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Noor
Author:Nnedi Okorafor

Shhhhhhhhhhhh . . .

I was straining so hard, awaiting the suffocation and sting of the sand on my face that it was several moments before I noticed the sound and the rain. Yes, it was raining. Oh my God, it was raining! Raining . . . sand. We raised our heads, looking at each other as sand fell all around us. Fell, not blew. The wind had stopped. Noor running all over northern Nigeria had stopped and now so had the winds of the Red Eye.

I grabbed DNA’s hand and pulled, “Run! Or we’ll be buried.” As we ran, I could see so much.



* * *





I could see it, though I could only really analyze it later. In the Hour Glass, everyone who could came out to watch the sand fall, and those who did not would regret it for the rest of their lives. Some were still bloody from the market riot that had been interrupted by the four-minute aejej shut down, but this did not stop them from bearing witness. The people of the Hour Glass had resigned themselves to so much in order to be who they were. They gave up natural sunlight. They gave up a connection to the rest of the world. They gave up time and endured TIME RESET. They gave up their family and friends. They gave up space. They’d been used to the swirling chaos that beat at the anti-aejej dome high above. They were used to the darkness, the distant noise.

But the rain of sand hitting the dome was a different noise all together. A steady sound, one that only had one direction, downward. It collected at the base and people ran to go see.

But before they reached the edges of the Hour Glass, they stopped to look up instead. There was a woman who threw her hands up and cried, “Praise Allah!!”



* * *





I saw because I looked and I had eyes everywhere now. So I saw the Red Eye close from above, and I zoomed the satellite image into the storm, and that’s how I saw what no other human being could see. As the sands fell, so did the bones. Finally, those people whose lives had been taken by the Red Eye in the most brutal way—stripped of life, then all flesh—and left to fly and fly, they fell to the ground. All those people could rest. And as the sand fell, all those people were also buried. Finally. Except for a few who tumbled onto and remained on the surface, rib cages, femurs, tibias, humeri, pelvises, skulls, all dust-bleached and wind-blasted a stark white. Scattered all over the Nigerian Sahel Desert. Those bones saw the sun for the first time in a long long time.



* * *





DNA and I ran, unable to see anything before us or around us. It was as if the lights were slowly turning on. And then, oh then came the most glorious sight I’d ever seen. We stopped running and stood looking up. A breeze blew, sweeping away the dust and there it was . . . clear blue sky above like the ocean!

We stared at each other, shocked, both understanding it all now. As I leaned against DNA, he cradled my left arm. “Thank you,” I breathed with relief. It was so heavy, now that it had stopped working and its weight was really starting to pull at the flesh of my arm stump and shoulder. I wiped the blood from my nose with my right hand. As I looked up at the sky as I tested it out. Yes, I could still see and the pomegranate of eyes could still see me. This was even a surprise to them. We sat down right there on the hard packed sand. A breeze blowing. We stared into each other’s eyes letting the sunshine heat the facts into our spirits: The Red Eye was a disaster. However, it was not a natural one. It had been manmade. “Now I truly understand why you were their worst nightmare,” DNA said.

Fifteen minutes later, a small drone whirred to us and dropped two bottles of water and a sunflower with an oily sack full of freshly fried sweet plantain tied to its thick stem. We drank and ate right there in the desert sun. I sniffed the sunflower. The water washed the blood from my mouth, the plantain made me forget it was ever there and the sunflower smelled beautiful. It was a better meal than the one I’d planned back in Abuja. It was all I wanted.



* * *





And in several big cities in a country far far away, the lights went out.





ACKNOWLEDGMENTS


Noor was a novel that came to me out of nowhere. I walked out of Nigeria’s Murtala Muhammed International Airport in 2017, inhaled the Lagos air and, BOOM, the first scene rushed into my head like a spirit . . . and AO started talking to me. I sat down right there on the central median bench while I was waiting for my ride to pick me up and wrote the first few paragraphs.

This was a novel I wrote quietly without telling anyone about it but my daughter Anyaugo. And she championed me all the way through. So I’d like to thank Anyaugo first and foremost for being my audience and keeping me focused on what was most important in the story. In 2019, I traveled to Ouarzazate, Morocco with my daughter to visit the largest solar plant in Africa, the Noor Solar Complex. The site director Mustafa Sellam spent the day showing us around and by the time we left, I understood that there was power and clean energy to be harvested in African deserts. The Noor Solar Complex was where the title for this novel came from and its innovation was one of the foundations.

Thank you to writer Chris Abani for offering his deep knowledge of the cultures and politics in the northern region of Nigeria. Thank you to my editor Betsy Wollheim for loving this novel from the moment she read it. A hearty thanks to Greg Ruth for his epic rendering of AO on the cover. Greg and I talk extensively about my characters before he draws them, so he packed a lot into that image. Thank you to graphic designer Jim Tierney for that awesome font on the cover. Thank you to my literary agent Donald Maass for his streamlining feedback.

Lastly, I’d like to thank that haboob I experienced in Phoenix, Arizona for inspiring my writer’s mind to imagine a city within dust and wind.





ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Nnedi Okorafor was born in the United States to two Igbo (Nigerian) immigrant parents. She holds a PhD in English and is a professor of creative writing at Chicago State University. She has been the winner of many awards for her short stories and young adult books, and won a World Fantasy Award for Who Fears Death. Nnedi's books are inspired by her Nigerian heritage and her many trips to Africa. She lives in Chicago with her daughter Anyaugo and family. She can be contacted via her website, www.nnedi.com.