In a dystopian African setting where only a certain class of people are permitted to possess libido, with the aim of controlling population during hard times, a man struggles to find a way to revive his libido and save his marriage.
We are standing in front of Revival Clinic waiting to see a Revival Nurse to reactivate our numbed libido. The number of old faces I see in the crowd make me marvel at how much people are still trying to have sex. I’m in a lab coat pretending to be a man of medicine. I stare at my reflection as I pass by a glass wall. The guard at Gate 5 eyes me suspiciously. I walk past him. I have a fake badge but I don’t stutter when he swipes it on the identification machine. The Cyber Pirates are good. The monitor displays my smiling face, a made-up name and a title: Dr. Ambassa, Lab Technician. The guard hands back the badge. I smile and walk on, confidently.
The corridor is small. I meander through bodies almost clinging to each other. Nobody utters a word when I push through, but when I get to the door, I come face to face with an old couple. The man is short and the woman is shorter. With his bald head and greying hair, I easily situate him between sixty-five and seventy years old. The woman cannot be older than sixty.
“What rubbish is this? You just appear from nowhere and want to pass? Do you know how long my wife and I have been standing here?” the old man yells.
I stop and examine his small eyes which are almost lost in bushy and grey eyebrows. I know that he is not joking.
“Let him be. Can’t you see he works here? The earlier you let him go, the earlier this will be over and you guys will be gone,” somebody retorts.
I smile at my rescuer’s defense. My disguise is convincing.
“Oh, shut your trap. I don’t care who he is. You have no idea what we had to do to get the points for this revival. We should be the ones going through that door, not people who know the place already,” the old man cries again.
“And why is a dying man looking for sex anyway. I thought they say women menopause before they turn fifty? Are you even sure your woman will like it when you guys are turned on?” another voice asks. Chuckles.
“Menopause doesn’t mean no sex, you nincompoop. You are talking about something you have no idea about. At least, we tasted it before the drought came. I know what I am talking about here young man.”
A section of the crowd starts laughing. I laugh too. It is funny to see the old man scavenge for sex. As he shoots retorts at the mocking crowd, the door swings open, a smiling couple hurries out. I walk through the door and shut it firmly behind me before the old man has time to see what is happening.
A hall with several doors comes to view when I step in. The walls are made of glass but I cannot see through them. The glass is tainted with images of African masks, like a church window with African drawings. A voice suddenly calls out as I walk in;
“This way, last room at the end of the hall.”
I see a slightly-opened door ahead. I hurry and push it wide open. I find a fat nurse inside. Her face bears deep layers of makeup.
“Oh, the laboratory. I wasn’t expecting any results yet. And… are you new?” she asks with puzzled eyes.
I pull a chair in the corner and sit.
“No, I came for me and my wife. We need a revival.”
“Oh, I see. And where is she?”
“I came to find out what it takes, first.”
The nurse beholds me with suspicious eyes.
“Can I have your card, please?”
“The Revival Card? The one which tells me you have the right number of points for this.”
I grapple for words and stare at the bed, bookshelf with files and a machine which carries several syringes in the office, searching for a suitable answer, before I turn back to her.
“Ok, ok. I have no card or money. No points either. I am just a poor scrapyard scavenger and my marriage hasn’t been going well. I need this badly.”
As the last words fall off my lips, the nurse taps on the dial device at the back of her left ear and moments later, a loud voice responds.
“Revival Clinic emergency. What incident do you want to report?” the voice asks.
“There is an unauthorized low-grader in here and he has no…”
I grab her hand and twist it before she can utter another word. The call ends abruptly. She tries to gnaw at my fingers when I clasp her mouth in my palms, but she is not strong enough. She lets go and stops trying to bite. I loosen my grip.
“I am not here to hurt you. I just need some help. I will let go of you, but please be calm. Just tell me what I want to know and I will be out of here before you know it,” I tell her.
She stares at me with disdain.
“What do you want? Revival for your kind happens at Gate 1. This is Gate 5, meant for people of a certain… financial standing,” she says.
“I don’t know if you have heard, but it can take a year to get a libido revival at Gate 1. They say our files need to go through fifteen different offices before they are approved; an issue of trust. They say they do not believe we can feed our offspring if we are left to engage in sexual activity freely.”
“And what do you expect me to do? I am not the administration. I only follow orders,” she stares at me with eyes which show puzzlement and disdain.
“I cannot wait for one year, madam. My marriage is breaking. Just tell me what I need to do for us to be revived now.”
