Saturday, August 23, 2014

Untitled (discarded work)

1972 Soviet Union 16 kopeks stamp. Mars 3 lander.
1972 Soviet Union 16 kopeks stamp. Mars 3 lander. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


11: 15 am, June 1 2089, Abuja, Capital city of the Union of West African States

Very little has changed in the spaceport. Not that I was expecting much to have changed in the time that I had been away from home, but I had not expected things to remain the same. Near the exit doors, just beyond where the customs desk ended, the touts, not so camouflaged by well-sown but low quality Aba-copy business suits, still lurked, hungry eyes searching for the next victim.

Behind them, closer to the exit doors, loitered taxi drivers, pick pockets, potters, and an assortment of humanity who make a living from transit ports of any kind.

I felt the touts edging closer from the corner of my eyes and marvelled at how much space they covered while appearing not to move at all.

A lifted palm was all I needed to ward off those that my stern mask did not discourage. Outside the port the same approach served to scoot away the throng of taxi drivers and potters, who wanted me to believe that my simple shoulder strapped hand luggage was an encumbrance I needed to be rid of.

As I walked towards the extended storage area to retrieve my car, I felt the need to look back at the shuttle that had carried me back to earth. I didn’t look. I knew what I would see: a needle shaped, rust coloured bulk that lacked the majesty of the real space going ship. The rocket functions merely as an escape vehicle, one that takes you from earth to orbit, where you would switch to a space going ship.

I recalled my first trip up and the excitement of a nation sending men and women to the red planet for the first time. We all got medals and a lavish reception at the state house. So much have changed since then, with the privatisation of space exploration and the formation of the West African Union, shuttles leave for space almost every fortnight, making what was a novelty a mundane affair that people only took a cursory note of.

So there I was, James Maduka, planetologist, Mars explorer, just back from a four-year stint in Mars and the only official delegation at the port was a medical team that had met us at the ramp of the shuttle, to ensure we weren’t bringing home any harmful pathogen.

Thirty minutes later I was speeding down the expressway that linked the spaceport to the outer suburbs of Abuja, head homewards.

Home, away from space’s star spangled immensity, was a modest dig in the Apo suburbs of Abuja. An eco-house built from discarded shipping crates and containers. A self-sustaining energy efficient bolt hole that I usually loath to leave and dream about when I was away for an extended period of time.

Home was the place Pelumi lived.

Pelumi!

The thought of her sent shivers down my spine. I grabbed the steering wheel tighter as her dark face loomed in front of me, sensual lips beaming with evil intent as the heavy lashes of her left eye closed in a wink that told of what’s to come.

It was an image I had carried in my head for four years, one I had gleaned as I boarded the shuttle. Why that one image had stuck baffled me. Maybe it was because it had conveyed longing and a promise. I promise I can’t hope to get now.

I slowed down as I turned into the gated avenue that led to my house. My heart lurched as I spied the house on the hilly perch it shared with four other houses. It was almost noon and the sun gifted the walls, encrusted as they were with squares of dark solar panels, a reddish hue that no paint could ever hope to imitate.

I continued down the avenue of identical prefabricated housing units and then up the hill at end, driving as slow as I possibly could, yearning for what waited for me on top of the hill, but dreading the meeting I had called.

Two unmarked two-passenger aircars, folded wings giving them the appearance of birds at rest, were parked next to each other in the driveway, blocking the entrance to my garage. The relatives are already here; I thought as I parked at the beginning of the long driveway and walked the rest of the way to the house.  Deciding not to use the front door, I went to the back of the house.

Near the back door, two humanoid service robots were seeding a flower bed. They looked up as I passed but did not offer any greetings. Whatever happened to Crouch the four-legged garden robot? I looked past the robots to the where the walls of the house met the hardened plastic door. Antirust was flacking off on of the side of the wall and I made a mental note to get a contractor over to look at it. The finger scan at the back door took a little longer than usual, long enough to for me to start pondering if Pelumi had programmed the house computer the deny me entrance. For the umpteenth time I wondered if it was wise to call for a family meeting and come all the way without first informing her of my intentions.

Just when I was about the pull my hand away from the pad, the house computer intoned its welcome and the doors swung open, the loud creaks from dry rollers reminding me how much work I would have to put in to get the house back to the shape it was before I travelled. Robots, I mused as I stepped through the doorway into the kitchen, as efficient as they are, some things still need that human touch.

