Authors: Nnedi Okorafor
“When you arrive, wait for me,” Benson said.
They were still on their way to Adaora's house. Benson was using her phone to speak with some of his men who were already there. Adaora's hatred for the man had reached an all-time high. “What?” he shouted into the phone. Adaora imagined his spit spattering her phone's mouthpiece. He turned in his seat and glared at her. “What did you people do?” he yelled. “Tell the whole goddamn world?”
She felt more than a pinch of pleasure at his anger. So Anthony had succeeded. “If you'd have listened to us instead ofâ”
Benson ignored her and continued to growl into the phone. “Won't be a problem,” he said. “There's only one. How hard can it be? Just be on standby. The president will be landing at Lagos Airport around six a.m.” He paused and looked at his watch. Adaora glanced at hers too. It was 5:19 p.m. “We capture it, lock it down, and transport it to Kirikiri Prison. No fuckups.” He slapped her mobile phone shut and said, with a malicious glint in his eye, “Private Agu's going to be looking at some jail time for this.”
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Ten minutes had passed, and Moziz and the others were still in the car. Without the air conditioning, the car was becoming a sauna. Moziz wanted to bang his head on the steering wheel. He had a headache, and his high was making him paranoid. Philo had texted him that indeed Anthony
in the house, but so was the goddamn
money-making alien. How were they going to kidnap the alien with all these people around? With each minute, the crowd grew bigger. He even thought he saw a group of circus performers a few yards away.
Tolu wanted to forget the plan and go scope out women, but he didn't want to cross Moziz.
Jacobs wanted his money. The Black Nexus could wait.
Troy was this close to getting out of the car, finding an
motorbike, and heading to his cousin's house. He had things to do: a cousin's honor to avenge, a military man to exterminate. His phone buzzed again with a text from his cousin's brother, ready to join the hunt for her attacker.
“Focus!” Moziz said. “
Anthony Dey Craze. Na bigger fish!”
Outside the noise of the crowd increased. “Fuck. What
?” Moziz groaned. They turned to see about thirty people coming up the other end of the road. The newcomers were all dressed in white and singing a Christian hymn. A bishop carrying a giant metal cross led the way. Moziz shut his eyes and took a deep breath. Then he opened them, and started the car.
Jacobs felt nauseated as he watched. The Christian procession was moving right toward the Black Nexus. Rome, he knew, hated Christians and often got into violent arguments with anyone who wanted a piece of him. And Seven wasn't any better. She would insult any priest, reverend, pastor, imam, rabbi who looked her way. As the Christian procession approached, members of the Black Nexus didn't even notice because they were focused on arguing with a group of husky guys. Jacobs knew he should have gone to them, supported them. Still, he didn't move, and he felt awful for it.
“We're going to go around,” Moziz said as they slowly drove out. “We'll sneak in from the back.” The bishop leading the pack looked a little crazy. Moziz noted that some of the people with him looked angry. He rolled his eyes. These kinds of people always showed up whenever the masses stopped “suffering and smiling.”
THE SEA'S COW
Agu held on for dear life to the fattest animal he'd ever seen. The manatee smelled like ocean-soaked cedar wood. Its thick wet skin was wrinkly like an elephant's, hard like the corky material of a bulletin board, and rough like sandpaper. It swam at a leisurely pace, close enough to the surface of the water that Agu was able to keep his head above it. Around and below him the clear ocean waters roiled with strange, impossible sea life. What looked like a giant, bright-red-and-white flat snake undulated by not three feet below.
“What have you done to the ocean?” Agu asked the manatee. Were the monsters attacking the oil rig and the supply vessel, too? These were Ayodele's people and earthly allies? Ayodele was not only a shape-shifter, she was a liar. She hadn't come in peace at all.
He heard the sea cow's response in his head, like a child's voice through a mobile phone.
“You will see,”
Moziz parked the car in the narrow road that ran behind the house. Philomena was there waiting at the door.
“Put your masks back on!” Moziz instructed. All but Troy piled out of the car and ran inside. Troy climbed into the driver's seat and waited for the others to come out with the alien. His mobile phone buzzed, but, for the moment, he was not thinking about the rape of his cousin.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Kola was filming Ayodele as she stood by the window watching the crowd. Holding the camera as steadily as possible, Kola adjusted the contrast, faded out the scene, then tilted the camera up so she could clean the lens with the hem of her shirt. She was having a wonderful time. She turned the camera back on to film the crowd outside, zooming in on the man in white standing before the gate with his arms spread.
“That's Father Oke,” Kola whispered. She snickered. He looked silly and really sweaty. He was surrounded by other people who were also in white. Two of them were arguing with a tall tall woman who looked like a fashion model and a woman who was dressed like a man but still looked like a woman. One of the men in white slapped the tall woman, and she responded by punching him in the face so hard that he fell into the crowd. Kola grinned and zoomed in on them. High drama, like in the Nollywood movies her mother loved so much and her father hated.
