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Author: Sherrie Cronin

Chapter 4
FEBRUARY 2009

72

Q: What else is easy to communicate telepathically?

 

A: In modern society, popular music seems to have a surprising ability to transmit directly from mind to mind. One may hear a song "playing" in ones head, only to find that another person with mild receptive abilities will "hear' the song also and start to whistle or hum it. This is frequently unsettling to people, and is often a person's most concrete encounter with telepathy.

(from "FAQ's about telepathy at http://www.tothepowerofzero.org/)       

 

Over the next few weeks, Lola finished working her way through the interpretation of the small structure located in one corner of her company's lease. As happened so often in the oil business, her company had subleased the drilling rights from another company which had done so from another company, and now the term of the lease was near expiration and either a well would need to be drilled soon or the lease would need to be relinquished untested.

Because of the convenient fact that oil floats on water (check your salad dressing), one looks for oil in high places where the tiny coarse rock grains have enough spaces in between them to hold a good bit of oil. A rock with ten percent of its volume as space is a good rock to someone in Lola's profession. Find the highest spot in it, put a nice tight rock like shale above it, which has virtually no spaces into which the wily oil can sneak out over the eons, and someone like Lola gets the message. Drill here.

This part of her job sat somewhere between treasure hunting and puzzle solving, and Lola had to admit that her day-to-day work would not have made a bad 3D video game if someone added a little bit of music and some glossy effects. And, okay, maybe a car chase or two. Lola enjoyed herself as she twisted and turned her 3D visualization of the rocks on her computer screen, humming as she looked for shifts in the rock layers known as faults.

"If you're lost you can look / And you will find me / Time after time."

Cyndi Lauper's 1984 hit Time After Time (BUY) had once been a favorite of hers, and now that Lola thought about it, it made good music to prospect by. She was surprised she hadn't remembered the song for years. She sang a little louder.

"If you fall I will catch you / I'll be waiting—"

 "Time after time." Bob, the older engineer in the group, joined in her song as he walked by her door. "Geez Lola," he said, "I've had that song in my head all damn morning. What are you doing singing it?"

"No idea. Maybe we listened to the same radio station on the way to work?" she guessed.

"I only listen to my iPod," he replied.

Lola shrugged and went back to looking for indicators of what filled those tiny spaces in the rock (Oil? Natural gas? Salt water? It was never anything interesting like tequila or bubble bath. …) and worked until she was satisfied.

Meanwhile, of course, personal life went on as well. On February 1, 2009, the Pittsburg Steelers beat the Arizona Cardinals twenty-seven to twenty-three in Super Bowl XXXXIII. An estimated ninety-nine million viewers watched, including Alex. Lola passed on the football, but did watch some of the commercials.

February also brought a special evening Skype session with Zane, with the three of them singing an enthusiastic Happy Birthday. The family songfest clearly embarrassed Zane as his housemates laughed and made faces in the background. He lived with an odd mix of four other recent grads, each one bright and more than a bit unusual. Lola had met and liked every one of them. Zane, who had been an almost scary-smart child and adolescent, had generally had few friends growing up, and in some grades it had seemed he really had none. Yet here it was clear that behind all their good-natured teasing of Zane, these people genuinely liked and appreciated her unique son. Lola suspected that there would be some sort of birthday celebration there as well, after the phone call was over.

Meanwhile Summer and Lola played phone tag, each leaving the other cheery warm messages to have a really good day and call back soon.

 

On February 14, actress Salma Hayek married her beau in a "romantic civil ceremony" according to the celebrity wedding website. NBA player Marko Jaric also opted for a quiet Valentine’s Day wedding with supermodel Adriana Lima, while skiing in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.  And, the morning of February 14, 2009, Nwanyi relaxed in the ritual pre-wedding bath and enjoyed the sensation of her older sister and two aunts scrubbing her back and her legs.

She could not remember a single time in her life when she had been the center of attention like this, and in fact most of the time she had the odd suspicion that people just wished she would go away. Somadina tried to tell her that if she believed that then it would become the truth, but that was easy for someone like Somadina to say. But today, just today, was all about her and she had never been happier in her life. "You are glowing just a bit, little one," an aunt had said with surprise and approval. Somadina beamed.

