Authors: Nnedi Okorafor
Adaora shrugged. “Looks like you did his body some damage, though.”
“The man earned it.”
“At least you know you didn't kill him.”
Agu looked into Adaora's microscope as she scribbled more notes in her notebook.
“They can be anything and are nothing,” she said as she wrote. “Basically, she's a shape-shifter.” She smiled. “I wish my grandmother were alive to see this.”
“She was always sure the markets were full of them, witches, shape-shifters, warlocks, things like that. This would blow her mind,
.” She suddenly snapped her fingers, making Agu jump. “Ah-ah, what kind of technology must they
“Do they even
it?” Agu asked. “I mean, in a way, they
technology. They can chaâ”
Someone came running down the stairs.
“What isÂ .Â .Â . Adaora, who are these people?” Adaora's husband, Chris, demanded. He still wore the jeans and wrinkled dress shirt he'd been wearing when they'd fought. As he moved down the stairs, he cut an intimidating figure, despite the fact that he'd been eating nothing but bread and water for the last two weeks. He slipped on the bottom step, cursing as he grabbed the banister and caught himself. Adaora groaned, mortified and feeling ill. Anthony didn't bother hiding his amusement as he laughed aloud and muttered, “
Chris glared at Agu, who was standing beside Adaora. Agu stepped away from her and Adaora flinched.
?” Chris said, striding up to Adaora. “In my own house? With our
Adaora spotted her five-year-old son, Fred, and eight-year-old daughter, Kola, peeking down from the top of the stairs. “Jesus,” Adaora whispered. She wanted to bring their presence to Chris's attention, but he was in too much of a rage. Adaora had managed to hide their physical altercation hours ago from the kids; she didn't want to push her luck. Even if he didn't hit her in front of them, he might bring the children into the argument. He'd done it a year ago, calling Kola into the room to ask her opinion about Adaora's refusal to stop listening to “filthy types of music.” Poor Kola, who didn't want to speak against her father or her mother, had begun to cry.
Adaora thought now.
Better he not notice the children.
Behind her children crouched Philomena, the house girl, who should have been keeping them upstairs. A soft-spoken, chubby girl in her twenties, Philo had less and less control over
Fred and Kola these days. Adaora shelved this fact for another time.
“Chris,” Adaora pled. “It's notÂ .Â .Â .” She flinched as Chris raised his hand to slap her for the second time in three hours.
“YouÂ .Â .Â . you don't want to do that,” Agu said, stepping in front of her. He sounded very unsure of himself.
Chris blinked, sizing Agu up. Agu may have had a raw face, but he was wearing a military uniform, he was taller, and he looked stronger. But Agu's demeanor clearly said that he didn't want to fight Chris at all. Chris lunged at Agu.
“CHRIS! STOP IT!” Adaora shouted, jumping back.
Agu easily threw Chris aside. He raised his hands. “Please,” he begged. “Just listen. I don'tâ” But Chris got up and went for Agu again, throwing a punch and missing completely. Agu stepped to the side and clocked him one in the back of the head. Chris Âstumbled to the lab table, knocking test tubes into the sink and onto the floor.
“Shit,” Agu hissed, distraught. “Not again, please not again!”
“Come on,” Philo said, grabbing the children's hands and pulling them away.
“Na wetin dis?” Anthony said, stepping forward and hauling Chris to his feet. “Let it go,
. Are you mad?!”
When Agu saw that Chris was still conscious, he sighed loudly with relief, bending forward to rest his hands on his knees.
Chris snatched his arm from Anthony and stood up on shaky legs, his nose bleeding. He glared at Adaora with that same hatred she'd seen hours ago just before he leaped on her. He opened his mouth to say something but instead cringed at the sound of metal balls on glass. “Eeeee!” he screeched. Adaora dug her nails into her thighs. Agu squeezed his face, pressing his hand to his mouth as he resisted the urge to grind his teeth. “Oooooh,” Anthony moaned, feeling nauseous. If any of them had turned to look at Adaora's giant aquarium, they'd have seen the cowfish dart forward and
smash into the glass, the shrimp fall to the aquarium floor, and several other fish swim in confused circles. It was a sound never heard on earth until this night.
When Chris turned around, he was staring at himself.
