Big Echo

Critical SF

Of Things That May Come

by Innocent Chizarram Ilo

Selemku: 2750AD

This is how Grandpa tells the story:

Nobody seemed to care when River Bambu decided to pack her bags and leave Selemku. The river was tired of the big industries dumping metal scraps into her, of crude oil pipelines peeing into her, of schoolchildren spitting along her shores, of huge trawlers harvesting her scaly babies, of garbage trucks disposing household trash into her, of Water Supply Board draining her blood into huge overhead tanks for the ungrateful people to drink, to cook with, to bathe with, and when the rains came, their round drops, foul with sulfur and carbon, filled her with toxic blood.

She left Selemku on a Monday morning, after a long night of soul searching and toying with the idea of giving the townspeople a second chance. The men, women, and children of the town were too busy with their small lives to see the river leave. River Bambu wrapped the reeds that grew on her rich, alluvial shores around her head and walked through the city gates. Her water-legs left behind wet trails on the tarred streets. It was 2660AD, the world was changing, two thousand families have spent their Christmas in Venus, robots have replaced sassy shop attendants and cars could drive themselves. So, nobody took much interest in a strange water-woman walking on the street on a busy Monday morning.

“How do you know the river is a woman?”

Grandpa pauses and casts me a blank stare. “Because I saw her with my very boyish eyes.” The old man gestures towards his eyes, now two celluloid balls strapped with tiny, red veins, and gushing a liquid the thickness of melted butter.

Boy, old age can make one live in a fantasy world, I say to myself. Everyone in Selemku knows that the story of River Bambu is a tired fairytale parents told their children on nights when thunder ruled the skies. Something that never was. Something that never happened. But I love listening to Grandpa tell the story anyway.

“You think I am lying, don’t you? Nobody ever believes me when I say I saw the river.” Grandpa frowns.

“I believe you, Grandpa.” The words remain undissolved on my tongue, crystallizing into grains of guilt.

“No, you are just saying that to make me happy. At least, you are the only one who cares to listen.” 

It is a Sunday evening and I have come to visit my grandfather at Nka, a nursing home at the outskirts of Selemku. The drive from Bambu Estate, where I live, to the home, wrung all my bones inside-out. I could not use my car because I have exhausted my carbon-limit for the month. So, I had to sandwich myself between two men who sat as though they were fresh graduates from a manspreading course. Even now, in Grandpa’s sparsely furnished room where the AC is puffing out chilly air, I can still smell the moist stench of their armpits.

Grandpa takes a long sip from his teacup and smacks his thin lips. “Now this is what I call tea.”

For some time now, I have been sneaking in sugar and yogurt for Grandpa because the home serves the plainest tea you can find in Selemku. “They are feeding my ears with nonsense about how sugar and yogurt will give me diabetes and raise my cholesterol level. Pfft, I’ll still die anyway,” Grandpa had told me the day he asked me to start sneaking in sugar and yogurt for his tea.

He sips the tea again. This time, he belches and continues the story:  

Grandpa remembers the day well. Ms. Ogugua, his science teacher, had sent him out of the chemistry lab because he said yttrium was an alien residue instead of a lanthanide. Yes, Grandpa was stubborn like that during his schoolboy days, and even until now. He caught sight of River Bambu as he wandered along the school corridor. Slik. Clik. He took snapshots of the water-woman with his iPhone and filmed her water-walk for a minute. That was when the river saw him.

“The water woman snatched up phone, said murmured something...”

“...Her voice sounded like a thousand waves slapping against smooth peebles.”

Grandpa chuckles for a while before I join him. We never grow tired of this ritual; me completing this particular sentence, in the many years he has told me this story.

“And then she walked away.” Grandpa’s eyes are shining like halogen bulbs now.

“What did she say to you?”

“I don’t know. I was busy thinking of the million views and likes I would have gotten if I posted the pictures and videos online.”

“Too bad. You would have gone viral.”

