…he stirred; waking up from an abyss so deep it had no form. Reality was still a few miles out, he reached out, grabbing at lights dangling in front of him like carrots before a panting donkey. Slowly he began to crawl out of the abyss. The smell of burning flesh assailed him. The crackle of burning cables and fume of fuel suffused his senses. Somewhere in the recesses of his subconscious mind the smell stirred him and he began the audacious climb from the abyss to the burning cavernous hold of the plane. As soon as his mind registered his situation the animal in him took over; and the survival instinct of the animal propelled him, his limbs taking on a life of their own, as they carry him blindly out of the plane. Once outside the plane he began to run. Not concerned about his immediate destination satisfied only to put as much distance as possible between himself and the burning plane. He didn’t make much progress. The plane exploded, throwing him into the warm embrace of a lake under the mountain where the plane had crashed.
Again, he stirred. The cold was unbearable and he shivered to his very bones. He opened his eyes. There were others, about three in all, squatting by a burning fire. He dragged himself up and painfully made his way to the group. The fire reached out and caressed him. He drew closer and reached out to the fire. An uncomfortable silence followed.
“Good of you to join us for dinner. It’s a shame that there’s nothing for dinner”.
He remembered him from the plane; he did not like him then and he sure does not like him now. He was full of airs in the plane; always talking at the top his voice, quick to introduce himself to everyone, “Hi, my name is Dr. Okonkwo; a PhD holder, not a medical doctor. Understand?” Just like in the plane, he chose to ignore him.
He looked around the fire. The others were huddled around the fire, shivering, but not from the cold; they had all survived a plane crash and the mere knowledge of that chilled them to the bones. To the extreme of the clearing, far removed from every one else, was a distinguished looking man. There was something familiar about the man he could not put his finger to. Just as he was about taking his eyes away from the man it hit him. The man was a one-time governor of one of the oil rich states; an elusive man that goes by the nick name, Didigborigbo; a name he earned largely due to his uncanny ability to avoid prosecution since leaving office, in spite of the mountain of evidence against him. Now, he was just a man, broken and stripped of everything that made him the feared figure that he was.
The demure girl, with a doomed look, next to the ex-governor was an air hostess on the ill-fated plane. She turned from the fire and turned her teary eyes on him. They appraised each other; she turned away and began to contemplate the fire.
“What’s your name?” She did not take her eyes from the fire. He took his hands from the fire, and continued to look at her. “Edward”, he said, and allowed a moment to pass, and asked, “What’s your name?” “Uju”, she intoned, the fire still holding her interest.
“Do you think help will come?” She asked. The fire crackled, a few sparks flew into the air, insects chirp away in the night. He didn’t want to tell her what she wanted to hear. Still, he didn’t want to leave her with nothing. If they were going to survive the ordeal, they would need some kind of religion; something to believe in.
“Normally when a plane crashes in our part of the world response is slow; perhaps due to inefficiency, available technology or the lack of it. That’s not to say that help will not come. I’m just saying we must be realistic in our expectations.”
Dr. Okonkwo chose that moment to interject.
“Young man, believe me when I tell you, the only help we are getting is the one we find ourselves. And sitting around this fire won’t get us any help. That’s why I’m recommending that we break camp by first light, take our destiny in our hands and move on…”
“Move on, move on…I like that. Enlighten us Dr., where are we moving on to exactly?” The Ex-governor asked, his eyes never leaving the fire.
A small moment of silence passed.
“Anywhere but here,”. Dr. Okonkwo’s eyes burned with intensity, a yet to be revealed character trait dancing just beneath the surface, “I would rather be moving on, do something instead of sitting here, waiting for the almighty Federal Government to come looking for ordinary people like you and I, or have you forgotten that you are no longer in government…nobody will look for you; nobody will look for us. That’s how far this country has fallen, thanks to goons like you. And you know, we are together in this…you can’t dial your way out of this; I have tried. No network. Even my wrist watch is not working. You are an ordinary man like the rest us; you can’t go abroad for a check up, no siren to whisk you out of here. The destiny of the ordinary man…the masses has finally caught up with you”.
