1 — Unmasked
Hand clenching the mask stuffed in his pocket. His eyes staring at the object at hand. The fence, just as high as it had always been. The security cameras, as ever, blankly staring. The structure itself, a triangular prism. Rigid. Compact. Black. Between him and the task, an oasis. Glimmering. Luring him in.
He pushes it to the back of his mind.
The sun glaring. Pebbles of sweat trickling down his tensed face. The heat, unrelenting. The dust, suffocating. Behind him is failure. Behind him are stretches of paved road back to his village. Bare. Grey. Inhuman.
But it is also a dying savannah.
Will he do it?
2 — Love at First Click
Simone was woken from his sleep by the shrill alarm of his iHome. He lifted himself up, shrugged off the last drops of sleep, and tapped on his tablet. The screen automatically unlocked projecting an animated News Feed. He waved his hand to scroll down the page. Laughing at times. Watching at times. Liking a lot. No frowns today. Ha! Trevor Noah’s twenty-something Year Special, hilarious. Mayor of Accra something-something, something. Looked like news. Scroll.
Oh, it is Milford’s birthday!
Simone selected the preset birthday wish with the extra smiley faces. Now, these other two he wasn’t sure if he necessarily needed to wish them a happy birthday.
He then flipped onto Instagram and looked through his notifications. There was a kissy face from an AdWeyi3. He didn’t know this person but pressed on her image. He liked a few of her pictures before actually looking at her. He double-tapped at one picture and it expanded. He revolved the image around and around. Her face was soft but her eyes were cutting. A name popped up next to the pretty girl’s face, Adwoa Weyi. He touched on her tag and reached her page. She worked for Adu. She was 27. She enjoyed swimming. She loved reading. She wanted to walk every inch of the world before she died. She was single, and he was in love.
3 — Unwilling
Immanuel watches Mr. Ofori, the old watchman, as he completes his morning inspection of the data server. Probably the only real bit of work he has at the site. Today, he walks awkwardly and looks rather feeble. Maybe there was a celebration last night? Immanuel thought he had heard music playing from the main market center in Ejura. The sandy city is growing but still small enough for every event to be heard. Mr. Ofori might have attended said function and maybe had had more than one glass of bitters to tantalize his spirits.
Unlike him. Unlike the other days of the week. And today of all days, he is different.
Immanuel realizes he has spent too long standing in this corner of the street. He walks over to the koko seller and joins the line. His eye on the camera that never moves. He turns his attention to the line. Yawning and stretching to feign morning drowsiness.
The truth is he is more awake than he has ever been in his life and it is probably because of some cosmic contrast. “The moments closest to the end are the most alive you will be.” He feels the logic of the argument pumping in his veins, at his temple, strained in his fingers wrapped in a clench.
He wanted to sleep the night before. He tried to. He knew it was important to be fully rested. But the plan was knotted in his head. It twisted and tightened all throughout the night.
Papa had always said the night before an exam “it is better to have your mind sharp and rested, than tired and overloaded.”
He briefly sees his papa’s image. Not in those dying days but youthful and upright. If his papa were to ask him why he didn’t sleep last night he would say, “Papa, this is no written exam. This is a different kind of test.”
The tests Immanuel answered in class were difficult in a different way. Papa knew he gave everything to those tests in school. To those papers in uni. To his thesis at the PHD level. Papa was proud of him. Believed in him. Believed in him to the point of sacrificing his life savings slaving on the cocoa farm to send him to school. Send him so that he returned with hope. Not just for his siblings Alfred, Solomon, Daniel and his little sister Joy. Oh, Joy. But for Babaso. For the great Afram Plains. The place where all was given but nothing returned.
“My dear, did you want a bowl of joy?” The large jovial frame of Aunty Serwah bounces in front of Immanuel. Serving her patrons with a beautiful wide smile.
“Excuse me? Oh. Sorry Aunty. Please a bowl of koko and bofrot extra sugar.”
“I always tell you that this extra sugar will spoil your you-know-what! You see how you are even going mad, asking for joy.” Immanuel looks at Aunty Serwah but doesn’t see her. Every node of his mind is strained on the task at hand. His eye ever peripherally aware of Mr. Ofori. His every movement. His slightest twitch.
She scoops sizeable portions of koko, the millet-based porridge, and pours white sugar before stirring. Immanuel spares a glance over his shoulder. Mr. Ofori is wiping sweat from his shiny bald head. That is more like him. The old man has just flicked the switches on the power-board outside the compound of the data server, close to the backend of the security fence, turning on the alarms and electric fence. He then shuffles to the guard’s room reaches for his morning drink takes a big gulp then settles on his rickety armchair placing the drink, issuing with silver vapor, on his right-hand side.
Immanuel continues staring. The plan depends on Mr. Ofori’s willingness to believe this is a ‘normal day.’
4 — Accepted Stalking
She accepted friend requests across all online media. In fact, Simone spent more than the usual time on his various screens digesting her. Infatuated by her. Immersed in her.
She wasn’t as active on mainstream social media, but she had thousands of posts on Instagram and Vye. Simone tapped the button ‘to bottom of page,’ and began to indulge himself in Adwoa’s Instagram narrative. She didn’t use any filters or have too many selfies. All good points he ticked in his now expanding mind-map of her. He tapped on a video of her swinging on a swing in a playground. It was autumn in the picture. The fall leaves carpeted the ground underneath her stretched legs and the trees were alight with a yellow flame.
“She must’ve studied abroad or she lives abroad?” he debated. “What a disaster that would be!” Not that it mattered much to Simone. He didn’t mind falling for her in this realm. His life was here and she was here too.
