Sir James you were a bad man, a bad man,’ said another.
Sir James was offended by these enigmatic words. But he stood quietly till the casket was closed and taken down to the graveside.
‘Ashes to ashes, dust to dust,’ the priest said as the casket was lowered to the home of earthworm. The clammy soil was poured on top of the casket.
The Sir James’ ghost stood aghast as the jocular yellow man appeared again. He walked up to him singing Jim Reeves’ I fly away oh glory…
‘Greeting from your friend and fiend, I came to tell you that it is time for you to leave the earth.’ The yellow coat man said.
‘What brings you to me again? Sir James asked.
‘No, no, my friend or fiend, I came to tell you that it is time for you to leave the earth. You like that line?’ he smiled, referring to Jim Reeves’ notes.
‘Yes, Jim Reeves, of course,’ answered Sir James with a bit of sharpness in his voice.
Like a magic, they appeared in a garden surrounded by ixora and honey scent. Something new occurred to him; he could no longer see men again. What awaited him beyond seemed strange. The yellow coat man waved his hand, opening a way; the road was large with travellers running up and down. Many tribes, men and women, white and black, were travelling down the road. They appeared from nothingness and disappeared into nothingness in large number. The scene was an animated one. Sir James became enthusiastic to travel down the road; he wanted to join them. But he remembered his family and Ibrahim. He wanted to bid them farewell. He wanted them to see him disappear into this nothingness.
‘Can I see my family once more?’ Sir James asked.
‘No, my friend, you must travel into this world now; there, only faith would lead you. If things be good for you, you will find a companion to travel with you,’ said the man.
‘Remember faith will take you to heavens gate. Memories will guide you; journey well!’ The man disappeared. Sir James jumped into the hollow world to meet heavens gate.
Under your power wait I;
Watchman for the watch word