The night became deathly quiet. Nothing, not even insects and nocturnal birds could find their voices.
They left the camp just as the sun was peeking through the trees. They moved in a single file, with Dr. Okonkwo leading the way and Edward bringing up the rear. Uju and Ex-governor were sandwiched in the middle, protected somewhat by the two in front and behind. The forest is dense, totally virgin, un-spoilt by any form of human interaction. The trees stood tall, reaching out into the sky and disappearing into the clouds. The floor of the forest was matted in overlapping greens, which appeared like a well laid carpet, waiting for some main event yet to unfold.
Uju slowed down. Edward caught up with her.
“Problems?” he asked her.
“Nothing to worry about; I’m just a little tired”.
“We should be stopping in a while.”
“Hope it’s not on my account?”
“Everybody is tired. We all need to take a rest”.
Edward walked up to Dr. Okonkwo, and taking him by the hand he said, “We need to stop, take a rest”. Dr. Okonkwo brushed his hand off and stares at him. “Why do we want to do that, if I may ask?”
“We need to rest. We’ve been walking for hours”.
“And you know this because?”
“What are you talking about?”
“You just said we’ve been walking for hours. How did you arrive at that profound conclusion? Did your watch tell you that or did you read the weather off your Blackberry?”
Edward looked at Dr. Okonkwo, trying supremely not to let his view of the man becloud his judgment.
“Is there something you know and you are not telling us?”
“It’s what I don’t know that I’m not telling you…”
“You will have to explain that to me…us”.
The group was now huddled together. The silence around them hangs on their shoulders like a communal blanket.
Dr. Okonkwo clears his throat, and made wide gesticulations with his equally large hands.
“In case you haven’t noticed, all this doesn’t seem natural; at least not natural in the way we know natural to be. Look around you; the trees, the leaves, the lack of animals…none of these are like anything I have seen. Our watches don’t work, the cell phones, not even the satellite phone I salvaged from the crash works. Without sounding melodramatic; it’s like we dropped out of the sky into another world”.
The silence returned, wrapping them in a fine cocoon of speechlessness. They sat down; everyone drifting to a comfortable spot and sitting down. Soon sleep crept in on them.
The eyes were like two orbs filled with green liquid. They were like nothing he had ever seen. They were like nothing of this world. They held him; stripping him completely naked. He tried to cover himself by looking away but he was drawn back into the green pools.
“Edward”, the serene ethereal voice pulled him from the pools. He opened his eyes. And then bolted up. The girl squatting before him was like something dragged out of a dream. She had the general appearance of a human being but there were subtle differences that put her closer to a spirit being rather than human. Her skin was almost translucent, soft to the eyes, and completely without any form of discernible pigmentation. Even her clothes had a surreal aspect to them, such that they appeared not to have been made but nurtured into existence. And her eyes; they continue to pull him in. There were others like her all around the place. His fellow survivors were as troubled as him by their presence, yet none of them seemed threatened by the unearthly beings.
“You address me by my name,” Edward ventured, the being did not speak, not in a physical manner, but Edward heard, “Yes”, clearly.
“How’s that possible? We’ve never met.”
“We’ve met”, again she spoke without speaking.
At that she smiled, her face opening up, and he felt like he was standing on a hill top looking down at an undulating plain of green fields.
“When, when did we meet?” Edward asked in spite of himself.
“Just now, when you were looking into my eyes”, her voice engulfed him.
“I never told you my name”.
“You didn’t have to tell. All I did is merge with you”.
“You read my mind?”
“That’s a human concept. I can’t read your mind. Your mind is closed. I can know what you open up to me. Your name is there…I saw it. I know it.”
Edward breathed in deeply and stopped her with a wave of the hand.
“You just said, “that’s a human concept”; are you not human?” Edward’s heart raced, his entire being poised, on the verge of a major discovery. She smiled again.
