I was not sure if I deserved any kind of admiration for what I had gone through for the last thirty or so minutes, alone and in the darkness in the presence of the dearly departed, but I could sense the urgency in the truth that the dead are not conscious of what is done under the sun. That conviction came to me when I was almost out of the cemetery.
Mankind has always cherished the memory of the departed. It has always been the desire of man to understand the unknown and whether at the end of his days, there is anything left for him to be remembered with. And as sad as it seems, we may never know the secrets of tomorrow and man’s future beyond the grave.
True it is that the various Scriptures, with the Bible in the forefront, have provided or attempt to provide the direction of man or the living, and by using the word man it is meant to represent both of humanity, to unravel the journey so far in the great beyond.
Hence, the foremost Israeli and the Wisest King in Scripture, King Solomon was the leader in it.
It was Solomon who, I’m sure, dealt deeply in the agonies or hopelessness beyond the grave, since the Scripture indicates he was one of the wealthiest and wisest human beings of his time and his wealth could presently be comparable to any billionaire living. In his examination of the condition and the fate of the living after they are dead, Solomon, the King lamented, and here I quote to express a point I was not aware of when I sought to honor the memory of my friend Wilson: “5 For the living are conscious that they will die, but as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages, because the remembrance of them has been forgotten. 6 Also, their love and their hate and their jealousy have already perished, and they have no portion anymore to time indefinite in anything that has to be done under the sun.”
The above are the words of King Solomon and I could not agree with him better than he had expressed for the benefit of mankind, which suggested itself to me that whoever was trying to scare me away from the cemetery could be the work of the living. Though I had no evidence to back the claim I just made, I could depend on the Israeli King to buttress my proposition. Again it was the same Solomon who, in his attempt to provide some comfort for the living, stated, “7 Go, eat your food with rejoicing and drink your wine with a good heart because already the [true] God has found pleasure in your works. 8 On every occasion let your garments prove to be white, and let oil not be lacking upon your head.”
Though I could find comfort in Solomon’s wise sayings I also realized at the time that there was much more to be enjoyed in this life of sorrow and disappointment as the King next indicated, “9 See life with the wife whom you love all the days of your vain life that He has given you under the sun, all the days of your vanity, for that is your portion in life and in your hard work with which you are working hard under the sun.” Until now I had not considered it proper to abandon the tears that had sought my assistance when I measured the death of my friend but remembering Solomon’s position that life itself is vain increased my disappointment and wondered if there was a purpose in life after all. Running from the madness in Liberia, I witnessed first-hand the brutality of man towards his fellow man. I saw the wickedness of man and the massacres upon massacres of innocent civilians carried out by all the contesting parties for the soul of Liberia, and in all honesty, they weakened me. They rendered me incapable to understand why they were necessary to happen.
But what was I supposed to be doing to enjoy the life of vanity as I had come to understand from King Solomon? In fact, it humbled me and made me cognizant of the futility of life itself. This was because there was something that I considered the King was not revealing. But to his credit, he revealed it in the next line in his book of Ecclesiastes, (Ch 9) with the verse number at the beginning of the quotation, “10 All that your hand finds to do, do with your very power, for there is no work nor devising nor knowledge nor wisdom in Sheol, (the grave) the place to which you are going.”
Here at least the King revealed the inherent expectation in the grave. Recall that back in Liberia, I had made a pact with my friend Wilson, “live for me if you survive the war,” it was a sacred and solemn pledge that was meant to pass. Sadly, Wilson was victimized by the ravages of a disease at the Buduburam Refugee Center in Ghana where I had been living; and had also not failed to honor his memory these several years. So now I was left with the position of Solomon to live life to the level that the creator had indicated for me in this vain existence.
And I could not forget Solomon’s own attempt at finding meaning in life itself, for he confessed, “11 I returned to see under the sun that the swift do not have the race, nor the mighty ones the
battle, nor do the wise also have the food, nor do the understanding ones also have the riches, nor do even those having knowledge have the favor; because time and unforeseen occurrence befall them all.
12 For man also does not know his time. Just like fishes that are being taken in an evil net, and like birds that are being taken in a trap, so the sons of men themselves are being ensnared at a calamitous time when it falls upon them suddenly.”
With this understanding from Solomon, I could not accuse myself of failing to do what was necessary for my friend but it was not to suggest that Wilson was destined to die at such a young age but as Solomon said, time and unforeseen occurrence befall both man and the beast. Then I was correct, and here I must applaud the foresight of my friend Wilson to remind each of us to live for each other. I must deal and treat my fellow man with the required respect so that I could accomplish a sense of satisfaction, was my resolve from now on.
That was how I passed the period after I arrived at my residence at the refugee camp, trying to make sense of my earlier experience at the cemetery.
When it was about noon, a friend came to me with information that a certain Ghanaian old man wanted to speak with me.
“What does he want with me?” I shot back at Ben, one of the fellows who had resided in the camp since it was established in 1990. “Have you seen the old man here before?” I could not wait for Ben to answer as I piled two questions on him.
“Never saw him here before,” Ben said, “but he appears to be some kind of medicine man.” Though I had been overwhelmed by the experience at the cemetery, the mention of a Ghanaian medicine man at my door frustrated me. What did he want? Was he at the cemetery late this morning? I composed myself and shrugged my shoulders.
“Tell him to come in,” I informed my friend, as my heart beat surprisingly increased in its tempo.
