By Kofi Takyi Asante
I dreamt a dream. In the dream, I sat on a bench at the OPD. I was sitting among a small crowd of patients waiting to see the doctor. I didn’t know what day of the week it was. I didn’t know which doctor I’m going to see. Neither did I know the ailment for which I was going to seek medication; indeed, I had no idea why I sat there in the first place. Yet, I sat there. I sat waiting, waiting, waiting expectantly.
A minor commotion at the doorway caught my attention. They were pushing a man on a stretcher through the crowd at the doorway. As they rushed past us, I rose to catch a glimpse. I looked down on the bloody man twitching on the stretcher and I started: it was I! But I wasn’t alarmed to the point of stupefaction, and the initial jolt soon wore off.
I joined them to push the trolley I was lying on. I don’t know why I decided to assist the hospital staff. We transported me into one of the operation rooms. Although I knew absolutely nothing about medicine, I got a vague sense that I should guide these medical staff. So I directed them to place me on the surgical table. After all the others have put on their surgical gowns, I also dashed to the dressing room and emerged in a green gown and face mask. I walked into the surgery room with my left hand gloved. I stood among the medical team and put my right hand in the other glove. All was ready for the surgery!
I watched silently as the theatre attendants fixed the drips and brought out and arranged the surgical instruments. Then they all started staring at me; quietly, intensely, as if to say, ‘Do your work!’
I got their message! I picked a scalpel and moved closer to the table. They crowded around me. I looked down at me, lying there under the lights of the operating room. They had cleaned my bloody body. The chloroform mask was still over my nose. I lay there, as one in sleep. I made my first incision as gingerly as I would pick up a sleeping baby. I slowly dragged the surgical knife, still in the flesh, to create a little rift in the flesh. Then I slowly pulled out a damaged tissue. I made another incision, carefully, as though the life sustaining silver cord was under the very skin.
I looked at the attendants and in their eyes, I read disapproval at my slow pace. But I still continued at the same pace. I picked out another tissue. The third incision I made was a long and deep one and I might have taken about ten minutes making it. Maybe they felt the pain vicariously or else I might have pushed their patience to its limit, for they grunted and mumbled inaudible sounds of discontent. I probed into the incision and cut out some flesh. Their throats thundered. A vein snapped and blood squirted out. An attendant yelled. Another shrieked. The ensuing protestation was rapid and unexpected. It was tumultuous. Some grabbed steel instruments and struck them against metal surfaces. Loud angry voices filled the air. A number of the attendants rushed at me, one brandishing a large syringe. Just at this point, the door gave way and people gushed into the surgical room, shouting.
There was now a confusion of voices. The voices remained loud, but the emotions in them changed, slowly. They changed from anger to concern to sorrow. I was now totally perturbed. I couldn’t tell why they were now wailing. The noise coming from the attendants striking objects against metal surfaces grew louder. It was absolute anarchy in the surgical room!
I stood silent, still, as if thunderstruck, watching what was happening. The bedlam was unbearable. It rose above the wailing and the general commotion in the room until I felt my nerves firing dangerously away…
* * *
I am jolted from the dream at the sound of men hammering nails into my coffin. Soon, they finish driving in the nails through the lid and the coffin is shut tight. I have been laid in state, in the large hall of my house. The wailings from mourners outside is loud indeed! The lid of the coffin is made of glass. I look at the mourners through the glass on the coffin; the mourners look back at me through the glass on the coffin.
‘He seems to be only asleep, he seems to be merely asleep; asleep and not dead! He looks like he’ll wake up at any instant, at this very instant,’ a mourner sobs and bursts into a dirge which gets everyone weeping again.
As I watch, I see many relatives and friends who cannot control the tears. Some are fighting hard to hold it back and others to produce it. One of them comes in from the backyard, where she has peeled onions under her nose. She comes in with tears rolling down her face and her nose running. She comes in wailing, sobbing, screaming and losing her voice. She bursts into the room like a rushing wind and crashes heavily on my casket. She is dragged off. She howls, laments and will not be comforted. She kicks and screams; she squirms and turns; she asks to be left alone; she wants to go with me to my grave. Her piercing screams soon bring people rushing into the room.
