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Author: Sherrie Cronin

Chapter 5
MARCH 2009

72

Somadina stayed away longer than she had planned, trying to sort through the strange mix of emotions in her head and working to get a grip on the influx of new information which she was picking up from those around her. She spoke to Azuka twice during the two weeks she was gone, assuring him that she and baby were fine and she would be home soon. Finally she knew that she had to go home if for no other reason than the fact that both Kwemto and Azuka missed each other so much. It was unfair to continue to keep them apart. She caught a ride from her uncle's brother who was traveling that way anyway, and came home unannounced late Sunday afternoon. She headed to her kitchen, thinking to make a cup of tea and to just sit by herself for a few minutes, but Azuka was already at the kitchen table, his head in his hands and a cup of tea in front of him. To his credit, he made no effort to avoid her, and as she took the chair across from him he met her look. “I'm sorry," he said simply.

"For what?"

"Don't be childish Somadina. Please. I know you know. It was your sister’s wedding and your last night with her and I went out and had sex with another woman. It was a very selfish thing to do."

And of course she knew, and would have known by his behavior even if she could not have felt the shame radiating from him in waves. “Who?" she asked. Oddly enough she was curious.

"Chika (CHEE kah)."

Great. Chika had sex with any man who was willing, which was bad enough. She and Somadina had never particularly liked each other, which was probably worse and Somadina suspected that Chika's enthusiasm for Azuka might have had more than a bit to do with that, although she would not insult Azuka's pride by telling him so. But the real problem was Chika's husband. He traveled often on business and everyone in town knew that he bragged about the prostitutes he bought in the bigger cities. Somadina felt a small sharp worry grow. "Azuka, did you?"

"No," he sighed. "I did not. I did not have one. And I was too drunk to care."

"So there could be a child? A disease?"

"Yes. There could be both."

They sat in silence for several minutes. Azuka got up and poured himself more tea and without asking poured her a cup as well.

"So," Azuka offered, "I have decided that I am going to divorce you."

"What? Don't be ridiculous. It was one night. Even I do not wish to overreact like that."

"I'm not overreacting. I understand what a poor choice I made and what a very poor choice Chika was. So it is just a temporary divorce and it is only between us. We will speak of it to no one. I have some money saved. After enough time has passed, it is three months I think, I will go to the clinic and I will get the test. We both know the disease to be feared.  Then when I get the results I will bring them to you."

"I have never heard of a man behaving in such a way."

"Well it is the way I wish to behave, Somadina. I would not pass this disease on to you, possibly to our unborn child, because I did one stupid thing. Think about it. And if the worst has happened then we will make the divorce permanent."

Somadina could not believe that Azuka was volunteering to do this most unusual thing for her. So it was only fair to tell him.

"My body began its monthly cleaning at the wedding, Azuka. I do not know why it always seems to happen to me on special occasions, which is so annoying. But I did not have a chance to tell you in all the excitement. I am sorry, but it looks like I am not pregnant after all."

Azuka nodded slowly. "Perhaps, given all this, it is for the best," he said. He smiled a little sadly. "We remain privately divorced nonetheless."

"So what happens if your test comes back positive?" Somadina asked.

"Then we make the divorce public and real. You can tell everyone it is my fault. I won't care. And my family will not ask for the bride price back, of course. I know that my parents will be okay with that, and if they are not, then I make good money in the repair shop already. I can pay them back. Your father can keep his share, you can keep yours."

"No Azuka. I won't do that. You will need medicine. After awhile you won't be able to work."

"And you Somadina will be raising our wonderful son. You have no real way of making a living, you've spent the past two years mostly pregnant and nursing. I want you to open a shop of your own, or learn to make something to sell. You are very resourceful and that money needs to start you on a new life. Unless of course," he added with more sorrow, "you wish to remarry right away. Then if he is particularly rich, yes I might take the money back after all."

Somadina had to smile at that. "You know, Azuka, odds are very good that after one night you are fine. Especially if you didn't do anything particularly, uh, unusual with her."

He laughed a little. "No dear. We had one very quick and not particularly good bout of the most normal, basic sex imaginable. It was over before it had barely started."

"So," she asked, admittedly just a bit comforted by that news, "what exactly is your plan if the test comes back negative? You reclaim me as your rightful wife?"

"No," he answered very seriously. "We remain divorced."

"What?"

"Yes. And I propose to you. All over again. And you may say yes or no."

"Azuka, don't be daft. I already said yes once."

"No you didn't, Somadina. Your father said yes. What you did was not object."

