Authors: Nnedi Okorafor
CASHEWS, PURE WATER, AND CHIN CHIN
Anthony looked out the window at the crowd of fans gathering in the narrow residential street outside the house. Most were young people, and they brought a festive air. Local hawkers had picked up the scent and were selling bottled soft drinks, bags of “pure water,” cashews, peanuts and chin chin, and packs of cigarettes. Many had probably been at last night's concert. And all of them seemed to have some kind of mobile phone in their hands. They talked, texted, took photos and footage of Adaora's house. His friend Festus said that the social networking sites were buzzing with news of the Ghanaian rapper's whereabouts and that he would give a free concert if enough people showed up. Word was traveling fast.
Behind him, Ayodele sat on the sofa. Adaora's children sat across from her, staring in fascination. Philo stood sulking on the other side of the room. She was preoccupied with looking at her silent phone.
“Your audience gathers,” Anthony said.
Ayodele smiled. “You're well liked.”
“I'm loved,” Anthony said, turning back to the window. He hoped they'd still love him after they learned that he wouldn't be giving a concert.
Impatient, Philo opened her phone, flipped it shut, then opened it again. She couldn't stand being in the same room as this woman, thing, whatever she was. Philo was positive that the woman-thing was evil, with her pleasant demeanor and long, too tightly braided hair and wicked ways.
God will punish her,
Philo thought darkly.
Moziz was trying not to speed. With all the military and police out, he knew it was best to be as inconspicuous as possible. Especially since it was still late afternoon. But he had the feeling that time was short. He turned up his musicâAnthony Dey Crazeâand let the bass shake his well-traveled tan '94 Nissan.
Troy was in the passenger seat, quieter than usual. Jacobs and Tolu were in the back, also quiet, as they smoked
. The smoke smelled especially sweet, and Moziz inhaled deeply. All of them wore black masks and were dressed in black clothes as Moziz had instructed. It was broad daylight, but Moziz didn't care about being seen as much as putting fear into everyone in that house.
“We go be rich, oooo!” Jacobs shouted over the music, feeling very
. He'd pushed thoughts of the Black Nexus out of his mind. Both Seven and Rome had been calling him all day. They could wait. Everything in his life was about to come together. He was sure of it. Once he had the money, he'd bring them in on things. He did wonder about Fisayo, who was supposed to have called him hours ago. But he was sure she was fine. And when he brought money to her, she'd be even finer.
Jacobs slapped hands with Tolu, who took a deep pull on the joint and handed it to Moziz. As Tolu spoke, he exhaled smoke: “Small time now, dem go trap all of them and we no go see chance take dem make money again. Moziz, na pot of gold your girl hand us so, o.”
Moziz took a pull on the joint and nodded. “We never begin eat cake yet. Mek we first pray say mek checkpoints no dey this road today.”
It was only Troy who was not caught up in the moment. “Nigerian police dey jump on top people motors and
like say dem American ninja dem, and like say dem be Bruce Willis for
, abi?” Troy said. “Dem dey even chop women like groundnut.” He sucked his teeth with anger and muttered, “Nonsense.”
Moziz, Jacobs, and Tolu burst out laughing, but Troy only looked out the window, a dark expression on his face. He was thinking about the phone call he'd gotten a few hours earlier from his cousin Inno, saying his sweet pretty cousin Oregbemi had been raped last night by some soldiers or police, one of whom had had the nerve to be on television last night. Making appearances so soon after trying to kill Oregbemi. He, his cousins, and friends would get all the details and handle that soon, after he did what he had to do here. Once he had some money, he could take down even the authorities.
“Listen, if we reach dere, we enter and we comot fast,” Moziz said.
They all agreed.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Anthony had his phone to his ear as he watched the festive crowd swell larger and larger outside of Adaora's house. He frowned. “Why won't either of them answer?” he muttered. He looked at his phone, pressed end, and redialed.
Ayodele was showing Kola how to use Adaora's old but reliable digital camera. Kola's brother, Fred, looked on with great interest.
“So I just press this button, then?” Kola asked, holding it with both hands and extending her index finger to the red record button.
“It's so easy!” Kola proclaimed, looking down at the screen. “Mommy never lets me touch this.” She giggled. “Wait until she sees
that I can use it better than she can.” She lowered it and fiddled with some of the buttons.
