Authors: Nnedi Okorafor
They stood in Adaora's living room, uneasy. The afternoon sun streamed in, bouncing off the white leather couches and chairs and the white carpet on the floor. The fans were on, and Philo had set out a bowl of chin chin on the coffee table. It was a room for relaxing. Not for thinking about the end of the world as one knew it.
Adaora was beginning to see why Ayodele's people had chosen the city of Lagos. If they'd landed in New York, Tokyo, or London, the governments of these places would have quickly swooped in to hide, isolate, and study the aliens. Here in Lagos, there was no such order.
Yet and still, the country had vigorous life. Her best friend, Yemi, had put it perfectly one night after they'd finished taking final exams and were talking about where they'd go when they graduated. Yemi had had too much to drink, yet her words and thoughts were clear and eloquent that Adaora still remembered her words well.
Everybody wants to leave Lagos. But nobody goes, she said. Lagos is in the blood. We run back to Lagos the moment we step out, even though we may have vowed never to come back. Lagos is Lagos. No city like it. Lagos is sweet.
Even Adaora's husband, Chris, knew this. He'd returned from Germany as soon as he had his MBA in his hand, even though a German company had offered him a job.
It was the reason why, despite the fact that she was a highly sought-after marine biologist who'd taught for some years at the University of California, Santa Barbara, she'd opted to return home.
Lagos was riddled with corruption, but she couldn't imagine living anywhere else. And its ocean life was fascinating. And problematic. It needed her. Lagos needed her. And Adaora had to go where she was needed.
There were aliens in the ocean, and they were going to come out soon.
“Text me if there's trouble,” Anthony said.
“I've memorized your phone number,” Agu said, tapping the side of his head. “Better up here than on a piece of paper.” Still, he'd written it down, folded the paper, and placed it deep in his pocket, just in case something made him forget.
Adaora looked at Agu. “Will there be trouble?”
“Look at my face, o,” Agu said. “My commander might make some
. But I think he'll be smart enough to focus on the crisis at hand.”
Adaora wasn't so sure, but she didn't press the issue. It was worth a try. If they could reach the president, then things would go far more smoothly than if they did not. “Anthony, Philomena is upstairs with the children,” she said. When she was teaching and Chris was working, Philomena stayed with the children, but today she didn't like the idea of being away from them. She'd get back as soon as possible and she hoped Chris would too. “Stay close to Ayodele, okay?” Ayodele was downstairs in the lab reading an issue of
“Of course I will,” Anthony said.
“Call if Adaora's husband comes home with more
,” Agu said.
“I sent him a text, warning him to leave you alone,” Adaora added. “But he didn't respond.”
“I can handle the man,” Anthony said.
“And if you can't, Ayodele can, eh?” Agu said, winking.
“Ibi so,” Anthony assured her, slapping hands with Agu and giving Adaora a brief hug.
As soon as they left, Anthony took out his mobile phone and dialed. “Festus,” he said, smiling. He could always reach Festus, the one person in the entire Ghanaian music industry that he trusted.
“Where the hell are you?” Festus yelled.
“Relax. I'm fine.”
“You should have called to let me know that,” Festus growled. “You disappeared from your own after-party!”
“Sorry, o. Trust me, I have a good excuse.”
“I thought you'd been kidnapped.”
“I wasn't,” Anthony said. “Listen, Festus, I have a job for you and the boys.”
As he told Festus an abbreviated version of all that had happened since he'd left the club where he'd performed, he strolled to the window. The gate in front was high, but flimsy. People could see the entire house, but someone would have to open the gate to get to the front door. A good space for a crowd. As long as it stayed polite.
Festus reacted just the way Anthony had hoped. He exclaimed with surprise and asked a thousand questions. Then Festus came up with the perfect way to alert Anthony's fans about the “Mad mad Anthony Dey Craze free concert” that would take place on the lawn of a small Victoria Island home. “Through radio, social networks, and word of mouth,” he said. “Everybody go know!” Anthony could hear Festus grin his toothy grin. At heart, Festus was an instigator, so he didn't feel guilty about the fact that it was all a ruse to bring people together for something outlandish.
“I just hope you know what you're doing,” Festus said.
Anthony pulled at his short beard and bit his lip. He didÂ .Â .Â . sort of. “I do.”