A car slowly pushed through the crowd, annoying the people around it. The car's doors opened, and five people, one well-dressed woman, and four men in suits, got out. They had pads of paper in their hands and immediately started talking to people and snapping pictures of the people fighting. “Newspaper people!” Kola exclaimed. She zoomed in on one of the male journalists, who walked up to one of the people in white who was not fighting. The journalist said something, and several people in white instantly started shouting at him until he stumbled away, shocked. “Oh, this is great!” Kola said, giggling.
Ayodele paid Kola no mind as she stood watching the crowd, a satisfied look on her face.
Anthony sat on the chair with Fred, calling and calling Adaora's and Agu's phone numbers. “Shit shit shit! What is going on? This is bullshit!” he hissed when he got no answer for what seemed like the twentieth time. He glanced at Fred. “Sorry, o,” he said, patting the boy on his head.
Fred smiled. “It is okay,” he said. “I've heard my mother and father say those words. Usually when they say it, there is a good reason.”
Anthony smiled back, patting the boy on the head. He looked up, his eyes falling on Philo. She was staring at the kitchen entrance with wide eyes. He slowly got up, his hand sliding off Fred's head and pushing the boy behind him. “What are youâ?”
The men in black burst in from the kitchen.
“A beg, mek everybody relax,” Philo said in a high-pitched voice, moving aside to let Moziz and the others forward.
“We no wan injure person!” Moziz and Troy were wielding guns. Philo pointed to Ayodele. “Na she!”
“Everybody lie down, now!” Moziz shouted, aiming at Ayodele.
Ayodele stared blankly at him and didn't move. But Kola and Fred dropped to the floor as if their lives depended on it. Anthony
held his hands up and asked as calmly as he could, “What is this?”
“Lie down!” Moziz commanded.
“Eii! Na Anthony Dey Craze, o!” Tolu exclaimed, lowering his gun and grinning.
Distracted, Moziz blinked and looked at Anthony again. “Shit,” he said, lowering his gun.
“I get all your album!” Tolu exclaimed.
Moziz smacked Tolu upside the head. “Ee remain mek you kukuma ask am for him autograph!” He looked at Anthony. “Sorry, Anthony. But you sef, you need to lie down for floor, too. We no mean any harm. We just want dat woman.” He pointed at Ayodele, who still hadn't moved.
“Please,” Moziz said to her. “Mek you just follow us quietly.”
“What do you want with me?” Ayodele asked. She cocked her head and switched to Pidgin English. “Wetin una want with me?”
“We go talk dat one when we comot outside. Justâ”
“I no dey go anywhere with una,” she snapped.
Moziz looked at Tolu and Jacobs, then gave a small nod. All three of them lunged at her. Then they immediately froze. To Moziz it sounded like the house was full of those noisy bugs in the trees, all screeching in terrible harmony. He clapped his hands over his ears, dropping his gun. His mouth hung open and his hearing was muffled as, right before his goddamn eyes, sheÂ .Â .Â . sheÂ .Â .Â . melted? Melted! Imploded? Disintegrated? Right before his eyes. Evaporated into something small on the floor. A greenÂ .Â .Â . He squinted. A green lizard.
Tolu stood there, gun in hand, ears uncovered, and shrieked like a little girl.
“You see dat?!” Jacobs shouted. He'd pulled off his mask, and his face was wet with sweat.
“Catch am!” Moziz shouted.
Chaos ensued as all three went after the lizard. Moziz's mind was blank, his world shrinking down to focus on the impossible
thing before him, the lizard-that-was-once-a-woman. Retrieve her and get out. First she had been a woman. Now she was a lizard; he would catch the lizard.
Philomena just stood there watching Moziz scrambling around, chasing a lizard. Like a child. His legs looked so short and skinny, and she realized how stocky he was, how graceless, how he had a bit of a gut that bounced when he ran. She sighed, her shoulders slouching and her stomach dropping. Moziz was just another young area boy.
They knocked over vases and threw aside the coffee table. They stepped on pillows and cushions. And they cursed the entire time. Anthony grabbed the children's hands and ran to the front door. He threw it open only to be met with the excited cheers of his fans.
Kola screeched and Fred crouched at her feet. Anthony shoved the children behind him. “Stay low,” he said, frantically looking for the gunman. Near the sofa, Tolu was shooting at the scampering lizard.
No shoot am! We want am alive!” Moziz shouted.
Tolu's eyes were wild. “Na evil she be, o!” he babbled, waving the gun wildly as he tried to follow the lizard's path with the barrel. “We suppose kill am!
Kill am!” He pulled the trigger again.
“What are you doing?!” Jacobs shouted. “Stop it!”
Anthony, Kola, and Fred were still trying to figure out which way was safest to flee when the lizard ran out the door between Anthony's legs.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
The first thing Adaora thought as she got out of Benson's car was that the street outside her house had turned into a carnival. The very air smelled deliciously festive. There were vendors selling suya, fried plantain, boiled eggs, Fanta, beer. One woman had even set up
right across the street from her house. She was selling fufu and what looked like egusi soup, jollof rice, and other hot food items. And she was making a killing, from the looks of it. She had no less than ten people waiting to be served.
