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Author:Nnedi Okorafor

Noor by Nnedi Okorafor

Bentley: What is it, Major Lawrence, that attracts you personally to the desert?

Lawrence: It’s clean.

—Lawrence of Arabia

He who waits will see what is in the grass.

—Burning Grass, Cyprian Ekwensi “There is a whirlwind in southern Morocco, the aejej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives.”

—The English Patient, Michael Ondaatje

Ja Ido

I would never do this again. But for the moment, I survived. I went on.

I focused my attention beyond the soldiers, out into the open desert, where a Noor (Ultimate Corp’s famous enormous wind turbines) sat like the world’s most bizarre plant. Harvesting clean energy from one of the world’s worst environmental disasters. How poetic. The monstrous thing was about a mile away, where the wind began to roar wildly enough that I could hear it from here. Further into the chaos lived more of these fucking turbines. The evil things generated energy for the evil corporation from the whipping sands of the evil Ja Ido. Most use the language of our colonizers and call the enormous never-ending sandstorm the “Red Eye.” As I stood looking at its edge, I felt awe. I kept thinking, This isn’t Jupiter. This. Is. Earth.

Two days ago, I’d never have imagined I’d see any of this with my own eyes. In my mind, the Red Eye was a distant near-mythical thing like deep sea creatures or dragons. It wasn’t something I thought about often. Who could think about it often and be able to get on with their day?

Its dust will turn your eyes red within moments and kill you within minutes, clogging your nose and mouth, packing your lungs. The Red Eye has occupied miles and miles and miles of Northern Nigeria for nearly thirty years. Right now, its swirling proximity threatened the sun with its girth. It wasn’t a threat to me or him for the moment, though. Today, it was the beast who would watch me be a beast. “I’m not afraid,” I whispered to it, knowing it could hear me.

People actually lived in the Red Eye’s belly. People fled there. People who didn’t want to be a part of “This day and age” or who wanted to make their own day and age. They survived by using sand-deflecting devices, capture stations and super wells, weather-treated clothes, pure audacity, dust and grit. These were people who’d always been in the desert, even during the nationwide protests and riots, fires, droughts, floods, bloody massacres and global pandemics . . . when it looked like humanity was over. Nomads, herdsman, and desolation dwellers. Generations of people who understood and took issue with the agenda of false demarcations. “Non-Nigerians,” more popularly known in southern Nigeria and the rest of Africa as “Non-Issues.” If they could live in the belly of the beast, why should I fear that beast looming nearby?

I took a deep breath, letting it rush through my being, slowing my heart rate. I shut my eyes against the nearly blocked out sun, the rhythm in my head beating deep and heavy. It was so bright here, just before the enveloping shade of the storm. In this moment, I relished the dark redness of my blood pumping hard through my eyelids and the talking drum that was so so much like the beat my brother would play on his own drum. His playing used to bring everyone together, told them to come and listen. The rhythm in my head reminded me.

I remembered those wonderful festivals where everyone would put down their phones and tablets and windows and make a circle around him, and he would play and play. Feeding their souls, fortifying them, translating the strength of our ancestors into something we all could consume. In my teens, I could only lie there inside the house, unable to move, straining to hear his music. But I knew, even from out there with all those people listening, my brother was talking specifically to me with his talking drums, pushing me out to distant places to meet with my Ancestors and gods.

I rubbed my temples. My body felt different. From a distance, I heard a howl; something was about to die. Surprisingly, after all that had happened, I was still steady. It hadn’t been that long, but things were coming to a head. What a relief. Let it come. The darkness of looming clouds is worse than the storm.

I opened my eyes. I grasped the handle and pushed the cracked glass door. I threw myself into the arms of my fate, as I have been doing for decades. And this time I didn’t look back. Because to see him asleep on that old inflatable mattress would break my heart a second time in a matter of days. To meet his eyes and the eyes of the only two of his people he had left would make me weak. So I left them. I stepped outside and looked up. The whole world shivered into a new reality. One I could grasp.


    What Kind of Woman Are You?


It was late when I got home. I switched the light on in my bedroom and a startled gecko rushed up my wall and tried to hide near the ceiling. “Oh, not today,” I muttered. Then I spent the next hour trying to catch it. Thankfully, the thing escaped out the window. Wall geckos have always bothered me, and the thought of sleeping with one in my bedroom made me angry. On top of this, my headache was back. I knew I wasn’t going to sleep well.

I drifted into normal sleep just as the sun was rising. I think. I don’t quite remember. I was in my bed facing the window, rubbing my temples. My headache wasn’t ready to let up, thumping its drumbeat as if it wanted my spirit to go somewhere else. I was gazing across the Abuja building tops, there was a go-slow in the distance and I remember feeling glad that I didn’t have to be in it. These days, I rarely had to travel on the highway, anyway, thanks to the auto shop being only two miles away. My world was comfortably small.

The sunrise was a warm one, the breeze wafting into my open window. I liked the heat; when it was hot, I felt languid, effortless, good. I slept naked, unbothered by mosquitoes. They never seemed to like me. A hawk soared past my apartment window. Or maybe it was a vulture. The beating in my head seemed to surge. “Ah,” I groaned, rolling over.

Then I was watching my ex-fiancé Olaniyi’s back as he walked out the front door into a lush undulating jungle, a fantastic drum beat rolling up the green, red, and yellow leaves of trees and bushes. I looked up and the sky wasn’t really the sky because I was dreaming. It was like looking at a sky that was a blue leaf under a strong microscope and you were zooming and zooming in to see that it wasn’t a blue leaf at all; it was millions of blue eyes that made up the leaf. All those eyes were looking at me. And then they weren’t blue, they were red, like the eyes of lizards looking. Blinking and looking, blinking and looking.

When I blinked, I awoke, my heart pounding and my head aching so badly that I winced. I should have known the day would carry its own basket of strange. I should have known to be prepared. It was Friday, but I should have stayed home.

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