I HAVE given much thought to dying since I discovered my fate. I try to get used to the idea of death, to resign myself. Thoughts of the last minute, of falling into darkness, intrigue me and cause a shiver to crawl across my body. This feeling has become a part of me, a new normal, one that occupies my mind all the time. I do not bother much about the fact that I cannot leave my house without informing the health ministry or that the concept of freedom as most people would conceive it no longer applies to me. Even now, white-caped guys at the local health office monitor my movement. A metallic band straps my right arm, blue indicator light blinking every three seconds. The indicator will turn green if I move beyond my front door and an electric pulse from the armband would stun me if I attempt to cross the perimeter of an invisible circle. A yellow warning light comes on when I get too close to the perimeter. The circle extends over much of my neighbourhood, but stops just short of the estate gate. I am a prisoner in my own neighbourhood, but that is the least of my problems.
I used to go by the name Gbanke Kalu, emphasis on go by. Gbanke is my given name, the name my family calls me. Among my circle of friends, I am GK. In the government files, those files they have on every one born in or living on earth, I am citizen 100012. In my head, I do not cleave to any name. The reason is not too farfetched. I will not exist in a few weeks, therefore won’t have the need for a name. I am practicing being nothing, less tangible than air, a ghost, nothing. However, I don’t really have to practice much, the world already, is forgetting I exist.
I still remember when much of the fifty or thereabout beeps I got on my Alincom were addressed to Gbanke, Gbanke Kalu or GK, the name choice telling me the probable sender before I click the read button. These days, much of my mails are marked “To citizen 100012”. I get less than ten a day. The senders are not unknown. It is not as if mails addressed the previous way have stopped coming. They still come, but only in drips, like a leaky tap that one could control, only just barely.
I became citizen 100012 after a random blood test indicated the presence of the Deletion Virus in my blood stream and my birth name was deleted from the government database of free citizens—that was how the virus got its name. 100012 is not a random number. Rather it shows I am the 100012th person to show traces of the Deletion Virus. Perhaps you don’t know much about Deletion? Well, I don’t either. Everything I could find on the subject on the net indicates the virus is alien, brought to earth by accident. Like many viruses, Deletion is fatal. And I, with symptoms that indicate the virus is three weeks old in my body, have six weeks to live, give or take a few days. I must also add that there is still an ongoing argument about whether Deletion is a virus at all. Yes, it looks and acts like a virus—weakening the body’s immune system and all—but the Scientists insist it is not a virus in the real sense of the word—whatever that means, since I never could make sense of the medical jargon they used to explain it. The Great Taxonomical Battle is what I think of the arguments about whether something that looks and acts like a virus is really a virus. I hadn’t found out I had Deletion when the great debate between James Harden, professor of immunology, and Fadake Aina, world renowned expert on virology, occurred, but I doubt if I would have cared about the phylum (My Biology lecturer loves that word) deletion should be classified under.
Whether virus or not, Deletion kills you. Yes sir, it kills you dead.
Death is forever on my mind. Would it come quick? Would I grab on to life with all my strength even as death’s messenger pulls me away to oblivion, or fall into it, calm and accepting, or screaming, like the woman down the street who gave in last week? Now that is one dreadful thought. That woman’s scream had kept the whole neighbourhood up for hours. It took the Landlords Association chairman’s intervention to get an edict that forced her family to put her to sleep. Poor people, they had wanted to watch her go, sharing thoughts and memories, but had to contend with watching her go in sleep, with only those horrifying screams to remind them of her passing. No, she wasn’t screaming because she was in pain. Over the counter pain-killers available in any street pharmacy ensures no one suffers undue pain. I am sure it was the dread of the coming darkness that had gotten to her. Perhaps she saw Death hovering over her bed and couldn’t bear his leering grin.
As is the case with early-detected fatal viral infection, the woman had known of her fate weeks before she passed. Her death, though expected, had hit her family hard. I overheard the Landlord’s Association Chairman tell my father that although the tranquiliser put her to sleep, her dread still managed to break through as the end neared.
