FOREWORD: Remember that friend of mine, Amara, who has a novel, Black Sparkle, which she debuted on Ankara Press? Remember how I raved about her work of fiction originally published on the blog, ideaniverse.me, which was the beginning of our acquaintanceship? Well, I asked for the necessary permissions, and now, here’s that story she wrote. It was first updated on February 1th4, a Valentine story, the most unusual kind. Read, enjoy and let us know your thoughts in the comments section. 🙂
It is 2058, and Nigeria is not the same. Things have changed – places, people, the city of Lagos. It sparkles now, this city, our city. The skies are no longer cloudless and gray, the horizon like the empty stomach of a sea monster. The oceans are still thick with water, but they are not brownish-silver, the bodies of liquid gloomy and heaving; the chest of a sober widow. It is blue now, like the skies overhead. The sun is no longer a sadistic, fiery beast battering Earth’s occupants with rays of light and humidity. The people are no longer angry; their faces stony with frustration and angst. The streets are no longer clogged with yellow Danfo buses that look like thousands of fire ants devouring a road kill. The gutters are no longer loaded with refuse the size of asteroids, fungus growing on concrete.
And the best part? The air no longer stank like a dead man’s mouth.
It was year 2058, and Lagos has been healed.
My name is Darius Odewole, and I am a scientist. Well…not exactly. I am a scientist’s personal assistant. See, the thing is, I had once planned on becoming a scientist; I had studied Chemistry and Biophysics at the University of Leeds, but I dropped out in my fourth year. Okay, more like I was kicked out. As an international student, I could not fund my education, especially after my sponsor, a wealthy politician back in Nigeria had wound up his bank accounts after being accused of embezzlement. He went on exile and left me no prior notice, and after the first semester, the University got tired of my promises and sent me packing. This was in 2043, and the world was ruthless. People were stoic; inanimate. Robots were in charge of the government, and they ruled like Beelzebub. We call them Imojens, and they zapped all human emotions to perfect their never-ending technology. In every corner of the city stood sky-rising edifices where tests were run, technology revamped, humans ravaged of their humanity until they became rag dolls. Cyborgs were soldiers; half-men, half iron. Their eyes shone with the lucidity of a dreamless man, their faces slack and emotionless. They had no weapons of warfare—they were the weapons of warfare. With the ability to transform into airplanes, speeding cars and armour trucks, they were indestructible and merciless, even to themselves. Two days of living in this hostile city, the town run down with anarchy and inhumanity, and I remembered Nigeria and decided to go back to it.
When I arrived at MMA2, I expected to see uncivilized crowds of travelers fighting in the rows at departure lounges, or custom officers with their bleary eyes and fingers hungry for bribes. I saw none of this. What I saw instead was a shocker—people sitting calmly in airport seats, their bags neatly arranged beside them. Most sat with their eyes hidden away in newspapers, and the few that milled around went about their business calmly, their faces serene and without worry. I was the odd one with my mouth plopped open, my eyes wide with bewilderment. Was this Lagos? I raised my palm slowly upward to my left cheek and slapped it twice, hard.
A pleasant-looking face came into my view. He was a customs official, and he was smiling. “Welcome back to Nigeria, sir,” he said merrily as he took my bag. “You seem lost. Well, I won’t blame you—you must have spent a long time at wherever you’re coming from, right?”
I nodded dumbly.
He grinned. “Ah, no worries. Come with me, I’ll fetch you a taxi.” And he led me to the wide doors, flagged down a yellow-and-blue-striped cab with an equally pleasant looking driver, who supervised in loading my bags into the trunk.
I turned, fished out a couple of notes from my pocket and shoved them towards the custom official’s face.
He seemed startled. “What’s this?”
I didn’t blink. “What else? Your bribe now. Abi you no dey take bribe again?”
His bewilderment shifted to confusion. “What’s bribe?” he asked innocently. He looked at the taxi driver, who shrugged with uncertainty.
I shoved my money back into my pocket. “Sorry,” I mumbled as I got into the taxi, my face burning with embarrassment.
Now, two years later, I am sitting in the office of Environmental Logistics, an agency wing in the Government House of the State of Lagos, where I worked as P.A to the Urban Sphere Department. Our duty is to see to it that the weather and overall environment stays within a certain healthy earmark; the water is safe for consumption, the grounds fertile enough for agriculture, and the air free of viruses. Education is free up to the PHD level, so we have kids as young as twenty-five being Heads of Departments. My boss, the head of my department, just turned twenty-four last Tuesday, and although I am not perturbed to be working under a kid that could pass for my kid brother back home, I feel undermined because I’m not trusted by him. Rufus – or Ruf, as he likes to be called – is eccentric and a bit of a self-indulged neurotic genius. He loves being right and hates being disputed. Like, he really hates it; most times he goes into fits of flying rage if you as much as defied his opinions. I do my duty of staying away from him and his bipolar disorder as best as I can.
