• Three can keep a secret if two are dead, but in Jiji Ndogo, there is only one death
Our Covid funeral at Jiji Ndogo brings more drama than anyone would have anticipated. First, the entire village wants to attend the funeral. News that only immediate family members are allowed has them incensed.
“We want to see how a person looks when he dies of corona,” one man says.
“Due to all the precautions in place, it will be a closed casket funeral,” I say.
“What about the money?” a woman asks.
“We hear that the government is sharing Covid money with the victims.”
Inspector Tembo turns to me.
“How come no one told me there’s Covid money going around?” he whispers.
“There’s no such thing.”
I turn to the crowd and tell them as much.
“But the government is assisting with the funeral, no?” another person asks.
“Yes. Personnel experienced in pandemics to ascertain proper procedures and…”
“We don’t care about procedure,” says the man. “We want to know if it will provide food. I mean, we might not be going to the graveyard, but we’re still gonna eat, right?”
“Who even goes to funerals for the grave site!” shouts a man mid-crowd. “Mazishi ni chakula jo.”
“I’ll handle this,” says the Inspector. “Whoever wants to gather and eat at the funeral, raise your hand.”
More than half the crowd does so.
“Good. Whoever wants to be arrested for breaking the social distancing rules remain behind. The rest can leave.”
Grumbling, they all leave, save for the family members. A woman carrying a child also stays behind. So does a separate woman with two small kids.
“So, I see some of you want to be arrested,” Inspector Tembo says, approaching the woman with two kids, handcuffs ready.
“I’m family,” the woman protests. “I’m the deceased’s wife.”
Wife No. 1, the one we are familiar with, steps up.
“No, you’re not. I’m Jim’s wife.”
“Neither of you is,” the other woman with one kid says. “I am!”
We all turn to Wife No. 3.
“We got married last year,” she says. “We even have a son. See?”
“So, what?” says Wife No.1. “I have two. Older and prettier than yours.”
Wife No. 3 lunges for Wife No.1.
“Are you calling my children ugly?”
“If the shoe fits!”
As I separate the women, Mrs Tembo grabs the Inspector by his lapels.
“Is this why you came here?” she asks, furious.
“What do you mean?” Inspector Tembo asks, scared.
“It seems here men marry as many wives as they want. How many more do you have?”
Just then, the hearse arrives.
“Wait!” I shout. “Why don’t we attend the funeral then sort this out later?”
“Oh, so there is something to sort out, huh?” Mrs Tembo says. “I’ll see you after the funeral, Matumbo. You have some explaining to do.”
Luckily, the funeral itself goes without a hitch. As the men are finishing up covering the grave, Inspector Tembo pulls me aside.
“So, you know about the other woman?”
“What other woman?”
“My mistress! The reason I asked to be reassigned.”
“I don’t know anything about that.”
“And what was all that 'sorting out business' about?”
“I meant the deceased’s wives. Not you.”
“Damn!” He looks around. “Don’t tell the Dragon, but I’m hitching a ride back to the city with the corona guys.”
“Not to tell your wife? What am I supposed to say?”
“I don’t know. You got me into this mess.”
He leaves before I can protest.
Minutes later, I see Mrs Tembo pulling him out of the hearse.
“Oh no, Matumbo,” she says. “You don’t get off that easily!”
Edited by T Jalio