Simi had been on the run for a long time. Before the war ended. Before it even started. He was so used to moving from place to place that it didn’t even matter whether he had a home or not. Bridges did just fine. The shelters too. Although he only went there for food, water or a change of clothes. He never slept at the shelters. It was a good way to end up dead. Or worse, in government custody.
He pulled his hood low over his face as he inched towards the crowd. As usual, people were gathered under Carter Bridge watching and listening to whoever was putting on a show. Today, it was a man Simi had seen almost everywhere: billboards, posters, TV screens, front pages of newspapers. Simi couldn’t be bothered to remember his name, he was focused on his goal: pickpocket a few notes for a bus ticket. On other sides of the bridge, other crowds had gathered, listening to different factions preaching salvation, giving out free food, advertising job vacancies or doing anything that pulled a crowd. But this man’s crowd was the largest.
“Together, we can build a new city. A city free from violence. A city free from corruption. A city free from immorality. A city without taint or stain,” the man was saying.
Simi knew what the man was talking about. A city without people like him.
After the war had ended, the Republic was building itself again. The remaining members of the senate house had approved by-elections. The wealthy people that had survived the war had joined one political party or the other and were to campaigning for governorship roles.
Simi thought it was too soon. Even though it seemed like the war was over, it was still fresh in everyone’s minds. The war had been brutal and had taken a toll on the people and economy. It was never a good thing to build on rubble. But nonetheless, an election was going to hold and Simi feared for the people. The governorship candidates were greedy people who used the aftereffects of the war to cash in votes. Everywhere Simi turned, people wearing Tshirts with logos of one political party were sharing packs of rice, meat and stew. Another party was sharing notebooks and ink pens promising to make education free. Some were offering free medical services. Simi knew it wouldn’t last after the election. Once one person emerged victorious, the others will go back to lick their wounds while the people would suffer for four years under the new government.
“Watch where you’re going!” A woman yelled at him. He had bumped into her and the large tray of agege bread in plastic bags fell to the floor. He bent to help her pick it up. When he was done, he headed towards the bus station. He dumped the woman’s wallet in a trash can after taking the rolls of money from it. Three thousand and change. It was enough to get him to Harcourt Bay and even book a hotel for a week or so. He shoved it into his pocket.
The Bus station was crowded. People were coming in and going out. Simi wondered how hard the war had hit the other cities. Would Harcourt Bay be as he remembered it? Would there be anyone there who remembered him? He hoped not.
The line moved slowly. In front of him was a woman with a baby on her back and a girl of about five years old beside her.They all wore hijabs over their heads. He wondered why they were in Eko and where they were going. Had their father been killed in the war?
The little girl looked up at him. He scowled at her but she kept looking at him. He stared back. He could win a staring contest with a child. She looked away. Then her mouth opened in shock. She tugged at her mother’s hijab. Simi looked down in time to see his wrist peeking out of his sleeve. He shoved it down just as the woman turned around. A scar ran down her cheekbone to her jaw. Her lips were unsmiling as she eyed him from head to toe. Simi stepped back. Then she turned back around.
“A ticket to Harcourt Bay,” he said when he got to the front.
“The next bus leaves tomorrow at 5am.” The man at the counter was dressed in army fatigues with a bored expression on his face. His fat lips were red with palm oil and some of it had stained his bushy beard. “Seven hundred.”
The soldier stared and leaned towards him, his round belly pressing against the counter. He gifted Simi with a view of his palm oil stained teeth. “If you no ready, commot for the line. Shey you see how many people dey wait.”
Simi reluctantly placed a one thousand bill on the counter. The man took it and handed him a stamped white envelope and 250 change.
“Remains fifty,” Simi said.
“That one na for all the trouble wey you cause me. Next!”
“Move or I move you.”
Simi’s hand went to his pocket. Then he walked out of the line.
The sun was already going down. He might as well get some rest. He joined the people who had already set up at an abandoned park. Families were huddled together, some eating, some sleeping, some talking. Children and women were hawking sausage rolls, puff puff, kunu and other types of drinks. A pastor had set up equipment close to the entrance and was yelling for people to give up their satanic ways. At intervals, someone would stand up and drop their cell phones, radios and watches into a basket by the pastor to be destroyed.
The christians believed technology had started the war and the war wasn’t over until people decided to stop using technology. They weren’t too far from the truth but that wasn’t the truth either.
“It is not of God,” the man yelled from a makeshift stage. “It is demonic, an agent of darkness, sent to possess and enslave you.”
Simi almost laughed. Anything people didn’t understand, they feared and called demonic. Simi tapped his pocket again. The warmth of his PC reassured him. He headed for a corner far away from the crowd with a good view of the entrance.
“You there,” the pastor screamed. “You. Hey, you. You, this boy with the hood.’
“Take a look at this young boy,” the man said wiping his forehead with a dirty handkerchief. “He can’t be more than fifteen. How old are you boy?” Almost everyone was looking at him now.
“Sixteen,” Simi replied.
“The war has taken everything from him. He has no parents, no family. Like everyone here. . . .”
