By Larry Sun
…knew him implored of him to bestow a trifle, no children asked him what it was o’clock, no man or woman in the village ever once in all his life inquired the way to such and such a place, of Pa Jimoh. Even the blind men appeared to recognize him; for when they sensed him coming ahead, would tap their canes and make their ways to their doorways. It almost seemed as though whenever it came to situations pertaining Jimoh, they revelled in their affliction. Some of them would console themselves by saying, ‘No eye at all is better than an evil eye!’
But even Jimoh himself did not give a trifle care to this obvious neglect; it was the very thing he liked, and he always defended himself by preaching about how he was the oldest inhabitant of the village at seventy-five, and that every other villager should always accord him the respect for an elder. Although he always emphasized how he was a year older than any other old man in the village, everybody knew that he was never an hour richer. And to have such an evil-embodiment die in the village without the benefit of a burial might spell misfortune for the growing generation of the village.
Saka worked round the clock to make a presentable coffin for Pa Jimoh, and when the work was ready the next day, Saka was impressed at his own achievement; because he’d never, until now, completed a casket in a single day. It was as though the spirit of the dead palm-wine tapper urged him to hasten up. He knew quite well that his client would likewise be duly impressed at the rapidity with which he completed the work. He also knew that the villagers could not wait to inter Jimoh and get it done with. But in the modern world, there was always Murphy’s Law that could not be avoided. And in this case at hand, everything worked together to make sure that the coffin built for Jimoh did not arrive Ogbomosho in time.
Pa Jimoh had chosen the wrong time to die; he kicked the bucket when fuel scarcity was rampant in the city yonder.
With his faithful work of art beside him, Saka waited impatiently at the bus-stop, but the road was practically devoid of vehicles. The very few that plied the quiet road didn’t give the carpenter a second glance, and even those who gave were shied away at the sight of the corpse apartment. Most motorists believed that the presence of a coffin in their vehicles could cause doom to their journey, with or without corpse. Sometimes though, some braver ones would adorn their automobiles with leaves of unknown botanical nomenclatures, believing therefore that this action was enough to ward off both potential evils and evil potentials. Besides, everything in life has always boiled down to faith; but faith itself is limited. Would you believe so much in faith that you’d take a bold step to the middle of a rail track with the firm belief that the speeding locomotive would bounce off you at impact? And it is not unusual to find that it is only readers who’d not misplaced their mental gadgets would find the mission an extremely ludicrous one. And if you trust otherwise, then the writer can only shrug his shoulders and urge you to prove him wrong.
Saka was already at the verge of giving up and returning home when he sighted an approaching lorry. There, he decided within himself that this one vehicle would not pass him by, no matter what it took. This was the perfect six-wheeler to transport him, coffin inclusive. He was determined to make the driver stop, and hand-flagging might not achieve that. When the vehicle was closer, Saka suddenly leaped to the middle of the road. There was no one at the bus-stop to stop him from engaging in this suicidal mission. Everywhere was silent, as if the situation was not only inflation in fuel price but also an imposition of curfew. Although this feat was not unlike that of the demented incipient already mentioned in the former paragraph, Saka was one of the sanest people in all of humanity; because it takes a large degree of sanity and ingenuity to build such a remarkable coffin. Fortunately, Saka was not flattened by the wheels of the truck, though almost. The driver had managed to repair the brakes the day before. The vehicle stopped at only a few inches from the carpenter.
‘Are you crazy?’ Screamed the driver in a thick Yoruba language. As he poked his head out through the window Saka could not help noticing the brutal tribal marks on the man’s cheeks. Whoever had carved this tally on his face had no intention of bestowing pulchritude. The lines were not even symmetrical; the driver’s ugliness was classic.
‘No, I am not crazy, just desperate. There’s a difference between insanity and desperation.’ answered Saka in like language.
‘What do you want?’ The facially-challenged man asked impatiently.
‘My name is Saka and I urgently need to get to the town of Ogbomosho.’
‘How does that concern me?’
‘You are going to drive me there.’
‘And a dozen beauty queens would fight over me.’ Spat the driver, whose name was Dawodu; an ugly name among ugly names.
‘Listen carefully to me, Prince Charming; I’m not leaving here unless you agree to transport me.’
Dawodu scoffed amusedly, ‘And you think your rigid presence here is a threat to my tipper? I can just run you over.’
Maybe Saka’s sanity had reached such a boiling point that a regular prefix had been added to his ‘sanity’, or the spirit of the deceased client was influencing him negatively, because the coffin-maker’s reply was sensationally inane. ‘I’ve memorized your plate number.’
The truck-driver stared at Saka for a long moment; what was running through his mind could be explained by only him, because he quietly but firmly replied, ‘My fee is ten naira.’ Of course, the amount charged during this prehistoric time was a direct equivalent five hundred times its value fifty years aft.
‘What!’ screamed the wide-eyed Saka. ‘That’s a fortune! I can only afford five naira.’
‘Come and let’s hoist that to the back of the lorry.’ Saka pointed at the coffin he’d left at the site of the road prior his maniacal bound before a moving engine. It was at this moment that Dawodu noticed the wooden object.
‘What’s that?’ he asked incredulously.
‘It’s a spaceship.’ Saka replied absent-mindedly.
‘It looks like a coffin.’
‘Wow, that’s very brilliant of you. You’re right, it’s a coffin,’ Saka said impatiently, ‘Now come and assist in lifting it.’
‘You are not planning to put that in my lorry, are you?’
The coffin-maker looked at the driver as if he had just said something incredibly silly.
‘No,’ he answered in anger, ‘I’m planning to string it on my waist like a bead.’
‘I’m not putting a corpse in my car!’
‘The coffin is empty, genius!’
‘Prove me wrong.’
It was only after Saka had opened the coffin to show that it was truly empty that Dawodu assisted in lifting.