4: 35 pm, June 1 2089, Abuja, Capital city of the Union of West African States
“And that was how I discovered I have a fifteen year old son,” I said, forcing my eyes to rest on the ‘M’ shaped wrinkle line on the forehead of the grey mustached man reclining on the alligator skin chair opposite me.
Uncle Elias, my father’s elder brother, was not known for his tranquillity, but even his booming voice that has been known to end all argument, and ensure the imposition of his will, refused to break open the silence that followed my words.
I don’t know what I had expected, but I knew I would have preferred if someone, anyone, had screamed disbelief, cussed, shouted, did anything but stare while the silence tried to suffocate me.
I sensed disbelief. I waited. I had little choice.
I shifted my bulk as unease reached down and unhooked my bowels. I cinched my buttocks. Brief relief came from the sense of tense air beating hasty retreat.
I drew my gaze away from my uncle’s forehead and mentally squared my shoulder as I began scanning the faces that housed the five pairs of eyes that stared at me with different levels of incredulity. They were familiar faces; some have hovered in front of my eyes from since I could tell right from left. They belonged to what Pelumi, my wife, called, with derision,”the extended family.”
Uncle Jide, Pelumi’s mother’s younger brother, sat by the large sliding glass window that framed the coloured tile roofs of houses downhill from ours. The scowl on his face told of the storm that raged in his heart. To his left was his oyibo wife Lydia, who, to tell the truth, is the most culturally attuned person in the room. World renowned scholar of pre-colonial West African ethnicities, Lydia came to Nigeria 30 years before to study the marriage cultures of southern Nigerian ethnicities and had fallen in love with pepper soup and—the family gossip insists—the gasp inspiring girth of Uncle Jide’s third leg.
Lydia’s eyes, when they left her husband’s face to hold my eyes, showed the sympathy she had earlier expressed as I ushered her into the house”Sorry you are going through this mess James. Be sure to tell me what I can do to help. Inugo?”
Sitting opposite me, near the dining area, were my elder sister Nneka and Uncle Elias. Uncle Elias flew in from Alaska for the meeting.
My sister refused to meet my eye. I no longer tried to catch hers. Leaving her to her born again indignations was a cultivated habit. I was surprised she came for the meeting at all. The day before, her alincom had informed me that it would no longer transfer calls from me. I had chuckled at the dramatic tone of the electronic voice. You do love me sweet sister, if not, you would just ignore my calls or bar me, instead of going through the trouble of instructing your alincom to give me a message.
My uncle was smiling. His smile was not as broad as it was before I started my tale, but it was there, playing around his lips. I returned his smile and was rewarded with surreptitious thumbs up. I understood the man. Father had died without seeing a grandchild, so the fact of a grandchild existing before his brother died counted as something for Uncle Elias to be happy about.
Two out of five, I thought as I threw my eyes towards the other person in the room. Pelumi was seated, away from everyone else, at the other end of the room. The drawn curtains behind her and the shawl she had thrown over her head hood-like ensured much of her face was hidden in shadow. She had hung her head at an odd angle for a long time and had me wondering if she was not in pain.
My eyes were drawn to her fingers. Restless as always, they were drumming a soundless but steady rhythm on the recycled plastic chair’s arm. A crouching lioness was the sense the image conveyed to me.
Pelumi had not spoken to me since I returned home from Mars two days ago, but I had learned to place hope on the fact that she was yet to ask me to leave the house or allow the kitchen robots do my cooking.
“Eh…James, I don’t get what you are saying,” Uncle Elias said, his gentle voice cleaving apart the silence. As I turned my eyeballs towards him, I thought I heard a collective sigh of relief.
Uncle Jide rolled his big eyes and cut in before I could respond to Uncle Elias, his chubby index finger stabbing the air,”You mean to say you did not know of this boy? You no know when you gi’im mama belle too?” he sounded like he would not believe me even if I answered in the affirmative.
“No sir…I mean yes sir. I did not know about the boy until two months ago. As for the mother, there was no way she would have gotten pregnant. There was no fear of that at all.” I said.
“No way she’d get pregnant abi? But we have a 15 year old boy that tells us there was a way.” My sister pointed out. Sarcasm becomes her, mother used to say.
My uncle let out a loud guffaw and Lydia joined in. Even the stern Jide allowed a smile to touch his lips. Only my sister and Pelumi maintained their poise. I was too troubled to smile. Knowing Nneka, I was sure she never meant her remarks as a joke.
