We had decided to skip the funeral service and go straight to Leopards Hill Cemetery. As Sara put it, ‘I can’t stand another priest explaining that death is a great mystery. If he can’t explain it, he should just shut up, or go into some other line of business.’
But when we got to the graveyard, our funeral party still hadn’t arrived. ‘The priest’s explanation of his ignorance must be taking longer than usual,’ said Sara.
‘Knowledge is sweet and simple,’ I laughed. ‘But ignorance is long and complicated, and interspersed with endless metaphors of dubious relevance.’
As we were talking, we became aware of a most unusual sight. Dispersed amongst the graves in front of us were some fifty men in orange overalls, all slashing at the elephant grass and weeds that previously concealed the graves. As we stood transfixed by this unprecedented sight, from behind a distant gravestone stepped the figure of a tiny woman dressed in a bright green shiny ballgown. On her head was a long straight muzungu wig, and her mouth was bright red like a bloody open wound.
‘Aarrgh!’ I cried, staggering backwards. ‘A ghost! The ghost of a murdered dwarf!’
I might have hit the ground had I not fallen into the waiting arms of one of the flower sellers, as Sara also nearly fell over, laughing at me. ‘That’s not a ghost,’ she hooted, ‘it’s Clueless Cluo, Minister of Vocal Government!’
‘She may be Clueless Cluo,’ I gasped, ‘but what’s she doing popping out of a grave?’
‘She's supervising the clean-up of the graveyard,’ said the flower seller, who turned out to be Njovu, whom Sara employs to look after her mother’s grave.
‘Njovu,’ said Sara, ‘let’s go and have a look at gogo’s grave, and see if you’re keeping it properly. Then maybe you can have another twenty pin.’
‘Half a minute!’ I protested, as I now recovered my composure, ‘what’s a whole Minister of Vocal Government doing here, supervising the cleaning up of the graveyard?’
‘It’s only ten years,’ explained Sara, ‘since she was Minister of Death, and sent a lot of people here. Being a kind hearted woman, she’s very keen to see that they’re all being looked after nicely.’
‘That’s not it,’ declared Njovu bluntly. ‘As Minister of Vocal Government her job is to clean up the streets, remove the vendors and return control of markets and bus stations to the councils.’
‘Exactly my point,’ I said. ‘So what’s she doing here?’
‘The president stepped in and stopped her. Those vendors and kaponya were the ones who voted for him, so he sent her to look after the graveyards instead.’
‘A very fitting switch of priorities,’ laughed Sara, as we began walking towards gogo’s grave. ‘This is the graveyard of all their promises.’
As we were walking, we came to a freshly dug grave, with withering flowers on top. But instead of a mound of earth, the ground was sunken down. ‘Whose grave is this?’ I asked the knowledgeable Njovu.
‘The Kwacha,’ he replied sadly. ‘Everyday the soil has dropped further down.’
‘What causes it to sink?’
‘Some people say,’ said Njovu, ‘that every time the president opens his mouth, the Kwacha sinks further.’
Next we came to a new gravestone, whose newly carved epitaph proclaimed Here lies the once honorable Sebastopol Juju SC, TAW, Former Minister of Inquiries, Stitchups and Witchhunts.
‘Oh dear,’ I said, ‘I didn’t realize he’d passed on. What happened?’
‘One day last week,’ said Njovu, ‘he solemnly declared, hand on heart, that if this government tried to bury the New Constitution, it would be over his dead body. The next day he was gone.’
‘Juju was very old,’ said Sara. ‘Maybe it was just a strange coincidence.’
The next epitaph read Here lies Mother Justice, who was buried here by her faithful servant, Earnbest Sakata.
‘He can’t have been a very faithful servant if he let her die,’ I scoffed.
‘At the funeral service he explained that there wasn’t enough money to keep her alive,’ said Njovu.
‘What happened to the money?’
‘He ate it all himself.’
‘Here lies Dotty Scotty, his body preserved in alcohol,’ said the next epitaph.
‘What killed him?’ I asked.
‘One day poor old tottery Dotty Scotty poured a totty, then raised his glass and sagely declared that a political party can last only ten years. Unknown to the unfortunate fellow, he uttered these words on the tenth anniversary of the formation of his own party, and consequently dropped dead on spot.'
As we were talking there was a terrible sound of wailing, then along came a lorry carrying a coffin draped in black, mourners all dressed in black, moving at speed towards an open grave that had a very old headstone.
‘Who’s funeral is that?’ I asked Njovu.
‘The New Constitution,’ he sighed. ‘Originally murdered by the government in 1973. But each new government digs him up and promises resurrection.’
‘Why was he murdered?’
‘Because he spoke for the people instead of the government.’
‘But when he is resurrected,’ said Sara, ‘he might do the same again.’
‘Exactly,’ said Njobu. ‘That’s why he soon get's reburied.’
‘And now he’s being reburied yet again!’ said Sara. ‘Do you think that the government really tried to resurrect him?’
‘So they claim,’ said Njovu. ‘They even employed four Catholic Bishops, who very much believe in resurrection, and have studied it all their lives.’
‘But they failed. What reason did they give?’
‘They said that death is a great mystery.’