Adaora opened her mouth in utter astonishment, nearly forgetting to breathe.
“CHRIS!” Ayodele said. Her voice was identical to Chris's, as was her physique. Not only did she look like him, she was even wearing the same wrinkled dress shirt and jeans.
“Jesus,” Adaora whispered. She stepped forward and grabbed Agu's arm and pulled him away. Anthony sucked his teeth at the ridiculousness of it all.
Chris's mouth hung open. He shook his head and blinked his eyes.
“Blame me,” Ayodele said. “Your wife is just trying to help. Calm yourself.
There was a long pause as Chris stared at Ayodele. Then deep in his chest, he moaned and touched his own face with a shaky hand. He stepped back, then snapped around, turning a wild gaze on Adaora. He jabbed a finger at her. “You've poisoned me! Witch! I knew it! I am hallucinating because you've poisoned my body, o!” He took more steps back. “I shower my wife with everything she wants, only to realize I've fed the devil!” He stumbled toward the stairs. “Marine witch, o!” he wailed, pointing and pointing at her. “
I knew it! I knew it! Jesus Christ will send you back to hell, o! God will punish you! In the name of Jesus and the Holy Spirit!” He turned and fled up the stairs.
Adaora squeezed her eyes shut as she heard Ayodele change back. She'd heard the sound several times now, first in the water and now in her own home. In both places it somehow sounded the same. Absolutely foreign. So foreign, that hearing it made her feel like falling to the floor. She plopped down in the chair beside her computer.
“Your husband?” Agu asked as he dabbed the cut on his forehead with his fingers. It had started bleeding again.
“He works too hard and he's been fasting,” she said. “It makes him a littleÂ .Â .Â .”
“That man does not love you,” Anthony muttered.
“You people are very interesting,” Ayodele said, smiling.
RED RED WINE
Chris shut his eyes and took a deep breath, inhaling the warm night air. Dirty Lagos air. So different from the air he'd breathed during his three-year stay in Germany for his MBA. He coughed. Since he'd begun fasting, he had to admit, he just hadn't felt right. He knew it was the witchcraft his wife had worked on him rebelling against his cleansing efforts. He
to keep fasting. Eventually it would all get better, he'd be free of her grasp and he'd be back in control of his life and his wife. Maybe.
He sat staring at the wrought-iron black gate that surrounded Father Oke's home, waiting. It was a solid gate built into a solid thick white wall that surrounded a magnificent compound. The fence around Chris's home was only wrought iron, so passers-by could see into the compound if they were nosy. He and his conniving wife Adaora did very well, but even they could not afford to build and maintain this kind of wall, not while building and maintaining the house itself.
On both sides of the wall were tiny houses where most likely ten times as many people lived. Poor people. These homes were surrounded by walls too, though the walls were really just the walls of the much larger home boxing them in.
Lagos is like a big zoo,
Everyone is contained by lots of walls and lots of gates, whether you like it or not. It's secure but there is no security.
He rubbed his red eyes as Father Oke slowly opened the gate. The man looked tired, but this was urgent. Such things warranted
waking even a holy man in the middle of the night. Still, Chris was apologetic. “I'm so, so sorry to wake you, butÂ .Â .Â .” He couldn't hold it in anymore. He wheezed and sobbed, leaning heavily on Father Oke's shoulder. He was too taken by his own emotions to notice the look of deep that annoyance passed over Father Oke's face.
“My wifeÂ .Â .Â . myÂ .Â .Â . myÂ .Â .Â . I don't know where else to go,” Chris moaned into Father Oke's nightshirt.
Father Oke patted Chris's back and firmly pushed him backward. “What has happened?” he asked. He glanced with disgust at his shoulder, which was damp with Chris's tears. “YouÂ .Â .Â . you haven't done anything, have you?”
“No, no. Not me. IÂ .Â .Â .”
Father Oke sighed with relief. “Come in, come in,” he said. “Let us talk inside.”
“Thank you, Father,” Chris said as they walked between Father Oke's Mercedes and his BMW. Father Oke frowned as Chris passed a little too close to the BMW. He'd managed to keep the vehicle in perfect shape despite the Lagos roads, and he was not about to let this desperate idiot scratch it.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Chris and Father Oke sat across from each other on leather chairs. A bleary-eyed young woman in sleepwear came into the room with a bottle of red wine. Chris eyed the glass she poured for him, wondering if this would interfere with his fasting/purging of his wife's witchcraft.
