The crowd emitted a buzzing like locusts primed for the opulence of a ripe harvest. The vivid embroidery of their finest kente cloth grew opaque in the heat. No breeze relieved the oppression of the sun. The mingled odors of their bodies clung to the air like sharp vinegar.
Beluu raised his blackthorn staff in the air as a signal to Dede Nunu who waited beyond the crest of the hill. “And now we look to the future to see the form of Master Ashong’s destiny and the shape of our own reward.”
The crowd quieted at this sign from their village healer. For six decades, he had mended their spirits and their bodies. Beluu had kept their secrets and whispered new ones into their ears. He lowered the staff and thunderous grunting and creaking was heard from the other side of the hill.Five mules appeared, straining against the ropes that bound them to a strange and awesome vehicle.
Dede Nunu led the mules, holding the tether aloft and grinning in unrestrained satisfaction. Behind him was a caravan of wooden train cars, each one twice the length of a man and, indeed, one of the cars, when emptied of its cargo, would bear Ashong beyond life.
Intakes of breath, whistles, and gasps of anguish punctuated the buzzing of the crowd. Each car appeared to be carved from giant shards of color delivered by the gods themselves to the woodland floor. The first car was a locomotive of blue, bestowed by its divine custodian as a cube of late summer sky. Blue to represent the color of spirit and of heaven, and the highest attainments of the soul. It had been whittled and shaped into the elephant, a mammoth among creatures. An upward trumpet of the trunk signified fortitude in life, the blessings of the gods, and the exhalation of a smokestack’s will.
The second was a boxcar in emerald, containing an inventory of Ashong’s possessions – noble fittings of a life to be distributed among the people of the valley. The furnishings had been cleared from Ashong’s summer bungalow at the urging of Beluu, who represented Ashong in all his dealings. An overstuffed sofa clad in damask, an oval gilded mirror, mahogany end tables, and the unwieldy tube of a rolled Persian rug peeked from the top of the pile. Cast-offs to make way for new beginnings. The boxcar showcased the green of new life, like perfect grass on an unending hillside.
The third was a yellow gondola car heaped with a wealth of corn cakes and sweet butter as homage to the god of the fields and offered for the surcease of hunger in spirit and body.
The fourth was a purple tank car that sloshed with sweet juice from the god of wine, libations proffered to quell sorrow’s thirst. Rich purple, like the mantle of a king, hailing those uncommon qualities of strength of character and good judgment. Qualities that should mark a man in life.
Finally, a caboose in unblemished white had been chiseled and sanded into the form of the long-crested hawk. A ghostly and powerful usher, it stood as a symbol for the knowledge gained in life, granted by the god of wisdom. Its presence reverberated with the ‘kik-kik-kik-kik-keee’ that was the call of the hawk and the sound of wheel on rail.
On the dais, Ashong watched the cavalcade of his life’s containers chug by without regard for his presence. His mouth opened and closed in deep gulps. He reached out and grabbed the blue-and-gray striped satin of Beluu’s kaftan, steadying himself even as he dug his fingers into the older man’s forearm.
“I gave you authority for the expenditures of this project…” He pulled a white square of silk from the breast pocket of his gray linen tunic and mopped his forehead.
“Is it not splendid, Kofi?”
Ashong’s eyes widened at the use of his first name. He had not heard it spoken since he was a boy. “You mock me, old man. I wanted a noble memorial.” Ashong stabbed Beluu in the chest with a thick finger. “Not a real funeral!” He gripped the front of Beluu’s crisp tunic in his clenched fist. His breath had grown shallow. “Why are you doing this to me?”
Beluu’s voice hushed out like dry wind on sand. “Because of you, my wife is dead. But you were just a baby. How could I blame you? So I decided to watch you. I needed to know if there was some evil at work in you.”
Ashong could no longer stand. He fell to all fours on the platform. A note of regret crept into Beluu’s voice, but he blinked and his back grew rigid once more. “I vowed to support you as long as your mother’s family kept me a secret from you. I gave you every opportunity to show me the spark of your spirit. But your whole life, you have been driven by the force of your greed and desire. You have given your consideration to nothing in your life, Kofi. Now, consider this!”
Beluu raised his blackthorn staff again and called out to the crowd. “Take what you will for the train departs.” The crowd scampered and grasped, pulling furniture and food from the cars. The sky turned smoky with swirling cumuli. A rustling arose from the rear of the train. Beluu threw up both of his arms into the air and lifted his face to the sky, shrieking a shrill ululation like tears on the wind. Kik-kik-kik-kik-keeee filled the valley and, inexplicably, there was the sound of splintering. Suddenly, the elephant was charging forward. Propelled by the velocity of collective exuberance, the wraith took wing.
Ashong grunted. The funeral procession was careening into the atmosphere, accelerating over the dais. Stretching his arms skyward, a final wail of desolation erupted from Ashong. He fell lifeless to the ground. Beluu’s gaze placidly followed the vanishing specter.
Causes Kellyann Zuzulo Supports
PLAN International Leukemia and Lymphoma Foundation