‘Technically, she is not a woman. I…” I began.
“Technically, she could not get pregnant, but she did. Technically she is not a woman, but she was woman enough to get your dick raging and for you to stick it into her,” Pelumi said with some heat, cutting me off. “Uncle Jide, I am here out of respect for you and your wife. I don’t intend to sit here and endure James Maduka’s insults,” she added, moving to the edge of her seat. The shawl had ridden to the back of her head, giving me the first clear look of her face since we entered the sitting room. Shocked by how much pain was etched there, I again wondered if coming home was the best decision.
Uncle Jide looked like he was getting ready to strangle somebody. He has three children, all boys, and had come to claim Pelumi as the daughter he didn’t have. It was he who had given her away during our wedding, and I recalled that he cried at the reception.
‘I am sorry my dear, but we have to get to the root of this matter o. You know I would have taken you away from this house if not for Mazi Elias here, who apart from being an old friend is a complete gentleman. Something that can’t be said of some people that are supposed to share his blood,’ Uncle Jide said. His eyes bore me no kindness.
“Please calm down Pelumi,’ my uncle begged, ‘Eh…Chief Jide, There is nothing that can be done about that now. We are here to get to the bottom of this matter. Come, James, you can see what your actions have done to this woman, our wife. Jide, please calm our daughter; we’re here for solutions. That is why we left our businesses to be here. I believe the two children are willing to walk the path that does not lead to the cutthroat courts of Greater Abuja. Abi? Or is that not why we are here?”
It was a rhetorical question, so no one answered. On my part I allowed a mental smile at being referred to as a child and the gibe about the courts of Greater Abuja. Uncle Elias had a no love lost relationship with courts. It was at the Greater Abuja High Court that his third wife cleaned him out and forced him to cancel his much-celebrated early retirement. He was married to wife number four now, with a well-reviewed prenuptial agreement sitting in a bank vault waiting for when she grew tired of him and his busy schedule. My uncle was a gentleman, but spent too much time chasing after money for his marriages to work as well as he wanted them to.
My fingers itched with the need to take a bathroom break and to fall into the soft cushion of my chair, but fearing that any of that would spell disrespect, especially given the issue at hand. Steeling myself against the constant threat of a loose anal muscle I remained on the chair’s edge, with the upper half of my body slumped forward to show as much contrition as I could muster.
“James, you have told us how you found out you have a fifteen years old son. You also insist that you have remained faithful to your wife. We all know that it is quite possible for a woman to conceive your child without you getting anywhere near her, especially you space people with all the samples they take from you and store away. But you also admit to sleeping with this woman, who you say is not woman. Please make it clear, make us understand.” Uncle Elias said.
I heard him, knew what was wanted, but didn’t know how to go about it. Where do I start my story? Beginnings for me tend to be too usual, too clichéd.
January 2072, Virgin Space Surfer, Mars Orbit
I smiled, nervous, as she approached me, closing the space between with a sure-footed speed that surprised me, judging by how skinny her legs looked.
She reached me and brushed her lips across mine as her arms, then legs, wrapped around me. I liked the feel of her lips on mine, like silk. I wanted to feel it again. I tried to ease her back, to bring her lips to bear, but she hugged me closer. I marvelled at the strength of her arms, at the tautness of the muscles I could feel beneath her skin.
Finding I couldn’t do much else, I cupped her ample buttocks and carried her to my bunk. She did something with her thigh as I bent over the bunk, still cradling her, and I felt myself sliding into silky warmth. Alarmed, I tried to pull back, but her legs were locked behind me. We crashed unto the bunk and the contractions within her drove me to frenzy.
“You can be rough with me,” she whispered, biting my ears.
Afterwards, as we lay in each other’s arm counting the stars we could see from the view port, she asked if I was of Fulani stock.
“Yes,” I replied, wondering why it is important,”My mother is Fulani.”
“They say Fulani men are endowed,” she said, not looking at me.
She waved a hand in the air.
“Well, your penis is two sizes larger and three lengths longer than it was before I dropped my gown at your threshold.I can’t say it ranks among the largest I’ve seen. I would say it is average,” she said, with no hint of humor.
“That’s a very mechanical thing to say, and ‘Threshold’? Who uses such words?”
“Are you angry?”
“No, just puzzled that you would be interested in my genealogy and the size of my dick,”
“Well, we were made to please men. I was programmed to ask questions like these. Knowing will help me understand and serve you better.”
