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Authors: Nnedi Okorafor

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BOOK: Lagoon
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CHAPTER 15

ALCOHOL, MY NYASH

The drive to Agu's barracks should have taken a mere half hour, but extreme Lagos traffic stretched it to two. Agu couldn't believe it was already four o'clock. Everyone was trying to get somewhere, be it a church, a bar, home, or out of Lagos. Then there was the exodus of people from Lagos Island, Ikoyi, and Victoria Island to the parts of the city that had the least chance of flooding if the water rose too high. Almost all the lanes in both directions were packed with people moving inland, which was in the opposite direction to the one in which Adaora and Agu were going. In the one lane they had, they were forced to constantly swerve around people using it to bypass the traffic heading out of the city. By the time they arrived at the building for Lagos military personnel, they were exhausted, sweaty, hungry, and nervous.

Adaora turned the engine off and sat back.

“You don't have to go in with me,” Agu said.

“Oh, I'm going,” Adaora told him. She smiled and held up her notebook. “I brought my notes, too.”

Agu sighed and shut his eyes. “How will I face the man after punching him into unconsciousness?”

Adaora frowned. “He was going to
rape
someone.”

“You don't know the army.” He rubbed the side of his forehead that didn't have a Band-Aid on it. “Adaora, is this really happening?”

Adaora slowly took his hand from his forehead. It was rough, and there were tan scars on two of his knuckles. She wondered if
they were from fighting. He did say he'd been in a lot of fights. “You don't want to start that cut bleeding again,” she said quietly. She looked into his dark brown eyes. “Thank you for stepping in front of my husband.”

Agu smiled tiredly. “I was already beaten up. I had nothing to lose.”

Adaora laughed, still holding his hand. “Is that the only reason?”

He grasped hers now. “Thank you for cleaning the cut on my face,” he said. He leaned forward and she did not lean away. It was a sweet kiss. So sweet that neither of them noticed the car that slowly drove by on Agu's side.

Chris's window was open as he passed. He'd been following them on a hunch since they'd left the house, and now his suspicions had been proven. He gazed at his wife as she proved to him what he'd suspected for over two years. Somehow he managed to stay quiet and keep driving instead of jumping from the car, dragging his wife out, and beating her senseless right there in the street. This time, his rage would certainly have overpowered any black magic she might have practiced on him. But instead, he decided to wait, to tell Father Oke about what he had seen. Chris was sure Father Oke would agree—Adaora needed harsh punishment. Witches needed to be vanquished and cheating wives needed to be beaten down. So Chris drove on. And when Adaora pulled away from Agu, the road beside them was empty.

“Oh my God, what have I done?” Adaora gasped. She grabbed the handle and opened the door.

“I'm sorry,” Agu said quickly. “I shouldn't have done that.”

Adaora paused, the door half open, as dread washed over her. “I'm a married woman.” She was crying now. She hated how the tears came but she couldn't help it. She wasn't an adulterer. Even during the worst moments, it had
never
crossed her mind to cheat on Chris.

Agu reached out and touched her face. She slapped his hand
away and sniffed. “Don't.” She pushed the door wider but didn't leave. “In less than twenty-four hours my life has fallen apart,” she whispered.

“It's the alien's fault,” Agu said softly.

Adaora tried but couldn't keep the smile from her lips. She shut the door again. “Maybe my husband is right,” she said. “Maybe I am a witch.”

When Agu took her hand, she didn't snatch her arm away.

“Your husband is a fool,” he said. “You're stronger than this. Got your notes?”

“Yes.”

“Then come on,” he said, opening his door.

*   *   *   *

Lance Corporal Benson was a large, middle-aged hulk of a man in need of a vacation. He wanted time away from his wife, away from his three young children, and away from his job. And then there was the madness yesterday. He didn't know why smoking weed always made him get crazy, but it did. The first time he'd tried it, he'd run wild in the streets for five hours, harassing women and talking shit to anyone who'd listen. Then he'd passed out and wound up in the hospital with an IV in his arm. Yesterday, he'd smoked with some of the younger privates. He'd been bored and annoyed with his life. He needed excitement. He hadn't meant to attack that girl. He felt horrible about it . . . and not just because the left side of his head was swollen and his belly felt like it had been crushed with a hundred-pound weight. Thankfully, the medics said his ribs were merely bruised, praise Allah.

The last thing he wanted to see right now was the self-righteous mug of Private Agu. Benson watched intensely as Agu entered his office. He glanced at Agu's hands. They looked normal enough. A curvy woman with a notepad followed behind him. Agu saluted Benson. Benson didn't salute back.

The moment she entered the office, Adaora knew they'd made
a mistake. She and Agu stood in awkward silence as Benson stared them down. Angry energy radiated from the burly, swollen-faced man behind the desk. He looked ready to wring Agu's neck. Despite the large fan blowing right behind him, he was glistening with sweat.

