THE DAY of my execution arrived and I was ready for the journey. Alone I had rehearsed the four most beautiful hymns that I needed before the end of my life and it had given me so much hope that anyone seeing me would not believe that I was a condemned man. The four songs were ‘Farther Along (By and By), Be Still My Soul, How Tedious And Tasteless The Hours Is, and the fourth one was Lord Give Me A New Day.
The first stanza of the lyrics of Be Still My Soul went like this:
Be still, my soul: the Lord is on thy side.
Bear patiently the cross of grief or pain.
Leave to thy God to order and provide;
In every change, He faithful will remain.
Be still, my soul: thy best, thy heavenly Friend
Through thorny ways leads to a joyful end.
Outside the Monrovia press had been making brisk business about my final execution. Some of the newspapers ran large banner headlines that screamed my last journey. Some said: CONVICTED KILLER BOWARD TO DIE; THE END OF A KILLER; and KILLER’S DAUGHTERS BEG FOR MERCY. One of the paper’s that delighted in sensationalism, with a bid of scorn, ran an editorial that went like this:
Deserving Last Day
‘In the end we are thrilled that James Boward will see the end of the journey he began. Ending his own life on a ladder must serve him a lesson, if after he is gone, he could learn from the pain that a woman who loved him went through.
‘It is not often times when a woman has done all she can for the comfort of a man that the fool in him would turn against the very breast that provided him milk.
‘For all we know, James Boward has been a wanderer, moving from place to place and country to country only to be rescued by the good heart of a woman, whose only crime was living him. Though we feel it would be a worthy lesson to keep the convicted murderer in jail for the rest of his life, but knowing that there could be a possible chance for some leaders in the future to set him free, and for him to enjoy the life that the woman who had loved him, could not enjoy, because of his cowardice, the idea he was to be hanged is an encouraging reprieve for us.
‘We know Mrs. Boward would not come back. We know her absence has created a huge vacuum and we also know that her two children, by the end of the hanging would become orphans.
‘It may seem cruel for justice to demand the life of the only parent available but the children would not appreciate in the end the news that it was their father who denied the love of the mother they once loved.
‘We are in sympathy with the children but we cannot share any tear for James Boward, for having had his days in court before his peers, we can only wish him adios, Jimmy.’
It was evident that I had no sympathy in the media. Murder was a serious business and anyone found involved was condemned to be taken out of the living. I contented myself with what had happened in the last couple of weeks and was convinced that even if I was put to death, as a retribution for my former wife’s murder, there could be justice somewhere for me, and my wife in the great beyond. I was not particularly fond of the idea that I had to die, for I exhausted the little effort and finances at my disposal. What I had left was the future of my children that cried out to the president of Liberia to have mercy on me. That cry, as far as I was concerned, had come and gone and it was time for me to go.
Five special police officers came to me and rushed me into a waiting police jeep and it sped towards the famous South Beach where several government officials were executed by a military junta in the 1980s. I had come to this particular area since the famous Barrack Young Controllers had built a mini-football stadium there. The officers did not utter a word as the jeep raced to my destination. I could not see outside as the jeep’s sped windows were all rolled up and locked.
In about three minutes we arrived at the destination and my heart leaped in my mouth, meaning fear of death began to take me captive. Upon arrival, Pastor Weagba was waiting for me, and he rushed to my side, as soon he saw me. However, one of the police officers violently pushed the old man away, and he lost his balance and went down. I screamed but I could do nothing else. Another police officer hurriedly went to the old man’s rescue and later lifted his Holy Bible, after it had fallen, and was open in the middle.
With some difficulty the old man rose, and moved towards me, and grinning, said, “My son, today the Lord shall show you His love.” His voice was cool and reassuring and it sent a smile across my face.
I knew it was too late, but then I realized that with God all things were possible. But questions flooded my mind: What did the old pastor mean? Had he seen some vision about my release? If yes, how could that be? True, it was not for me to doubt what God had revealed to His servant and therefore I kept my posture and followed the instructions of the officer nearest to me.
Of course, there was a large gathering of people that did not want to be left out of the drama and therefore I swept my eyes across the multitude to at least take a glance at my children but it was no avail.
Remembering the old pastor’s reassuring message, I began to sing the song, Lord Give Me A New Day, because yesterday brought me lots of problems. By now the time was up and the chief warder walked me directly under the machine that was supposed to kill me. That moment was tense and I began to lose my grip on any hope of being physically saved. I began to sing the first two stanzas of the hymn ‘How Tedious And Tasteless The Hour Is.’
I sang the first and second stanzas:
How tedious and tasteless the hours
When Jesus I no longer see;
Sweet prospects, sweet birds and sweet flowers,
Have all lost their sweetness to me;
The midsummer sun shines but dim,
The fields strive in vain to look gay.
But when I am happy in Him,
December’s as pleasant as May.
His Name yields the richest perfume,
And sweeter than music His voice;
His presence disperses my gloom,
And makes all within me rejoice.
I should, were He always thus nigh,
Have nothing to wish or to fear;
No mortal as happy as I,
My summer would last all the year.
I waited for the time. My hands were already bound behind me and all the formalities had been concluded but then I saw Pastor Weagba making his way through the officers and coming towards my position. I was confused because he had completed his prayers and had called on the Lord to show His mightiness. My mind was still in such a confused state, when the pastor, smiling reached me with his two hands to embrace me.
“The Lord has done it,” the pastor said, “you are free my son the president has announced your pardon.”