Aunt Cecilia comes through one last time

Photo credit: Joe Ngari

What you need to know:

  • “Mum left seven thousand dollars as the basic for her Kenyan funeral,” Safari said.
  • “She was categorical that no one should feel the financial pinch of her passage...”
  • “But that’s so white!” I said. “Funeral harambes are a way for the community to bond.”

Last week I told you all about my amazing Aunty Cecilia Ikoma-Michael, three-time widow who passed away in the US last month, and how her first born son, Safari Safara, told me to organise her funeral in Kenya.

“We will organise her farewell service and the transportation here in America, Mike,” my first cousin Safari told me. “Then when we land in Kenya with the others (his half-siblings), I want it to be a no hassle time. You got that, bro?”

“Gotcha!” I said, in my best imitation of an American accent.

And I did – this hustler had been entrusted to provide a conveyor belt process for the cadaver – from airport lot to the burial ground – at a house Aunty had built in Ngong, and for which I had to hustle (bribe) the Kanjo there for a burial permit.

Until you have to organise a funeral, one has no idea how many components of it have to be put together, so I will tell you.

There has to be a funeral home to hold the body, and a hearse to move it about when the time comes. You have to get a good coffin and nice clothes that your beloved departed has never worn before, but will have to wear till eternity.

“Do we get to go to heaven in our funeral clad?” I idly wondered.

You have to announce to everyone that your Dear Departed has been ‘promoted to higher glory’ – in the newspaper, and in the case of my Aunt Cecilia, on a national radio station.

This costs money!

Then on the actual day, there’s the cost of the bus to ferry mourners to the burial site, caterers to feed them, mobile loos for post-feed anatomical disposals, an MC to entertain them (PA system, yes), labour for the grave diggers, wreathes, flowers, and other stuff that says “sayonara” to the Beloved Departed.

“Should I put together a harambee for Aunt, errr, our mama Cecilia, Safari?” I asked, stressed.

My cousin actually managed a chuckle.

“Mum left seven thousand dollars as the basic for her Kenyan funeral,” Safari said.

“She was categorical that no one should feel the financial pinch of her passage...”

“But that’s so white!” I said. “Funeral harambes are a way for the community to bond.”

“I know, bro,” Safari sighed, then said. “That must have been the influence of her last husband, the mzungu Michael.”

We both laughed at that, and I felt glad Safari had fixed his relationship with his mother after their decade of estrangement, after he left for America, and before they were reunited there.

Seven thousand dollars to play with, the Hustler in me thought, even through my grief.

Let’s see how much I can save my cousins in cash, without giving them a cheap funeral!

The funeral home had its standard rate, but everything else was flexible.

I bargained with a local tailor for a nice kitenge, beefed with the caterers over rice and beef, browbeat both the photographer and MCee over their fees, horse traded over the hearse (and a day bus) and went to City Market to source for the various floral arrangements.

The Coffin
When you walk into Purity’s Funeral Place, there is a soft sadness that hits you.

Purity has a soft smile and warm, harmless eyes, devoid of the hardness that often comes with frequent interactions with death. The kind of eyes that lightens moods and makes you feel a little less sad. Nevertheless, the sadness is there, and although mild, it is as present as it usually is whenever someone is in the presence of death.

Her T-shirt reads Purity’s Funeral Services at the front and “Dear Ones are Forever” (clever, I think, with her ‘diamond’ logo) at the back.

She has dark-coloured coffins alongside white and deep brown and plain brown and royal purple, arranged one on top of another in bunches of three or four with children’s coffins on top.

This kind of arrangement makes the windowless coffin parlour look smaller than it actually is. One of the coffins catches my eye. It is a funky-ish jungle green and has the incredible ability to make anyone’s funeral look cool and still no less devastating at the same time.

“You can tell good wood from bad wood easily,” she taps a long plank of wood leaning on an opposite wall and then crosses the room to tap a coffin from a bunch that has the deep brown coloured one. Two crisp taps, both times:

‘Good wood muffles the sound,’ she says.

I chose the funky jungle-green one for my Aunt, for Sh91,000 after the 10 per cent discount.

Incredibly, I had pulled off what looked like it was going to be a credible funeral for Sh602,870. And I was just about to give this figure to my cousin Safari when we were on a WhatsApp call from the US a day later, when a local call interrupted our connection.

It was Mr Li, and he was very brief: “My Kor, my thousand dorra is due for toe morrow!”

When I got back to the call with my cousin, I asked casually: “How much did you say Aunty had set aside for her farewell, bro?”

“Seven grand, US,” Safari said.

“Send me 900k in shillings,” I said, sounding relaxed, although my heart was thumping. “That should cover everything ...”
“Are you sure, Mike? If we need to top up ...”

“I’m sure,” I said, suppressing my sigh of relief.

After Safari had hang up, I did the math – and realised the balance I would be left with was Sh284,000. Even after settling my Li loan, paying Neo’s second term fees (50K) and three month’s rent in advance, at least I would have Sh50,000 every month to last me April through June.

“Thanks, Aunty Cess, for this last gift to me,” I whispered.

And although it was an airless day, I swear the curtain in my living-room rustled, and I remembered the soft conspiratorial laugh my Aunt had, as if always cooking up mischief.