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Osisiye Tafa: This is What Death Feels Like



In memory of Scarlett, a 13 week old St. Bernard. She loved to eat, play and sleep.

I live in a house by the beach. It has only one room and it used to be a home, till Scarlett left.
It’s been days now and I know what death feels like.

No one dies alone.
Everyone dies and takes a part of the people who love them. That’s why we cry, for the part we have lost. That’s why if you lose too many people in one lifetime, you die quickly. But even that is not death because you were already dead; you’re like a living man who has death walking in him.

It’s being vulnerable.
Knowing that which you love can be taken away at a moment’s notice. Now a jumping dog, next a gasping dog, now a heavy, hairy weight with the stickiness of fast congealing blood. I am amazed at how fast life leaves the body. In a few seconds, we turn from ‘is’ to ‘was’.

Scarlett. 28-8-2015 – 1-12-2015

It is the silence, of you, of Simba, as you crouch by your old playmate, hands in the dust. It is remembered moments.
It’s taking everything serious because if you were more careful, it would not have happened.
It’s taking nothing serious because every breathing thing will still go like that.
It’s fast. It takes 2 seconds – a rev, a thud, a dark, upturned outline on the road and fading red lights.

This thing is heavy.

It’s crude. It’s the Calabar people that gather moments after with sacks and buckets, ‘Oga, sorry o. Abeg you go fit give us cook? E go last us one week.’
It’s the struggle as she wills against death and only ends up coughing more blood.
It’s strength as her chest heaves one more time even when you think it is over.
It’s illusion. You believe she will return. You wait for the Calabar people to say she jumped out of the pot. You wait for her paws tapping against the bed frame the next morning, maybe it was all a dream.
It’s knowing it will happen again. Because death is a returning customer, a playmate who does not forget old lairs.
It’s hate for him who casually took away so much.
It’s love: a love that’s bigger than your language.
It is healing. Finding new games to play, returning her food bowl to the store and sometimes forgetting that you were once three, now two, then remembering when you see a picture or collar.

It’s in new superstitions – the pendants of Saints for protection, not walking past a certain road at night.
It’s many days, a return to normal like writing washed off a shore.

RIP Scarlett. I miss you. Simba stares into the distance a lot.

Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Daniel L. Balogh / Author’s Image

Osisiye Tafa is a banker by day and writer by night. He has been published on The Guardian, Businessday, Thisday, Ovation, Y-Naija among others. He writes faction - fictionalized telling of actual events-which he shares on his His debut book, ‘Sixty Percent of a True Story’ is available at Terra Kulture, Laterna, Amazon and Konga


  1. yhasfar

    December 20, 2015 at 1:38 pm

    this is a beautiful piece…welldone. Rip Scarlett

  2. O. O

    December 20, 2015 at 2:10 pm

    I literally cried. I lost a dear one a few days ago. it’s been hard. your piece spoke my words. even if yours is about a dog, and mine is human, I totally understand. Rip scarlet. RIP dad

  3. To GOD be the glory.

    December 20, 2015 at 3:53 pm

    GOD used Beauty, our half Saint Bernard, half Alsatian dog to save my life and likely, nullify the premature end and cutting short of my late dad’s life as well.

    Beauty was brought to us as a puppy. We lived near enough to the beach that during school holidays, I would literally tumble out of bed, and still in my long, knee-length nightshirt (which looked like the long shirt-dresses in fashion then) go for a walk to and on the beach with Beauty.

    I did that, though I enjoyed walks, and on the beach, more for her, I think, than for myself. Beauty was the first and only dog, in a long line of dogs, before and after her, to enjoy bath-time and playing in water. This was clearly attributable to her heritage, most especially the St. Bernard part, which resulted in her very thick, very fast-growing fur (which we kept a close eye on, and did cut and trim regularly and often, as necessary). A breed, on both sides, originating in and native to very cold climes, where snow and ice are the normal, and having the required features, physically and otherwise, to function and live optimally in those native climes, export, therefore, to tropical climates at the very extreme and other end of home, presented clear challenges for her and responsibilities for whoever chose to import and/or accept as pets, such breeds.