The wedding day began at Ikenna's house, with the ceremonially bathed Nwanyi draped in a beautiful gold brocade, which would match the brocade worn by her new husband to the ceremony. Nwanyi had wanted the two of them to wear lavender, her favorite color, but for some reason Djimon had objected, and gold had been selected instead.

Nwanyi was decked with ornate necklaces, bracelets and anklets, and an elaborate gold headdress with a semi-transparent veil. As was the custom with her particular kin, once the guests arrived at the house Nwanyi was expected to engage in a playful tradition of selling eggs to them. While the custom was intended originally to show one’s new husband that one would be an enterprising asset, in today's world it was of course really just for fun and the guests gleefully bought the eggs, to Nwanyi's delight.

The next tradition involved Nwanyi offering palm wine to her husband, but in this case Ikenna had agreed to mango juice instead. Nwanyi, with a large, ornate goblet of juice in hand, nervously began her hunt for Djimon. She knew that this part of the ceremony also involved the guests playfully distracting both her and Djimon to prolong her efforts to offer him the drink. But as the game wore on, although the guests were increasingly enjoying their role, Nwanyi began to get genuinely nervous. The guests may have been less playful if they had understood the degree of Nwanyi's growing distress. She wasn't just a jittery bride. The joy of being the center of attention had started to wane and she was now a hesitant soul realizing that she was about to leave the only home she had ever known in the company of a man to whom she had never spoken.

By the time Nwanyi found Djimon, she was visibly shaking. From across the room a worried Somadina looked up. Timidly, Nwanyi approached the man she was about to marry. He looked up at the goblet with feigned surprise. As she reached the goblet out towards him, he playfully reached to take it from her, then withdrew his hand an inch in pretend nervousness, with just a touch of fake jitteriness which was almost but not quite a mock of her own behavior. The crowd chuckled good-naturedly. But Nwanyi's hands, shaking with real nervousness, could not respond so fast, and the ceremonial juice went crashing to the floor.

Given the traditional importance of the offering of the goblet, under other circumstances the crowd might have gasped. But the momentum for laughter was already there, so instead of gasping, the uncomfortable wedding guests laughed, and an overwrought and mortified Nwanyi burst into tears. As Djimon looked closely for the first time at Nwanyi's lowered eyes that she now dared not raise to him, he saw her deep embarrassment, and sensed the self-loathing behind it. And he thought, This could not be more perfect.

It took both aunts, Somadina, and another cousin to calm Nwanyi down enough to get her to the church. "That goblet nonsense is a silly piece of fluff that doesn't matter a bit," the kinder of the two aunts assured her.

"They laughed because they did not know what else to do," Somadina insisted. "Forget it. You are the beautiful bride today. Let's go." But Nwanyi did not feel beautiful anymore, and the attention of the crowd no longer felt warm or made her happy.

Thus the teary-eyed bride and the mostly silent groom met in the local church that celebrated both Christ and Chukwu and was friendly to Allah as well. It was agreed that the once-again veiled Nwanyi would present her husband with a Bible, and he would present her with a Qur'an, and a local official would pronounce them wed in the eyes of all Gods and all people, which he did. And so, they became husband and wife without ever once truly looking each other in the eye.

The church ceremony was followed by more food, more drink, live music, and much dancing. Djimon apologized profusely that none of his kin had been able to attend after all, being all aging and ill, or scattered and busy. Nwanyi's people found the absence exceedingly odd, but fortunately Ikenna had many friends, and his wives both came from big nearby families happy to contribute to the celebration with hearty consumption and lively participation. Ikenna could have sworn that the larger of his brother-in-laws had consumed an entire goat at the wedding feast.

