For a brief second, the sky resembled a slumbering monster rudely awakened. Its grey teeth, our ashen sky. Its hulking mass, our darkest afternoon, feeding on our fear and misery till all hope visible through the clouds was snuffed out.
As my loosely laced tennis shoes kicked up dirt behind my shaven head, I couldn’t resist the urge to turn back and take one last glance at the now-fallen empire of Ibadan. Once, her towering buildings overlooked the badlands of Iseyin. Now, those same barren grounds were the only refuge for me and my friends.
The ground beneath us shook as we hurried past smouldering debris entangled with the decapitated bodies of slain men and children. My stomach lurched as my gaze fell on the barbaric, disfigured corpse of a clean-shaven man. Another escapee like us, I thought. Only he wasn’t as lucky.
All we heard was a whistle before the ground split open like the lore of judgment day, the impact knocking us back with the force of a dozen bulldozers. I thought I saw my mother’s face when my head hit the dirt. Her gentle eyes oozed terror and anguish. I was equally scared but grateful to see her. It had been too long since I allowed myself picture it.
The next few seconds were hazy. We had survived the blast, albeit with a few cuts and bruises. But Feranmi wasn’t as lucky. On standing up, I found his impaled body lazily staring at me against a piece of metal from a dislodged vending cart. By the explosion’s intensity, I could tell the raiders had taken over the command base, crippling the city’s last chance of retaliating. Now, it was only a matter of time before the grand terrain of Ibadan fell, transformed into a wasteland of rubble and charred flesh. And yet, I would always remember its lands how my mother saw them. A resplendent city of hope. Her hope…for us.
It became increasingly arduous to keep sand out of my eyes as we hastened toward our only means of escaping the bloodbath. The Argo ship was evacuating residents of Ibadan to a safe zone, days away. As we approached it, my thoughts went back to Feranmi, and how he only had a month left on his sentence.
Beyond the soft and vibrant fields of Ibadan dwelled Iseyin – its barren and chalky outskirts was home to some of the most vicious predators like the cunning Kleibo and slippery Jure, that left deep, twisted trails across the land’s surface.
From afar, the Argo appeared as nothing more than a hovering, chrome saucer. But up close, the details in its ingenious construction shone. It was supposed to be the first of its kind, or maybe just the first a previously incarcerated criminal like myself had seen on the outside.
Somehow, my fear of the raiders was surpassed by something greater as Badejo screamed, “Hurry! It’s about to take off!” Sure enough, the enormous ship began to ascend even further away from the ground. And suddenly, as if happening in slow motion, I watched Badejo stumble to the floor. My attempt to help him up was thwarted by Remi, who jerked me forward by the sleeve of my tattered prison uniform, keeping my legs moving.
“We can’t stop now,” Remi yelled over the sound of the ship’s ignited jet propellers. I soon found out Remi had saved me from meeting an equally grim demise as my cellmate’s leg had been seized by a Kleibo and two more were hungrily tearing through his abdominal flesh.
The minute we’d begun to lose hope of ever catching up to the ship, its golden lights began to flicker. Not long after, it started its descent. The front hatch opened up, and there stood a man, yelling above the propellers’ rumble.
“Get in!” He waved us over. “We can’t completely take her to the ground. The raiders are almost here,” he pointed behind us.
I didn’t dare look back this time. When barely inches away, the man in the ship pulled a lever that dropped a ladder down to us. The only problem was we each had to jump and make a grab for it. Remi went first, successfully taking hold of a lower rung before the mysterious man helped him up.
“Jump now!” Remi called out to me when he was finally aboard.
With barely a second to decide, I closed my eyes and leapt. A decision I realised mid-air was nothing short of suicidal. Yet, somehow, I managed to grab hold of something. At first, I thought it was Remi who caught me. But when I opened my eyes, I found myself peering into the chestnut orbs of an enchanting stranger. And right next to that face was her arm that appeared to be the only thing holding me in place.
“Hold on,” she said with a strained breath. Behind her, I could see Remi and the mysterious man holding on to her posterior firmly. Almost as if dropping her would ascertain a death sentence for them.
