It has been said that I have a fascination for death, dying and darkness. The three books I currently have published are titled Darksongs, The Living & The Dead, and Darkvisions. I may have read too much of Edgar Allan Poe, Kurt Vonnegurt and Stephen King. Yet, I love to laugh at/with life and all the absurdities that swamp our daily existence. Are you confused yet?
About ten years ago, I did an article captioned How Would You Like to Die? Written for the now defunct Crown Prince men’s magazine published by Muyiwa Adetiba, the piece humorously explored the many pathways that lead into the cold embrace of the grave, a theme I have revisited in many a short story and poem. What you’re about to read is not a poor clone of that piece. Indeed, what you’re about to read could also be titled Where Would You Like to Die?
Okay, Death is still not and will probably never qualify as dinner table conversation, unless it is served by the unbiased hands of fate. We know we’re all going to be caught in its cruel trap someday (not too soon please!). It is inevitable, however.
It used to be in the past when Nigerians passed on abroad, the body got flown back home for a “proper” burial. The economics of the times have made that difficult for most families now. It isn’t cost effective to die away from home. Or does it have something to do with who will mourn us? After all, if you pass so far away from your children and family, who will cry beside your grave?
But dying here in America is against all that “here” represents for many immigrants. We didn’t come here to die. We came to live! Many of us were dying elsewhere, physically, creatively, professionally… That’s what really prompted our decision to risk it all by coming to the US. Dying has no place in that plan. It never was a clause in the contract. We are all here to live and sow and swoop on the spoils. I think at some deeper level, that’s really why we don’t want to die out here in the Diaspora.
Someone observed people interviewed on US television use the word “shocking” and “tragedy” so much when they react to death and disaster. That’s exactly how to capture the very idea of the foreigner passing in America. The Yoruba people say when you travel all over the world, you eventually return home. That’s why when your family sends you off to the US, they only visualize you going there to take the land. They don’t anticipate you lending the bucket a god-almighty kick.
Ask me where I would like to die and I would quickly say NOT IN AMERICA. I mean a miniscule percentage of what it takes to ship my body home is what it will take to give me a quiet burial in Nigeria. Yeah, I do mean quiet. And I don’t want to die alone. Nobody wants to die alone. Dying in America could be tantamount to dying alone. You may have your wife around. You may have your children and some of the friends you have made in America by your bedside, but you don’t have your country anywhere nearby. That, for the kind of animal that I am, would be dying alone. It will be just as bad as dying without family or friends.
Statistically, most American deaths do not occur at home. People die in hospitals and other institutions. That’s why we have them…not just to save lives. They also take them! Yet, the same statistics reveal most of us would prefer to die at home surrounded by family, preferably at an advanced age. We will like to die feeling fulfilled, at peace, above all, without pain. The latter is very important.
We all pray that we would have attained a ripe old age and most of our dreams when Death come a-calling. Many Nigerians in America probably hope they would have returned home too. Not that it matters after you’re long dead, but why would you want to be buried in a cemetery full of strangers? Did I hear you say the cemetery in Nigeria is also full of unknowns. Yes, but they’re Nigerians! Ha! There is a difference. A cemetery in New Jersey will be so cold (and I detest the cold with a passion!). Cold earth. Cold reception. Cold! Cold! Cold!
What got me thinking these grave thoughts today? Five names.
I saw their photographs today. Young smiling faces that looked like the world was at their feet. I saw their photographs and I am suddenly reminded of my mortality. I am still here, still breathing and wondering how – in spite of the fact that I am twice as old, I am still here and they have gone away.
When I first heard the news of the accident that claimed their lives on American television, the reporter said it was not “drug or alcohol related”. Obviously, when teenagers die such deaths around these parts, those are the usual suspects. The reporter should have asked us. Nigerians don’t die such deaths in America. Today, we now know – like other Nigerians in American schools – they were excelling in their classes and communities. They were indeed good students as most Nigerians studying in America tend to be.
We are painfully reminded that Death takes no heed of person, age or status. The Dark Angel has come close to all of us at some point or the other… Father, mother, brother, sister, daughter, son…everyone everywhere has lost someone sometime. Age, too, is like a supernatural eraser deleting the distance between us and Death, and the older we get, the nearer we find ourselves drawn to that place of no return.
What in the world got the Dark Man walking in the direction of these kids? The SUV they were in swung off the Interstate and landed on its roof. When car designers build impact resistance into their vehicles, they think of the front, back and sides, not the top. These kids, all in their late teens, are no more today… And their parents have all received that reverse phone call we all get here occasionally. You know the one I’m talking about… The out of nowhere call with the long distance burps and static that you instinctively know has arrived to shatter your world.
Can you imagine how the parents feel now? They wanted the best education for their children, and so they sent them to America to study. How were they to know that they were also sending them to their death? How they would have fought all the demons of Hell to keep them away from America If anyone had even remotely suspected Death was lurking in “God’s Own Country…”
Wherever we expire, whenever we do pass on to the other side, what is most important is that we have done deeds in this life that will make one (or two, or three) remember us with a smile. After all, as Albert Pike said, “what we have done for ourselves alone dies with us; what we have done for others and the world remains and is immortal”.
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Adewale Oguntona April 19, 2002 01:34:05
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