In fact, Somadina thought, that was exactly what had happened. She knew quite well that at eighteen heading into nineteen, her father was going to find someone for her and soon, and the gentle boy Azuka seemed like the lesser of many evils. She could count a dozen worse types of husband without even trying. Why she could have ended up herself with Djimon, or someone like him. Clearly her father was not particularly adept at choosing husbands for his daughters. So she had accepted an acceptable situation, when it chose her. What was wrong with that?

"Somadina, I have wanted you for my wife as long as I can remember. My parents indulged me mightily by seeing that I got to have you. But now I understand, that one can have a woman, but not have her. So this time you will really get to choose. If you say no to me, we will divorce quietly. You and your father can both still keep your money. You should still use it to find a way to support yourself and our son. I will still help to raise him. Tell people whatever you want. Tell them I was unfaithful. Tell them I treated you poorly. Tell them I am impotent. No. Wait. Don't tell them that."

"You can always disprove that rumor for yourself," she laughed a little in spite of herself.

"And finally, you should know that I also want you to take your share of the bride money and find a better way to support yourself even in the unlikely event of the remaining third alternative. All women should have a livelihood in this world Somadina. And you are talented. Learn to do whatever suits you."

"Wait," she was confused now. "What is this unlikely third alternative?"

"You know. I am fine. I ask you to marry me. This time, you say yes. And you mean it."

 

Mairo was quite happy with Djimon's choice in a second wife. For starters the young woman did not seem overly bright, but of course to Mairo most of the southern women seemed less refined and even less intelligent. This girl was also uneducated, which was a plus, having never been to formal school at all although unfortunately a sister had taught her to read and write English fairly well. She was mostly docile, with unbelievably low self-esteem and expectations. Finally, and most importantly, she was unattractively short and scrawny, with small furtive eyes and a particularly flat, broad nose which Mairo thought made her thoroughly ugly. Mairo's heart had lifted the second she had set eyes on her.

Over the first few weeks Mairo applied herself to ensuring that Nwanyi remained housebound, as was common enough for women in some of the more traditional households. In order to arouse no suspicions, Nwanyi was allowed a short weekly cell phone call home, which Mairo supervised, encouraging Nwanyi to explain that Djimon wished not to waste money on unnecessary or lengthy contact, and telling her bluntly to be positive if she wished to have dinner. Nwanyi was smart enough to comply.

Mairo also went out of her way to see to it that Nwanyi was pretty much accepted and ignored by her own three small children, who quickly categorized the new woman as an unimportant servant in their own minds. Other nearby kin, neighbors who visited, and even the few household servants which they employed were all told that the new wife was "odd", a sort of charitable project of Djimon's. Mairo liked to laugh that she could not imagine what the man was thinking, but all were advised in a friendly conspiratorial whisper that the strange, quiet woman was just a little unbalanced and best left alone. And strangely enough, being ignored seemed to be exactly what Nwanyi was used to.

 Djimon had seemed just a little surprised and slightly amused to notice that Mairo was taking such a strict hand with the submissive Nwanyi, even intimating to her that maybe for starters her treatment bordered on the unnecessarily cruel. As far as Mairo was concerned, she didn't need all that book-learning to understand how to control someone. She had small children. She had female relatives. If you don’t give anyone an inch right from the very beginning, then they can't find a weakness in you to exploit. Mairo personally thought that one did not need all that schooling to understand psychology.

 

On March 9, 2009, all the major indices on the New York Stock Exchange hit new lows. Most traders had thought the market had bottomed in late November, but after bouncing back a little in early 2009, stocks had proceeded to fall off a cliff. Though there was no way of knowing it at the time, for years later the stock price chart of virtually every stock publically traded in the world would make a jagged, irregularly shaped V, with March 9, 2009 sitting at the very bottom of the shape.

This particular evening, it was Teddie who greeted her at the door with a hug, her head of thick curly dark hair burrowing into her mom's shoulder. Lola tried to muster the energy to hug back with equal enthusiasm.  She had been on the new job now about two months, and she was still exhausted each night. She had forgotten how being totally out of one's comfort zone just wore one out. From figuring out parking and lunch to learning new software and email protocol, she had been making a series of small adjustments every time she turned around. The past week had been made worse with the arrival of her new computer, and the resulting software upgrade when they migrated her project to the new machine. Now the damn icons were all a little different and she had just been starting to figure out what was where. She just wanted to sleep all weekend.

But Teddie's hug had a purpose. "I was hoping we could go shopping tomorrow? Maybe get a few new things to wear to school?"  Teddie's big dark eyes were hopeful and pleading.

