Pa Benji’s Funeral
The day Pa Benji died, the sun shone so brightly, one couldn’t stare into the sky’s eyes. I couldn’t pretend to be shocked when I heard the news because you see, he had long died in my mind, riddled with a disease so severe he couldn’t get out of bed. Death was simply a formality at that point and maybe a blessing to the poor man.
I couldn’t cry too, not for many weeks after; not that I wanted to.
I’d have flashbacks though, every once in a while. Flashbacks of the man he’d been, the man that had been my father. Memories of him teaching me how to ride a bike, how to kill a chicken, and how to read books would seep so carelessly into my present. They made me very sad and although I could have cried, I didn’t.
You see, although he was my father, I wasn’t his daughter in his later years. He disowned me when my useless boyfriend whom I thought I was in love with, and he with me, impregnated me. My father would forgive so many things but not that, definitely not that. Sex outside marriage was a forbidden concept to him, talk less of babies outside marriage. I had been his precious daughter – his golden egg, but even that couldn’t save me. It didn’t matter that I eventually lost the baby. He still wouldn’t forgive me. I had lost my way and had ceased to be his daughter.
The day he was to be buried, I contemplated not attending the funeral. What if? What if not? What if he had made plans to ensure I stayed absent? What if no one wanted me there? What if I was sent out? My mother wouldn’t hear of it though.
“He was your father, you will pay him his last respects”, she yelled severally across the telephone.
So, I dressed up in a black gown and made the journey there against my will. When I got to the residence, there was a huge gathering of people, which was expected – Pa Benji was a popular man. Some people recognised me and greeted me rather warmly, something I hadn’t expected. Even my step-siblings who had helped to throw my luggage out that faithful day seemed rather pleased to see me. I didn’t know what I felt; it certainly wasn’t anger though. I’d long forgiven Shakur even though he was the one to reveal the news to my father, in a fit of rage and jealousy.
When it was time to bury him, the children were called to pour sand into his grave as is customary in our culture. One uncle started to debate whether or not I could participate in the procession but my mother would hear nothing of it, effectively shutting him with a raised hand.
When it got to the turn of Mari, the fifth child, an uproar started amongst the crowd. The cause of the uproar was a woman, who suddenly rushed to the front with a child that may have been 10 years old or less shouting that her son must also participate. She claimed that her son was Pa Benji’s and must be accorded the same respect as the rest of Pa Benji’s children.
An illegitimate child? A meeting was immediately called by the elders of the family and the funeral was suspended. If her child was more than 8 years old, then it was very possible that Pa Benji had been hale and hearty at the time. It was however very unlikely that he would hide a child from the family. He’d rather marry the mother as he’d done plenty of times even if it meant divorcing her later. Those were thoughts that were running through my mind while the unknown woman was being questioned by the elders.
“Bring the gourd”, I suddenly heard Pa Sumbo say. I sat upright and started to pay rapt attention.
The gourd contained a concoction that was commonly used as a DNA kit in the Moniya Household. The test in itself was simple but one that was legendarily foolproof. The maid hurriedly brought the gourd, nearly tripping over Shakur’s feet that were carelessly flung along her path.
When the gourd was opened, loud sounds started to echo across the room, sneezes. Even I couldn’t resist the urge to sneeze.
However, the little boy who was the cause of the entire fiasco did not sneeze, notably so. You see, perhaps science would call it an allergy, but it was customary that every child of the Moniya household sneezed at least 5 times whenever the gourd was opened. It was a method prone to several errors, archaic in its very structure but one that was trusted regardless. It didn’t matter what story the woman told now, she wouldn’t be believed. The test had been carried out, and her son had failed it.
Everyone gradually left the room, leaving the woman and child alone with the elders. Enough had been said. The funeral procession resumed and when it was my turn to pour the sand, I allowed myself to pray for the father that had loved me and forgive the man that had hurt me. Sometime during the sand-pouring process, I saw the woman being led out with the child that may or may not be my stepbrother. After their exit, the rest of the funeral was pretty uneventful, unless you counted the dirty gazes and fairly loud gossip that people kept throwing in my direction.
When the whole formality ended and everyone began to leave, I packed a handful of sand from the front of the house. It was to symbolise my final exit from the house. I was never going to return to that house. After all, the only thread of connection had cut and my mother had never lived there. Sand in hand, possible stepbrother in mind, I moved further away from the house I grew up in with each step I took, grateful that I wasn’t thrown out of Pa Benji’s funeral in the end.