By the evening of that day, headlines flashed across television screens- BIG ASS RIVER DISAPPEARS, COULD THIS BE THE CRAZIEST WTF MOMENT IN HISTORY, WHERE IS RIVER BAMBU?. The people shrugged their shoulders, after all, it was about time the huge mass of water stopped occupying space. Two weeks scarcely went by before Town Council commissioned Bambu Estate, the largest spread of residential buildings in Selemku, to be constructed where River Bambu once was. Nobody worried about what would become of the town now the river was gone because the scientists have made a groundbreaking discovery of combining atmospheric oxygen and hydrogen to make water that was even more efficient. But it was not only River Bambu that left Selemku. The rains stopped falling, the plants and animals began to die, and temperatures started rising because nothing, except the clouds, was absorbing solar radiation.

“We were not afraid because our scientists have developed plants that grow without water, glass sunscreens to shield us from the scorching sun and robot-animals to replace pets. Town Council bleeped out every mention of River Bambu, other than it being an estate, from books.”

My mind begins to paint a picture of the world in Grandpa’s story. A world different from the one we now live in, where water fell from the sky, and real grasses were on lawns, as opposed to those spiky green rugs, and pets with actual blood flowing through their bodies. But this is a fairytale, and we cannot exist in fairytales. Or can we?

“Do you miss the river?”

“Yes, I never forgot her. For Pete sake, she took my iPhone.”

The ward nurse opens the door, walks into the room and announces that visiting hours are over. I don’t like her, Nurse Oge. She is always walking in and out of Grandpa’s room, like she owns the place. More than ever, I blame Mama and Papa for letting Grandpa come here because their fancy Ad Agency job is taking up a huge chunk of their time. It has always been this way for my parents; job, money, before family, that is if they even remember.

Grandpa hugs me and whispers oya adi nma into my ears. I find it difficult to believe Grandpa’s words that things will soon fall into place. My plan had been to graduate from the university, work for six months and take Grandpa out of this place. Two years have trotted past since my graduation and I am still stuck as a research assistant at the Center for Anthropological and Natural Biology with a monthly stipend barely enough to cater for my essentials. In my most private thoughts, like last week when I ran out of toilet paper and had to use the water hose to clean up, I wished I had listened to my mother when she tried to talk me out of studying Natural and Anthropological Biology.

“Ijeoma, nobody studies things like this anymore,” Mama had said as she helped me fill the Tertiary Entrance Aptitude Form. “You know your IQ score can get you an admission in robotics, computer science or computerised medicine.”

“Mr. Ofor, dinner is in the next twenty minutes,” Nurse Oge says before leaving the room.

“Ngwanu, I’ll see you next week.” I peck Grandpa on both cheeks and make for the door.

It is well into the evening when I get to the train station. Time drifts while talking to Grandpa. The ride back home is no better. A woman, who refused to pay an extra fare for her three sons, squishes me until my nose is kissing the window. One of her sons starts drooling on my neck. Each time the train jerks, the woman will ask if I was comfortable, I will rustle up a smile and she will squish me the more.  I get off two train-stops before mine. Trekking home is better than being squeezed to death.

My feet ache when I get home, the to-and-fro train ride crushed the bones in them to powder. I carry the answering machine into the bathroom and listen to the messages while I soak myself in a cold bath. Mama called to confirm if I received my monthly allowance. I make a mental note to transfer the money back to her tomorrow. Papa said he was sorry he couldn’t keep up to his promise of going with me to see Grandpa. Amarachi, my younger sister, rambled about her husband taking her to Venus for the fifteenth time this year. Tobi, a coworker, called to get my response on his date proposal. Quadiri wanted to remind me of...

All my insides are hard, as if they layered with stones, and cold when I open my eyes. Outside my window, the street is already awake with the noise of parents shoving their children into school buses before zooming off to work. Few minutes pass before I realize it is Monday morning and I slept in my bathtub. I dry my body with a towel, pour myself into a pair of faded, grey slacks and yellow polo and throw on my lab coat. My wristwatch beeps 7:45AM by the time I grab coffee from the café downstairs. I have just fifteen minutes to get to work.