With great caution and effort, they succeeded in pulling me aboard the ship. As soon as I was entirely within the ship’s confines, the hatch closed, and the ship’s propellers hurtled us away in hyper speed.
In that moment, my sight latched on to a beauty death’s shores could surely never possess – the riveting length of my rescuer. Deeply enthralled, I took in her overly radiant, ebony skin. Unlike my dull shade, hers gracefully shimmered. My gaze settled a little too long on her distinctly angular face.
“Thank you,” I finally said as I helped her to her feet.
“A little advice,” she responded, standing. “Next time you jump, leave your eyes open.”
I chuckled in embarrassment as she walked out of the room. “I’m Ayo,” I said, before she crossed over the door’s threshold.
“Tomi,” she replied with a melodic strain, barely into the next room.
“Ogbeni,” Remi grabbed hold of my shoulders. “Do you even know who that is? Do you want to end up dead?!”
He slapped the back of his hand against my chest when he noticed the empty and confused look on my face. “That’s Tomi Ajibade, Prime Minister Abayomi’s daughter.”
I stood mortified as the realization trickled in slowly. The glowing, smooth skin. Regal gait. Melodic strain of her voice. She was a capital girl, born and raised. And I had just broken our most sacred rule by allowing her to save my life.
The ship’s insides were a lot grander and more luxurious than its outsides conveyed. Upon arriving into the main entryway, a magnificent, grand mahogany staircase with twin overarching landings spiralled into a broad set of treads greeted us.
“We dock in 5 days,” the mysterious man from before said to Remi and me. “Until then, everyone has a position on this ship. Everyone earns their keep.”
“We have to work? Even while the world is literally falling apart?” Remi asked.
“Considering your…” the man, I suddenly realised had a lighter and shinier pigmentation than we did, tried to explain as he gestured.
“What do we have to do?” I spoke up after a moment of uncomfortable silence.
“We could use a couple of waiters at the restaurant and baristas at the cafe. Your choice.”
“And payment?” Remi asked.
“You get paid in food and accommodation.”
I wanted to let him know just how ridiculous this all was. But I thought better of it. “We’ll take them,” I answered instead.
“Great,” Remi grumbled beside me as the man walked up the stairs. “We’re back in prison.”
I turned to look at him incredulously as I gestured to the fantastic architecture and murals all around us. “When did you ever see such a view in prison?”
On my way back to the lower compartments after a disastrous first shift, I thought about Tomi. Why had she risked her life just to end up dooming mine? If anyone ever finds out we touched…I dispelled the terrifying thought from my head.
My people had strict rules against the lower class interacting with diplomats. Once, a man of my tribe, the Yorubas, grabbed in public the hand of a diplomat’s daughter. They were secret lovers, but on seeing her standing a few feet away at the grand square, he had taken her hand in his by reflex to say hello. He was immediately tackled to the ground by by-standers and executed a few hours later.
By the large charcoal painting of Mide Fowora – the Argo ship’s highly decorated and revered Lead Engineer, came the odd scent of perfumed smoke spilling from the adjacent door. Recalling the familiar allure, I headed in.
I wasn’t exactly sure what I expected to find when I walked in, but it wasn’t supposed to be a pool. Neither was I supposed to find the prime minister’s daughter staring at her unmoving reflection in the water.
“This area is off-limits,” she said without turning around.
Somehow the knowledge of who she was didn’t seem so intimidating being so close to her. “Is this another one of those diplomat-only spots?” I enquired.
She shrugged her shoulders. “Maybe.”
I took off my woven shoes and slipped right next to her, dipping my feet into the lukewarm water.
We sat together in silence for a few moments. She stretched out slowly her pack of low-nicotine cigarettes to me, her lips sealed and eyes focused on an imaginary image in the far end of the water. I took a stick from her pack, muttered a “thank you,” and proceeded to light it. Our silence continued.
Suddenly, the pool door opened. It only took a few seconds, but Tomi’s hand was over my mouth before I could utter a single word to the guard who wandered in. He looked around curiously, his brows furrowed.
“There’s no one here,” he called before turning around.
“But I heard voices,” a second guard said.
