It was a sad night in Itebu Kunmi in early July of 2011. My dad had just passed, and we had travelled to the village for the burial ceremony. All the plans had been made – aso-ebi chosen, clothes sewn, cows bought, fines and fees paid to the various grasping elders of the village and leaders of the extended family. We had travelled from Lagos in a convoy of black SUVs, with the soldiers for hire that my sisters had procured for protection. We had arrived and made final arrangements for the tent and band and DJ and preacher and the women who were doing the cooking. There was nothing to do but wait until morning for the funeral to begin.
Then around 2.00am, there was a loud banging on the front door. I started awake, and my siblings and I looked at each other with fearful eyes. There were loud noises, shouting at the door and at our windows. My brothers went to investigate.
“It’s some of his age group”, he returned and said. “They want to pay their respects. They want his body.”
“His body for what?” My mom asked, sharply. “Your father was a Christian. There will be no rituals-”
“They just want to sit with it. Out front. In the courtyard.”
“Sit with it?”
My mom conceded. The casket was taken to the front yard. Some of the group had come with their folding chairs, and others asked for and got chairs from the dining room. They sat around the casket in a semi circle, and for the next two or three hours, they sang.
It was the most beautiful and also the creepiest sound I had ever heard.
They paid their respects to their friend and colleague. They spoke in Ilaje. They sang songs I had never heard. They drank. They poured libations. We sat inside and listened apart from it, all of us. Yes, we were his kids and his family, but this was their time to mourn their friend.
When chapters close in our lives, we are often in a hurry to move on. We delete the person on facebook, or at the very least limit what they can see. We block them from texting us, and filter their emails to trash. I have done this in the past. Partly out of anger – you hurt me, and so I will show you how quickly I can move on, and how little you matter.
But as I get older, I am taking a different approach. I am closing out a three-year season in my life, and I am going to take time to mourn it. I learned a lot from it. I learned about myself, and I grew more steadfast and more resolute in my faith. It was a great season, but I could not stay there for ever. It was not going to work out.
And so we lay out the casket. We pour out the libations. We sing songs. And we mourn.