Death Is Enough Of A Sermon
I am standing by the road next to a motorbike struggling under the weight of three overesized makaa filled gunias. Our car is parked close to the cafe we stopped at for some refreshments. JD is still inside chatting with the proprietor but I am happy to people watch as I wait.
This is a place an hour away from Mombasa where the pace is supposedly ‘slower’. I am not seeing much difference.
Even though it is cloudy and humid, a cool breeze teases the trees and stops us all from the need to fan ourselves. It is almost lunchtime.
The minivans ferrying people to Malindi whizz past thankful to have escaped the clutches of the officers manning ‘stop police check’ posts. There are hawkers and long rows of boda boda drivers. Under hastily constructed makeshift awnings sit men and women selling fruits and vegetables. It is immensely pleasing to see the purples of the eggplants, the yellow red of the tomatoes and oh! the greens. The greens that make you feel healthier just by looking at them.
There is life and activity and movement and voices; there are people of different faiths, a foreigner or two-conspicuous by their very presence- here and there. People are wearing shirtsleeves and ties; others are in T-shirts and flip flops (‘champali’ as we call them here.) Tall, regal ‘shuka’ clad Maasai young men show their exquisitely made belts, wallets and what-not.
It is a normal business as usual Tuesday morning.
Then almost out of nowhere, six men, nondescript in their appearance, emerge. Some are wearing the traditional Swahili kanzu; the others are in your standard shirt and trouser. If they walked past you at any other time you would hardly spare them a glance, there is nothing extraordinary about them, they would blend in seamlessly with the scenery.
Except that a hush falls over the entire stretch of road. People pause in their selling and haggling, cars slow down, crowds part to let them pass- everyone’s eye is turned to look at them.
They are carrying a bier.
A simple wooden janaza covered with a grey green cloth with the Islamic testimony of faith- the shahada- written on it. The six men say nothing, every now and then alternating the hands holding the ends of the bier to ease the pressure of the load they are carrying.
With purposeful strides, they thread through the people even as the former step back to let them pass. They climb a short incline up the road and disappear into the side streets. Behind them, a group of other similarly dressed men follow at a respectful distance. Soon even they can not be seen from the road.
The hush lasts for as long as the janaza and the men are in view and then….it is back to buying and selling and hooting and arguing.
Life goes back to what it was five minutes ago before the men came into the picture.
I marvel at that hush, that pause.
Death, it seems, is enough of a sermon.
I cannot speak for all those who saw the janaza but I, personally, am moved. That man in there was once a talking laughing living person.
I know he was a man because, in these parts, we put a brightly coloured piece of clothing around the casket, to indicate that its tenant is a woman. That piece of cloth wasn’t there.
What is he seeing? I wonder with subdued curiosity and a sense of horror.
I shudder- I want to know the answer but at the same time I don’t.
Looking at all the activity, the rushing around, the disagreements, the bribes, the injustices, the arrogance, the prejudice____________
The journey ends with you in a rectangular box carried by others.
Others who may or may not remember you fondly; others who may be glad you no longer walk the earth. With their mental calculators, others may be ringing up how much it is you owe them and when they can expect your family to deliver.
I think for a moment, all of us on that Mombasa Malindi road, pictured ourselves the occupants of that janaza. I like to think, I want to hope, that it left a mark; that it could be a catalyst to changing who we are and how we have lived our lives this far.
For death can teach us how to live if we allow it.
It can remind us that, no matter what our stations are on this here earth, you and I are going to end up in the same place.
If we let it, death can teach us how to live before we are carried off, without prior warning, to meet our Maker.