There were young people milling about, laughing, conversing, smoking, drinking. Two clean-shaven men wearing white native clothes and matching caps stood side by side in the middle of the street, frowning in disgust. “We should return to the mosque,” one said. The other nodded, but neither of them moved.
Most everyone in the crowd kept one eye on her house. “Anthony DEY CRAAAZE! Anthony DEY CRAAAZE!” some people chanted, then they started laughing. But, despite the festive atmosphere, not all was well. On the far side of the gate was a colorful group of people who seemed to be in distress. A tall woman had a bloody nose. Had there been a fight? Adaora squinted. Some from the group were nervously holding up rainbow-colored signs with a large spinning black sphere drawn in the center. She remembered similar flags when she'd visited San Francisco, California, once. A gay pride group? In Lagos? There were women in suits, and a man standing beside them was wearing a pink shirt andÂ .Â .Â . leather thigh boots?
Well, that's both bold and stupid,
Adaora thought, frowning. They were going to get their asses kicked, or worse. She considered asking Benson to send some of his people to help them, but then realized that was an equally stupid idea. Better
to alert the military.
Father Oke and his parishioners were monopolizing the area directly in front of her house. They were singing, praying, swaying, and clapping. Some were jeering at the group carrying the gay pride signs. More were pleading for “Ayodele the Extraterrestrial” to come out so that they could embrace her and welcome her into their church. But Adaora could have sworn she also heard a few of them calling for “the abomination” to “show its heathen face.” A bad sign.
Also a bad sign were the ten army trucks and cars parked nearby. And the soldiers walking toward Benson carrying AK-47s. Benson motioned for them to wait. He clutched Adaora's arm. “Walk,” he said, dragging her toward her house.
“You don't have to be so rough,” she snapped.
They were yards from the fence when the entire crowd suddenly sprang to life and started surging toward the gate.
“Anthony Dey Craaaaaaze! Anthony Dey Craaaaaaze!” people shouted.
“Hang on to me!” Benson yelled, pulling her toward the wrought-iron fence but away from the house's front door. Thankfully, the gate was still closed or the front yard would have been overrun. They made it out of the crunch, yet still had a good view of her yard. They watched as a tall, lanky, dark-skinned man, a little girl with braids, and a small boy in pajamas stepped out of the house. Anthony, Kola, and Fred. Kola was carrying Adaora's camera, filming the chaos in spite of the danger. Anthony kept anxiously glancing behind him into the house.
“Fred! Kola!” Adaora shouted, trying to rush forward, but Benson kept hold of her arm.
“Those are my
,” Adaora yelled at him.
“Get us the creature and then you can get your children.”
“We love you, Anthony!” a woman yelled.
“Let me go to them!” Adaora snapped, trying to tug away from him. “I've brought you here, haven't I?”
here,” he said. But he let go of her arm. “I have soldiers surrounding this place. Don't try to run; they all know what you look like.”
Adaora took a step toward the gate when somebody grabbed her arm yet again. She turned, prepared to dig her nails into Benson's hand if she had to. It wasn't Benson.
His eyes were wild, staring. She noted that he wasn't wearing
white. He was wearing the same jeans and dress shirt he'd been wearing yesterday when he'd slapped her. “Fred and Kola are in danger! Let me go!”
“I've been following you,” he snarled. “Who is
man? Another of your boyfriends? How many of them do you have?”
Adaora glanced toward Fred and Kola. “Don't you see the children inâ Let
of me!” She threw a look at Benson, pleading for help. He smirked at her before moving to intercept Chris.
“Excuse me, sir, I need your wife to come with me,” Benson told her husband. “This is important business.
Benson might as well have not spoken. “Nothing but a whoring witch!” her husband spat at her. “I saw you with him in the car, that other manÂ .Â .Â .”
As Adaora braced herself for another slap across the face, she heard the sound of metal balls on glass coming from inside her front yard. Even from afar, the sound made her want to vomit. A few people around her actually did turn to the side and vomit. At the same time, Adaora felt relief. She knew exactly what was happening. The way things were going at the moment,
had to give. Something had to
. And something was about to.
“Ayodele,” she whispered. “Thank God.”
All around, people began to scream and press their hands to their ears as they stared into Adaora's yard. There were the clicking sounds of guns being raised and aimed. But all Adaora saw was the creased, starved, unshaven, raging face of her husband as he swung her by the arm and slammed her against the fence.
*Â Â Â *Â Â Â *Â Â Â *
Moziz looked out the open door at the surging crowd. “We need comot for here,
!” he shouted. “Now!” At his words, Ayodele the lizard became Ayodele the woman. Tolu whimpered, still clutching his gun, and backed into the house. They all followed, including Philo, fleeing into the house and out the back door to Troy, who waited in Moziz's car.
“Where she dey?” Troy asked as they threw themselves into the Nissan.
“Drive!” Moziz shouted. They peeled out exactly one minute before soldiers and police flooded into the narrow road behind Adaora's house like water flooding a beach.