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Death is Not an Ornament

Published onOct 26, 2023
Death is Not an Ornament

The alternative to victory is extinction.

— Ken Saro-Wiwa, 1993

May 14, 2038. 2:13 pm. Today

When they came for Enara, they didn’t knock. She did, after all, keep her doors wide open for any member of the community to come to her with their concerns. At first she assumed the two weren’t from any of the towns bordering the Brass River. But then there was something familiar about their open expressions, their faces, that made her think they might have crossed paths before, in the market maybe, some function or other. The urgency in their manner made her swallow her irritation at the interruption.

“Good day, ma.” The woman was attractive, although she wore no makeup or jewelry. Her next words revealed why. “We were holding our group fasting and prayer near the site and saw something suspicious.”

Ah, a religious fellowship or ministry, then. Enara was going to ask for the group’s name but decided that was secondary. “I’m not in charge of the site. Youngman or—”

“We split up to call everyone involved in the project.”

How could they know everyone involved in the project when this was the first time she was seeing them? Her colleagues had been trying to engage the religious members in the villages to be as concerned with “earthly” pursuits as they were with the heavenly. Maybe these two were new volunteers?

“Alright. Let me—”

“It’s an emergency, ma. Please. It seems to be under attack.”

“What?!”

She would feel forever guilty if her dawdling resulted in some sort of disaster, so she hurried, her mind going in a dozen directions—who, how, what now? All of her questions for these two uninvited guests came up against the most frustrating ignorance or confusion, so she eventually fell silent. She would find out soon enough.

When they led Enara to their unmarked van, she wondered: why no garish colours proclaiming the name of their church? Had it been hired? The woman hopped into the passenger seat while her partner opened the back for Enara. She climbed in, surprised to find two young men who looked like they oiled their muscles every morning, youth who said nothing to her—no greeting, no acknowledgment, nothing. Enara curled her lip at the rudeness of this generation, and in the next moment puzzled over why their brawn hadn’t been employed to fight off the threat at the site, or alert the closest security personnel. She stretched her neck as the van took an alternative route, turning into a back road.

She frowned. “I thought this road hadn’t been completed?” Obviously, as not too long after she spoke, they passed an excavator and a cement truck parked by the side. One of the young men grunted in response. Oh, it kind of speaks, she thought. Only now did Enara register that there was a dividing glass between the back and the front so she couldn’t ask the woman, who seemed to be the only one who could actually think, any questions. And then she felt a prickle of foreboding as the inside of the vehicle began getting dimmer. She glanced towards the window and her insides dropped as she saw an opaque panel sliding silently over it.

Enara whipped her head back around. “What in the hell is going on?” Her voice wavered embarrassingly on the last word as darkness enclosed them. Nothing. No answer, just the van negotiating the bumps on the graded road. And then it stopped. She reached out blindly to her right for the door, fingers scrabbling over the side. The only warning she got was a slight whoosh, and then something connected with her face. With a cry she fell against the door. Before she fell unconscious, her last scrambled thought was whether they usually recruited converts by force.

The lady stayed in the van while the driver, another young man, jumped down. He’d been specially commissioned by The Man for this purpose—he recalled with a pleasant shiver the moment the anointing oil had been smeared on his forehead—and the thought injected vim into his movements. When he pulled open the door of the van, his brows jerked upwards as the inert body of their mark rolled out onto the muddy ground. Two more men, fellow brethren, scrambled out to carry the doctor’s body while avoiding his eyes. Youth, he thought disparagingly, demarcating himself from them: he was young in years but had been born with an old soul. He went to the back to retrieve the burlap sack and ropes and threw them at the boys, careful not to soil the suit he wore as a nod to his mentor. A black fedora completed his svelte look, but a keen observer might have identified the madness of fanaticism that struggled for supremacy with the intelligence in his eyes.

Rolling his shoulders, he reflected that this wouldn’t take too long; the next phase of their plan would fall into place easily. A few feet away was a makeshift shelter where the other Ambassadors of Yahweh would assemble in preparation for the actual attack, which would take place at nightfall. The others didn’t know about the female environmentalist, but she would be history by the time they started their business. He savoured the words The Man had spoken to them before they set off: The gates of hell will not prevail against you.

April 23, 2038. Several weeks earlier

The sequins and stones on the lace blouse, and the heavy wrappers the bride wore, caught the sunlight and threw it back in a dozen sparkling directions. Sitting atop the bride’s head was an expensive gele twisted into an elegant style, and on her neck, ears, and wrists the orange of authentic coral beads. She stood proud, tall, magnificent, face hewn from a rock. No blushing bride, this. She was the goddess to whom the guests had come to pay homage, and she would demand her due. One would think she would rather be anywhere but here, as many tried to catch her eye and failed. The groom, in a starched etibo and a gilt-threaded wrapper matching that of his wife, mopped sweat from his forehead as he and his family feted her with sweet words and money, money, and yet more money.

Enara watched the proceedings with a fixed half-smile. Minutes before, the items brought by the groom had been inspected by the bride’s family, checking against the list they had given him months before. The dowry had been paid, and what remained was the song and dance. If Enara had attended one of these traditional wedding or burial ceremonies, she must have attended a hundred. Sometimes she was exhausted or disinterested and the last thing she felt up to was socializing, but she did her best to show up. And inevitably, by the time she left, she would be thankful she had made the effort. The air of celebration and goodwill and community was always uplifting. Relationships had been forged here.

Here was Mama Believe, the tailor, who often caused Enara anxiety with deadlines. There was Mr. Perebeau, who taught chemistry at the school in the next town. And over there was Kaka Embilakpo, who used to be a farmer but had gone into petty trading to make ends meet, partly because of her age and partly due to the increasingly depleted soils, ravaged by oil spills. And she could name a dozen more. These people had been dealt heavy blows, both personally and as a community, yet they still identified with their own, in their flashiest wrappers and blouses, dancing and celebrating with one heart. That was the spirit Enara and her colleagues fought to harness and redirect as they met with them often, requesting their input and opinions.

Her colleague Youngman would have been here, but he was attending yet another wedding—his sister’s—in Port Harcourt. A former militant, he’d been sent abroad on a scholarship under the Amnesty programme. If anyone was born motivated with the enthusiasm and determination to carry other young people along, it was Youngman. Enara had found him invaluable from the first day she arrived here as liaison staff for the Worldwide Environmentalist Consortium, a body comprising stakeholders in every relevant field and on every continent. Amid feeling a bit out of depth in her supervisory role, and struggling not to show it, it was Youngman who had helped her acclimatize to living here; through him, she had learned the nuances of the local culture and more of the language. He was instrumental in putting theory into action, and in delegating tasks to leaders in the closer-knit groups—wards, clans— including other former militants.

Through Enara and Youngman’s project on behalf of the Consortium, people were better informed and encouraged to volunteer in the oil-spill cleanup, or otherwise take an active part in reclaiming the land using whatever skills they had, rather than merely folding their arms and expecting miracles from the national government. Enara was increasingly humbled at the fruit their work had produced in the community: more action and less skepticism, more hope in their outlook and less defeat. She shook her head as she remembered something Youngman had said once: Do you know you’re like a goddess to these people? With your science and charisma and everything, you could probably tell them to start a riot and no one would sit at home.

She shook her head. She didn’t want to—couldn’t, really—imagine how much harder her supervisory role would be without him.

“Aunty, good afternoon.”

She lifted her gaze to see Godsname, Kaka Embilakpo’s grandson, in a faded but festive Ankara up-and-down. Her answering smile slipped into a frown. “No school today?”

He dipped his head to break eye contact momentarily, as a show of respect. “Nowhere to pass o, water have covered everywhere. Some of our teachers cannot come out of their house.” The floods were an unwanted annual visitor worsened by the destruction of the mangrove forests. They disrupted farming cycles, schooling, and life in general.

