IT was just a day, if ever there was such a day, for people in the city. Something was strange about the young taxi driver. His troubles were ahead of him. One could feel them. The long sighs, the endless ringing of his phone. He never took the calls. He seemed to have exhausted solutions to whatever bothered him.
A conversation began. What could be the matter with him? Why the accompanying sighs which were getting longer? Shouldn’t he take his calls?
More sighs before he blurted this chilling message: “My son died this morning.” I felt as if I had been smacked across the face. In the seconds it took to adjust to the weight of what he threw at me, I thought the death weighed more because it was a son, an heir to imagined thrones as fathers are wont to think of the continuation of their lineage, on the patrilineal side.
Don’t we always judge too soon? “He was my only child. He was 10 years old.” He barely took my condolences before he continued.
The boy had complained of chest pain the previous day, the father said. He was examined at a hospital that said the only child was fine. The boy did not wake up the next day.
Hospitals have had their services dented by poor services from other areas. Poor equipment, poorer evaluation of patients by those who are not overseas maybe because they did not qualify or they are on the queue, have left us with hospitals, only by name.
Could the boy have been saved? It was death that came, and not illness, as my folks back home would say?
The phone still rang. Did it have a more urgent matter than the death at hand? He ignored the phone after each glance at it. Some mourners, he said, would not let him be. Instead of condoling his wife and going away, they wanted to see him as if they bore the solution to the situation. Their calls saddened him more.
One caller drew longer sighs from him, almost tears. His father-in-law wanted him to come to Gwagwalada, an 80km-journey to pick him so he could join in the mourning. “I cannot do that,” he protested.
A ride that I thought would be normal had jangled my sensitivities with the management of the passage rites of a boy I am knowing through his grieving father. The bereaved mother was home. She had fainted twice by the time the husband left home. Kind neighbours had surrounded her.
“I paid his school fees only last week,” the man in his lamentations underlined his struggles through life. “Who will wear the Christmas clothes I have bought for him?” I had no answers to his plentiful pains. These were not mere questions. He knew there were no answers.
His decision to escalate the matter to the Almighty, sudden as it came, did not surprise me. He interrogated death. He sought explanations for a day like this. He would not besmirch the Almighty.
Why was he driving in such state? Should he not be at home mourning his son, consoling his wife, accepting condolences from those “who have heard”?
“I want to bury him today,” the driver continued. “I am driving to get some money so that I could buy a coffin. The least price I got for a coffin was N25,000.”
He borrowed the N5,000 with which he fetched eight litres of fuel that morning to “hustle” for the burial expenses of his son. His fuel indicator read red. He had promised the lender that he would return the money by 11am.
One of the persistent callers was the lender. It was well past the agreed time. He obviously wanted his money. Among creditors lined up is the owner of the car which the driver had on hire purchase. He was completing the payment yet a miss of the dates on the agreement could mean a loss of everything he has paid. The pressure was on, always.
Father-in-law calling from Gwagwalada still lived in the days son-in-law made journeys to bring him to the family. Fuel of N5,000 would fill the tank with some change left.
Everything has changed. Death in its harshness hands us subtle messages we miss in the mix. Sorrow was incapable of inducing sobriety in a man who had to claw every inch of the way to meet the expectations for the dead, for the living.
I remembered a feature article that the News Agency of Nigeria, NA, published about 36 years ago. Titled, “The Rising Cost Of Dying”, it depicted the expenses of mourning the dead. While we often lament rises in the cost of living, it is easy to forget that death was expensive.
The hospital bills, medications that their costs now touch the skies, hosting mourners, who could consider themselves blessed to get a meal, a drink, and perhaps, some nuggets about the fleetingness of life, are some of the expenses of death. Mourners who refuse to leave raise new bills for the bereaved – that too is the lot of the driver.
When adjustments are made for inflation and more spiraling economic hazards of living through Nigeria, the costs of dying hit home more cruelly and lastingly.
Emotional drains from deaths are not measurable in figures. They are a different social study that befuddles scholars. There are hardly agreements in the categories of pains the departed deposit, depth of the pains, and their unique circumstances.
Mourning has its private and public sides. When the dead is rested, the crowds disperse, the noises of death depart with them, the hollowness of what had happened hits harder.
The taxi driver was not at that stage yet.
Had he thought of asking a carpenter to knock some planks together for a coffin? It could cost less than N15,000 I estimated. He was grateful for the advice.
His phone was still ringing when our journey ended. I offered multiple prayers for him as he left, chiefly that no security agents, prise what he had made from his hands as he battles to bury his son, and meet his obligations to the lender.
I spent the rest of the day wondering how a family that is pulling through survival would lift the added burden of losing its 10-year-old, its only child. The next day we spoke, he was barely managing the passing of the son. He was in a worse position since the next opportunities had been suspended to honour the dead.
May the Almighty who gives life console the family, and rest the boy.
FCT Minister Nyesom did not let a public slight side when a clergy failed to recognise his eminent presence in church in Port Harcourt. He told the presiding bishop that if he was still Governor, the panegyrics would have filled the church. It is great that Wike is realising he was no longer Governor.
A COUNTRY of errors? Not Nigeria, definitely. Few people have access to a court judgement and the processes that result in its certificate. Whoever certified another copy of the Kano governorship should be charged to court. It is a crime. It is not an error. When our laws are in a lull, we refuse to name crimes aptly. The crime in Kano is serious.
.Isiguzo is a major commentator on minor issues