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“There Is No Rest Here” by Edith Ochieng

“There Is No Rest Here” by Edith Ochieng

It is about time you woke up. You’ve been sleeping in the grave for months. Have you not had enough? Oh, sorry, I should have started with, “you are welcome.” But still, I have been sitting here for thirty minutes listening to you snore. Well, we don’t have much time today. So, I will try to show you everything as fast as I can and introduce you to a few people and then we will continue tomorrow. Okay?

There’s a party tonight, that’s the reason for the rush, and I need to prepare. We all do. We hardly ever have festivities above anymore, so when one presents itself, we make it our aim to be there very early and have as much fun as possible before we either get thrown out or morning comes. Anyway, up on your feet. Let me take you round your new neighborhood.

What? Come on, let’s go. There is no rest here. Oh no, I can’t believe this. Okay, I will only explain to you because you look terribly confused. You are dead. You died six months ago.  Remember how you came down with a lung infection right after your campus trip to Mount Kenya? You were later admitted to the hospital, but were too far gone. You died and we have been waiting for your earthly flesh to rot before we could welcome you to the afterlife– and here you are.

Okay? There’s a party tonight, that’s the reason for the rush, and I need to prepare. We all do. We hardly ever have festivities above anymore, so when one presents itself, we make it our aim to be there very early and have as much fun as possible before we either get thrown out or morning comes. Anyway, up on your feet. Let me take you round your new neighborhood.

What? Come on, let’s go. There is no rest here. Oh no, I can’t believe this. Okay, I will only explain to you because you look terribly confused. You are dead. You died six months ago.  Remember how you came down with a lung infection right after your campus trip to Mount Kenya? You were later admitted to the hospital, but were too far gone. You died and we have been waiting for your earthly flesh to rot before we could welcome you to the afterlife– and here you are.

Yes, I know it’s a lot to take in. Normally I don’t mind sitting with the newly dead and explaining to them step-by-step until they understand and accept, but as I mentioned, there’s a party tonight, and I don’t have the luxury of time.  So, if you could kindly follow me for your tour, that would be great or if you want, you could just sit out here and hang out with the hyenas when night comes and then I’ll come find your bones in the morning.

Great choice you have made. Sometimes I think it’s even more dangerous here in the afterlife than in the world above.  Have I introduced myself? No? How wicked of me. My name is Adala. I died four years ago, shot dead by robbers during an invasion of my home. They killed my Mother too, you will meet her later, I guess.  What else? I died when I was twenty, so I’ll always be twenty. You are twenty-four, yes? Of course, I know your age, I know everything about you. Everyone knows. Your name is Kwame, a university student. You are a single man though you have a son by a girl called Wakini whom you impregnated in high school. Hahaha. Sorry! Didn’t mean to scare you, let me stop there.

How do I know? From the eulogy readings and the gossip at your funeral; of course, I was there, we all were. It’s our sacred duty to attend every funeral of our kinsmen. Yes, we are related. Don’t ask me how, I don’t know.  What I know is, everyone who arrives here has the same blood flowing in their veins as the rest. We are practically family.

So, as you can see, we are in a village. It’s where our great-grandfathers lived. They pretty much run it since they built it. See that big red ochre hut on top of the hill? That’s where Babana and Mamana live. They are the overseers and currently the oldest in the community. The white huts besides theirs belong to their immediate families, Babana’s sons, and their sons.

We all live with the same families we lived with above to avoid confusion. So, after this induction, your immediate families who have died will come take you to go live with them. I know your Aunt Sophie who died last year will be very happy to see you. Yes, I know her, I told you, we are all related here, and we know everything about each other. Oh, that’s Nyajeri coming, whatever you do, don’t look at her face. Look anywhere but her face.

“Good day Nyajeri.

Oh yes, this is he, the new arrival. You think he’s handsome? Well something must be wrong with my eyes then. Does my mother know I’m here with him? Yes, she’s actually with us and has just stepped into the bush to urinate. Will we see you at the party? You are not aware there’s a party? Okay, goodbye.”

Curiosity killed man, but since you have asked and we are already dead anyway, let me tell you why we can never look her in the face. She has the ugliest burn marks and scars on her face. How do I know? Of course, I steal glances at her when she can’t see me. But don’t let her catch you. She was a professional boxer above and was having an affair with her coach, who was a married man. It was his wife that threw hot water on her face then stabbed her to death. If you want to experience her rage, look at her face, then she will flex those boxing hands of hers on you and shatter your nose. What, oh that? I don’t know why she thinks my mother must know where I am. They say her head is not right though, so we have to be kind to her.