Multiple messages popped up on the top of his phone and he instinctively touched the icons to redirect him to the new messages. There are several from his employer Edward, and one, to his utmost surprise, from Adwoa. He chose to look at Edward’s messages first.
“Simone! I haven’t seen your icon on the doc page!”
“Simone! It is past 10 am and the new items of our catalog haven’t been updated on the webpage.”
“Simone! The doc page. If you can please attend to it!”
Simone opened the tab to the google doc page and saw his avatar jump up from the digital abyss to notify him of his presence on the document. He was supposed to submit a report on what bugs needed to be fixed on the catalog page for this online high-end fashion store. He would submit the report and his avatar would fix the glitches. It had been seven months since they rolled out the website and Simone was responsible for also creating the plug-ins. A task the AI couldn’t handle for whatever reason.
His avatar was obviously more animated about the work than he was. He doubled tapped his digital self and selected the emotion ‘studious,’ and inserted a bunch of commands for his avatar to execute on his behalf.
“E — I’m on it. Sorry for that — had a slight stomach bug earlier this morning.”He sent the lie to his boss without hesitation.
Leaving the best for last, he opened Adwoa’s message.
“Hey, I think we have met before?”
Simone’s heart did a somersault. He smiled but searched curiously for how that was possible. How could she connect him in reality with him in virtual reality? Firstly, he didn’t go anywhere. Ever!
For food, he ordered in mostly or relied on his father’s monthly food supplies that he would feed into his 3D printer. He had a treadmill in his room, so physical fitness wasn’t disregarded entirely. That was it. Right? Work, play and life were on his online interface. Friends, ‘yeh a few’ he ticked, but they met at Charles’ house most of the time to watch FIFA. No one else joined.
He finally thought to ask her.
She replied immediately.
“Aunty Jamila’s wake. We were the only two who weren’t traditional.”
“Oh, yes! Yes. Wow. You have a good memory.”
“Yes ☺ — and you sat quietly in the corner and I came to you and said a silly joke.”
“Oh, yeh.” Simone dug into the pits of his memories hoping that this joke she told would show itself.
“Yeh, I remember!” A stray lie. Unnecessary in fact. But it left his fingers before he could grab ahold of it.
“Do you (curious smiley face)? Are you sure you aren’t just saying that?”
She knows he is lying. The gig is up, Simone panicked.
“Ha, okay I don’t remember. I am sorry, but I am happy you remember because now we are talking.”
“So why did you lie about it,” her avatar by now had loaded on the screen and Simone could see it shaking its head in protest of his lie. Wagging its round brown finger. “How do you know Aunt Jamila?”
“My mother’s big sister.”
“Oh, your mother was Aunt Gill. I am sorry, I heard about her (sad face).”
“Yes, she was my mother. How do you know Aunt Jamila?”
“Not blood related, she helped me get into Clark U.”
“Ah yeh, I saw you were somewhere outside Ghana.”
“You already checked my Instagram?!”
“I mean I just scrolled down and saw -” Simone tried typing some more to explain himself but she sent a message before he could finish.
“You fucking stalker!”
5 — Unhinged
Wiping the last of the koko off his chin and tossing it in the nearby bin, Immanuel poised himself for the moment that it seemed his whole life was building up to.
The plan; simple. It’s development; dense.
He was going to blow up the data server.
He had first thought of destroying the dam used to power the data servers. He recalled scaling the scaffolding with Daniel, his younger brother, when he had first arrived back from his studies in Sweden so many years back. Once at the top, Immanuel saw from the depth and width of the excavation that the dam would not only kill the river Baba, but damage the sensitive ecosystem surrounding it irrevocably. The soil, the vegetation, the insects. The snails that would crawl out after the rain. The core of his community and their livelihoods would be forever disrupted.
But the dam was reinforced concrete on beams of steel and required a much more industrial effort to penetrate. It would be an impossible feat for one man. Even as driven as Immanuel.
Then it came to him.
After many weeks of persuading Daniel finally convinced Immanuel to visit New Accra and experience firsthand the internet service his company’s servers were providing. Daniel had an access card on account of his work with the servers which enabled him to enter New Accra with a guest every month.
The road into New Accra was a mega highway that floated above the mashed chaos of Old Accra and dived into the neon glow of the new. At the final police barrier before entering New Accra, the occupants of their bus were first scanned to verify identification and tickets, then tapped with a wristband that doubled as a tracker if the day visitors were to overstay their welcome. After several minutes and a few illegal passengers discharged, the brothers were on the upper deck of Liberation Avenue. Immanuel’s head had been stiff and distant from the window, refusing to accept his interest. But his eyes betrayed him and took in the spectacle of New Accra. A place he had only seen from far above on his flight back from Sweden. And indeed, a spectacle it was.
Lean towers loomed over his head spearing the sky, and all along the incline was thriving vegetation cutting across from balcony to balcony in a web of green. Tropical birds fluttering in tune from branch to clothesline back to branch. The birds, not alone in the sky. Drones zooming by delivering packages, food, and in some cases people. Their legs dangling over.
The roads were narrow and busy with young adults. Some white, some dark. Most, a variation of brown. All handsome, as if cast for a scene in a movie.
The broad sidewalks were cut into thirds. A bike lane, an active pedestrian sidewalk, partly occupied by kiosks numbered with their TINs, serving their smiling customers. Sobolo and yam chips, hand-plucked fruit smoothies, chocolate bofrot and other street foods of Accra. Every once in awhile Immanuel saw a green patch for little community gardens, little children happily plucking into the soil. Between the banks of sidewalks, a tram line cutting through the middle of the road. Solar panels on its roof, reflecting the sheen of the sun as it ran on the rails going in either direction.