Benson sat back in his leather chair, twiddling a pencil in his hands. The silence stretched out between them.

“I didn't come here to talk about yesterday, sir,” Agu finally said.

Benson chuckled deep in his throat. “Are you sure?”

“This is Adaora,” Agu said. Adaora gave him a quick nod. “She is a professor of marine biology I met last night after the . . . I met her on Bar Beach.”

Benson's eyes grew wide before he gained control of himself. “You were there? When it happened?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Sit.”

Agu and Adaora sat.

“Sir, we know what caused the sonic boom and what is causing the water to rise. We . . . we met one and . . .”

Benson frowned. “One what?”

Silence. Adaora looked at Agu after no one said anything for several seconds. Agu and Benson were staring at each other.

“Why don't you start from the beginning, Agu?” Adaora ventured. But Benson and Agu just glared at one another.

“Um . . . Please, sir,” Adaora tried again. “Just listen to him, sir. Please. Sir?”

Silence. Adaora could practically hear the anger that flowed between Agu and Benson.

“Look,” Adaora said, desperate. “I met Agu last night. We were both walking on Bar Beach. We and one other man were in the same place when we heard the boom. It was
painfully
loud. Then . . . something . . .” She bit her lip. No, she didn't think this was a good person to tell about them being taken. “This woman came . . . from the water.”

Slowly, Benson dragged his eyes from Agu and set them on Adaora. Adaora spoke louder and faster. “She . . . she told us she was from outer space,” she said. “She can
change
. Into many things! The three of us have seen her do it twice now.

“We took her to my home. I've examined her skin cells under a microscope. Again, sir, I am a marine biologist. I have a lab in my house.” Adaora leaned forward, excited despite herself. “I've never seen anything like it. She isn't made of cellular matter. And she's not the only one. There are more of them . . . in the water. That's why the water is rising.”

Finally Agu spoke. “Sir, your uncle, the
president
, needs to take control of what's happening. I know no one knows where he is but you can reach him, can't you? It's an opportunity for Nigeria to—”

“My uncle is very ill.”

“But he is still the
president
, sir,” Agu said, trying to control himself. “He has not relinquished even one presidential responsibility, isn't that true? Absurd as the idea of aliens in Lagos, in any part of Nigeria is, it's real. It's happened. He
must
get involved.” Peripherally, Agu could see Adaora, nodding.

“So you have one contained, Private?” Benson asked.

“Yes, sir,” Agu said. “She's not violent or—”

“Is it green?”

Agu frowned. “Well, sir, she's—”

“Slimy? Does it have antennae and those big
yanfuyanfu
eyes?” Benson asked, a smirk on his face.

“They're not evil like the ones in all the movies,” Adaora added.

Benson grunted, twirling his pencil in his hand. “You know, it was just alcohol.”

“What?” Agu snapped.

“At the checkpoint last night,” Benson said. “We were all drunk and tired. And you can't tell me she didn't want it.”

Agu and Adaora looked at each other. Agu's face went dark.
Alcohol, my
nyash
,
he thought. He'd seen Benson with his own eyes smoking
igbo
last night. How stupid did this man think he was?

“I didn't come here to discuss that, sir,” Agu said evenly.

“No one could argue that she was drunk and practically spreading her legs for me,” Benson said.

Agu clasped the arms of his chair, digging his fingers deep into the upholstery. Adaora grabbed Agu's hand. He didn't notice at all. “That's it, I can't do this! I'm going to make sure all the newspapers and all your superiors know what you did!” He jumped up out of his chair. “Women don't scream, cry, and fight if they
‘want'
it!” he shouted.

Adaora smacked her forehead, exasperated. “Can't you two deal with this later?” she said to Benson. “This is an emergency! A national crisis! Call the damn president
now
! Tell him we need to see him! Tell—”

“I'll do what's necessary, miss!” Benson bellowed, standing up. He pointed at Agu. “I'll see you tried for this insubordination, Private Agu! Private Julius, Private Akunna, get in here!”

The office door swung open as two beefy soldiers burst in. Adaora flinched at the smug expressions on their faces.

“I've been waiting for this,” the taller one said. He pointed at Agu. “I will
kparoof
you.”

“I guess he didn't get enough last night,” the other one added.

Agu raised his fists, his unhurt eye bulging. He looked from one soldier to the other. “Come on then,” he said. “I will bring you both down.” He didn't want to punch anyone. He didn't want to kill anyone. But he could feel the potential in his fists. Without looking down at them, he quickly put his hands behind his back.

The two men hesitated. Then they moved forward and grabbed him.

“What the hell are you doing?” Adaora shouted, pressing away from the soldiers, her back against the wall.

