|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.
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.