The canopy of the city was a cluster of sun blockers, mist fans, rain harvesters, more solar panels and mini turbines fluttering to the eddies of the wind. You could follow the pipes that connected the city fountains to the harvesters. Immanuel remembered a blond-haired brown-skinned child who popped up to the water dispenser and he could see the machine bubble as the kid clapped in amusement waiting for his cup to be filled. His mother came along and handed him a small bofrot which he clutched with one hand and bit into. A burst of jam slopped down onto his white shirt, which he soiled further by running into the water sprout other children were dancing around at a nearby park. His mother, distracted by conversation as other parents were. Not with themselves. Nor anyone around them. But the irrepressible voice of the Internet.
There was an energy to the place, an allure, and Immanuel couldn’t help but make a connection between that and the dire predicament back in his home town of Babaso. He stood in the shadow of what seemed a monument of human ingenuity and remembered that there was a time before when he lived in such a place and believed in it. He had worn this blissful ignorance with pride even. For the hope of progress was inevitable. But since being back it seemed his life was a stream of heartache with every pain tearing the skin off his back and leaving it raw as flesh.
He rejected it finally. The hope of progress. Refuted it. That wasn’t him. It had been. But it wasn’t anymore.
Daniel told Immanuel that New Accra’s internet infrastructure had all but deteriorated and the company he worked for won a contract to provide a services upgrade to the city. The dam in Babaso would undergo an immediate expansion as per its ten-year plan, and provide fifteen megawatts of electricity of which ten would be channeled to a new mega data server in Ejura to service New Accra via state of the art fiber optics.
Immanuel had thought of Daniel and how far he had come on his own. Remembering the day after Mama passed away Immanuel told Daniel that he would be better leaving the farm to find work. The revenue wouldn’t support him and their little sister Joy was to be prioritized because of her recent illness.
Daniel left that day touching his brother’s shoulder softly, assuring him “be well my brother. These happenings are a work of God. And you and I are mere beings in His presence.”
“Are we?” Immanuel had thought. The words never leaving his lips, but caught nonetheless by Daniel, as they always understood each others’ muted messages.
It was during this visit to the city with Daniel that he saw that it was not the dam but the server which was the center of it all. The city ran on data.
That was the reason for diverting electricity from Ejura to the data server in times of an emergency. The reason why Ejura Central Hospital was drained of its electricity that night when the drought of the region had caused the dam’s levels to drop to critical. The calls, the texts, the avatar animations, sad face, happy face, stupid face. The pictures, selfies, videos, snaps, money transfers, payment of salaries, payment to vendors, shopping lists completed by virtual assistants. Traffic light coordination between tram, rail, bike, car. The number of steps each person took. Their heart rates, their health profile that their doctor would scrutinize. What they shouldn’t eat, what they ate, what they shat, what they saw, what they would want to see, then buy. How many hours they biked instead of drove to be legible for tax breaks. Who they met, who they were likely to want to meet, where they were likely to want to meet, the water and electricity needed for the places they would want to meet, the other events and services of interest in the vicinity. And all the other subtle necessities that had become second nature to the people of the city.
That was the purpose of it, the dam. To serve the city’s data above all else. Above those on the fringes of the World. Above Immanuel’s little sister, Joy, whom when she needed it most was not entitled to the electricity needed for her life support. But rather the breathless heaving of her chest, up and down until it was dead like a doll on the hospital bed. With eyes sunk in the sockets of her face.
6 — Virtual Angst
It had been a season since their first conversation and Simone had steadily adapted to the package that was Adwoa and all that it came with. Her casual vulgarisms. Her random, but subtlety apt GIFs. Her constant and even obsessive indulgence in time travel talk. Her nagging and uncalled for midnight vid chats. One of those midnight chats had ended in a bet with Simone having to run naked to the apartment gardens deep into the night shouting “I AM A FIREMAN, SOMEONE COME EXTINGUISH ME!”
He didn’t know why he entertained these out-of-character excursions but each time he indulged he felt a new path to another world had opened. All roads leading to Adwoa. The phenomena that had raged through his life. Turning all that was up, sideways, inside out, then throwing it out of this universe.
“Ok, Ok. I got it.”
“I didn’t mean for it to be in caps.”
“I don’t know why we even message still.”
“Cos we are idiots. Well, our avatars are.” Avatar bent down and pulled down its pants.
“Probably have some type of disorder.”
“Oh yeh? Where from this dis-order Simone.”
“Dunno — I have nuthin smart to say — -“ Avatar standing with hand on chin. Thinking.
“When did you say you would be back in New Accra? I don’t want to be the guy to say, but we’ve been talking for months …” he stopped to see what she was typing.
“Months? I thought it had been days?!!”
“Shut up! Months, weeks, days. And I haven’t even seen you, isn’t that strange?”
“Well us texting each other is strange — — I get you tho,” her avatar’s heart burst from its chest.
“But I don’t know if it matters so much, you’ve seen me, I’ve seen you — we’ve done things together (Shy face) (cactus).”
“I know what you are getting at (loving face) — I will be in Accra next week for sure, and we can make all those things really real. Otherwise, you should really think about going out once in a while on your own — for fuck sake Simone!”
“I’ve heard that before (rolling eyes).”
“You know I’m nervous about it, not like I don’t want to see you.” Simone stops typing so he could voice note Adwoa instead.
“Can I say I love you? Is that right to say? Does it fit? Or is what I feel still in that place between the unknown and lust?”
“Oh, Simone — “ Adwoa still chose to text. “I don’t know what to say to you about that, I’ve told you that I have done this before and I know what to look for, and I can tell that I like you. But love is something else, something you don’t question.”