“You’re probably still hearing the explosion in Ibadan ringing in your ears,” the guard chortled.
Tomi’s hand didn’t leave my mouth until several minutes after.
“What just happened?” I turned around to face her, my eyes betraying my confusion.
At the look of terror on her face and the realisation of what she’d just done, my grandmother’s stories surged forth from the archives of my memories. All her tales of the mythical women of the ancient days blessed by gods, which my people no longer believed in, became as vivid as the temperate evenings she told them. Only a few people still believed in magic, but here I was in the presence of it.
My eyes widened in realization. “You’re a wielder.”
“Don’t call me that,” she pleaded as she turned away from me.
We sat in silence once again. “So, you’re aware of who you are,” I said after a while.
“Of what I am,” she corrected. “Yes, I’m aware.”
My brows furrowed in confusion. “You’re not happy about that?”
She turned around, revealing inflamed, scarlet veins across her neck. They certainly looked like they hurt.
“What I am comes with consequences.”
We fell into silence again.
“Have you ever told anyone?” I asked.
“Just one,” she replied, her eyes leaving me and drifting away into the water again. “It didn’t end well.”
“Oh,” I replied. “How so?”
For the next hour, she delved into the last few years of her life. It was the most heart-wrenching tale I’d ever heard. Yet, she told it with graceful composure and a sadness I never thought could possibly exist in a single soul.
When she was thirteen she got her first premonition, but was unaware of the power her newfound instincts held. A simple prediction of a surprise proposal to her cousin Derin began her whirlwind adventure. Soon, she could predict other things at will. The weather, bountiful harvest, promotions. One special day, and this event she retold with a ghost of a smile playing on the edge of her lips, she realised she could bend light to her will. The more Tomi could do, the more curious she got about why she could do them. So, she studied and stumbled upon the old legend of Wielders – descendants of the ancient gods. But everything took a dark turn when Derin’s husband died in an accident a few years later, and Tomi had failed to predict it.
Derin accused her of being responsible for his death. But Tomi had been partying a lot then and had only recently found out that alcohol repressed her abilities. She quit drinking after that, just in time to predict the next death. But she was still too late, because, completely grief-stricken, Derin had taken her own life.
Tomi and I stayed up talking till the early hours of the morning. There was no fear for my life, or shame of committing a taboo. I was too enamoured by her to give way to such thoughts. And she appeared too relieved to have finally let some weight off her shoulders.
After our talk that night, we quickly fell into a daily routine for the next few days on the Argo. Our nights were filled with enthusiastic chats in the deserted pool, our form of language growing from informal to intimate. Some nights, if I was lucky, we conversed telepathically. Telepathy was one of her many gifts. In the morning, we’d meet up at the café during my shift. She’d sit at the counter, and because we weren’t allowed to interact publicly, we’d converse on our own private telepathic frequency.
Things changed the night before we were to dock. For as long as I’d been a resident of the Argo, I’d felt something slowly growing within me, turning into a painful yearning. It wasn’t until our last night aboard the ship I glimpsed a reflection of it in Tomi’s eyes as well. In a moment I will hold dearly all my life, our eyes locked, and we shared our first kiss.
Earlier when she had invited me up to her quarters to look at the stars, I felt fear for my life. For being seen. But being around her soothed me in odd and unspeakable ways. There was an undeclared understanding of each of our frailties and scars. I guess that’s why we felt safe with each other. We both longed for a connection we didn’t feel we could ever deserve and knew that the other equally shared that dread, even if it meant death for one of us.
Our euphoria was however short-lived, because the moment we disentangled from each other’s embrace, an explosion rang through the north quadrant of the ship. Immediately the alarms rang out, and panic ensued. We’d been breached. Tomi and I jumped to our feet.
“What’s the breach contingency?” I yelled over the sound of the deafening alarm.
“Space pods,” she yelled back as she guided me through the sea of horrified diplomats. No one noticed me, or that Tomi and I were touching. “One for each diplomat.”
My feet halted on hearing her response. She followed suit, turning around.
“What about people like me?” I asked.
Her face fell as the realisation dawned on her, too. I didn’t wait for her to think of a response before I shook my head and asked her to forget it. She didn’t make the rules.