The kitchen, still lacking the automated food processors that served pounded yam and egusi at the touch of a button, smelled of humanmade food and I found myself luxuriating in it. Pelumi always said that passable cooking can be gotten from menus and timings, but great cooking comes from experience, and the inconsistency of the human touch. Just so, I thought, as I inhaled the aroma wafting out of a pot I could see bubbling on an electric stove in the far end of the kitchen.

I was bent over the table stuffing chin-chin that I had pulled from the fridge into my face when the door leading from the sitting room slide open and I looked up to see my wife glide into the kitchen.

She always glided, my Pelumi. I remember when we first met and I got her to step on an ant to prove my theory that most insets would survive being trod on by her.

She saw me as she was turning to the sink to deposit the tray of plates she was carrying and froze.

‘Surprise,’ I said, feeling as stupid as my words sounded to me.

Pelumi was one of those people who wear their feeling like a mask. I sought her eyes and found resentment where warmth used to live.

Without a word, she turned away from me and went back through the door.
I stood there, pondering how to explain to her that though I fathered a son after I married her, I didn’t cheat on her like she believed.


Above the house I could hear the whirl of a helocraft. Uncle Elias is here, I thought, now the meeting can start. It was my last hope.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Virulent Part 5 (The end is only the beginning)



I walked to the communication hub and as I dialled Chike’s call code on their high-end video phone, I could feel Bisi’s hostile eyes burning holes in my back. At least she is not crying anymore, I thought.

Chike’s face came into view on the large view screen; he seemed relieved to see me. “what is going on?” I asked.

“Mr. Dotun. Thank God. I can’t talk much. Thinks are getting crazy out here. Things are worse than I thought. But tell me, the rats, did you notice any strange thing as you buried them?” Chike was tense, he kept looking over his shoulders, even though he appeared to be in a sort of enclosed lab.
“Yes,” I said, somehow knowing what he would say next.

“That means the plague has already reached the mainland and will soon climb up the food chain. You have to leave Eko now. Please take my wife with you; force her if you have to.”

I was about to inquire further when the screen went blank, but not before I saw the door behind Chike burst open and two burly soldier types enter the room.
***


We left Eko the next morning, way ahead of the mass exodus and death that turned that beautiful city-state into hell-on-earth, but not fast enough. By the time we made it to Benin four hours later, the quarantine was fully in place in Eko. We hoped to cross Benin and make it to Enugu where Chike’s brother promised safety in the form of a close-knit clan of hill dwellers, but a hastily set up quarantine zone for people coming in from Eko negated our plans.

All through the drive, we had kept abreast with developments. Though the truth was still scanty and bitterly guarded by the Eko government, Chike had managed to get the story out and the net links were abuzz.
I worried for a while, when we could not get clearance to travel further into Chike’s ancestral home where we felt we might find safety.

In the quarantine camp, which grew by the minute as more refugees flowed in, we waited two weeks for the second round of test results to either clear us, or sign our death warrants. My wife and Bisi, more like sisters now, comforted each other, they both lost family in Eko. Then Bisi died, not from the scourge, no, I think of heartbreak. Of Chike, we heard little. Some say he they placed him in a government facility safe from the plague; others said he tried to help the afflicted and contacted the late stage of the infection.

Because we left when we did, we managed to cross Ogun before the militia blocked all exits. From there, only horror tales escaped.
***

‘Sir...sir,’ an urgent voice intruded on my thoughts, drawing me back to the present.

I look up to see a Guardsman looming over me, blocking the rainbow hue from the cathedral windows.

‘What?’ I ask, grateful for the intrusion but wondering what he wanted. The Guardmen were notorious with how harshly they’ve been treating people since emergency law came into effect last week. Adunni says it is the tension, they are human after all.

‘Please head to the meeting tent, the result for the tests are out,’ he say, turning to walk away.

‘Wait,’ I call out, stopping him in mid stride, ‘What happens now?’

The Guardsman looks at me as if he was pondering how much to tell me, then he just shrugs and continues on his way.


I stand up from the plastic chair, take one last look at the Cathedral, and enter the tent to fetch my family. 