Philomena stood on the other side of the room, looking out the window anxiously. She hadn't mentioned the growing crowd to Moziz, afraid that he might not come if he knew. She no longer cared if the damn kids wanted to play with the alien. Even she sensed the urgency in the air. Something was about to change, and somehow this knowledge gave her the strength to take charge of her life. The first thing she'd do was not feel an ounce of guilt for what she was about to help happen.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Adaora was fuming. Why
did we think the man would behave rationally?
When had the Nigerian government and military done
for its people? They were all about covering their asses and stuffing their own pockets. She wanted to slap her other cheek. She'd been an idiot. She and Agu, rare patriotic Nigerians trying to do the right thing. Stupid members of the populace. Insignificant, powerless civilians. She should have known better.
She leaned her head against the car window. Lance Corporal Benson was in the passenger seat, the shiny silver SUV driven by yet another of his stupid lackeys. Poor Agu. What would they do to him? She nearly jumped when her mobile phone went off.
Benson held the phone up, looking at the caller ID. He turned around and scowled at her. “Who is Anthony Dey Craze?”
Adaora gritted her teeth. Her phone was
personal property. And when had he even snatched it from her pocket? “He is the other man who was with Agu and me when we first met the woman on the beach.”
He grunted, looking at the phone. “Sounds like that
rapper my niece listens to who is always screaming that he is crazy,” he said, putting it in his pocket. “If it is, maybe we should arrest him, too.” Both he and the soldier driving the SUV laughed.
Adaora sullenly crossed her arms over her chest and looked out
the window as they passed the tall buildings of downtown Lagos, weaving madly through the dusty traffic. Two orange-yellow
so overstuffed with people that both had passengers hanging on to the outside swerved in front of them. Adaora pushed her hands against the back of Benson's seat as they came to an abrupt stop. As they maneuvered around and passed one of the
, the solider driving the SUV leaned out the window, spat at it, and smacked its side, shouting, “Damn your mother!
Idiot! Go and die!”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Moziz parked the car on the far side of the busy street. He had to squeeze between a beat-up old Honda and a dusty Ford SUV. There were no other spaces. There had to be over two hundred people milling about. Most seemed to be around his age. They all removed their masks.
“Which kine fucking nonsense come be dis one, na?” Moziz said yet again, turning the engine off. The four of them just sat there. Philo had said nothing about a damn mob. “Jacobs, find out wetin dis people sabi.”
Jacobs nodded, got out, stood beside Moziz's open window, shoved his hands in the pockets of his baggy jeans, and looked around. Moziz frowned as he watched people. Everyone seemed excited. “Na craze be dis,” he said.
“Maybe na people wey dey come from big party from person house,” Tolu said.
Moziz rolled his eyes, annoyed. “You no dey see,” was all he said, wishing Tolu would just shut up. Tolu never saw anything until it was explained to him in full. “Mek you no waste time, o,” Moziz said to Jacobs.
“I no go waste time,” Jacobs said. He walked into the crowd.
A few minutes later, he spotted several familiar faces from back when he had been in school. He was about to approach a guy he knew from his biology class when he saw bright flashes of color a few yards away. It took him several minutes to shove his way close
enough. Then, he just stared. People were so taken aback that they gave the group enough space to wiggle through. The slow-moving procession brought music, confetti, and a great big rainbow-Âcolored sign with a giant
painted in the center. Jacobs's entire body went cold.
There were nine of them, the whole organization. Eze, Yinka, and Michelle wore matching black suits and red lipstick. They walked slowly, aware of all the attention. Royal wore red platform thigh boots, red spandex pants, and a tight pink T-shirt. He carried the boom box and was jumping about, shaking his backside for anyone who would watch. Royal would dance for his grandmother in the village, the man was so free. Okechukwu wore jeans and a white T-shirt, but he was the same, dancing to the music and even joining in with a group of laughing women at the perimeter of the crowd. Chioma and Yemi held the Black Nexus sign. Both looked like they wanted to creep right back into their closets, but they held their chins up. Seven was wearing tight jeans and an even tighter top as she smoked a cigar, ignored the leers of the men, and blew kisses at the women.
And who better to lead the group than the greatest queen of them all? Rome was decked out in a breathtaking
and matching top that fit his body as if such clothes were indeed made for men, too. He looked like a Yoruba queen. All of them were wearing headbands with alien antennae bobbing from them. All Jacobs could think as he approached them was that they were going to get themselves killed.
Jacobs raised a hand. “Rome!”
Rome caught his eye, smiled confidently, came up to Jacobs, and said, “The Black Nexus has come down to earth.”