That was, until this morning… Until now.
I swivel round in my chair, my bespectacled eyes glued to my illuminated computer screen. Silo, my desk robot puppy whimpers at me. I smile wryly as I ruffle his smooth panel head, and the corner of my eyes stray to the flash of red peeking out from the pocket of my leather jacket hung on the clothes hanger. I sigh.
Adeola… Do not think about her, Darius. Think about now, what you’ve just see on your computer screen. Think of how you’re going to say this to Rufus, and if he’d believe you. Think of what is at stake here, think about that, damnit!
I inhale a deep breath as I push my seat back. Ignoring the beeping security beamer at the door of Rufus office, I push the door open and step in. He’s on the phone, a wireless ear chip is inserted in his ear, and I can see the glimmer of blue light as it transmits communication. He’s looking through his wide-glass windowed wall, his narrow shoulders shaking with chuckles, but he stops when he turns and sees me. His bushy eyebrows go up, and I raise my index finger. One minute, sir.
He sighs, mumbles an incoherent word and hangs up the call. “That was my girlfriend, Darius, and I just put her on hold. She doesn’t like that, so whatever you have to say, make it quick.”
“I…eh, okay, sir.”
He motions me to sit. I obey.
“What’s the matter, Rius?”
He’s the only one who calls me ‘Rius’ and goes scot-free without getting a blow to the jaw. I hate that synonym with the blood in my veins. It sounds like a virus. I exhale. “Sir, I found out something upsetting in the graphic readings this morning…”
His forehead scrunches with frown lines. “Graphics?”
“Yes, the one Professor Dimka sent yesterday. I—I was supposed to forward it to you but I sort of opened it by mistake and—”
He rolls his eyes with boredom. “What exactly are you saying, Rius?
I bite the inside of my lip and wipe my sweaty palms on the front of my suede trousers. “Sir, I think it will happen at approximately 12:45 this afternoon.”
He laughs. A deep throaty laugh, like an esophagus imbibed with tobacco smoke. “By it, you mean the freezing?” he asks knowingly.
I nod. “Yes sir.”
He scoffs and leans back on his chair, his hands behind his Afro hair. “Rius, Rius!” He chortles. “Just how many times have you been listening to my conversations with the Professor?”
I swallow. “Not much Sir, but I know you both were conducting experiments three months ago, and I overheard the Professor say that…that the freezing is bound to happen in September, but he wasn’t sure yet. Then you said that even though the lunar and glacier readings were giving accurate emphasis on it happening in December, you weren’t certain as well because it seemed like it could happen any moment—”
He raises his palm and I shut my mouth. He sighs and leans forward. “Don’t get all worked up, Rius. I was wrong, the Professor was wrong. There will be no freezing in our beloved Lagos city.”
I stutter. “B-but…the readings –”
“Forget the readings. Science has failed man since its existence. Didn’t they say in the past that our world wouldn’t live up to this century? Look at us now.” He chuckles and plops a breath mint in his mouth. “Go home, Rius. In fact, take the day off. Look at the lovely skies, it’s a beautiful day! Don’t you know what today is?”
Did I need someone else to remind me? “It’s Valentine’s Day,” I mutter.
He giggles. Like actually giggles, like a fucking Barbie. “Excellent! Go home now; in fact take the day off. Go home, straddle your girlfriend and do things to her until you’re blue in the face. Now, go!” It sounds like an order.
I sigh sadly. “I don’t have a girlfriend anymore. She dumped me this morning.”
“Oh.” Rufus looks distraught, but for a second. Then he shrugs. “Well, your loss.” He winks at me, grabs his jacket and heads to the door. “As for me, it is goodbye to this office till Monday. Bye, Rius! And don’t forget to lock up before you leave.” The door slams at his last sentence.
I shake my head slowly, and then I see the bottle of Jack Daniels on the dish tray by the water dispenser. After a few thoughts, I roll my eyes and walk towards it. What the hell anyways; I am entitled. I had just been dumped on Lover’s Day by the love of my life. I may as well get drunk until the world disintegrates into nothingness.