    Beauty not only looked forward to bath-time, she, also, every day, went to sit in the large, cool puddle of water that was always present underneath the tap in the garden. Beauty not only sat in the puddle, but she learnt to (she taught herself) open and turn on the tap, and thus, she would open the tap and sit underneath its strong, cool, gushing flow of water on her and in the widening, deepening puddle underneath her.

    Our strolls to, and time on the beach were, therefore, more, indeed, for Beauty, than for myself. She had the ocean waters to play in and the cool ocean breezes to feel and enjoy.

    One day, I got knocked to my knees by a strong wave that came father than other waves had done on the beach, and then flat on my face by another similar one in quick succession,, and each wave as it receded back to the ocean not only drew with it the sand underneath me but me also; and they just kept coming, wave after treacherous, murderous, bloodthirsty, evil wave until, within a matter of seconds, I was in the ocean itself.

    I discovered then, that it IS true, what they say, it’s not a cliche, you really do see your entire life flash before your eyes, and I knew I was going to die, I knew death was staring me right in the face. My cousin who was staying with us and had come along to the beach, was picking shells on the beach and looked up at me and waved, smiling, and went back to picking shells; she thought I was playing and swimming in the ocean.

    I couldn’t swim.

    There was no doubt in my mind. I knew I was drowning. I knew I was dying. I knew, in a few short seconds, I would be dead, gone forever from this world. Terror, somewhat numbed by extreme shock (it had all happened so fast, on a sunny weekday) filled my mind. Please believe me, I am not exaggerating in the least, I was about to die in seconds, death had me, and I knew it.

    BUT GOD …

    Suddenly (may DIVINE SUDDENLIES come into the lives of all who need it, now, in JESUS’ Name, Amen.), there was my dog, Beauty, bounding to me, rushing to me, from the beach, into the water to me. I was facing the beach, so she was facing me as she ran; when she got to me, she turned around and came alongside me, so we were both facing the same direction i.e. the beach, then she, also, moved forward just a little. Beauty did all these manoeuvres, (and she did them instantly as she reached me) so that her leash came to my side, so that it was right beside me, and then she moved forward just a little bit to give herself enough room such that I would not grab hold of it too close to her collar and neck and thus, impede our progress and possibly choke her. Beauty then stood still, until the instant she felt my grip on her leash, and then, she moved. Forward. Beauty pulled me up, forward and out of the jaws of distress, out of the jaws of death. Beauty never once stopped moving me, moving us both forward, out of danger, until she got me safe and sound to the shore.

    My cousin still had no clue.

    This is a true story.

    Some years later, on my late father’s 60th birthday (GOD preserved his life till over 70 years of age), the family woke up to find dead, our dog who had been healthy, happy, fit when we all went to bed the night before.

    My (now late also) mom, told me not to cry, not to be sad, told me to thank GOD, told me to appreciate GOD and thank HIM for diverting the arrow to a substitute, told me to be thankful to GOD for foiling the enemies’ plans, told me to be thankful and let us rejoice on my father’s birthday and thank GOD for his life and for giving us cause to still rejoice on his birthday.

    We buried our precious, faithful dog, that blessing sent from GOD to me, to us, that agent of The Almighty GOD to save and preserve my life, our lives, our joy, we buried her in the same garden she loved to play and roam in and that was her home.

    In the new heaven and new earth GOD will create at the end of the age, and live in among men, if precious, special pets are destined, in GOD’s plan to be with their earthly owners anew, then I know I, and we, will meet our precious St. Bernard/Alsatian with great joy, if not, then she’s accomplished, fully, gloriously and successfully, GOD’s mission for her in my, and in our lives.

    One thing (amongst others) I learnt from that day on the beach, is that genes don’t lie.
    Okay, two things: also, you can’t escape your destiny.

    Beauty was brought to us as a puppy, a gift. Therefore, as far as I know, she was born in Nigeria. She had never been anywhere but in a tropical climate. She had never been anything but a house pet. She had been the only house pet. There had never been any other dog, any other St. Bernard to tell her the stories, to teach her, to train her. Yet, the day and the moment when her assignment/destiny showed up, her genes, the genes of all her forebears, of all her bloodline, bred and trained and accustomed to rescue missions, used for generations after generations, as rescue dogs, to sniff out and find lost, trapped, helpless mountaineers, skiers, humans in distress, or close to death, stuck, on snowy mountains, on impassable slopes, in blocked up caves, on treacherous, dangerous mountain ledges, those genes kicked in immediately, that instinct, though dormant all the years till that moment, awakened and electrified instantly the moment the need presented itself, and without a second’s thought or hesitation, Beauty fulfilled her destiny. And it was stellar.