Sorry, what did you say? You are itching? Don’t worry it will pass. Your bones are getting used to the new skin on you. Of course, your old skin did rot in the grave. What we now have is this flimsy layer to console us. But it’s better than walking around with bones, isn’t it? See that big yellow hut on the left? It belongs to Rodale Monona, yes that famous singer. We just call him Uncle Rod. He does sing when we have ceremonies here. You will meet him at the party. Oh, that’s the River Karee. Yes, it flows here too. What a silly question, what did you think we were living on? Of course, there’s food here and farms where we plant them. I thought I told you we are living in the times of our great grandfathers Their way of life is our way of life now.  

Oh, this is Lowe coming. We arrived here at the same time. Actually, he got here a day after me.

“Hi Lowe. How are you?” Come on Kwame, shake his hand. “Goodbye Lowe, see you at the party.”

He never answers. In fact, for as long we have been here, I have never heard him speak. It’s because of the witches. Yes, witches. Didn’t you see how tired he looked? He’s always tired. The witches above use him to run errands. I know you noticed the needle sticking out of his forehead. That’s what they use to control him. You think I’m lying? Why would I lie about something like that? It is because he refused to embrace death. When it was his time, he resisted.

He still wanted to live above and, well, the witches can always tell those whose souls yearn for the above. As soon as he was buried, they beat up his grave and his corpse came up, they then pierced it with the needle and voila. As soon as darkness falls, they call him up to dig their farms, do their house chores, send him to beat up their enemies and all manner of tasks. There is no rest for him. No, the needle cannot be removed.

This is the path that leads to the shrine. Be careful that you don’t step on the grass. Babana and Mamana insist that we go there every other sunset to give thanks to our forefathers. What we do? Just sing and mumble and I don’t know what else, I always zone out. Sometimes we offer sacrifices. Of course, we have animals. All animals or pets that we owned in life follow us here when they die. Yes, when your dog Oyo dies, it will come here to you. Why we offer sacrifices you ask? To give thanks for life and at times also to request for death. It’s terrible, I know, but you see when someone dies and joins us here, the air becomes purified. It gives the trees a new lease of life.

Breathe in deeply. Can you smell the pine trees? Can you smell the fragrance of the earth combined with the fallen leaves? When people stop dying above, this place reeks of wasting flesh. So, we are all very happy that you came, at least we have a few more months of fresh air.

Oh, before I forget, at the gathering tonight, people will want their greetings so ensure you have them beforehand. What do you mean you don’t understand? Let’s walk to that brown field ahead as I explain to you.

“Hello not-so-beautiful girls and handsome boy. Yes, Felix it’s good to see you too. Yes, I’m showing Kwame around. Kwame, this is Judina, Felix and Naira. Say hello to them. Yes, I’ll show him where your hut is Naira.  He can speak for himself. Kwame do you want to go to her hut later tonight? Ouch, how does rejection feel Naira? Who are you calling crazy, Judina? At least I’m not crazy with envy like you. Whatever, bye”

Those girls are bad news or maybe good news, depending on whom you ask. Why they have thorns on their feet you ask? I was about to get to that. You see in their life above, they died as virgins. Hard to believe I know. Don’t worry, they are certainly making up for lost time. Why else do you think Naira is inviting you to her hut? Yes, we are all related, but people still sleep around. After all, we can’t have children here or even get STDs and die. How much deader do we need to be?

Hahaha, you don’t think I should make jokes about death? Oh yes, as I was saying, they have thorns on their feet to prevent them from going back above to haunt virgin girls. Believe me it’s very possible, other girls without thorns have been known to do that. Once they realize what they missed with hot, young, blood-pumping men, they appear in the dreams of living virgins and threaten them with death. It’s envy, they want the girls to die without tasting the joy of men like they did.

They don’t like me very much those two girls. It’s because, one – I didn’t die a virgin, and two – I slept with Felix a few months ago even though he was going out with Judina. That puny pimpled Felix, why would I like him? I only slept with him to spite those girls.

So, this is the field we hold our parties and ceremonies. We also gather here every time there is a full moon. Say what? Yes, I was to explain to you about the greetings that will be expected from you at the party tonight.  Okay, remember the mourners at your funeral? Yes, I’m aware you were dead at that time, wise man, but your spirit was alive. And if you think about it keenly, you will recall how when they were crying, they mentioned other people who had died before you. Something like ‘oh Kwame you have left us so soon, you have gone to be with Aunt Sophie and grandmother Leocaldia, sob sob’ those are the greetings.

If anyone’s name was mentioned, you have to tell it to them. It’s very important. It adds a shine to our skins and gives one a few more years in the underworld. What happens if no one remembers you anymore? Simple, your skin sheds off. You remain with bones and disintegrate. That’s why Mamana and Babana are living up there; they have been dead for so long no one from above remembers them anymore. They are just walking bones now, waiting for the final death.

Back to this field; all major events involving the community are held here.  Weddings, burials, interventions, meetings, you name them. So, every time you hear there’s a gathering, this is where you come. No, tonight’s party is being held in the above world. We occasionally get to visit there if the ceremony is being thrown on behalf of any of us.