In retrospect, I wonder at the general misgiving at her lack of strength. I was one of those who questioned her unpreparedness. I felt for someone who had two months to prepare herself for the end; she died as if she was hoping for a miracle, struggling to live, to take another breath. However my own fate has given me a better understanding as to why people cling to life and dread this inevitable end that is death. Like the woman down the street, many will say that I am lucky, with early detection of the virus giving me time to prepare and say goodbye to the people I love. I think they are right—about the chance early detection gives me, but not about saying goodbye. It is never easy to say goodbye. Sometimes I think those who never know they have the virus, those who die a few hours after the first signs, are the lucky ones—they only get to know their fate when the first visible symptom of the Deletion Virus, that yellowish tint of skin and hot fever flush, appears. For these ones, Death’s horseman is already galloping fast towards their bed and will take them with him within the hour. Then there are the rare cases, like mine, of those earlier confirmed to be immune but get the virus anyway.
Am I one of the unlucky few?
You see, one does not really have the privilege to talk about luck when she is a number in a government database for death by a strange virus.
For me, it took that random, though routine, screening of the immune database to discover my infection, making me one of those awaiting the ancestors’ call. We are all—inevitably—heading towards death’s call. However, for those whose names have become numbers, the clichéd biological clock is moving faster than normal.
The human mind is a very complex organ and how it analyses impulse differs from person from person. As such, people prepare for oblivion in different ways—at least for those who believe, since not everyone believes that oblivion is what comes afterwards. Since the virus somehow leaves its victims physically healthy until the last stages, some chose to meet the end living their lives as normal as possible. However, there are those who find the concept of waiting for a determined end impossible and opt for Government Issue Death Aids (GIDA). GIDA does not need explanation, it is what its name implies, it helps you die. For me, as you must have noticed, I reflect while time’s passing brings the end nearer. While the thought of taking my own life doesn’t sit very well me, I don’t begrudge those who decide that is the way to go.
We are forever trying to come to terms with death, until we know for sure that we can’t hold it back anymore, then we embrace it, some more than others.
Holding death at bay is standard practice; people no longer recognise that they are doing that. It is said that Evelyn McDuffie, the woman who invented the AllWell serum, was obsessed with the idea of eternal youthfulness that she devoted her entire life seeking means to retain hers. Many people now ridicule her for being vain, maybe because of her legendary beauty, but the methods and products she developed have now achieved what my history lecturer called “mundane application”. I can hear the catch phrase of old AllWell advert in my head now: “all-well, yu neva’ve tu luk bak wit nostalgia anymore”. I still wonder why they tanked that advert, nothing they come up with seems to capture AllWell’s ability to slow aging almost to a crawl. Ok, I know: it is very expensive and makes slaves out of those who use it; slaves to McDuffie Corporation.
Evelyn McDuffie was 250-years-old when she died. The corporation she built single-handedly is rumoured to be richer than most governments and to have a very big influence on who sits on the big chair in the White House in the Americas and even in the Federation of West African State’s Aso Rock. Before Deletion, the biggest status symbol in the world was the ability to walk into any AllWell clinic and get a dose of the serum. Hell, it still ranks among the most sought after privileges on the planet, but the rebirth of religion following the coming of deletion is turning minds again to the question of the afterlife and religious orders are thriving.
It is rumoured the Evelyn died of Deletion, but then it is also rumoured that it was her corporation that sponsored the Jupiter exploration. I don’t know if there is any truth to the rumour, but I do know that deletion and the businesses that thrive off prolonging life do not mix very well. Even those who have genetic doubles waiting for their brains have succumbed to the most effective messenger of death since HIV and H2N15 ravaged the earth. Once Deletion touches you, it is oblivion.
Don’t consider me dark for dwelling on death. I do think about life. I contemplate if I have lived well, not that there has been much life lived for an eighteen-year-old. However, in my circumstance, death is what comes to mind ninety percent of the time. My mother is distraught. While father is calm in his acceptance, mother has taken to the old religion. She wants me to see what she calls the light, to clasp a Bible to my chest and call on God to wipe me free of all traces of deletion. I used to humour her, seeing that it eased her mind to see me bowed in prayer, asking for interventions I do not believe in. She no longer tries to get me to pray, she says she will pray for both of us. Father says God, if indeed he exists, left the scene a long time ago.
I cope as best I can.
As strange as it might sound, not so long ago the latest fashion trends and Revised Edition occupied my mind. A few weeks ago I was giddy with excitement because Mike Kolade, the hottie that lives down the street and my crush for like forever, invited me for a drink in the newly opened underwater hotel, offshore Eko. A few weeks ago I was a normal 18-year-old girl.
