Here Lies A Man



I wrote this piece about 3 years ago while I was going through a rough patch. I sometimes read this again and recall the pain I went through

Leaves rustled on the concrete path as the breeze went by softly. Nighttime approached slowly and there was certain calm around the cemetery. The graves were grey and the trees around were a shade of green that could only be described as depressing. The only sign of life in the cemetery were those of two men. One of the men was standing near a small cabin, skimming through a newspaper and smoking a cigarette. He was old, short, ugly and dirty. He wore a shabby oversized black shirt untidily tucked into a pair of rumpled black pants. He put out the cigarette and scratched his ass and sniffed it. He was in charge of the cemetery: a watchman. It was not like the dead needed to be watched over. The dead were not going anywhere. It was the living that he watched out for. The living never left the dead to remain dead. Some came to relive memories. Others came to retrieve the dead for ritualistic purposes. Still some robbed the dead off their jewelry and precious items. After all, fashion and style wasn’t a thing the dead cared about. The man seemed bored as he threw the newspaper aside and took a short glance at the other man present in the cemetery.

The man was well-dressed; a blue long-sleeved shirt with its sleeveless rolled up to the elbow, a pair of clean black pants and a pair of shiny black shoes. He stood in front of a grave about 10 metres away from the small cabin. The grave was plain with a cobweb-ridden epitaph that read Here Lies a Man. The other epitaphs in the cemetery had streams of words of them, all of them adorning the memory of their dead. Most of them had flowers scattered around them. The dead didn’t care about what people said about them. They didn’t care about flowers and wreaths. They didn’t care about the tears strewn on the faces of the living they left behind. They didn’t care because they are dead. This grave had no flowers around it. Instead, cigarettes butts laid around, scattered and disheveling. In fact, it seemed as if it wasn’t visited or cater for by the living. The only visitor it had for the past 6 months was the man who now bent over, observing the ground around it. Weeds had begun to grow around it, making it look like a spot to pee on. The man stood upright again and brought out a pack of cigarettes from his pocket.

I didn’t know the dead in the grave neither did I know the man who stood by it. I did know the man visited this grave every Sunday evening. He always smoked at most 12 cigarettes before he left the cemetery. He just stood there, silent, exhaling smoke and staring at the grave. Sometimes, he removed the weeds growing around the epitaph. He never brought flowers, just cigarettes. I guessed it was the thought that counted not the token of remembrance. Like I said, I didn’t know the man but I knew his thoughts. I had a vague idea what his voice sounded like whenever he murmured his salutations to the watchman. Apart from that he was always quiet. These traits were there because I gave them to him. He was my creation. So were the watchman and the dead in the graves.

The man lit his 3rd cigarette by the time the sky was dark and the silence became eerie. His foot shifted slightly on the ground as he blew a cloud of smoke into the night’s air. Wind blew softly and a lamp post flickered on by the cabin. Here Lies a Man. Here stood another, still breathing. He began to wonder as he did who the man was when he was alive. He was probably a lonesome being who floated among the countless heads in the world then. He might have been a soldier with no identity. Maybe a criminal with no family members to lay claim to his wretched body. The man pondered on the afterlife and how the living always had some theory about it but dreaded coming in contact with it. Religion has scared the living to believe that there was some sort of punishment awaiting them when they took their final breath. The living cared more about their bodies than their souls. They feared any form of harm or deformation that might cause their bodies to look horrid. As far as they were concerned, the living wanted to look great till the dreaded moment of death approached. The dead looked the same in every country, culture and religion: a heap of rotten flesh and bones with maggots feasting and burrowing into them. The living did not know what the soul looked like.

This thought angered the man as he recalled comments made by people who felt like everything in life was a poem. Oh! He has a beautiful soul! The beauty of a soul was lost on the man. In man, there exists the mind, the soul and the body. The body was the vessel which carried the soul and the mind. The soul was supposedly the individual, not the body. The living appreciated the soul but gave better credit to the body. The living attributed beauty to the body. The soul was just an abstract form of expression used when the mind of the living sought more than the physical. The living have tried to be spiritual yet the thought of spirits being in their midst sent cold chills through their spine. After his 5th cigarette, the man began to imagine what his own grave would be like. He imagined what his epitaph would read when he was gone. Nothing. He just didn’t care about the living and their traditions. Although I actually wished I knew what he did after he left the cemetery, I had realized his existence was solely to keep this lonely grave company every Sunday evening. And it pleased me greatly. As for the watchman, his existence was of no use to me once he entered that cabin. So imagine how the week days were without the man and the watchman. That was how I imagined my life before I go to bed. But, alas, this was about the man, not me.

Smoking his 7th cigarette, the man began to fear that he preferred the dead to the living. The dead in this grave was his only friend. They had never met or spoken a word when the dead lived but the man felt a strange unexplainable bond with the dead. No words were exchanged, just smoky clouds filled with nicotine and tar that escaped from between the man’s lips and nostrils.  The living went on and on about how life should be and how their bodies should improve. Be Fifty and look Twenty Five. Have long-lasting erections. Get bigger and firmer breasts. Retire with style. It was vanity everywhere and the soul must have felt fed up. The dead didn’t care about all these. I didn’t know what happened to the souls of the dead. I did know their bodies were lifeless. That was a fact. The existence of a Heaven and a Hell can be argued about every second. The fact remained that when the living stopped living, they were dead.

The man put out his cigarette and walked away from the grave. He had smoked 8 sticks and left without saying a word. The freshly-smoked cigarettes butts laid with the others around the grave. Soon they too would be dirty and too filthy to put on the lips. The man’s existence ended as soon as he left the cemetery. Nothing had changed except for the smell of cigarettes around the cemetery. At least, someone would know there had been another living soul here. That was good enough for me.

Oh? Did I mention that I am a man?

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