I remember the seas taking over Lagos in my sleep. The dream is mixed in with childhood Genesis stories, and Noah, sporting a thick gray beard, is there with Weli and I. Efem is in the baby carrier with which she was delivered to me, soundly asleep.
“Get in, go, go!” I scream, as the water climbs and climbs and strikes down Ikoyi’s towers, floats danfos. I point to the door of–is that the ark? It somehow has propellers too, and is getting ready to take off.
Noah stops her at the door. “Only space for one.”
She thrusts the carrier into his nose. “Take her! Take my baby!”
“Weli, what’re you doing? You must get in!”
“Only space for one,” Noah repeats in a robot-like manner.
Weli dumps the carrier in his hands and steps back. The water comes at us fast and sure, just as Noah gets in the–arklicopter?–and shuts the door.
The water rises, rises, and just before it crashes over us, she turns. In her eyes, I see it. Puny with a wild fire. And peace. And peace.
Everyone knows sand gets you evicted. Everyone except my snarky granddaughter, Efem, who thinks it wise to smuggle a whole package of the substance into our unit. It’s white and grainy, with finger indentations that suggest someone feels the texture periodically.
I grab the package without thinking twice, open the porthole we barely ever open, and toss it out to the massive rumpled carpet of water, hundreds of floors below.
“How dare you?” I whip about to face her. “How just–dare you?”
She has her thin arms crossed, brows wrung together like a washcloth. I want to slap that frown off her face, even before she opens her mouth to say the most stupid thing anyone can in this situation.
“Granpa, I’m an adult. You have no right to search my stuff.”
See, such a statement would get you a night of eating mud back when I was a fresh shipman. But I’m a Commodore now, and I’ve learned to check my temper. Mud is also nowhere to be found these days.
“This is my unit and I’ll search whatever I like,” I say, sidling past her, past the sparse furniture in the tiny unit, and into the cubicle with floating bunks. “I’ve been responsible for you since the day you were brought here, and it’s my job to see you do the right things. Your mother didn’t give up her space–”
“–in that rescue chopper for me to become useless, I know.” She snorts. “Whatever. You still searched my stuff.”
“Whatever?” I emerge from the cubicle, steam coming out of my ears. “Whatever? She sacrificed everything for you. I’ve sacrificed everything for you. How many times do I have to sound this into your stupid head?”
She wrings her mouth and looks away. I return to the cubicle, slide the screen shut and start to undress.
“You should know better,” I say from inside. “Next month now, you’ll complete fifteen years of navy training and they’ll graduate you straight into Warrant Officer. Me that I’ve remained this long in office just to get you in there, are you saying I’m stupid?”
She mumbles something that’s muffled by the screen. Better for her.
“I don’t care how you got that sand or what you were doing with it, but this your infatuation with Lagos ends today.” I step out of the cubicle, dressed in night casuals. “Whatever you think you feel for it is pointless because it’s all underwater now, so just–stop. The Independent State disapproves of us living in the past for good reason, and that’s because they expect us to look forward, at what can be, not backward. All we have now is life on this Tower, and we’re going to live it to the fullest.”
“Fullest?” She shakes her head mockingly. “They ration hot water, Granpa. To conserve the power, they say, but that’s bullshit because everyone knows our turbines are constantly running, especially since they’re the reason everything vibrates in this–this–steel cage!”
There’s a spark in her eye as her tiny frame heaves. Puny with a wild fire, as my late wife used to say. No wait, it was our Weli she described that way.
“Listen here, young lady,” I say, bending to her eye-level. “Even if you don’t care for what I say, think about yourself. There’s limited space on this tower. You want to get evicted real fast? Then keep talking about Lagos and buying stupid relics off illegal scavengers. I give you, highest, two days outside this tower. Those who manage to survive on the waters, they’re ruthless. If pirates don’t get you first, the crusaders will.”
“Then I’ll just join them,” she says and heads to the refrigerator.
I sigh. “See, these are the kinds of jokes that can land you in trouble.”
She shrugs, extracts a juice can and swigs from it. “It’s not a joke. I don’t want to be a shit warrant anything. I want to leave the Tower.”
The silence that hangs over the room is like a kettle just before the water begins to boil.
“You want to–”
“Leave the Tower, yes.”
Another long pause.
“What kind of stupid talk is that?”
“Granpa,” she says, sitting in a dining chair. “Are we going to be prisoners forever?”
“Will you shut up?” I retort. “What’re you saying?”
“It’s true,” she says, leaning in, her eyes bright. “You’ve been a sailor your whole life, so maybe you don’t mind being suspended above water forever. Me, I have the rest of my life. I’m not going to rot in a steel cage, Warrant Officering my way to a cold death. There’s wind out there, Granpa. Remember what wind feels like on your face? I’ve never felt it, but the books I buy off the black market say it feels like paradise.”
“Join the gunboats on reconnaissance,” I say. “They get wind in their face all the time.”
“And what about grass? Trees? Real ones that grow out of real sand, not the artificial nonsense we make up here. There must be–I dunno–at least one, somewhere beyond these waters. I need to touch them, to climb them, to feel their soil under my feet. To live, Granpa.”
The juice can is halfway to her lips when I reach forward and snatch it, plant it on the table. Juice sloshes all over the place.
“Now listen carefully, Efem.” I struggle to keep my voice steady. “I’ve lost one daughter to her own stubborn will already. I’m not losing another. You’re going to graduate and become Warrant Officer at the Atlantic Tower, end of story. And if I see you with another relic from Lagos, I’m evicting you myself.”
I let go of the can, catch my breath. This is the first time I’ve called her Efem in years.
She draws a pattern with a juice drop, slowly, before she looks up to meet my eyes.
” I will see the world, Granpa” she says, then rises, stomps into the cubicle, clambers into her bunk and snaps the screen shut.
I’m dreaming again, but this time, Noah says there’s space for two. Still, Weli hands him the carrier and lets the ark leave, no matter how much I scream.
“Why?” I ask, right before the water swooshes over us. “Why must you go?”
She just smiles and smiles.
Something moves in the dark when I open my eyes. I leap from the bunk and reach for the lights.
Efem has one hand on the door, her backpack loaded and strapped tight.
“What’re you doing?”
She stops, turns. Lights dance in her eyes and illuminate the hard edges of her cheekbones and jaw.
We stare at each other, silent. I struggle to move but I can’t, rooted like I was in the dream. Helpless like I was in the dream.
Losing. Like I was in the dream.
I backtrack, reach into the storage compartment near my bunk and pull out my old Naval lifejacket, reserved only for officers who go down. Giving away government-issue resources also gets you evicted, but, ah.
I shuffle towards her, slowly, and clip it onto the other pile of stuff dangling from her bag. She embraces me. Tight.
I don’t embrace her back. When she releases me, opens the door and leaves, I swear I see it just before she turns away. Puny with a wild fire. And peace. And peace.
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