Simone, somewhat aware of his lack of emotional maturity, stopped to assess what Adwoa had just said and immediately felt as if he was being condescended to. But he revisited that impulsive emotion and tried to regain some handling of the bubbling in his stomach to very little avail.
Layered on top of these thoughts, and stomach propulsions, were his awareness of Adwoa’s own depth as a person. Her ability to perceive people, and in particular Simone, who now felt like he was under a microscope. The core of these anxieties was the fear that the person he could not stop thinking about would lose interest in him. Get fed up. His uncool. His mushy stomach. His front teeth. His white lies.
Peering through the scope Adwoa would look at a squirming Simone and think ‘why am I looking at this specimen?’ He knew he was little more than a hermit. Something he acknowledged fully compared to the lovers that had intrigued Adwoa apparently; girls, boys, dashing, intellectual, demi-god, Simone saw himself as an anomaly which would surely fix itself in due course. He had a hard time putting together this puzzle of their instant connection. And because he didn’t understand it, he constantly floundered with their future and his insecurity would spread from the tip of his fingers to the gaps in time she would take to respond. The gaps in which Simone would slip into. Down until he was spat out again on the other side of the world, disoriented and sweaty-palmed.
Adwoa had become his life. He would agree that she took up more than 95% of his mind space. She was constantly there in every aspect of his day except the physical. His infatuation for her stretched into every URL of her virtual existence. He couldn’t avoid her. He didn’t want to. And it seemed she didn’t want to as well. She always responded. Always reacted. Always laughed. Called. Recommended. Sent. And was there in every sense of the word, except there with him as he struggled to free himself from the paralysis that his affection for her was causing.
“Are you ok — Simone?”
“Yes. Sorry. E messaged me.”
“Really? Don’t lie to me. Tell me what you are thinking,” she sent through a voice note. Her avatar knocking at the screen.
“I am not lying. He messaged me asking about the catalog!” Simone felt from the pit of his stomach the boiling that threatened to explode.
She tried to call but Simone declined. She tried again. He declined.
He couldn’t talk to her. If he did, he would have ruined everything.
He waited and then a message popped up on his screen and the word was so simple, yet so penetrating that Simone felt it twist his heart. Just two letters.
He tried to say something, but nothing came. He knew she had warned him repeatedly about his white lies. He knew she knew that he said them to deflect from his deeper angsts. He knew she had dealt with it before. He knew she hated the pettiness of it. But it was there, and he couldn’t find a way to blurt it out. So he let it fester and she turned away from it. From him.
The LED lights in the apartment steadily brightened the stretching shadows and the shades on the paneled windows rolled up to reveal the sparkling glimmer of New Accra’s night. A soft notice on his pad asked Simone to stand and walk around for five to ten minutes since he had been seated for over an hour. A small summary of his calorie intake was displayed with the net results showing him on the negative. Finally, his heart rate and other vital measurements concluded the brief report, which suggested that Simone was anything but living healthy at that point. He hardly was attentive to this, of course. Staring at the conversation with Adwoa wondering how it had gone so wrong.
7 — Unstoppable
Immanuel was bent over his shoe tightening its grip on his foot so that he could move like the wind. His eyes drifted to the bin he had thrown the rest of his koko in then down the road that led to his village, Babaso. Dust twirling casually over the road. Wisps of sand in suspense.
He looked back down at his shoe and saw his hand shaking uncontrollably. Before he could steady himself his body began to heave and the contents in his stomach were threatening to spill over. He was retching. Or going to retch. And he wouldn’t be quick enough to reach the bin in time. Then people would see. Then they would be concerned. They would ask what he was doing. And he would have no answer. And every day afterward they would notice him. Then that would be that. Plan aborted. His life’s purpose discarded.
He found that his shaken hand had covered his mouth. Squeezing his lips shut he summoned the numbness he once knew so well to take effect. The numbness that he used to wrap himself in. To insulate. To protect.
The propulsion eased and clarity was restored. Breathing through his nose he wiped a slip of saliva from the corner of his mouth and looked back down the road again. The sand still in the air.
When calm was fully restored, Immanuel’s pupils darted from side-to-side, hoping that no one had taken notice of his episode. Sweat had formed in his hands and in the wrinkles of his eyes. He lifted himself and saw in the distance three huge trucks carrying forty-foot containers. They were approaching the Y shaped intersection at which the data server, the market and bus station were all located. Each occupying a pie between the roads. The trucks would eventually park between the market stalls and the data server’s west fence.
During the construction of the server, market women swarmed into the empty space opposite the site to feed the hungry laborers who needed something to eat during their short breaks. Eventually, those stalls evolved into Ejura’s second market. Immanuel first noticed the three trucks supplying the market from behind them. It was whilst coughing and shielding his eyes from the sandstorm the heavy vehicles were causing that he thought — “how can anyone see through this?”
The stand he had just bought his koko from was on the outer rim of the market, opposite the bus station. From here he would need to sprint through the inner market, cut across to the main road so he would be behind the parked trucks, then through the dust cloud to the other side behind the data server’s back fence. This was the only way he could buy enough time to cut the electric wiring then jump the fence without being seen. Whilst the trucks parked and the drivers’ mates carried the cargo from the truck to the women. Whilst Mr. Ofori helped, as he always did, restock the market’s goods.
If for whatever reason Mr. Ofori didn’t partake in lifting the cargo, and instead remained slumped on his seat, he would be in a comfortable position to see Immanuel jump the fence.
Immanuel grabbed the mask buried in his pocket and rolled it down his face. Taking a final breath he looked down at his still hand, then back down the road to Babaso. A small wind had cleared the suspended sand. The road back was visible again.
