Everyone was wearing black, and there seemed to be an equal look of dismay and sorrow on every one of their faces. I gulped down my own tears as a white-haired dark man smiled tenderly towards my father before leading us to the chairs that sat right in front of the canopy where he once stood.

A pale middle-aged woman in a dowdy black gown, touched my arm gently as I struggled into my seat and once we were settled, she nodded kindly and made her way to the seat at the front where my parents and auntie sat.

I shivered inwardly, looking around and spotting more gravestones surrounding us.

This was a graveyard, people had died and been buried here for centuries, according to some crumbling, old stones towards the back of the lot.

To my left closer to the canopy, there was a great statue of a woman standing on a bed of fresh flowers, indicating that the person had been recently visited by her loved ones.

Would we come here as often as their loved one did for them? I moaned inwardly, tearing my eyes away, not wanting to imagine my brother’s remaining underground. I couldn’t even bring myself to imagine him dead, let alone six feet underground.

The sky was a little clearer now and for a moment, I believed that God chose this day to visit my brother’s funeral and give us comfort in the midst of a storm.

Surprisingly, the inspiring thought didn’t console me when I heard Dabo, who sat in front of me with her back stiff and straight as a rod, crying softly in her chair. I gulped down the lump in my throat as my auntie shifted to face her and then placed an arm around her.

Forcing my eyes away, I glanced over to my youngest siblings and my heart tore when I spotted Fubara and Boma staring silently at my face, as if waiting for direction on how to mourn correctly.

Apparently they knew that crying upset people, no matter how strong the person claimed to be. Once one person started crying, it was like a domino effect and made sure everyone couldn’t leave without a teary eye.

At this moment, the preacher cleared his throat as more people arrived, parking their cars alongside the road. He put his hands to his side and smiled kindly at us, as if one smile could erase every pain and torture we’d had to face in these terrible days of my brother’s death.

I knew what he was about to talk about, but I didn’t want to hear it—at least not now. Still, he began in a soft yet firm, commanding tone that echoed against the trees and the gravestones. “Dearly beloved… We are gathered here to celebrate the life of a loved one, a son, a brother… and a friend…” he paused for a brief moment, studying our faces as if to see if his words invoked an emotion in us.

I clenched my jaw instantly and hardened my eyes once his gray eyes swept over me. “A life that for fifteen years, touched and effected each one’s life with such love, acceptance and laughter… He was most known for his mischievous, laughing eyes and bright smile. A young man that served the Lord with all his heart.”

I squeezed my eyes shut, trying to will back the tears but they seeped through my shut eyelids as the pastor continued his sermon of solace.

“Psalm 23 says that when we walk through the shadow of death,” the pastor’s voice penetrated through my dark thoughts. “We shall fear no evil because God is with us… Tonye Joshua Komo trusted God with his whole heart and soul… And we believe that he is in the arms of God Almighty,” he continued unwavering.

I gulped down my tears and lifted my eyes to the cloudy sky, glaring heavenward as if to show my anger and disappointment in God. Ever since Tonye died, I hadn’t really spoken with God, not even touched my Bible since the night when he died and we had a night vigil to pray for those grieving for him.

I was tired of praying, for pleading with God, he hadn’t answered my call to save my brother’s life, to take mine in place of his. Instead, there my brother’s cold and stiff body lay in a lonely, harsh coffin.

“In our most difficult moments, God softly whispers words of reassurance and love and draws us into the center of His peace and comfort,” Pastor Bryan said, luring my eyes to him as he swept his gaze above the crowd. I could hear my mother sobbing silently with her hand in my father’s as the pastor continued his words of comfort.

“From the tree of life, each leaf must fall. The Green, the gold, the great, the small… Each one in God’s own time, He’ll call.” He sighed, pausing for a moment to wipe the stray tears from his eyes.

“With perfect love, He gathers all… Dearly beloved, may you find comfort in knowing that Tonye is with God resting in sweet perfect peace, it says in Ecclesiastes 3:1 that ‘for everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven…”

I tried closing my ears against those convicting words. How could he say such things here when I was sure in my mind that my brother was not meant to be dead? He never once got sick, he was such a healthy child and this sickness, this death was not meant to happen to him. “Why God,” I moaned softly.