Ah yes, now that mom was making money again. Lola told herself not to be so cynical. It was, after all, the start of Teddie and Alex's spring break, and this year they had opted for a quiet stay at home, with both of the older two staying put as well. Surely they could at least afford a little shopping trip.

"Of course Teddie. Let's make it in the afternoon, okay? Mom wants to sleep in." And she told herself that she should consider herself lucky that her thirteen-year-old daughter still wanted to be seen with her. Best get a good night's sleep, wake up refreshed and enjoy the time together with her youngest child while it lasted.

But sleep that night would not come. At first Lola thought she was just too wound up from work. The bottle of wine and rented movie that she and Alex shared had not done their job of relaxing her, and Teddie's request that two of her many girlfriends be allowed at the last minute to sleepover had precluded the intimate ending to the evening that Lola would have preferred. Now Alex lay snoring quietly once again while she and her pillow did their dance. Flop. Punch. Tilt. The pillow was never right these days. Lola finally just started to doze.

"You hit me!" Good grief. Lola sat upright, completely awake. It was Summer's face she had seen, in the start of what seemed like a dream, and it had been contorted with anger and shock. At Lola? At Gregg ? Lola could not even imagine him doing such a thing. But she felt the fear. Summer's fear? Her own fear? Actually, for the life of her it seemed like someone else's fear, but that made no sense whatsoever. She stared up at the bedroom ceiling fan, calming down.

Then she remembered staring up at a ceiling fan once before, having had a very similar sensation. That had happened, hadn’t it? Except there had been no punching or fear involved then. It had been something more pleasant. And hadn't she been almost asleep that time as well? And also overly tired, and overwrought about work?

Of course. The night before she made her first big lease sale presentation. Massively pregnant and highly emotional. At the time it had seemed so real, and lying in bed trying to fall back asleep staring at the ceiling fan, she had decided that it was her baby, little Zane, whose mind she had heard. So. It was happening again.

 

Somadina remembered as a small child taking for granted how easily she had sensed the feelings of others. After Nwanyi's birth she guessed that she must have taught herself to muffle the input, although she had no memory of doing so.

Now that Nwanyi was gone, she felt the ability coming back. Somadina lived in a world in which she had easily accepted unexplained phenomenon, and being unusual did not frighten her. She found the feelings of those around her to be mostly vague—unfocused joy, fear, anger, discomfort—all of which she was learning how to ignore with only a little concentration.

But Somadina's worries about her sister remained only a nagging notion. Even as Somadina found that she was picking up more and more from those around her, she still could not get a good grasp on Nwanyi and how she was doing. It frustrated her. Maybe it was because her sister was so far away?

Nwanyi had already made a dutiful call to her father's cell phone on the two previous Sunday afternoons, the first time to let him know that she had arrived safely in Lagos and the second time to assure him that all was well. After hearing of the timing of the first two calls, Somadina made a point of going to her father's house on the third Sunday, and, as she hoped, she got to speak to her sister herself. The conversation had been short. It appeared that phone time was unusually closely monitored in the household and, Somadina sensed, it was not a private conversation. Nwanyi sounded more quiet and restrained on the phone than Somadina had ever heard her.

Then, on the following Saturday morning, four weeks after the wedding day, Somadina lay in bed barely awake, as Azuka had taken Kwemto outside to play so that she could sleep. She sat up in bed and felt a surge of confidence and determination, as though she had made up her mind to confront someone with a well-thought out and entirely justified complaint. She felt strong. She felt certain. And then, she felt surprise. Hurt. Physical pain. Complete confusion. What had gone wrong? Where she had expected a little sympathy and even a little affection, there had been none. Nothing.

Somadina got out of bed with her face stinging and a strong feeling of nausea. She stood by the side of the bed, saw Nwanyi in her mind, and felt tears on a burning cheek.

The next day the rains started, coming earlier this year than usual. She walked to her father's house anyway and waited all Sunday afternoon. There was no call from Nwanyi.

 

They had been married exactly four weeks when he lost his temper with her, and that really annoyed Djimon. He prided himself on better self-control. Did not he of all people know that it was so important to stick to the plan? Completely?

 He considered this to be the time period during which he wanted Nwanyi to feel isolated and lonely but more or less safe so that she would not feel the need to make an unexpected escape or call for help. This was the time during which her family was supposed to be getting complacent about her safety.

 But the truth was that she had startled him by speaking early that Saturday morning while she was dusting in his private office. She was almost never left alone with him, Djimon noticed, but Mairo hated dusting or even being near anyone dusting, because it aggravated her allergies, and of course Nwanyi could not be allowed in the office by herself. So Nwanyi had been sent in to dust while Djimon worked.

