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Authors: Nnedi Okorafor

Lagoon (20 page)

BOOK: Lagoon
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Agu drove, Adaora sat in the passenger seat, and Anthony and Ayodele were in the backseat. They were all quiet. Adaora was nibbling at toothpaste. The travel-sized tube was all she had in her purse that could fight off her nausea. Whenever she went scuba diving, she always liked to brush her teeth right after her return, so carrying it was a habit.

The last “dive” I did was nothing like the others,
she thought hysterically. Her mind moved to the incident on Ahmadu Bello Way. She could still see the little boy's eyes as he died. The mad woman.
had she done it? Ayodele said that the woman had lost hope. That wasn't good enough for Adaora. That poor boy. She wiped her eyes and sucked down a bit more toothpaste.

They weren't far from the airport. It was nearly six a.m. They had minutes. The closer they got the fewer cars they saw. Agu said the airport had probably been evacuated. But it looked flat-out abandoned.


At the sound they all leaned forward to peer through the windows into the dark sky. In a few hours the sun would come up. And what would it reveal? Adaora pushed the thought away and focused on the plane above. There was only one in the sky.

“Shit!” Agu said, speeding up.

“You think that's them?” Adaora said.

“Of course it is,” he said. “Who else would it be?”

“Tonight?” Anthony asked. He'd opened his window to get a better look. Then he laughed. “
, could be a lot of things.”

“What does this man look like?” Ayodele asked.

“Like a taciturn old yam farmer,” Adaora said.

Agu chuckled. “He is tall and skinny like Anthony . . . but not healthy. He has many ideas but he hardly follows through on any of them.”

“Baba Go-slow,” Adaora muttered.

A minute later, they arrived. Agu stopped at the gateway that led onto the tarmac. Up ahead was the ramp that led to the drop-off and pick-up section of the airport that Adaora knew well. Even from here, she could see people milling about outside. Confused. No one was going into the airport; most likely the doors had been locked. But there were a few people leaving the building—running out and hopping into waiting vehicles.

The entrance to the tarmac was deserted and the gate was up. Agu shook his head with disgust. They drove in. It was easy to spot the president's small jet. It was the only plane labeled “Nigerian Air Force,” and it was the only moving plane on the tarmac.

“Shut the lights off,” Adaora said.

They crept after the plane as it taxied to a stop on the far side of the tarmac. Agu parked the car in the darkness between two stair-trucks and got out. Adaora's legs were shaking. Had they done the right thing by bringing Ayodele here? What would she say to the president? What would she
to the president?

The plane stopped. Nothing happened for several minutes. But through the round windows, Adaora could see the lights on and people walking up and down and looking out into the darkness. She spotted the president.

“I see him! Do you?” She pointed.

“I do,” Anthony said.

“The window near the center,” Agu said.

The president of Nigeria was looking outside. A soldier pulled
him away from the window. Adaora could see two of his wives, too. Hawra was the junior wife who was in her early forties. People called her “the smart one” because she was a lawyer who also carried a PhD in political science and was rumored to be one of the president's closest and mouthiest advisors. Zena was the senior wife and in her late fifties. People didn't call her much of anything.

Finally, the door opened, lowering into stairs. The first to come out were three military officials. Guns up, they looked around. They must have deemed things safe because they stepped aside to allow Hawra and Zena to exit. The two wives, Zena a tall woman of nearly six feet and Hawra short and plump, wore white garments and veils. Then two older men in fine suits emerged—the president's advisors. Then the president came forth. Two young soldiers were holding him up. He looked weak and semi-conscious. They half carried, half dragged him down the stairs, his legs barely touching each step. When they got to the bottom, one of the soldiers patted him on the shoulder as if in apology for the rough treatment.

shriveled, sickly man was to lead the country during a crisis. Adaora had never felt so ashamed and conflicted. If he was this ill, why didn't he step down, or at least delegate responsibility until he got better?

Adaora was the first to realize Ayodele was moving.

“Wait,” Adaora said, running after her, Anthony and Agu following. “Wait for us!” But Ayodele was swift. Though she appeared to be walking, she was covering the distance impossibly fast.