They cuffed Agu. Then the short one held him, and Benson
nodded. The taller one smashed a fist into Agu's belly, causing him to cough and gag.

“STOP IT!” Adaora screamed, tears in her eyes.

They punched Agu in the belly again and then in the face, opening up the cut on his forehead. Blood dribbled into his swollen eye.

Adaora launched herself away from the wall and toward the fight when Benson grabbed her arm. She gave him a vicious look and tried to snatch it away. She considered biting him but couldn't bring herself to do it.

“Get him out of my sight,” Benson instructed his lackeys. “Put him somewhere where he can't cause trouble.” As they dragged Agu out the door, Benson followed, pulling Adaora with him. “Come on, woman. After I make an important phone call, I'd like you to introduce me to your friend.”

Adaora finally tore her arm away, freeing herself from his grip. Benson looked amused.

“You can't do this,” she said, shaking as she fought to control her outrage. “I won't cooperate!”

Benson smirked. “This is a question of national security, prof. It's not a good idea to get in the way of a military operation. People get thrown in jail for that kind of thing. And our jails are not so nice, especially for a woman like you.”

Adaora frowned, her mind racing. “What if we're
not
telling the truth? What if this isn't really an alien invasion? You'll look like a fool in front of everyone.”

Benson smiled as he took her arm again. “Agu never lies. That's his biggest problem.”

CHAPTER 16

HEADLESS STATE

The president of Nigeria had been in the same place for over fifteen hours since waking from his heart surgery, staring and staring at the news on television. He still couldn't believe his eyes. His nurse and his wife had assured him that his head was clear. They insisted that his pain medications were non-hallucinogenic. And because he could speak, though doing so was rather taxing, he knew he wasn't in hell. Not yet. For the first time in months, he forgot about his pericarditis. He was free of the nightmarish images that haunted him, the images of his heart encased in a sack of vile yellow diseased fluid.

But this was worse.

Oh Allah, what am I going to do all the way from Saudi Arabia?
he wondered. He wasn't about to call on his VP. Handing things over to Wishwell Williams, indeed! There was no way he was delegating something so serious to a power-hungry, money-grubbing Christian blockhead with such a stupid name. Who would name their child “Wishwell”? The very idea of handing over the country to a man named Wishwell Williams made him want to spit. The man's ­master's degree was in
zoology
, for Allah's sake! Williams knew more about governing lizards and birds than human beings.

“What are you going to do?” his first wife, Zena, asked. She was sitting on the edge of his bed watching the news with him. He wished she'd leave. Her cloying perfume was giving him a headache, and her clicking porcelain bangles were making too much noise. He needed
his advisors. He wouldn't have minded his second wife Hawra's presence, either. She had a better feel for policy, being a lawyer herself. The only good thing about Zena was that she preferred to speak to him in Hausa instead of English.

He shut his eyes and took a deep breath, feeling his heart skip a bit in his chest. This situation was going to kill him. He wished he were at his home in Abuja with a glass of cool Guinness, watching
Star Wars
on his high-definition wide-screen television. He loved
Star Wars
, especially the more recent installments. There was such honor in
Star Wars
. In another life, he'd have made a great Jedi knight. Being a vigilante loyal only to justice was always better than being any kind of head of state. “I don't know what I'll do,” he said in his dry voice. “We need to do proper research.”

Zena looked at him but did not speak her thoughts. His illness made her presence more important. She was his senior wife; she'd known him longest. Thus, when he had fallen sick, she was the one he wanted around to care for him. Still, sometimes the sight of him made her want to spit. He looked so thin, so frail, so impotent in his white hospital gown. His skin was a blotchy mess. His eyes were rheumy and yellow. He was nothing like the lion of a man she'd married decades ago. And he wasn't even thinking straight. How could he do “research” when he was a continent away? The slightest amount of stress made his heart do a death dance. Nevertheless, if he didn't return to Nigeria soon, there would surely be a coup d'état.

The president wanted to shut the television off. He knew more than his wife, for he'd had a phone call that he'd sent her out of the room to take. It was from his good-for-nothing nephew, Benson. Of all people, why did
he
have to be the one handling this? Benson said he believed Lagos had been invaded by extraterrestrials. He'd sent a group of soldiers and two local oceanographers to patrol Bar Beach, and those men reported that the waters were teeming with ocean life that had not been seen there in over thirty years, and some that had
never
been seen—whatever that meant. And they couldn't explain the copious amount of seaweed washing ashore, either.

Most troublesome was the report of the woman in someone's house in Lagos believed to be one of the space creatures. Benson said he'd been told that she could shape-shift and was potentially dangerous. And right now Benson was on his way to the house to either capture or kill her. Benson, his most foolish nephew.

I have to get back to Nigeria,
the president thought, rubbing his stubbly chin.

BOOK: Lagoon
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