She broke the silence tentatively and even respectfully, but once he raised his eyes up in response her words began to tumble over each other uncontrollably, like they had been rehearsed often and held in for far too long. He found himself listening to a surprisingly bold tirade about the distribution of household duties and it was clear that this woman actually felt like Mairo was the one in charge of her. It seemed to Djimon that she saw him as the weaker partner, the one who might be willing to give her some rights in the household. Like he might lower himself into the sphere of domestic chores and make things better for her!

Djimon was not a particularly cruel man, as he often reminded himself, and he took no joy in violence. But Nwanyi's turning to him in hopes of fairer treatment had surprised and insulted him, and he would not be insulted. His first response was to administer an instinctive face slap like he would to a sassing child, except that the slap came out considerably more forceful. And when that seemed insufficient for the boldness of her crimes, he added a hard jab into her abdomen with the book he was holding in his other hand, accompanied with a curt "Don't you dare ever complain to me again."

As the corner of the book punched deeper into her flesh than he had perhaps intended, Nwanyi's baffled eyes widened with pain. Then came understanding. Good. She realized completely that his disinterest in her was not to be mistaken for some sort of distracted, preoccupied affection.

 

"Summer? How are things?" When the two sisters finally connected the next morning the call was weeks overdue. "It is so good to hear from you dear," Summer sounded better. "You have just been on my mind lately."

Lola loved how Summer didn't get pissy about it when they didn't talk for awhile. "And you've been on my mind, believe me," Lola answered truthfully.

First they went over Lola's new job, then Summer needed updates on her nephew and two nieces. Finally, they got to the part of the information exchange that Lola had been anxious for.

"So how are things with Gregg?" She worked at keeping her voice light.

"Oh same old same old," Summer laughed, but Lola was sure that she heard some tension there. "His golf game keeps getting better, his diet keeps getting worse."

Lola persisted. "Uh, you two doing well?" Damn. There was a bit more edge in that last question than Lola intended.

"Yeah. We're doing fine, dear. Marriage has its ups and downs you know. How are you and Alex?" Summer's answer had a bit of edge back.

Oh hell. Lola just dove in.

"Okay. Look. I had, okay, I had this kind of weird dream about you. I know it's crazy, but, well, hey, I am your big sister. I can't help worrying. I dreamt he hurt you. Hit you. I know this is dumb and Gregg's a great guy. But well …" Lola let her voice trail off.

"Lola?" Now Summer did sound just a little bit pissed. "You have this thing where you really think you know what people are thinking and feeling and you know, you're really not always right. In fact, you are sometimes way off base. Gregg and I have a wonderful relationship. It does happen to be in a bit of a rough spot now and okay it's not your and Alex's relationship, and maybe I am not so independent like you think I should be, but we're working things out, and you are not even in the ballpark about Gregg doing something like that to me. Your weird dream things are something you should probably keep to yourself. Okay?"

"Of course. I am sorry I brought it up. It was just such a vivid dream. I didn't mean to offend you, honestly." Sheeshh, that had been a bad way to handle it. What a shame there was no way to unsay something, no way to hit the "undo" button like she did all day long on her computer.

What Lola really wanted to tell her sister was that she was there for her no matter what was going on, that she was happy to listen if need be. But, as was Summer's way, she changed the subject so quickly and thoroughly that that was the end of that. Even the cat got off of Lola's lap and walked out of the room like the interesting part of the conversation was over.

 

Once Somadina had trouble getting any sort of sense of Nwanyi's state of mind, she started using her own mind to look for help. It wasn't a conscious choice, it just sort of happened. Like asking passing strangers on the street, "Have you seen my sister??" And at one point, she felt like a stranger had stopped and answered. She had no idea why this particular person had responded, and she could not even say exactly how she knew the person was there at all. But Somadina was certain there was someone out there who had heard her, that it was not anyone she knew, that it was not even anyone she had ever met. Not, in fact, anyone who had a life even remotely like hers. Yet also not an ancestor nor an evil spirit.

In fact, she was certain that this person was basically kind and not only posed no threat to her or Nwanyi, but that this unknown person might have the means to possibly help the two of them. She was a she, Somadina was sure, and she had power and resources at her disposal of which Somadina could only dream. But, in many important ways this person was also like her. She picked up people’s feelings easily. She wanted the world to be fair and right and better than it was. She worried about others.

After that, Somadina concentrated her thoughts and feelings on two things. One of course was sending Nwanyi messages of comfort and support, assuring her that she would get her help somehow. She was not sure at all if Nwanyi received those messages in any way, but she tried to send them as hard as she could.