“Dr. Okonkwo thinks we are Aliens. What do you think?” Stunned, Edward turned to look at Dr. Okonkwo, who was looking like a fish flung out of water, his eyes darting from one apparition to the other.
“These are Aliens!” his voice boomed and filled the place.
“Come, let’s go meet our kind. They are waiting.”
“Waiting? Did you know we were coming?” Edward asked.
“Let’s just say, we know something like this would happen.”
They all got up and began to move out.
“We are being abducted by Aliens” Dr. Okonkwo’s lone voice protested; he could have been talking to the wind for all the response he got.
The next few hours were magical. None of them, that is, the survivors, could ever forget the exhilarating experience. It was an Alice in wonder kind of adventure. Leaving the place they stopped for a rest, they followed the creatures down a valley strewn with sparkling pebbles and white sand, up a slope, that curved like a snake around a small mountain below which a bejeweled settlement spread out like diamonds on black velvet. It was the most breathtaking sight any of them had ever seen and as they walked down towards the settlement, Edward found himself drawn to the creature that had woken him up.
“What should I call you…I mean, what’s your name?” he asked her. His face opened up and he saw the fields again. How does she do that, he thought to himself.
“What would you call me if I were human, like you?”
“I don’t know. Human names are usually influenced by lots of things; like family background, you know; circumstances, how people feel at the time a child is born or their aspirations for the child”.
“Interesting. Well, call me anything. Whatever comes to your mind”.
They were in the middle of the settlement now. It was a surreal, unnatural setting; the houses appear organic, seeming to have grown out of the very earth rather than constructed. The streets were all natural walkways that seemed to have a life of their own; with weeds, shrubs and flowers lining the walkway in a pattern that could not have been hand made. There were other creatures about, who do not seem to be bothered by the presence of the humans.
“June, how long have your people been living here?” Edward asked his now named companion.
“June? Is that the name you have chosen for me?”
“Yes, you remind me of June. June is my favourite month…something good is always happening in June; it’s either raining or someone is getting married. I have always been happy in June.”
“Thanks for the name. And the implication is not lost on me. To answer your question…this has always been our homeland. This is our home. Always has been.”
“This cannot be. You are not human and if Dr. Okonkwo’s fears are anything to go by, you are most probably aliens”, a shocked Edward blurted out. She laughed in that unique manner that had captivated him.
“You are the aliens.” She said, in a soft, silky voice that delivered a harsh blow to his sensibility. He wanted to laugh but he did not think it would be appropriated under the circumstance.
“We are humans. We can’t be aliens. This is still earth”.
“True. You are very right. You are humans, and this is earth. What you don’t know…what most humans do not know is that earth is not your home. You are aliens. Earth belongs to earthlings…we.”
Before Edward could think of something to say what seemed like a welcoming party appeared. The party stopped before them and for a moment a silent conversation ensued between the leader of the party and June. Edward could only intuit the fact that a committee was waiting for the humans.
June turned to Edward and his kind and said wordlessly, “Come”. The procession followed the welcoming party down the street towards a magnificent building shape like an apple. They entered and were at once led to sit on egg shaped stools. Facing them was the council of elders, who, ironically, had no appearance of age. They more or less had a uniform appearance, much like June’s, without any age determinant features.
“You are all welcome to our dwelling place,” the elder in middle spoke to the humans, for in words, “This moment was foreseen, and today, we witness again, the second contact between our race and the human race.”
The words seemed to strike Dr. Okonkwo like a physical blow. He sprang to his feet and darted to the centre of the hall, his eyes blazing, his voice booming, “You mean, you had human prisoners here before?”
The silence in the hall was so thick you could slice it with a blunt knife. The head of the council stared at Dr. Okonkwo with his green liquid eyes, “The first time our races met was when your ancestors invaded earth…”
“You must be kidding me”, Dr. Okonkwo hurled at him.
“Do I look like I’m kidding”, the council leader said with an all-human aptitude.
