FUTURE LONG SINCE PASSED By Lausdeus Otito Chiegboka
Tuesday, February 20, 2035.
He thought he heard the sound of sirens. He felt lifeless. Someone seemed to touch his neck, then his left wrist and then started compressing his chest. Another hand forced his mouth open. He felt like he was coughing but wasn’t sure whether he did. He felt tired and sleepy. The desire to sleep overwhelmed the strength to cough. He decided to sleep. The chest compressions then ceased. He felt a plastic object on his face. He once more felt like coughing but wasn’t sure whether he could cough. He was not even sure whether he was still alive. There was no app to ascertain that.
He had spent the last few years developing software with medical applications. He had partnered with Theranos before its demise and with Google when it was still in its prime. Now, it was Tumaini he had deals with. Tumaini had risen to become the world’s biggest tech company and had the most deals with African companies. It was with Tumaini that he developed Compusurgeons robotic surgeon. It was with Tumaini he patented nanotechnology that could literally bite off HIV from infected human lymphocytes. He had thought of a chip that could be implanted into human brains that could virtually continue the person’s activities while asleep.
The day had started rather slowly. Dr Izima stood by the window of his office, flipping through the pages of a newspaper while absorbing the magnificent view of the sea. A particular headline had caught his attention: The West Angry over Nigeria’s New Nuclear Enrichment Technology. It was followed by a rider: Countryman Develops Novel Nuclear Enrichment Process for Nigeria’s Nuclear Power Plants, with Potentials for Use in Nuclear Warfare. He rushed through the article and once more concentrated on the sea which was in high tide, flooding the harbor. The waves rolled and splashed against the breakwaters in the distance and recoiled, receding as foamy crests and troughs. Boats sped across the water, forming beautiful waves in their wake and reflecting the sun’s rays into fleeting arcs of rainbow.
The office was on the thirtieth floor of the forty storey building he had erected as a trade centre and his company headquarters. The building was the closest to the sea in the Lagos Eko Atlantic city and was about the choicest property in the country. Sea water occasionally splashed over a levee and onto the private jetty and grounds of the building.
He had been standing at the window for more than ten minutes. He always, as a routine, stood by the window for about ten minutes every two to three hours, to admire the sea and gain some inspiration. Today he was spending a much longer time, not because the sea appeared prettier but because he was expecting his ship, Princess Alozie. She was bearing his imports – semiconductor materials for manufacturing chips. His company, Alozie Meditronics, was the world’s largest producer of medical microchips, and was domiciled in Nigeria.
Nigeria had become extremely attractive to investors from the year 2020. It was partly due to an attractive tax regime and the uninterrupted power supply that the nuclear plants provided. The tax laws limited the burden of double jeopardy of taxation and substantially reduced taxes for companies that agreed to establish headquarters in Nigeria. Since 2019, there had been literally no export duties charged on finished manufactured products. The country was admitted into BRICS, which in 2022 was changed to BRINCS to accommodate Nigeria. Young vibrant talent moved back home from their bases abroad. Dr Izima was one of them.
Izima’s star started shining about ten years ago when he co-developed software that helped brain surgeons operate more efficiently through medi-robots and cut the time spent on brain surgery in half. He worked hand in hand with his university classmate Dr Charles Tayo. Charles and Izima were not actually close friends from the university days. They hardly ever sat together to discuss in school, yet fortune strung them together. Charles was a computer geek right from medical school days, when he would crack software codes and sell them for some extra pocket money. He graduated as “one of those other fellows” in their class. Izima was a nerdish fellow pinning distinctions to his name, like ranks on a soldier’s epaulette. He graduated second best in the same class and went on to specialize as a neurosurgeon.
Their backgrounds had a stark contrast. Charles attended an elite private secondary school where computers were like mere toys whereas Izima was schooled in a village public secondary school where a former state governor installed five computers in a special room. The room was accessed only on Fridays during computer classes, except by the computer prefect who checked the room for an hour each school day, to ensure cleanliness. Izima was the computer prefect. Charles’ father retired from a multinational oil company and was rich. Izima’s father was a chief priest at the shrine of Ichiakwa, a local deity, and lived a lower middle class life. He combined the priestly duties with teaching Science at a local primary school till he retired. He taught his son to be studious and at the same time learn the ways of his ancestors. Izima learnt to be studious but thought the ways of the ancestors too backward. The concept of religion itself was outdated in his opinion, but he admired Catholicism. Catholics offered prayers through saints to a Supreme Being the same way his father offered prayers through Ichiakwa and the ancestors. Catholic medical students offered enlightening tutorial classes in school. He shared his religious views with Charles, who was an agnostic, while in school. That was about the only meaningful conversation he could remember having with Charles before that day, thirteen years ago.
A call had come through to Izima on a Sunday morning, from Charles. That was the turning point. Since then, the sky hardly blurred to night without at least a word. They set up a medical software company, ZimCharles Meditronics, which later became Alozie Meditronics.