And the second was to reach the other woman. "Help me. I need help. Help me." She sent the thought over and over like a radio broadcast and hoped that when the other woman received her cries for help she wouldn’t be too baffled.

 

The night before Lola left for Nigeria, she fell asleep with wonderful ease. Then—

 

"You will be okay. I promise. I will find a way to help you. I promise. Your big sister still loves you, still cares about you. Knows you are hurting. I am finding a way. I promise. I will help you."

Lola woke to tears wetting her pillow. Thankfully Alex had not heard her sobs. She saw no faces this time. She just felt sorrow and a sense that she absolutely positively had to find a way to help. Okay. Help whom?

 

Alex insisted on driving Lola to the airport, an act that Lola thought was both considerate and mildly patronizing. It was like Alex felt like she needed one last bit of being cared for before being sent out into the wild. Lola tried to focus on the considerate part because she and Alex really did not need to have a fight before she left. So Lola and Alex actually held hands that Sunday afternoon while he drove her to Bush Airport's international terminal, and they alternated between exchanging pleasantries and traveling in comfortable silence.

Lola was not particularly nervous about the trip or the presentation, although she did have a concern that she was certainly going to keep to herself. She was worried about sleeping. It seemed like since the start of the year she had slept far worse than usual, waking often from odd dreams filled with fear, anger, and tears. For all of her fierce independence, she found that the presence of Alex's sturdy body and gentle snoring helped her get back to sleep. Yes, the days in Nigeria would be fine.  She was just a little apprehensive about the nights. But Alex did not need to know that.

Lola boarded the plane and settled in, opting for two glasses of a nice red wine with dinner, followed by two Advil. It worked. As the plane began its descent into Paris, she woke up to the smell of airplane coffee, feeling surprisingly refreshed, and by the time she boarded the plane for the six-hour flight to Lagos she felt a lightness and a sense of purpose that was a bit hard to explain.

 Lola was not a woman taken to what she thought of as silliness. She was a more or less lapsed catholic with vague spiritual beliefs that never quite made it to the extreme of agnosticism (much less atheism) and yet also never made it to the other extreme of deep religious faith. Rather, her view of life encompassed a vague sense of some sort of higher power and a universal code of ethics, but not a lot of detail beyond that. If asked in a survey if she believed in God, she would have said yes. But, she did not fill her days believing that God had a plan for her, and in fact she shook her head at acquaintances who prayed for amenities like good parking spaces at the mall, and outright shuddered at those of all faiths who implied that they were on the correct side of some almighty battle and those of other religions were going to be really sorry someday.

She thought that today's overwhelming sense that she was suddenly exactly where she was supposed to be, doing exactly what she was meant to do, would have been easier to accept if it had been her nature to put it in a religious framework, believing that for some reason arriving in Nigeria was part of God's plan. Or, for that matter, it would have been easier to dismiss outright if she was certain such feelings were utter nonsense and she was just being a little bit crazy. The problem with trying to keep an open questioning mind, she acknowledged, was that one did not know what to make of sensations like the one that she was having. She did not carry around a framework for easy classification of the unusual.

She did, however, carry around a sense of getting the job done, and so she put aside her newfound sense of purpose as surely as she had put aside all of her recent nighttime disturbances, and sought out her driver and armed escort in the cacophony of colors and noise awaiting those who had just cleared customs and immigration. There they were—the escort was armed and serious, the driver was holding up a sign that sort of looked like her name.

She realized that Alex would have been so relieved if he could just see the front of the Sheraton Lagos Hotel. It was near the airport, which would have reassured him, with palm trees that could have been found in Houston and the familiar red logo clearly displayed.

Then, she realized, Alex could see it. Sometimes she just plain forgot that she now lived in a world where such was not only possible, it was common. So she reached into her purse and snapped a quick picture with her phone, rather hoping that the two men with her did not notice her taking a picture of something so stupid. And while it was true that Alex did not know how to text, she could now send the photo to Teddie to show to her dad. Wait. It wasn't quite six p.m. here so it would be just before noon in Houston. Better not send it now. Teddie was not supposed to have her cell phone with her at school, much less turned on, but one never knew. Lola did not want to have to go to the principal’s office a second time to reclaim a child's cell phone. Reassuring Alex by photo could wait.

Lola was lucky to get one of the refurbished rooms at the hotel. Though it was fairly basic with only a small window, it was clean and everything worked well. Others had advised her that as an American she might find the Nigerians unhelpful and even surly, but as soon as her smile erupted of its own accord she found the hotel personnel warm and helpful. Later that night, with room service eaten, photo finally sent, and assorted loving messages exchanged by email, Lola found that jet lag and travel fatigue did what she had feared they could not, and she slept in relative peace.