“Ije,” a voice hollers across the street.

I turn to find Tobi smiling behind the wheels of his blue Volvo. He waves at me to hop in. I murmur a silent thank-you prayer to the spirits and cross the street.

“Did you get my message yesterday?” Tobi’s hands are quivering on the steering wheel. He whistles to keep calm but his armpit is soaking with sweat. Dude needs to really calm down, it’s just a date proposal and not a varsity application.

“No.” The lie cools off my tongue. “I was tired out by the time I got back from the nursing home.”

“How is your Grandpa doing by the way?”

“The old man is kicking.” 

“So, will you go out with me?”

“Tobi, you are a nice guy but I have this...”

“...No Dating of Coworkers Policy.”

“How do you know?”

“Everybody in the office knows.”

For his sake, I am glad that Tobi has eased up a bit. Hands are now steady on the wheel and armpits have stopped pumping sweat. He flicks the radio switch and the voice of the morning show hostess drowns the silence in the car;

“Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s another kickass Monday in Selemku. Welcome to your number one morning show, The....Buzzzzzzzz. I’m your regular hostess Phenomenon. Stay tuned to S-Pop FM.”

The Center for Anthropological and Natural Biology is in a frenzy when Tobi’s car pulls up the driveway. Huge bulldozers are crushing the brick walls and uprooting the stone pillars. Some men in red uniforms are smashing the samples of plant and animal fossils stored preserved in glass containers. A pile of broken test tubes lay at the bottom of the stairs near the staff canteen. Professor Molokwu, the director of the center, is pleading with the bulldozer drivers. The other research assistants are scattered all over the street. A policeman meets Tobi and I at the car and collects our work badges. He says something about the new national budget not having any room to squeeze in drain-projects like the center.

I decline Tobi’s request to take me home. The train is a bit scanty today so I close my eyes and doze off.

“Madam, this is the last stop.” A hand nudges my shoulder. It is the train-boy. The train passed my stop twenty minutes ago and I am the only person on it.

“Thank you, thank you,” I say to the train-boy as I get off the train.

The TV is on when I unlock the front door of my apartment. NTA is showing the proceedings of the panel that was set up by Town Council to review Professor Molokwu’s activities as the director of the Centre for Anthropological and Natural Biology. The panel, made up of four men with chapped, red-and-black lips and uncombed grey hair, accused the professor of using taxpayers’ money to pursue his self-interest. The center’s purpose is to keep animal and plant fossils for historical purposes alone. Two months ago, the professor started experimenting on natural ways to form water, grow real plants and regenerate real animals from DNA strands. Somehow, word about the experiment slipped out of the center.

“The Town Council has suspended Professor Molokwu’s licence indefinitely and will discontinue funding The Center for Anthropological and Natural Biology,” the reporter’s voice in the background announces and a kiddies’ program pops up.

Today is a week since the Center for Anthropological and Natural Biology was shut down. I am curled upon the sofa, fishing through a packet of Fibre-Chips when my cellphone rings. A woman from the home says Grandpa was found limp on his bed when the nurse on duty came in for the morning rounds. My pride does allow me to call Tobi to drive me so I take the train. The little boy sitting next to me pukes on my T-shirt and his mother laughs and tells me that a child’s puke is God’s blessing.

Grandpa’s frame is shrunk and small on the wide bed at the medical wing of the nursing home. Series of tubes and humming machines cram his bed. The heart monitor skips a beep as I sit beside Grandpa and link my fingers in his.

“I’m not dying anytime soon,” Grandpa says and gives my fingers a gentle squeeze.

“Nobody is saying you are,” I repeat this a few more times in my mind to trick myself into believing it.

Dr. Morayo, the resident physician, opens the door and asks me to see him in his office. His office is huge and white and doctorish. He pulls out a brown file from the huge stack on his desk, scans through it and puts it back.

