All Rights Reserved Published in The Anthology of the Montreal Branch Canadian Authors Association copyright 2012 Carol Balawyder
Alahji’s mother came to bring him to the coffin parade. He’d been waiting for this day ever since Mr. Obeng had announced the competition amongst the coffin makers of Ghana. Today Mr. Obeng was to select his coffin to travel into the next world.
Alahji’s mother had worn her silk head wrapper and her best dress with its intricate embroidery – the one she took out for special occasions. She had walked the two kilometers from their cottage behind Mr. Obeng’s house to pick him up at his primary school. He would have preferred to meet her at the parade for with her along his side he had to walk slowly and it stung him to see the pain she was in, her calves swollen the size of melons now. But ever since the bomb which had been left under Mr. Obeng’s car his mother refused Alahji be driven to school by Mr. Obeng’s chauffeur.
At the parade he stood proudly next to his mother with his freshly pressed shorts and his blue polo shirt with the three buttons tied up to his small neck. He could feel the heat of the day in the inside of her hand as he held it. Hundreds of people – women in kaftans and men in dashiki pant sets – yellows and turquoise and emerald greens were standing along the baobab lined road leading up to Mr. Obeng’s estate where Mr. Obeng himself sat on the loggia overlooking the scene.
The first coffin arrived. Alahji’s dark eyes widened with energy as the afternoon sun glittered upon the pure gold coffin. He knew that Ghana was the world’s top gold producer but never had he seen its magnificence in such a stunning shape. His hand reached out to stroke the gold coffin with its imprints of colorful moons as it drifted alongside him. Quarter moon. Half Moon. Three quarters and the full moon. What was that story Mr. Obeng had told him last year when he had called him into his garden one evening to sit by him along the bamboo hedges? There had been a full moon out then. Mr. Obeng in a white flowing wide sleeved robe had said in his gentle voice, “Alahji , a full moon is to be wished upon. But make sure not to waste your wishes.” Alahji had started to tell Mr. Obeng his wish to be able to fly when the old man had rested his frail hand on Alahji’s skinny shoulder and said, “A wish spoken is a wish broken.”
The moon covered coffin made Alahji think of his wish to fly. He knew that in Ghana those who died were buried in coffins that represented them. When his time would come to die he would want a coffin the shape of wings like the gods in the book Mr. Obeng had given him. His ten year old imagination carried him off to different galaxies where he could meet whenever he wished those he loved. His mother. Mr. Obeng.
Now as the gold mooned coffin went by he made another wish; Mr. Obeng had never said that a moon on a coffin couldn’t count. Make bombs disappear.
Who could have placed the bomb under the car and for what reason he had asked both his mother and Mr. Obeng but they had refused to tell him. “A young boy need not be bothered with adult problems,” Mr. Obeng had said.
In return Alahji had not wanted to worry his mother about the drawings he had seen on the internet of the children who had survived the Rwanda genocide. Drawings of children with legs cut off. Homes burning. Drawings of blood. Children seeing their friends being killed. Would he ever be one of them?
“Where will Mr. Obeng go after he dies?” he asked his mother.
His mother placed her hand tenderly on his head and said, “To meet the god of eternity.”
“Will that also happen to you?” he asked. She stared ahead, her body tall and straight, the yellow and red head wrapper glimmered in the sun.
Tears stung his eyes but then they were quickly forgotten as the second coffin came into sight. Alahji immediately recognized its shape. Every child in Ghana had studied it in their history book. It was a reproduction of the Posuban Shrine, a shrine which represented the five centuries of interaction with European traders and settlers. It was with these traders which Mr. Obeng had become wealthy and now would he choose this coffin to go into the next world in honor of the gods for having favored him?
The foot of the shrine was sheltered with fresh pineapples; their warm scent perfumed the air. How often Mr. Obeng had brought pineapples for his mother from his plantation. Alahji could now taste the sweet fruit on the roof of his mouth, feel the sweet juice drip down his chin.
Between the coffins arrived a float with a group of young Ghanaian musicians with saxophones and electric guitars playing the highlife hip-hop sunny music so familiar to Alahji. Everyone began to sway in the laneway and dance with each other. Alahji clapped his hands and he too began to dance remembering how he’d always loved this about his mother. How gracefully she had moved, even when she went about cleaning Mr. Obeng’s house. Especially when she went about cleaning his house. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to have a coffin which stopped time? To make his mother dance around Mr. Obeng’s kitchen again. To carry this place wherever he went, to carry her not just in his imagination as he was capable of doing but to always hear her laugh, forever feel her arms around him, making him fell safe. Always safe.
He felt his mother’s hand squeeze his shoulder before he saw the next coffin. It was a coffin made of hardwood trees from the rain forest. Shiny and in the shape of a leopard. Even Alahji knew that Mr. Obeng would never choose this coffin. How could he? It would be giving agreement to the illegal loggers in the rain forest and the poaching of Ghana’s wildlife. It would be giving up trying to protect the ten percent of rain forest left in Ghana.
The final coffin arrived. It was of a pale pink glass with translucent vibrant beaded trimmings from the Krobo mountains that his mother sometimes wore around her waist with that chachacha sound. Beads, his mother had once told him, were the sign of affection in Africa and one day these very beads he could give to the woman he fell in love with. The coffin’s open lid revealed everything that was beautiful about Ghana. Colorful galas. Waterfalls. The language of drumming. Kenti weavers. Orchids. His mother. He watched her lift her head towards the loggia where Mr. Obeng smiled widely at her as if in her face he saw all the beauty of his past and future. She smiled back and then placed her arm around her son’s shoulder and drew him to her. He felt warm and safe against her.