4 Sep 2007
(This is a true story that occurred somewhere in Batibo Subdivision in the sixties).
The 1960 world of rural Momo Division in Cameroon was characterized by the pervasiveness of poverty and the want of medical institutions. The Presbyterian Hospital at Acha-Tugi was the lone general hospital serving more than 200,000 people from near and far. Mbah and his brother Atud (not their real names) had to trek a distance of more than 50 kilometres from Batibo to reach the hospital where Atud’s wife was admitted with her one month old sick baby. Shortly after their arrival at the hospital, the baby died. They assembled all the money they had and the amount was just enough for the bereaved mother to get a seat in a rickety ‘Landrover jeep’ for a jerky and tearful ride back home. The corpse could not accompany her in the car because Atud could not afford extra money for it to do so. Superstition was rife in those days and vehicle owners usually charged higher than normal fare to transport corpses. Faced with these difficulties, the brothers decided to carry the dead baby on their backs and trek back home.
They bundled the lifeless body of their child in a giant bag and took turns to carry it home. The brothers took off from the hospital when the sun was setting for the 8-12 hours tedious walk. About halfway to their destination, fatigue and darkness forced them to look for a place to rest for the night.
They approached a hut with mud walls and a thatched roof to ask for help. The occupant, an elderly man was not told by the strangers that they were carrying a corpse. If they did, it was certain that superstitious beliefs could influence the man to turn down their request.
When the old man accepted them, the visitors decided to hang the bag containing the dead baby on a wooden stump that protruded on the outside wall before getting into the hut to pass the night. They slept lightly because they were conscious of their special cargo outside.
Unknown to the brothers, a local thief had noticed their arrival and was particularly curious about the stuff that could be in the bag. As they slept, the thief came for the bag hanging outside with its bulging cargo.
“I thought I heard some footsteps.” Atud whispered to Mbah. The brothers immediately sprang up and opened the door of the hut. It was too late as the thief was already absconding with the bag. The brothers ran after him but the latter had the advantage because he knew the terrain. He soon disappeared into the darkness with the bag containing the baby’s remains.
Exasperated, the brothers came back to the hut. They were full of regrets but they could not explain to their host why they insisted on keeping a bag with valuable contents outside while they slept inside.
What were they going to tell people in the village? The brothers pondered and finally decided to take an oath between them never to reveal the real story of the missing corpse to anyone. They resolved to tell the people of their village that they opted to burry the baby at the hospital.
After living with the secret for decades, the father of the deceased finally came out in public to tell the story to a closed family cycle.
As for the thief, I can only guess how horrified he should have been upon realizing that he had stolen a corpse. It is obvious that because of the nauseating nature of his crime, he will never come out in public (if he is still alive) to tell his own story. Since he will certainly not open up, the secret about the final destination of the baby will elude and torment its parents forever.
Njei Moses Timah