Creative Non-Fiction by Jerry Chiemeke

Samuel Zeller

Samuel Zeller

Journeying to Heaven in an Improvised Submarine

For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate, and their envy have already vanished, and they will never again have a share in all that is done under the sun...
— Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 (King James Version)

I think that scriptural passage underestimates the capacity of those on the other side to express emotion, to feel, to at least attempt to latch on to memories and reminders of the paths they once trod.

Who’s to say that in those final moments, as they succumbed to the pull of the water or as the lead from the bullet successfully stopped all heart functions, that they didn’t spare thoughts of unfulfilled dreams, of promises that could no longer be met, of the loved ones left behind? Who’s to say that they do not express worry from Sheol about the way they left things here? What makes you so sure they don’t yearn to speak to someone, to send a message, to reach out?

Ever seen the desperation in the eyes of a departed loved one when they show up in a 12:51 a.m dream, struggling with words, knowing that there’s a chance you’ll remember little or nothing by morning? Why do you think mediums feel so much exhaustion when they attempt to bridge the gap between living and deceased?

and I heard your voice
as clear as day
and you told me I should concentrate
it was all so strange
and so surreal
that a ghost should be so practical
only if for a night

— Florence Welch

One moment you’re being chauffeur-driven to an airport, enjoying the perks of being a senior financial officer in a federal establishment…and the next minute your car is submerged in a huge flood, you and your driver in it, with the huge probability that your body may never be seen again. Worse than the news of death is being robbed of the chance to pay befitting respects, being unable to stare at that shell that once bore life one last time, and being deprived of a shot at closure. 

Uncle Eloke grew up with my father, but it was in 2005 that I interacted with him for the first time, at least within a full sense of reasoning. I was 14 at the time, it was nearly five years after my mother’s demise and my father was alone most of the time, so during one of my mid-term breaks (I was in high school at the time), I accompanied him on a business trip to Abuja. Uncle Eloke housed us for five days, provided us with all he needed, and relieved my father of what would have been heavy hotel expenses in one of the country’s most expensive cities. 

A stout, light-complexioned man, Uncle Eloke exhibited so much focus in his career, rising up the ranks as an accountant in the Abuja Federal High Court. He had, however, been unlucky in love, having witnessed the breaking off of two engagements—on one occasion his lover made away with his property while he was on a trip abroad—so he ended up marrying “fairly late”. 

In 2013, I was a 22-year-old who had just aced his Law School examinations and needed a place to stay for a few weeks while waiting for my final screening and Call to Bar. Uncle Eloke came to the rescue, again. By then he had married a business-savvy wife, his only son was five years old, and he had cheated death once. There were people who lurked around, some relatives and others strangers, but I noticed that he helped them all, housed them to the best of his ability, practically cushioned their Abuja hustle. 

Uncle Eloke was the kind of man who built houses for indigent people back in our hometown of Onicha-Ugbo, sponsored the education of many youths without batting an eyelid, and just knew how to set people on a path to better living. Then Oshun[i], the river orisha[ii] visited a city that hardly flirts with water, and she chose to go for him!

Well played, Olokun[iii], well played.

“Son, I’ve got bad news. I hope you are in a quiet place, preferably your apartment”.

My father sounded hurt when he broke the news to me yesterday. I wonder how the dead man’s wife, his son, and his other dependents will process this. There were many ambitions riding on that man’s back, Heaven knows what is going to become of those ambitions now. 

“Take heart, I’m really sorry about how you feel, may his soul rest in peace.”

Platitudes in the lines of “there’s a reason for everything” and “God knows best” are lost on me at the moment, and I could really do without those while the condolence messages pour in. A man make sacrifices all his life, finally gets into some rhythm, and then is cut off?! God, explain this to me, illustrate this in a way that makes sense. 

Loss is heavier than what we make it out to be, ultimately. It’s difficult to define no matter how much you intellectualise or romanticise its very essence, it’s palpable but tricky when it comes to figuring its dimensions, and more painfully, there’s no foolproof way to process it. Like a niggling pain in your knees, it comes and goes and comes again. There’s no drowning it in glasses of vodka, or blurring it with a laptop screen, or burying it between a woman’s thighs.

Life has a way of playing out like a game of cards (or in local Nigerian parlance, a session of “Whot”): when you think you’ve figured things out and scream “last card”, it has a way of retorting with “pick two”, nipping your plans in the bud. I joked about staying with him for a while if I ever moved to Abuja. I dream of ways to understand what the point is in being born and existing, sometimes.

In a way, I’m somewhat relieved that I’ve still got tears left to cry, and that my lacrimal gland still functions. Some joke that we’re only entitled to a given volume of litres in terms of tear drops: I felt that volume shrink by one-thirds when Blessed died from kidney failure in 2010 at the age of nineteen, I felt the showers in my eyes dry even further when Charlie died from stomach cancer later that year before her twentieth birthday, and when Caesar passed on from cerebral abscess in 2014 thirteen weeks to his twentieth birthday, I thought that I had exhausted my life’s allotment of tears…until I got the phone call that greeted my ears with news of Uncle Eloke’s demise. I’m not sure how I will live with this, but maybe I should hold on to the fact that I can still feel, at least.

Maybe numbness is a far worse state than death.

Maybe having a car (involuntarily) turn into an improvised submarine is a fairly good way to journey to Heaven

Those who are dead, are not dead
they’re just living in my head
and since I fell for that spell
I am living there as well
Oh, time is so short and I’m sure
there must be something more

[i] The river goddess, recognised in the traditional religion of the Yoruba people in South-Western Nigeria, as well as Benin Republic and parts of Cuba.

[ii]  A smaller deity, recognised in Yoruba traditional religion.

[iii] The ruler of all water bodies in Yoruba traditional religion.

 
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Jerry Chiemeke is an editor, culture critic and lawyer. His works have appeared in Inlandia Journal, Nightingale and Sparrow, Bone and Ink Press, The Question Marker, Kissing Dynamite Poetry and Agbowo, among others. A lover of long walks and alternative rock music, Jerry lives in Lagos, Nigeria. He is currently working on a collection of short stories.