As the celebration wore on, Ikenna watched as his tall and stately daughter Somadina carried her one-year-old son Kwemto on her hip as she visited with relatives, and watched with even more interest as eager husband Azuka attentively brought his wife food and drink. Although Azuka had always been clearly more smitten with Somadina than she with him, Ikenna suspected Azuka's unusually generous behavior today might have been because Somadina was pregnant again. Could he, Ikenna, really be that lucky? This would be not just a second grandchild, but given Nwanyi's impending departure, also a happy distraction which would make life easier for all.

Although the dancing would continue on into the night, it would normally be expected that at some point the bride and groom would exit the celebration to do what brides and grooms are expected to do the world over.

However, as Djimon had no suitable home of his own or of his family's to which to take his bride that night and accommodations for travelers in Ikenna's small town were meager, it had been agreed in the initial discussion that Djimon would continue to lodge with the local family who housed strangers, and that Nwanyi would be permitted to spend her last night there in her sister's house to say goodbye. Their married life would truly begin after they left the village. Djimon considered the success of that particular piece of negotiation, viewed by others as a concession on his part, as a stroke of immense good fortune.

 

Azuka was generally an easygoing and considerate man who had eyed Somadina ever since he was a boy. His parents were kindly, and inclined to indulge their quiet, well-behaved only child who had, after all, asked for very little. So they had saved money and worked hard to set his marriage to Somadina in motion because they recognized that there was nothing that would make Azuka happier. Fortunately, Ikenna had no other particular plans for his eldest daughter and had, in fact, been smart enough to recognize that having a devoted husband was a fine situation.

Young Somadina, strong and independent, had neither objected to nor been enthused about the marriage. She had been pragmatic, accepting the duties and responsibilities of being a wife without complaint or apparent resentment and giving Azuka no cause for complaint either. And yet Azuka knew that his ardor was not particularly returned.

And because he was not only physically attracted to Somadina but he also truly cared for her, he responded by giving her ample space, asking for little of her time and attention and keeping his physical demands to a minimum. She seemed to recognize his adjustments on her behalf, and had slowly over the past two years responded to his behavior with a growing appreciation and, maybe, even something that approached friendship.

The night of Nwanyi's wedding, however, Azuka had danced and drank and danced some more and now he dearly wanted his wife in the most basic of ways. But he also realized that this was one time in which his needs would be less welcome than usual. As he approached the small house that had been given to him on his own wedding day,  he saw the two sisters sitting on the porch step, arms around each other, a set of hands entwined. His Somadina was talking softly, chiding Nwanyi into blushing giggles, and he thought, No. Definitely not. I best leave them alone.

With a touch of sadness, he headed back to the music, admittedly open to whatever temptations might come his way.

Given all the differences in their natures, it was hard for anyone else to understand why the two sisters were the best of friends. Some thought it had to do with the loss of their mother, each representing to the other that missing piece of their lives that no aunt or stepmother had been able to fill. Others, if they were more perceptive, noticed that Nwanyi needed encouragement, love, and a protector and that Somadina needed to give encouragement, love, and protection. The cynical might add that from such complementary needs the deepest of human bonds are formed. But the simple truth was, well, simpler. They enjoyed each other. For under Nwanyi's insecurities and Somadina's stunning poise, they laughed at the same jokes, generally liked the same foods, clothes, and people, and shared many of the same ideas about life. They had fun together. And while motherhood had, of necessity, turned much of Somadina's attention elsewhere, she was still deeply aware that her best friend was leaving town and entering into a situation where contact could be infrequent.

Protector that she naturally was, however, that night she worked hard to keep Nwanyi laughing and brushed away any return to sadness with reminders of how cell phones and computers had made the country, indeed the world, a much smaller place. They were not so poor, they could both access such items, and then they would laugh every day like they were now, and visit often in person as well. She, Somadina, had plans to start earning income soon, once the baby was just a bit older and suckling less, and so they would be able to talk and be together often. Somadina promised.

They slept side by side that night with the baby Kwemto between them, and the next morning Somadina worked particularly hard to make her thoughts and feelings strong and cheerful as she bid goodbye. She tried to reach out to Djimon with a farewell that was both accepting yet a bit cautionary, but as she clasped his hand all she could feel was a sort of cold, slick metal sensation. How odd. "Take good care of my baby sister," she tried to keep her voice light.