Immanuel was up on the fence staring directly at the security cameras when the first wrench was thrown into his plan. The security cameras weren’t the problem. In fact, they were unmanned, empty bluffs installed to deter would-be thieves.
The hundred and thirty-five permanent indigenous jobs promised to maintain the data server had ended up being only eighteen. Three at Ejura and fifteen in New Accra, since the technology allowed for remote monitoring. Mr. Ofori, Mr. Motari, and Fayed were the lucky three of which all but one, Mr. Ofori, neglected their work almost entirely.
But not today.
Fayed was at the other end of the data server near the outer wall of the room that housed the huge air conditioning units.
The site for Immanuel’s third bomb. The first and second were to be set on the cell tower. The distraction. But also to shut down the emergency response system.
The servers themselves were immense heat generators and demanded large cooling units to maintain a stable temperature to operate optimally. The design of the prism prevented Immanuel from reaching the servers themselves without going in. An impossible task. So instead, removing the cooling systems was his only bet to destabilizing the data service.
With Fayed there, another life was at risk. A life that Immanuel did not want to take. To avoid the Fayed problem, he needed to find a way to draw him toward the first blast, without killing him with the second.
Or, to avoid the Fayed problem, don’t think of the Fayed problem.
Daniel flashed in his mind as he always did when Immanuel would be plotting this plan. All that information he had unknowingly divulged to him put to such use.
He jumped off the wall and rolled onto the ground to lessen the impact. Crouched, he continued toward the bottom of the tower where he quickly hooked the bombs then set the timers. The first bomb would set off a minor explosion. Ten seconds later the bigger bomb would go off blowing up the tower and whatever else was in a fifteen-meter radius. If he was lucky, Fayed would not be drawn to the first explosion and that could still give Immanuel the time to go round to the AC units undetected.
Still crouched, Immanuel sped up to the north-facing wall of the data server, where he would not be seen by those from the main road or bus station. His back against the wall, the salt of his sweat stinging his eyes, he stared at the scenery before him.
Power lines hung lazily from pole to pole over the meekly stream that once stemmed from the river Baba. Beyond the embankment was the low lying Afram plains, stretching into the hazed horizon, disturbed by a few hills and distant manmade machinations.
A crow had glided from the power line to the stream and was pivoting toward the dried water. It’s black beak pecking until it finally gave up. Waving its black wings and exposing its white breast, it took to the wind, heading for wetter pastures.
Shrill shrieks slashed through the sunny day and Immanuel’s split-second respite was vanquished by the ensuing panic from the market. But before anyone could get a grip on the situation the world ripped open and the ground rocked to a second more seismic blast.
All sounds muted.
A mighty gust of wind slamming Immanuel to the ground.
Winded and dazed Immanuel pressed his hands to the shaken floor to lift himself up but realized he had no feeling in his left hand. Dust enveloping the whole world around him he clenched his stomach and pushed himself up with his right. An almighty push. His teeth clenched as he rose. Bit by bit. Legs trembling. Nose clogged. Staggering up, but up nonetheless, he stumbled to the wall and leaned on it for support. Breathing in only sand he wobbled around the corner to the wall of the massive AC units. He was just a few meters away. Just a couple strides in fact. He was coated in sand, his outside and in. He couldn’t breathe and when he coughed it was wet and dry at the same time.
He was in full sight of the bus station he realized. But at this point, no one would care. No one would see. And hopefully, no one else would die.
Dizzied, he tried to unscramble the alarms blaring off in his head. Or where they real alarms at all? Whatever it was, it was banging in his head like a hammer. Shaking his vision. Throbbing at his temple. He lowered his head down to see if it would yield. Just a little. But it kept pounding. Unrelentingly. He couldn’t concentrate. His eyes were unable to focus. The numbers on the board of the timer were in twos. His fingers twitching. He couldn’t get them to stay still for long enough. To do what he wanted. Which was becoming ever harder to maintain. The timer, heavy in his hands. A mistake could prove costly. He was still too far away from the cooling units. Not that he would know. He would be gone. Obliterated. He honed in again on the board. Pulling every sinew of muscle and mind to focus. To concentrate. It didn’t want to come. It didn’t want to stay still. The numbers. Jumping up and down. Maybe it was the universe. Plotting against him. Again. At this crucial time. Ready to pull the rug from underneath him. Like it had done. When his father died. His mother. Joy. Joy. JOY! Then the white ball of fury which was compressed in the chambers of his heart exploded. Nothing would stop him.
This was it.
He lifted his head and felt the hammer smash again. He almost dropped the timer. He did but felt his hands clamp down on it again. Pure reflex. Because at this point, control was not in his hands. Literally. He just needed the numbers on the display to be solid for just enough time. So he could press down on them. And set ten seconds on the clock. That’s what he needed. Just to press down. Four to five times. On the right buttons.
That is all he needed.
Then he saw them.
They were there.
Vague expressions of his memories of them.
Joy a foot taller than mama and papa. Mama with her hair wrapped by Papa leaning on his cane.
He would’ve called to them. But they were too far away.
What would they think? Would they still accept him? Still love him? Would his father hold him as he used to? With pride? Would Joy grab his butt? Laughing into his ear.
He couldn’t know.
Because they were dead.
And he would be dead too, soon enough.
Then everything seemed suddenly clear. Serene even. His fingers now obeying his thoughts. Immanuel back in control.
He looked up again to see if they were there. But they had vanished.
Immanuel set the bomb for ten seconds then tossed himself toward the AC units. But he still wasn’t close enough.