While Anthony planned with Festus, Adaora's children, Kola and Fred, peeked into the room from the hallway. When Anthony didn't notice them, they oh-so-quietly tiptoed across the room to the stairs leading down to their mother's lab.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Kola had to work hard not to burst out laughing. Fred wasn't helping. He always started giggling uncontrollably whenever they sneaked past adults. Kola had to stop for a moment; her belly was cramping from holding in all her laughter. It was funny but also really annoying. Somehow, they made it to the lab entrance.
Bellies aching, they descended the stairs and peeked in on the alien. Preoccupied with a
magazine, Ayodele didn't seem to notice as the two cautiously crept into the lab and hid behind the fish tank. All was silent except the tank's bubbling filter. Kola softly tapped on the glass to get a yellow butterfly fish to swim out of her line of vision. She was about to sneak closer when Fred grabbed her arm.
“What?” she hissed.
“Scared!” Fred whispered.
“Don't you want to speak to a real live
?” Kola asked. “Like the ones in the movies?”
Fred vigorously shook his head. “I've changed my mind.”
“Well, I do,” Kola said. She stood up straight and nervously grabbed a handful of her long braids. “Hello.”
Ayodele smiled, though her eyes didn't leave her magazine. “Greetings, children.”
“I'mÂ .Â .Â . Kola and that's my little brother, Fred.”
Still cowering behind the fish tank, Fred waved a feeble hello.
an alien?” Kola asked.
Ayodele closed her magazine and looked at Kola. “By your definition, yes.”
“Well, how come you look human?”
“Would you rather I didn't?”
“Why not appear as yourself ?”
“Human beings have a hard time relating to that which does not resemble them. It's your greatest flaw.”
Kola liked this answer very much because it made sense. In
cartoons, even the animals who could talk also had to
human. That had always annoyed her brother. She stepped closer.
“How come you speak English?” Kola asked.
“So you will understand me.”
“Can you speak Hausa?”
she said, with a nod.
Ayodele said, nodding again.
“I can if I get close to someone who can, yes. You cannot, so I cannot.”
Kola had to agree. She could indeed speak Igbo and Hausa and not Russian. “Do you like it here?”
“You might have liked the United States more,” she said. “They've got more stuff. And if your spaceship is broken, they can probably fix it better.”
“Our ship is not broken.”
“My mother says the waters are all dirty and dead because of the oil companies,” Kola said. “Will you all be all right in there?”
Ayodele laughed in a knowing way that made a thousand more questions germinate in Kola's head. “Yes,” Ayodele said.
“Can you die?”
“Maybe. Probably not.”
Kola whispered with awe. She leaned against the sofa, now only a foot from Ayodele. This was the most interesting person/thing /whatever she'd ever met. “So, how
Philomena came running down the stairs. “Kola! Get away from her!Â .Â .Â . Get up here! Fred!”
His fear for his sister, and of the strange woman who looked like his aunt in Asaba, finally exploded, and Fred went running to Philomena, the only person other than his parents who could get his sister Kola to behave. Kola reluctantly left Ayodele's side. “We
just wanted to ask some questions,” Kola said, when she reached Philo.
“I'd never hurt them,” Ayodele said.
Philomena pushed Kola up the stairs. “Why would I believe
you say? I don't even know what you
like, let alone what you will do to us.” She rudely sucked her teeth and over her shoulder muttered, “Nonsense.”
“Maybe you should try asking me, then,” Ayodele said flatly.
Philomena was halfway up the stairs. “Stay away from the children.”
“School will bring you more success than marriage,” Ayodele said, raising her voice.
Philomena turned and glared at Ayodele.
“I know what your boyfriend is planning and I know why you told him about me,” Ayodele said. “In the end, only you can make yourself happy. Finish school. Forget him.”
Philomena dug her nails into the wooden banister. Then she ran up the stairs.
THE BLACK NEXUS
No matter how carefully Jacobs walked, his heels made too much noise.
Click, click, click.
The hallway of the abandoned secondary school amplified the sound. It was afternoon and the sun shone brightly outside, and he was wearing his favorite long black dress and high heels. They'd parked right beside the building and quickly run inside. Right now was a terrible time to draw attention to himself, but he couldn't show up to this meeting speaking the Pidgin English he spoke with the guys, nor could he arrive
like a “guy.” He needed to present this new development to his friends as
. He needed to show he was serious and unafraid.
“Walk faster,” Jacobs instructed, wincing at the sound of his footsteps as they picked up speed.
