The Coffin Maker

Posted: October 19, 2013 in Dairy of a Freeman, Naija Scene, Opinion
Tags: , ,

Forgive my impudence and naivety Sir, you who must not be questioned! Forgive me if I ask: Did you also create death, you who created life?

“I have come to understand that when people die, nobody has jumped into the vault and said: ‘bury me along.’  So it makes me see things differently.  At the end of the day, when they say everything is vanity, I am in a better position to talk about it because I have seen it all.”

“I have come to understand that when people die, nobody has jumped into the vault and said: ‘bury me along.’ So it makes me see things differently. At the end of the day, when they say everything is vanity, I am in a better position to talk about it because I have seen it all.”

By death, I mean this debt collector, who comes unannounced to collect his debt. This respecter of no persons, who takes the rich and the poor alike, who takes the young and the old, who takes father and son who have no reason to die soon on account of their trade as makers and sellers of coffins. If death cannot respect a coffin-maker, a man who described himself as the ambassador of death, who will it respect?

By death, I mean this solitary reaper, this messenger of doom and gloom, this bringer of tears and sorrow. This old, ancient witch that curses and causes planes to fall from the sky. This red-card-carrying referee that cannot be bribed with all the money in the world. This referee in black who hears no complaint or protest from players. Once he blows his whistle, it’s all over. You are out of the field for life. No suspension. No review of your case by FIFA. Nothing. Just sorrow, tears and blood. Like our friend Fela would sing. Fela who himself is resting somewhere after being shown a red card. Fela who sang long ago about dead bodies getting accident. What Fela meant was a “dead bodi” involved in road accident. He couldn’t even have conceptualized the idea of a coffin in a fatal accident in the sky, in flying coffins that our planes are today. Who would have imagined the irony of a casket remaining intact in a plane accident while the makers of the casket die in the same plane? A casket remaining unbroken while accompanying souls die in metallic chaos of fire and brimstone of a flying coffin plucked from the stars. Which poet will help me write this? Which new age Fela Anikulapo-Kuti would help me sing this tragedy? I would have invited Kofi Awonoor to write, but he is gone. He died in Kenya in the hands of brutal terrorists.

Beloved members of Press Clips Pentecostal Church (PCPC), our sermon today is on death, the unconquerable foe that takes every man born of woman. The Bible says so much about death. I am not going to quote from the Bible today. Instead, my sermon is taken from the posthumous interviews with a father and son coffin-makers who were snatched by death in the flying coffin tragedy that recently shook our nation.

I am talking about Tunji Okusanya Sr. and his son Tunji Okusanya Jnr. who both perished in the air disaster. Father and son were individually interviewed by Kemi Lawal of The Punch—as if they knew they were going to die. Let’s hear first from the father.

“I have since realized that whatever you do, your children would copy from you,” said this man who took over coffin-making business from his father and whose son in turn joined him in the business even though they all have degrees. As a kid, death didn’t scare him. “I would even play and hide inside a coffin,” he recalled. As a merchant of death, he was death itself. “I am synonymous with death,” he said. “If I tell somebody today that I am travelling to the East, the first question, he will ask me is ‘who died in the East?’ Even if I am going there for leisure.”

“I am close to 60. I was born at Massey Hospital some fifty-something years ago. I go to church and I relax on the job. Even when I am carrying a body, I am relaxing. I wish I can go to the gym because I am getting a bit fat now that I am close to 60.

“In all my years of business, I have never seen somebody who died and woke up. I do not even have nightmares because I am used to seeing dead bodies in my dreams. So, what nightmare will I have again? I treat them well so they have no reason to knock my head. I will not scream and say I saw a corpse in my dream and head to a spiritualist. What cannot talk cannot have power over you because the soul is gone.” That is the end of the father’s short sermon. Now, let’s turn to the son.

For Tunji Okunsanya Jnr., life is a field of sorrow. “For the funeral director, every day of his life is about people mourning and that is tougher. You get emotional but you do not betray emotions. Primarily the funeral director is a human being. The Bible talks about the fact that it is good to go where they mourn. When you go to places like that, you are reminded about the fact that life ends one day. It helps you to move closer to God.

“I am a Christian, I have my faith in God and it is unshaken. He has given me power to tread paths that people fear. Superstitions do not come to play in my life. My faith tells me that what cannot talk has no control over me, so if someone dies and you wrap up the person, I did not kill the person. I was only contracted to give the person a befitting burial, so there is nothing to fear.”

As a man in the business of burying the dead, he is like a boogeyman. A man to be feared. “Some people do not even want to shake your hands because they believe you have ulterior motives. If they think deeply, they would realize that we actually run an institution that should be celebrated. Death is the only constant thing.

“The only constant thing they would put after everybody’s name, learned or not, is RIP. Therefore, if someone has taken the bold step to take care of the only constant thing in life, we should be given some credit.

“As an ambassador of death, I do not have time to relax. I am always in the middle of a new challenge. I wear black most of the time, maybe because I am used to it or because we deal with many people that mourn. If I wear a yellow shirt or tie to where people are mourning, I will look out of place. But I am not always in black.” The son who will soon die, paid homage to his father who will also die the same day:

“My father is a success story. He has been able to transform an industry from something to everything. I cannot even step into my father’s shoes because they are too wide. When your hobby is your work, nobody can come close to you.”

Brethren, this is the final message from the younger Okusanya to the children of the world: “I have been to morgues and there are no escorts or sirens there. There is no posing in the morgue, there are no celebrities there. You put people under six feet and you realize that the cars and the houses do not fit.

“I have come to understand that when people die, nobody has jumped into the vault and said: ‘bury me along.’ So it makes me see things differently. At the end of the day, when they say everything is vanity, I am in a better position to talk about it because I have seen it all.”

Beloved members of PCPC, let’s remember the words of the Okusanyas. Words rooted in the Holy Book that say everything is vanity in this world. Let’s meditate once again on the words of the Preacher in Ecclesiastes who says: “Vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What does man gain by all the toils under the sun? A generation goes, and a generation comes, but the earth remains forever…What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done, and there is nothing new under the sun.”

May the Lord bless you as you listen to today’s message. And may the souls of the departed rest in peace. RIP.


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