Six feet was supposed to be deep enough but never was to Gana and his aide. The ground was covered with the cold blanket of night and as everyone else found rest in his or her tired beds, Gana and his assistant looked to disturb the sleep of those whose beds lay six feet deep.
For this particular one, the wait had been long and tiring. The chief had finally died after scouring Europe and America in search of a philosopher’s stone so he could live until the sun’s flame expired and keep spending his people’s wealth on new wives, cars, houses and anything else that smelt of luxury. Giving how fed up his subjects were with his reign, a very swift burial was to be expected – but no. As soon has his corpse was lying on the frigid mortuary table, dozens of heirs sprung out of nowhere like maggots under a rotting log.
After months of making lawyers rich, the estate finally settled on an heir and the chief was put to rest. Gana and his assistant had to wait another six months until they stopped bringing expensive bottles of unopened booze to the grave and the family had forgotten the man they so gallantly sent off with a mammoth funeral and many days of unrestricted partying.
So here they were, inches from reaching six feet, when they discovered another layer of solid concrete covering the coffin. Gana had remembered hearing about this – that chiefs in other areas were being buried with extra protection to stop anything from getting in or out. With how rich this chief was, he was not completely surprised. He quickly began mixing another batch of chemicals. The same they had used to melt away the concrete and marble of the tomb before they began digging. He was lucky to have the excess available or their night would have ended there, without the possibility of the special Waakye sold at dawn.
The darkness of the night began to thin, he wished the concrete would dissolve faster and hoped for his very life that it would not destroy whatever was behind it. He set his alarm for thirty minutes and waited for the chemistry he could never comprehend to happen. As the chemicals reacted with the concrete, Gana and his assistant sat on some poor soul’s grave and watched as the thick, pungent smoke began to float to the top. The scene, Gana thought, resembled something straight out of a Nollywood thriller; thick smoke hovering on the ground, a sullen silence interrupted by the occasional hoot of an owl and two humans in a cemetery committing some sinister crime until a poorly generated computer ghost suddenly appeared before them and shocked them into stone – but life no be film.
The ghosts had other things to do like sleeping, rather than disturbing men who just wanted to survive. Gana mused as he opened one of the bottles of schnapps covered with dust, lying limp by the now dissolved tomb. He remembered the first time he came to a cemetery. It was a night just like this, except that his bones were rippling goose pimples onto his skin and his stomach was erupting with hunger. He and his brother had come to hunt the mice that lived there and had grown fat feeding on the juicy rotten flesh nobody wanted. As they dug the elaborate network of tunnels the mice had created throughout the entire cemetery, stretching as far as their little limbs could dig – they found things you least expect to find in a place reserved for the dead. Trinkets, rings, bracelets, and all types of jewellery lay in the damp soil with an assortment of organic items mostly bones and what looked like flesh wrapped in clothes more tired and tattered than theirs at different stages of decomposition. It was a sight that made their empty stomachs want to spill out, but excitement held the emptiness in. So much wealth lay before their very eyes, conveniently hidden from everyone else who did not sleep underground. From that moment onward, they knew they never had to worry about a thing. They had found life in death’s backyard – their personal oilrig.
The custom of burying people with jewellery and money was supposed to be a myth, or at least that what their minds told them. Everyone was trying to make it to heaven these days. They certainly did not need gold, and silver to pay for the ride to the afterlife, they had paid tithes and other offerings for that. Besides, no one was actually crazy enough to go looking in graves for wealth, no one wanted to battle both ghosts and human beings for survival. But this pair had no choice. They had no family and had never been to a funeral so they had no clue what valuables where doing in graves, and they did not care.
They made a habit of creeping into cemeteries after the caretakers had drunk themselves to sleep or left their post to find warmer bodies. Sometimes they would end up with just a wedding ring or some gold teeth if they moved to the Muslim section of the cemetery. That side was easier to operate in but never had much treasure in them. The other sections had so many assorted finds, and like archaeologists digging up ancient ruins to understand the lives of those before them, Gana and his brother would immerse themselves in the lives of their victims.
To those two boys, each grave was a unique story, but hardly gave an accurate account of a person’s life. It left enough clues so you could begin to piece together critical details of a life once lived. Sometimes they would find a cloth from a society they were part of, or a stethoscope or wig, giving away their profession. Gana and his brother enjoyed the mystery in discovering the dead.
Whilst doing this, they discovered a completely different ecosystem whose mecca was the cemetery. Occasionally they would find prayer warriors binding some poor grandmother’s grave with the blood of Jesus, before running as if a thousand horses were after them when they heard the hissing sound the chemicals made whilst melting the tombs. It was however, not unusual to find people smoking weed whilst sitting on the walls of the cemetery or the unfortunate drunk napping on a grave. Some days too it was horrible, especially during those months when many funerals were held. Scores of people would be there, carefully watching the gravediggers prepare a new home for their loved ones. The whole phenomenon came into effect when the Daily Graphic broke a story of how the cemeteries where selling old graves to new corpses because of limited space. Everyone suspected this was going on because there were no new cemeteries but people had not stopped dying. So now, families would bring representatives to ensure that the graves were in fact empty, but they were too scared to stay all night and usually left after an hour. Regardless, the cemetery Gana and his brother ransacked was regularly empty with the sullen atmosphere heavy with the chilly song of the night sang by the invisible crickets and birds.