“What? You want me to…?”
“I have fruits.”
“I can get you fresh fruits. Wild mangoes, oranges, grapes, paw paws and even apples. Fresh ones.”
The nurse beholds me with a stunned countenance, as if heaven has opened up to her.
“Yes, I know the only people who can truly afford fresh fruits are industrialists and high dons in the administration. People like you and me can only feed on synthetic matter or decades old canned fruits which have lost all of their flavor. So, what do you say?”
The nurse looks at me quietly for another moment before she responds.
“Where will you get these fruits from, the fresh ones?” she asks
“You know I cannot tell you that, right?”
“Yeah, thought so.”
“So, how are we doing this? I can provide you a booth-full of mangoes.”
The nurse swallows hard and then sighs.
“But how do you want me to…?”
“I have heard, from trustworthy sources, that your colleagues do certain favors for low-grade clients like me. I am sure you can be inspired by that too.”
Again, the nurse breathes deeply and gapes pensively. Suddenly, a siren goes off and a voice blares out of a speaker just above my head.
“Attention! Attention! A rescue team is moving into Gate 5. There is an unauthorized low-grader in the section. All revival aspirants clear the way. Lethal force will be used on all those who do not comply.”
I rise from my chair and stare at the nurse quizzically.
“Your phone,” she says, immediately.
I stretch out my hand. In my open palm, a luminous screen displays numbers. The nurse punches in a phone number and pushes my hand away.
“Call me when you are ready,” she says.
“Trust me, I will,” I say with a smile.
When she turns around to pick something, I open the room’s window and jump out.
Within the clinic’s walls, I hide in corners, climb fences and evade drones before I finally escape the premises. About two hundred meters away, I turn around and behold the place once more. It is a giant complex.
Everyone comes to Revival Clinic to reactivate their sex drive. Twenty-seven years have passed already since the policy to completely numb the populace’s libido and outlaw artificial insemination was adopted by the administration. This happened after extreme temperatures descended on us, rendering the growth of trees, food crops and all manner of vegetation impossible. It is either too hot or too cold, no midpoint. The severe drought is almost permanent too. Hunger has become a way of life. I was just six years old when my father told me that we needed to change the way we ate because millions of people were starving to death out there. One day, the people from the administration came to our home and injected something into my neck. I didn’t know what it was. Father told me that it was ok. I did not feel any pain. I did not ask any questions. I remained oblivious until I married, until my wife stopped talking to me after six years of marriage.
I turn around and look at the clinic once more. It reminds me of my country, everything is segregated into grades. People like me who sit in the lowest grade require all kinds of permission even to eat a decent meal, while high grade people live life. I remember reading in books and newspapers that things weren’t always like this. I wonder if things will ever change when we finally consummate our marriage.
Outside the clinic’s walls, I meet a crowd of warmly dressed people screaming and brandishing cardboards which display varied messages.
“SEX FREEDOM FOR ALL”,
“We Have The Right To Have The Number Of Children We Want”
“FREE US FROM EXTINCTION”
“OUR PARENTS ASKED THEM TO STOP POLLUTING THE PLANET, NOW THEIR CHILDREN SIT ON THRONES IN HIGHER GRADES”
“The Trees And The Planet Can Still Be Saved”
“GREENHOUSES CAN BE FOR EVERYONE”
“WE WANT CHILDREN TOO”
“We Did Not Kill The Ozone Layer, We Should Not Be The Ones To Pay For Their Irresponsibility”
“WE CAN USE CONDOMS TOO”
The protest is happening in front of an administrator’s office, in the middle of extremely cold winds. Armed drones hover and point reddish lasers at the placard-bearing protesters. Their agitations are valid, but I remember that I have fruits to deliver. I evade the mass and hurry away. I am just a few steps away when someone taps my shoulder. I stop, turn around and come face to face with Buh. A smile illuminates my face.
“What are you doing with a lab jacket in this kind of weather?” Buh laughs with puzzled eyes.
I look down at the jacket. I forgot to throw it away.
“Nothing bro, I just found it. I was cold, so I decided to wear it,” I lie.
“Even the dumbest kid in this place will not believe a lie like that. How can a lab jacket be useful in this kind of cold?” He laughs again.
“No, don’t tell me you went there,” Buh says, “You know that isn’t the solution.”
“What is the solution then?” I ask.
“Let’s say they revive you guys, tell me, for how long will it last? One week? One month? Then after that what? You go back to the status quo and everything continues very well?”
“I did not say that.”