Jacobs's mouth was hanging open. Everyone was watching, too thrown off by the sight of the student organization to react. Yet.
Jacobs was having trouble finding words. “WhatÂ .Â .Â . you guysÂ .Â .Â . didn'tÂ .Â .Â .”
“We've been calling you for hours.”
“WellÂ .Â .Â . IÂ .Â .Â .” He could feel a hundred eyes boring into him.
“Anyway,” Rome said, waving a dismissive hand, “we heard there was some commotion on this street and we assumed it had to do with what you showed us.”
Jacobs was having trouble deciding between doing what he had to do for Moziz and the others, and seeing the Black Nexus out in the open. He wanted to join them, but he didn't want Moziz, Troy, and Tolu, who knew nothing about his cross-dressing, to see. For the first time in his entire life, he was immensely proud and intensely ashamed at the same time.
“But we were wrong. These people are here because of a damn celebrity!” Rome said. He snapped into a practiced pose as some women stopped to take his picture with a mobile phone. “Enjoy it,” Rome said to them, smirking. “That's the closest you'll come to looking this good.” The women laughed and scurried away.
“Celebrity?” Jacobs asked.
“That Ghanaian rapper Anthony Dey Craze is in there.” He pointed at the house.
Jacobs blinked and frowned, trying to mask his confusion. What did a rapper have to do with aliens? “I'llÂ .Â .Â . I'll be right back,” was all he could think to say. He turned and pushed into the crowd. A few had begun to grumble about “
,” “fags,” and “bottom power.” “
Wetin dey do you?” Jacobs heard a guy ask. “Are you man or woman?” He moved faster toward the car, feeling like a deserter. The Black Nexus had to be
to come out in a place so public. Yet they were so brave to do so. They'd been hiding for such a long time. Not so much out of shame, but out of a need to stay safe. Now an alien had come to Lagos. It wasn't just the Black Nexus who were unsafe or at least vulnerable now. It was everyone. In his heart, he knew that if that alien was in the house, it was time. It was time for a change.
“Jacobs don return!” Troy exclaimed. Jacobs jogged back to the
car, a smile plastered on his face. With each step he took toward the car, the need for revolution left him like air from a leaky balloon.
Not yet, but soon,
he told himself, to stave off the guilt that replaced his hope for change. He resisted the urge to turn around when he heard people shout in surprise as something happened. He joined his other group of friends.
“Whoo!” Jacobs said, getting in the car. “You no go believe dis one, I swear.”
“Wetin?” Moziz snapped. “How people hear about her if na only Philo sabi about am?!”
“No be de winch 'tory I wan nack you,” Jacobs said, feigning excitement. “Na Anthony Dey Craze! Dem say e dey for here!”
“Eeey,” Tolu and Troy exclaimed, sitting straight up and looking out the window.
Jacobs took the moment to glance back into the crowd, but he couldn't see Rome or any of the Black Nexus. Moziz just sat there scowling, arms crossed. Things had suddenly become far more complicated. Moziz sucked his teeth. “God forbid dis kine situation, o.”
For the third time in his life, Agu was somewhere that didn't quite make sense. The first had been when he was ten years old, walking home with his fifteen-year-old brother. That evening, they stood out there on the road leading to their house, staring at the newspaper-Âwrapped bundle. Instead of going to the market, he and his brother had bought the meat a half hour before from a man selling it cheaply on the roadside. It was late in the evening and the sun had already set. They'd brought it home, given it to their mother, and secretly kept the leftover money.
Agu would never forget the moment when their mother unwrapped the meat, expecting a slab of beef or haunches of goat. An arm with a tiny, humanlike hand flopped from the package as if asking for a handout. The monkey was dead, its pink tongue lolled out, its tiny forehead smashed in, and its dried eyes wide open. Agu nearly vomited. His mother beat them both and sent them out to get rid of it.
Then there was the time when he was twenty-seven and woke up in the Sahara Desert. He'd been visiting his brother up north in Katsina and boarded a bush taxi he thought would take him home. The driver spoke terrible English, and Agu spoke terrible Hausa. Agu thought the driver said the destination was Lagos, but the driver had meant Agadez. Exhausted from a night of partying, Agu had fallen asleep as soon as the bush taxi full of people started moving. He woke up two hours later to serious desert in a part of
the world he never thought he'd see. They had stopped in a tiny town called Maradi, and the driver was refueling for the drive across the Sahara!