Chest heaving he looked down on his left arm but his mask was obscuring his sight and the heat and dust were making it impossible to breathe. He wrenched it off and saw blood pouring out of a wide gash in his arm. It wouldn’t matter now.
Pulling his right hand from underneath him, he raked himself toward the AC units. His fingers clawed at the loose sand, legs pushing, trying to get himself to the unit in time. Dragging his body. Just one more big pull and he would be there.
He peered up ahead and there was a little boy standing on the other side of the fence. Eyes wide and shocked. The loose clothes on his body trembling. Immanuel wanted to shout out to him. But couldn’t. But wouldn’t.
8 — Parental Guidance
Simone hardly noticed that the pizza he was printing had stopped midway. His mind had been caught astray reliving the moments he had shared with his father a couple of days ago in this very apartment, printing the very same combination of foods to make his pesto margarita pizza.
His father had come unannounced correctly judging that it would be the only way he could see his son. Simone had done everything in his power to remain even more isolated from the world since his fallout with Adwoa. It had been at least a week since that conversation had turned his world rotten.
When his father had come in, Simone was wasted away on his bed crowded in by takeaway boxes and smells of suppressed farts.
“Simone, it’s me. Dad.” Simone’s father poked his head around the room door.
“Was around the neighborhood and thought I should drop by and see how you were doing?”
“Yeh, that’s what I thought. I see you have changed a few things in your room?” He said this as he lifted Simone’s study chair off the floor.
“You’ve sort of just let the furniture decide where it wants to be.”
Simone, groggy-eyed, lifted his head from the pillow to spare a look at his father who had managed to find his way to the edge of Simone’s bed. After acknowledging his presence he buried his head in pillows again.
“Hey-hey. Come on. Can you spare your old man a decent conversation? I came here to check on you.”
Simone slowly dragged his body out of bed to fulfill his obligations as a son, physically. But mentally and spiritually he was hardly there. Nor anywhere.
“Let me get straight to it. You didn’t really say much about what happened between you and Adwoa, and you don’t have to. And I think the way you are feeling has a lot to do with how your mother and I raised you. Or didn’t.” Simone’s father brushed his fine mustache with his forefinger and thumb, looking away from Simone, speaking to him in a way that he rarely did. “Some might say that we were living in unprecedented times, you know with the so-called fourth industrial revolution, climate change just starting and all. But in a lot of ways, I think we were still very much in precedented times. We had a way of making it seem that we were special. And everything around us told us so.
The planet was dying, capitalism was about to blow up, Ghana’s democracy on the very edge. The system was collapsing and technology was going to take over. We were all fighting some end-of-world scenario believing we were the pivot. But really, we were just young. Your mother and I were both egotistical of course. And right from the off, put our selves in front of everything else. I mean, how could we have done otherwise? I had made my mind that I would just sort of love freely and be single for most of my life. And your mom was incredible at whatever she did. But, at some point, I had to make a decision. And it was between what we could be, and what I could become. And I thought it was the latter and even actively pursued it for a while. But I ended up feeling like how you may feel right now. Empty.
I think she felt the same, and for all our progressive ideals and liberal ideologies, our loved boiled down to putting ‘us’ first. We didn’t really live up to what we could have been, and at some point, we strayed. And I think that prevented you, in a lot of ways, from being there in the world and experiencing what you should have as a kid, as a young man. And I am sorry for that. But I am also not sorry, because your mother was my world, and giving everything to her was…” Simone’s father’s lower lip quivered and a rush of breath took hold of him. “And I haven’t known what to do with you since.”
Simone’s father bent his head down and gently sobbed for a little while as Simone sat perplexed. He didn’t know what to say, seeing that he hardly said much to his dad on this emotional level. But he thought he didn’t want to see him this way.
“Dad, it’s ok. We are still here. I know you love me. I love you too.” Simone still didn’t understand where this outpouring had come from, but pulled himself closer to his dad and rubbed his back wholeheartedly until the sobs ebbed away. Soon the moment being shared by the father and son subsided into their custom formalities.
After reliving this exchange with his dad, Simone snapped back to reality all because of an incessant beeping coming from the printer. He looked down at its screen and saw something rather odd. A message.
‘No internet connection.’
9 — Unsettling
The quiet dusk slowly drew itself to a close leaving the stage for a violet sky freckled with shimmering stars. The frequency on the analog radio set was scratchy and spoilt the blanket of silence that hung over the city like a storm cloud.
Fatima, an older and wealthier woman now, slumped on her couch resting her swollen feet on the foot-cushion, turned the dial on the radio running through various frequencies of white noise. Fayrouza and Zenabu had been too frightened to play outside and were instead curled up on the carpet holding their tablets to their noses and mechanically picking groundnuts from the bowl between them. The TV was on, but the message still read ‘no internet connection.’
She knew why. She had been there.
The blast shook the world. The screams from her mouth drowned in the cacophony. Her hands reaching for and pulling at herself and the person on top of her. But suddenly on the other side of her. Rushing. Rushing chaos all around. Her hands stuck on her head hoping that today God was not coming for judgment. Thinking of her girls. Thinking of where they were. Hoping they were away, far away from it. Close to each other. Protecting themselves from harm. Remembering their mother loved them so deeply it hurt.
Oh, she had been there. And now it was everywhere.
Finally, the pointer ticked on the dial and the monotone accent rapidly distributed the news for the day.
In what appears to be confirmed as a suicide bombing, Ejura has been hit by a terror attack that is expected to have claimed more than five lives. No group has yet to claim responsibility for the heinous act, but officials on the scene are confident they have strong leads into finding out who was behind these attacks today. It is believed that the assailant worked alone, and it is suspected that the data server was the aim of the attack.