"Oh I certainly will." His voice was equally light when he replied, but it filled her mouth with a taste of the same malleable metal that she could almost feel sliding around uncomfortably between her back teeth.

Then as Nwanyi got into the passenger side of Djimon's car and the car pulled out onto the road, two things happened. One, Somadina saw a disheveled Azuka out of the corner of her eye as he tried to unobtrusively enter their house. Two, she felt the odd sensation of a window opening in her head. Just a crack, but she could swear that she could feel a cool breeze blowing in information, where there had been none for a very long time. So as the car drove away and she fought back tears, mixed in with her questions and her worry and her sorrow, she felt wonder. And a growing sense of power that she had not felt since she was a very small child.

 

Lola woke from a sound sleep, with a sharp pang of sorrow. She shook her head, trying to remember what the dream had been but she could find no dream. Just worry. Questions. Frustration with someone. Alex? Why? There was sorrow, draped over her like a heavy blanket. Her best girl friend was leaving town? That wasn't possible. … she didn't have a best girl friend here, really. Nonetheless Lola found herself fighting back tears as she lay in bed. It was so strange that she started to laugh. Then, she felt something else. A breeze, in her mind, and with it a sense of power that was familiar. Lola felt like an old skill was being reawakened. What was it that she was remembering how to do?

 

Somadina paused before she entered the house. No, not now. I will only miss Nwanyi and fight with Azuka, she thought as the idea of both activities made her heart sink. So on impulse, Somadina rearranged her half awake baby boy onto her hip and walked the short distance over to her father's house, looking for one of her maternal aunts. Both aunts were certainly going back home today, and if she could get a ride with either family, she could borrow plenty of clothes for herself and Kwemto and have a short visit. A few days away might do her a world of good, and given how close they all knew that she was with Nwanyi, neither aunt would ask about her lack of packing but would just accept her as a welcome guest. It was good to have relatives like that. And better yet, both aunts had access to cell phones, so she could call Azuka's father and ask him to let her husband know not to worry. In a few days, when she would get around to making the phone call.

 

Although oil seeps were seen in the Niger Delta in the 1900s, no one then could have predicted how the discovery of massive quantities of oil would eventually shape the futures of entire countries such as Nigeria and, in fact, would help shape the politics of the world. Shell Oil made the first commercial discovery west of Port Harcourt in 1956 and Nigeria first shipped crude oil to the international market in 1958. A year later the Nigerian government made what was arguably one of its single smartest moves ever and introduced regulation of oil industry profits, originally mandating a fifty/fifty split between the government and the oil company. On October 1, 1960, when Nigeria gained its independence from Britain, it was producing seventeen thousand barrels of oil per day.

Bob was looking over Lola's presentation materials when he stopped and squinted at her stratigraphic column, designed to show the various important rock layers to her audience as she made her arguments for her drilling location.

"Where did you get this?" he asked.

She explained that she had copied it from somewhere in the publicly available literature, the way folks in her profession usually did. Why?

"We just don't usually refer to it as the Biafra formation here, that's all," he said. "You might want to use an alternative name for it."

 That was odd. So Lola went back to the internet.

 

In 1966 and 1967 there were two consecutive revolts as the various larger ethnic groups in Nigeria vied for control of the government. The second one put the Northerners in charge and rather than keep on fighting, or accept this new rule, the southeastern Igbo chose to secede, and they formed the independent nation of Biafra. After a protracted battle and a brutal blockade, somewhere between one and three million Biafrans died, mostly due to starvation and disease. The death toll was of course the highest for the children, the elderly, the ill, and the pregnant and nursing women. Biafra surrendered in 1970.

Médecins Sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders as it is called here, was one of the few charities the Zeitman family had supported enthusiastically over the years. Lola was surprised to learn that this international medical humanitarian organization, which provides aid worldwide to people whose survival is threatened by violence, neglect, or catastrophe, was founded in response to the painful ordeal of Biafra by frustrated French doctors who were prohibited from speaking out during the conflict. Today, while Doctors Without Borders remains firmly apolitical, it allows and even encourages its volunteers to speak out on behalf of victims anywhere. In 1999, MSF received the Nobel Peace Prize.

