The afterlife waiting room

Saturday January 20 2018

Afterlife waiting room. NMG

I regained consciousness in a place that looked like a hospital waiting room with greyish-blue walls. My eyes scrutinised the room in search of my fellow passengers. Everyone was there. ILLUSTRATION | JOHN NYAGAH | NMG 

By PATRICIA ODINDO
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The dilapidated country bus darted across the poorly tarmacked road like a metallic animal.

Passengers screamed and shouted to the driver to be careful.

“This lunatic is out to kill us, out to kill us o!” cried a plump woman gripping her head in her hands tightly.

Dereva! Sisi ni watu sio magunia za viazi!” (Driver, we are people, not sacks of potatoes.) The speaker was a dark skinned man.

I was travelling to the city after a visit to my ailing grandma in the village. A squawking fowl fidgeted in a carton box underneath my seat. The stench of its excrement was like a lethal biological weapon, permeating my nostrils, lungs, every pore of my body. I did not mind. That was the smell of grandma’s love to her only granddaughter amongst a herd of grandsons.

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Our driver, stubborn as a mule, ignored the pleas, protests and even ear withering insults of the terrified passengers. He accelerated as we approached a particularly sharp bend along the road.

Towards the left of the road loomed a rugged cliff and to the right was a deep valley. The only barrier between us and that cavernous valley was a flimsy old iron railing.

At that moment a huge truck turned the same corner from the opposite side, hurtling towards us, headlights flashing and horn blaring like an Apocalyptic Shofar.

Our bus driver swerved towards the valley and lost control of the bus.

Horrified screams rent the chilly evening air as the bus somersaulted down the dark, mist-filled valley.

My last thought was, “What a waste of grandma’s time fattening that chicken.” Then darkness, akin to a thousand moonless midnights, engulfed me.

I regained consciousness in a place that looked like a hospital waiting room with greyish-blue walls. People sat and reclined on long wooden benches. Hospital medics in long white coats bustled to and fro carrying files. There was a faint smell of disinfectant.

The accident! I recalled with a shudder our ill-fated vehicle’s tumble into the valley. Metal banging against rock, the shattering of glass. Screams. I gingerly twisted my body this way and that expecting to experience excruciating pain. I checked for serious injury, stood, jumped up and down. Nothing. Not a scratch. Not a single bruise.

My eyes scrutinised the room in search of my fellow passengers.

Everyone was there, including the perpetrator of our calamity. Not one person dead.

Shock and awe was etched on their faces as they examined their bodies for injuries. Pulling and prodding. Slapping and pinching themselves.

Vibrant soprano

Then a few of the male passengers pounced on the driver and started raining blows on him.

‘You will putrefy at Kamiti Maximum Prison,” shouted the man with dark velvety skin. “I personally will make sure of that!”

“Leave him alone! Leave him alone!” pleaded the plump woman. “Let us be thankful that we survived that horrific accident without a scratch.”

She belted out a gospel chorus in a strong, vibrant soprano, her voice soaring above the clamour.

One by one we joined in the singing, hearts bursting with gratitude. We sang two songs. Just when she was about to start a third chorus, the tallest man I had ever seen in my life came striding towards our jolly party.

“Enough, enough!” he bellowed hitting a bench with his bare knuckles. “Make two straight lines. One for the men, another for the women.”

The plump woman dashed to him and spoke.  “Ehi, my dear friend, we must sing. God is good, o. That lunatic there over there,” she pointed at the driver, “nearly murdered us all.”

The tall man peered at her over his gold rimmed monocles. Monocles… so  18th century. And made of pure gold.

“My dear lady,” he explained, looking at the lady as if he doubted her sanity, “nobody could have survived that accident.”

I suddenly noticed that the fabric of his coat was pure white, shimmering and shining unlike any that I had ever seen.

There was a stunned silence as we processed this piece of information. Then everyone started talking simultaneously...

Agnostic life

“We are not dead,” retorted the man with ebony skin, his eyes flashing in defiance. “Dead people feel nothing,” he announced, as he rolled up the sleeve of his coat and pinched his right arm.

“And dead people cannot sing,” chipped in the buxom woman. She opened her mouth to belt out a song but shut it at the tall man’s stern look.

“We are dead,” said a girl in cornrows who had been quiet throughout our ordeal.

She started wailing and the other women joined in.

A sombre mood befell the entire group. We had crossed over into the hereafter, totally unprepared. Only God knew what fate awaited the unreligious such as I who had even doubted the existence of a place such as this.

One or two souls fell on their knees and began to repent of sins so terrible our ears wanted to turn deaf in protest. 

“Make two lines,” ordered the tall man once again.

We obeyed him, albeit reluctantly.

He took out a long scroll from the folds his shimmering coat and unfurled it.

My petite slender frame had been no match against the buxom woman and other stronger women. And so I found myself at the front of the women’s queue. My heart palpitating wildly, I recalled the messes and the misses of the agnostic life I had lived.

“I will start with the ladies.” He peered at me. “What is your name?”

I opened my dry mouth but no sound came forth.

He scrutinised the scroll. Then he looked at me.  He looked at the scroll again, sighed heavily.

Just as he was about to speak, I woke up.

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