If you are listening to this broadcast you are probably doing so through a radio frequency. As of a few minutes after the blast it can be confirmed that internet services for large swathes of Accra, Kumasi and other town’s in Southern Ghana were disabled, disrupting most internet terrestrial service. Residents of these cities are asked to remain in their homes for the rest of the night, but tomorrow should see a return to normalcy.
It is yet unknown who the perpetrators were but early reports suggest that the attackers were indigene, locals to Ejura. It is also suggested the attackers must have had an insider privy to the layout of the server and knowledgeable on its vital organs. It is a dark day in Ghana history. But it is just a day nonetheless, and tomorrow we will rise with the new sun and go about our work, resisting our fears and damning those who would defend and condone such a philosophy of rebellion.
Thank you, my name is Farida Yaro with BBC: Ghana.
Saturated with thought, Fatima wrung her mind with prayer and hoped she would feel as light as a feather to float gently into her beckoning slumber. But the unsettling thought that someone could be pushed to such an extreme act disturbed her, rumbling from her heart up into the deepening creases between her eyes. Not just anybody. But one of their own.
Fatima had lived in Ejura for most of her life. Her mother, having migrated to what was at the time a frontier town to trade in shea nut from the north, had brought young Fatima along to help with the work. Back then, Ejura was little more than a dusty road, scattered uncompleted buildings and a yard for goats. What set it apart though was its central mosque. A fine olive dome, two towers tipped by the crescent moon that gleamed under the blistering midday sun, and a broad porch that housed tired travelers soldiering down to the prosperous south of Ghana. With travelers came merchants who sold goods, gossiped and ate the fresh produce of the landscape.
Her mother had bought the same analog radio Fatima was using presently, to listen to business news from the south. Her mother was illiterate, so she used to sit young Fatima down and let her translate the news for her. She paid particular attention to the export trade since government was interested in enriching the country with foreign currency. ‘Stabilising the currency’ is what they said. By the mid-2020s, Fatima had considerable responsibility and basically ran her mother’s shea business. The shea that would end up in creams, bathing soaps, hand lotions, and innumerable beauty products shelved in the physical and online supermarkets of the World. With that came her prosperity, her ex-husband, and two precious daughters.
But she was one of few and whenever she thought of the plight of the masses, sleeping in front of shops, hawking on the streets, she couldn’t help but feel that her success was built on something someone else had previously had. That she had taken. Whether it was the huge tracts of land bought by her ex-husband’s southern partner to cultivate shea, or the machinery trucked up to mechanize cultivation leaving many without work and unemployable, she was complicit. At least that is what she thought.
Had the person who committed such an extreme act been one of those left without a choice? If it was the case, could she ever say they were wrong for taking such measures? She stared at her daughters and exhaled a long heavy breath. Ghana had seen no such extremism before. But today the day of February 18th, 2043, something in Ghana finally happened.
10 — The End of the World
The moments that followed Simone’s reawakening were sudden and spontaneous like combusting oxygen. His brain seemed to have jumped into hyperdrive. Twisting the screws loose and letting raw unsolicited instincts take the steering wheel. Before accelerating off into God-knows-where, there needed to be some grounding. The ‘no internet connection’ notice had hovered right above his mind frame causing him to ask himself a series of questions that would pull him back to reality.
‘No internet at all? No internet to be logged into? Or used? No internet for food? No internet for conversation? No internet for life? For love?
No internet for Adwoa?!
Skidding, he spun back to the world he was physically in. There was absolutely nothing preventing him from just getting up and going to Adwoa. She was in Ghana. He had seen on his Find Friends (Stalkingly, he admitted). So there was really nothing stopping him. Well, after consideration, only the fact that he had no idea how to get to her. What mode of transport. Or even which general direction she was in. Simone wasn’t thinking of this as he pulled up, and readied himself for the trek into the city to find his beloved.
Exasperatedly down the flight of steps (the elevator he was horrified to learn was controlled through the Cloud) he gingered himself as he reached the pedestrian gate that led to the open streets. Simone, bent on his knees, braced himself to meet the World. It was not like he hadn’t ventured off into the world ever before. But the fact that he wasn’t doing so from the comfort of an automated e-vehicle, but on his own two feet, was all the difference. Instinctively, he lifted his arm to check for directions but quickly realized that his location wasn’t updated, so any directions given to him would be inaccurate.
‘What if I can’t find Adwoa? What if I get lost? With no internet? What the hell do I do then?’ Swallowing the anxiety that was threatening to overcome, he leaned over the security interface at the gate and once it verified his face as his, unlocked it to venture forth into the unknown.
When he had checked his maps earlier it had saved from the last time it updated and so he still had access to some information. Using his Find Friends, which acted as an overlay on the maps itself, he could track Adwoa’s address and last known whereabouts. Tapping now, fervently, he opened her profile and scanned the address of where she was known to have been last seen.
Osu. The Times Square of New Accra.
Pausing for a heartbeat, Simone lifted his head up to a rather curious scene unfolding before him at Labone Circle. People he could only imagine being his neighbors, since he didn’t see anyone outside of his floor, were concentrated at the park. All of them hardly noticing the other. But all participating in a similar exercise of shuffling about, tilting their heads and devices toward the sky. It was only on further inspection that Simone realized they were searching for the Internet. Whether it was a phone, watch, or angling their heads’, everyone seemed to be partaking in this odd dance for connectivity.