The sun streamed across the refugee community and I braced myself to meet the stranger I had welcomed
in my two-room residence made with mud, leaves and through the assistance of my friend Wilson and other fellows in the camp. Living in a refugee camp is like living in a community of caring and supporting individuals. We had always helped each other whenever there was the need.
Of course, there was always a need since there were large groups of people who looked up to no evidentiary support from overseas for their daily living. It reminds you of the period of the war in Liberia. There were no jobs for professionals and many of the young fellows just hung around, wasting promising futures away. Sometimes, seeing the young fellows just moving about in what could be described as aimless pursuit was just distressing.
But since they did not choose such a life of wastefulness, I had always considered the future unfortunate and at the same time a challenge. However, there were other youths making real progress with their lives, some taking advantage of the several school systems at the camp. Though even if one was successful in graduating from the refugee school system, finding a job to earn a decent living in Ghana was a problem.
So, here I was readying myself to accept the presence of a Ghanaian old man who might have heard about my predicament at the cemetery and had come to, at least, to my mind, offer some words of caution to me.
By the time old man Kofi Duku entered my room, I realized he might be some kind of spiritual leader or a man of an authority in any of the several Fanti communities in the Central Region, the portion of Ghana we refugees were making it our temporary home.
“Please sit down,” I said, pulling one of the two ordinary low chairs for my host to sit. I could see that the old man was somehow troubled. Here you may realize that I was already being judgmental and to be honest, it was not intended to look down upon an elderly man I had not been fortunate to meet since I arrived in Ghana in 1990, until presently.
The old man accepted the chair, and humbly lowered his lanky frame on it. To my mind, he could weigh about one hundred and twenty-five pounds; an estimate that I made in jest and by considering the people on this part of Ghana. But he was energetic and his voice carried power.
“There is too much danger and darkness in this world, my son,” old man began the introduction, which seemed rather strange to me.
First of all, I needed to know who he was and what he wanted from me. For whatever reason, he chose not to begin his meeting with the ordinary procedure of introducing himself and laying the groundwork for understanding and trust before transacting what business it was, but I held my peace.
“Yes, pop, there is always danger in this world,” I shot back; playing at the level the old man had begun the game. After all, I had survived the most brutal war in my country and I assumed he was aware of it. But I was not in any way trying to measure up arms with the senior citizen of my host country, but again I had to indicate to him that I had my head properly balanced on my shoulders and that the experience I had undergone had baptized me with some level of courage. And never mind if, in all honesty, I had been scared like a child during the shocking experience.
“My name is Kofi Duku, sixty-five years now and the eleventh in a line of six boys and five girls,” the old citizen continued as if reading my thoughts. I watched him with some apprehension and then immediately realized that in the Ghanaian society, visitors were supposed to be offered a cup of water, no matter the time of day, as a sign of respect.
I then fished out a cup I had behind a bucket that I kept for drinking purposes and offered the old guy a drink.
With glee, the Ghanaian elder took the cup and in a swift gulp, drained nature’s life into his system. He wiped his mouth with the back of his right hand, and handed me the cup, expressing his gratitude in the Fanti language, thanking me for the gesture, “Meda ase.”
Having been in Ghana since 1990, I had by compulsion begun to learn the Fanti dialect which was the number one medium of communication all around the Liberian community in this part of Ghana. There was also the Ga language or dialect which is also spoken by many.
“I have come to offer you a piece of advice, my son,” old man Duku continued, his face registering a sense of thanksgiving, “what you went through this morning could have caused you to lose your mind.” I watched him in disgust and horror.
“How could that have happened?”
“Well, son, let me tell you a story of my eldest son, Kwame,” he murmured, frowning a little.
“Go ahead,” I said, more interested now and relaxed the tension that had built in me.
“Five years ago my son’s wife of ten years died. And as far as I knew she never complained of a headache. In my community, the elders met and decided that since the death had been so sudden, and the deceased was so young, mind you, she was thirty-five it would appear that some of our ancestors were unhappy for certain obvious reasons and therefore we needed to appease them by performing some rituals.”
The old guy hesitated for several moments before resuming his narrative.
“I provided a sheep, some whiskey, and brandy, and libation was poured for my son, the surviving four children, and the entire village. For obvious reasons, I am leaving out specific names which I think may not be necessary for our purpose. Now, after a considerable number of months had passed, my son resumed his farming activities, as you may know, we till the land and the land has been the source of income for my family.” The old man adjusted his traditional wrap around Ghanaian cloth, twisted in the chair, and resumed, and there was confidence in his voice, “I should inform you that my son has a large tract of land, some I gave him as an inheritance, the others were provided by his late wife’s father. And naturally, it never occurred to any of us that the provision of such valuable tracts of lands could engineer envy and could also lead to the destruction of a precious life,” the old man said, in a raised, overbearing tone.
Quietly and even making no attempt to glance at me, old man Duku indicated with his right hand that he needed an additional cup of water. I hurriedly handed him a cup of water, and the senior citizen gulped it down straight.
He placed the empty cup beside him, regarded me by staring directly at me, smiled and grunted in his throat before, resuming his story.
“Six months had passed since my son’s wife was buried and six months had also gone since he had not gone to the farm. After such a long period of mourning for a woman he had loved so much, he resumed his farming activities and on the third day in the farm something happened…”
“What happened?” I interrupted old man Duku, with startling eyes. “Did he die?”
“No,” the old man said, raising his right hand. It was like a policeman directing traffic at a busy intersection.
“On his third day on the farm, he saw his dead wife waiting for him in the farm.”
“What!” I shouted in disdain and not in disbelief because as the old man said at the outset of his visit, there was darkness in this world.