“Sorry o,” Enara murmured.

Godsname shrugged. “Aunty, I will come tomorrow.”

He often did odd jobs for her, which earned him a bit of cash or raw foodstuffs. Still, she fought embarrassment anytime she received effusive greetings and deference from his grandmother—like today—as she knew that what she gave him was all that saved them from hunger on some days. She nodded. “Okay.”

As Godsname went back to his friends, there was a stir among the guests, signaling the arrival of a VIP. Curious, she looked over and stilled. White outfit in sharp contrast to the dark clothes of at least a dozen escorts, the 2-i-C of the Ruling Council, Ina’ngo Awongo, made his entrance. His presence temporarily diverted attention from the bride, but even as he took his seat, a cheer went up from the women surrounding her: the bride had finally smiled! This was final approval of the money the groom and his family had sprayed her with.

Enara’s memories were unwittingly pulled back to her only brush with matrimony. 2021, Benin City. A young man had taken her home to his mother, a preliminary step to what they hoped would be a proper introduction. Mama was eager to meet the girl who had ensnared him, Ivie said. The woman’s eyes had alighted on her like a laser beam, Enara feeling somehow guilty for eating the owho soup she’d prepared specially for her only son. The older woman blurted, “Who be your papa?” and when Enara couldn’t answer satisfactorily, spat at Enara’s feet: “I don look you finish. That spirit wey dey your belle, nor be my pikin e go catch.”

His mother’s opinion was of paramount importance, so Ivie’s purported love had dried up like a puddle in harmattan. Enara had spent that night alone in their parlour, slipping out of the house before daybreak to head to the park. She’d been dry-eyed from that moment until now. She might have had a son or daughter of Godsname’s age, something to leach the pity from the eyes of the women in the community when they asked about a husband or children, but she wasn’t very maternal.

Enara rose to greet the new couple and couldn’t avoid the table where Awongo presided. She paused to give him his due, halting when one of his men forestalled her. Awongo waved the man aside and she drew closer. “Good afternoon, Your Excellency.”

“Dr. Koki. You’re here. How is the work going?” His voice made her think of dark nights and blindfolds, and not in a sexy way.

“Fine, thank you, sir.”

He nodded, his eyes glittering with the clear craving to subdue her to his will. Lowering her gaze, she withdrew with a vague smile which vanished as she returned to her seat. She loathed politics, could barely disguise her loathing of the man, but unfortunately they needed one another for progress to be made.

October 2036. Eighteen months ago

Everyone had seen the white smiles of the key players, heard the speeches about how no one can care for their home like the owners themselves. The oil was theirs and now that they were running things, they would care for the environment properly. They’d posed for endless photographs, submitted themselves to myriad interviews, had countless phones shoved at them. They would be excellent caretakers now that there was no corrupt government standing in the way, out of touch with the salient grassroots issues. What no one had seen was the meeting that preceded the photo op. There the smiles were dimmed, the speeches less about tending to their home and more about shoring up their bank accounts.

The Commander-in-Chief, having only put in a brief virtual appearance earlier, was represented by his Second-in-Command, Ina’ngo Awongo, who was fully in charge of the Environment and Ecosystem from the get-go. “Only now do we have unfettered access to these oil wells, which is our birthright. We need to recoup our losses first before talking about anything else,” he said. Much had been made of Enara and other professionals “coming home” after their years abroad, so his gaze seemed to touch her more often, but being low in the pecking order of those present, she had only smiled politely, even as her heart plummeted. It appeared little had changed between the period the oil-producing states had been part of the entity called Nigeria, and now that they were the BRACED Republic. She had been much younger at the time, but she would never forget her mother’s laments over the chasm between the government’s rhetoric and actual practice, the newspaper headlines that spoke a language totally detached from reality on the ground.

Now, through talks about recouping time lost to the war, the need for more drastic measures to meet zero-emission targets now that 2030 was long gone with the Paris Agreement targets unmet, and the multiplicity of ever-cheaper green energy sources, Awongo’s primary concerns hadn’t changed.

“These can run side by side,” he pressed. “We’re holding the oil companies to higher standards, to replace faulty equipment, to be more transparent. With the wealth reaching the people directly, there will be no sabotage. Things will turn around.”

Enara had longed to melt and flow out from under the door to escape the embarrassment. Eventually the air of disbelief in the room seemed to finally penetrate his head, and Awongo eventually made an abrupt about-face with comments that got the environmentalists smiling again. But it was apparent, to Enara anyway, that it wasn’t over. Ijaw men didn’t stand down easily. With a sinking heart, she also sensed that the pressure from certain individuals in government would be transferred to her, their “sister,” once her superiors left. And she had been right.

November 2037. Six months ago

The word that instantly came to mind the minute Enara was herded into Ina’ngo Awongo’s presence was loud. The décor had evidently been done by a professional, and from the furniture to the colors, everything exuded force and power with a dash of intimidation. The 2-i-C hadn’t bothered with the courtesy of rising from behind his massive desk; his eyes examined her leisurely. He thanked her for coming like she had been given a choice, offered her refreshment like an afterthought, and when she declined, got to the matter straightaway.

“Dr. Koki, we are the youngest country in the world. We can’t stabilize if we don’t harness this opportunity given to us. We’ve lost time. We aren’t ripe for this leap to zero-emissions you all are touting. Maybe in two years, three. You are strategically placed, I believe, for just this purpose. Tell your colleagues, your organization, that our work has met huge opposition from every quarter, buy us some time—there are ways equipment can go bad, not so? Obstacles that can stall even the most straightforward processes? New militancy interferences? I will back you before the Council. You are the key, my dear.”

She picked at his words in her mind before speaking. “You are…asking me to falsify information.”

He shook his head. “I’m asking you to look out for your own. I’ll make it worth your while.”

“I don’t need your—”

“Of course not. Someone like you isn’t about the money, not at this stage of your life.” The jibe drew her up short, as she supposed it was meant to, and he went on. “Let’s just say that parts of your past—the unsavory parts—don’t have to come to light?”

Her heart stopped, then resumed with a hiccup. “I’m not ashamed of my choices.”

“Oh, this isn’t about you, my dear. It’s about those who trust you and praise your integrity.”

Enara had stared at him, his threat dangling between them. He wanted to shift the burden of what would amount to failure, to her, or ultimately to “the science,” so that he could crow along with others who insisted things worked differently in Africa, to languish in the consequences of colonialism and neocolonialism—real and contrived. Instead of using those very issues as reasons to take full responsibility now, he’d rather seize every opportunity to continue to fatten the investments of the wealthy elite at the expense of the less fortunate.

Her heart drummed in her ears. She could probably do as Awongo asked, stall the project for a while longer by stretching the truth. And probably get away with it. After all, it was her terrain. It would make her friends with this man and his cronies, might even secure her a position of power in government, where it might be easier to push for change. There may be a lot of money in it. She wouldn’t lie to herself: she was tempted. To take the easy way out, to not shake things up, to not risk her past being exposed, as this man’s smirk promised. But was that enough? How could she bear to lie to the earnest faces that surrounded her daily? Many of their fathers, mothers, had died because of the lies and deceit perpetrated in the South-South, when no vision of a better future was on the horizon. Did she really want to be part of that? To kill this budding, beautiful breath of hope people were cultivating?

Enara began to shake her head and Awongo’s expression went from surprised to ugly. She shoved back the fear the whole scene had stirred and said, “I’m sorry…”

February 13, 2038. Three months ago

The female sitting across from him was more girl than woman, but Chief Oifie wasn’t bothered about such trivialities. She had bumps in the time-honored places and skin the consistency of freshly boiled ube. Thankfully she wasn’t too demanding—a likely ruse so he would consider paying something on her head—but having outlived two wives, maybe fate was schooling him to enjoy but not purchase. He was considering what would best work its staying power for the pleasures ahead when he heard his name.