Some speculated that the rich oil resources in Biafra's portion of the Niger Delta were part of the reason both Nigeria and Britain fought so hard to prevent Biafra's secession. “You think?” Lola muttered as she read on. And, in fact, oil production had risen from seventeen thousand to more than a million barrels of oil a day by 1970. Nigeria joined OPEC in 1971.

Since then, hundreds of billions of dollars have flowed into Nigeria from oil, making up the vast majority of the country's economy. Although over the decades the government has upped its share of the split to as high as eighty percent on some leases, residents of the Niger delta continue to complain that they receive a disproportionately small amount of that revenue while bearing the brunt of the environmental damage to their land and fishing areas.

Biafra remains a difficult memory for all Nigerians, and to a lesser extent to the British and Russians who supported the highly criticized blockade, and to the Canadians and French who sided and even fought with Biafra. Some Americans remain embarrassed at how easily their own nation was persuaded to look the other direction. After ten minutes on the internet reading about Biafra, Lola agreed with Bob and found another name. It was a matter of simple respect for anyone in her potential audience who might have lost a loved one in the conflict forty years ago.

The well that Lola and her coworkers were proposing had to be approved next by their partner company, an indigenous company headquartered in Lagos. Lola was told to be ready to present the following Monday, when the appropriate parties would be in Houston on other business and wished to see her work while they were nearby. It had been a long time since she had made a real presentation to anyone. These days, in smaller companies it seemed that every layer of management generally just wandered by an individual’s work station for a live update, or one emailed specific slides (okay, they weren't even slides anymore, they were files) to whomever needed a piece of particular information, cc'ing (okay, there wasn't any real carbon copy involved here) anyone who might be vaguely interested. The good news was that she no longer spent days overseeing the drafting, coloring, and labeling of paper displays to show her ideas. The bad news was that she, and everyone she knew, had to make time to sort through masses of emails with dozens of pieces of information each day.

But these particular Nigerian dignitaries wanted a formal presentation, so a formal presentation they would have. Lola knew that exhibiting her work to a room full of people had always been one of her strengths, and she welcomed this opportunity to show off just a bit for her new employer. Yet even she was taken aback when she walked into the conference room to get set up.

American meetings had long since become smaller, more informal, and had a tendency to inch into starting later than scheduled, with the occasional self-correcting gimmick like fining the last participant to show up, which would have the effect of setting the "late" clock back to zero so that the creep into lateness could begin again.

Oddly this phenomenon had nothing to do with laziness or lack of promptness, but rather was a function of everyone trying to be more efficient. Because no one wanted to waste their own time waiting for the other attendees, everyone tried to time their arrival to right before the real meeting would start. Thus, time-conscious Americans tended to start their meetings later and later as they each strived to waste less and less time.

So Lola was more than surprised to walk into a room filled with twenty or so people, all more than fifteen minutes early to the meeting, many of them dressed in full formal African regalia and the rest in impeccable Western business attire, both males and females, all sitting respectfully and quietly with their hands folded in their laps, waiting for her. Watching her. Acting courteously like they had not a better thing in the world to do than to listen carefully to everything that she had to say. She smiled nervously and began to hook up her laptop to the projector, explaining that it would be just a few minutes before she would start. No one seemed in any hurry, and of course everyone knew that they had to wait for the Americans who would rush in five minutes late.

Lola regained her usual composure and the presentation went well. A few of the attendees, Lola suspected, had been invited along as a courtesy and were largely disinterested in what she had to say. They simply listened politely, unlike Americans who would have been far more likely to be texting messages. Others, however, asked excellent questions and contributed helpful information in a spirited yet respectful style that Lola found she enjoyed.

