Encounter at Buduburam (2)

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Things were getting a bit difficult. The apparition nearer the tombstone I crouched behind appeared to be coming towards me. No, I was seeing him and it appeared to me that he was floating in midair. I could not see his legs and the more I looked at the direction of the specter, the more I got the impression that he was floating. I felt something like the wings of a huge bird. They flapped together and that was apparently why he was in midair.

In the last couple of seconds, the eerie sounds of what seemed to me like cries of mortal pain had stopped and had been replaced by some sounds that made me cringed. I could not know but I felt the sensation of pissing and then at the next moment I wanted to attend to nature’s call. But again, my heart was racing and beads of perspiration continued to form on my forehead. I had lost some of my courage and now it appeared that someone was coming from behind a tree further away on the other side of the cemetery.

My heartbeat increased, as I called on the name of Jesus for support.

“Gogo diko…dikooooooooooooooh.”

Now the cries had changed and I heard a long “ooooooooo” sound at the end of the usual “Gogo-diko” that I had been used to since the entire episode began several minutes ago. This time, yes, I managed to use my right hand to check the time: I mean, I used my right thumb to press the connection to the electronic watch I had on my wrist and it read: 12:30 a.m.

Presently, there were several shadows behind, one, two, three, four, and five tombstones and I could not understand what they were doing. Then my mind began to consider other issues. Mind you, I was considering the possibility of running like hell from the cemetery but the more I thought about it, the more I was unable to carry it out. Then, as I said, some situations came to my mind: it seemed to me that many of those crying behind the grave were those who had not dreamed they would die in Ghana, in a foreign land. Some might have also thought that even after they died on foreign soil, their remains would be returned to Liberia for burial.

I was not sure if I could say that about my friend, Wilson.

Though I did not have the chance to tell him goodbye when he fell sick, few months after our arrival in Ghana, we had been dodging stray bullets and jumping over several dead bodies of Liberian civilians and soldiers when we had made a pact. And it was not so much about the place to be buried, as far as my friend was concerned.

“Wilson,” I said at the time, “it seems that some of us may not live to see the end of the war.” It was difficult to make such a statement but considering that stray bullets were killing many Liberians, it seemed proper at the time that we carried a promise, just in case any of us fell victim to the ravages of the war. When I said that, Wilson had looked me in the eye, and with a smile on his lips, said, “Oma, should anything happen to me,” my friend had always called my name, minus the last two letters (RI), and I did not have any problem with it, “and if you survive, you must live for me.” Here there was a tinge of sorrow in the eyes of my friend. This was because, I assumed, our beloved Liberia was being torn apart. Our families had been torn asunder, and for us, we felt disappointingly that the center of the Liberian nation could no longer hold together. My friend then wiped tears from his eyes, since it was clear that precious lives were at stake, and the contestants were ever willing to kill off as many Liberians they could lay their hands on. For me, I was already in tears, as a series of questions competed in my mind as I regarded my friend that day. Now as I stood at this cemetery, and looking beyond the graves, with what appeared to me like “apparitions” from the graves, I thought about my friend and tears filled my eyes. Yes, my friend Jack Nyemah Wilson was buried here. Yeah, I was standing several feet away from the hallowed ground where his body was committed, and there it seemed that someone was trying to scare me away.

I was determined to live my life the best way I could. That way, it would help me to also live for my friend, since that was the promise we had exchanged in that gloomy day in Monrovia. It was also true that if I were to die in the course of the war, Jack Nyemah Wilson was to also live for me. And I could not be sure if I would have returned from the abode of the dead to haunt my good friend, Wilson. Maybe, and it was just maybe my friend had nothing to do with what was happening. He knew how much we had loved each other; and how much, during the war, we had sought refuge from one place to another together. In fact, when food was very difficult to find, and whenever any of us found “anything,” it was a duty to find the other to share whatever it was. Those were some of the reasons I could not blame my friend for what was happening.

“Kooooooooo…mama, mama….”

“Ohoooooooo….mama, mama…”

Those were clearly the cries of a child. The sounds reverberated throughout the cemetery and then I knew that it was not only the older ones who had died and buried here that were unhappy, even the kids, too, were unhappy. It was the cry of a child, calling on its mother. What else could I do? I had lost the courage to run.

Yes, I just stood there like a statue; and deep down in my heart, I was yelling and calling on the name of God and His Christ.

Now I knew that Gomua-Buduburam had its own secrets, but what were they? At this point I wanted to cry, but to cry for what and for whom?

