I wasn’t a hero — or heroine in my case. I was a scaredy cat, always shying away from any form of trouble or altercation. I never even shouted. So when I got the email newsletter from Pro Earth, I didn’t give it second thought.
Subscribing for their newsletter was even a mistake; one of those ads that pop up recklessly while you were busy browsing about important stuffs.
Pro Earth was an organization that advocated for policies and laws favouring the protection of the planet. They were among the very first of such organizations in Nigeria. Their modus operandi even put me off the more —they engaged in protests. Oh no! Count me out, entirely.
But my life was turned around when I logged into my Facebook account. Such a simple act, right?
I’d logged in and saw that Kosy Onu, my celebrity crush had posted about going to the next Pro Earth protest! What a life. I’ve had a huge crush on this actor/musician/model since the time I first saw him on the TV. Plans had to be changed. I went back to the email, applied for a space at the protest and prayed to be accepted.
Then I left for work. I worked in a catering company. We had an event scheduled later that day. But my mind was on my email application. What was the odds that I got the space and eventually got to meet Kosy? One part of my mind was telling me to be realistic, the other was saying that you never knew what would happen.
“Nkechi!” shouted my supervisor, “Are you going to moon all day over God knows what or are you going to prepare these dishes for transport?” Mrs. Nkoli was a bull of a woman, she was immovable and her voice blared all over the room like some steam engine.
“I’ll get them ready madam,” I said and promptly composed myself. Why was I acting like this?
When I reached home, I was too tired to care. I immediately jumped into bed and was on the verge of sliding off to the dreamland when the shrill ring of my phone jolted me up.
“Hello,” I said, angry that I was denied my beautiful sleep.
“Hello. Am I speaking to Nkechi Okoye?”
“I am Prudence from Pro Earth,” she began, “I’m calling to inform you that your application to join our protest on Sunday has been approved. You will get an email shortly with details of how you’re going to participate.”
“Oh. Thank you,” I enthused. “Do you need any further information?”
“Not necessarily, but it would be nice if you can tell us of any health problems you may have. If there are any, it will facilitate our changing your role in the protest.”
“I’m sure that I have none that serious. Thank you.”
“All right. Good day then,” she replied and ended the call.
After the call, with the sleep off my eyes, I switched on my data connection and went to my inbox. And there the message was; it started with a congratulatory message and then stated that there was an attachment concerning my role in the protest. I downloaded it, opened the PDF file and saw a list of names in my group or ‘cell’ as they called it. The first name shocked me.
There I was staring at my phone, my mouth agape, and my eyes wide with excitement. The name of Kosy Onu was staring back at me. I quickly scanned the list and saw my name at number twenty-seven. Miracles do happen indeed!
The rest of the document informed me that we would be going to the site of an oil spillage in Bayelsa State. That wasn’t far, I lived in Calabar. The document also contained the information about our cell head who we were to contact as soon as possible. I called Churchill Young, the person indicated as the head.
He made me understand that we should arrive at the camp on Saturday prior to the protest on Sunday. He also listed some essentials we’re to bring along, boots, canes, protective coat and some others I forgot. I’ll have to purchase these later.
When I ended the call, I jumped up and down like some lovestruck teenage girl, maybe kismet was being kind after all her cruelty to me. I then took my bath and dozed off.
Sunday, and we were about to embark on the long-awaited protest. The days before this one had gone by in a blur. I’d arrived at the camp, met with the group leader who showed me where to keep my things; I was in a hall of some sort with other women. It was very spacious and airy, containing about twenty-five people.
I made friends with a girl which a sing-song voice and babyish look called Glory. She had the shape of model and the height to back it up. I’d asked her why she had come for the protest.
“Our planet can only be saved by us,” was her reply.
All my efforts to get close to get close to Kosy were futile. He was always surrounded by a stream of people, mostly women, who seemed not to get enough of his attention. I could have joined the throng of people in meeting him, but I wanted our meeting to be special and memorable, not some hi-I-came-to-greet-you meeting.
