Sometime in December 2016, I had the privilege of getting close to a place I call the kingdom of dead people. That was when I was to bury my father. His remains were deposited at a morgue in Azumini, Abia State, just a few minutes drive from my Ukanafun village.
But I did not get inside the morgue. I was outside, waiting for the elders to go in and identify his lifeless body, then bring it into the waiting ambulance. One year later, it was the turn of my mother. Her remains were deposited in another morgue. I personally took her body to the Mercy Hospital morgue in Abak, Akwa Ibom State. But again, I did not get inside. The attendants took her remains from me and that was it.
But on December 17, 2017, I took a step further and this time, I got inside, not really inside though. Her remains had already been brought out of the main area where other dead bodies were kept, to an open place within the building. That was where I identified her body and from there, got her into the ambulance. Needless talking about the drama that played out. They had so barbequed my mother that I could not recognise her anymore. I had told the attendant clearly that the body he showed me was not my mother’s. The old man insisted it was my mum, and went further to show me the registration tag in their register, which had tallied with the label on her body. I kept arguing with him until I told the man to let me see my mother’s toes. It was at that point I was convinced that the body was actually my mother’s. The argument ended and I took her away.
Fast forward to February 13. That was my first visit to this particular morgue in Uyo. I had barely recovered from the shock of seeing my brother’s lifeless body. In the company of his son, I had taken the body to that hospital, thinking they could resuscitate him. The doctors only told me that he had died even before we got there.
So, the next point was the morgue. As we got there, I did not go beyond the visitors’ area. But on May 12, I move beyond that point and entered into the main hall, where all the dead bodies are kept.
I handed over the documents they gave me on the day I went to deposit his remains. Then I told them I wanted to see my elder brother. My senior cousin was there, as well as my nephew. The attendants were nice. The moment they confirmed that the body was in their custody, we were told to give them sometime, so they can inform my dead brother that some visitors had come to see him.
About five minutes later, one of the attendants came towards us with a wry smile that suggested that my dead brother was ready to see us. Then we followed him like the sheep would follow their shepherd. He opened the door. In any case, the door had no lock. It is very clear that that door has never been locked for ages. We followed him inside.
From the entrance door, you could see lifeless bodies of people’s parents, brothers, sisters, pastors et cetera. It was a large hall and the place was filled with dead bodies, all lying down and facing the heavens. They were all naked, though their private parts were slightly covered.
I spent about six minutes with the dead, inside that hall. For six minutes, I moved my neck around to take some video shots with my bare eyes. None of them spoke. None of them smiled. None of them giggled. If I were to touch them, none of them would have raised a finger at me. They were like the piece of wood you find in your carpenter’s shop. I stood there speechless too, only gazing at the bodies of people who, maybe, were once very rich, or very poor, or very agile, or very weak, or very daring, or very braggadocious, or very industrious, or very hardworking, or whose bank accounts were very loaded, or not too loaded. I watched the bodies of people who may have been very brutal when they were alive, people whose words perhaps, were laws. It was my first experience inside the kingdom of the dead. As I walked out of the hall, a word dropped in my head-the true meaning of life: life is really a vanity.
Out of the main hall of the kingdom of the dead, I engaged some of the attendants in a discussion. The journalist in me was alive. Momentarily, I forget about the lifeless body of my brother. I needed to hear certain things from the attendants. So, I called one of them to one corner of the vicinity and pronto, we started gisting. I wanted to know so much about what happens there.
So, I asked about the average number of dead bodies they receive everyday. I was told that sometimes it could be up to 10 and some days, they could stay without receiving even one body.
I asked him why it took him so much time from the time we informed them that we wanted to see my brother’s body, till the time he came to take us in. His answer was shocking: he needed to inform my dead brother that his son and his brother were around to see him. Really? He smiled and said it was important to do so, because the man needed to know that his visitors were coming.
I asked if it was true that they would usually knock on the door before entering. He response was that you do not only have to knock, but that you would need to wait for a while, as if to wait for a response form the owner of the house, before you could open the door and enter.
Then I asked if it was true that the spirit of some of the dead bodies do walk out of the morgue and then return later. Again, the man smiled and then responded in the affirmative. In fact, he said he had witnessed a scenario like that, sometime ago, when the spirit of one of the lifeless men walked pass him and left the vicinity. So, did he query the spirit? The response was in the negative.
Next question: Are you not afraid to be dwelling with dead bodies? His response: Just smiles, then laughter- that kind of laughter you get from Deacon Udom Emmanuel when he hears that Senator Godswill Akpabio has decided to resign as minister of Niger Delta Affairs, leaving behind all that the NDDC has to offer, to pursue the same presidential ambition he is equally pursuing.
I was enjoying the session with the attendant when my senior cousin signalled that we needed to start leaving for Port Harcourt.
And reluctantly I walked away, after about 20 minutes in the kingdom of the dead.