The next morning she was met not only by her familiar driver, but also by Jumoke (joo Moe keh), an operations engineer who headed up the small technical team in Lagos and had been apparently assigned to see that she reached the office safely and adequately briefed. Tall and thin, in his late thirties, with remarkably dark skin, he spoke with a precise and strong British accent. "Driving here is a bit more chaotic than you will be used to," he explained. Lola, having been to Jakarta, Mexico City, and Cairo on business, smiled. "No, I am serious," he added. "It is not like other places you have been." Lola found the comment odd, but, as she discovered in mere minutes, quite accurate.

As the car made its way, alternating between rapid acceleration and lurching stops, Lola watched and listened to her surroundings. Indeed, the extreme poverty that had sprouted up between the more developed areas of Lagos was as dire as she had been led to expect. And the interaction between Nigerians talking to each other along the street was louder and more aggressive than she was used to. She had been told it would look like everyone was arguing, and she could see why. But it didn't feel like they were arguing. Lola had no trouble sensing the camaraderie and even affection underneath much of the boisterous behavior.

Yes, some of the license plates really did say "Center of Excellence," a subject of amusement among Americans back in the office. And she must have heard "No wahala" a dozen times. It was like going to Australia and hearing "no worries," or to Jamaica and hearing "no problem mon." When one visits a place for the first time, it's nice to have those little expectations met.

At the Lagos office, Lola's audience consisted largely of investors involved one way or another in the offshore mineral lease. They were a mix of South African, British, and Nigerian businessmen who, Lola quickly discovered, had the fairly common non-technical person’s interest in hearing about the technical parts of their own industry. So Lola allowed herself to wax a bit eloquent about the components for a successful well.

One needed not dinosaurs nor even remnants of ancient swamp plants so much as one needed millions of years worth of tiny sea creatures to live and die and settle their little organic carcasses into the ocean floor to be buried beneath more sediment and then, more slowly than a human brain could imagine, be turned into a dense, organic, rich shale. Roll the tape for millions of more years of heating and burial, cooking like an incredibly slow casserole.

Lola's mom had once asked her how we could possibly run out of oil when certainly the earth was making more all the time? She had wanted to answer, "Sure, and whatever species is around, if any, in ten million years just might find some of the fresh stuff," but she drew the line at sounding like a smartass to her own mother. So she had settled on "The earth just cannot make it fast enough mom."

In fact Lola had often thought that if the average car owner really understood what it had taken for the earth to make a gallon of gasoline, not to mention for man to find and produce and refine it, he or she would treasure each gallon like the irreplaceable gift from the earth that it was. Twenty-plus years in the oil business had left Lola more in favor of conservation than many of her more liberal but less informed friends.

But from at least one point of view the Niger delta had been blessed, as had the Gulf of Mexico, with plenty of dead tiny sea creatures, plenty of time, and then plenty of nice sand dumped on top thanks to big, hearty rivers. A little tectonic activity to provide cracks and faults and some shale or salt moving around almost like a lava lamp over the eons, and the end result was high spots to trap the stuff and migration pathways for it to get into the traps and plenty of places to drill.

While the people of Nigeria had both suffered heavily and gained mightily from the odd confluence of circumstances which had put what Texans called "black gold" in their backyard, Lola focused on only why this well would be a good well. Why this well should be drilled. By the end of the presentation the room was nodding and smiling along with her. "Some days," she thought, "it is just a little scary how good I am at this."

 

"Do you think you are good at finding oil and gas?" Jumoke, her operations engineer escort, asked her as he and the driver brought her back to the hotel. He had insisted on accompanying her, and apparently planned to buy her dinner at one of the hotel restaurants. Lola had done her best to discourage him. First of all, she almost always preferred her own company to making small talk with someone she did not know. Secondly, for all she was now in her late forties she understood that she was often mistaken for being younger, and so she still avoided situations in the business world which could be misunderstood.

She and Alex had often laughed about how they could each have hardly picked a better profession in which to meet the opposite sex, he surrounded by a largely female teaching staff, and she in the very male oil business. But the fact was that they had both learned how to send out signals. And how not to. Friendly and warm, hopefully. But not interested. Not available. Busy signals, actually. Because if one just plain never got to the point where one had to decline, then, well, one wasn't going to make the mistake of not declining. Which meant that twenty-five years later one might still have a good marriage. At any rate, it had worked for them.

So Lola was a little annoyed at Jumoke's insistent hospitality, but she tried to answer his question cordially. "I'm capable at finding oil, but so are most folks who have survived in the profession as long as I have. I guess that I am faster at it than a lot of folks, particularly if there is a rush and I need to be."