Chief Pere, also occupied with something in a micro skirt, gestured at the TV screen with the short glass. “Nor be your pikin be that?”

Chief Oifie’s lips formed a rebuttal even as his gaze followed compulsively. “Stepdaughter,” he said, ruing the day he had confided in Pere.

On the screen, Enara was saying to a reporter, “Things have to change in favour of what’s best for our Earth, and everyone needs to get with the programme. We’re on crunch time here.” Lolade lived in her eyes and the curve of her lips, not a startling beauty, but drawing attention regardless. The only child of his second wife—God rest her soul—Enara had been more or less grown when he met Lolade. The girl’s eyes had thrown searing challenges against his skin whenever she looked at him. Enara was a constant reminder of Lolade’s prior indiscretions. So Oifie had laid down the law: Keep her away.

The babble of the club slid off Oifie’s skin as something dark began to travel in dense spots across his vision. Enara and her kind were the source of all his misfortunes.

Twenty years ago, Oifie’s life had been running smoothly. Buhari had been in power and the presidency’s apathy towards national restructuring, or a review of the constitution or the Land Act Decree, meant that it had been business as usual in the South-South. Oifie and the other chiefs would employ a lawyer, effectively holding a knife to the throats of the oil companies over “improper assessments and substandard equipment.” In a panic, the oil companies would cough up a couple hundred million naira, ostensibly to better the lives of the people, but in reality to melt the hassle away. The community was treated to a borehole or some other negligible project which was commissioned to resounding applause, and the rest of the money split amongst the chiefs. One such “gift” had financed Oifie’s current home.

Then the cup of the cabal who had been jerking Nigeria around had become full, what with the lawmakers making a mess of the Petroleum Industry Bill, and the widespread banditry, pandemic insecurity, and failed class politics. Post-Buhari, another recycled, clueless stooge was rigged into power and the seams of the thirty-six states, amalgamated by contradictory prayers, unraveled further. Everything had spilled into violence, the second Nigerian civil war. Only this time the minorities were wiser: the North was on its own with its ethnic snobbery, and so was the East with its Igbo majority. The West and the South-South banded with their own people to fight for their own states. The literal separation of states started with dialogue and ended with blood, but separate they did. Oifie and others who had predicted an ignominious defeat for the Niger Delta had underestimated the power of technology, of the global village reality, of the #sorosoke generation—young people with equal parts smarts and courage, technology at their fingertips, and none of the damaging long-suffering of their forbears.

At the signs of imminent danger, most of the politicians fled abroad, abandoning the citizens they had consistently lied to. When the dust settled in October 2027, Nigeria was made up of the North and Middle Belt and the East. Biafra hadn’t materialized, as their leaders had never been of one mind, and the West had been all talk and no action after two-stepping too rigorously with the North; disunity had choked Western Nigeria, an unwise dalliance the North. The only success was the country borne of the former Nigerian South-South, now named the BRACED Republic, the acronym standing for Bayelsa, Rivers, Akwa Ibom, Cross River, Edo, and Delta States. With its petroleum cash cow gone, Nigeria was in a right proper daze.

Something tickled at the edges of Oifie’s memory, and he sat up. No matter that he couldn’t change the past; he just might be instrumental in changing the future, if he whispered certain facts into the right ears. Moving back closer to home from Lagos, although not wholly his choice, could be made better. There was a need for things to be recalibrated, for the right pecking order to be reestablished. It was how privilege had always worked, so that even those at the bottom derived a strange comfort from being without amenities his ilk had always taken for granted. His erstwhile stepdaughter might think she could do any and everything she wanted in the name of saving the environment, but she had better watch her step. Oifie’s lips twitched. He might have no need for the burun tashi anymore; the blood firing his brain now should likely fire other parts.

2023-2024. Fifteen years ago

Enara remembered before the war how, wary of unfulfilled promises, the youth hadn’t waited for any more stories. Bypassing the government and oil companies totally, the social-media-savvy generation started posting pictures of the areas affected by oil exploration: bleak pictures of water surfaces blackened with oil, diseased fish floating belly-up, stretches of once arable land now useless and toxic. The hashtags #picturesdontlie and #nowordsnecessary and #defendyourenvironment went viral, and solidarity came in unexpected ways: similar pictures of devastation from other countries. From the end of 2023 to the early weeks of 2024, they poured in: from India, the United States, Canada, Ecuador, the Pacific Islands, the Middle East.

By now, they had become a coalition which included professionals from all walks of life who had the clout and wherewithal to simultaneously petition some of the future financiers of the BRACED Republic—the World Bank, the IMF, and the EIB—to eliminate fossil-fuel subsidies. Organized protests to the United Nations, again, directly and via correspondence to the UNFCCC as well as the UNDP, UNEP, liaising with the Commonwealth, African Commission on Human and People’s Rights, Amnesty International, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace. They had done their homework and were not afraid to poke any and everybody in the eye, so that they had presence by the time COP29 convened just under a year later and the shortcomings of the Paris Agreement were again revisited, again amended.

The richest countries committed—yet again—to providing additional finance and technology to the poorer countries most affected ecologically. But the average population in rapidly developing countries were the last to receive the anticipated assistance, because of bureaucratic bottlenecks and government officials who spoke lofty words of change while the stealing and misallocating continued without pause. The mismanagement and steady corruption became the breaking point for a restive Nigerian polity and thus, the war broke out. Along with the instability—as is the nature of unintended consequences—even extraction came to a standstill, with oil companies pulling their foreign staff out to safety. Eventually, as the conflict progressed, they would side with the Niger Delta, if not in word, then at least in the supply of weapons.

By the time the rumbles of the last tank had faded, BRACED had won its independence from Nigeria and as a sovereign nation, swung into action straightaway: those who had fought and strategized during the war were given first dibs on the spoils, and new positions of power. The new political class comprised former militants, creatives, and activists who busied themselves with drafting a constitution, meeting over the creation of provinces and additional local governments, printing new money, and planning a sovereign national conference.

Along with the devastation wrought by oil exploration, they now also had to deal with the devastation brought about by war. The Ruling Council slugged it out for two years before admitting they needed a face at the forefront of leadership: someone who could carry the people along, well-versed in the local ways and language, but also with the necessary exposure and experience to court the West, the coveted gloss that could rub shoulders with anyone on foreign soil and not be condescended to. His name was Dimien Dumlesi, lawyer, son of the soil and heir to a business conglomerate, Ivy League–trained, a politician hitherto operating largely behind the scenes. Gilded tongue (with myriad functions, apparently, seeing as he was husband to one woman but baby daddy to a couple more), too cocky, his critics said, too often smiled upon by the fates. This, perhaps, was more pro than con in rebranding the Niger Delta. The decision was nearly unanimous.

The cessation of all extractive activities had caused ulcers to those running the oil companies. Eager to resume business, desperate to please, and unwilling to be ousted by newer competitors, they immediately presented fresh proposals to the new government promising the newest equipment, unprecedented transparency, cutting-edge best practices. A few lines hinted at the possibility of transitioning to cleaner fuels sometime in the future, repurposing their existing distribution infrastructure and workforce as was already being practiced in the West. Finance from the EIB, the IMF, the World Bank, and the Global Carbon Tax agreed upon in a previous Conference of Parties had grown buildings from ground to sky as if on fast-forward. The air was rife with renegotiations, the newly minted Commander-in-Chief Dumlesi everywhere but home, forging bilateral relationships, solidifying agreements, transmogrifying debts into funding.

The Early 2000s. Three decades earlier

Enara had spent a couple of holidays in Bayelsa as a child, grumbling the seven-plus hours from Lagos, wilting in the humidity as the uniforms peered into the car, scouring their faces one by one, serving them lazy questions about where are you coming from and where are you going and wetin una bring for us? Through town and off one of the roads built by Shell, she would stare at the gas flaring in the distance, red-hot fire going up-up-up but not consuming anything, like Moses and the burning bush.

