by Charles Harvey
This short story by Harvey captures the sibling rivalry of two brothers from Ghana. Listen as Elijah tells his story to a Reporter who has come for a story on an elaborate burial coffin.
Under the backdrop of the wacky world of of Ghana coffin makers, comes this tale of two brothers, Elijah and Ashong.
Humor masks the subtle undertones of envy, jealousy, and mockery as Elijah tells the story of how his brother comes to be buried in the elaborate train coffin.
Ha! Yes my friend, you want to know what I thought of the train carrying Ashong to heaven.
Oh I don’t know, he may be in heaven in the sky. I heard he said his prayers before he died. As his only brother, it was my duty to inspect whatever he was to be buried in whether pine box or big train. So Dede Nunu comes to meâ??him and his crafty men dress like train conductors and pull what looks like big chunks of blue sky to my house here. The whole village clucked and fluttered like guinea hens with their necks outstretched trying to get a good look. Ha! Then I heard a howl of laughter. Here comes the train with the caboose in front. In front! I said, “Dede, I know Ashong loved the caboose on a train and a woman, but what is this? And you’ve painted everything the color of the sky.”
The Gewgaws tells the story from the point of view of one of the coffin makers. Paa Joe and Dede Nu Nu race to build Mr Ashong on of the “finest” coffins money can buy.
Excerpt from The Gewgaws
Mr. Ashong is not a stupid man. Near death, he thought of ways to line his pockets for the hereafter. Most of us carry to our graves a few shells and trinkets. Mr. Ashong was thinking of French Francs. He knew people would be coming from miles and miles away to see what could top Chief Okwonko’s Skyline of Accra. Ashong quickly constructed several leaning Motel complexes and a large concession stand. He knew his Islam would not let him sell beer, so he sent a donation to Minister Oral Roberts and received a Certificate of Christianity by Fed-Ex. He renounced Islam that afternoon. Who would waste a fatwah on a dying man, he reasoned. He had the Council to pass a law that said the only food or drink to be consumed had to come from the Ashong concessions. Hah! That was a foolish law. Three days before March 15 (Ashong picked that day because his daughter had read to him on his sick bed the story of Julius Caesar), People began to assemble a few at a time. Before you could bat your eyes it was multitudes. Women in head wraps carried large pots of warm banana and coconut stew, pea soup, and lamb. Some brought their own goats to sell milk. The Christians roasted pigs over low burning coals. Ashongs men with sapling switches tried to enforce his law about what to eat.
“What law is that, that says you can only eat food from Ashong’s boxes?” people yelled. They threw hot peanut oil at Ashong’s men, burning one on the nose. The goons retreated.
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