Home (Binti #2)
“Five, five, five, five, five, five,” I whispered. I was already treeing, numbers whipping around me like grains of sand in a sandstorm, and now I felt a deep click as something yielded in my mind. It hurt sweetly, like a knuckle cracking or a muscle stretching. I sunk deeper and there was warmth. I could smell the earthy aroma of the otjize I’d rubbed on my skin and the blood in my veins.
The room dropped away. The awed look on my mathematics professor Okpala’s face dropped away. I was clutching my edan, the points of its stellated shape digging into the palms of my hands. “Oh, my,” I whispered. Something was happening to it. I opened my cupped palms. If I had not been deep in mathematical meditation, I’d have dropped it, I’d not have known not to drop it.
My first thought was of a ball of ants I’d once seen tumbling down a sand dune when I was about six years old; this was how desert ants moved downhill. I had run to it for a closer look and squealed with disgusted glee at the undulating living mass of ant bodies. My edan was writhing and churning like that ball of desert ants now, the many triangular plates that it was made of flipping, twisting, shifting right there between my palms. The blue current I’d called up was hunting around and between them like a worm. This was a new technique that Professor Okpala had taught me and I’d gotten quite good at it over the last two months. She even called it the “wormhole” current because of the shape and the fact that you had to use a metric of wormholes to call it up.
Breathe, I told myself. The suppressed part of me wanted to lament that my edan was being shaken apart by the current I was running through it, that I should stop, that I would never be able to put it back together. Instead, I let my mouth hang open and I whispered the soothing number again, “Five, five, five, five, five.” Just breathe, Binti, I thought. I felt a waft of air cross my face, as if something passed by. My eyelids grew heavy. I let them shut . . .
. . . I was in space. Infinite blackness. Weightless. Flying, falling, ascending, traveling through a planet’s ring of brittle metallic dust. It pelted my skin, fine chips of stone. I opened my mouth a bit to breathe, the dust hitting my lips. Could I breathe? Living breath bloomed in my chest from within me and I felt my lungs expand, filling with it. I relaxed.
“Who are you?” a voice asked. It spoke in the dialect of my family and it came from everywhere.
“Binti Ekeopara Zuzu Dambu Kaipka of Namib, that is my name,” I said.
“There’s more,” the voice said.
“That’s all,” I said, irritated. “That’s my name.”
The flash of anger that spurted through me was a surprise. Then it was welcome. I knew my own name. I was about to scream this when . . .
. . . I was back in the classroom. Sitting before Professor Okpala. I was so angry, I thought. Why was I so angry? It was a horrible feeling, that fury. Back home, the priestesses of the Seven might even have called this level of anger unclean. Then one of my tentacle-like okuoko twitched. Outside, the second sun was setting. Its shine blended with the other sun’s, flooding the classroom with a color I loved, a vibrant combination of pink and orange that the native people of Oomza Uni called “ntu ntu.” Ntu ntu bugs were an Oomza insect whose eggs were a vibrant orange-pink that softly glowed in the dark.
The sunlight shined on my edan, which floated before me in a network of current, a symmetry of parts. I’d never seen it disassemble like this and making it do so had not been my intention. I’d been trying to get the object itself to communicate with me by running current between its demarcations. Okpala claimed this often worked and I wanted to know what my edan would say. I had a moment of anxiety, frantically thinking, Can I even put it back together?
Then I watched with great relief as the parts of my edan that had detached slowly, systematically reattached. Whole again, the edan set itself down on the floor before me. Thank the Seven, I thought.
Both the blue from the current I still ran around it and the bright ntu ntu shined on Okpala’s downturned face. She had an actual notebook and pencil in hand, so Earth basic. And she was writing frantically, using one of the rough thick pencils she’d made from the branch of the tamarind-like tree that grew outside the mathematics building.
“You fell out of the tree,” she said, not looking up. This was how she referred to that moment when you were treeing and then suddenly were not. “What was that about? You finally had the edan willing to open itself.”
“That’s what it was doing? That was a good thing, then?”
She only chuckled to herself, still writing.
I frowned and shook my head. “I don’t know . . . something happened.” I bit my lip. “Something happened.” When she looked up, she caught my eye and I had a moment where I wondered whether I was her student or a piece of research.
I allowed my current to fade, shut my eyes and rested my mind by thinking the soothing equation of f(x) = f(-x). I touched the edan. Thankfully, solid again.
“Are you alright?” Professor Okpala asked.
Despite medicating with the soothing equation, my head had started pounding. Then a hot rage flooded into me like boiled water. “Ugh, I don’t know,” I said, rubbing my forehead, my frown deepening. “I don’t think what happened was supposed to happen. Something happened, Professor Okpala. It was strange.”
Now Professor Okpala laughed. I clenched my teeth, boiling. Again. Such fury. It was unlike me. And lately, it was becoming like me, it happened so often. Now it was happening when I treed? How was that even possible? I didn’t like this at all. Still, I’d been working with Professor Okpala for over one Earth year and if there was one thing I should have learned by now it was that working with any type of edan, no matter the planet it had been found on, meant working with the unpredictable. “Everything comes with a sacrifice,” Okpala liked to say. Every edan did something different for different reasons. My edan was also poisonous to Meduse; it had been what saved my life when they’d attacked on the ship. It was why Okwu never came to watch any of my sessions with Okpala. However, touching it had no such effect on me. I’d even chanced touching my okuoko with my edan. It was the one thing that let me know that a part of me may now have been Meduse, but I was still human.
Home (Binti #2)