The concrete was almost done dissolving as the pungent odour of the chemical reaction began to dissipate despite the smoke remaining thick and hovering around the grave. Gana began to remember his brother. Both lost children growing up together on the street, they developed a strong affinity of each other forged in the cruel flames of street life. They had somehow survived a myriad of life altering experiences from fighting scorpions that sneaked into their cardboard beds at night or ransacking bins so they could avoid crippling hunger and anything life had thrown at them, somehow, someway always triumphing at each stage. They even survived the night two white men fed them, clothed them, and turn off the light in the hotel room where screams did not escape from the walls. So it did not surprise Gana that they wondered into the cemetery that day to hunt rodents, or how he had managed to find buyers for all the jewellery they found. However, he was surprised when he came running to Gana that he had found god in the cemetery one day.
They never went to the cemetery without each other so Gana did not understand what he was doing there that night when the lord graced his presence. Apparently, he was just strolling through, in search of a new mark when he tripped over and fell into a newly dug grave.
“Yesu!” his brother exclaimed and a voice responded.
A scruffy looking man emerged and pulled him out of the grave. The man who was god went on to tell him about his church of appointed souls in spiritual warfare against the sun and the moon. Gana too had seen that very man, always in a white shirt, speaking impeccable English as he discussed geopolitics with his friends Che Guevara, Fidel Castro and Vladimir Lenin. As to how he had become god was like the story of water turning into wine. Ever since then, his brother quit their ritual pilgrimage to the cemetery in search of wealth. He also did not seem to need money because he soon after moved out the house he and his brother had rented – the first bed they could call their own, along with every pesewa they had made from those nights in the graves. Rumours and Gana’s own eyes had him hanging out at those fancy restaurants where the air was colder than it should ever be. Meeting god could do that to people.
So now, it was up to Gana to keep surviving on his own. He found an assistant quickly, some half-wit with huge arms minted to dig yam mounds who had come to the city to find his pot of gold. For now, he would have to manage with graves. At least Gana would not have to worry himself with digging.
The concrete layer was completely dissolved and they could finally see what they had laboured through the night for. A black metal box became more apparent as the gases from the chemicals thinned. Having seen his fair share of graves, Gana did not know how to react to their find. The typical royal graves he had breached were always simple coffins wrapped in various amulets, charms and cloths. He had never seen the head of any children but those of cattle and horses were always there, irrespective of the chief’s ethnicity. So discovering a metal box painted with yellow crescents all over, bolted shut like the demon of the world’s destruction resided in it, had Gana’s mind racing. He had not gone through all this trouble to go back with just body pains and headaches.
In the distance, an azan could be heard bellowing from the minarets. Sunrise.
Gana and his assistant somehow managed to ferry the box from the ground onto a handcart and push it home, before the caretakers came back to their jobs. The black box was heavier than he thought. The prospects of not having to come back to the cemetery, especially after what his brother had done to him, lit him up like an independence night sky.
When they got to his apartment, he could barely find sleep as curiosity hung over him. Why was this box in a very wealthy and powerful chief’s grave and what could be in it? He began hacking the box with a cutlass, eager to discover its contents. After hacking, sweating, and more hacking, the box finally breached. He opened it, shut it, went straight to find his phone, and called his brother.
A swimming pool, with water as clear as the minds of children before the cruel world gets them, nestled in the middle of an elegant hotel. It was just past midday and only a few guest surrounded the pool, mostly expatriates getting either tanned or swimming through the water like they never learned to walk. Two men walked to the pool deck in bathing suits avoiding a prolonged stare or smile with any of the others. They sat on the pool deck with their feet in the water.
“Are you sure you were not followed?”
“Yes, I followed the instructions you gave me to the letter. Why are we meeting here? We are not supposed to make contact until it is time.”
“A new development requires that we break protocol.”
“What is it?”
“My brother has found something truly incredible. I think you will be interested. It could be the thing you have always wanted. “
“You better not be wasting my time. I will come by later this week to check it out.”
“The usual location?”
The man walked in, followed by another who wore a sullen look on his face – but not one of grief, rather a nonchalance of being overconfident in his ability. The first man, walked over to shake Gana’s brother’s hand, whilst the other one stood behind the door. Gana’s brother did not find anything odd as he had regularly conducted business with this man after meeting him in front of a hotel where he was hawking some of the ring and chains they dug up as African artefacts. Ever since then, they had developed a very cordial relationship that had made each other very wealthy. They were supposed to be done with this line of work as the man had promised to send Gana’s brother to England with him. Gana himself knew nothing of this but was happy with his brother’s connections and how he always sold the merchandise. For this particular deal, he was supposed to stay in the back to which he obliged.
The man was furious that the metal box was so defaced, but the brother explained that his brother was crude and that was the only way he could pry it open. He then went on to examine the contents by peering at it through his magnifying glass and pouring some liquid from a small bottle on it. His face immediately lit up, he knew just how monumental this was and was excited to own it. The brother, having noticed this set the price high and they began to bargain.
“Do you even know what it is? I always thought it was a myth but here it is right in front of me! Evidence of its existence is murky, but the folk tales always alluded to an ancient practice where upon the paramount chief’s death, his body was to be buried but never actually was. His elders would burn his bones to ashes, mix it with pure gold, and cast a mask of his successor. Ancient explorers searched all over but never found anything of that sort. But you guys have outdone yourselves this time. It is surely worth a lot more than you can imagine.”
Gana’s brother, upon hearing this began to rub him palms together, making a mental note of how he would spend the money. The other man closed the metal box and began to carry it out. Upon opening the door, they saw a dozen police officers in full riot gear pointing guns at them – they had them surrounded.
Meanwhile, Gana walked away through the back with a suitcase of reward money from the royal family. For now, he could be sure of not going back to the cemetery, at least not tonight.
Hakeem Adam (@) is an instinct creative in love with beautiful sentences and the angst of communicating complex ideas in poetry. He frequently expresses this angst in simple sentences on his blog. He also loves to talk about African film and music classics on his platform, Dandano.
Related country: Ghana
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