When they got to Ogbogbaigbene waterside they would pay the driver, who turned back while they boarded a speedboat for the next phase of their journey. The water was murky, mysterious, bracketed by wild green growth. It rained sometimes and Mummy would pluck out raincoats, but the man steering would ignore the elements, water streaming down his head. They typically arrived Toru-Ndoro when the sun had begun its descent. Still the modest bungalows set well apart from each other were visible, some of the homes boarded up with planks that miraculously kept the rain out. Others had crude “monkey bridges” stretching across front yards which flooded during the rainy seasons, used to access the roads. Over the years, some of the connecting roads were transformed from the red of graded earth, often saturated with rain, to the gray-white of concrete finishings, as residents anticipated more enduring construction from the government, always in vain.

After the welcomes and inquiries about Lagos were posed and tepid showers were taken, Grandma would rail at Mummy in a rapid mix of Izon and pidgin English. Looking as out of place as a hijab in Big Brother Naija, Enara’s mother would be silent, picking at a skewer of fried water snails with blue-tipped fingers.

“Na me go look your pikin till she grow?”

“You love am at all?”

“Which kain person your husband be, sef?”

Enara’s resentment at being herded to the village having melted into resignation, her eyes would volley between them as she sweated through a plate of fiery palm oil rice, Grandma’s concession to her. By the following day, though, she would be eating kekefiya like she’d never left it. While Mummy finally responded to Grandma in low tones, the mosquitoes and sand flies, scenting fresh untried blood, would attack Enara while she warmed towards her cousins. Mummy would be gone by first light, leaving a wad of naira notes behind. Grandma had a lash for a tongue but the most open heart, so that by the time boarding school inevitably called again, Enara would find she was reluctant to leave the simplicity of the village.

2011. Twenty-seven years ago

Grandma passed, as most things do, and Enara would spend the holidays with any friend whose parents would have her. The older she got, the less contact she had with her mother, so that by the time she was at university she was doing whatever she could to support herself. In 2011 she returned to the area—Yenagoa, specifically—with a friend who was competing in a beauty pageant. Some politicians at the afterparty persuaded them to stay a few extra days in town at their expense, and the girls spent the next day “exploring,” along with a young freelance journalist who’d interviewed them the previous day following the results of the pageant. It had been a rowdy boat ride as they took selfies and recorded live videos for social media.

At the journalist’s suggestion, they’d attempted to go further to see what a real oil rig looked like. Enara would never forget the heavily armed military surrounding the house boat, one craggy-faced officer shouting, “No cameras allowed. Hands up!” In the ensuing confusion, one girl’s phone slipped from her fingers and they had all instinctively lunged at it, watching open-mouthed as it sank into the depths of the water.

Later that night, the politician Enara was paired with had been generous with foreplay, so that she thought to herself, post-coitus, that he deserved a tip. He opened a bottle of Jack Daniels, smirking at her ice-cold Coke. “That thing will kill you, you know.”

She chuckled, then gave voice to what had plagued her all day. “I’d thought we would be able to see the oil rigs, how they worked.”

He’d looked amused. “Like a field trip? Could anyone just drop by and expect a tour?”

“I know it can be dangerous, but it was almost like they were hiding something.”

“Oh, they are.” His voice was grim before he changed the subject. “I hear your friend got a new phone.”

“I think she’s glad the other one drowned.”

When he laughed she somehow felt powerful. He’d played absently with her braids. “What state are you from?”

“Rivers.” She’d lied. She didn’t know why.

“You had the traitor governor who did all he could to squash the Ogoni tribe.”

Enara didn’t have to ask for clarification. At nineteen she’d read some of Ken Saro-Wiwa’s books, her interest in the Ogoni sparked by someone’s Facebook post, which led to her devouring his videos on YouTube. Ada George, the governor of Rivers State during the last year of Ibrahim Babangida’s 1985-1993 tenure as president of Nigeria, had been flayed by Saro-Wiwa for siding with the federal government in opposing Saro-Wiwa’s efforts towards reparation for the Ogoni from Shell.

“Much is changing,” she said lamely. He was good-looking, much younger than she’d expected so that if she squinted just so, he could be one of the young graduate students who visited her school from other institutions. But this couple of days together had nothing to do with reality, and she was reluctant to find any sort of authentic affinity with him.

“Is it?” For the first time he seemed to look at her like something possessing a brain. “Not without ruffling a few feathers, though.”

On her way back to Effurun she’d met Voke again. Having bought balangu and fried yam and plantains, she turned with her bottle of Mirinda and there he was, seemingly in a pool of his own light. Skin prickling strangely, she had glanced about, then back at him. Yes, he was staring at her. Memory was a tardy thing having a bad day, but when it arrived, her bag of food fell with a thud.

Jesus!”

Now Voke was in front of her, brow raised. “He’s probably concerned with bigger things.”

Those eyes…. She snapped hers shut and then popped them open again. He only looked back at her patiently. Her heart was rattling; another quick look around showed that nobody was interested.

“You…can’t be real.”

He picked up her food. Rummaging through it, he selected a piece of balangu and chewed. “Hmm, I’ve been missing out.” He handed the bag over. “Real enough for you? Is this what you’re up to these days?”

Between the folds of the towel she’d filched from the hotel were enough naira notes, courtesy of her politician companion, to keep her going for a couple of weeks. Enara suspected every cough, sigh, and moan of the past few days were laid before Voke like a movie reel.

She lifted her chin. “How e take concern you?”

“You should embrace who you are.”

Her hands had been shaking as she looked towards her commercial bus. A girl in a tight tank top gave Voke an admiring look as she sashayed by, and Enara had glared her down. He’d laughed. “So sweet, looking out for family.”

“Stop.”

“Denying the truth will take a toll on you.”

Finally she spied the driver heading back to the vehicle. “Na so. I have to go.” She hurried around him and took a few steps before compulsively looking back. Watching her leave, Voke raised a hand in farewell. “Look after yourself, sis.”

June 2037. Last summer

There was a time in Youngman’s life when he had lived and breathed oil, serving militant lords who he’d believed held the key to the emancipation of the Niger Delta. The government would have to listen, they assured themselves, they would receive more returns, their area would be developed. Of course, most of those lords were only out to line their pockets, evidenced by the obscene mansions they built, the flashy cars they bought—and were known to burn just to prove a point. And then the Presidential Amnesty Programme was introduced in 2009 under President Yar’Adua, and the scholarship opportunity that followed had been his saving grace. Youngman compared the plush locations in the UK, where his activism had been birthed, with those they used now, and sighed. They rotated locations amongst the closest towns, for more coverage, so they weren’t always lucky. Once or twice they’d held meetings under the open sky and been drenched.

Today the hall was located in one of the new buildings still under construction. Outside were piles of sharp sand and granite, with a few workers still about this Saturday afternoon. Inside were buckets of paint waiting their turn to be opened. People trickled in. Each month there was a slight improvement in attendance, moreso after someone had suggested providing light refreshment for attendees. The Ministry of the Environment to which they were liaised had been quick to agree to pay for refreshments—although they rarely kept their word of having a representative present at meetings, despite the many reminders Youngman left in both soft and hard copy at their office. Drinks and snacks were an extra incentive, especially to those youth who had yet to be convinced of the use of these meetings.

The absence of government representation made the meetings appear to lack the seriousness needed to tackle the critical needs of the communities. Sometimes Youngman imagined they were in a bog, on the verge of sinking, and the government people were closest to the tools needed to get them out—megaphone, ropes—and while they started off using them, they often dumped the tools and decided on random, unnecessary things like setting up a picnic for rescuers to refresh and refortify themselves before continuing with the arduous task of attempting to haul out the near-drowned people, so that eventually any little progress made was lost.