But I cannot forget the readings.
I still cannot forget the readings. But it’s the same way I cannot forget my girlfriend, Adeola. I refuse to use the word ‘ex’ yet—the pain is still fresh as a gaping slash wound. I met her six months ago, at an organic supermarket. Yes, we have those in Lagos now. Adeola is that sort of woman men see and do not give a second glance to. I am a different man, I guess. She’s waifish, dark and plain; her hair is cropped short and her eyes are too small for her face. But they have this cocoa-hue that sparkle if you look closer. She has a button nose and a tiny mouth with full lips, and her arms are long and sinewy. From the moment I saw her, I knew I was never going to let her go, and I didn’t.
After three weeks of persistent stalking, she finally agreed to go out with me. Two months later, she fell equally in love with me, and we moved in together. A month later, I got promoted to the PA at Urban Sphere, and my work became more demanding. Adeola on the other hand, got fired from her job as an admin officer in Health Sector 41, and she began teaching substitute Math at the primary school near our flat, so her job became less demanding. The sudden change of careers quickly affected our relationship, and we began to fight. We quarreled every minute, and I began to avoid her. She noticed it, and became more vicious. This morning, when the tension was too high, I had blurted out that she was becoming such a nagging bitch and I was sick of her. She just gawked at me, and then silently went into the room and fifteen minutes later, reappeared with her suitcase. My senses came back, but it was too late. The first door that slammed on my face was done by her.
I get a glimpse of her framed picture on my desk, and my heart twists with agony. I can’t let her go, I just can’t. I loved her that much. I glance at my window and see how beautiful the day is. But it still looks like yesterday. The skies are always blue, the ocean always turquoise-green. The sun is a hazy spot on the horizon. I try to imagine; how will my life be without Adeola in it? I hate my imagination.
Silo barks at me, and I start. My computer beeps, and I notice something new. The readings; the graphs were getting higher now. My heart skips, and I instantly reach for my cellphone. It is a flat small slab of luminescent technology, and no, it is not by Apple. Apple folded up in 2045. Was the freezing really going to happen? But the day looked so calm! I swipe for Rufus number. But then, maybe it is just my subconscious, I do not know, but my finger goes to Adeola’s number instead. I leave the phone on the table, give Silo one quick last ruffle, grab my leather jacket and hurry to the door as the dial tone drones off in the micro-chip clipped to my ear.
I can’t let her go.
I leave the office in my fly-bike. It is some sort of motorcycle, but with wings instead. I cannot afford a fly-car. The office looks deserted; few co-workers saunter around. There are red roses everywhere, like clumps of blood. It is beautiful but somewhat repugnant. I take the route off Lekki toward the Third Mainland. Adeola isn’t picking my calls. I do not give up, I re-dial again. The streets are filled with fly-cars, trucks. Overhead, a train flashes by on a 150kmph speed. I know this because the speed is recorded on the traffic-control boards mounted at checkpoints. Everyone’s speed is recorded there, but there is no speed limit. The fly-vehicles and bikes are programmed to avoid having crashes. There are no collusions, no traffic jams. Traffic in Lagos has never been better.
The dial tone clicks off, and I hear the smooth, svelte voice I had come to love these past months. But now, it is icy and crisp. “Stop calling me, Darius. It’s over between us.”
I shake my head vigorously, even though she’s not standing in front of me. “Please, Adeola, give me a chance to make things right. I am so sorry; I have never been sorrier than I feel now. I can’t imagine my life without you in it—I’ll lose my mind. You’re everything that keeps me sane; you keep me going. Please don’t leave me.”
She scoffs. “You’re such an asshole.”
I nod. “I agree. I am an asshole.”
“No, you’re not asshole because you hurt me…you’re an asshole because you just said sorrier. What the fuck is sorrier? People don’t even say that.”
I try to stifle my laughter because I don’t know if she’s still angry with me. But I hear her sigh.
“Fine,” she says. “I’ll need your help anyway because I need a ride. My fly-bike ran out and I don’t have a refill.”
My heart is bursting with happiness. “Where are you? I’ll come to you.”
“I’ll be right there.”
She smiles. I can tell when she smiles, even when she’s speaking over the phone. “I forgive you. Come quickly. It’s getting a bit chilly here.”
My eyebrows come together, and I suddenly notice it. The weather is changing. It is distinct, but the air is getting frosty, the horizon is blotchy blue. A slight breeze trickles through and jiggles my fly-bike, and the readings flash before my eyes.
But Rufus said it will not happen!