Perhaps, for my friend and all those Liberians who had died in this refugee camp, as I looked beyond the row of white-painted graves in single file, and neatly organized on mother earth, serving as memorials for wasted lives in an unknown ground. After all, before the calamity came, they waited for peace to return to their homeland! It was a peace that would not come when my people needed it, and then the grim reaper began his harvest. It was truly a case of hopelessness, and I felt that even the dead who were buried in the camp’s Area Z (cemetery) should know that.

I was still unable to leave this ground; and as I said earlier, I had been coming here every anniversary of Wilson’s death to be with him. But whether he was aware of my efforts of honoring his memory, I could not say.

However, it was now certain that someone needed to pass on certain information to the living.

That was just a conjecture. And as I stood there, as if glued to the ground, the time ticked and I heard the sound of the watch “…tick…tock…tick…tock…tick…”

It was moving on.

I then realized the truth that ‘time waits for no man.’ Then, as if on a cue, the regular cries and tears began again.

“Gogo-diko”

“Dikooooooooooooooh.”

“Diko.”

“Oh Mama…Oh Mama.”

Still, I could not run. Then I felt goose-bumps forming over me. As I looked around me, the friendly trees and flowers dotting here and there watched me in silent appreciation. I could not imagine thinking that trees and other flowers could have eyes, and watching me and enjoying the spectacle. My whole body shook, as I strained my eyes to absorb all the developments. The cries of insects, and those of humans, all conspired to make me afraid. It was, I thought, the work of the wicked one. As my heartbeat increased, and the fact that I could not make any attempt to leave the cemetery, my worries increased. I was not sure, but I wanted to cry, to see if the dead had the stomach to swallow the tears of the living. But I quickly discarded the idea, informing myself that whenever someone died, tears were the first things to greet the announcement. Hence, to cry at that time could naturally awaken even those who would not ordinarily be tempted to come after me.

I knew I had to take my chances; and for whatever they were, be determined to maintain my position till I could regain my courage to altogether leave the cemetery. As I continued to search in my mind the means of a way out of my present predicament, I told myself that I had not been a bad person in my life, and did not think anyone would be glad to come after me with the intention of harming me. It was at this juncture that I began to examine the life I had lived so far. I was making sure that if, for example, I were to face the judgment seat of God, where would I be? I had heard much about the reward for the good, and that of the wicked.

So where would I be?

I could not, I admitted, be certain that my crossing point would gain me a reward for the heavenly bliss, but neither did I think the abode of the wicked was mine. It was a fair challenge, which I eventually left in the hands of the King who would sit at the judgment seat. For now, my situation was how to run like hell from this hallowed ground. And at the same time, I was prepared to engage in any physical combat if it became the only option to get out of the situation.

I then waited for the unknown.

So far I had been able to hold on. I had maintained my position, or better still, I had failed to run from the cemetery for the last thirty minutes. It was clear that unless I managed to find a way to leave, there could be some surprises for me, though I could not envision what kind of surprises they could be. It was getting darker, and seeing beyond me was simply difficult. Yet, I could see some characters beyond some graves. It occurred to me that “those” beyond the graves were fraternizing and sharing some ideas together. It might be pure fantasy of my imagination but my difficulty was that I had lost the spirit to leave the graveside. And how far I could continue to hold the ground was something I never bothered to consider.

Though my legs had stopped knocking together like before, and though I seemed to have some courage to endure the situation, I could, however, not muster the guts to flee. I was no superhero trying to make some point clear with the dead. But the truth was that I was completely paralyzed and could not decide to leave. It became clearer to me that it could be possible my friend Wilson was intervening with his colleagues to offer me a reprieve. I began to think about the ever-loving and ever-green friendship that had existed between us.

Back in Liberia Wilson and I had had some fascinating experiences. One was when we were confronted by three members of the Independent National Patriotic Front of General Prince Y. Johnson near the Logan Town Cinema. It was around the same time that ECOMOG soldiers arrived and the National Patriotic Front decided to launch some blistering attacks to prevent the foreign soldiers from docking at the Freeport of Monrovia.

It was September 24, 1990.

At the cinema, we saw three soldiers hiding or taking positions in several strategic areas on the island. We heard the cries of several weapons, and with our limited knowledge of any weapon up to that time, we assumed the ones in question were the AK-47 assault rifles. The weapons cried in protest as the combating forces engaged each other. Although the action was nowhere near our position, we could still sense the danger.

It was just scary.