Now he was on a goddamn speedboat in handcuffs. If something happened and they capsized, he would sink to his death; Private Akunna and Private Julius were too stupid to realize this, or maybe they did not care. Aside from the two idiots who'd beaten the hell out of him in Benson's office, there was a worried-looking oil worker and an irritated engineer.
They were heading for an offshore oil field where, he gathered, something had gone wrong with the hose attached to the supply vessel FPSO
. The report had come that thousands of gallons of crude oil were spilling into the sea. Because of everything going on in Lagos, many oil workers, military personnel, and police were abandoning their responsibilities and fleeing the city with their families to villages and towns east and north. Those who had stayed were dealing with the flooding, traffic, and general panic of the city. There was no one except Akunna and Julius available to check out the malfunctioning hose, nor was there anyone to keep an eye on Agu. So Private Julius and Private Akunna had had to bring him along. Thankfully, the water was smooth, so the risk of Agu bouncing off the boat into it was relatively low. Still, it was not long until sunset. With all that was happening, Agu didn't want to be on the water at night.
“Are you sure we should be out here?” Agu shouted.
“Shut up!” Private Akunna snapped over his shoulder.
Fifteen minutes later, they arrived at the offshore oil rig and vessel, and Akunna cut the engine. The rig was a spidery structure made of concrete and rusty steel. Anchored firmly to the seabed by steel beams, it was a decades-old monster, a hulking, unnatural contraption of production facilities, drilling rigs, and crew quarters. Agu had circled it on boat patrols plenty of times. It was usually a place of noise and activity. Now it was deserted and quiet. The
large vessel seemed unnaturally silent, too. Agu noticed that there was no pungent stench of crude oil from the reported spill. And there was an odd sweetness.
“Where is the oil?” Akunna asked, grabbing the shoulder of one of the oil workers. “I don't see it. I don't even
“Ah-ah, we were all there,” the oil worker said, flinching away from Akunna's grasp. His name was Biko, in homage to the South African anti-apartheid activist Steve Biko. However, Biko the oil worker was not South African, he was Igbo, and in the Igbo language the word
meant “please.” He hated his father for giving him such a stupid name. It seemed all his life he was stuck begging people to listen to him. “You don't mistake spillage, o. Please, you have to believe us. Call the
. People will still be there. They will tell you!”
“He's right. We had to evacuate the place because of the boom but there
leakage here,” Rafiu the engineer said. His stomach lurched. He would never be able to dislodge the guilt he felt for abandoning the oil rig when the hose was spewing oil into the water. He'd become an engineer to
the environment. He swabbed his sweaty face with his handkerchief. “We flashed the light on the water. You could see it bubbling up. I was going toâ”
Private Akunna held up a hand. “Shh, shh!”
They all listened, bobbing on the water about a hundred meters from the oil rig.
“I think we should turn back,” Agu ventured again.
“Shut up!” all of them shouted.
“Take these cuffs off me, at least!” Agu insisted. “Where am I going to run?”
Akunna looked at Agu with disgust. Still, he reached for his pocket and Agu's heart lifted.
Private Julius's voice stilled Private Akunna's hand. “You hear that?” he whispered.
Agu felt chills crawling up his spine. Of all of them on that boat, only he recognized it. The sound of metal on glass. The noise came from the water just over the side of the boat.
“Uncuff him,” Akunna said, giving the key to Biko. Akunna went to look over the edge with Julius.
“You see that?” Julius said, pointing at something in the water. Rafiu joined them to see. As soon as Biko got the cuffs off, Agu moved closer to the center of the boat. Biko stepped to the edge with the others.
It flew right past the four of them and grazed Agu's arm before plunking into the water on the other side of the boat. Agu felt a wet sting, and looked down at his arm. It was dribbling blood from a cut three inches long near his elbow. It only took Agu a moment to realize what had happened. He threw himself down and managed to crane his neck around to see fifty more flying fish zip from the water like poison darts.
He shut his eyes and closed his ears. But he could still hear the meaty sound of fish slicing human flesh and the agonized screams of the others.
The entire speedboat shuddered, and the floor cracked beneath Agu's body. Something very big was ramming the boat. When it was hit again, the boat capsized, and they were all dumped into the waters roiling with monstrous and alien ocean life. Opening his eyes, Agu found himself trapped in the water beneath the boat. He saw a huge swordfishlike creature stabbing the boat with its spear almost playfully. Then he saw something terrible. A shark was tearing Biko's arm from his body. Then Private Agu ran out of breath, and saw no more.