‘Your father is dead.” Did he say my father wants to speak to me? Sometimes the old man uses other people’s phones to call me because he thinks I won’t take his calls.
“What did you say?” I ask.
“Your father is dead. Your father is dead” the caller, Mmuta my uncle, replies.
I feel a cold rush run through my body and sink into a nearby chair. He can’t be, I think to myself. I haven’t built him that house yet. Besides, he’s too mean to die, he enjoys tormenting us, his family, too much.
“Should we bury him today?” Mmuta asks me over the phone.
“Should we bury him immediately?”
I feel a spark of irritation. How can he ask me such a thing? I haven’t even processed news of my fathers death and he wants to make me responsible for the decision to bury him immediately or not? He didn’t even ask me if I was sitting down when he broke the news. How callous. But that is the way of the village. Men don’t do sentimental although some are more compassionate than others. Mmuta is of the practical school of thought.
I wonder why he’s asking me anyway. I’m a woman, there is no way in hell they will let a woman decide the conduct of an Igbo man’s funeral even if she is his oldest daughter. When he was alive my father said he wanted to be buried the same day he died, rolled up in a mat like a Muslim. He said he wanted no monuments, just a tree to grow over his bones. Simple, inexpensive, no fanfare. He was a committed communist, he abhorred all obscene consumption and crass materialism.
I gather my reeling senses – “Yes, bury him immediately.” I reply and hang up. Who knows, it just might work. My concern shifted to how I would break the news to my sons. In a daze I went to tell them their grand father was dead.
I call Mmuta several hours later.
“Have you buried him?”
“The family met and decided that he is too important to bury him just like that.They said they will meet and inform you when and how he will be buried.” Mmuta replies.
A couple days later my younger brother calls. He is my fathers first son and he is younger than my youngest son.
“We have decided that we have to complete his house before we bury him.”
My father the communist and idealist lived his whole life in a suit of rooms in his fathers ancient house and didn’t start building his own till after he retired with his gratuity. It was less than 60% complete.
“Really? Do you have the money to complete it?” I ask.
“What do you mean? That is the decision we have taken, all you need to do is tell us is how much you are contributing” he snarled.
The hyena’s had gathered. My father wasn’t there to protect me anymore.