I remember the old man had a limp and his shoulders were always slumped, some claim it was as a result of the sacks of yam he carried whilst he was young, but even with slumped shoulders his head was always raised. He was a proud man. I remember his pride and no nonsense ways, I remember he talked like he owned the world, well in a way, I guess he did.
In becoming the strong , determined, practical and powerful woman I wanted to be, superstition held no place in my life as there are things I simply refused to believe. Things I wouldn’t give dignity to by thinking of, things I don’t care enough about to even conclude on belief or disbelief. Reincarnation was one of those things. The very idea to me, was just absurd, stupid in fact. Well, until something happened and I began to think that it might not be so stupid after all. Let me tell you a story.
My grandfather’s death came as a surprise to no one, in fact my father and his brothers have been jocularly planning that day for the longest time. For as long as I can remember the old man was always ill. It was always the case of “your grandfather is sick, let’s go and visit him before something happens”. Funny thing was, nothing ever happened. He always got better, stronger and then sick again. Though, he always spitefully took note of all those who didn’t come to visit and teased those that did, of how eager they were to watch him die and share his things. He would say this with a coquettish smile, that made it look like he was playing some sort of game only he understands. It was like he simply refused to die.
Born in the early 1900’s, my grandfather’s life was an authentic story of a rise from grass to grace. Armed by sheer resolve to not become his father, he entered into trade at a young age, taking yams from his village in the north central for sales in the south-south. He worked from dusk till dawn until he made a name for himself, becoming considerably wealthy in a foreign land. An unrepentant workaholic, when his body could no longer work, his mouth took over. Married five wives and outlived them all, buried one third of his children and grandchildren, I am not sure there was much he loved any more, well, apart from his properties. Every morning, before Fajr (Islamic morning prayer), without fail, his stout bent over figure could be seen perusing his property with hands folded behind him and whenever he came across anything he didn’t like, he bellowed whoever’s name he remembered, regardless of age.
I remember the old man had a limp and his shoulders were always slumped, some claim it was as a result of the sacks of yam he carried whilst he was young, but even with slumped shoulders his head was always raised. He was a proud man. I remember his pride and no nonsense ways, I remember he talked like he owned the world, well in a way, I guess he did. He never knew me, every time we met, he always asked in his gruffly haughty tone, “ who gave birth to this one?” and then I would begin to introduce myself, if we met three time a day, we repeated the sequence three times. It was nothing personal, he never claimed to remember anyone, although, he never forgot to get his change from anyone he sent, he never forgot the price of items in the market, and he never forgot to condemn anything he deemed expensive, I guess for him, frugality was a way of life.
Weeks after his death, my cousin gave birth to a baby boy. Immediately, rumors of the boy’s extreme resemblance to his great grandfather were abound. Curiosity drove me to go see the child, I saw no resemblance, I guess the child looked like every other baby. My uncles were particularly miffed and vehement in their stand that even the thought of something like that was a sin. This didn’t stop some of the older women from calling him Adai, meaning father. I learnt some of them even went to the extent of going to greet him every morning.
Like everything else in life I soon forgot about this episode, went about my life without so much as a thought of my grandfather or the events after his death. As can be obtained in every large African family, we gather for three main reasons; a death, birth or marriage. I think it was six years after my grandfather’s death, when the scuffle of who got what had been largely pelted and ruffled feathers calmed, we traveled for the marriage ceremony of another cousin. The house was more or less the same, it was repainted, but that was the extent of the change. I went about as was norm, greeting people and sometimes having to introduce my self. It was on one such occasion, while greeting an older woman, –whose relationship with me am still unsure of– that I heard someone one behind me ask a question only one other person had ever asked me; “who gave birth to this one?”. I was shocked, I was rooted on the spot, afraid of what I may see if I turned. I can remember my hands were sweaty, and my heart was beating a mile a minute, I really expected that when I turned I would come face to face with my dead grandfather. That didn’t happen, but what I saw was no less shocking. Instead of my grandfather, I was faced with an exact replica of him, a younger, smaller version though. The memory of my grandfather’s face had began to fade, but staring at the little boy who had the temerity to question my parentage, with no regard to the fact that I was older than him, I could see in exact detail what my grandfather looked like.
After the shock wore off, I learnt more about the boy. I was told he played like every other child, but that once in a while he says some things a child his age shouldn’t have been able to know about. His father, and the men in my family still insisted on the basis of religion and science, that the resemblance is mere coincidence. I am not sure even they believe that, I have caught my father wince every time he saw the boy smile, I have seen some of my uncles just openly stare at him. Though strange, none of these occurrences were enough to make me believe in a concept as archaic as reincarnation. That was until early the next morning, as I went out to perform ablution, I saw the boy quietly walking around the house, with his hand folded behind him, his figure bent, unnaturally so for a boy so young, perusing the property, much like the former owner used to. And as I stared at this boy in shock, he suddenly looked back and gave me a smile, a smile I remembered, a smile that sent chills running down my spine.
Now, I can’t help but think that there is something we are missing, something religion forgot and science can’t even begin to fathom, something other, something in between. I am no longer so sure of my so-called modern ways of thinking, maybe there is something in superstition. Maybe to go forward we need to go backward and reexamine our roots and cultural beliefs. Funny enough, if there was a person I know, who could be selfish enough to not want to leave his properties behind, someone cunning enough to play a prank as twisted as this, it would be my grandfather.