“Your grandfather is quite lucky that Nurse Oge found him on time.”

I let out a mild grunt and murmur: “Of course it had to be Nurse Oge.”

“At this point of the old man’s life,” Doctor Morayo continues, “he needs to be with the people he loves.”

“Is he dying?”

“Your grandfather has lived well above average life expectancy, him dying is very much a possibility.”

The doctor’s words hang above my nose like wet socks long after I leave his office. I head back to the medical wing where Grandpa is fiddling with the tube strapped to his nostrils. He can open his eyes now and grins as I pat his forehead. Later in the afternoon, I tell Dr. Morayo that I am financially stable and can take care of a dependent relative. For Grandpa’s sake, I will stop returning the monthly allowance Mama sends to me. The doctor asks me a couple more questions; where I live, if I use biodegradable detergent for my laundry and household cleaning, how much I earn per month – to which I quoted my monthly allowance, and how familiar I am with Grandpa’s medication,  before he signs the discharge papers and agrees to let me take Grandpa to my apartment tomorrow morning.

I spend the night in Grandpa’s room packing his clothes, golf kit, funky shoes, collection of monocles, and geography textbooks, deciding what goes into the bag and what does not while he snores the night away. Most of Grandpa’s books are rare and banned by the Ministry of Learning. The ministry had ordered university professors to write new books that would erase the past and blot out the memories of River Bambu, Grandpa had told me this when I asked why the books were banned. He keeps his books locked in an electronic safe but, somehow, he left the safe unlocked tonight. I splay the books on the floor and scheem through the pictures. The pictures are strange. One page has a huge, shiny mass of water labeled River Bambu. I flip past pictures of forests with thick undergrowths layered like green rugs, lions with golden manes, red-bottomed baboons, camels with brown backs and birds with spangled feathers.

I doze off halfway through a paragraph on ocean waves and tides.

Mama sends over a car in the morning to take Grandpa and me to my apartment at Bambu Estate. Nurse Oge squeezes Grandpa’s shoulder so tight, sheds a tear or two, before saying her goodbyes. My mind pricks throughout the drive home. Grandpa’s books showed that Selemku was not always this way. A river and diverse species of plants and animals existed barely hundred years ago. The geography texts we read in school didn’t make mention of that, the DNA specimens in the Center for Anthropological and Natural Biology were all labeled “Three Million Years Ago”. The car jerks as it stops in front of my apartment. Sadiq, Mama’s driver, helps me carry Grandpa to the top floor, where I live, while I drag Grandpa’s bags behind. I draw up the curtains and offer Sadiq a glass of orange juice. He declines and says that Madam needs him to drive her to see a client.

The rest of the day is spent clearing out the tiny room that served as my study for Grandpa’s things. Grandpa frowns when he notices that I left some of his belongings in the nursing home.

“But they are junk,” I say, partly in defence and partly to cheer up his grumpy face.

“Ije, nothing is junk. When you get to my age and your memory starts to fail you, you begin to rely on every piece of junk to remind you of the past.”

“I’ll call Nurse Oge to send them here tomorrow.”

Grandpa smiles and begins to sort through his things.

“You see this golf club,” he says. “I bought it on the first day I took your father to the golf course. Boy, your father sucked at golf.”

“Why does he still have a membership at the Country Club?”

Grandpa scoffs: “Anyone who is rich and potbellied can join the Country Club.”

Grandpa stacks his books on the little shelf beside the window.

“You are not keeping them in the electronic safe?”

“You started reading it last night. I want you to finish.”

“No I wasn’t.”

He smiles, opens the closet and starts hanging his clothes. Each pair of trousers or shoes or shirt or polo or sweater or book or electronic gadget has a unique backstory. The iPod he used as a teenager, the boots he wore on the first fishing trip he went with his father, the pair of glasses he wore during his university days, his wedding suit, the clothes he bought on his honeymoon in space, the black umbrella he took along with him, in case it rained, on an evening in May when his wife was buried. Before nightfall, the room became a repository of a ninety-year old memory.