Simi moved on. He sat in his dark corner and tapped his pocket again. He hadn’t had cause to use his PC since he had arrived in this city. Almost two weeks ago. That was when he had suspected that someone had been following him. Tracking him through the device. He didn’t want to have to use it before he left. But the stupid preacher had drawn attention to him. Every predator would have eyes on him now: a small sixteen year old boy, with a full backpack, travelling alone.
He had been alone for a long time. The only friend he’d made during his sojourn had been killed in Borno. Simi had known the war was coming before most people and before it started, he was in a tiny town at the edge of the map where he was sure would not be affected by the Tech War. There, he had waited for 21 days until the war was over. He would spend the days on a hill overlooking the town. To others, it had seemed like he enjoyed the view of the trees and farmlands but from his vantage point, he could see if any armies were making their way into the tiny town. At night, when the town was asleep, he would turn on his PC and listen to the news. Sometimes, he went down to the inn, bought a drink and listened to what people had to say about the war. It was on one of these nights, he had heard his father’s voice over the innkeeper’s radio announcing his surrender. Simi had left quickly, moving from one town to another. He was free to return home. Even though there might be nothing waiting for him there.
The first predator came for him at midnight. He could see the others lurking, probably waiting for the big man to rough him up so they could get a share when he was done. Most of the park was asleep and the people still coming in settled down immediately. The man was big and burly but it was obvious he was weak. His trousers had frayed at the ends and he was barefoot. Tribal marks lined his face but they made him look sad and desperate instead of scary.
“What do you have in that bag boy?”
“Well, since it’s nothing, give me.”
Simi’s hand went to his pocket and the man grabbed at him. Simi jabbed upward and moved to the side. He gave the man another punch to the jaw. The man fell to the ground. Simi kicked him in the ribs just for good measure. Simi sat down breathing heavily. He hadn’t fought in a long time but it was important that he pass a message across.
No one would be bothering him anymore. He settled down to sleep. But not before he tapped his PC again.
A scrape woke him up. He sat up so suddenly that he knocked his forehead on the head of the person in front of him.
“What the. . .?”
The sky was still dark but he could tell it was almost morning. Three people were standing around him. One was rubbing his forehead.
“Has a head like a damn coconut,” the man was saying. Two sets of hands pulled him to his feet. He tapped at his pocket. His PC was gone. In no time, his hands were cuffed behind his back.
“What do you want?” He asked. “Where are you taking me?” He asked as they led him out of the park.
“Shut up.” A girl’s voice. She was the one holding his left arm.
People stirred and stared as they passed but no one said a thing. They knew better than to put their mouth in soldiers’ business.
What did they want from him? Did they know who he was? How did they find him? Where were they taking him to?
They had taken his PC. He almost panicked but then, almost everyone had PCs. It was a common thing. He had been careful. Very careful. No way they knew who he was. No way.
They threw him into the back of a van and the girl climbed in after him and shut the doors behind her.
“Who are you?” He asked. “Where are you taking me?”
She replied by tying a blindfold over his head.
He heard the engine start and sensed the van come alive. He sensed the wires and circuits, the radio, the GPS. He could do a lot of damage here but he stilled himself. That was what they wanted. For him to show himself.
He took a deep breath. He would see where they were taking him and he would answer whatever questions they had.
His name was Simisola Grey and he had lost his family to the war.
When his blindfold was removed, he was sitting in a white room in front of a brown desk. The man that sat behind it was very familiar. He had seen that face a lot more than he had seen his own.
“Chike Obi,” Simi spat.
“I have never,” the man said chuckling, “heard someone say my name with such hatred.”
Chike Obi, CEO of ObiTech and Eko governorship candidate. The man who so much hated people like Simi. A man who would not think twice about putting a bullet in Simi’s heart if he knew who he was.
It was not a good thing that it was Obi who had him arrested. Did the soldiers work for him now? Anything was possible if you had money. The desk was almost empty. Only an envelope, a letter opener, a stapler and a small remote control lay on the desk. A screen covered one end of the room. The news was showing but the audio was muted.
“Why am I here?” Simi asked.
“Uncuff me then,” Simi said.
“It’s just a precaution,” Obi said. His gaze went to the door. Two soldiers flanked either side.
Simi smirked. “Afraid of a sixteen year old?”
The man smiled. “No. But I’d be a fool not to be careful when I have Akin Atofarati’s son in front of me.”
“Who the hell is that?”
“Ah.” The man leaned back. “Don’t play dumb. I know who you really are. In fact, I’ve known who you were for a long time. Even before you ran away from your home in Harcourt Bay.”
Simi struggled to remain calm. The man was bluffing. No one knew who he was or where he was from. He was just baiting him.
He shook his head. “You’re mistaken. My name is Simi Grey,” he said. “I lost my family to war in Borno state. I’ve never even been to Harcourt Bay.”
“So why are you headed there now?”
“The same reason everyone is heading out of this tech forsaken city. To start a new life.”
“Alright then,” the man said. “Then you wouldn’t care if I told you that Sade Atofarati is dead. She jumped from the top floor of her mansion when she heard that her husband had been arrested and her only child had died in Borno state.”