The camp in general was fun; this was the first time I was doing something this daring and I was jittery with excitement. We were about a hundred and twenty when we started our march by 10.30am. Our chant was:
“All we are asking is… save our planet!”
As we progressed towards the site of the spillage, more people joined us. I don’t really think they knew why we were marching. They probably loved the song and decided to join. It took us thirty minutes to reach the site of the disaster. A makeshift stage was erected, and also some canopies to shied us from the blazing sun. The regional coordinator of Pro Earth took the stage and addressed us.
“Friends, brothers, sisters, and well-wishers, welcome,” she greeted, “this is an epoch-making event, as what we would achieve today would be always be recorded in the annals of time. If you look at the river—”
“Help me!” a voice, so terrible, so sad cried out. I took it to be someone amongst the protesters asking another person for help, and focused on what was being said on the podium.
“… the government needs to take measures to curtail the excesses of these profiteering companies who ravage—”
Again the voice pleaded, this time louder and more insistent, “Nkechi, please help me.” I scanned the faces of the people around, no one took an interest in me, and obviously, none was talking to me. Who could it be? And how did the person know my name?
I chose to ignore the voice again, who knows, maybe I’ve started hallucinating? I slowly edged closer to Kosy, hoping to start up a conversation with him. I tapped him on the shoulder and as he looked at me, my mind went blank, like a computer whose memory was wiped. I stared moronically at him; how could anyone be so beautiful? He had perfectly arched eyebrows with dark brown eyes that looked like embers of passion. His nose was straight and aquiline. And his mouth, good heavens! His mouth would taste like chocolate.
“Hello,” he said, snapping his fingers at me.
“Uh… hello. I’m Nkechi,” I said, and stuck my hand into his. He had rough, callused hands, like someone who was used to tough masculine tasks. I couldn’t help but wonder what those hands would do to my body…
“I am Kosy—” His reply was cut short by the most agonizing and piercing screams I’ve heard in my life. I felt this excruciating pain, and as much as I tried to keep myself from crying out, I let out a blood-curling shout of “Nooooo!” before I passed out.
I woke up looking into the glorious face of Kosy. He had worry etched on his face; the others were all around us, their faces a mirror of the worry on his face. He touched my temple and was relieved that I wasn’t burning up.
“You fainted,” he commented, “How’re you feeling now?”
“I’m fine,” I replied, “Thanks for asking.”
I sat up, looked around and thanked them profusely. We were back at the camp, and according to them, after I’d fainted, they had abruptly ended the proceedings and had carried me home. I was touched by their kindness and was also mortified by the fact that they ended the protest because of me.
Later in the day, when everywhere was quiet, I thought deeply about the voice that cried out in my head. What did it mean? I couldn’t possibly talk to anyone about it. What do I say? That I was now hearing voices? There was only one course of action I had to take.
Around 4.30pm, I went back to the site of the spillage; I had hoped to be able to trace the voice (if that was really what it was), and know why it was screaming for help. Immediately I got to the place, I felt this extreme, inexplicable sadness come over me. All around me, it was as if the earth itself was in pain; her weeping reverberated throughout the very fabric of the world.
“Hello,” I said out loud to an empty space. I expected no reply, so was shocked when that same voice answered in my head,
“Hello Nkechi, I am Ani, the spirit of the earth.”
“I am known by many names in different cultures, but you shall call me Ani. I chose you because you are pure of heart; you shall convey my message to the world.”
“I want you to tell the world about me; about their recklessness with me, and the attendant repercussions. They throw in their debris inside my waters, pollute my air, and murder my lifeforms. I want you to ask them this: after they succeed in killing me, what next will they do? How will they survive?”
I was saddened by what she said and her tone, but I was just an ordinary caterer with no prominent position whatsoever. If there was someone I knew with such influence as to get the attention of the world, it was Kosy Onu.
And as if the very mention of his name brought him to me, he touched me and asked, “What are you doing here all alone?”
I let out an unconscious moan of terror; he apologized and backed off a little. That same worry was still visible on his face.