He flipped the pages of the newspaper to the Business News page, read the first paragraph and smiled. Tori Newspaper always published an extensive review of a company every Tuesday and the day’s review was about Alozie Meditronics. He was interviewed by the Business News correspondents about two weeks ago and he remembered how impressed the lead interviewer had been on that day. He had treated them to a tour of the facilities and offered them a complimentary boat ride while promising to buy hundreds of copies of the newspaper to distribute to his workers and associates. He felt good as he continued reading the review:
The duo got their initial funding from a prominent Nigerian venture capitalist, Omitosin Omego. The company patented the software, Compusurgeons, which was installed in robots that carried out surgical procedures. More funding came when the company went public three years ago, generating an unprecedented five billion dollars. Over the years they transformed the company to a multibillion dollar medical electronic company that produced nano-magnetic resonance devices and real-time medical monitoring devices that were particularly suited to tropical environment. With time, the company set up mega diagnostic and therapeutic centres, started manufacturing chips for robots and then robots themselves. The robots were especially suited for long and intricate surgeries that would otherwise have been impossible for human surgeons to carry out due to inadequacies in precision, human error and fatigue. One of the robots was successfully used for brain surgery to treat a child with recalcitrant seizures and to carry out a transplant of striatal brain stem cells to treat a patient with Parkinson’s disease. The most important surgery, however, was a procedure that involved the administration of brain proteins and electromagnetic activation of memory centres of the brain to treat Alzheimer’s disease. That happened two years ago.
The company’s shares have been rising since the company went public and was quoted on New York Stock Exchange, the European Stock Exchange and on NIGSDAQ, the Nigerian clone of NASDAQ, which is the only stock market behind New York Stock Exchange. The company shares have soared geometrically since the Alzheimer’s cure announcement. The “Memory Magic” – as the cure was popularly called – was a major breakthrough for the company.
He heard the long blast of the ship as she gently made way into the harbour from the open sea. His face lit up and his lips broadened again into a smile. He tapped the glass twice to zoom into the image. The glass was an electronic plexiglas that served as a bullet-proof protector, an interactive screen and as binoculars to zoom into the surroundings. It also served as a camera to capture beautiful moments of big fish leaping into the air and back into the water or glorious moments such as his ship approaching the channel.
The ship made way slowly and majestically, cutting the water surface gently and slowing down even more as she closed in. From the wake, one could guess she was making about five knots. He admired the gentle modern flare of the ship. He zoomed in on the bridge. The captain’s blonde hair was barely visible. As the ship came abeam, he admired the giant inscription, PRINCESS ALOZIE. He continued watching until the ship made a long blast on her gongs as she sailed towards the bend that would lead to the wharf in Apapa. He checked his watch. He would have a meeting in an hour.
He settled into his swivel chair and rolled back to his table. The table was massive, as was his extensive book shelf which he still kept despite the advancement in technology and the fact that he had e-copies of all the books. The shelf was built into the wall and had an electronic sliding door but he preferred to leave it open. The rest of the office was mostly empty but for a centre table placed on a Persian rug. Additional furniture was securely ensconced within the walls and could emerge at the push of a button on his stylus or a phone app. The app also could control his venetian blinds, regulate temperature of the room or play the trending music videos on the wall opposite his table, which doubled as an LED screen.
It was time to check the latest stock market report. The bells would be ringing on Wall Street in about 2 minutes. He tapped the stock market widget on his phone. Alozie Group was already among the top gainers on Lagos Stock Exchange for the day. The bell rang. Mr. Smith, his secretary entered the office.
“Sir, the meeting is in 30 minutes,” Smith said, his British accent unmistakable.
“I know,” he replied. “Check the traffic app.” Lagos had developed a network of subways and light rail to complement the road network. However, one could not step out of the house in Lagos without checking the traffic situation.
“I have checked,” Smith reply. “A tanker fell on Ozumba Avenue and there is some traffic build-up. Meanwhile, Adeola Road, the alternate route, is undergoing repairs.”
“Okay, get the air taxi.” He picked a glass of water from his table, slowly raised it to his mouth and leaned back on his seat, his eyes still focused on the phone in his left hand.
Air taxis were a means of intra-city transport for the rarefied wealthy Lagosians that shuttled the Lekki-VI-Lagos Island axis in a narrow and tightly controlled airspace. The air taxis were small four-seat helicopters with modified, shorter rotors to limit downwash wind and were run by HeloCabs, an innovative indigenous company. The design was patented by an internationally renowned aircraft engineer, Ali Shonibare, the brain behind the air taxi business. There had not been any crash in the air taxi’s six-year history. Several tall buildings in Lagos had helipads on their rooftops, including Alozie HQ building. The control station was located on NITEL Tower in Marina.
His phone rang. He took the call, leaving it on loud speaker. It was his wife’s number.
“Daddy, how are you?” An enthusiastic, lively voice rang. That was his little daughter’s voice.
“I’m fine my dear. How’s mummy?”
“Mummy said I should not call you but I want to speak with you, Daddy.”
“It’s okay my dear but next time you have to listen to mummy, okay.”
“Yes Daddy. Mummy does not want me to take more chocolate.”
“Listen to Mummy,” he answered, laughing, “can I speak to Mummy?”