‘What’s happening to her?’
‘Please hold her before she harms herself!’
It takes the combined efforts of about six strong men to drag her out of the room. The crowd follows her out.
And then I see a sight! My wife stands over the coffin, clad in black. There cannot be a more poignant image of human misery than the picture she cuts! The intensity of her anguish is not issuing forth in vocal effusions. She just stands there, weeping softly as the billows of sorrow surge inside her like ocean waves and like the ocean waves, she breaks in silent, soft sobs. My dead heart is pierced with grief.
I cannot bear this sight. I cannot endure it. Will a dead man’s heart be broken? Will he have to endure pain again? The bitter thoughts fade as another stupor sweeps over me.
The stupor transported me to dream-world again. Except that there was nothing fantastical about this land of dreams. This was my life. But I was not living it again, not even vicariously. I was only a witness to my life now. I saw me as a child; a frail, helpless and an amorphous thing which was quickly taking form. I was whizzing over this landscape of my life. I saw me crying, eating, playing, schooling, falling down and falling ill, getting up and getting well. I saw myself running round and chasing things, singing, laughing, jumping, fighting… it was bewildering watching this from the perspective of a disembodied spectator; there was no rest, no wait. Even when I slept. Even when I crashed from fatigue. The arrow had been fired and it only kept flying. That arrow was my life.
I saw the friends I grew up knowing and the friends I made along the way, in the journey of my life. There were moments of carefree and careless play. My heart lightened at the bubbling laughs and I almost smiled at the mischievous pranks. As I grew to gain more understanding of things, sometimes I had flashes of insight into the things that extended to eternity.
But all too suddenly, I was youth; that giddy stage of life when almost all things are riddled with excitement. I found myself in the centre of the excitement. So I fought for causes and I designed grand plans and envisaged splendid futures. I could be a master of my destiny. And it was all in my power and within my grasp. I was going to be unstoppable! I was going to be a force. I would be a giant. Yɛntie obiaa!
But soon the whirl of youth stopped, and when I saw, I had a wife and some children. I wondered at the speed of my transformation. My grand designs had all disappeared. I now marveled how I had fitted myself into a regimen I wouldn’t even have imagined in my adolescence. No matter how early I rose up, I wasn’t early enough: Finishing off office papers, getting the children up and ready for school, and crying, ‘Sarah, my socks!’ And then dashing off to beat rush hour traffic – sometimes missing breakfast – and getting caught up in it nevertheless. At work, there were many things to do and time ran slow, unlike the mornings when time just flew.
Exciting moments at this stage were when work closed and friends met. We laid aside the burdens of work, and fiercely debated the latest issues in football and politics. There were also lots of laughs. Oftentimes, we did this over many bottles of beer.
On one such night, the thought fell into my head, like a lead weight, that I was going to die. This wasn’t like the vague knowledge that we all have of the finality of human life. This particular case was a sudden acute awareness of my own mortality. It weighed so much on me that I withdrew completely into my broodings and was oblivious to the loud arguments taking place around me. When they couldn’t get me to respond to anything, one of my friends pushed me so hard that my chair toppled over and I went crashing heavily to the ground…
* * *
I am jerked back to the present as my coffin hits the bottom of the grave. I can see my wife looking down on me from the mouth of the grave. She is surrounded by our children. Beside them stands the priest. Behind them, a large crowd of mourners; some weeping, some wailing, others are listless and are waiting to go home. The priest is speaking. He narrates my life as he knows it. He says I was a good man. He says I loved God. He says that I always obeyed the voice of God; loyal church member, ever ready to volunteer, ever ready to give to the cause of the church. He says I was a good Christian.
* * *
I was transported from the cemetery to my death that fateful morning. I left home early as usual. With the children now in secondary school, mornings routines were no longer the feverish events that they used to be. But we also missed them. We only saw them twice in a month, when we visited them at school. I promised to take my wife out for dinner after work. I had wanted to pick her up from her workplace but she wanted to buy some things after work so we decided to rather meet at the shop. I never thought that morning would be our last time together.