3: 40 pm, June 1 2089, Abuja
“I don’t know what else to say Uncle,’ I said as I tried to stem the flow of memories, wondering what else they wanted from me, ‘She is a humanoid android. One of three that was being tested as companions for deep space exploration teams…I think one of the three was male. I was drunk and someone dared me to be the first to break one. I can’t remember accepting that dare, but I recall my bunk door opening and the woman walking in. As I said before, I had had some wine, maybe more than usual…we were about to go down to Mars…there was a party. I remember she asked very curios questions. I still don’t know how she conceived Sam and how the regulators allowed her to keep him, but she is his mother, or plays that part.”
The silence that followed was heavier than before. I wondered, not for the first time, the sense in returning to Earth and calling this family meeting. Apart from her tirade after my initial explanation, Pelumi was yet to say anything else and with that upward tilt of her jaw, a sign of her stubborn determination, I doubted she would before the meeting ended.
It was my sister that broke the silence this time.
“Adultery is a sin, so is bestiality, but I think it is a greater sin to lie with an inanimate object. The bible said in…”
“Please save us the sermon Nneka,’ Lydia cut in, exasperated, ‘I am sure we don’t want to hear all about hellfire and the damnation that awaits your brother. In my view James committed just about the same crime I do anytime I thumb my vibrator on or when Pelumi climbs into that Crazy Horse I saw in her bedroom. The woman is a machine, and I don’t consider sex with a machine cheating. If we all agree that James had sex with a machine, we can agree that the boy that resulted from that union can be viewed the same way we view children resulting from surrogacy, no?”
A very strong defence of my position from Aunty Lydia, I thought. It was very similar from the one I had made to Pelumi via an alincom message that was still unread. I sensed the two men in the room nodding, but my eyes were on Pelumi. She was staring at me with cold eyes. I understood her; she was very traditional. I remember how much talking it took to get her to use the Crazy Horse I bought for her. She had insisted that sex with the machine was akin to betrayal. Even when she agreed to ride, she had made me change the attached dildo to a simple pipe thing that lacked the contours of the human penis. I wondered if she still rode it.
Lydia was still talking, and I tuned out my reflections to listen to her.
“Pelumi, you know your ancestors had very evolved views about parentage—a child is his father’s the Yoruba say. I know the Igbo had a more complex view: they see the child born outside wedlock as belonging to the mother, in which case James would have no claim to Sam, except the mother’s family gives him leave to have him. With this situation, who is the woman’s family: the government or the person that built her? Also, there is that tricky situation surrounding how the android conceived. I say we step down from our moral horses and see things the way they are,” Lydia concluded with a note that dared anyone one to contradict her view.
“You don’t understand,” Pelumi said; her voice low.
“Excuse me, what did you say,” Lydia asked, perhaps not expecting the retort—from Nneka, yes, but not from Pelumi.
“I said you don’t understand. None of you do. It is not about the sex, or the betrayal. Maybe a bit, but you don’t know how he made me wait. I couldn’t have the baby I’ve always wanted because he said he wanted to be there to watch the child grow up. I am still waiting, but he already has a son that is almost as old as we’ve been married…tell me how to begin forgiving that?”
I could hear the whirl of a mechanical saw. The garden robot must be trimming the hedges. Usually you can’t hear that sound from here, but the silence in the room was such that every little noise seemed amplified. Silent, I watched Pelumi grip the arms of her chair and push back. No one moved to stop her as she left the room.
I heard the silence expand and felt the tension churning in my guts. Leaning back into the chair, I let the gas escape with very little restraint. The heat and silent whoosh were a relief.
Post image by Shan Sheehan via Flickr
About the Author:
Mazi Nwonwu is the pen name of Chiagozie Nwonwu, a Lagos-based journalist and writer. While journalism and its demands take up much of his time, when he can, Mazi Nwonwu writes speculative fiction, which he believes is a vehicle through which he can transport Africa’s diverse culture to the future. He is the co-founder of Omenana, an African-centrist speculative fiction magazine and Managing Editor of Olisa.tv, a web-based based blogazine. His work has appeared in Lagos 2060 (Nigeria’s first science fiction anthology), AfroSF (first PAN-African Science Fiction Anthology), Sentinel Nigeria, Saraba Magazine, ‘It Wasn’t Exactly Love’, an anthology on sex and sexuality publish by Farafina in 2015 and elsewhere.