“Perhaps, some enlightenment is in order. Your race, your ancestors came to earth as a conquering nation, massacred our race, destroyed the natural order of things on earth and instituted a way of life on a planet they knew nothing about.”
Dr. Okonkwo let out a mirthless chuckle. “This is ridiculous. How in the world do you think anyone, not to talk of my humble self, would believe this kindergarten attempt at re-writing the history of the human race? No wonder you guys have been buzzing around earth for decades in your UFO’s trying to figures us out. Now, now, having failed in that endeavour, you have resorted to crashing planes and braining-washing survivors into believing…believing your cock and bull tales. Listen; just for the benefit of argument…let’s say I take your story for what it is worth, what about the Bible? What about the Bible’s account of the creation of the world and our entire history for that matter?”
The council leader smiled, and unlike June’s smile, his was broader, much broader; as he smiled it was like the whole universe opened, laying bare, opening frontiers between worlds and stripping the universe to down its core, exposing the truth that had been hidden for eons. Even before he spoke Dr. Okonkwo knew.
“You humans like to flatter yourself; you flatter yourself into thinking that the entire universe is your footstool, yours to do as you please. That’s why you exist without any consideration for the things around you; you eat, explore, destroy ceaselessly, and when you are done with one world, one planet you move on to another and the cycle repeats itself…”
“The Bible…talk about the Bible”, Dr. Okonkwo, interjected.
“The Bible talks about events that may have happened on any planet, not necessarily this one”.
“Are you saying there’s no God”, Uju found her voice.
“We believe in God, as matter of fact, you humans have very small concept of God compared to what God truly is…”
Dr. Okonkwo cleared his throat, “If I’m following you, we, humans, came from wherever, conquered your race…and everything else. How come no human being knows this?” Dr. Okonkwo rambled on, “To carry out such a humongous inter-planetary exodus, humans would have needed a very advanced technology, the likes of which we don’t have now, not even in a million years to come. How do you explain that?”
“The truth, you may be shocked, is simple. When your people came here their technology was very much advanced but your leaders thought it wise to bury most of its technology in the belief that it would stop humans from doing to earth what they did to their own planet. Unfortunately, much of the technology that was destroyed or hidden is now being passed down genetically. And humans are back where they started…destroying the very planet that gives them life.”
“Tell me”, Edward addressed the council leader, “was our plane crashed for this reason; to pass on this message to human kind?”
“The crash was an unfortunate event. It however presented us with an opportunity to let you know.”
“If you had been in government, you will know that we already know”, the ex-governor contributed.
Dr. Okonkwo is flabbergasted. “Don’t tell me you buy this hogwash?” He threw at the ex-governor. The ex-governor glared at him with scarcely veiled contempt. “You are a pathetic little man, do you know?”, he asked rhetorically. “You think the world of yourself, your knowledge, your acquired class and nothing of the rest of kind. Pathetic. If only you knew how little you know of things of this world…you will learn to appreciate other people and respect them”.
“I don’t have to sit here and listen to a disgraced politician like you”, Dr. Okonkwo was furious, his blazing eyes darting from one being to another; no one was on his side of the ring.
“Don’t dance yourselves lame when the real dance has not begun, to paraphrase you, humans. You have enough time to spar and tear at each other. First, we must get you back to your kind.”
“You are sending us back?” The look on Edward’s face was as confused as was his state of mind.
“Yes”, the council leader said, “your work here is done; you have much work to do among your people”.
“I don’t understand what you are saying”. It was Uju’s turn to be confused.
“Like I said earlier, the plane crash was an unfortunate incident but, it presented us with an opportunity to pass a message to man kind. You are the messengers”, the council leader said.
“And what’s our message?” Edward asked.
“It’s rather simple: stop killing the earth. The earth does not belong to you.” The council leader’s voice was solemn, laden with a pain that was barely concealed beneath the surface.
“And you think that message has not been sufficiently passed?” The cynicism in the Edward’s voice grated on the council leader’s skin.
