Death, let me take you out on a date.
We could go have a drink or see a movie, go bowling or do something that catches your fancy. We could even go clubbing. You must be one hell of a sad fellow. Allow me then to pop some happiness in your life.
I’m not so sure what your taste is in drink. Something strong, something smooth or just soft? I imagine you’re some kind of drunkard; perpetually tipsy from tears. The tears that ensue the moment your job is done; those trickles that form a cesspit in the hearts and memories of the bereaved. You relish the drink from this pool, I believe. But it does not quench your thirst. No, I figure it increases it, like a shark at the sight of blood; as petrol is to fire. That pool of tears never runs dry, because you are perpetually thirsty.
I plan to get you sufficiently drunk to reveal yourself to me. What are you Death? Some call you an angel. Angel of Death. I try to imagine what you look like. An Angel with dark wings and long blood-smeared claws. Seems really ugly to me. Really ugly. Little wonder everyone on earth is scared of you. We try and fail to keep you away, walking around with an expiry date engraved on our foreheads, helpless. As we tag along tonight, perhaps you will let me see with your eyes, the Best Before Date on the forehead of the people we meet…the taxi man, the bar man, the children hawking in the traffic, the faces in the newspaper. Perhaps I can view mine too. Perhaps you could tell me how it would happen. What will make it happen? Would it be a pothole on the road the government has failed to repair or an adulterated drug imported by one of my greedy country men?
Really, I marvel at how always in a hurry you are to take away the good men? Why do you allow evil men reign, their reign boosted by longevity? Is there something special they do for you? Do they share some of the spoils of their evil with you? You don’t seem to me like one who would accept bribes. Yet your mode of operation smacks of foul play. Why then do you happily visit helpless innocent people and leave their oppressors? Or are you some puppet with no control of your own actions?
You must be ecstatic each time another senseless war breaks out. Thrilled you must be, to take away a large number at a go, like one single night of madness in Rwanda between Hutus and Tutsis, or on September 11th when some characters turned the World Trade Center into rubble.
You were excited, right? Or were you overwhelmed by the volume of work you had to do… like a teenager would grumble at the sight of the heap of dishes to be washed after a family lunch? Well, most times you don’t even have to do it yourself. You possess people…that’s what you do right? You fill them up and they become harbingers of death while you sit back and get drunk from the cesspit of blood and tears. You possessed the Germans when extinguishing Jews in gas chambers was a favourite pastime; just like you possess the religious bigots in my native Nigeria who raid villages at night and leave in their wake women and infants with butchered arms and heads in the name of some God. Or don’t you?
Your victims, do they know? Do you give them a sign? Like some silent alarm bell in their brains? Can they resist you, albeit unconsciously? Would the victim of a car crash for example have remained alive if he had stayed home? Or would you have cast your shadow over him even in the safety of his bedroom, if by your schedule his time was up? And at that defined moment, do they feel life leaving them? Like a battery draining out or a clocking ticking down to a halt? Do they plead with you, cry and struggle to hang on? Or is the attraction to go so much that they leave willingly? And when your job is done, do they really go on a journey…like on a space cruise to the other side? Or do they hover around and watch us cry and bury them?
Is there indeed an ‘other side’ or is it one big fallacy successfully handed down from generation to generation? Just wondering if you pluck people here only to plant them somewhere else, the way you uproot vegetables from a nursery bed and plant them on a ridge. The nursery, the earth; the ridge, the other place — heaven, hell, or someplace in between. So, on this other side (assuming there is one), are they alive there? Do people die here, and then come alive again there? Do they eat, sleep, dance and make love there? Is there another death at some point in the other side as well or does your job end here?
O, Death, hasten, let’s get going for the evening is far spent. You don’t know how proud I am to be walking with you, side by side. What celebrity status among the living. Fear transformed into reverence. They don’t fear their creator half as much as they fear you. Indeed they still worship a creator because of you. I am not scared of you though. I lost my fear a long while ago. After watching scores — siblings, relatives and friends — fall at your feet, I have decided it was clearly a waste of my emotions…to haunt myself over a mystery I too will be consumed by. But I am curious. I want to know why. Why? Why you would pluck a healthy person suddenly while scores with terminal illnesses lie begging for you to end their miseries. Why? So many Whys?
So I hope that by the time this night is done, perhaps I would have understood better this obviously boring job you do. Perhaps I would have demystified you and de-colonised my sensibilities of you. But I wish. That’s what this is all about. Wishes. Fantasies. I imagine you mock me with your silence. Laughing at my ignorance. At what I don’t know. At what I would never know. At what I really wish I could get to know. But I persist, for this battle is not physical. It is of the mind. Yes, the mind. That’s all you leave us with when your job is done. Memories. The mind in rewind. And it is with the mind that I shall conquer you.
First published in Life As A Human. Revised and Reproduced here In memory of Late Prof Mrs. Dora Akunyili.
Sylva Nze Ifedigbo is the author of The Funeral Did Not End and tweets from @nzesylva