I raise my eyes to the skies. Is it my imagination or…are the clouds turning gray? I squint, and then just as I do not expect it, I see the flash. Lightning.
It was beginning!
My heart pounding against my chest, I steer around my fly-bike sharply, and almost hit an incoming fly-car. The driver doesn’t go into road rage; he just gapes at me, wide-eyed and confused. I mumble apologies and zoom off, my palms gripping the handles of my bike. This is not happening, I scream in my head. Science never lies! Science brought us here, to this future, this present. Those graphics had been accurate—the freezing would start any minute from now! What would happen to everyone, to our city? People will be mummified in ice within seconds; the rising glaciers from the Arctic had proven that the freezing unit was beyond human incompetence. It would solidify everything in its part, except bacteria. How would we escape this; how will the city survive this? How will I survive this?
I do not reduce my 120kmph speed until I sight the Third. It is not like the bridge of 2014; it is now fifty feet above the sea level, sturdy and metal-paneled. Our state had rebuilt it to withstand destruction, even from hydraulic missiles. But with the catastrophe looming into Lagos in a few minutes, it will freeze into an ice-lolly in a nanosecond. I search frantically for Adeola, my eyes wavering through the intense but speeding traffic. The air is chillier than before, and now, people are becoming aware of the doomsday. They are stopping their cars and squinting into the horizon, their faces creased with doubt. The skies are grey now, like the Lagos our fathers had told us about in the past 21st Century. Streaks of lightning clash in the dank skies, and some people gasp with shock. I ignore them and continue searching, until I spot Adeola. She is at the left side of the bridge, sitting on her immobile fly-bike, her eyes wide and staring at the skies. I hurry to her.
“Deola!” I call.
She jumps, but then she sees me. I hug her desperately, just as another flash of lightening ripples through the horizon. Adeola quivers. “D-Darius…what…what’s happening?”
I snatch up her purse and clip it to my fly-bike. “Don’t worry, babe, it’s nothing. Now come, we have to get out of here.”
She looks back up at the horizon. “It looks like it wants to rain,” she says.
From the corner of my eye, I see that traffic has halted. Everyone is looking at the skies. The atmosphere is darker now, like there will be a heavy storm. In fact, it feels like a heavy storm; tiny glass icicles fall to my arm. They look like hail, but I know better. I am trying not to panic.
“Adeola, please…come, we have to leave. Now.”
She notices the desperation in my tone and hurries towards me. And then it happens.
The sound was shattering, like an earthquake. The ocean rumbles and water splashes up like fountains. And then something that has never happened, like a beam, emanates from the skies in the horizon. It acts like it is radioactive, but its rays jags the lightning, and the flashes zaps around like a thousand electric volts. The Third shakes and whines from the triggers, and startled screams ring out. I lose my balance and topple to the glittering asphalt just as Adeola skids while running towards me, falls over and bangs her knee into the hard concrete of bridge side-edge. She yelps with pain.
“Adeola!” I scream and rush to her.
Pandemonium has kicked in; people are running now. The atmosphere is dark as a blind man’s eyesight. The wind is fierce now, howling even. I hear a crunching noise—like shattering glass. As I help Adeola up, I peek into the dark horizon—or what I can make out of it. It is a horrid sight. The lightning is gone, but in its place is an incoming transparent solidifying mass. It takes me two seconds to realize that it is ice.
The city is beginning to freeze!
We will not make it!
“I love you!” Adeola cries suddenly, and I turn away from the cold demon looming on us, and look at her. She is crying; her eyes, those cocoa-hue eyes are misty with tears. Her hair is blowing wildly across her forehead. She looks terrified, but she has never been more beautiful. Her lips tremble. “I love you so much, Darius, I will always love you. Do you love me?”
Tears fall from my eyes. The crunching noise is getting louder; people are still screaming, running in different directions. Abandoned fly-cars and bikes float in the whistling wind. The city is worse than it had ever been in years. I slowly take Adeola’s hands and hold them to my chest. I kiss them, and she sobs. I look at her, my vision blurs with liquid.
“I will never stop loving you,” I say with spirit.
She blinks and her tears fall in torrents. “I-I can’t run. My knee…”
I kiss her forehead. “We don’t have to.” I say calmly. Then I engulf her in my arms and she grips me tight, burying her head in my chest. The crunching noise is a feet away from the bridge now. I smile again, place my forehead on the crown of Adeola’s head, and slowly shut my eyes.
At least this time, we will never be apart.
Written by Amara Okolo