By Olubunmi Familoni
One of my homeboys got married about hundred years ago, when the rest of us were just entering the prime of our virility, swinging the ol’ baton all over town while walking the booty beat. Even though it had felt like a great betrayal at the time, we felt a kind of sympathy towards the poor chap — we couldn’t understand why a young, strapping fellow with all his parts intact would pass up a chance to scatter wild oats about in a town with an expanse of golden fields; why a young healthy man would agree to wearing the manacles of matrimony at such an early age, his entire existence to be reduced to nothing but a word: husband, owned by somebody, one person; his nightlife, sex life, next life all condensed into the drudgery of marital monotony. For us, his boys, this young friend’s wedding was a funeral of sorts — we wore black suits and long faces, groomsmen as pall-bearers, and drank to his untimely demise — he’d lived a good, short life — and we went on with our own lives, for that’s what the living do after a funeral. Eventually, the memory of a dead person fades to nothing but a grey swathe, worn down by the wear of years, by the day-to-day activity of living. . .
One day, in the middle of a drinking session, somebody remembers him up from the dead; someone else mentions that he had seen him one time in church (that’s where you ever see people after they get married), and that he had become a ghost of his former self, faded. We wondered what was so fatal about marriage that made its effect on the occupants of it so debilitating; we concluded that since it was considered a destination for many, it was only natural that it had to feel like death, an end.
Then came the question, which became an introspective interrogation of our loyalty, of why none of us had ever thought to check on him. I just reasoned that nobody ‘checks on’ dead people, we just assume they’re getting along prettily wherever they happen to have ended up, heaven or hell. Judging from the size of the smile on our friend’s face at his wedding, his looked like it had been a match made in heaven; but we soon concluded, from the reports of sightings of the spectre, that it must be hell for him over there.
Then I got to feeling a spot of guilt, which requires too much effort on my part, and consequently set about thinking such soggy thoughts as: dead people get candles lit for them and a mass said for their poor souls, that kind of thing; somebody somewhere still remembers them, and remembers to pray for them, put fresh flowers on their graves, etc. So I got up the next day and visited our dearly departed friend’s ‘grave’.
The plan was to just sit and chat for about six seconds and be out and back up among the living, because, with someone like me for whom ‘chopping life’ is like a religion, lingering around death and its relatives begins to feel like a sin.
I sat down waiting for the man of the house to emerge from wherever they had him locked up in the house. Sat there hoping the devil who wears the (Prada) pants in the house wasn’t home. This whole time, which seemed considerably long enough to be deliberately inhospitable, I was sat on a perch, sitting on the edge of my heart, the rest of me already hopping it down the road on the way home.
Have you noticed how there is something very funereal about matrimonial residences, how there’s this graveyard quiet in the air that just kills you, even the pictures on the walls look like those photos you’d use for newspaper obituaries. About the picture, I noticed the wedding picture — how our friend’s whole face seemed to be one big fat smile, as if the smile poured from his hairline and spread down to his chin, his eyes watering with joy; then I saw another picture, taken years after the wedding (probably in celebration of a tenth-year anniversary or something of that nasty sort), noticed how the rigor mortis of matrimony had set in — the smiles were stiff, artificial in this plastic way dolls’ smiles have, worn for the occasion; his didn’t fit properly on his mouth, he’d probably copped a size too big, one meant for some glib politician’s photo-op session. The liquid joy that had filled his eyes in the old wedding picture had hardened, his eyes cold pebbles, no emotion, nothing in them. I looked deep in them, looking for the laughter that used to fill them, if there was any left in the corners maybe — nothing; it was like looking too long into the eyes of a dead man, a man who had died with his eyes open; a look of accumulated sadness and conjugal long-suffering frozen on his face.
It wasn’t just the ghost-town silence of the room that made my neck itch and made it feel as if my collar was trying to suffocate me, there was some other quality about this whole marriage thing that seemed to be cutting my oxygen off, sucking all the air in the room up. . . I turned around and saw that the devil was in the room with me, giving me that hot look one would give a shiny saviour who had come to rescue her captive from his chains and bring him back into the light of bachelorhood and its sweet wantonness. The look darkened the room, the harder she stared; then she growled that her husband couldn’t come out now, which meant he couldn’t go out with me and that I could leave now. I can hardly ever find the energy to rescue myself from the smallest temptation of the sexual kind, so here I couldn’t be altruistic enough to muster any effort in trying to rescue our poor friend. I was out the door in a blink, just glad to be able to breathe good, clean air again.
I have since come to terms with the man’s death and moved on with my life, ‘chopping’ it to my satisfaction while guarding it from similar devils’ long spoons.