    If GOD could use a dog …

    I cannot be killed.

    Until I have fully fulfilled my GOD-given destiny and assignment on this planet earth, enemies may gather, enemies may try, enemies may join forces: they can never succeed; “no weapon fashioned against me shall prosper.”

    Against every water spirit, every power of the water, of the air, of whatever, GOD used a dog.

    No prior training.

    When the moment and Day of my destiny comes, without a second’s thought, without a moment’s hesitation, I shall be more than ready, no force, no power, nothing created will be able to stop or hinder or delay me, I shall arise and beautifully, gloriously, completely successfully and incomparably, fulfill my destiny and accomplish my assignment.

    Because, it’s already in my genes.

    Because GOD is for me and GOD is with me.

    Because I was born to do it.

    • honey omo lekki

      December 20, 2015 at 8:49 pm

      Whao! I thoroughly enjoyed your story, long as it is. I can imagine your love for the dog.

    • Aisha

      December 21, 2015 at 7:44 am

      I have cried! This was beautiful…. RIP Beauty!

  4. Adaeze

    December 20, 2015 at 6:39 pm

    Hugs, @Tafa. So sorry about your loss.
    I have wondered what it will be like if we lost our dog at home. Didn’t feel good thinking about it.

  5. Oma N.

    December 20, 2015 at 11:22 pm

    An old classmate who happens to be my friend’s cousin lost his life in an accident yesterday on 3mb.
    It’s a lot to take in. He looked death in the face, that’s the worst kind.
    I can imagine him shouting for help, just there helpless.
    I didn’t even know him on a personal level and I have been crying.
    I cry for his mom and his brother, will they be well, will they be alright? Do people really recover after death comes knocking, twice for that matter?
    I cry because life is so unfair and unkind.

    I know this has nothing to do with your do..

  6. cece

    December 21, 2015 at 7:27 am

    i just lost my mum and it still does hurt a lot, and as i read the beginning of this beautiful, but no so fantastic in the end story, i tried to imagine what this guy was actually going through believing he must have lost someone really close; as i got to the dog part, i just felt life punching him some hot blows to remind him it was just a dog, and some of us are really hurting for losing our loved ones we simply can’t replace by walking into a pet shop or supermarket. But then, if this guy could shed all these tears for an animal, i wonder what you would do for someone really close to his heart. But eh, life always does go on, and no one has ever gotten all the answers as to why these things happen. we end up blaming ourselves for the things we did and those we failed to do, even though some were beyond our control.. i was told animals have no souls, so what exactly is everyone helping hi,m feel so sad huh?. But since he loved his dog that much, i guess one can still say sorry for his lost right! hmm . But pls the next time you plan on putting up such articles, kindly note that some people are really hurting for losing lives they cannot replace with cash. cheers bro!

  7. laurie

    December 21, 2015 at 7:37 am

    oh my! i love love this piece…sorry for your loss tafa

  8. Rhecks

    December 21, 2015 at 7:56 am

    Nice piece Osis! Very poignant. I have never really liked pets, but I may just get one soon….

  9. Moi

    December 21, 2015 at 9:42 am

    As a dog lover and owner, this piece really resonated with me. RIP Scarlett…

    But seriously, did you give her remains to Calabar people for real? That’s cold, bruv!

  10. Single Shalewa, Bitter Bintu!

    December 21, 2015 at 3:22 pm

    I’ve got a 5Month old Boerbel and the last thing I want to think of his the dog dying. I’d cry my eyes out. Like that dog is like my life right now.
    Just remembered when it had Mange, it was my first time dealing with such. I was in tears when i called my friend who sells dogs. The poor thing couldn’t play, was irritable, couldn’t eat – was just sore all day.

    See, if you’ve ever owned a dog and taken proper care of it, you’d understand how some oyinbos love animals and say they don’t want kids (though weyrey lo n se awon kan ninu won).

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