Busting in-between and around the stretched arms and musky armpits, Simone paced through the internet zombies toward the rent-a-bike. The bike station was parked in rows opposite the reinforced concrete fortress that was the American Embassy. He knew the bikes had their own maps he could use to figure out the direction he should take to Adwoa’s last location. Waving his hand over the interface, then again to move the address off his phone to the bike’s map, he studied the recommended route. There was a tram about a couple of streets down that connected Labone to Osu. Saving the route, he spun on his heels and dashed toward the tram terminal hoping that it would be functioning. Praying to whoever, for this bit of luck.
Heaving a bit, and gasping a lot, he stumbled onto the platform right at the edge of the highway that separated Osu and Labone. The tram was charging quietly on its solar dock awaiting customers before departing. Luckily, it was preprogrammed and therefore didn’t need the Cloud to operate. Simone was more concerned with how it would fare with the other Cloud-based auto-mobiles on the road. Taking a peek up the highway before jumping onboard the tram, he spied on the bridge just ahead spiraling curls of smoke and the wailing sounds of sirens. People running away. Some running toward. Some simply just standing. Angling themselves for internet connectivity.
Simone, holding onto the cool metal pole on the tram as it drudged along its fixed route, could feel a tightness in his chest. He had been in such a rush he hadn’t taken the time to absorb the ensuing danger around him. The insulated bubbles of the fragmented city were bursting over each other, as enclosed worlds were suddenly splashed into the open court of free doom. There was no restraint. No civilization here anymore.
Clutching onto the pole, his tram glided silently by the wreckage of driverless cars on the bridge. Ringing sirens, scores of lifted arms and tilted heads reaching upward. And onward he went toward the packed concrete jumbo that was Osu.
Where the other neighborhoods of New Accra, like Dzorwulu, Cantonments, Airport Residential, and East Legon were well-trimmed and manicured enclaves, Osu was a messy massive unfinished Rubix cube of concrete and people.
During the Accra riots, over a decade ago, the trend of closing parts of the city into gated communities exploded. The chaos of the riots swept a burning fear that blackened social fabrics tied together by ever loosening threads of religious morality and the good nature that Ghanaians were so known for. The intimacy and violence of the crimes committed hastened the upper classes desire to wrap themselves completely from the ooze emanating from the deprived. Soon it wasn’t just residences that were building walls, the commerce, the work, the entertainment, and the life was all encapsulated within the gated community. However, the fragmented nature of Accra meant that it couldn’t consolidate into one giant organism but rather satellite cities. Cities within the city.
What one neighborhood started, another continued, and with the help of security and infrastructure contractors Accra’s global and local elite conjured up a network that linked these satellite cities to one another, forming New Accra.
But Osu was different. It was the convergence point between the old and the new. Osu grew and learned to host these opposing worlds. It grew sideways. It shot up. It folded on top of itself, caved-in from underneath, exploded at its top, then solidified like cooled lava over its surroundings. The scale and intensity of economic activity duly gave it enormous clout. Every inch of Osu was crammed with enterprise, the panorama packed with city-folk. And even after cars were banned, and informal stands smashed, there was still no order that could be bestowed on Osu.
As Simone edged further, now on foot, through the raucous of the main street, any semblance of harmony was nowhere to be seen.
Just as he thought he was making headway he ran into a crowd facing off with strapped security forces standing as a wall in front of the telecommunications HQ. The crowd was vehemently demanding internet access from their providers as the armed forces shouted over blared mega-phones
“The HQ is closed, please step back! The HQ is closed, PLEASE STEP BACK! PLEASE STEP BACK OR WE WILL BE FORCED TO OPEN FIRE!”
Simone had found himself lodged between the vanguard of protestors and the forces in front of the HQ. Wriggling between a brick and a hard place, he lost his footing, spun sharply and threw a flailing arm which caught a hard-jawed policeman right on the face. Suddenly, Simone’s face was planted on the wet concrete. Knees bruised from the impact. Flipping onto his side, the policeman was already upon him, but a protestor had wrapped his arms around his neck and tossed him over. Simone scrambled backward slamming himself against a street stall. Panting. Reaching for air. Sweat dripping down his flustered face.
The spark had been lit and there was no stopping the carnage. The hard-jawed security had vanquished his foe and was now taking purposeful steps toward Simone to exact a swift christening. His meaty forearm was upon Simone before he could gather himself. His steel grip raised Simone off the street before unleashing a powerful knuckle across Simone’s face.
There was no street.
The left side of his world was shut out. Bloodied. A ringing that deafened the clattering skirmish happening in the backdrop. Just as the man was about to unleash another punch, hands thrust into Simone’s punctured vision. Waving forcefully at the man. Stopping him from punching Simone again. The intervener pushed the police back and he tumbled to his elbows before being enveloped in the brawl behind.
Simone’s savior women turned to him. Bending down on one knee and gently placed her hand on his swollen cheek.
“Simone, what are you doing here?” She demanded.
The voice sounded familiar? But it couldn’t be? Could it?
Startled by the coincidence but somehow knowing that I was meant to be, Simone spurted out.
“Adwoa, I came to find you!”
Simone had now tilted his head slightly so he could take in the full image of Adwoa Weyi, and every bit of her was better than he could’ve imagined.
“You are going to get yourself killed! What were you thinking? The whole city is in shit.”
Adwoa was rummaging in her rucksack for something but Simone clumsily shoved her hand away. She scowled at him and was half-way insulting him before he quenched her retort.
“You said I should get out more often…” A wry smile crept on his beaten face. His cheeks violently purple. Adwoa stared down at Simone, considering the intriguing specimen that he was. She didn’t fully understand it/him. But everything about him was a joy for her. She let out a wholehearted laugh then took the back of his head, shoving his face into hers, locking lips as armageddon descended on the streets around them.