Friday, August 15, 2014

10 Nigerians climb Mount Kilimanjaro for Down Syndrome

English: January 15, 1938. Mt. Kilimanjaro: Th...
English: January 15, 1938. Mt. Kilimanjaro: The snow-capped summit containing the nearly perfect crater is flanked by deep furrows of lava flow and glacial erosion. C. 20000 feet. C. 07:00. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Six Nigerian professionals are embarking on a 6-day hike to the peak of Mt Kilimanjaro, Africa’s tallest mountain. This is happening as part of a fundraising drive for the Lagos based Down Syndrome Foundation.  The Charity climb tagged Climb for Down syndrome, the brain child of Inspired by Charity, a social enterprise, is scheduled to take place 16th-23rd August, 2014 in Tanzania.

The hiking party hopes to use the climb to raise awareness about Down syndrome and help to raise 10,000,000 naira for the Down Syndrome Foundation (DSF). DSF is a renowned charity that works to provide leadership, support and advocacy in all areas of concern as it relates to persons with Down syndrome in Nigeria.

Mount Kilimanjaro, the highest freestanding Mountain at 5,895m high, attracts over 40,000 people every year who seek to climb the mountain. Of the seven summits, it is the easiest to climb, requiring no ropes, or special mountaineering gears or previous climbing experience.

The Climb for Down Syndrome Party will be climbing through the Machame route, one of the seven routes to Uhuru summit. The choice of the route according to Dotun Eyinade, the convener is to ensure that everyone acclimatizes quickly and to increase the chances of success. “Climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro remains a physical and mental challenge and for many of us it will be one of the most physically exacting things we would do in our youth” he added.  Inspired by Charity views the experience as more than an adventure but a purposeful intervention in  support of the Down Syndrome Foundation, as it executes its charitable mandate in providing critical succor to a vulnerable community. Eyinade, a Fellow with Acumen Fund said the team would leverage the media, especially new media platforms to raise awareness about Down syndrome and the Foundation. As socially minded professionals, we consider the hike a transformational experience, one which requires courage, grit and determination; we are excited about the prospect of using the hike to fundraise for Down syndrome foundation and help to place down syndrome on the front burners of public discourse again.

The professionals are drawn from the KPMG, Seven Energy, Generation Enterprise, Acumen Fund amongst others. Accordingly, Climb for Down Syndrome has received the endorsement of the Down Syndrome Foundation.This is a worthy and unique concept which I believe must be the first of its kind in our country. We would love to thank the team for believing in our cause and finding our Foundation worthy to benefit from this unique event,” said Mrs Rose Mordi, President, Down Syndrome Foundation.

Donations in support of the Climb can be made directly to the bank accounts of the Down Syndrome Foundation as well as on www.234give.com, a crowdfunding platform.


The climb is supported by Premium Times, The cable news, Development Diaries and the One Life initiative

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Virulent part 4 (pandemic)


“What do you mean they’d not apply the poison?” My wife asked for maybe the umpteenth time.

“Just that, Adunni. Chike asked me what poison we used and where we bought them. Why would he ask that question if they applied it?” I said, knowing that she was not exactly hot, but was warming up as her paranoia kicked in.

“Daddy twins, I can’t believe how easy you agree to his lies. He’s just trying to divert attention, especially since they left the cleaning to us?”

“No. He sounded very sincere to me.”

“He would, Dotun Akintoye, he would. You can so be gullible it hurts. Who would’ve spread the poison? Who else lives in this house with us? We didn’t apply it, so it must be them. I intend to speak to that condescending woman and her husband o. I don’t care if her father owns this house.”

“Calm down, Adunni,” I said, for she was already shouting, not caring if anyone was listening. “It could have come from any of the houses nearby. You know rats socialise a lot. One visit to a poisoned meat and the scourge spreads through the four legged kingdom.”

My intention was to diffuse the tension with some light humour. Her sour look at me told me humour would not work. I persisted, no humour though. My reward was the sight of her beautiful smile replacing her scowl. However, it would be much later that I found out my summary of the situation was right.
***

Life went back to normal, kind of, Adunni still refused to be on friendly terms with neighbours. We never saw another rat again, not inside the house, not within the compound. We felt that a good omen. We never talked much about the issue with the poison as my hypothesis of the poison’s source carried even with my cynical wife. Perhaps the neighbours had overheard my argument with Adunni about their culpability, because Chike never mentioned the issue to me again. Perhaps this was because there were no rats left to kill? Whatever the reason, I never asked.

We would have gone on living our lives, happy that the brief pauses and quick darts of the rats across the living room and those irksome scratches they inflict as they make their way across a sleeping body were now stories to be told with relief. We—I to be precise—maintained a somewhat cordial relationship with our neighbour, trading polite greetings and swallowing the anger of having to mow the lawn and care for the compound alone.