“Relax, Chris,” Father Oke said, seeming to read his thoughts. They watched the woman leave the room. “It will affect nothing. Wine is the beverage of Jesus. It can only do good.”
Chris nodded, bringing the glass to his lips. His hand shook as he sipped.
“Well, Chris,” Father Oke said. “What did you expect when you married a woman ocean biologist?”
“But she and I have known each other since we were small
,” Chris said. “Our fathers were best
.Â .Â .Â .”
Father Oke shook his head, putting his wine down and leaning forward. He had a pained look on his face, as if he carried a great burden on his shoulders. “Look, Brother Chris, women areÂ .Â .Â . weak vessels. It is identified in the Bible. Your Adaora is a highly educated biologist but she's no different from the others. She could not change herself if she tried.” He chuckled and sipped his wine. Then he laughed loudly. “
But your wife is a tough one, o!”
“You really think she's a witch?” Chris asked.
“I do, Brother Chris,” he said. “A
witch, the worst kind. Look at her knowledge of the water. But don't worry, no shaking, o,” he said, chuckling. “My church is powerful. It is my job to handle such things.”
Chris sipped his wine, his hand still shaking. It left his mouth sour. “Good, because tonight she did something to me. I was trying to subdue her and suddenly I could not move! I was pinned to the floor like a goat for sacrifice!”
Father Oke frowned, but said nothing.
“Eh heh,” Chris said, nodding and taking Father Oke's silence to mean he believed him. “And let me tell you what else. Only an hour ago, I came downstairs to her witch's den and found my wife with two strange men!” he said. “TWO! And there wasÂ .Â .Â . there was another. Another witch! She
right before my eyes!”
“Eh, Brother Chris, slow down,” Father Oke said, trying hard not to laugh at this sorry lamb of his flock. “It is imperative to fast, to purge your wife's witchcraft from your body. But you've been fasting so much, of late, andÂ .Â .Â . perhaps you are not seeing what you think you're seeing?”
what I saw, Father,” Chris insisted. “This woman changed into ME! I can take you there right now! I canâ”
“Relax, Brother Chris.” Father Oke chuckled. “It's late.” He
sighed. “Okay, if your wife has brought another witch into your household, best to wait for daylight. I will come tomorrow.”
“ButÂ .Â .Â .”
Father Oke made the sign of the cross. This always calmed his parishioners down. Now was no exception. Chris instantly quieted and relaxed. “Trust in the Lord, Brother Chris,” Father Oke said soothingly. “All will be well in due time, eh? Meantime, pursue peace with your wife. Avoid the appearance of contention; women thrive on that. Do not fall for her antics. Look to Jesu Christi who asked us to turn the other cheek. Go home. Go to bed. I will see you tomorrow.”
Sufficiently opiated by the words of his beloved priest, Chris felt better. He even gave a shaky smile. “I will, Father. Thank you. Oh, thank you.”
The digital video camera Adaora used when she went diving was old, and its battery was dead. But it still worked when plugged in. She put the camera on a tripod and set a folding chair in front of the fish tank.
“Sit here,” she told Ayodele. Adaora felt thick and groggy. While Agu and Anthony had stayed up watching TV with Ayodele and talking, she'd curled up on the sofa and gotten a few hours of sleep.
Adaora peered into the camera's window and was relieved when she could see Ayodele clearly. “Okay, good,” she said. “Look this way.” She pointed at the camera's lens. “Now, just talk, Ayodele, tell me about yourself.”
Ayodele smiled and nodded, gazing into the camera. Adaora shivered. If there was any strong hint of the alien in Ayodele's appearance, it was in her eyes. When Adaora looked into them, she felt unsureÂ .Â .Â . of everything. A college friend of hers used to say that everything human beings perceived as real was only a matter of the information their bodies recorded. “And that information isn't always correct or complete,” he said. Back then, Adaora had dismissively rolled her eyes. Now, she understood.