“Ijeoma.” Someone taps my shoulder. “Wake up.”

I let out a tired yawn and turn on the bedside lamp. Grandpa is standing above me. His teeth are chattering, his hands are shaking and his pajamas are drenched with sweat.

“Go away. Unemployed people have no business waking up this early,” I muffle into the pillow.

“Wake up sleepyhead, your Grandpa is losing his head.”

“What?”

“I’m dreaming about tripping and falling while being chased by the water-woman.”

“Have you had this dream before?”

“No. I think it’s because I came here. This is where River Bambu once stood. Her home.”

If Grandpa had said this before I read his textbooks, I would have rolled my eyes and laughed off the overactive imagination of an old man. But reading those books has made me question everything I thought I knew.

“Did the river say something to you?”

“She said we will soon need her help and she won’t lift a finger to save us.”

Without any reason to go back to sleep Grandpa and I stay up until morning.

Grandpa makes breakfast in the morning. Pancakes and honey. We are polishing the last pieces off when my cellphone rings. It’s Tobi. This is the twelfth time he is checking up on me in the last two weeks. He wants to know how I was doing, handling the whole not-having-a-job thing and all. After my carefully-recited speech on how great I was doing and how he shouldn’t worry a bit about me, Tobi asks he if can come over to my place with the excuse of coming to see Grandpa.

“He’s also doing fine. But you can drop by if you so insist.”

“And we can talk. You know, two recently unemployed adults.”

Grandpa grins and whispers to me to let the poor boy come over.

A loud crash at the other end of the line bashes against my ear. “Tobi, are you alright?”

“Yes.”

Tobi’s car pops into the driveway two hours later. He is wearing a blue sweatshirt,  black trousers and a pair of blue sneakers. A yellow package crests on the curve of his left arm.

“He’s kinda cute.” I say. “Not that fashionable but still cute.”

Grandpa laughs and mutters something about someone falling for someone without even knowing it.

After we have had lunch, boiled potatoes and fish sauce, Grandpa brings out his chessboard and invites Tobi and I to play on the balcony. Grandpa and Tobi win four rounds, each, in a row. They let me win the ninth round when they notice that my interest in the game is beginning to wane. When evening kicks in, we go inside to watch some TV. It is National History Month so they are showing a very old movie- October 1, about our country’s independence. The characters are drab but Grandpa and Tobi seem to be enjoying it so I don’t complain.

Midway into the movie, the screen goes blank and displays:

This message is from Water Supply Board. Water-rations will be reduced to four liters daily per household from tomorrow. Maintaining the previous water-rations will reduce oxygen levels for normal respiration. Citizens are encouraged to conserve water by talking less, cutting out jogging and aerobics from their daily routine and reducing their intake of salt. Citizens are also advised to wear breathing masks as atmospheric CO2 is increasing.

“Does this mean we are screwed?” Grandpa asks.

Tobi holds my hand and gives it a gentle squeeze. “Hey, don’t freak out. We will get through this.”

I blink twice. The world is moving in fast, colliding colors.

The days that follow are like bits of hell packaged in tiny bottles.

Tuesday. A group of protesters set a fire on the street. I am in the kitchen baking wheat-pie for Grandpa when the smoke alarm goes off. I rush to the balcony to see men, women, and children, dressed in tarpaulin coats, carrying placards and dancing around a fire. The police arrives an hour later and throw teargas at the crowd. They disperse only to come back in the evening. This time, they are with spray paint. They deface walls and fences with FUCK THE GOVERNMENT, WATER RATIONS FOR GOVERNMENT EXECUTIVES MUST FALL.

On Wednesday morning, the crowd on the street has thinned by more than half. The few left are tired out. A woman cradles and coos a crying child. Two children trudge along the sidewalk, they are looking for their parents. Grandpa had warned me to stay off the balcony, so I am watching these things from my bedroom window. Just before noon, Water Supply Board announces that water-rations have been slashed to one and half liters per household.