“It's been such a weird day,” said Fisayo, her heels clicking just as loudly. “Everything being closed, all the checkpointsÂ .Â .Â . the
at Bar Beach. My God, Jacobs, I don't know what I saw last night, but whatever's going on is
“Trust me, I know,” he said, putting a strong arm around his sister's shoulder and giving her a squeeze of reassurance. He was glad she was okay. He'd hated leaving her to walk Bar Beach looking for work alone. Usually he stayed around to at least make sure she was okay, but last night he had eaten some bad soup and thus had a bad case of indigestion. And look what had happened to her.
Worse yet, she'd probably want to return to Bar Beach when they finished here. She'd go home, change, and get herself ready
and arrive at Bar Beach in the evening. Right now was the best time to pick up the safest johns. Late-afternoon johns were looking for a girl to spend an evening with, and this usually included fine treatment and a meal. Evening johns were crueler and looking for something less companionable.
Jacobs needed to spend more time with his younger sister. In the last month, he hadn't even had the time to stop by her apartment. Not that she'd have been home. Fisayo was rarely home. After all the crazy events in Lagos, today was the first chance he'd gotten to see her.
He'd met with Moziz, Tolu, and Troy earlier, so he'd only briefly heard Fisayo's bizarre story about what she'd seen on Bar Beach when the boom hit. And that conversation was via mobile phone. He'd said nothing about the footage Moziz had shown him and the others, or the plan to kidnap the alien. Not yet.
“Yes, I think things are going to get weirder, too,” he said. “That's why I don't want you on the streets.”
“Bar Beach is closed anyway,” she shrugged. “My regular guys won't even know where to find me.”
The executive members of the Black Nexus, Rome and Seven, stood up when Jacobs and his sister entered the empty classroom. Rome was immaculate, as always. Tall, lean, and as statuesque as a runway model, he wore dark blue skinny jeans and a loose white blouse. His tiny gold hoop earrings perfectly accented his closely cut hair. Even without makeup, he passed as a beautiful woman. Though he never outright said he was one, most people on campus just assumed. Seven was only an inch shorter than Rome. She had the curves of Osun the Yoruba goddess, a shiny bald head, and eyes so expressive she barely had to speak.
The two were the presidents of one of the only LGBT student organizations in Nigeria, the Black Nexus. Though most of its members were out or semi-out, the group still only met secretly once a month, in the dead of night. This was not one of those
meetings. It was the afternoon, and this meeting's purpose was more specific.
“Hi there,” Rome said, giving them each a hug.
“It's good to see you,” Seven added, her voice low and husky. The hug she gave Fisayo lasted much longer than the one she gave Jacobs. Fisayo shyly stepped back. She was in no way attracted to women, yet Seven always made her want to giggle like a schoolgirl.
Seven didn't have to invite Jacobs and Fisayo to have a seat. They could read it in her eyes. Seven and Rome sat on desks across from them.
“Okay, man, what's so important that you dragged us out when Lagos is on lockdown?” Seven said, leaning forward. Her eyes added,
And it better be a
“It's a good reason,” Jacobs said, bringing out his mobile phone. “Come close. It's better if we all see it at the same time.”
Jacobs had a nice phone, so the footage was even clearer than it had been on Moziz's cheap disposable one. Jacobs had watched it at least fifty times, and it still blew his mind. She was a young woman, then she seemed to turn inside herself to become a smoky, metallic-looking cloud, then she turned inside out again to become a completely different woman who was old and bent. She'd even spoken with an ancient-sounding voice. And Jacobs knew the man the shape-shifting thing was talking to; he was the bishop of his mother's diocese. His mother had gotten Jacobs to attend service with her once, three years earlier.
That day, Father Oke happened to be giving a sermon on the “evils and filth of homosexuality.” Jacobs had had to sit there beside his mother in his suit and tie, itchy and miserable with embarrassment and sweat as the bishop equated homosexual activity with bestiality. Afterward, the bishop had come up to him and said that Jacobs's mother had told him all about Jacobs'sÂ .Â .Â . habits. Jacobs experienced a moment of complete panic.
He had seen Father Oke slapping the hell out of those he
disapproved of and calling them “the foulest
.” And when the bishop slapped, he slapped you hard. The receivers of the front or back of his hand were usually women but, once in a while, he slapped a man, too. Jacobs knew that if the bishop “slap delivered” him, he'd punch the bishop in the face. But he also knew that, if he did, the bishop would never forgive him; he would out Jacobs and run him out of the city, or worse.
To his relief, the bishop only shook his hand and congratulated Jacobs for taking the first step toward “healing his soul in the name of Jesus.” But Jacobs felt so humiliated that he couldn't bring himself to tell the bishop (or his mother) that he wasn't gay at all. He just liked wearing women's clothes.
