My fear of telling you this story stems from the previous perilous encounter I had after my father’s death. Much of my experience was the dark side of the world and you will discover as you continue reading. Those fairy tales of long ago were by no means a tale to me. You must however be aware that I indeed saw what am about to tell you.
The year was 2007, December, when I was supposed to be living with my uncle in Lira. My dad had come back from work very tired that evening when he demanded a tea. My cousin, Acayo Edith, was a sharp lady. She was the one keeping smile on our faces. She came to our place after her parents had a fatal accident in Oyam when they were travelling to Kampala. It was so unfortunate that it was the same bus my mother had boarded- no one survived.
We use to stay like we were all from the same parents. When it comes to age, she could bit me by two. Someone could easily say that she is fit to be in senior two. She had a deep brown skin contrasting mine. Her stature couldn’t beat mine of course. She walks with a rather sluggish gait which was so unique to her. What makes me recall her fondly was the lithe approximated nose. Most times she would be smiling while conversing and that approximation hue distinctly. It took me time to gauge the threshold of her annoyance. It was a bit upsetting however that after her parents death, she never touched school compound.
That evening father took a bath and had his tea. Before he went to bed he told us to get for him a cold water to help him reduce on his headache. It was usual for him to have headache after the day’s work but he had never requested for water. It was strange that day! We never considered it serious though. Morning came and we were disturbed because dad wasn’t coming out of bed. Edith had prepared tea already, awaiting him. He was going to be late for work!
I went and knocked at his door. He replied rather cold and faintly. I pushed into the room and found splashes of stomach contents all over the place. It was a yellow-greenish mash. I arranged the place in order. It clicked midday; dad was heavily prostrated that I couldn’t revive. He reached for a paper and wrote something which read like this: SON, IT SEEMS I HAVE BEEN POISIONED. IN CASE I WON’T BE ANYMORE, YOUR UNCLE WILL TAKE CARE OF YOU.
By the time he loosen the grip on the paper, there wasn’t any sign of life on him. I sprung to his side. The cold touch at his neck told me he was already dead. I called Acayo. There was nothing we could do. I sent for the neighbors. Atoko was the first to arrive. He was Acayo’s uncle on the mother’s side. He was tall brawny man with vastness of energy and surplus of decision. People began trickling in and the plan for burial was made. Uncle Martin came a day after my father’s death.
When the funeral was over, I receded to my room. I got deeply submerged in imagining how fun or hard it would be for someone to be dead. Grotesqueness of the predicament couldn’t quiet relinquish my weary mind. It was like a joke! Some kind of a dream! I opined it as a dream hoodwinking me into the vagueness of the mysterious world.
Evening crept in as the twilight waned. I was exhausted and weak; rolling on my bed. The evening light through the window phased out. Nightfall was eating up the crimson twilight. It was turning foggy. A voice hovered in through the slightly opened door prompting me to join the rest. Before I gave a reply, something lurked in my thoughts. Why was I being asked to join the rest? The house was already consoling to me but the thought of the myth of the dead walking, chilled my bones and drained my marrow.
“Achelo Rowland, get down here!” vociferated Uncle Martin. “Don’t you know it’s customary to watch over the grave for a full week?”
“Just a minute, uncle!” I replied, getting on my feet. I tore out of the room then what welcomed me was a huge blaze of fire dangling a distance away from the grave point.
“Hurry!” voiced Atoko. “Come join the rest. We shall need to spend the night here.”
That was disgusting! I have never spent the whole night outside the whole of my life! Then I caught the sight of three spears- with sharp ends pointing up- stuck at the area where father’s head pointed. Another two were stuck where his feet rested. Two short daggers were anchored side by side. Ashes were poured all round the grave. A trail of ash demarcated where we sat and the grave area. Two open buckets rested afoot of the grave and next to it was a slaughtered chicken. Then a red flag- visible at the flare of the blazing fire- was unfurling at the nightly breeze.
“What’s that for?” I asked. Uncle Martin and Atoko both laughed then Atoko signaled a square-faced bald man with a drooping shoulder adjacent to me to explain.
“Ojano, tell him what the elders say.”
“Alright,” began Ojano, sketching something on the ground with his knobbed arrow-finger. “The belief was first coined by the first member of the royal family, Rwot Odur.” He paused then continued. “It is thought that when a person dies so suddenly, there is a high chance that the grave robbers would pay a visit. It is further understood that when these robbers come, the spears and the daggers virtually pierce their heads and ribs and thereby wadding them off. In case they evade that first line of defense, the ashes would sublime at their arrival filling their lungs. The chicken blood would make them weak and confused for easy capture.”
“Why would they rob the grave in the first place?” I asked, so desperate and apprehensive at the same time.
“Few mortals can answer such but a familiar riddle tells the use as of harboring the evil spirit. A well narrated trope says the use could be more as of steak for the man-eaters of the Anyika forest which are now long gone. But for fishing and agricultural purposes, I have no proof of it. I for one have no proven knowledge of its use despite the many birthdays I have seen pass. Monetary gain now overpowers all previous conclusions but of course the final destination of the corpse still baffles our understanding.”
“But that’s just a belief! Makes no sense!” I said instinctively.
Acayo giggled as though I was being over inquisitive and ridiculous. Ojano coughed into his folded fist and went to organize the crawling fire back to its confinement. Atoko and Uncle Martin all gave me an empty defaming stare.
“Uncle likes a lot of this tradition thing—” said Acayo, though she was interrupted.
“Listen here, children!” barked Uncle Martin. “The decisions of the elders are not by any means questioned or criticized neither must it be analyzed by kids. Elders who have seen, tasted and walked the test of time know better. We can’t embrace modernity at the expense of our beautiful and protective tradition. It would be immensely detrimental to our culture! This is what our ancestors did and we won’t let it wane. We shall keep outside. No sleep!”
That last comment wasn’t welcomed on my side though. Everybody maintained deep silence. Only the blazing fire could sketch out our faces. Few sparks went up at an interval that drove the devil out of me. The stillness of the perilous night was soul-crunching.