The New Times (Kigali)

Rwanda: I Spent New Year's Day in the Morgue!

In case you did not know, you must knock on the door of a morgue before entering; lest you find the dead having a 'dead-chat' or playing cards. Whether this is a myth or reality, I wasn't too eager to find out, not because I'm a superstitious person or plainly out - a coward, I simply didn't want to disturb dead people!

I had more than 14 hours to spend in the company of the dead working on this story, so pissing them off by disturbing them with my presence didn't seem like a good idea.

After getting the permission to work with the morgue attendants, I couldn't shut my eyes not even for half a second the night before. My assignment was to wake up, report to the venue, fold the sleeves of my shirt and work with the morgue attendants of Kibagabaga Hospital Morgue, for at least 14 hours.

I was at the spot at the break of dawn on 1st January. When the boda boda dropped me off at the gate, I simply walked off without paying him. He called out to me but it seems my hearing had taken a hike like the rest of my other senses. The moto guy followed me and tapped me on my shoulder causing me to jump like a child caught stealing sugar.

I paid him and for the first time in all my boda-boda using days, I used the words 'keep the change'. I had to get away from him as fast as I could as I felt like grabbing him and begging him to take me back home to the comfort of my bedroom.

Well, I found my 'co-workers' already at the morgue; I was given an oversized faded blue overall as my uniform. I erratically pulled it on while citing the Rosary - surprisingly all the words I learnt decades ago come flooding back to me.

Everything about this assignment was creepy but what freaked me out the most were the permanent grins plastered on the faces of my colleagues. Why were these guys acting so casually? Well, to them it was casual but what amused them was the way my body seemed to shiver uncontrollably. They were enjoying every minute of it - making me their only happy moment!

I was first given a guided tour of the place, as my tour guide explained everything, my ears could only focus on the deafening beat of my heart. The place is not big but it is spooky and it made me sweat on a cold morning, in a cold room! Every step I took made every hair on the back of my head stand like a porcupines quills in face of peril.

As you enter through the big squeaking door that separates the living from the dead, you come face to face with an altar where human sacrifices are offered to the gods!

At least that is what it looked like to me, till I later came to realise that it was an autopsy table.

The tranquility of the place is so piercing that it makes one wish to hear the dead making some noise. Going through the door to the room where the bodies are kept gave me the care of my life, and the smell in the room was - unpleasant - to say the least!

Apparently, it is not the odour from the bodies, but the chemicals used to preserve them. The fridges also have locks and numbers. On this day there were six bodies, 3 men, 1 woman and two kids.

Although the place was sparkling clean, I was assigned to mop the floor and use a piece of cloth to clean the trays on which the bodies are laid before they are pushed into the storage space.

I thought I was ready to carry out my chores but the problem was, I couldn't feel my fingers, was Rigor Mortis catching up with me? I don't know how long I stood there like a flag pole trying to figure out my next move.

I snapped out of it when the vibration of my phone literally gave me a mini cardiac arrest - I thought it was a scrawny dead finger crawling all over me like that stuff you see in zombie movies!

I looked around, only to notice with utter horror that my supervisor had left me alone ages ago.

I scampered off like a frightened deer, knocking walls and fridges. After what seemed like eternity, I managed to trace my way out. Once out, I looked like a century old ghoul.

My once cheerful workmates didn't look so cheerful now. 'Are you ok?' they asked. I nodded affirmatively, as I couldn't find my voice. I was taken to the gardens and was slowly laid down on a wooden bench where I rested for what seemed like a life time.

I slowly got it together and with the help of Nshimiyimana J. Claude, a young man who has worked in this place for almost three years, I was able to go back in and finish the task.

As I slowly started getting used to the environment, an order came from the boss to get the body number 4 out as relatives had came to claim him. It was the body of a young man who had succumbed to a severe fever two days back.

The horror in my eyes was enough to make Gustave, the supervisor, disobey his boss. Scary as it is, we had to strip the body and dress it in fresh clothes brought by the relatives; the wails from the relatives didn't help the matter.

Together with my colleague, we carried and placed the deceased into the coffin. I thanked the Almighty after the task was done not knowing I still had to sponge down another body -an accident victim - another grisly task.

As I write this, I'm in denial as I think I don't need therapy. Or maybe I'm just holding onto the hope that I will sleep and when I wake up, the memory of this assignment will have vanished.

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