Date released:
July 17, 2021
Category:
Short story
Photo credit:
David Geib

The wake

When Malam Salisu died three months ago, he came back two days later. I saw them bury him, shrouded from head to toe with a white sheet and scented with frankincense. I saw when he was laid into the narrow grave as if his forty-two-year-old frame had become fragile as a baby's. And there, after we prayed, we all left him at the mercy of his deeds. How were we supposed to know that the man we buried will return to life, back to our world?

We were at the cemetery two days later to bury another deceased person when Malam Salisu returned. It was like a scene from Micheal Jackson's thriller video. The still-fresh grave shook as if struck by a mini earthquake. Then it cracked, and a hand came up. Kabiru yelped and pointed at it. The other hand emerged, with Salisu's muddy fingers dancing like tendrils of a windblown plant. No one could muster the courage to pull him out.

Malam Isah, the chief imam, sunk in the first shovel and excavated the soil while reciting prayers we only saw on his moving lips. Later, other fearless youths—not like me and Kabiru, joined the imam to dig him out. This man whom people had mourned, missed, and even cried for was alive again. How was that even possible?

Children stopped playing with Malam Salisu's kids, and they refused to run errands for his wife. Some cried when they ran into him on one of those solitary evening strolls he was now very fond of taking.

I saw him sit on his veranda every morning, with people gathered around, marvelling at the wonders they had only heard about; and seen in some fantasy movies.

"What happened to you? What did you see? Did you see anything or anyone there? Were you really dead? How did you come back from there? How?"

People asked a lot of questions they never got the answers to. All Malam Salisu did was to look over people's shoulders. And when he looked into their eyes, it was like he could see their destinies, their souls deep within them too. Once he looked at his wife like that, she packed her bags and her ten children and ran to her parents' house. She returned an hour later because her father, Malam Isah, would not tolerate that.

"Are you even my husband?" His wife had asked him when she returned." Are you even the father of my children? Are you? Are you even human?!" He had looked at her without saying a word, then walked to his room, leaving her questions unanswered.

He spoke for the first time the day he saw his wife crying on the veranda. Everyone saw her cry. We all knew she was helpless, but we probably all felt the same way towards him as she did.

"Meera," he had called. She raised her head and saw him leaning by the door. "Meera, I'm sorry. Please take care of the children, will you?"

Before she could utter a word, he turned and walked to his room, ignoring the yearning calls from his children. He never talked to any of those poor children.

I saw him shrouded from head to toe with a white sheet and scented with frankincense for the second time. He had gone to sleep the night before and never woke up the following day. He died on his bed, sleeping, just like before. I saw when they laid him gently again, like an egg, fearful he would break into the narrow grave. They placed the measuring sticks, the mud, and the soil to complete the process. We prayed for him together again. Then left him at the mercy of his deeds, with a thousand questions buried with him.

Malam Salisu might have lived twice, but he never lived to tell his story.

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