"Then what is it you think you are so good at?" There he went again. Stop asking me these damn odd questions that make me feel like you are reading my mind, she thought with a hard slap of a thought. And saw him smile slightly. Okay. This was getting weird.

"I'm sorry," he said. "I have a habit of reading people really well. A little too well sometimes. It makes them uncomfortable. I'm sorry. It's like I can—"

"Guess what they're thinking," they both said in unison aloud, her with a question mark at the end. And they both laughed uncomfortably.

"You need not worry about me," he added. "I am taking you to dinner to do you the courtesy of being a good host, without regard to your gender. Plus, to be honest, I wanted to talk to you because while watching you present today, I realized that we are somewhat alike. It's true that I mostly avoid people like me because at worst they make me uncomfortable, and at best they wear me out quickly. But I also can get a feel for them far faster than others, which is why I am doing such a remarkably good job of reading you. It is a strange thing to explain. And because I do not meet so many people like us, I wanted to talk to you  Because I am trying to learn. So help me out please. I am curious. What is it you think you are so good at?"

Lola sighed. "I am good at selling things," she answered honestly. "I never wanted to be in sales, I have always valued my brain and, yes, my integrity. I think of sales as a profession in which one convinces someone else to buy or sell or commit to that which they would not necessarily choose to do on their own. Maybe with no harm done to them and maybe even, under the best of circumstances, with some good benefit to them. But they have been convinced just the same. And for some odd reason I have always been terribly good at convincing people to do things. Drill wells. Lease properties. Get me into a college class that is already full or reduce the property taxes on my house. I just know what I need to say and what they need to hear. It varies all over the place. It is not like there is a single formula or secret, but if I try, I can find what will work if anything will and then I can do it. I guess I gravitated towards science partly because I never liked that side of myself. So how was I supposed to know that in virtually every scientific profession, you sell your ideas?"

And Lola realized with a start that she had just shared more of her self and her honest feelings with this person she had barely met than she generally shared with friends or coworkers she had known for many years.

"I know," Jumoke agreed. "You just can't afford to share much of yourself when you are like us. I don't even understand why I work the way I work. I certainly don't expect anyone else to understand."

"Wife? Girlfriend?" Lola went ahead and asked.

"No."  Jumoke paused. "A brother. He is like me but very different. No, not an evil twin. He is very nice, very kind. But he has the same gift, and yet he is a very different kind of person with it. It is hard to explain. We are very close in some ways and yet cannot be together very long. Friends and girlfriends both come and go. People seem to like me, but I tire of people easily. It is not always a joyful thing to have a feeling for what makes others work, you know? You know."

She did. Lola thought of all the casual friends who had disappeared over the years, largely because Lola let the friendships go. At some point she tired of listening to so many people, for inevitably she listened in relationships far more than she talked.

"It can be lonely to feel so close to people?" Jumoke offered. True. And so over a lovely Indian meal she and Jumoke found that they were indeed brother and sister of a special kind.

Finally, as dessert of some sort of milk pudding and a strange canned fruit was served, Jumoke asked a different question which stirred the feelings of unease that she had kept out of her mind all day. "You say you are married to a good man. I think you are very lucky in this."

She nodded. Given Jumoke's life story, she realized she might have been far luckier to find Alex than she had ever realized.

"But, he has not changed lately has he? He is not hurting you?" Then sensing but not understanding her startled reaction, he tried to sooth. "I am sorry. I do not mean to offend you. It is not my business."

"No. It is okay. Really." But the question troubled her in ways she did not immediately understand.  Without discussion, they both let the conversation move back to the oil business and the upcoming well, and after awhile Lola took the opportunity to interject an assurance to Jumoke that he had overstepped no bounds with his question, and that in fact Alex was a prince of a man who treated her wonderfully and that she herself was more than fine. Jumoke had seemed relieved but puzzled, yet he let it go. They parted after dessert as old friends.

Lola realized as she headed to her room that while she had held back sharing her own odd experiences that dovetailed with Jumoke's question, this had also been the only question which Jumoke had uncharacteristically let her avoid answering. Why?

All she could figure out was that she and Jumoke had on some level each come to their own terms with their unusual interpersonal skill sets. They had each rationalized what they could do in terms that made sense to them, did not frighten them, allowed them to function without invoking any beliefs which might label them as kooks. They both believed that they habitually picked up tiny, barely visible and barely audible clues from others and used these clues to read people particularly well, to the point that, combined with a little common sense, they could almost appear to sometimes read minds. It was a fine line. But it invoked nothing disturbing. They were both okay with such a view of their world and their roles of being largely loners in it.