The date with Mike Kolade never happened. You know what they say; bad news has a way of coming at the worst possible moment. You know how they say everyone has a soul mate, one that was created to be their companion, I believe Mike is mine. I am sure I knew everything about him and hung around him as a crane would a herd of cattle for years without him noticing me. Mike asking me out on a date was the highest point of my life. It was on the afternoon of the day we were billed to go on that date that the government mail arrived, first to my father’s Alincom and, after he indicated I was authorised to handle official matters without adult supervision, to mine.
Upon reading the content—terse words that conveyed cryptic sympathy that could only have come from AI—no human would be that detached—a scream, loud enough to get the entire neighbourhood running to our compound, peeled out from my lungs.
It was hard getting father to forgive himself or take consolation from the fact that it was his resolve to treat me and my older siblings like adults that gave me the disposition to handle the issue like an adult, and begin, once I came to accept my fate, to prepare for my coming demise.
Mike kept visiting, acting all everything-is-still-ok-ish, like we could hang out, but when I didn’t buy the story of him really wanting to hang out with a girl with only two months left to live, his visits waned and then stopped.
I still think Mike Kolade is a sex god; only those dark eyes, full lips and tight butt no longer bring me to near swoon.
My friends, all five of them, stayed with me, for as long as I would let them, then even they left. Yeah, we still catch up, but only online. The chat time with them is still the high point of my day, even though I almost always say something that spoils the mood for us. Something about death makes the living uncomfortable. I know; I used to be that way.
While I have learnt to cope with my impending death, I also learnt that one thing you never let go of is hope. Silly thing, hope, always finding ways to lurk around the corner even when you know it is useless to expect the impossible. I have had to catch myself dreaming of the possibility of a chance cure, of making a baby with Mike, or going on tour with Revised Edition.
Yes, there were those rumours of a possible cure. You get hints, unsubstantiated hints from Deletion forums. Hints posted by somebody whose brother’s friend is friends with a girl whose brother works for a man that is connected with the driver of a government researcher. With death getting to know your name better with each new dawn, and you having a lot of time on your hands, you have nothing better to do but trawl Deletion forums and follow every hint of a cure, sniffing for faint hope. It is funny but I have learnt to see those forums and the unfounded claims as a game. I trace every one of them back to source. I am yet to find any from a reliable source. I act as if I follow the trails for fun, but at the back of my mind, the nagging truth pricks me now and then: I am actually seeking hope, a faint glimmer of hope.
Hope can expand.
Yesterday, hope called.
Yesterday began like any other day. I woke up with the crowing of Mama Iyabo’s alpha cock from down the street. I listened to the cock. I felt I understood him, that the crowing was not to welcome dawn but to announce to his peers that he is still alive, that he survived the night and its peril. It was not as if he had any peers. There are no other cocks to answer his call, Big J—that is the cock’s name—is alone, king and subject rolled into one, with only echoes to answer his call. That I listened to the cock and even reflected on his state of mind was an indication of how much the coming of death has changed me. I recalled the number of times I had plotted to kidnap the loud bird and send him off to the animal sanctuary on the other side of the city, where his calls won’t ring on my windows and draw me out of blissful dawn sleep. These days I sympathise with Big J. I understand his loneliness when his proof of life goes unanswered day in, day out.
I had awoken to the sound of that desperate call with a nagging feeling that something needed my attention. I looked to the small table by the side of the bed where analgesic pills competed for space with antique paperback novels and my Alincom. The soft blue light of the Alincom’s holo display indicated that the time was 4:30 a.m. A red In-Mail sign flashed, intermittent, on the top left side of the holo display that hung in the air—tuned to me, it always faces me, hovering at eye-level. I had five mails. Two of the mails were text but three were video messages. I was about to file them away for later viewing when I noticed that they were all from the same source. I didn’t know who or what Amber Diet was so I asked my Alincom to open the mails.
The first mail, sent in at about 12 a.m and marked urgent, was a text, a one-liner asking me to ‘please call Amber Diet 001’. There was something about the name and number tag. 001, meant this is the first Amber Diet to be issued a call number. I am Gbanke Kalu 298 and that number is such because there are only about 350 Gbanke Kalus in the world. My friend Bidemi Adeyemi’s call number is 35985 and there are 75698 people named Bidemi Adeyemi. I filed those thoughts away as the video message opened.
