Sunday Times STLive By Ndumiso Ngcobo, 2012-04-08

Intimations of mortality

Ndumis Ngcobo: Headline Act
Image: Lifestyle Magazine

Or, why a hyena in the Kruger might need a toothpick

Late last week I was involved in quite a serious automobile accident. Well, it was serious for the car. Let's just say that the mangled heap of metal is unlikely ever to guzzle from a 95-unleaded pump again. Thankfully, I emerged unscathed.

If I started telling you the exact mechanisms of how everything happened, I'd be lying like Nixon about the Watergate tapes. All I know is that I took the Samrand off-ramp off the N1, as I do practically every day, and the next thing, the vehicle was skidding out of control.

Okay, yes it was on admittedly wet tarmac. Because I'm such an incredibly skilled and experienced driver in the Vettel mould, I think we can safely rule out any human error from the equation.

The best explanation I've encountered for this misfortune is from a friend who pointed out that those vultures with tow trucks have been known to spill grease on off-ramps to stimulate business on rainy days. Let's all embrace that particular theory from now on.

In the short time the car was skidding all over the highway and onto the grassy knoll where I ultimately crashed, two thoughts occupied my mind. My first thought was trying to figure out the source of the high-pitched girly screams in the car before I realised they were emanating from my own vocal chords.

The second, more important thought, was to realise just how much time I had at my disposal to contemplate my mortality in those few milliseconds. I like to believe that I have pragmatic and reasonable expectations that at some random point I will "shuffle off this mortal coil" (to quote Shakespeare).

What I hadn't realised until that moment is that my state of emotional readiness is not quite there yet. After all, who is? It's one of those delicious human delusions most of us harbour, as if the cosmos owes us forewarnings.

As disconcerting as it is, I've been thinking about my demise quite a bit since that moment. No, I have not been contemplating the major philosophical/spiritual questions about life after death and whatnot. I have been hedging my bets on that immortality question like the hypocrite that I am since my catechism days. But what I've been mulling over is that whole theatrical production - commonly referred to as a funeral - that's likely to follow my expiration.

For as long as I can remember, I have had pathologically little interest in how they will choose to have my remains interred. It seems like quite an insignificant detail to me, seeing as I won't be around anyway. Yet coincidentally, while chewing the cud over this very matter, I happened to hear the mayor of Tshwane, Kgosientso Ramokgopa, announce plans for a new cemetery with a lifespan of 75 years in that part of the world.

This is because we're running out of burial sites, I would imagine. I don't know why the idea of putting someone's remains inside a big, shiny expensive box and then sticking it in the ground seems absurd to me. And yet this is how hundreds of thousands of us opt to dispose of deceased loved ones every year.

You would think that people of the 21st century would use more elegant means than instigating maggot feasts in the ground. But who am I to judge? I'm just a guy who doesn't even have the good sense to keep a car on the road.

For me, the most fascinating question is whether I should have any say whatsoever in how my family decides to dispense with my body. You must admit that it is quite an intriguing thought.

Well, we know where celebrated scholar, poet and novelist DrBWVilakazi stood on the matter. He wrote a hauntingly beautiful, poignant poem titled Mangificwa ukufa (When death catches up with me) in the early part of last century. The first three lines read:

"Ngimbeleni phansi kotshani

"Duze nezihlahla zomnyezane

"Lapho amagatsh' eyongimbesa"

(Bury me under the grass next to the willow trees, where the branches will cover me).

That sounds pretty prescriptive, if you ask me. I performed a cursory scan of what my Facebook friends think and discovered that everyone has some kind of wish list.

Vusumuzi Shongwe is hoping for the cheapest coffin "as long as I won't fall through the bottom when they lift it". Ishashah Bashesh wishes to be thrown into the sea for the culinary delight of sharks. Journo Paddy Harper's response was to wonder what the fuss was, as he'd be dead. I totally get that. They could toss my carcass to a pack of rabid hyenas and have a riotous orgy of screaming like wild banshees afterwards for all I care.

I must confess that while thinking about this, I did allow myself a moment of indulgence and made one wish; that my family will ban from my sending off those wailing women in big hats I see at these dos. And then I reminded myself that I'll be dead and that, quite frankly, no one cares what dead people want.

Still, I'm quite married to the idea of a hyena roaming the Kruger Park searching for a toothpick after enjoying a helping of Leg of Ndumiso.