One young woman snagged Youngman’s eye immediately when she came in. Her hair was cut close to her head and her simple dress was all the more lethal for the figure it encased. She winged him a small smile. He nodded in acknowledgement and glanced away. There was subtle temptation there, but he wouldn’t be biting. Not now, maybe not ever. One near-adult son with one volatile woman was enough, and those hips looked like they were one wet dream away from conception.

After a few people joined them, Youngman started the meeting. They involved themselves in a spectrum of concerns: radio jingle publicity to encourage more citizen involvement with the riverbed cleanup and other targeted environmental programs, educational and business development programs for empowering women, meeting with and training smaller clan heads (who would, in turn, reach out to their communities with more environmentally friendly practices), organizing tree-planting and nurturing activities in schools, and liaising with agricultural organizations who led initiatives to reclaim the land. There was also no avoiding it: the poverty that had existed for decades among minority communities in Nigeria had to be truly alleviated before true progress could be made. A full stomach had a way of unstopping the ears. Add to that affordable, accessible education and viable sources of income for the youth, and the song they had been singing about more sustainable energy sources and net-zero goals would sound less like a dirge.

It was sometimes daunting, this balancing act of trying to reach the grassroots while also coordinating things at government levels with Dr. Koki. Sometimes, some days, it felt like they were marking time. But every now and then, there was a spark of something: in the games children played, pretending to use dirt and leaves to power their tin vehicles; in conversations on the internet where, unlike twenty years ago, there were actual discussions about sustainable practices on local forums.

As the meeting drew to a close, an old woman came in and slowly made her way to a seat at the back. They finalized who would be in charge of what, and how local funds would be disbursed. Youngman was talking with one of the young men he found particularly reliable when the old woman walked up to them. She was dressed in a lace blouse and two wrappers with still-bright print, her eyes luminous in a face that had still retained its humor. She said something and, helpless, Youngman looked to his companion, who laughed and said apologetically, “This Izon is hardcore, not what we speak now.”

“My grandmother is saying a prayer for you.” Sauntering up to them was the young woman from earlier. The old woman adjusted her top wrapper as she went on with a flash of teeth. “She says your path will be smooth, and your fire will not die.”

“Isee.”

“She’s also asking if you all are reincarnates.”

“What?” he laughed.

“Because many of these methods your people introduce are a return to the old days and ways, and still effective.” The young woman cocked her head. “Everything just needs some scaling up.”

She said that?”

“No, that was me.”

“You’ve been paying attention.”

“I’ve long been doing.” She reached into a pocket and came up with a business card on recycled paper. Audra Isu, it read. Recycling. Repurposing. Reshaping. “We’re working towards setting up nationwide facilities, with government investment.” She exchanged some Izon with her grandmother before nodding. “We’ll be on our way.”

He looked away from the frank appraisal in her gaze to speak directly to the old woman. “Thank you, ma.”

“Thank you, too,” Grannie replied in easy English. Chuckling at their surprise, she put her hand in her granddaughter’s and turned away. Audra, shrugging off an accusatory look from the men, smiled. “See you around.”

Youngman watched them stop by the snack table to take drinks and shook his head at himself. Definitely.

August 2037. Later last summer

Enara’s fingers were a blur, taking the pictures in rapid succession. There was a drizzle of rain falling gently on her bare shoulders, but it was still uncomfortably warm. The area bore little resemblance to what she remembered as a child. But if she squinted just so, the children playing unreservedly with bare bellies and barer feet could’ve been transplanted from her memories. The clunky machinery which cleaned up the polluted water and soil through bioremediation had been nonexistent then. The metal of the injection and recovery wells punctuating the scene hurt Enara’s eyes, but not as much as the blackened water had marred it before the process of cleaning up the damage wrought by oil spillage and the negligence of the oil companies finally began. It hadn’t been a straight ride, but then few things in the Niger Delta were. The preliminary process of getting experts to test the soil and water to determine which pollutants were present, deciding on and then designing treatments that would be most suitable, in situ or ex situ, and then installing the necessary equipment had taken the better part of two years.

In the end, a combination of in situ and ex situ methods were chosen. Biostimulation using recirculation systems to extract, treat, and oxygenate the water, alongside adding key nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorus to make the treatment more effective, and bioaugmentation, whereby microorganisms, especially microbial consortia, were introduced to oxygenate the water. Some of the microbes were cultured specifically for the Niger Delta region, in addition to the ones which occurred naturally. For the soil, phytoremediation processes and bioreactors were employed. But of course, no blanket approach here. Due to the differences in the mixture of contaminants each area possessed, Enara knew that other methods were being employed even in other parts of Bayelsa and other provinces. An ex situ treatment site had been built in the capital, Asaba, to cut down the costs of transporting excavated soil to be cleaned and then returned back to the land where, with time and care, it could become arable again.

Enara felt him first. It was that familiar skin-too-tight awareness, stomach twisting like it would expel something. Locs a burnt umber shot through with premature silver, skin pale like it had never been bathed with an African sun, fragile as a man’s ego, his gaze was steady and she steeled herself to meet it. His eyes were almost all iris, the blue-green of an uncontaminated sea.

“Kenibo doo.” His Ijaw was flawless, sweet.

Enara tamped down her irritation at his familiar greeting. “Hello.” Unscrewing the lens of her camera, she eyed him. Who wore white suits anymore? “How may I help you?”

“It’s been a while, Enara.”

“What are you doing here?”

“I have a right to be here, same as you.” His lips quirked. “I’m not omnipresent or anything, if that’s what you’re asking. I came in downriver,” he gestured vaguely over his shoulder. She swatted the moisture on her upper lip and said nothing. He sighed. “How are you feeling these days?”

“Well enough.”

“You need—”

“You don’t know shit, abeg.”

He looked her over clinically. “You’re what, forty-five, six? Good-looking, admittedly, but still too young.”

“Too young for what?”

Enara jumped as her colleague, Youngman, joined them. He could be the poster boy for the Ijaw man: compelling unpretty features, skin the perfect backdrop for a full moon—any moon. Focused as she was on her unwanted visitor, she had missed his soft-footed approach.

Smiling, Youngman’s gaze flitted between them. “Care to share?” he asked.

“It’s nothing serious,” said Enara.

Those unsettling eyes speared her with scorn. “I would say it’s damn serious.” He stuck a hand out to Youngman, who immediately shook it. “I’m Voke.”

“Youngman. Nice to meet you.”

Voke only nodded, his expression softening as he looked back at Enara. “Please take care, sis. Reach out anytime.” With that, he loped off.

Youngman stared down at his hand with a funny look. “I swear I have never felt a hand so soft.”

She snorted. “Lack of hard labor.”

He helped carry her bag as they walked together. “Ah, a love-hate thing.”

“God, no.” But yes, yes. That was one way to put it.

Enara’s home for now was a small two-room house, hastily constructed, whose garage she’d set up as an office. She marched to the mirror the minute she arrived, the sleeveless Ankara dress falling to the floor. Her gaze dropped to the illness that bloomed over the skin of her belly, wider than the last time. She swallowed tears and headed for the bathroom, scrubbing hard as she thought back to her childhood. Once during Ileya she had gone with friends to the Bar Beach. The water at the edge of Grandma’s land hadn’t been as vast, but it seemed more unpredictable. Regardless, Enara had been unable to shake her fascination.

March 9, 2038. Two months ago

Chief Adolph Oifie hated the audacity of all politicians, but this man’s especially. From the premature gray in his beard to the toes of those pointy animal-skin shoes, this one was all affectation. That they could both bear the title of “Chief” was the first irritant. Such titles used to be offered after much forethought, after the recipient had accomplished feats in business, philanthropy, name it. Achievements younger men worked years to emulate, no matter the weight of their bank accounts.

Oblivious to Oifie’s thoughts, or maybe not, Chief Ina’ngo Awongo watched him, clearly waiting to be greeted first. Oifie struggled to mask his annoyance, but he was here with a proposal, so he would swallow the insult neat.