In the video a sickly man with droopy eyes —as if he was struggling to stay awake—loomed over a clustered table, his eyes appearing to look directly at me. The ruggedness of his stubble indicated that it was not a style—he was in dire need of a Lazor™—a too-busy-for-tidiness appearance that his rumpled lab coat did not help alleviate. He was in some kind of lab, one lacking the overly neat feel of the white tiled labs of movies and documentaries. Behind him were several lab coats, all in worse state than the was-white status of the one that hung tent-like on his shoulders. Vials, glass tubes, clamps, bubbling liquids and blinking kaleidoscopes of light conspired to mark the room as the domicile of some mad hatter scientist.
I was looking at the room, taking it all in, then I realised that I had not paid any attention to what the man was whispering as he loomed over his table and me in the holo. I called for a playback and increased the yield.
“Miss Gbanke Kalu, you don’t know me, but I really need to meet with you. I understand your difficulty with moving around, but if you can find a way to come unaccompanied to Lagoon City, it may be the best decision you’ll ever make. By the way, I am Chris Yadua, Professor of Virology. Let me know. Thank you.”
I was stunned. I played the other messages and aside from the second text, which was the man’s address in Lagoon City, they all said the same thing—albeit spaced roughly an hour apart. Scammers, I thought. I wondered how the mails could have slipped through the intricate spam detector my AI put in place to filter spam, detectors we had reinforced these past weeks. I called for the spam block record and was shocked that close to seven million messages from the same source were blocked within the same period by my spam detector. The figure was staggering, even the most determined scammer would not spend that much time target spamming anyone.
Intrigued, I decided to send a short reply.
Interested, please tell me more.
I sent the mail, not expecting a reply, but wasn’t shocked when the reply tone beeped once. Knowing I was paying attention, the AI opened the mail, a text, as hologram.
I am surprised you’re comfortable with your assigned government number. Many people in your situation hang on to their names and would rather be addressed by it than by a number. Perhaps yours is an example of someone who has come to accept what they consider inevitable. Anyway, I was hoping for the opposite, that you would love life enough to want to live. Anyway, I got your tissue and blood sample from a rogue government researcher who refused to believe that the Deletion does not have a cure, or that a cure could not be found. Several friends and I have been working on a cure. No, we have not found a cure. What we discovered is that for people like you, who should naturally be immune to the disease, the chances of a cure… no, not a cure but a staying of the hand, if you may, is greater. We have done all the theoretical work and produced a culture, which we think could be the answer, not just for a minute number of people that fall into your category, but hopefully it would be a starting point for the vast majority of others. I know you must have heard all the rumours. The ones about delete being a government plan to reverse a population explosion that has gotten out of hand. Well, the truth is no and yes. No, the government didn’t create delete, it is really an alien virus unknowingly introduced to earth when the Jupiter explorers returned. You know the virus infects randomly and no one knows yet how it is spread. Yes, the government decided it would be better served if a significant part of the population succumbs to the deletion virus. They think it is air-borne, but we are aware of some inner circle people in Washington who have the virus—it would seem that their recourse to constantly wear filter masks did not help and is not helping.
Anyway, our possible cure has undergone all the theoretical tests but we are yet to test them on a human subject. Would you be willing to be our test subject? Note that there are no guarantees. We know the compound we synthesised works theoretically, but until we test it on a human, can give no assurances. Would you want to be this human test subject?
Project Amber Diet
Ok. I must confess, I didn’t know when I jumped out of my bed. I found myself standing with my back pressed to my wardrobe door, a shaking right hand clasping my mouth—maybe to stop me from screaming, maybe not. The bedside table was at the other side of the room, across the bed. I believe I was scared, angry, and elated at the same time—yeah, believe me that is possible. I think my anger stemmed from a feeling that this might still turn out to be a scam. Yes, it would be very tasteless for someone to attempt such scam on someone in my situation, but people can be horrible. Still something about the tone made it possibly true. I walked back to the Alincom and thinking, “What do I have to lose”, I sent a reply, “YES”.
That was yesterday. I am making the final arrangements now for I aim to go across town today. The question of how to get there unseen and untracked—which Dr. Yadua stressed—remain, but as I look around my room for what may be the last time, I knew that I would give a lot to see it again.
Deletion forums have their uses, you already know they act as a place where we the walking dead find solace in fellow numbers—literally—but there are other uses. I feel the unusual weight of a metallic band on my left hand, similar to the one on my right. The new metal band is supposed to cancel out the signal from and to the monitoring office. There is a button on it; once I press it, I become invisible to government censors, a ghost—at least the forum I got it from claims that much. We’ll see.
I may be open to the coming darkness, but I still love this light—artificial though it may be—enough to want to stay.