Soon the sound of gunfire filled the corridors of the ship, along with colourful and bullet-riddled bodies of some members of the upper class. At the turn of a corridor, we ran into a few raiders, but managed to slip back unseen.
“That’s the only corridor to the floor where the pods are held. We’ll have to slip through. Are you ready?” she asked me.
I had barely nodded my affirmation when she took hold of my hand, shrouded us in darkness and guided me as we tiptoed around the armed raiders. We made it to the elevator safely and pressed the button for the 4th floor. When the elevator dinged, she cloaked us again. We made a run for it, stopping only when we’d reached the pod room. But we weren’t prepared for the sight that awaited us. Every single one of the pod hatches had a bullet hole through it. They were in no condition to take off.
Before we turned away to our unknown fate, I found our ticket off the ship – the last remaining uncompromised pod.
“Wait. This one’s fine,” I said, pulling Tomi to a stop, and directed her to the pod.
I opened it to inspect. Surely enough, it was undamaged.
I had barely selected the coordinates to the safe zone when a lone raider strolled in, cocked his gun and aimed for the back of my head. He pulled the trigger before I could react. Clik. He was out of bullets. I seized the opportunity and charged at him head-on, knocking the gun out of his hand. We wrestled desperately, trading blows. And for the first time, I felt I had something to lose.
“Get in the pod, now,” I turned to yell at Tomi when I got a chance to break free of the raider’s hold. “Don’t worry about me.”
All I did was take my eyes off the giant raider for half a second, but it was long enough for him to reach for a concealed weapon – his dagger. I couldn’t react in time, and the sharp edge went clean, through my gut.
The coolest sensation washed over me, waking me up with a jolt.
“You’re awake,” a familiar voice rang, prompting me to sit up. I had never felt a more euphoric feeling overwhelm me than when I saw Tomi seated next to me in the deserted meadow.
“We made it,” I smiled.
“Yes, we did,” she smiled in return.
“But how?” I asked, trying to recollect the events of the attack. Suddenly, it all came back to me. The raider who stabbed me. Her screams as I fell to the floor. The tears in her eyes as I took my last breaths.
“I’m dead,” I gasped.
I hadn’t made it to the pod. But how was I here, fully healed?
Her face took on a somber expression. “We don’t have much time,” she said, the first trail of tears betraying her steady composure.
“But how am I here?” I asked.
“I created a new frequency,” she replied, her hands cupping my face.
My brows furrowed even more. “A frequency? But those are only for communicating.”
“Communication happens in different forms,” she sniffled. “I didn’t even know I could do this, until now.”
I felt my heart begin a slow race as she cried.
“Ayo,” she called softly, placing her forehead against mine, providing me access to her own memories of the attack. But what I saw saddened me even more than the shock of my own death.
On seeing me crumble to the floor, she raced out of her pod trying to fend off the raider. But she was no match for him. In a futile struggle, his knife pierced through her neck, and she spent her last moments crying in my arms.
I swallowed the lump in my throat. “Tomi,” my voice croaked as I embraced her.
“I had to…avenge you,” her voice broke into my shoulder.
I shook my head fervently, a misplaced anger rising. “You would have done that by surviving.”
“But it’s not too late,” I said, letting go of her. “You have to survive. You need to,” I reiterated, cupping her cheeks. “If I never get the chance to do another good deed again, I can live with myself. But I can’t live with the thought of letting down another person whose only mistake was loving me.”
She shook her head defiantly. “You’re not a mistake. I chose to love you.”
I got up to my feet. “And now I relieve you of that obligation.”
I stepped back from her. “Please live, Tomi. Not for me, but for yourself. My fate was written long before we met,” I said before walking into the ether of the afterlife. Her screams felt like daggers in the remains of my unfeeling heart, begging me to come back, just as reality expelled her from the illusion she had created.
is an African-futuristic writer. She lives in Lagos, Nigeria, and works as the Content Strategist of a health technology startup. Before officially embarking on a creative writing journey, she was a spoken word poet and continues to document her recent poetry works on her Instagram page @phynickz.