It all started in the morning when my brother called to inform me of the death and burial at the same time of Lambota; I couldn’t stomach the first part of the information which talked about his death, let alone the second part that talked about the burial. I was touched and decided that I must attend the burial, at least to pay my last respect to this fallen young man who was loved by all but was despised by his parents. I didn’t even know when a tear dropped down my left eye. I didn’t believe Lambota was gone. I thought he was still going to be around for a little longer. I blamed myself for not doing anything tangible to save him, or at least contribute meaningfully to his slow recovery. The last day I saw him was about 27 days before his demise.
I remember almost walking past him on a Saturday evening and pretended I didn’t see him. I was too scared to talk to him due to the state he was in but was surprised when he called my name. I thought he wouldn’t recognize me but he did. I tried escaping so that we wouldn’t have any contact because I felt ashamed for not to have lived up to expectation. But it was too late:
“Good evening. I dey call you, you no hear,” he said.
“Sorry, I no see you, I stuttered. I sensed he knew I was lying. I guessed he knew, but it didn’t matter.
Looking at him at that moment, I remembered how James Hadley Chase described the achondroplastic dwarf in one his series – “the suit hung on him the way a suit looks on a vulture.”
We finally exchanged pleasantries and we bade ourselves goodbye. I made him a promise that I was going to see him again. Well, I did see him, but it was at the grave side.
The burial was slated for 10:am and everybody that cared about him was already hanging by the cemetery, hoping to hear siren sounds signaling the arrival of Lambota to the cemetery. Almost everyone in the neighborhood wanted to be part of this burial. We just wanted to see the look on his parent’s face. It still baffles me till this day to see the crowd that came to bid him farewell. I was very surprised because, people made it that morning barely six hours after the pronouncement of his death.
At first, his parents didn’t want to go to the hospital to collect his corpse; they acted as if they didn’t care about their son, not until some distant relatives threatened to take the corpse to their house that they accepted to go to the hospital. His parents decided to hurriedly bury him because they felt he was surplus to requirement and didn’t deserve any better.
I arrived at the famous Jos cemetery at about 10 am with every hope that the internment was on; it didn’t turn out to be what everyone expected. After placing several calls to some of the sympathizers who went with them to the mortuary to receive the corpse, news filtered in that the larger family refused to give his parents the go ahead to bury their son peacefully. Reasons being that, the young man in question was neglected throughout the entirety of his ailment. From the cemetery, we placed calls severally to the mortuary to know why they weren’t set for burial yet, but we kept on getting the same feedback from the other neighbors that were in the mortuary with them.
We wanted to get firsthand information before making any comments or trading blames. We just decided to watch and pray. We weren’t oblivious of all the travails that befell the young while he “lived. We grew up together, hence the anger in all of us.
Four hours later, his corpse was driven into the cemetery amidst the tension. Faces were squeezed. Sympathizers talked in hushed tones which made me believe that we were in for a drama; I came for the drama anyways.
His parents, especially his mum was searching the faces of most of us, to see if we would sympathize or at least say a word of comfort to them. It was as if it was a planned work; none of us talked to them, rather, we were sympathizing with his only sibling that made it to his burial. We later gathered that this brother of his was the only family member that knew the pains of brotherhood and accommodated him in his time of adversaries.
The bizarre incident at the grave side…
Lambota was a fighter who in his more than 20 years of existence, ended up registering his name in the hearts of almost everyone who knew him. I remember how military he was during one of the religious crises that engulfed the neighborhood; he almost lost his life in the battle field. He was so unlucky to be brought to this world by his parents. He died miserably, like an orphan. Though he was from an average family with four other siblings, he had been orphaned since he was like 12 or 13 years old; he was abandoned like a refugee in his own land by the same parents that gave birth to him. He didn’t enjoy anything we enjoyed on our way to becoming men and women. He never got any chance of being educated except for the mandatory free primary education which almost all of us in the area got. Even though he had no reason to end up how he did, Lambota would have at least still being alive if the parents knew what a life is worth.
I knew him when I was in my pre- teen ages; he was actually the first person I met as we moved into our new apartment in the neighborhood. He looked like someone who had the whole world under his feet. But when we looked at the rickety coffin that was hurriedly arranged in which he was about to be interred in, I finally confirmed that Lambota was really under the world; the coffin looked like that of a man that life had beaten. Yes, indeed, he was beaten.