The soldiers raised their guns as Ayodele approached. She didn't slow down. “President,” she said loudly. “I am here to speak with you.”

“Stop right there!” one of the soldiers shouted, when Ayodele was a foot from his gun. “I will shoot!” Three other soldiers joined him, guns raised.

“Who are you?” Zena asked in her shrill voice. She stepped in front of her husband. “What are you doing here?”

Out of breath, Adaora, Agu, and Anthony came to a stop behind Ayodele.

“I am Private Agu, Amphibious Division, sir,” Agu told the soldier, snapping a salute. “We are only here to help.”

“Has the airport been shut down? There was no one in air traffic control! We nearly died landing!” Hawra said. “How can an entire airport be empty and dark?”

“Aren't you aware of what is happening?” Agu asked.

“We know only what we've heard,” the president said, his voice weak.

“You,” one of the soldiers said, pointing at Anthony. “Are you that rapper from Ghana?”


na wao
,” one of the other soldiers said, lowering his gun. “I have all your albums,

“Say it,
,” the first soldier said, grinning. “I dey craze!”

Anthony rolled his eyes.

Adaora stepped forward. “My name is Adaora,” she said. “I am a marine biologist. This is Ayodele. She is one of them, one of the . . . the extraterrestrials. She is their ambassador. She was the first to make contact and she seeks an audience with you, Mr. President. We've gone through a lot to get her here.”

The soldiers pointed their guns at Ayodele as they moved to shield the president.

“Oh, move aside,” the president snapped at the soldiers, becoming a little more animated. “Do any of you think you can save my life? Look at me! I'm nearly dead already!” He muttered something in Hausa. “Come,” he said, looking at Ayodele.

She stepped up to him. Her long braids blew in the soft breeze. Both of the young soldiers holding up the president looked terrified. Above, the dark sky was warming as sunrise approached.

“Are you truly a stranger? An extraterrestrial? An alien?”


“You look like a woman from Igboland.”

“Looks can be deceiving.”

He chuckled weakly and then coughed. “Prove it.”

She paused. Then she said, “Watch closely.”

Even as she spoke, her words were falling apart, disappearing into the din of metal balls on glass, shifting and reshaping along with her body. The soldiers guarding the president dropped their guns, the wives screamed, and one of his advisors fainted. The pilot fell to his knees and began to vomit. The president watched with wide eyes. Thankfully the two soldiers carrying him did not drop him, though one of them started to sob, and the other seemed to be having trouble breathing.

Ayodele was now a broad-shouldered, stocky white man in a blue uniform with bushy gray hair and beard and haunted eyes. He had a mustache like a handlebar. Ayodele-the-man put her hands on her hips and cocked her head.

The president's mouth fell open.
“Karl Marx,”
he whispered. “I . . . I . . .”

“I know,” Ayodele said in a manly voice. She stepped closer to him, graceful in her man's body. “You believe in Marxism, yet you are too powerless to enact it.”

The president whimpered.

“I can read the air you breathe,” she said. When he still could not speak, she changed back to her brown-dress-wearing-vaguely-Igbo-looking woman form. Her second transformation was too much for the guarding soldiers, the pilot, even the advisors. As one, they turned and ran. One of the soldiers holding up the president started praying to Allah under his breath; the other continued to sob.

“Does this help?” she asked, watching them run.

When her gaze returned to the president, he licked his lips and took a deep breath. “Y-yes.”

“Would you like me to look more Hausa?”

“It's . . . No, you are fine.”

“I did not mean to frighten you.”

“You are evil!” Zena shouted from behind him.

“I am not,” Ayodele said flatly. “I am change.”

“How did you take over all the mobile phones?” the president asked.

“It wasn't just the mobile phones and it wasn't just me. They helped,” she said, motioning to Adaora, Anthony and Agu. “So did Adaora's offspring,” Ayodele continued. “As did my people. As did your people. It is a matter of connecting and communicating.” She grinned. “And your technology is simple, easily manipulated.”