“Baby,” the wife began, “Chizzy doesn’t want to allow me rest, my dear. She has been disturbing since morning. How is work going, Baby?”
“I’m fine, my dear.”
“Ready in five, Sir. We need to start moving to the elevator.” It was Mr. Smith.
“I have to go now, my dear. I have to rush to a meeting please. Love you.”
“Love you too,” the wife replied, and blew a kiss into the phone.
“By-e.” He hung up and rose from his seat. It would take a minute walk to the corridor, another minute to take the elevator four floors up to the sky lobby and another two minutes to get to the helipad at the roof. He nearly sprinted, closely followed behind by Mr. Smith who bore his brief case.
The helicopter was already at the roof by the time they got there. The rotors blew wind at their faces. Izima’s suit flapped in the wind. It was an Anamene, the latest name in designer apparel. He loved to wear Nigerian. They quickly hopped on and the helicopter rose, splashing a gust of wind into the face of the helipad ground crew member. They hastily strapped themselves in.
The helicopter suddenly started spinning as if caught in a vortex of wind. A portion of the tail broke off. His body shook. His heart pounded in his chest. He suddenly felt pressed. Warm liquid trickled down his thighs, his bladder caught in the frenzy of autonomic nerves. His right hand vibrated in tremor as he started making the sign of the cross. The aircraft spun for some seconds and swooped, nose-diving into the harbour.
The air was stabbed by deafening alarm. He was caught in a fit of vertigo as the chopper spiralled out of control. It happened so fast. He let out a scream. He had a little giddy feeling of weightlessness. There was a thud, then a loud bang. Male voices screamed. Glass seemed to shatter. Then there was silence, eerie stillness. It was cold. Blackout.
Silly notes from a piano were followed by gentle, peaceful notes. It was music. It sounded like jazz. There were beings that fit the description of cherubs falling from the sky, their wings fixed and lifeless. They were in free fall. One got too close, a wind caught in its wake. He seemed suspended. More beings fell, all plunging down below, all clad in pristine white. He lowered his head to see where they were falling to and saw only cloud. They all disappeared into the cloud. Then he started falling fast, then faster, then slowly, and then paused.
He was at the entrance to a cave lined with palm fronds. A voice urged him to enter. He entered. A bearded man stood before him, clad in tiger-skin garment and a cap with a feather. A goatskin bag hung from his left shoulder which was bare and marked with Nsibidi symbols. His right hand bore a staff crowned with a tiger skull. He was bent forward like an old man but yet his face appeared smooth, devoid of the wrinkles of age. He grinned, revealing toothless gums. Then his lips parted as he began to voice indiscernible phrases. It was an incantation. He brought out cowry shells from his goatskin bag, sprinkled them and then gently retrieved a horn from his bag from which he poured libation while muttering in esoteric tongue. He bent forward as if to bow, gestured as if he was offering the staff, placed the staff on the floor and rose. He walked gently backwards, his eyes shut, and disappeared into the interior darkness of the cave.
The man resembled Izima’s dead father but had a distinctive mark in his left cheek, stretching to the left side of his neck. It must have been a scar from the claws of a tiger which one of his ancestors was famed to have killed. He knew that the tiger-killer ancestor was the chief priest at the shrine of Ichiakwa, the same shrine he was asked to resign whatever he was doing in the city, to come back home and administer. It was the same shrine that his uncle, Imeagwa, told him he was the next in line to be chief priest of, after his father’s death. The deity was hungry and needed a high priest to tend to it. He had told his uncle that he was not interested. Imeagwa had left his house and promised him that Ichiakwa itself will visit him one day. “Nobody ignores the call of Ichiakwa,” he had said, and walked out with the words, “Ichiakwa will visit you in life or in death!”
Now, Ichiakwa chose to visit him at the junction between life and death. Ichiakwa even crashed his chopper to prove that. It was the deity that recognized no man and made a mince of the strongest. The deity that was revered over seven clans and one. The deity that ruled over seven mountains and seven seas. Maybe the Atlantic was one of the seas. He was not given to superstition but Lagos seemed too far from home for any fetish idol to reach. It did not seem so far anymore.
He thought he heard the sound of sirens, yet he felt lifeless. Someone seemed to touch his left wrist, then his neck and then started compressing his chest. Another hand forced his mouth open. He felt like he was coughing but was not sure whether he did. He was feeling tired and sleepy. The desire to sleep overwhelmed the strength to cough. He decided to sleep.
The chest compressions then started again. He felt an object cover his nose and mouth, an object that blew a gust of air. He once more felt like coughing but could not muster enough strength to cough. He was not even sure whether he was awake or dreaming. The voice asking whether he was ok seemed real. The pads on his chest felt real. The shock from the pads was real. The wetness of his socks felt real. He started to feel alive. He needed no app for that.
Lausdeus Otito Chiegboka
Lausdeus Otito Chiegboka is a medical doctor from Nigeria with keen interest in literature. He was born in Nsukka, Nigeria. He is 30 years old and practises in Warri, Nigeria. He writes poems and prose, and made the 2016 shortlist of the Commonwealth Short Story Prize.