“You’ve had a unique experience here; that should account for something”.
“What we have seen here, as extra ordinary as it might be, will be written off as post traumatic symptoms of disturbed minds. It won’t make any difference what we say to a world bent on pushing the borders; we’ll be branded mad men”.
“Change the way the message is delivered. Look at us; we don’t age, we have no need for doctors, we don’t live; we are in a continual state of being. You could be like us if you learn to live for earth and not just on earth. Think of it, you cut down trees to make furniture and other things that give you comfort. Now, isn’t that insane? The tree gives you life; it gives you oxygen, the very thing you need to live on earth and you trade that for comfort?”
Silence filled the hall. The moment was suspended just like everything else in the environment because time does not really exist.
“Come, let’s take you back”, June spoke wordlessly. She led them out silently. At the front of the building a group of young maidens, carrying jars met them. June took a jar from one of the maidens and handed it to Edward; she silently urged him to drink. He took a sip, and this served as cue for the other humans to drink. Edward took another sip. And just before everything faded away he heard June say, “I will see you again in your sleep”.
His eyes fluttered repeatedly. He opened them only to close them again when the lights bouncing off the walls of the room hit him. “Where am I?” he moaned. The nurse by the side of the bed jumped and pressed the panic button. Soon the room was swarming with doctors, nurses, security personnel and a few journalists.
“Where am I?” Edward moaned again. One of the doctors took his hand, massaging it; he tried to calm him down. “You are in the hospital. There was a plane crash; you survived”, the doctor said in a soft, practiced voice. Edward opened his eyes fully and surveyed his surrounding.
“Where are the others?” he asked. The people exchanged glances.
“The others; where are they, Uju, Dr. Okonkwo and the ex-governor?”
The doctor moved closer, “there are only two other survivors, a young air hostess and a middle-aged man; they are both still in coma; we have not been able to identify them yet. You must rest now. I’m sure they will pull through”.
Kicking the bed spread aside, Edward struggled to leave the bed. The doctor tried to restrain him. Edward pushed him away and got up, “I must see them now”, he said and staggered out of the room.
Uju was sleeping soundly on the bed. The room was sterile and sparsely furnished. Edward walked in and took her hand in his. His first silent words to another human followed from deep inside of him to her, “it’s just us now”, he willed her to understand and respond.
“I’m glad you made it. I will join you soon, and then we can take on the world”, she surprised him. “I was afraid you would say that”, he replied, a smile playing on his face. “Dr. Okonkwo is behind you; I’m sure you would want to say hello”. Edward turned to see Dr. Okonkwo standing just by the door.
“I see you two are getting re-introduced”, Dr. Okonkwo’s word sailed to him.
“It’s nice to see you once again Dr. Okonkwo. Have you seen the ex-governor?”
“No. He didn’t make it. His body was not recovered; it was apparently destroyed in the fire following the crash.”
“That’s not possible. He survived the crash. He was with us. They sent us all back…together”, Edward’s words conveyed his pains. Uju’s voice reached out and soothed him.
“He chose not to come back with us; he didn’t drink with us. I saw him just before I passed out…”
“We are on our own. Trust a politician to cross carpet when things no longer go his way”, Dr. Okonkwo chuckled and looked hard at Edward, “what are you going to do now? Start a save the world NGO?” It was a rhetorical question and he was not waiting for an answer. He turned and headed for the door.
“And what are you going to do?” Edward shouted after him.
“Stop the conspiracy against humanity. The government and I’m not about talking about the government of this country; I’m talking about governments everywhere; they must tell us what they know about human history. I will fight them on the streets, in the boardrooms, in schools…everywhere. They must give up what they know. If we are aliens on earth, it’s the right of every human being to know”.
With that he left the room. Edward turned his attention back to Uju. If she was conscious, he knew, she would be smiling. And it hit him. He knew what he was going to spend the rest of his life doing…
- Chukwuji is the author of City of Gold and Rust