Recently I was asked to write a short piece about something in the Minneapolis Institute of Art’s Africa collection. Most of the pieces are old, carved wood artifacts that border on archeological. Then there is the lobster coffin:
The first dead person I ever saw in daylight was a young boy lying next to a road in Tanzania. It was early morning and we were driving south on the country’s main highway when I saw the crows fly up out of a ditch. I craned my neck to see what they’d been eating. He was lying face down, arm stretched over his head, shirt pulled up under his armpits. The driver saw it and hit the brakes.
“Was it a dog?” someone asked.
“It was a person!” the driver said. He turned to me. “Did you see it?”
Stopped in the middle of the road, we decided to tell the next policeman we saw and drove on. But by the time we saw a policeman we were hundreds of miles away from the boy and there was no point. We passed him by and never spoke of it again.