My father left me a small bungalow with a delightful view of the sea. It had taken two years to get rid of bad tenants and renovate it, but by the time this story begins, it had become the house and garden I wanted. In the mornings, I loved doing my quiet time on the veranda, and, having retired, I was never in a rush to go indoors. On that day, I was contentedly watching a butterfly with transparent yellow wings flutter among hibiscus shrubs when a sudden breeze brushed my bare shoulders. Sensing a presence, I stiffened in my chair, my heart pounding. Mojo, my faithful Alsatian, had been sprawled at my feet. He sprang up with a growl, the hairs on his neck on end.
“Hello, Viola.” The voice was so low that it was impossible to tell whether it was male or female. “Greetings from the other side.”
A shiver went through me and I jumped up, ready to flee, but the disembodied voice said, “Sit down, my child, sit down. I am not here to harm you, only to give you a message.”
That assurance did little to lessen my anxiety, but I gingerly obeyed.
“Yesterday evening,” the voice went on, “I was moving over this city and heard a young woman say, ‘Our ancestors must be turning in their graves.’ She was with friends at a drinking spot. They were sighing and shaking their heads over some fresh outrage. Money donated to help Ebola victims had disappeared into private pockets. Before I go on, let me tell you something, Viola. Only earthly bodies stay in graves. In my case, more than forty years have passed since I shed mine, so there is nothing left to turn over except a few dry bones. But I knew what the girl meant. If I could still feel pain, I, too, would have been shaking my head over the place I once called home.’
By now, I was intrigued, paying attention to this ghostly stranger who even knew my name. I said,
“But why have you come to me?”
“Because you have just finished your prayers. Your soul is still receptive to impartations from the other side.”
“I see,” I murmured, though I didn’t really.
“And also, I know that you are a person who listens. You did well in school. You became a good teacher. But let me go on. There is nothing like nationality, tribe, gender, religion, or race in the afterlife. We are one with the divine spirit that created the world—like sparks from the same fire. We no longer have names…”
“But you must have had one when you lived on earth,” I said.
“Oh, yes. I was once known as Richard—Richard Caulker. A year before the country became independent, Sir Milton Margai—you remember him?—asked me to replace the Sierra Leone High Commissioner to Britain, who had got into serious trouble. I added ‘Kelfa’ to my surname to go with my new status…Vain of me, eh? But it was harmless.
I wondered why this ancestral spirit was telling me all this. It read my mind.
“I’m telling you this because I want you to know which of the ancestors is reaching out to you. I also want you to know something about my previous life. That will make you better understand why I have come. I entered my earthly body in a small village called Mambo in Kagboro Chiefdom. My father was a section chief. In those days, Mambo was in the part of the country the British colonizers called the Protectorate. Like the British, the Krio people in Freetown used to call us ‘natives,’ meaning we had always been in the country and were not immigrants like their ancestors. It also meant that we were uneducated in the European sense. That was true of most of the so-called ‘natives’ of my time, but not in my case. American missionaries had built a school and a church in Shenge, which, as you know, or should know, is the headquarters town of Kagboro Chiefdom. Both parents attended that school. Anyway, that’s enough for today; but I’ll be back soon. I have a lot to tell you. Meanwhile, keep this visit to yourself, you hear?’
‘Yes, sir,’ I said, wondering if that was the correct way to address an ancestral spirit.
It took me a while to collect myself, but eventually, I went indoors, took out the bottle of Gordon’s Gin I kept for my special occasions, and poured a libation to all the dear departed.
Yema Lucilda Hunter was born and grew up in Freetown, Sierra Leone. A medical librarian, she once headed the Office of Library and Information Services of the WHO Regional Office for Africa in Congo Brazzaville. She lives in Accra, Ghana.