“Good morning, Your Excellency.”

“Chief Oifie.”

They shook hands, then turned towards the twin chairs facing each other across a coffee table. A squat bottle stood on it, and a glass with two inches of the clear liquid. Oifie took the proffered seat as Awongo asked, “A drink?”

“No, thank you, it’s a bit too early for me.”

Awongo chortled. “Me, I take my ogogoro without any apologies.”

Oifie knew he had to tread lightly. “Sorry, it wasn’t—”

“Get to the point, Adolph.”

The child dared call him by his first name. Focus, Oifie. “I have some interesting information in my possession.” Awongo only gave him a droll look. “Erm, well, it concerns Enara Koki.”

Oifie was watching closely, so he saw the way Awongo’s mouth tightened. Word going around was that Awongo had summoned the woman to request some sort of favor, and Enara had refused outright. He could imagine the scene, how she would accompany her words with a look similar to what she had bestowed on him when he married her mother: like she would gladly ship him out with the garbage. If his information proved useful, then Awongo could find a way to get rid of her, paving the way to replace her with someone more amenable. No doubt Awongo pursued a purpose different from his own, Oifie knew, but he was confident that their view of how things ought to be run dovetailed at some point. But Awongo held the power to actually set things in motion.

But Awongo only smiled. “Ah, yes, our illustrious daughter. A former lover of yours?”

“Hardly. She is—was—my stepdaughter.”

“And her mother—your wife?”

“Died during the war.”

“Sorry to hear that. Her father?”

Oifie, waiting for just such an opening, leaned forward. “That is where it gets interesting.”

“I’m listening.”

“My wife told me something not long before she died. I had dismissed it as the ramblings of a sick woman, but recently it’s begun to make perfect sense…”

Christmas 2003. Almost thirty-five years ago

Enara had been warned never to venture to the water’s edge on her own, being the city girl and all. And she was rarely alone. But that day Grandma had gone to visit her friend and pick some pawpaw leaves and lemongrass to boil for malaria treatment, and her cousins had seized the opportunity to play football in the lot of the Anglican primary school nearby. She would be quick, just dip a foot in, maybe pluck some mangoes from Papa Tony’s backyard, and be back home like she’d never left.

She scrunched up her nose at the acrid smell of ammonia just to her left, a spot her cousins favored to urinate. The air above the water seemed to shimmer. Would it be sunny warm or cool like petrol? She squatted and put out a cautious hand to test the temperature. She was feeling she could almost communicate with the water like she would a person, when a hand suddenly shot out from the placidity, grasped her wrist and yanked her in. The only thing she remembered screeching was, “Grandma!”

It was the strangest sensation. There was no sputtering, no gasping for air, no panic. Underneath the water was bright and animated, totally unlike what presented on top. And she moved an arm and discovered it was still attached to the one that had pulled her in. She turned and gaped at the boy grinning at her.

“Hello, sis.”

For a shell-shocked moment, Enara thought he was the one lighting up the place, his skin was so fair. And his eyes just seemed to blend in with the aquamarine hues; it was eerie.

What?” Her eyes bugged and her head felt too heavy for her neck. But largely everything only felt surreal: she must have slept off on the mat on the verandah and this was a dream of some sort. “Am I dead?”

“Do you want to be? My name is Voke, by the way.”

“I’m Enara.”

“I know.” Voke looked a little older than her, long-limbed. His skin had that fabulous sheen to it, but she saw no scales, no fins. She squinted. No gills, either. He was also totally naked, but she strangely felt no embarrassment at that.

“Are you mamiwater?”

He laughed. “Nothing so boring. I mean, they’re alright, but we are erivwi. More powerful and definitely more functional.”

Enara remembered spooky conversations in boarding school, where girls would take turns to unfurl their knowledge before their mates like currency. One girl had talked about the erivwi, spirit ancestors credited with powers ranging from the protection of communities to such unrelated business as wreaking vengeance on straying wives. The girl had been Urhobo, though, and this was Ijawland.

Enara frowned. “But you don’t live here here, abi?”

Voke shrugged. “We get around. It’s like a tree with one trunk, many branches. In these parts, borders are rather more fluid, if you get my meaning. Fluid?”

Shaking her head as he nudged her with a laugh, she took the liberty of looking around. There were other of these erivwi swimming by or in conversation. There were structures, some modest, some magnificent, yet others puzzling in design. There was a market in the distance, as far off as she could see, with bright produce. There were actual sea creatures interspersed with the people, and the whole mix dazzled the senses. A few erivwi glanced their way, but no one stared like she was an imposter. Enara glanced down and screeched, her hands flying futilely to cover her nudity.

“Get over it,” Voke said.

“Oh God, I’m—” She broke off as someone materialized beside Voke. A more mature, better-looking version. He looked at her in surprise. “Enara,” he said, like they had met before. “I wasn’t expecting you today.” Like they had made prior plans.

He glanced at Voke who shrugged. “She came close.”

“Okeide,” she greeted absently before succumbing to curiosity. “How do you know me? Who are you?”

Voke said, “Enara, meet our father, Edjo.”

She held her head. “No.”

“There’s no time,” Edjo said. “One day when you are older, you will ask yourself where all this energy you see down here is from—the light, the food, the life. If you keep asking, you will get answers.”

She had awoken on the bank to a distressed Grandma and cousins. More than once in her presence, Grandma had asked Enara’s mother to tell her about her father: “Eda agba apere de?” Her mother never said anything. After this experience, Enara had been emboldened to ask Grandma who her father really was, but the old woman only pursed her lips and looked away. “Na your mama you go ask.”

April 11, 2038. One month ago

The Man pacing the front of the room was dressed in a plaid suit, hair slicked back. He had first become popular for his uncompromising stance against anything that smacked of the supernatural: purported witches, wizards, seers—even traditional healers had not been spared. The Ambassadors of Yahweh had torn down shrines, slapped demons out of unwilling participants, set ablaze unholy ground.

They hung onto his every word. Indeed, they printed and pasted them in their work spaces, repeated them like mantras, invoked them over their bottles of Goya. Old, young, indeterminate, they sat packed together, exuding smells of exertion and perfume and fervency.

“Why do they want this earth to last forever?” he roared.

They hummed they didn’t know.

“The earth and all its vanities will fade away. Only the word of Yahweh standeth sure.”

They nodded yes true only that.

“‘Unless a germ of wheat fall to the ground and die, it abideth alone.’ Death is the womb of life. This earth must pass away for eternal life to come forth.”

They agreed that made sense.

“All this talk about trying to halt the inevitable…we must put it to an end. What did I say?”

They parroted put it to an end.

“‘Thy Kingdom come on earth, as it is in…” Singsong voice like he was handling a nursery class.

“Heaven!”

“’The Kingdom of Yahweh suffereth violence and…”

“The violent taketh it by force!”

“By what…?”

“Force!”

The Man nodded amidst the smattering of applause. “We will bring about Yahweh’s purpose here on earth. Climate change or whatever, it is a fulfillment of prophecy.”

“We will stop them,” cried a lone voice and all eyes snapped to him. Then the enormity of their responsibility sank in and shoulders snapped back, the light of purpose brightening their eyes. This time the applause was unfettered, deserving, “amens” swelling until they thundered.

“‘Flesh and blood hath not revealed it to you,’” The Man said, dipping his fingertips in oil and touching the forehead of the youth who had spoken. He took off his jacket. “The walls will fall before us. But we must rejoice in advance so that as we carry out Yahweh’s work, our path will be made straight. Let us usher in victory!”

The room erupted in shouts and gyrations, and the sound of stomping feet brought forth clouds of dust until it became something choking.