I had a meeting with the staff in the morning, and a board meeting later on in the day. I’d prepared everything necessary for the meetings. I had the secretary yesterday send all staff copies of the agenda and other documents. I’d already contacted the members of the board and made sure all was ready. I’d even made sure that all was perfect for the night out with my wife.
And so I drove towards my workplace, never to get there. My whole day was planned. I’d prepared for the day; the staff meeting, the board meeting, and the night out with my wife. But this was where my arrow struck the bull’s eye. My mortal journey ended there.
* * *
And now I lay in a coffin. The priest has finished his sermon and has just given the shovel to my wife. She scoops a heap of earth and readies herself to hurl it on me. And suddenly, the weight of the fact of my death and burial falls heavily upon me, just like it had done that night with my friends! This can’t happen! I shout:
‘Stop it! Stop it! Don’t throw it,’ but it was in vain.
‘Don’t do it! Don’t bury me! Don’t you see I’m headed for doom?!’
She cast it, obliviously, to my protests. I see the earth hurling towards me, and I see my final doom furiously speeding towards me. Yet I see the sand falling upon me in slow motion, darkly portentous. As the grains rain on the coffin, I can hear the sound of each thunderous individual particle. Each grain sings a grim song, unmelodious and abrasive. They sing of untold terrors beyond the grave. They hum about vindictive spirits and of furies which can never be placated. They foretold of tortured souls ruing the day they were born. They conjure images of desiccation, of exquisite trauma which cannot be described, of spiritual wickedness beyond the most sadistic of human imaginations. They sing of a hell, and of the infinite love and mercy that had invented it. The song of the pieces of earth beating upon the surface of the coffin is breaking my ear drums.
My wife hands over the shovel to the labourers who immediately go to work covering me up. I continue screaming, protesting, begging. My protests are in vain. I scream and scream. The only response I get from my wife and children is uncontrollable tears. The fools, I think bitterly, tears won’t save me; stop them! Let them not bury me! With every falling sand particle, I sink lower and lower into the grave. I now see the mourners as if from a very great distance; as if from the other side of a great gulf. Slowly, I see the mourners going away. I am almost gone, and my shrieks have now turned into an inaudible whimper. They scoop the last shovelful of earth and cast it, and I see the dread finality of my case.
In that instant, visions of judgment burst on my sight. I see a Great White Throne, and of myself standing weak and sapless before it. Standing before the Throne, I hear the voice in me rise and start to utter something…
* * *
I awoke suddenly from my sleep, drenched in sweat. It was the time of night when everything goes to sleep and it felt like a big blanket of stillness and silence covered the earth. Against the placidity of the night, I could hear my heart pounding furiously away. The sound of my beating heart howled in my ears. I looked around the dark room. I turned, and my wife lay silently by my side. The night was still absolutely still. My heart still hammered away. My head was heavy with thoughts and fears and sounds. I was gripped with terrors.
I sat up until my heart stopped racing. I listened to the silence of the room. I wanted to hear the sounds of other lives. But all was still. Not even a single cricket shrilled. I listened for sounds of my wife breathing. The howling in my ears was now a faint throb. But I heard not a sound.
‘Jane’, I called softly. No response.
I called again. And again. She didn’t sleep this deep. I decided to tap her softly on the arm to wake her. My hand touched the flesh of her arm. My hand touched ice. I swiftly recoiled and touched her forehead. Again, my hand was stung by the bitter chill of her flesh. My wife has died in her sleep.
The night air was slit by my anguished cry…
* * *
I leapt out of my sleep, screaming like a man escaping from deadly assailants. I sat bolt upright on the bench like a man who has just been revived by a defibrillator. Up above, the wind played lazily with the leaves of the mango tree under which I had been sleeping. I looked around me with wild eyes, scared that I may slip back into another bad dream. The fierceness of my waking scream brought the women in the compound house running towards me, concerned.
‘Are you alright? What is happening? Are you alright?’
‘Where am I? Where is my wife?’ I asked. They laughed in response and went back to their chores.
* * *
At school the following day, my class five classmates laughed at me when they heard I had asked about a wife when I woke up from an afternoon sleep.
Kofi Takyi Asante is a Ghanaian blogger and writer. He blogs here.