He paused for a brief moment and prayed openly. I closed my eyes just like the others did but instead of hearing his words of plea to God, all I could hear was my mother’s agonized cries as she begged God to bring her son back to her.

Once the prayer had been said, I lifted my eyes slowly and spotted my mother standing to her feet with her face buried in her hands. I mourned silently for my mother who had been devastated since the day when she found him face down on the floor in his room.

It seemed as though no one could console her for a love between a mother and her son was inexplicable. She carried him for nine months, suffered during labor and fought harder than any mother could to save the life of her child, even when the doctors predicted that she and Tonye would not survive the long, arduous delivery.

Had it been a waste to give birth to a child, to grant him life and love for fifteen years and then be suddenly deprived of that love and have him taken away forever?

Once Pastor Bryan explained that it was time to entomb the casket, a wave of nausea hit me and my eyes quickly turned to the black box where Tonye’s body lay.

Two caretakers stood on either side of the coffin and with an affirmative nod from the mortician who still sat in her chair, they lifted it gently and shuffled forward to where a freshly-dug hole stood near the edge of the street.

Questions began racing in my mind as Pastor Bryan led us to the grave following the caretakers. Why was the hole so big and close to the street? Would his tombstone be protected from vandalism? What if we came back to visit his grave and nothing was there? What if he wasn’t really dead and they had already buried him? I squeezed my mouth shut as the nausea shook my body.

My siblings stood on either side of me, Boma and Fubara standing together with their arms around each other while Dabo just stood by my side as stiff as I was.

My sobbing mother stood by Pastor Bryan and my father and auntie inched close to her as if afraid of what she might do in her distressing state.

The rest of our family and friends gathered around us, some wailing as the caretakers bent their bodies to accommodate the coffin’s heavyweight. Others stood, staring dumbly at the coffin as it was slowly into the gaping dirt-hole.

Rumbling of thunder clashed in the sky and dark stormy clouds hovered over my head as I stared down at the freshly dug grave. With the cool breeze from the oncoming rain gently pushed against my frail body, tears rushed silently down my face as I watched the two men stiffly lowered the coffin lower into the ground.

I couldn’t help but shiver inwardly at the image of my brother’s small body caught between the rough, stark white sheets that covered him beneath the box.

As the salty tears feel down my face and onto the dirt ground beneath me, I screamed within myself in silent horror. How was I to live without him?

He was my best friend and my companion, no one outside my family could break us apart but here I stood with death’s hold on him, creating an invisible barrier between my brother and me.

I gulped hard and squeezed my eyes shut as the bottom of the coffin hit the ground with a resonant thud. So this was the end… I was not alone again. And as if my heart heard my despair, it began slamming hard against my ribs. I gasped for air like a fish out of water and snapped my eyes open, scared to lose my life as my brother did. But then maybe it would be for the best, I thought sullenly now staring at the dark chamber of my brother’s grave beneath my feet.

As if my legs controlled me, I felt myself inching closer to the grave, wanting so much to see my brother’s face again yet before my feet touched the edge of the hole, a hand gripped my arm and stilled me.

I tried to struggle, enraged that one would dare prevent me from seeing my brother again and I turned in the person’s strong arms only to gasp once again as I looked into the sympathetic dark eyes of my father, his lips moving silently in prayer. Did he know I had just wanted to cause my own death for the sake of my brother?

I studied his eyes and he smiled gently, wrapping his arms gently around my shoulder, leading me slowly away from the graveside once the caretakers began shoveling dirt onto the coffin.

With the cool breeze stinging my damp cheeks, I could almost hear a sigh of relief among the trees and my body shivered. It was almost as if Tonye was among the clouds now, whispering gently that “all was well…”

I glanced up briefly at the sky and could almost spot my brother’s mischievous face between the clouds. All was well, I thought sullenly to myself… Maybe it will, in time.

end of Chapter VIII