As always, she smiled often and adapted her style to the cadence and tone of the audience. Over the years she had learned to keep this latter tendency in check, only because if she was not careful she knew that she would soon be imitating the accents and gestures of those to whom she was speaking. This rather annoying tendency of hers had embarrassed her deeply more than once, and she was afraid that various parties throughout the years had suspected she was making fun of them. Nothing of course could be further from the truth, but Lola had learned to be more careful with this empathetic ability of hers that seemed to sometimes turn into a force of its own. In the end, she kept the empathic thing in check and knew that the presentation had gone smoothly. The well would be drilled. She did not, however, expect the next turn of events.

 

In the days that followed, Djimon discovered how extraordinarily fortunate his choice in a second wife had been. Throughout the drive southwest toward Lagos, sometimes over major highways and twice over bad roads as he detoured for "business meetings," Nwanyi was not only timid, she asked for almost nothing and did not even seem to expect kindness from him. She stopped her attempts at conversation early on when they were met with stony silence, only asking twice to use his cell phone to call her sister. He informed her curtly that his charger worked poorly and he was saving the battery for important calls. After the second time she did not ask again.

And she appeared to be fearful about sex, or at least shy enough about it that although they slept in the same bed at night, she never brought up his lack of interest. As they traveled he saw to it that she stayed covered and had whatever meager food and water she required, and in return she simply did not complain to him. He figured with satisfaction that she was scared of him and vowed to see that useful condition continue throughout what he had come to think of as "phase two." Phase one, of course, had been finding and procuring her.

Four days later they arrived at his home, where Mairo (May row), his true and beloved wife with her beautiful Fulani features, dutifully got Nwanyi settled into a particularly cramped and poorly ventilated room in the rear of the house, and promptly assigned her a sizable share of the less desirable household chores that would normally have fallen to the servants. Djimon had to smile. Even though Mairo understood all too well how important Nwanyi was to their plans, and what little husbandly interest Djimon actually had in the woman, she still was apparently not inspired to exhibit the least bit of kindness to the Igbo. Which, now that Djimon thought about it, was just as well.

It had never occurred to him that the two women could actually become friends, given Mairo's tough Northern heritage and deep devotion to their cause. However, if such friendship were to happen, it would throw a major kink into the plans. It was just as well that he let Mairo inflict all the petty insults that she wanted.

 

"You're going where?" It was one of the rare times that Alex was genuinely annoyed with her. "I thought travel was not part of this job. Come on Lola. Be sensible. They kidnap people in Nigeria. This is not some youthful canoe adventure of yours, or backpacking across Europe with your college boyfriend."

"We didn't go to Europe. We went to Canada."

His scowl prevented further comment. Instead, "Just tell them no. You are not available."

"In my profession you don't tell your employer that. It's not like I work for a school district where they can't fire you, dear!"

Instantly she regretted saying that. Damn. She felt the flash of hurt on his face herself. But the simple fact was of course that she wanted to go. She loved to travel, absolutely anywhere, and travel opportunities that did not involve visiting relatives, attending conferences for work, or cheering on children engaged in kids’ activities, had been few and far between for too many years and all had been predictably tame. She couldn't remember the last time there had been even a little a adventure involved in going somewhere, and this from the geeky girl with the thrill-seeking side to her who had once spelunked through caves, rappelled off of the side of her dorm building, and jumped out of an airplane practically the minute she turned eighteen. And yes, she did have a bit of an issue with Alex telling her what to do even if he actually wasn't.

"My company has excellent security," she lied. In fact, her old company had excellent security worldwide for its traveling employees. Her new company, well, she was under the impression that she would have some sort of an armed escort and a driver while she was there which would certainly be plenty. And she did not want Alex to worry. Really.

"I will be flying there and then whisked from the airport to a perfectly predictable hotel chain which you have heard of and stayed at yourself.  I will go to the office, make my presentation which I honestly had no idea they would like so very much, spend another night at the nice hotel, get escorted back to the airport, and come straight home. I promise. You'll barely have time to rent and watch one of those inane movies about a bad sports team that develops a lot of heart and finally wins that I know you watch when I'm gone."

"Teddie and I watch them," he said a little defensively. "She likes the heart part. I like the sports part. It works."

"Whatever. You won't even have time to miss me."

 

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