For weeks now, Grandpa and I spend most of the time poring over his geography textbooks. He had a memory flash some nights ago and he woke me up to tell me that he could recall what the river told him on the day she left.

“She said she was going to bury herself under layers of rocks.”

“But it does not make sense.”

Today, Grandpa and I stumble upon the article about the water table. This is when what Papa said about River Bambu burying herself under layers of rocks begins to make sense. There is proof. Our world was floating on water. If we dig deep enough, we can solve the water problem. 

“Let’s report our findings to Town Council.”

“Ijeoma, you don’t get it, do you? We have violated the law already by reading those books. Those chunks at Town Council won’t believe a thing we say, they will just have our heads on a stake.”

“Maybe we can dig the ground ourselves. When we find the water table, everybody will believe us.”

Grandpa makes to respond but stops when my cellphone rings. Even without looking at the Caller ID I know it is Tobi. He has been calling more often since after the water crisis started. He says he misses Grandpa and me, especially now the water crisis won’t let him come over.

“Tell Tobi I said hi.” Grandpa gathers the textbooks in the crook of his right arm and heads towards his bedroom.

In the evening, I head to the mall to get sweetened yogurt for Grandpa. We no longer go out in the mornings because the glass sky-shields have cracked, causing intense heat and ultraviolet rays to escape into the atmosphere. Morning temperatures can melt flesh off bones. The shopkeeper tells me that some men from Water Supply Board came yesterday and seized all the water-based products. People are queuing up in front of the now dripping water fountain down the street with pails and water containers as I walk back home.

I wait for Grandpa to sleep before I sneak out to the backyard and start digging with the help of an electronic driller. I dig until morning comes then I cover the hole and go back to the house. Grandpa sees me covered in mud but does not say anything. My body is twisted and sour from all the digging I did last night. I slump on the bed and close my eyes.

“She said she buried herself under layers of rock, right?”

“What?”

“The river.”

“Yes.” Grandpa answers and continues filling the crossword puzzle he cut out from an old newspaper. We have just finished having dinner. Brown rice and ginger sauce. He is still grumpy because I couldn’t get sweetened yoghurt for his evening tea.

“What if we find her? What if we start digging here, underneath us?” I ask again.

Grandpa frowns and crumples the crossword puzzle. “She wasn’t beings specific when she said under layers of rocks. She could be anywhere.”

“Or she could be here.”

“Yes, she could have walked all the way to the city gates and back just to bury herself in the same place she left.” He chuckles and starts unfolding the crumpled crossword puzzle.

“Then why did you start having the dreams when you came here?”

The chuckle melts off Grandpa’s face as he mutters something about children of this generation being in the constant habit of disagreeing with their elders and how it was not like this in the good old days. He crumples the crossword puzzle, already unfolded halfway, grabs his reading glasses and leaves the room.

It is well into the heart of the night when I wake up. Grandpa is snoring on the sofa, his boots splattered with mud. There is a trail of mud from the parlor.  I smile and hurry downstairs. There is a hole. The hole is bigger now. In the morning, Grandpa and I just exchange knowing glances. We continue digging for two weeks, sleeping with a prayer that we find the river on our lips. The neighbors are beginning to suspect something fishy going on in our backyard and someone would have called Town Council if the phone lines were still working. Mrs. Kene, the woman who we share a fence with, came over the other day to ask about the strange noises coming from our backyard. I hurriedly made up an excuse that Grandpa and I are trying to squeeze moisture out of the ground. Mrs. Kene did not buy my story.

Today, Water Supply Board announced that water-rations have been reduced to three-quarter liters and is only available for senior citizens and infant. The director of the board also assured citizens that the government is doing all its best to save the day.  I am wiping mud off my hands in the kitchen when someone opens the front door. Grandpa had just gone out to get his water-ration and the door was open, so I figure out it must be him. But the footsteps approaching the kitchen are eerie, almost like a ripple.

“Hello.”