Things did not remain normal for too long. No, the rats did not come back, they never did. It was something worse that came.
***

It was late afternoon when I returned from picking the kids from school. Adunni’s car was in the car park but the silence of the house, despite the scent of fresh disinfectant, baffled me. The kids’ shriek of “mummy we’re home” went unanswered. I walked into the bedroom, checked the bathroom, the guest room, and kitchen too. Adunni was not in the house. A quick check at the backyard showed she had been weeding her vegetable patch. The old-style hoe she was very fond of was lying between the ridges she had made me dig for her beloved plants, beside the hoe where uprooted weeds with clumps of earth still attached.

I went back into the house, ignored the twins “where’s mummy” and stepped to the front yard. I was crossing the spiral stairs that led to the second floor when a faint whimper reached my ears. I paused, cups my hands to my ears. Sure enough, the sound came again, accompanied this time with soft whispers. I looked up. The window to the Nwaogu’s living room were open, the sounds came from there.

My legs where rubbery when I began walking up the stairs, and they got more so by the time I was turning the door handle to get into the room.

I opened the door and thrust my head in, the sight before me was enough to stop me in my tracks, and it did.
 Mrs. Bisi Nwaogu, Chike’s ajebuttter wife and my Adunni were in each other’s arms on the single settee in the Nwaogu’s sitting room.

I heard a noise behind me and turned to see the twins coming up the stairs. I pushed the door all the way open and stepped into the room, the twins came in behind me. I stood in the room, numb, saying nothing, staring at my wife and Chike’s wife.

 The twins stood beside me, silent, hanging to my hands as if staking territory, watching the scene.
“what’s going on here?” I asked.

The women, who until then were oblivious of my presence, turned to look at me.

No, not my Adunni, I know her well enough. There must be a reasonable explanation for what I am seeing, I thought.

I noticed tears on Bisi’s cheeks. Adunni was dry eyed, but I knew her enough to know that what I saw in her eyes was sorrow, tinged with something akin to fear.

“What is going on here?” I asked again.

Adunni did not pull away from the woman’s embrace. She opened her arms wide, beckoning on us to come to them. I held the Twins back, stood my ground, my eyebrows quirking, askance.

“Darling, did you not get my message?” Adunni asked.

Darling?  Could she be so brazen? She only calls me darling in the bedroom, the only place she lets go of that stern exterior of hers and lets me be boss. Yes, that is fear in her eyes.

“I did not, the twins were singing all through the drive back.” I said, throwing darts at her with my eyes, at least I thought I was.

Beside her, Mrs. Nwaogu went from gentile sobs to open wailing.

Adunni looked at her for a moment and shook her head sadly. I flexed my fingers, my hands felt limp. The bewildered twins squirmed out of my grasp and ran to their mother.

What the hell is going on?

 “Eko Atlantic City is under quarantine, Chike is there,” Adunni’s voice was flat and devoid of emotion, as if she announcing yet another curfew for the twins.

“Quarantine, what quarantine?” I asked, wondering what game they were playing at.

Adunni did not answer; she instead managed to free one hand from a twin and pointed. I followed her finger to the left and saw a hologram that filled one part of the sitting room.

All my attention, when we walked in, had been on the women on the couch. I had not even noticed the hologram.

In the projected image, men in protective gear were leading several sickly looking people into tents, others, too weak to walk, or perhaps dead, lay limp on stretchers. However, that was not what struck me. I stood there, stunned, trying, but failing to deny the suggestion that came to mind. The sick people all had bluish secretion coming out of their noses.

Captivated by what I was seeing, I moved closer. “How are you getting this?” I asked, noticing that the screen was without a media logo, so it could not be coming from a mainstream news outlet.

“Chike planted a spy camera yesterday. He suspected that something is going on and wanted to get first hand information. He says an epidemic is upon us. I told him not to go, I told him not to go.” Mrs Nwaogu said through her sobs.

“How come this is not on the news then?” I asked no one in particular.

“Chike’s camera’s streams to Bisi’s allincom, those are real-time images from his camera. I’ve tried reaching my colleagues in Eko Atlantic but the connection’s busy,” Adunni said, finally coming to stand beside me. The ever-perceptive twins stayed with the sobbing Mrs. Nwaogu.


To be continued...