“I know. I just want you to look around. We are living empty and passionless lives because we have no trees. And the same industrialists and administrators who control us are the ones who refused to listen to our ancestors two hundred years ago. Today, in 2219, you and I live in Cameroon, a country which was thriving with dense forests, and we cannot even sleep with our wives because there is no rubber to make condoms and they claim that to control population and dwindling food resources, we need to abolish the very thing which will assure the continuity of our kind: sex. The solution must be somewhere else, not in this gruesome policy.”
I look at him, at his frowning face, and at the vapor which silhouettes from his breathe and I see a man who is determined to change his status quo. I wonder if there is truly any way out.
“And how do we change this? Do you think we will ever have trees like before?” I ask.
“Do you know Chokote?” he asks.
“The guy whose parents died of dysentery because there was no medication in stock to treat them?”
“Yes. I am sure you know he was the last living person in his family,”
“Really? I did not know that.”
“Yeah, he was the last. And he died early this morning. Hadn’t eaten anything for weeks. Couldn’t afford a thing.”
“That’s not the worst part.”
“He left no offspring behind. Of course, as poor as he was, he could not raise the required amount of points to be eligible for a revival.”
“My God! This is bad.”
“Yeah. His entire lineage is lost. So tell me, with tragedies like this, do you think we wouldn’t find ways to end this madness?”
For the first time in a while, I truly have nothing to say in the face of a squabble. He notices my confusion and smiles.
“I believe we can still plant trees and change the situation. I know you are heading for the hills in Obala, where the trees are still green and where the hidden fruits still thrive. We can make that permanent everywhere. We just need to take our greenhouses out of the hands of these autocrats.”
“Yeah,” I reply, my voice low enough to signal resistance to his counsel. He laughs and holds on to my shoulder.
“Go on. Do what you must. But don’t forget, this is not a sure ticket to the happiness you seek,” he says.
I get into a rusty 4×4 pickup and drive to Obala. Buh’s reasoning makes sense; the wild orchard in the middle of the hills is fresh with all manner of fruits. I realize that it can teach us what we need to know about survival. The day we discovered the place, we were in the heart of the wilderness, scavenging for metal and other wastes for the recycling house. Some days, we found plastic and wool. If we were lucky we’d kill an animal. Recently our search hasn’t provided much. One day we drove deep into abandoned territory and searched cold houses. We did not find a thing. We spotted a dog or a hyena. We were not sure. It ran away before we deciphered what it was. The outskirts of Yaounde, the Zone which we scavenge, is abandoned. With extreme temperatures, every living soul has moved to the mass settlement in the middle of the city to cling to other people for warmth.
Buh had sworn that if we went a mile further in our search, we will come home with good loot and make enough money to feed our hungry selves. My wife hadn’t tasted food for three days. I was worried. I hesitated but I finally agreed with him. I had no choice really. We drove to Tongolo, twenty kilometers away from our usual end point. We found old zinc nails and aluminum drums. We loaded the loot to the back of our pickup. We were about to explore further when, in the distance, we spotted a hurricane approaching. Unlike what I read in ancient geology books, the hurricanes we have now are far more powerful and disastrous. The last one swallowed up hundreds of scavengers on their search tours. I warned Buh that we needed to leave. He did not think twice. As we drove away from the hurricane Buh noticed an advancing storm from the front mirror.
“We will not make it home in time. We need to find a place to hide, the winds are coming too fast,” he said.
The dust giant advanced towards us like an angry bull. All around us was wilderness, but not very far off, we spotted a series of hills. I told Buh to drive us to the hills. We could find caves to hide. He sped to the hills. We spotted a cave and rushed into it before the winds whipped us off. Inside the cave, we discovered that the hills actually formed a circle and, in their center, a flourishing orchard of fruit trees. The glee on Buh’s face was one which I will never forget. We rushed to the trees, climbed and ate as much as we could. Hours later, when the hurricane died, I harvested a load of fruits for my wife, Prudence. Buh obliged me to swear that I would not tell her about our discovery until the time is right.
In our corroded metal container home, Prudence did not utter a word when she saw the fruits. The low-grade shanty town is a mammoth network of old metal containers packed side by side, close to each other, making it easy for sound to move through walls. Even the layers of cotton coated to the walls to keep the containers warm inside do not stop sound from going through. Anyone can eavesdrop even the most discreet conversations in the next home and so people do not resort to gossip for information on the neighbor’s dealings anymore. Only the low-grade admins have the luxury to live in mud brick houses. Under the solar lamp, reclining on the old bamboo chair, Prudence stared at the fruits and then put them away.