“And yours is not?”

technology, Mr. President. And no, we are not easily manipulated.”

“What do you want?”

“We do not want to rule, colonize, conquer, or take. We just want a home. What is it

He paused. “To be alive again.”

“I will make it so.”



The bat is thoroughly shaken.

She has eaten fifty mosquitoes. Fifty-one. Fifty-two. Her belly is full of insects. Her soft brown fur rustles as she flies. She knows where everyone else is; they are there above the gathering humans on the beach. This place teems with mosquitoes and gnats, who are attracted to their lights and body heat and blood. She discovered this earlier in the week, and other young bats followed her. Now, they flit about so fast, the humans aren't even aware of their presence.

She feels great. The moment before it happens, she catches and eats a mosquito and then does a barrel roll, pushing high into the sky, loving the humidity and the cool air. It makes her feel light and powerful. She drifts on the warm breeze. As she does, she sends a series of ultrasonic squeaks that show all the other bats the beauty of the evening.

Then the thick soupy haze lights up the horizon where it meets the ocean. Like the rotten inside of a crushed fruit. The haze rolls, folds, and expands. It is heading right toward her.


Visceral, thick, but not quite substantial. She sees it perfectly because, for her, sound is as near solid as a sound can be. Deep and ample and spreading. Fast. Then it washes over her as the waves wash over the sand below.

She feels it like she felt the first breath of life when she was born. She remembers the moment of her birth clearly. She had opened
her eyes and seen little. But then she chirped, and the sound found her mother. Then the others. Then the cave. And a few weeks later, when she echolocated the night, she thought she'd die from the beauty of the trees and the land.

Now she is in the middle of . . . of red, pink, green, yellow, blue, periwinkle. She has no words for color because she is a bat and bats do not see colors. But she sees them now. She sees a thousand of them. She can taste them. They are meaty like mosquitoes, leafy like palm fronds, fruity like mangos. She tumbles in the air and then falls to the sand. She struggles to stay conscious, stretching her wings and twisting her head. She looks into the sky and sees . . . lights. At this moment, she is the only bat on earth seeing the stars in the sky. But she doesn't know what those are either. Her echo­location will never reach that far. The stars become many. They seem to grow closer, too. It is overwhelming.

Then everything is dead quiet. No air. No sound. No earth. She is in space. Farther, deeper. She sees a planet of stone. Red oily stone and liquid air. Then an aqueous world of blue, blue waters. Then a yellow fast-spinning sphere lit by three suns. World after world. She wakes in a tiny warm cave of darkness, but there is energy here, too. She is being jolted by sound, by rhythm. What kind of higher echolocation is this?

This is what awakens her. Jars her back into her body, back to life. Then the darkness opens into the night, and she is hurled into the sky. Grateful to the Supreme Being that she has been given another chance at life, she flies into the night, her mind buzzing, her perspective changed.

Nevertheless, sound
sight—now she has both. She looks up and sees the stars. She echolocates for miles. Her world is suddenly huge.

*   *   *   *

She does not eat a thing. She only wants to fly and see with her new senses. She has grown an eye in the middle of her forehead but she
doesn't know this. And if she could, she would not know what to make of it. She flies higher than she's ever flown before. Maybe she is trying to leave the earth. She isn't sure. She isn't thinking about it.

She's far in her mind, deep in her own thoughts. The air on her wings feels amazing. She is swimming, rolling through the air as if it's water. She lifts her head as she flies and lets out a series of loud chirps. And that's when she sees it. The largest bird ever. Flying faster than any hawk or eagle or owl. Roaring like some sort of monster. She doesn't know the human word “dragon,” otherwise she would call it that.

There is no time to flee. No time to turn. No time to shriek. And no pain. It is like being thrown into the stars.

*   *   *   *

The pilot of the Nigerian president's plane has no clue that the plane he
is flying has just killed the most enlightened bat on earth. After obliter­ating this bat as it passes, the plane flies on toward the airport on the
strangest night in the city of Lagos's history.

BOOK: Lagoon
3.2Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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