Monday, August 11, 2014

Virulent Part 3 (car envy)


Never in all my years of rat baiting, poisoning and outright stumping, had I seen such secretions on dead rats.

“Don’t know,” Adunni turned to look at me, a worried look on her face, “Think this must be a reaction to the poison they ate, though I’ve never seen or heard of any substance that could cause this.”

“Neither have I,” I said, but I was sure I felt a twinge of recognition somewhere at the back of my mind. Not being much of the analytic thinker my wife and children are, I did not dwell on it.

I do not recall who suggested we check the rats already collected in the plastic bucket inside, but I recall it was my wife who suggested sending the twins back indoors, away from the excitement, but not before they had thoroughly scrubbed their hands with soap and rinsed it with water.

“Know what,” Adunni said to me as she closed the door behind the protesting twins she had just scolded thoroughly for acting naughty and not shutting up and doing what they were told, “What pains me is not that someone killed off these damn pests, but that that person is calmly watching behind a curtain while I clean the smelly mess.”

I did not respond, not that she expected me to. I know enough about the neighbours to know that the wife was not one to get her manicured nails dirty carrying garbage or smelly rats. Although the petite woman had not been wearing a surgical mask when I spied her earlier, I had expected to find if cupping her face. Without doubt, the stench would have reached their floor—it was that strong. Anyway, my wife insisted she was responsible for the bunch of dead rats thrown from the top floor towards the general direction of the bins. The husband would not be callous enough to not bring the rats down to the garbage, she said.

The husband, a jolly fellow with a taste for flashy cars, was a cyber journalist. Though I worked for myself as a building contractor, I made it a point of duty to leave home at the same time with the blue collars. As such, we ran into each other now and then as we readied our cars for the day. We do not talk about much–sports, a little bit of politics, how exorbitant car parts were getting, and of course, the newest 4X4s.

Anyway, it was on one of those mornings a few days after we had buried the last of the rats that I ran into the neighbour. Like me, he was on his way to work and had left the spiral staircase leading to their flat a few moments after I walked by. I turned at the sound of footsteps behind me to behold his sheepish grin. Why does that guy always appear to be laughing at something?

“Good morning Mr. Dotun,” he said with more enthusiasm than I had ever noticed in him.

“Good morning, Chike,” I responded, not willing to endure his habitual frown at any use of the officious ‘Mr.’ for him.

“Well,” that annoying smile crossed his face again, “we haven’t had the time to thank you for what you did with the rats.”

Despite myself, I felt a touch of anger. Not only was the guy trying to apologise for letting us clean up their mess, he even had the audacity to tell me “we haven’t had the time to thank you.” I bite down my anger and turned to him (yes, I had looked away to hide any tell tale sign).

“No problem Chike, the rats constituted a serious nuisance to us too, it was no bother.” I managed to say this with more civility than I had hoped possible in the circumstance. Anger and its attendant violence are so tedious. So, while the grimy job of finding and burying all the dead vermin was a lot of bother, I did not say so, couldn’t say so. I tend to leave all the heavy lifting to my wife. I am used to it.

We walked together to our cars. Mine was closer. I stood by and watched as the door of his opened on auto as the installed AI responded to his sub-vocalised command. I know I shouldn’t feel envy, but I couldn’t help myself when the cool smell of real leather hit me. Chike’s car was brand new, equipped with auto-nav and full body protective cocoon. It was the type of car the guys in my club were all salivating over. I looked away. I thumbed my remote, and my ever-reliable Tokunbo’s door slide open, silent as a night hunter, a conventional door, unlike Chike’s eagle wing affair. Yes, we did not have the “in vogue” feel of Chike’s Benz, but we are not far off—even if the look was of a third model Toyota Catcher, from five years back. Chai, it is not easy to not envy, not when the thing in question was parked opposite the disused storeroom I call my home office.

I was trying my best not to look back at Chike and his very becoming car interior when his voice forced me to turn again to behold that wonder on wheels, with its wing doors, now extended to their full height, appearing to kiss the skies. “By the way Mr. Dotun,” he began, eager like, “what kind of poison did you guys use? My wife and I had wondered for long whether it is a new variety. It sure doesn’t work like those stocked by rat-keller hawkers.”

I cannot exactly remember what I mumbled to Chike, whatever it was, it must have been satisfying for I recall stepping aside for him to edge past and with a cheerful wave of his hands, drive out of the auto-gate.

They did not apply the poison?

To be continued...

New to Virulent? Catch read the previous chapters via the links below.