April 27, 2038. A couple of weeks ago

It was an especially dark night. The Man was sweating as he was led to the menacing hulk of a car. The back door was opened and he climbed in. Up close, Ina’ngo Awongo was even more impressive, impeccably dressed, as usual. The Man wished he’d been given enough time to put on one of his suits, at least use some deodorant. Instead he’d been pulled away from the dinner table in his shorts and a rumpled short-sleeved shirt. The limousine’s air conditioning made the hair on his legs stand up. The car crawled forward.

“Good evening, sir.”

Awongo nodded. “How goes it?”

“My people are motivated and ready, sir.” There was a grunt of assent just before the fat envelope landed on The Man’s lap with a satisfying thunk. He steadied it on his knees with clammy palms. “Thank you, sir.”

“I don’t need to tell you not to fail me.” Awongo’s voice was still friendly, conversational.

The Man was vehement. “No, sir.”

Awongo nodded and tapped on the dividing glass to bring the limousine to a stop. At the slight lift of his brows, The Man scrambled out. He looked about as the long dark car slunk away. It would take almost ten minutes to walk back home. No matter. He clutched the brown envelope to his chest like a newborn. The banga soup he’d left congealing on his plate was forgotten; now The Man’s tongue watered with eagerness.

Getting rid of the environmentalist woman was in line with what The Book said: Suffer not the witch to live. Those who were weak in spiritual knowledge might not agree with their methods, but Yahweh always charged his people to obliterate the heathen from the land, purge it of their influence. Awongo contacting him was the sign he had been waiting for: This was a stepping stone not just in Kingdom matters, but towards more wealth and power, because The Book also said, If you are willing and obedient, you will eat the good of the land. It might trickle in slowly, he admitted to himself: more endorsements from bigwigs in this country, then more people under his unction, more funds, a palatial house, bodyguards even, a more-befitting place of worship—he would go global! He could almost smell the poshness of the designer suits he would wear then, the perfumes of the caliber of women who would crave his counsel.

He tucked the visions of his future tenderly away and glanced about. The night was silent but one couldn’t be too careful. He slipped the package beneath his waistband and broke into a jog.

May 14, 2038. 7:18 pm. This evening

A slap across her face. She needed to open her eyes, but why bother?

“Enara.” Another slap, and she grunted this time. She raised her hand to push away the offender and found she could not. Panicking, she tried to flail her arms and finally succeeded as the obstruction melted away. She cracked her eyes open to see Voke’s concerned gaze. Looking wildly around, she saw a burlap sack floating away, what those fools had placed her in before throwing her into the river. One of the erivwi intercepted it, kicking towards the surface while Voke held her lightly. She felt the push of his legs as he effortlessly kept them in place underwater.

She opened her mouth, took in a mouthful of water and started to choke.

“Breathe,” he ordered. “You didn’t think about it last time, just do it.”

Her vision dimmed for a bit, chest burning as she struggled. Then she released herself to instinct and gasped in relief as the panic receded. When she was more in control she glared at him, “Last time I was a kid. Besides, I thought I was dreaming.”

“No, I rather recall you thought you might be dead.”

She turned her head and clutched the side of her face with a moan as pain lanced through her. Voke, having let her go, watched her. “This time someone seems to want that rather badly,” she muttered.

“We need to move fast,” he said.

“I need to rest.”

“Voke is right.” Her father. Enara steeled herself before turning towards his voice, her first thought being, These people don’t age? He nodded at her. “Enara.”

She nodded back, her mind scrabbling over how to address him. “Edjo,” she finally decided on his name. “These are not your waters. Wetin una dey find for here?”

“Saving your ass,” Voke said.

“It would have been great if you had intercepted those idiots before they abducted me.”

“We’re not omnipotent,” Voke laughed. His gaze moved with some caution to the diseased skin on her belly. “How is that going?”

Enara spread her hands over her midsection as best she could. “None of your concern.”

Voke moved closer. “Let go, sis. This will kill you eventually.”

“All die na die.”

“And yet, you’re grateful for today, not so?”

“I didn’t ask for this!” She speared her father with an accusing look. “You couldn’t leave my mother alone?”

“Some things are fated.”

“Abeg—”

“Sis.” Voke shook his head. “Palle is right. Some things are out of our control, but those we hold within our hands we ought to work to our best advantage. You’ve seen for yourself how dangerous things can get.”

“And this danger will just disappear, abi? Or maybe I’ll just move in with you,” she joked. “Get to bonding and all that shit.”

“No,” Edjo said. And that word was an answer to everything, as well as an admonition to stop prevaricating.

Enara touched her face gingerly. She pictured Awongo’s face and what she could do with it if given a free hand and that sweet thought hardened her resolve. “Alright. What next?”

Voke gestured at her inflamed tummy. “Maybe—”

“Later.”

May 14, 2038, 10:53 pm. Later tonight

They dropped her off at the water’s edge outside Kwale, some kilometers away, Voke providing a dry dress, shoes, and rubber boots which fit her perfectly. Before the cleanup she would have emerged filthy from the waters, a creature to pity. Now her only concern was putting one foot in front of the other, on and on past marshy land and creek, untiring, ignoring her tender stomach and throbbing face as she focused on her mission. And then there were roads, first dirt roads giving way to tarred thoroughfares with solar-powered streetlights.

The house was set on vast land, but surprisingly modest in design, from what Enara could see through the low fence surrounding it. A fence, eh? That, more than anything, betrayed the owner’s oyibo thinking. She pulled off her boots before going round it to determine the easiest, least obtrusive way to get in. She scaled it nimbly, stealthily, eyes darting about. She paused beside the house, melting into the shadows, grateful for the kindness of interlocking tiles against her soles. Outside the garage, she could hear a couple of guards talking and snorted to herself. She slipped through the back door and paused again just inside. Some sort of corridor which led off into a kitchen—she could hear the hum of a freezer—and the rest of the house. She put out one foot, waited a beat before she shifted her weight onto it. Then another step. It had been ridiculously easy. This was why her father had shrugged off her concerns over how she would succeed—the erivwi advantage was how she thought of it. After all, she never noticed her brother until he was right there. And at the realization that she had willingly acknowledged their family relationship for the first time, if only in her mind, Enara exhaled.

She found him in the library surrounded by books and glass and wood. He looked up immediately as she entered, and a few things happened simultaneously: there was a growl from somewhere behind the table, and the sound of pounding footsteps from the depths of the house. The door was still open, so she stepped aside as the pair of guards burst through it, panting.

“Shun, sir! We detected some movement in—” The man speaking ground to a halt as his oga put a finger to his lips, somewhat mockingly. The guards’ eyes bugged when they spied Enara a few feet away, their bemused thoughts clear: how had they missed her? She froze as the Caucasian padded over, sniffing around her, at her hands, her shoes, the hem of her dress. It whined and stepped away, staring at her. Somehow she could also read its confusion: what to make of her? Enara didn’t know herself, sighing in relief as it returned to its master.

“Sorry, sir!” The guards were sweating. “No weapon detected on her person.”

She was sure they would rue her forever when she said softly, meeting their gazes, “If I had one, guess who’d be dead by now?”

Dimien Dumlesi had bought this house specifically so he could have a place of retreat known to very few people. A place where he could refuel and recalibrate his thoughts and plans and, when his doubts came knocking during their monthly visits, convince himself that he was on the right path. He had arrived in Kwale just two hours after returning from preliminary talks with the Chinese prime minister about their engineers working with counterparts in the Niger Delta to design and build floating offshore turbines. Before that he’d met with the board of directors of the European Investment Bank Group, and that of the World Bank: the former to discuss reparations to be used for building out green infrastructure, considering the EIB’s role in the damage caused by oil exploration, the latter for talks about where investments could begin for education and agriculture if oil left center stage.

Dimien’s head was awash with figures, short- and long-term plans, risk assessments, his mother’s incessant messages—he needed to shut down. He had taken a shower and had been looking forward to a quiet, uninterrupted weekend before this intrusion. Sensing his annoyance, Jet nuzzled his hand with a cold nose and he petted his head absently.