But Lola also realized that the idea of receiving some sort of a distant distress call from an unknown person who was in an abusive relationship challenged this view.  It pushed the whole thing into a whole new realm for her, a realm that she was understandably reluctant to enter. And for Jumoke to ask such a question? It pushed him there too.

 

Q: Do you have to be physically near a person to communicate with them telepathically?

 

A: No. Of course reception and meaning are greatly improved if you can see and hear the other person and use visual and aural clues to provide a better understanding of what is being received. And distance plays a factor, which implies that some sort of physical rules apply even though emotional transmission does not seem to be as absolutely physical as the transmission of light or sound because it doesn't diminish with distance by a clear mathematical formula, and walls and barriers are not a factor other than barring other input as mentioned above. Also, a link forged between two minds remains for a period of time in spite of an increase in distance. If the link existed just briefly and was relatively superficial, then it will fade quickly once the people are separated. If on the other hand the link was strong, enhanced by a similar situation or an extremely common shared point of view, then the connection appears to be able to jump over large physical distances indefinitely, much like charged electrons can arc across space. Once such a strong link is made it is often permanent, but even that link will be stronger when the two people involved are in close proximity (from "FAQs about telepathy at http://www.tothepowerofzero.org/).

 

Somadina awoke with the wonderful feeling that the lady was coming physically closer. At first Somadina was confused. Then she realized. Of course. The lady was not Nigerian. That possibility had not occurred to her. But it made sense. And for some reason the lady was actually coming to Nigeria. At least to West Africa. Somadina was sure of it and so she sent thoughts over and over to tell the woman that she was now exactly where she needed to be. Somadina then spent two happy days feeling even closer to the woman, working to make her feel happy to be in Nigeria, and trying to find a way to better connect.

Then, two mornings later, she awoke just as sure that the woman was already leaving. What? Yes, she was heading to an airport. But she had just arrived! Who spends only two days in a country? You're leaving? You just got here. You can't go! Somadina knew that she was being immature, but she could not help feeling anger, and disappointment. In the strength of her own emotional outburst, she received the worst kind of confirmation that the mysterious woman had been hearing her all along.

 

With an evening flight home on Wednesday that required a late afternoon departure from the hotel, Lola had decided to sleep in as late as she liked, to spend a few hours by the pool relaxing (no solo adventures into town, she had promised) and to just have an easy day before the nineteen-hour sojourn home. Sleep came and went that night, with an odd blurry feeling of nervousness but nothing upsetting. It wasn't until morning, when she woke up naturally with no alarm clock, that she felt the sense of turmoil.

You're leaving? You just got here. You can't go! It was an unmistakable thought, as clear as if it had come from a distraught lover, needy parent, clingy friend. Anger and disappointment. Even a bit of panic. Who the hell cared if she stayed in Nigeria?

 Impatiently, she got out of bed, began to gather together her toiletries. Leave me alone, she thought with vehemence. I do not want to hear from you. Whoever you are. Get out of my head. And then to herself. Stop thinking this is real. It is not. You have a thirteen-year-old daughter and two other kids counting heavily on you and this is absolutely no time in your life to have mental issues. You are fine. Get a grip. Act like a normal person.

She took a moment and sat in the uncomfortable easy chair and forced herself to use the simple mental imagery she had learned in Lamaze classes so very long ago. But instead of picturing a beautiful lake at sunset like they had taught her to do in order to relax, this time she pictured the giant steel doors to a vault, glimmering in a cold artificial light, clanking closed in her head. The doors seemed to work. She got out of the chair feeling better. As she finished packing and headed poolside for lunch with her email and her internet, she felt fine actually. Although strangely alone.

 

Leave me alone! Somadina heard the thought, felt the feeling and felt the vehemence behind it. I do not want to hear from you. Get out of my head. And then Somadina could feel the woman picturing giant steel doors, glimmering in a cold artificial light, clanking closed in her head.

No! Somadina pleaded. Don't shut me out. Please. But the doors were now closed tight, and Somadina, even as a small child, would never have dreamed of trying to force open the doors of another's mind. So she sat at her kitchen table, devastated by this unexpected setback, and feeling strangely alone.

Yet there was nothing to be done other than to be patient, to hope. Somadina smoothed the folds of her lightweight loose cotton wrap, working to smooth her own emotions as she smoothed the soft worn fabric. She would wait. It would be okay. Sooner or later the door would open, if even only a crack. And then she would be there and she would find a way to demonstrate that she was harmless. A supplicant. One who begged for and deserved help.

 

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