The situation was greater than I could contend with and I froze at Area Z and my heart almost missed a beat. I wanted to take to my heels but I could not muster the courage. This was survival time, I thought to myself, but could I make it successfully to safety even if I tried? I could not convince myself that there was any chance of running away from the cemetery. After all, some of my best friends were buried here. After all, they would provide me with some protection.
The eerie sound again. I stretched out my neck and saw something resembling someone in all white attire standing at the far side of a couple of tombstones at the Liberian refugee graveyard at the Buduburam refugee center. My eyes had somehow adjusted to the darkness and I saw some fellows beyond the tombstones. Here in Ghana, there were so many scary stories about what happened when a person died. I had heard some Ghanaian friends say that in the particular area that was being used as a refugee center for Liberians the dead had always come back. But I could not agree since until Liberians settled in the area there was no cemetery very close and the nearest one was in Awutu, more than 200 miles away. It was not that I was a skeptic who did not believe that such phenomena existed. Though my friend’s death was three years today, I had always come to honor his memory, alone at the burial grounds. I always felt it brought us closer together.
Another thing was, I could not agree that any loved one who had died could return to haunt me. But here it was clearly a situation of me being haunted. I had loved my friend Jack Wilson and we had shared many things in common. On many occasions, we traveled to Accra together and wherever you saw him I was with him. It was death that separated us. My friend, within two weeks that he got sick from a strange disease died and I never had the opportunity to say goodbye to him. Until today I could not tell what caused his death since in fact, an autopsy was too much a financial burden for me to have requested from the medical authorities in Ghana. Since he was buried at the Liberian-only cemetery, I had made it my duty to visit his grave in my belief that he would recognize our friendship and if there was any way of knowing what he was thinking, he would understand that his death was the most difficult experience in my life since both of us arrived at the refugee center in 1990. Now I was seeing people crouching and moving up and down beyond the graves. Then a violent whopping sound of the breeze and a cry of mortal pain thundered overhead. It was followed by a muffled sound of terror echoing beyond me. I wiped beads of perspiration from my face, despite the coolness of the night.
It was the voice again. Was my friend or any of the dead calling for help? What exactly was that sound supposed to mean? I wasn’t sure what to do alone. Goosebumps descended on me and I felt like throwing up. And as suddenly as I felt nauseated, I saw the apparition standing behind several tombstones away beckoning me to come closer. The individual’s two hands were outstretched, requesting me to come closer.
Then I saw another fellow from another tombstone, all in white, it seemed to me. This was no joke! I raised my right hand in a vain attempt to look at my electronic watch; which was to say I was trying to turn on the little light embedded in the watch to know the time. On three occasions I failed because I could not turn my face from the characters beyond the tombstones. I was not sure why and whether it would help me in any way. The Area Z where the cemetery was located was a little farther away from the residential quarters. Though the camp had grown from few smaller houses and tent houses into several thousands of brick houses, making the area to resemble any of the Liberian communities in Monrovia, say, New Kru Town for example, where I resided during the course of the war, the cemetery was in an isolated area and could give one the chills and provide you with feelings of uncertainty. I guessed it was located in isolation to give the dead some peace of mind to rest so that light perpetual would continue to shine on them.
I tried in vain to control my legs, which were busy knocking together. I thought I was a brave man, but here for the first time in my life, I realized that when push comes to shove, I was a coward. Under the normal circumstances, I would not have agreed that I was a coward since when I was in Liberia and many of my friends and colleagues died by stray bullets we had buried them behind the houses in shallow graves. And never did any of the dead in Liberia haunted me. But then I realized that I was not in Liberia. In this confused state of mind, I thought my mind was playing some tricks on me. It was not the first time I had come to honor my friend’s grave at ten in the night. I had always come, for our friendship’s sake!
Now the number of individuals beyond the tombstones were increasing, that was clear. Then it appeared that I was regaining some self-confidence, as from nowhere I recited some Biblical verses that I could not remember where I might have read them: “The Lord’s my shepherd and I shall not want,” I shouted aloud, “If this is the work of the devil,” I continued in the same loud tone, “let the blood of Jesus Christ rebuke thee.” I could not remember when I considered Jesus as my personal savior, nor God as my humble Father. I was not the church going type and it was not because I did not believe in the existence of God or the usefulness of a church or a mosque, I was simply too busy doing other things that going to church or a mosque, I thought, was just a waste of time. But somehow I knew that ancient Israelites always depended on God during their trying times, and many Liberians had done the same during the war. And so here at this critical juncture, I called upon the power of the Divine for sustenance and support.
After denouncing whoever was behind the tombstones for nearly ten minutes, my self-courage returned and it gave me some confidence and a ray of hope. By this time, my legs had responded to my expectation and they were no longer dancing under me. I continued to rebuke the devil, whom I had suspected was behind my present predicament, and then all of a sudden I began to sing a famous song that I had heard some church-goers sing back in Liberia. The surprising thing was that I had never made any attempt to practice the song, but here I was, jumping up and down, clapping my hands, as if I had a cymbal or some instrument to accompany the music, as my shrilled voiced echoed throughout the cemetery, as I intoned, “I will abide with thee oh my gentle savior; forget not thy servant for it is in thee alone have I sought refuge.” When I looked at my wrist watch, it was 12:00 am (midnight) but I still did not have the courage to leave the cemetery. The cries of fireflies and the silence of Area Z were all the more overbearing. But coupled with the occasional eerie sounds and what appeared as apparitions beyond the graves or the tombstones was too much for me to bear, and I stood there paralyzed unable to walk away from there.
The dead were apparently crying for help.
Things were getting a bit difficult. The apparition nearer behind the tombstone I crouched behind appeared to be coming. No, I was seeing him and it appeared to me that he was floating in mid-air. I could not see his legs and the more I looked at the direction of the apparition, 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 mid-air. 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.
Now the cries had changed and I heard a long “ooooooooo” sound at the end of the usual “Gogo-diko” sound that I had been used to since the entire the episode began several minutes ago. The 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 a foreign soil, their remains would be carried to Liberia for burial. And I was not sure 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 before we came to Ghana, when we had been dodging stray bullets and jumping over the dead bodies of Liberian civilians and soldiers, we had made a pact. And it was not so much about the place to be buried, as far as my friend was concerned. “Will,” I said at the time, “it seems that some of us may not live to see the end of the war.” It was difficult for such a statement but considering that stray bullets were killing many Liberians, it seemed proper at the time that we made 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, “Please, and if you survive, you must live for me.” 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 Wilson was buried here.
Yeah, I was standing several feet away from the hallowed ground where his body was committed and here it seemed 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 on that gloomy day in Monrovia. It was also true that if I were to die in the course of the war, Jack Wilson was also to live for me. And I could not be sure if I would have returned from the place of the dead to haunt my good friend Jack 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 too difficult to find and whenever any of us found “anything” it was a duty to find the other and to share whatever it was. Those were some of the reasons I could not blame my friend for what was happening.
That was clearly the cries of a child. The sound 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 were as well. 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 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 to and for whom?
Perhaps, for my friend and all those Liberians who had died in this refugee camp, as I stretched my eyes and see the 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 my friend’s death to be with him. But whether he was aware of my efforts of honoring his memory, I could not say. But it was 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…tick…tick…tick…tick. It was moving on. I then realized the truth that time waits for no one. Then as if on a cue, the regular cries, and tears began again.
“Oh, Mama…Oh, Mama…”
I still could not run.