His head guard was looking at him with some consternation. “Sir—”

“Get out,” Dimien said. After being lax in their duty, they couldn’t now pretend overzealousness.

The guards glanced at the woman, clearly wanting to herd her out. Glaring at them, he jerked his head toward the doorway and leaned back as they left, taking in her full figure. Despite her wild hair and simple dress and—bare feet?—she was stunning. He was irritated with himself when for a nanosecond he thought about his wife, Adea of the pampered skin and designer outfits, and somehow still found her wanting in comparison.

He swiped the band on his wrist, read from the hologram that appeared. “Enara Koki. Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun, B.Sc., Department of Environmental Management and Toxicology…da-da-da…eh-hen, PhD in environmental pollution and control.” He didn’t mention her banking job post-NYSC or her tenure at universities in Abuja and the UK, but of course he’d updated himself once he knew who she was. “And yet not a word about your experience in breaking and entering.”

“Will you fire them?”

“How did you get in here?” he countered. “How do you even know this place?”

“You wouldn’t believe me if I told you.”

But her eyes glowed strangely and he suspected he might.

May 15, 2038, 1:16 am. Overnight

Enara walked to the edge of the water near where Voke had dropped her off. It was the early hours of the morning but she had refused any escorts back, leaving Dimien nonplussed. But she didn’t need witnesses for this. Thinking back over her life experiences, Enara for the first time saw a possible cohesion between all the parts. It wasn’t quite about being entangled with forces she didn’t understand—and probably never would—but more about finding herself, no matter the cliché that presented. About laying herself open to life and all its messy, imperfect parts.

Let yourself go, Voke had said. Trust, don’t fight.

So she waded into the water, biting back a yelp at its iciness. Her dress dragged around her knees as she winged a prayer to the Universe, closed her eyes, and fell backwards. She’d courted death once already in the last twenty-four hours; what was one more dance? She must have blacked out for a second, but soon the wetness felt like a cozy tender embrace. Enara opened her eyes and saw why: dozens of erivwi bore her in their arms as they floated underwater. Their expressions were kind and welcoming and their lips moved in a haunting chant that gave her goose bumps. At the head of the group were Edjo and Voke. Voke gave her a slight nod, and she could read the pride in his gaze. Somehow she was saying the words along with them and then she felt something prickly hot oozing out of her belly onto the river bed—and with it, the pain that had been building gradually within her since she had come of age.

May 15, 2038, 3:35 am. Almost morning

They had come prepared for this mission, outfitted in dark clothes and rubber boots and conviction, led by the vocal young man whom The Man had sprinkled oil on. There were a few members of the Ambassadors of Yahweh who worked on the site. He had reached out to them to carry out the work of the Master by turning off the security cameras and communicating the shifts of the guards on duty. The shift changes weren’t run quite like clockwork, so the Ambassadors were running behind schedule. The men on duty were most zealous between 10pm and 3am. Later, having survived the bulk of the night, they let down their guard, snoozing, smoking, sneaking girls into the guardroom for quickies, pressing their phones.

The congregants, after fighting sleep and losing often, roused themselves, marching to the site. With axes and hammers and clubs they got to work; but after a few attempts to do their damage quietly, they realized that it wasn’t as simple as they had imagined, and maybe they should have asked more questions. The minutes wore on and they wiped sopping faces until a movement from the far bank arrested their attention mid-sabotage.

A light illuminated first the surface of the water and then the bank as twenty, maybe thirty, beings emerged. Beautiful, mesmerizing, water skimmed the glowing perfection of their nakedness. Some of them bore up a figure in their arms, gently laying it down on the bank. The Ambassadors of Yahweh took in the unexpected sight for one frozen moment, but in the next realized as one that they hadn’t bargained for this brush with the supernatural. They flung their tools and fled, unmindful of their leader who tried to instill courage into them with quotes. From The Man, from The Book, and then in desperation, off the cuff. The uproar alerted the guards who came running with guns cocked. A few congregants escaped but most were caught, three wounded, one killed.

And on the far bank the erivwi, unruffled by the happenings nearby, went on with their business.

June 23, 2038. 11:23 am. A few weeks later

“There is going to be a shift from the status quo, a turnaround from what we fatalistically term ‘business as usual.’ We’ll be catching up with the rest of the world, but on this side of the Atlantic, it’s our turn to set some standards, to prioritize the lives of generations after us. We have been working on this under the radar for a few months now. Welcome to the unveiling of our plans for the Niger Delta.”

The hall in Asaba, the capital of BRACED, was packed. The press had been informed that there would be a launch of some sort after the press briefing. They swarmed close as the Commander-in-Chief gave Enara the podium.

“We will be harnessing our elders’ experiences and practical knowledge, knowledge of our land and waters,” she said. “So please contact us if you have any such information, even if you—or they—have moved away. We have always partnered with foreign scientists and organizations, and that won’t change, but we will also be turning our focus inward.

“Ken Saro-Wiwa said, ‘Brains are more important than mineral resources.’ We are investing in our people, finding our own energy solutions as we research our creeks and soil and plant life. We have been known for oil, and as we pursue other treasures we might have been overlooking, creating jobs and stability, we will be phasing out the oil until we can leave it alone entirely. It will require many sacrifices, but we need our ecosystem vibrant and our babies alive. One day, we will look back and be amused that we once thought we couldn’t thrive without the oil.”

Everyone seemed to freeze at what sounded like sacrilege: Leave the oil alone? Oifie, in his living room in Port Harcourt, clutched his chest as a sharp pain stabbed through it. The Man, having squealed like a cornered mouse, welcomed an apprehended Awongo to his dingy cell. His once-anointed, now-deflated, young protégée thought The Man looked almost shrunken, but his leader was wholly consumed with how to play the situation so he didn’t have to give up the advance he’d been paid.

Back in Asaba, they moved on to the launch. Fashioned by an Indigenous artist, it was a breathtaking sculpture of a forearm stretched out, hand fisted. Underneath the engraved words, Our true heroes, was a list of names:

Kenule Saro-Wiwa
Saturday Dobee
Nordu Eawo
Daniel Gbooko
Paul Levara
Felix Nuate
Baribor Bera
Barinem Kiobel
John Kpuine

Enara stole a glance at Dimien and thought it fitting that the first C-in-C of the BRACED Republic was an Ogoni man. He was a politician through and through, no doubt, and enjoyed the peculiar dance of compromise that label demanded. But it was also clear that he wanted to do things differently from most, lending actual action to pretty words. He’d given her a glimpse into what he had been up to recently, consolidating partnerships with countries like Canada and Germany who were more than a decade ahead in hydrogen strategies; besides reducing carbon emissions and fueling vehicles and aircraft, it could also be used to generate clean electricity.

Once the Renewable Energy and Clean Fuel bill was passed, things would really take off. There was the added advantage of new jobs being created, security for the young people, many of whom had harbored visions of growing up to make money from oil. That was one reason she had personally introduced Youngman to Dimien. Already more strategizing was underway, to connect towns, villages, clans, homesteads, communicating with the citizens through various media in their local dialects and pidgin English, arming them with actionable steps they could take and tools which would ensure easier adaptability to what lay ahead.

Enara gave a self-deprecating snort. Correction: Things were already taking off.

June 23, 2038. Later that night…

“I looked for you, you know.”

“You couldn’t have got very far with a name like Tracy and no surname.”

“Maybe I didn’t look hard enough.”

“Just for a booty call?”

His teeth flashed. “I also remember we kind of clicked.”

“Tracy was my mother’s middle name. Her dad was an Ondo man, her mother left when he took a second wife.” As Enara spoke, Dimien traced squiggles from her now-unmarked belly to her hip, and she marveled again at the miracle.

“You told me you were from Rivers State, though.”

“You nor dey forget something?”

One day maybe she would tell him it was more like from the rivers. Maybe.

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