The voice in the kitchen sounds like two shells rubbing against each other. I look up. A strange woman is standing by the doorway. Her blue-green gown is dripping wet, her skin has a transparent sheen, her eyes have a ghostly silver shade and her feet are bare.

“Who are you and what do you want?” I stutter.

“For you and your grandfather to stop disturbing my home.”

“Ije. I’m back. Green peas or rice, which conserves...” Grandpa swallows the remaining words as he sees the woman. “River Bambu!”

“Nobody has called me that name in years.” The woman smiles, baring her twinkling teeth. “Well, I was telling your granddaughter about the tremors in my house. I can’t have a quiet morning and a sound sleep at night.”

“That was because we are looking for you,” Grandpa says.

“Well you won’t find me.”

“Then we will not stop digging.” I chip in.

“Good luck with that. Soon the digging and dehydration will wear you too out and I’ll have my quiet mornings and sound sleep.” River Bambu turns to leave.

“Wait, where is my iPhone?” Grandpa asks.

“Your what?”

“You took my iPhone on the morning you disappeared.”

“It’s been ninety years. I lost that phone ninety years ago.”

“Well, according to the Ancient Secret Code of Gods and Goddesses, when a goddess loses a mortal’s iPhone, she owes the mortal a favor.”

“First off, I am a demigoddess and there is no such thing as an Ancient Secret Code of Gods and Goddesses but a river is never to be indebted to anyone.”

“So, you’ll come back?”

“I guess I miss feeling needed but you’ll still have to dig more to find me.”

A whole week passes before the hole in our backyard spurts water. Grandpa is the first to see it. He runs into the house and drags me to the backyard. Little green shoots are sprouting beside the hole. We connect a pipe to the hole and fill the neighbors’ water basins. In the morning we start calling people from the street to collect water. By evening, our backyard is filled with people. I leave Grandpa and Mrs. Kene in charge of the water sharing and started digging another hole in Mrs. Kene’s backyard. Before nightfall, I have dug three waterholes, the street is flooded, a new life is unfolding before us.

Water Supply Board arrests Grandpa and I the next morning. They say we are dispensing illegal substance. In the evening, orders from Town Council instructs them to let us go. There is dancing and stomping of feet and cheering when the Black Maria drops off Grandpa and me at my apartment.

“Grandpa is not the kind of person you’ll describe as just a good man. He saved us all.” I sniff hard to hold back the tears.

Mama, Papa, Amarachi, my younger sister, Tobi and a huge crowd of sympathizers are standing behind me. I drop a rose on Grandpa’s grave and step back. The drive back from the cemetery to my apartment is heavy with unsaid words.

“She is taking this mourning thing seriously as if Grandpa belonged to her alone. See how we are packed like sardine in her tiny apartment for the after-burial when we could have done it at my place or my parents’. But no, she won’t hear of it.” I hear Amarachi chattering to her husband.

“Ah, Ijeoma. Look at you,” Amarachi gasps when she realizes I was standing beside her the whole time.

I smile and walk towards Tobi. “Are you free Monday evening?”

“Are you asking me out on a date?” Tobi asks.

“Yes.”

“Then try better.”

“How?”

“Send me flowers first thing in the morning and call me, then I might consider your proposal. If I do go out with you, I will like one of those exotic restaurants that still have human waiters.” He grins. “Yes, I can also play hard-to-get.”

At night, when all the guests leave, I vacuum the floor and cushions. I stand by the window and look out to the street. Tall grasses are sprouting from the plastic-lawns and children are playing in front of the water fountain. Our world is not yet like the pictures in Grandpa’s textbooks but we are getting there. Town Council has reinstated the Center for Anthropological and Natural Biology, Water Supply Board is building waterholes around the country, Professor Molokwu’s project is about to regenerate the extinct plants and animals and the Weekly Meteorological Report predicts the rains will come soon as the clouds have absorbed sufficient moisture.

“We did it.” I whisper to the wind where I know Grandpa’s spirit is, watching over all of us.