“Where are they from?” she asked.
“A… my… our loot was great today. I made quite a lot. Just… just thought I should get you something fresh from the greenhouse at Mendong.”
“People around here can’t afford things like these. This should have cost a fortune. Abeg, tell me, na how much you buy these things?”
“Does it really matter? I go out every day and work very hard for us to survive, for us to have a better life. This is what I call a better life. I understand that it is strange to eat mangoes like the high-grade people do, but I just think you should savor them. After all, we do not live twice.”
Prudence did not ask more questions. Days later, when I came home from foraging for scrap, a stench hit my nostrils as I stepped into our small space Prudence fondly called ‘the chamber’. I stopped halfway into the room. She was sleeping deeply on our only couch. Her snores were so peaceful that I refrained from waking her. It wasn’t long before I found the source of the stench. Flies buzzed over a cane basket at the corner next to an empty charcoal stove. It was the same basket of fruits I brought days ago. Beneath it were rotten mangoes and guavas. Prudence did not taste of any of them. I shook her up.
“Why did you not eat the fruits? You should have told me that you wouldn’t eat them.”
She rose from the chair, rubbed her eyes and gave me a puzzled stare. She yawned and stretched her back.
“We don’t need them. We have enough food for ourselves,” she replied.
“What!? Are you serious?” I stared at her with disbelief.
“We cannot start living that life. You cannot sustain it,” she retorted.
“And who says we wouldn’t be able?” I questioned again.
“Nobody needs to tell me anything. I just know so,” she uttered calmly.
I looked at her quiet eyes and expressionless face. I felt like smacking her on the cheek, but if I did, the entire town will know what happened and where the fruit trees were. I swallowed my fury.
“Ok. If you think eating fresh fruits as a low-grader is a taboo, then there is nothing I can do about it. But no cam disturb me with all dat ya requests dem again.”
These memories occupy my mind as I drive to the hills to gather fruits for the Revival Nurse. Prudence hasn’t uttered a word for months since I reproached her. I return home every night and find warm synthetic food on the table, but Prudence doesn’t utter a word. I start conversations, I tell her about our exploits, how the high-graders shit like us and how I’m able to buy fresh fruits from the greenhouse at Mendong. She remains silent, for weeks. One day I go on my knees and beg her to forgive me for getting her angry. She eyes me and walks away. Distress begins to creep in. I overhear a middle-aged middle-grader telling a colleague how happy his wife has become after their first child was born. As I drive to the orchard, I paint pictures in my mind, pictures of Prudence carrying our new born.
A glint of Tongolo hills emerges in the distance. I switch to gear one and then soften the pressure on the fire pedal. I don’t need to be in a hurry after all. But just as I get closer, I see a storm approaching with dreadful ferocity. I take the engine to the fifth gear, deposit my weight on the fire pedal. The engine grunts wildly and spins the vehicle with full force. Violent air blows unto my face. The storm approaches with full force. The hills are not very far but the winds are strong and the storm is wild. I have never seen anything like this. It is advancing at fearful speed. I will not make it to the hills in time. Suddenly, the winds uproot an abandoned house from its foundation, hurl the structure into the air and smash it to bits like grain in a grinding machine. I step on the brakes, turn the rusty wagon around and head back for the camp. The storms advance like titans, carrying all manner of organic and manmade materials. I speed into the low-grade town, honking like a madman, warning people to get into their homes. The wind flings a rock through the rear window. I crash into a series of abandoned containers and curl as the darkness of the storm envelopes the sky.
I step out of the darkness, hours later, and come face to face with the destruction of the hurricane. Containers litter the streets, cars lie on their heads, lifeless bodies hang in unimaginable places, flung on rooftops, trees, and metal. The low-grade town is in shambles. Most container homes have been cut off from their foundations by the winds. I take to my heels and head home. I find Prudence lying on the floor on her belly. Tears settle on my eyelids. I kneel and turn her around. Her left hand has been completely severed but blood does not ooze. I cannot imagine what I see when the remainder of the arm comes to full view. Beneath the living-silicon skin, are webs of wires and circuits. I gape at her face, her hands, her pale eyes and her body. She looks like any normal person. Prudence! I examine her severed hand again and cry at the subconscious mock.
“Yes, you married a robot.”
I stare at her for a long while. Then, I wipe my eyes and walk out of the chamber. I need to find Buh. I am ready to join the protest now.