Back then, my house was next to a cemetery. It was my habit to watch people bury their loved ones. For as long as I could remember, I had been a witness to the various expressions people show during and after the funeral. But it was the dead who didn’t have kin to bury them that interested me the most. As was the case one late afternoon.
I was sitting in the balcony when four workers came to the cemetery, carrying a casket in one hand and shovels in the other. Trailing behind them was Mr. Abner, the town’s clerk, in-charge of everything related to death. With knitted brows, my eyes gazed as they crossed over the barbed fence to the vacant land outside the cemetery. Mr. Abner pointed to an area between two shrubs and they started digging. An hour later, they buried the coffin without any ceremony. They left without placing a cross on the dead man’s grave.
The incident robbed me of my sleep that night. Questions bugged my mind, and I knew I would not be at peace if they remained unanswered.
Next day, I went to the market to buy the newspaper hoping to find the answers. But there was nothing unusual in it. Instead, I heard townsfolk gossiping about a sick old man who died in his sleep the other day. Rumor had it that three days before he passed away, he went to see Mr. Abner and had handed him a bag of coins that he had set aside for his own funeral. But it appeared the clerk swallowed the entire money after paying the gravediggers and buried the old man outside the cemetery, which I knew was true.
The entire episode haunted me all week. I was torn between seeing justice done to the old man and keeping quiet.
It was a dark, stormy night when I was roused by sounds of scratching. It was as though someone was trapped somewhere. It was so loud that even thunderclaps were not enough to muffle it. I had been living next to a cemetery my whole life, but that night terror engulfed my very being. My heart raced wildly and for the first time, I feared the dead more than the living. In spite of it, I couldn’t resist peeking through the window. To my utter disbelief, I saw a cadaverous man coming out of the very grave that was recently dug outside the cemetery. He hauled himself in slow struggling steps towards town.
An hour later, I saw him return carrying a bag. I wasn’t sure how I managed to fall asleep after that, but I woke up at noon the following day with the news that had shaken the whole town. Mr. Abner and the town’s gravediggers had died in their sleep last night. I rushed to the place where the old man was buried. The grave was intact. Only a trail of footsteps was barely visible leading to and from it.
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