“You have named me Ayodele. You people will call me an alien because I am from space, your outer heavens, beyond. I am what you all call an ambassador, the first to come and communicate with you people. I was sent. We landed in your waters and have been communicating with other people there and they've been good to us. Now we want
“What do you eat?” Adaora asked.
“We take in matter,” she said. “What we can find. Dust, stone, metal, elements. We alter whatever substance we find to suit us.”
Adaora smiled. “But you are most fond of my jollof rice and fried plantain.” Ayodele had eaten every scrap of food Adaora placed before her, and then several more platefuls, commenting the entire time about how enjoyable it all was. The only thing she hadn't really liked was bread.
Ayodele smiled. “In this form, consuming your jollof rice and fried plantain gave me great pleasure. And what was it?Â .Â .Â . Garden eggs and yam.”
“You liked both of them rawÂ .Â .Â . uncooked?” Adaora pressed.
“Yes, especially the garden eggs. The yam was nice too, though. It heightened my senses.”
Adaora considered asking her for details of this but decided to move on instead. “Do you drink water?”
“In this form, yes.”
“Do you enjoy taking human form?”
Ayodele smiled. “Yes.”
“After the first time, yes.”
“But it's hard the first time?”
“It's not easy.”
“How do you change?”
“We have control of all our parts, great and small, and the forces influencing them.”
“Can you die?” Adaora carefully asked.
Ayodele narrowed her eyes and looked at Adaora instead of at the camera. “Why do you ask that?”
“Because I'm a scientist,” Adaora said. “I just want to know, to understand.”
Ayodele turned back to the camera. “I prefer not to answer that.”
But Ayodele just looked at the camera and said nothing.
“Okay, fine,” Adaora said, after a moment. “Did you bring me, Agu, and Anthony together? Was that a coincidence? Why do all our names start with
Across the room, Agu perked up.
“It was not a coincidence,” Ayodele said. “I am an ambassador. I knowâ”
“Wait a minute!” Agu jumped up and rushed over. “Did you make all that happen so we'd all be there at the same time? Did you make my superior and the others attack that girl? Did you make meâ”
“We are change,” Ayodele calmly responded “The sentiments were already there. I know nothing about those other things.”
pushed them over the edge!” Agu said, stepping into the camera's view. “You hurt people! Do you understand
? YouÂ .Â .Â . I've seen what you can do, what you all are! YouÂ .Â .Â .”
“Agu,” Adaora said. “I'm filming.”
He shot Adaora a look that was way too similar to the one she'd seen in her husband's eyes. “Let me do this,” she added quietly. “Please.”
you!” he shouted. “Has he ever done that before?”
“No. But my husband and I have someÂ .Â .Â . serious problems that I wouldn't blame Ayodele for in a million years. Would you really hold her responsible for your fellow soldiers, your
behaving that way? Think hard about it. They acted on impulses already present in their minds. And the other thing that happenedÂ .Â .Â . Was it her fault? Maybe it was yours.”
Still breathing heavily, Agu shut his eyes, his shoulders slumping.
Adaora breathed a sigh of relief and turned back to Ayodele.
“So there are more of you?”
“Yes,” she said.
“I don't know. We don't count ourselves.”
“You would think so.”
“And what do your people need?”
“Nothing. We have chosen to live here.”
“Here onÂ .Â .Â . earth?”
“So you are all over the continent?”
“Part of it? Like West Africa? Nigeria?”
“The city, Lagos?” Anthony asked, walking over.
Ayodele looked at him and grinned. “And the waters.”
“Why Lagos? Why the water?” Adaora asked.
Ayodele shrugged. “These seemed good places for us.”
Agu and Adaora both frowned deeply, but neither said a word.
Anthony laughed. “You bring in what you put out. LagosÂ .Â .Â .” He patted Agu and Adaora on the shoulders and dropped into Pidgin English. “âLasgidi' you dey call am, right? Eko? Isn't that what you people call Lagos? Place of belle-sweet,
. Lagos is energy. It never stops. That's why I like coming here too.”
“We can work with you people,” Ayodele said. “And we will. We're coming.”
Adaora stepped around and stood before the camera, looking into its eye. “Nine January, six thirty-nine a.m. You heard it directly from the horse's mouth. One is here, the rest are coming.” She switched the camera off.