He loved the colors, the feel, the material, the creativity, and, oooh, the fit. A year later, he joined the Black Nexus because they were the only people who accepted his ways. If anyone needed the help of the Lord, it was his sister Fisayo, who was too smart and sweet to be out hustling her body.
“Whaaaat?” Rome whispered, bringing his face close to the high-definition images on Jacobs's mobile phone.
“Play it again,” Seven said, grinning. “Is this for real? Even if it's not, that's a person changing into another person! Would've been better if it changed from a woman to a man but this will do. We could have some fun sending this around.”
Fisayo was quiet, biting her nails.
Jacobs replayed it. “My boy Moziz got this from his girlfriend Philo,” he said. “It's real. No Photoshop or anything.” He turned off his phone. “Philo says that this womanÂ .Â .Â . manÂ .Â .Â . whatever is an
who is at the house of the people she works for.” He thought about mentioning the kidnapping plan but held off. He needed to get out of his parents' house, and he needed money for tuition when the university reopened. Kidnapping an alien would solve all of that. YetÂ .Â .Â .
“Hey! We should go see her. Get her on our side,” Rome said.
“The Black Nexus can come out of secrecy for
. Who better to understand than a shape-shifter?”
“My exact thought!” Seven agreed, breathless with excitement. “This is what we've been waiting for, o.”
Fisayo raised an index finger and frowned. “WaitÂ .Â .Â . wait just a minute,” she whispered. “Last night, I sawÂ .Â .Â .” She looked at Jacobs. “Did you tell them?”
Jacobs shook his head. “Thought it would be better if you did.”
Fisayo got up. “I was on the beach talking to a guy when I heard the loud booming noise.”
“The one they are all talking about on the news?” Rome asked. “You were there?”
Fisayo nodded. “Everyone was looking around, all scared. The guy I was with ran off to check his car. A lot of windows shattered from the noise.”
“That man left you alone?” Seven said, looking disgusted.
“He wasn't gone for long,” Fisayo replied uncomfortably. “Anyway, before he returned, I was just standing there looking at the water. It lookedÂ .Â .Â . It was moving strangely. The waves had kind of lost their rhythm and the water was rising. I saw what I am sure was one of the creatures come out of the water! It looked like smoke at first, like smoke that bubbled out of the sea.” She paused, bothered by her own recollection. “Then it was a woman.
same woman in the video. She dove back in the water and seconds later I saw a huge wave go after these three people on the beach, one woman and two men, I think. I couldn't see them that well. They ran, but the waterÂ .Â .Â .”
Fisayo frowned and pressed her lips together. When she spoke again, it was in a whisper. “ThereÂ .Â .Â . there weren't any other waves, just that one. It splashed over them and pulled back into the seaÂ .Â .Â .
them. They were gone! Stolen. If you're saying this woman-thing is an alien, then that must have been what took them! They're taking people! Maybe eating them or something!” Tears squeezed
from her eyes. “Like in that old American movieÂ .Â .Â . I forget the name. When are aliens ever
?” Rome said.
Jacobs put his arm around Fisayo. “Relax. It'sâ”
“No,” she said, throwing his arm off. She sat down on one of the desks and began to sob. Jacobs put his arm back around her and looked at Seven and Rome.
“She's just upset and tired,” he said.
; I know what I saw.”
“Well, how do you know they didn't bring them back?” Seven said carefully.
“I heard that noise and I saw those people get taken. That's all I needed to see.”
“Maybe some of the people in that room were the taken people,” Jacobs said.
“I don't think so,” Fisayo said. “I saw them get snatched; you don't just return from something like that, o. That video is justÂ .Â .Â .”
“Let me see it again,” said Rome, waving Fisayo's words away.
All of them watched the footage, even Fisayo. After it finished, none of them said a word, yet in their minds, they saw plenty. Jacobs saw an end to living with parents who refused to accept him. His sister Fisayo saw all of Lagos in flames. Seven saw infinite possibilities and a people from outer space that could make the world embrace and love everyone. Rome saw the rise of Rome.
“Let's get the Black Nexus together tomorrow,” Rome said. “We've been hiding for too long. Tell me you don't feel it. This is it. This is
feel it. And if there were more of these aliens, then the Black Nexus could definitely come out of hiding, whether they came out to meet the one at the girl's house or some other one. Jacobs could see it clearly. He could be a part of the money-making kidnapping scheme
the Black Nexus revolution. He'd have his cake and eat it, too.