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Author:Nnedi Okorafor

I reached a place where the road ended and the wilderness began and I got out of the car. I grabbed my small backpack with nothing but my cell phone, its solar charger, two bottles of water and the last of my shelled groundnuts. I was sweaty and stinky and wearing nothing but the clothes I’d worn when I’d killed all those men in the market. I walked into the desert. My legs were bionic, so I didn’t worry about snakes or cold or the eventual heat. I didn’t tire, though I was tired. And so so sad. As I walked, I cried. How far was I from . . . I didn’t think about it. I’d know it if I came to it.

My left arm still tingled. I looked up at the sky and the stars were so bright that I felt as if I were bathing in their shine. I sang to myself, an old song that I used to hear my grandmother sing in English, “Five hundred twenty five thousand six hundred minutes. Five hundred twenty five thousand moments so deeeeeear.” It was too dark to see much of anything, but when I came across a resting cow, I sat down and leaned against her smooth body. I snuggled my head against her warm side and the cow was fine with this despite the fact that I was part machine and she was not. Sleep descended quickly.



Why did I run to the desert? A desert with a disaster churning in its bowels? I could have fled in any direction. I had a wiped African e-passport on my phone. I could have crossed any continent border without anyone knowing who I was, no questions, no forms. Yet I went due north. I was broken, worse than when I was broken at the age of fourteen. Children are resilient, especially when they find a bright star to latch onto. My star back then was a podcast.

When I was fourteen and newly broken by the car accident, I realized that there are times when you either save yourself or you don’t. It’s only up to you. One does not simply have robot legs attached to the place where her legs have just been crushed off and then get up and walk off, better than new. First there is red pain. A beast with a shadow that swallowed my entire room. I don’t remember that room being any color but shades of red. And for the first week, oh, I was drowning in it. Then I decided to stop drowning.

But before I discovered that podcast, I saw a ghost. The government townhouse in Lagos, which I grew up in, was built beside one of the city’s ten receiving turbines. Every morning at 6 AM and every night at 11 and 3 AM, it would receive the energy payload. This was energy gathered, condensed, restructured and then wirelessly sent from the Sunflower Initiative solar farms in Morocco, Mali and Niger. These directable long-range wireless transfers of energy looked like giant delicate shadows that gently glowed their jellyfish purple blue. Most call them, “ghosts.”

I’d awakened just in time to see the 3 AM ghost floating by my window. Its movement was slow but steady and focused. I gazed at it, wondering how people decades ago would have reacted to such a sight. They probably would have thought aliens were invading, I thought. I knew a bit about the invention of wireless energy transfer, but my curiosity sparked brighter and I decided to look up the inventor. She was now very old and her name was Zagora.

My eye landed on my phone and I knew what I had to do next. To move even the slightest bit was a horror and I may have screamed the entire time. No one was in the room with me. My phone was on the counter beside my bed. When I had it in my hands, tapping the touch screen caused fire to shoot all over my body, the motion of my fingers, wrist, the slight increase in my breathing. I was crying. But I found one. A podcast about Zagora and her great invention. It had been recorded decades ago and was easily the most iconic one. I didn’t know it would be so central to my saving myself when I found it. At the time, I just needed something to listen to, something to take me out of my situation, my pain.

I saved it right on my phone, ready to play on the home screen. I played it once and it soothed me. I played it again and I felt hope; I began to imagine and wonder. The red was still there, but it became a tint. I listened to that podcast over and over, for months, for years.

During those times, I hurt so much as my nerves bonded with my new legs. Even as I healed, I endured strange random explosions of hot pain in the darkness that was my body. The hurt could be in my crushed legs or on my shoulder or in my face or in my mind. It filled the darkness like stars. But the podcast filled those stars with ghosts, possibilities. I listened to that podcast so many times that I memorized it. Sometimes I’d lie in my bed singing it like a song. I’d even hum the theme song at the beginning and end. To this day I can recite the entire thing the way some people can recite the Quran.

The podcast was called Sahara Solaris. It was written by a journalist who happened to meet and remember Zagora long before she became great. The podcast made the desert look like the place with all the answers.

The Africanfuturist: #8953_Sohara Solaris

Theme Music

Good morning, day, evening, to my listeners. You are listening to The Africanfuturist. Welcome to my show. How is everybody doing? I know it’s been a while since my last episode, but these are strange and challenging times. I do hope that today’s episode brings you hope and wonder and insight. It is a true and extraordinary story.

A travel journalist named Izzy once met the little girl named Zagora outside one of the old crumbling kasbahs in Skoura Ahl El Oust, Morocco. Izzy had been interested in the camel, not the girl. She approached the camel to get a better look and Zagora ran up to her. Apparently, going to see that camel was what a lot of tourists did, so little Zagora was ready. Before Izzy knew it, Zagora had shoved a camel woven from palm fronds into Izzy’s hands and then stepped back, waiting. Izzy had to either move forward and give it back to her or pay for it. Zagora’s move was brilliant in its manipulative simplicity.

Izzy had no dirham, so she made a snap judgment and gave the girl twenty Euros. She earned it. Zagora snatched the money from her lightning fast, but she had her reasons. Seconds after Zagora snatched the money, the hand of her little brother was there; he was seconds too late. Zagora ran off with the money before her brother could snatch it from her. And Izzy never saw her again. But that doesn’t matter. Izzy remembered that girl and later, years later, Izzy put the story all together. This is what happened . . .

On that day outside that kasbah, Zagora was ten years old with black bushy hair and dusty gym shoes. She was short for her age. Her parents were nomads, and Zagora and her family lived in caves nearby. Her father was a Berber sheep herder, her mother an immigrant from Timbuktu, Mali, another desert region.