“We all know what led to the death of Lambota; he was alcoholic. As a result of that, he died of alcohol related disease,” the priest said as soon as he started the obsequies.
Meanwhile, the parents were standing almost alone at one side of the grave facing me and my crew. We were angry with the statement from the priest and decided to do something before he would be finally laid to rest.
“Man is expected to live an enviable life while on earth, so that his legacies would be emulated after he is long gone,” the priest continued. “We know that one of the disadvantages of the crisis in Jos is that the resultant effect led to youths living in that area living reckless lives,” the priest added.
We were particularly shocked by that comment and our quest to revolt against it intensified and we just waited for when it would be our turn to say something.
“Going by what the bible says, children should always obey their parents so that their days would be long,” the priest chipped in as he was rounding up with the rites.
We listened keenly as we waited to get to the part where the bible talked about parents playing their own role in the family, but that part didn’t come. We didn’t know if the priest decided to skip it or if he was reading from a script written by the parents.
Just before we got to the ‘ash to ash and dust to dust’ part, the priest said he needed only two people to make their comments before Lambota would be interred; first from an elder and finally from a youth.
An elder stepped up to admonish the youths that were there; telling them to desist from anything that would make them end the way Lambota ended. Lambota was being blamed; the blames came from almost all the elders that were present, but nobody said what we wanted to hear.
“Goskolo (a locally brewed drink) is not good for you; it does a lot of harm to the liver and kidney. If he was obedient, he wouldn’t have given in to goskolo and other form of alcohol,” the elder added.
A friend walked up to me and said, “Why would the priest completely say that alcohol was the sole reason behind Lambota’s death? What about the other factors? When he made the mistakes, where were the parents to bring him back when he went astray? Why was he always asked to sleep outside the house whenever he erred; sometimes on bare floor in the freezing weather condition of Jos?”
These questions had not been processed completely by me when the priest eventually asked a youth to come up with his thoughts regarding the situation on ground. A man in his mid thirties walked up to them, beside the coffin and went straight to the matter with his thought provoking words. It was as if he already knew what was in our minds:
“We are gathered here today to lay to rest the remains of our great friend who in my little understanding so far, didn’t offend anybody but his parents. He died so prematurely because his parents couldn’t forgive him of one mistake he made as a youngster.”
At this time, people started coming closer to the grave in other to hear him clearly since there was no any amplifier to increase the volume of his voice. People were nodding in acceptance of his speech. He continued:
“Lambota might have made a mistake while growing up. Before putting the whole blame on his shoulders, the question I would like to ask is ‘why didn’t his father take him back when the young man asked for forgiveness?’ if there’s anyone amongst us that didn’t at any point steal from our parents or disobey orders at home, let them raise their hands.”
There was silence and noise all of a sudden. I looked straight to the mother; what I saw baffled me: a woman who looked beaten and confused. Nobody wanted to associate themselves with them. I saw a complete repentance on the face of the parents, but it was too late –for Aksum was gone, and gone forever.
Lambota was finally committed to mother earth almost immediately the youth finished his speech. We were surprised to see his father pick up sand from the ground and poured into the grave saying, ‘dust to dust and ashes to ashes’. It was a mockery of burials indeed.
The last straw…
We were supposed to be received in their house after the burial; but in protest of what transpired in the Lambota’s life, we decided to organize the refreshment ourselves and refused entering the house, to say the least – we refused meeting with the parents in the house. We mourned him silently and dispersed almost immediately we stepped in.
One of the sympathizers narrated to us how the deceased had accosted him on a weekend to reel out the names of some of the most notorious boys we grew up with who later became useful to the society. He mentioned the names of some of us who later graduated from the universities; some are happily married while a handful now lives abroad. Some of them are now cultivating in the Lord’s vineyard. The question he always asked was: “why can’t my father forgive me for just stealing from him when I was a child? Am I cursed to be his son? Why couldn’t they even consider my failing health and forgive me?”
I reminisced on the whole incident and prayed for the repose of his soul and also that asked God to give all of us the heart to forgive.
Rest in peace, Biggie Lambota!
Image via Aktip Travel