“I noticed that you weren’t at the camp, and from the way you acted, I surmised that you would be here,” he explained, “I’m sorry for scaring you.”
“It’s all right. My nerves were just on edge. That’s all.”
He nodded, but his eyes still searched my face. “Can we go back to the camp?”
I nodded, and as we walked back, I heard the voice of Ani, “Beware of this man.” For some unknown reason, I was angry at her for saying such a thing, why would she disturb me like this? And what right had she to dictate the people I befriended?
I thought, and hoped she could hear me, “This is none of your business.”
“It is. Everything about you is now my business.” She can hear my thoughts too? How sweet!
Events became a roller-coaster two weeks after the camp. I’d exchanged contacts with Kosy and we’d been communicating frequently; we even planned on meeting up in Abuja in another week’s time. I heard no more voices, and the memories of that encounter gradually receded into my mind. Maybe it was just the smell of the oil spill that messed with my mind.
I was at work preparing a file for Mrs. Nkoli when the voice came back, this time with a request.
“I need you to post on Facebook about the tidal wave that will occur at that site in two day’s time.”
“And here I was thinking that you’d forgotten all about me,” I said under my breath.
“Make sure it gets enough publicity because I want the government to get interested in what is happening over there. Inform them that should they fail to heed this warning, the next catastrophe would shake this country.” And then she was gone, as abruptly as he had come.
When I was done with the file I was preparing, I sat down and thought about how to compose an effective and serious enough Facebook post. I had to tag the correct people and hope that it gets to the right quarters. How do I do that? In the end, I wrote something I hoped would be effective enough, tagged Pro Earth and Kosy and prayed that it worked.
But of course if didn’t work, at least not in the way I wanted. The post went viral and everyone was mad at me on social media; how can this girl who wasn’t even a prophet or a meteorologist tell us what would happen? The most painful aspect was that Kosy released a post saying that I was ‘sick in the head and needed psychiatric evaluation’. He had recounted how he saw me speaking to myself at the site of the oil spill few hours after I had screamed and fainted, ‘ruining one of the most peaceful protests in the history of Nigeria’.
With all the rant and rave, I half expected my company to relieve me of my duties, but they didn’t; that was the only consolation I had till the warnings of Ani came to pass.
It was the worst natural disaster ever witnessed in Nigeria. Scores of families were rendered homeless and oil companies lost billions of dollars worth of assets. That day, I received a call from someone entirely shocking to me.
“Nkechi Okoye, right?”
“This is Lindsay Adams, the Head of the United Nations Environmental Protection Agency. We’ve just noticed your Facebook post concerning the recent disaster in Nigeria. How were you able to predict the event which our most sophisticated equipment couldn’t pick up?”
How do I explain to her? It turned out that she didn’t need to know. She told me that she would like to meet with me in three days in Abuja. Had I become such an important person overnight?
Three days later, I was in a newsroom being interviewed by the most celebrated OAP in Nigeria.
“How did you know about the tidal wave before it happened?” Jide Williams asked.
“It’s hard to explain. But it feels like the earth herself spoke to me and told me what she intended to do.”
“The earth spoke to you?” The note of incredulity in his voice was obvious.
“I told you that it was hard to explain, right?”
“If this was how you knew, then the explanation is impossible to believe. It would be better if you said some spirit spoke to you than this… this hogwash.”
“But a spirit did speak to me, the Spirit of the Earth, Ani,” I replied, smiling. He looked at me as if I’d grown horns. I continued, “She is angry with us for the way we treat her. She has given us everything we need but what she simply wants is a little care which we do not give. Instead we milk her dry and destroy the very source of our sustenance. We have messed up our planet, and unless we start making amends, more disastrous events will follow.”
“Is that a threat from the ‘spirit’?” he crooked his fingers as he said the word spirit.
“Yes it is. And we need to act now. For if we lose this home, what other one do we have? Mars?”
In the car I was as I headed towards my hotel room, I heard the voice of Ani say, “Good job girl.”