My grandfather is the one throwing the party.  Of course, he’s still living, why would we go above if he was dead and living here? It’s an appeasement ceremony. Yes, appeasement. My mother possessed him because he didn’t carry out the wishes which she had instructed him before she died. He’s agreed to do them now, that’s why he is having the ceremony to appease my mother’s anger. I’ll tell you more about it later, let’s go; we don’t have much time left.

What? You can see someone laying at the edge of the field? Oh, that’s just Mukonyai. He comes here first thing in the morning and leaves only when the sun sets. Why? Because he has nothing to do, that’s why. In the life above he was a medicine man but when people embraced hospitals he became jobless, depressed and later died. When he came here, his spirit turned evil and he would go and cause double births to expectant women above. It was the only thing that gave him pleasure. But even that became pointless, because people no longer see twins as a taboo or bad luck, they now accept it. So Mukonyai became useless and since he refused to help in communal duties, he just sleeps here.

Come, I’ll show you one final place before I hand you over to your Aunt Sophie for today. I really need to go prepare for the party. I need to bathe, pick something to wear and do up my face. You have no idea how long those three things can take. You have an idea? Well, good for you. Hurry up then. See those huts beyond the thicket? They belong to the people who have been dead for more than thirty years. They like to keep to themselves most times. They say the recent dead confuse them with their ways and talks. They are the real meaning of conservative.

That’s the children’s nursery. You can’t see it? The big white hut with pink animal drawings on, that one. It is where the orphaned infant dead are taken care of by the community. Most of them have parents still living above, so they just remain babies until the day they will be forgotten and die or until their parents die and come pick them from the nursery.  The women and older girls take turns working in there five at a time. Which reminds me, I’m on duty from next week. See that homestead that has been fenced with eucalyptus? It’s the mad people’s house. All those people who died when their heads were not right live there. Let’s walk faster. Why am I whispering? Because I don’t like to pass by this place, it scares me. I don’t even like to see it. Faster, walk faster, no, let’s run.

We are finally here. This is the tunnel of acceptance. You have to go through it. I will meet you on the other side. Go on now.  You want to know what’s inside first? I can’t tell you that, as it is different for every person. Some go in and leave just as they came. Some go in and leave with bruises and marks; the forefathers punish them for the bad things they did above. Some go in and never come back and yet if someone goes after them, they don’t find their bodies. How was it for me? I came out just fine. You see, my mind was empty so the forefathers had nothing on me.  You don’t want to go in? Well, you must or else you will disintegrate at midnight. Yes, your body will turn to dust and blow away. If midnight strikes before the forefathers acknowledge your presence and cleanse you, you will cease to exist. It’s for your own good I tell you.

Can you hear those voices approaching us? Quick, we must hide. Go inside the tunnel, and I will be waiting on the other side. No? What if it’s those crazy people from the madhouse that have come to kidnap us? Hide me, here they are. Oh, it’s just my mother and your Aunt Sophie and Nyajeri. The two men with them are from the community. I guess we need not  worry.

Yes mama, I’ve been showing Kwame around.  No, he didn’t come earlier than expected. He arrived rather late if you ask me. I had been waiting for him for thirty minutes before he woke up. See Kwame, I told you your Aunt Sophie would be happy to see you? See? She’s crying with joy, go on, hug her back. What did you say mother? Why I ran away from the house this morning? I did not. I went to wait for Kwame. Well I have shown him enough for today. Let’s go and prepare for the party, it’s almost time. What do you mean there’s no party? Grandfather is holding a ceremony above to appease you tonight, have you forgotten? Don’t mind my mother Kwame, I think she’s slowly losing her mind.

Why are these men holding me? Tell them to let go of me, Mother. Get your dirty hands off me you ugly men. Stop apologizing to Kwame. Mother stop it. Why are you telling him to forget everything I told him? No Kwame don’t listen to her. I’m not crazy. I repeat, I am not crazy. I did not escape from the home of the mad people this morning. I don’t live there. Don’t listen to my mother Kwame. She’s lying. What do you mean you did not know that he had already arrived? Okay, I get it now. It’s this insane woman Nyajeri that told on me. You deserve a slap on that burnt face of yours. If these men were not holding me; I would give you the beating of your life. No, no mother, I don’t want to go back to that place, it’s full of crazy people. I’m not mad Kwame, tell them Kwame. Tell them how I showed you everything.

Stop telling him to forget everything I said. Promise me Kwame, promise me you will not forget. What do you mean Felix will induct him afresh? Felix is a crazy fool who knows nothing. Oh no, don’t make me go back there mother. I hate that loony house. Please I want to be with Kwame. Stop dragging me you big headed men. Well, goodbye Kwame, I will see you at the party tonight. I have to go and prepare now. Yes, there is a party, I must prepare for the party. Bye Kwame, I will see you soon. I promise.

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