In no time, he was free of his cuffs, his hands grabbing the collar of the businessman’s shirt.
Obi put up his palms. “Calm down,” he said. “Easy.” He glanced at the door. Despite his rage, Simi didn’t miss it. The lights flickered. They flickered again. Again.
“You can’t work on it,” Obi said. “It’s coated in Oje. And so is every single tech in this room. You can’t hurt me.”
Simi flicked his wrist. His sleeve moved up an inch revealing a blank band around his wrist. His real PC. “Think again.”
The soldiers advanced but the businessman told them to back off.
“Let’s start again. Why am I here? And skip the speech about you wanting the best for your country.”
“I can’t even speak with your hands grabbing my throat. Maybe you should have a seat?”
Simi kicked his chair to the side and sat.
Obi slid the envelope across the table. “I have an offer for you.” When Simi didn’t say anything, he continued. “I’ll get straight to the point. If I’m going to be governor of this city, I’m going to need ways to rebuild it, get it back to the way it was before it was corrupted by Viruses. And you know what they say. Only the person who created the virus can create the anti-virus.’
“Isn’t that how they say it?” Obi asked.
The businessman didn’t need to elaborate before Simi understood what he meant.
“I thought you hated them.”
“People hate what they can’t control. But I have come to an understanding. Some say the Viruses are regrouping. Some are in hiding. I’m fishing out the hiding ones and giving them a chance to start a better life. A life where they don’t have to run. A life where they can use their gifts to serve their country.”
Simi wanted to laugh. “And they agreed?”
“They did.” The door opened and a man in army fatigues came in. He had a welt on his forehead. Simi could see him clearly now.
“You!” He jumped to his feet.
His uncle sat in the other chair. “Relax, boy. I’m not eager to beat you up.”
Simi had covered his tracks well. There was no way Obi would have known who he was if his uncle hadn’t ratted him out. He was sure he had been tracking him since he left home. He had thought his uncle had been arrested along with his father, but the man was parading about wearing army clothes.
“You’re a traitor,” Simi said.
“You abandoned your family. Don’t talk to me about betrayal.”
“Deji Atofarati has joined my ranks and works for my team.”
“With,” Deji interrupted. “I work with your team.”
“With,” Obi corrected himself. “He works with me and I hope that he’ll be able to convince you to make the right decision.”
He got up and exited the room. The soldiers followed suit.
“I can’t believe you,” Simi said.
“I missed you too,” Deji said. He removed his watch and placed it on the table. It expanded into a tablet. Deji fussed with it and blue light spread across the room. “I may not be able to get into their system but I can mislead them.” An image of them sitting showed on its screen. “We have to get out of here.”
“Are you deaf boy? Do you have your PC?”
Simi showed him his wrist.
“Almost everything Obi’s house is coated with that tech forsaken metal so we will not be able to manipulate it but we can try to cause a distraction from the outside.”
“I thought you were on his side.”
Deji looked like he wanted to slap him. “If I was, I wouldn’t be planning to escape with his most valuable prisoner, would I?”
Deji shook his head. “I thought months on the road would have made you smarter. I do not have time to explain anything to you now. We have to get out of here.”
Simi nodded. “Distraction from the outside. I can barely sense anything beyond these walls. I’m sure this place is crawling with militants. They would notice if we tried to escape.”
Deji frowned. “You make me sick talking like all those Viruses.” He jabbed at Simi’s chest. “You’re an Atofarati. You know what you’re supposed to do.”
Deji tapped his PC just as the door opened. The object fused itself onto his wrist.
“I guess you’ve had enough time to consider my offer,” Obi said.
Simi glanced at Deji.
His uncle opened his palm and a burst of blue light spread from it. Obi shrieked and then Simi and Deji were moving. Down the corridor, down the three flights of stairs. Boots thundered behind them in pursuit. They were almost to the front door when the alarm sounded, high and shrill. Metal shutters came down on the windows and doors.
Simi could sense the mechanisms but the wires refused to listen to him. He pulled and pulled at it but he could feel the oje fighting his mind.
“Do it boy,” Deji said. “Now!”
But it was too late. They were surrounded by about a down soldiers and Obi himself was descending down the stairs towards them.
“I knew you would try to escape. But now? Really?” Obi shook his head and looked at Deji. “And I was beginning to trust you.”
“Damn,” Deji muttered. “The light wasn’t blinding enough.”
Simi turned to the door. If he did this now, there was no way he could hide. He’d be a fugitive forever. But he had to try. He couldn’t become someone else’s prisoner. Not just for himself but for his uncle, who had blown his cover to save him.
“You can’t open the door,” Deji said. “It’s made with oje.”
There were so many things Simi could have done, so many. But he didn’t have time to work out an equation to rewire an alarm system.
He did the easiest thing.
The equation danced through his mind. Short and sweet.
‘Uh, Simi?” His uncle asked.
“Force field,” he yelled just as he completed the equation. The explosion shot the door off its hinges into the street. They didn’t wait for the dust to settle before they shot off after it.