The evening weather was cool and we thought whatever had to happen might happen. The foreign soldiers were still hunched nervously in the comfort of the first of the series of ships that were bringing them and their materiel for peacekeeping duties. At the cinema we were confronted with the three rebel soldiers, and one of them did not hesitate to call us to attention. “Hey, you! Come here!” commanded a voice in the dark. “Put your hands up as you come. I’m serious.” It then became clear to us that we had almost missed falling into what we later learned was an “ambush” by the rebels.

“Where are you guys going?” The question followed the command, and I was still unsure what was happening when my friend, Wilson, responded, in a tone that sounded to me like a man in authority: “Soldier there is a lot of shooting near the Freeport and we’ve to get out of there.” The soldier’s response was now mild and we could not know if he considered us as some of their forces, since, of course, the rebels had no way of knowing who was a rebel soldier and who was not. And the next thing I heard was, “Move out from here, sir!” I winked at my friend with a smile as the soldier saluted us in the darkness.

So my position about my affection for Wilson must now be clear. But to think that he died right here in Ghana seeking refuge, and now that I was there paying homage to his memory in the midst of a bitter experience was too much for me to bear. In his brief life, Wilson had always wanted to be a musician.

Yes, he told me he wanted to use songs to soothe the pains of the Liberian people because of the sufferings and indignities of the war. But here he lay in the cold bottom of mother earth at a youthful age of twenty-six. The only thing I could do was to relieve his memory and I didn’t want any force, either good or bad, to run me off. I didn’t know why I had such confidence to stand up against the forces of the unknown at this particular cemetery where my friend and many of my countrymen and women were ‘eternally’ resting.

My mind was interrupted by a loud oozing sound like that of a huge animal falling from a tree top. I instinctively jerked and lowered myself down, seeking the security of the nearest tombstone. I crouched there for a couple of seconds before I managed to look out in the distance beyond the graves to see whatever activities that had been going on back there had resumed. As I crouched behind the tombstone, I tried to read the name and date of death of the deceased whose tombstone I sought refuge behind, but it was difficult because almost all the graves were just mounts of sand with a cross stuck on them. None had a concrete tombstone.

Then I prayed to the God of heaven and continued to mention the name of Jesus Christ to show their power. And interestingly, whenever I mentioned the name of God and Jesus Christ, I felt some relief and regained some confidence within my bosom. I would feel some excitement and I would look up into the heavens. I didn’t know what that meant but it became my regular ritual as the ordeal continued. I wanted very much to leave from this area but I did not have the power to leave. I realized how willing my spirit wanted to comply with my wishes, and how difficult and unwilling my soul was in complying with the ultimate decision I had to make to enable me to leave the cemetery.

Now as I kept repeating the names of God and Jesus, I felt some inward excitement and fulfillment. I was not sure if it was an indication that Wilson was satisfied with my bravery to stand up to the “unknown forces” or that I had then regained the ability to run away from there. But all the same, I felt proud that though my friend was dead, he could count on me to stand up and be counted. With tears in my eyes, I praised the God of heaven. And as I called on the name of God, I began to walk backwards from the cemetery. I did not want to take any more chances by walking or running away with my back turned to them.

“You’re my rock and my savior,” I said aloud for all who had ears to hear me. Another thing that gave me some encouragement was the fact that considering the number of Liberians deliberately killed either by some members of the Armed Forces of Liberia or the rebel soldiers, none of the soldiers, until then, was known to be haunted by the victims they killed. At least it was not to my knowledge. What was more, who needed to be haunted more than some of the leading killers, even those who killed and dismembered the late president?

As it was shown around the world, the late president was practically dismembered bit by bit. I was aware that Prince Y. Johnson ordered the late president’s ears to be sliced off, one after the other. So, right here in the cemetery, as I stood here, I said to myself, if anyone needed to be haunted, it should be those who disrespected the lives of the Liberian people. But the truth was that many of the major players were at peace with themselves, and here I was being haunted for the mere action of visiting the burial grounds of my friend, Wilson. I could not just run away for fear of the unknown. After all, my friend and I had made a sacred pact to live for each other; that was to say, whoever survived the Liberian war should live for the one who did not survive. It was a solemn pledge and a bond between two friends.

Now as I walked away, step-by-step, from the cemetery, with tears flooding my eyes, the only thing I could say was: “Wilson, we shall meet again.” I knew that I would return to this sacred ground where the best of us were still hidden below ground level. I stole a glance at my watch and it announced 12:55 a.m. The quietness all around was overpowering as I sauntered on painfully. It was then that I heard the familiar cries of mortal pain again:

“Gogo diko…diko…”
“Gogo diko…diko…”
“Dikooooooooooooooh…”

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