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 Kingsley Alumona | The Comrades

Their mothers died because they were menial workers of the corporation. Because the corporation needed manpower for its farms, factories, mines, rigs, and nuclear plants. Because the resources in the ground needed to be extracted. Because energy was needed to run homes, offices, schools, malls, and hotels.

Their mothers died because of preventable accidents in the laboratories, factories, and mines. Because it was part of the sacrifice to develop the city. Because the government needed fat taxes. 

Their mothers did not die immediately after the accidents and exposure to harmful radiation. They lived to get pregnant for the engineers and the expatriates. Lived to get sick, terribly sick. Lived to be admitted to hospitals they could not afford. 

In their respective hospitals, their mothers wondered a lot of things.

“What’s happening to me, to my body?”

“Which kind of sickness and pain is this?”

“Why has the corporation forsaken me?”

“Oh, God, am I going to die?”

“Can I deliver my child alive?”

Their mothers lived to give birth to them. To hear the doctors tell them there was no hope of them surviving. To see their strange little bodies. 

Their mothers each had one of them – Mandanda, Sokhna, Yetunde, Amaechi, and Wanyama − who were sent to five different orphanages. 

——–

Mandanda’s mother worked as a labourer at the corporation’s underground coal mine. Four years into the job, a blowout occurred with a lot of casualties and deaths. She survived, but the engineer she suspected was responsible for her two-month pregnancy did not. She was later, four months into her pregnancy, diagnosed with a rare genetic ailment. She died      three months after Mandanda was born through an operation.

Sokhna’s mother worked at the corporation’s quarry where rocks and minerals were extracted. Throughout her eight years on the job, she was severely exposed to rock dust to the point she developed asthma, followed by an ailment doctors could not explain. And there was no money to treat what she did not know was wrong with her. One of the expatriates who flirted with her, who she suspected was responsible for her pregnancy, left her when he discovered she was pregnant. One month after she gave birth to Sokhna, she died.

Yetunde’s mother worked as a semi-skilled technician at the corporation’s chemical laboratory that produced virtually all the chemicals needed for its factories. Seven years into the job, a fatal accident that splashed a lethal chemical on her occurred and she was seriously harmed. Two years later, while still working in the laboratory, she was diagnosed with skin and brain tumours. While on treatment, after quitting the job, she became pregnant for an expatriate that she barely knew. She died three months after Yetunde was born.   

Amaechi’s mother was a miner who worked at one of the corporation’s uranium mines. Though a menial worker, her strength dazzled the engineers. Five years into the job, since she was not well-protected like the engineers, she developed a genetic ailment. The worst happened when one of the mines collapsed – when she was three months pregnant − and she was trapped in it for three days, exposing her to harmful radiation. She died of multiple tumours two months after Amaechi was born.   

Wanyama’s mother was an unskilled worker at the corporation’s nuclear plant. As one of the few women on the site, the men were fond of her. Three years on the job, a major leak from the plant occurred and virtually all the workers were exposed to lethal radiation, including Wanyama’s mother, who was four months pregnant then. The expatriate responsible for her pregnancy was one of the casualties of the accident and was flown back to his country for treatment. Her health worsened, with no money for treatment. She died a month after giving birth to Wanyama. 

——–

They were now pre-teens in their respective orphanages. 

Mandanda had a small horn on the middle of his head. Sokhna had hairs all over her body. Yetunde had three small nipples on her chest, Amaechi had two small penises. And, Wanyama had a small tail sticking out from the base of his spine.

The doctors could not explain how they came to be like that. They did not know what was wrong with them either. Each day, they wondered and asked themselves the same questions over and over again.

“What are mine?” Mandanda wondered. 

“What happened to my body?” Sokhna cried.

“Where are my parents?” Yetunde asked.

“What’ll I look like when I grow up?” Amaechi thought.

“When are mine leaving this orphanage?” Wanyama pondered.

They wished their parents were alive so that they could ask them questions, lots of questions. Wished their parents were alive so that they could see their bodies and compare them with theirs. Wished they could sleep and wake with new bodies. Wished the doctors could stop investigating them and extracting samples every week. Wished other children could see them for who they were.

They never got used to what people were saying about them.

“These children are aliens.”

“They are more like hybrid homo sapiens.”

“Were their parents like this?”

“What are the doctors saying about them?”

“Will they be better or worse when they grow up?”

They wanted to know a lot of things. Wanted to know who created them – they suspected it was not the same creator who created them that created others. Wanted to know if they and their parents were cursed. Wanted to know if they were the only kind on earth. Wanted to know if their children would look like them too.

They were tired of everything. Tired of the orphanages. Tired of doctors and medications. Tired of psychologists and social workers. Tired of school and books without people like them in them. Tired of being tired of everything and everybody. 

They wondered about a lot of things too. Wondered what it was like to be normal. Wondered about their place in the city. Wondered what the future held for them.

“I want to be a scientist,” Mandanda said.

“I want to be a doctor,” Sokhna said.

“I want to be a lawyer,” Yetunde said.

“I want to be a businessperson,” Amaechi said.

“I want to be an engineer,” Wanyama said.

——–

They were now grownups and had long left their respective orphanages where they were called derogatory names. Mandanda was called horny. Sokhna was called hairy. Yetunde was called breasty. Amaechi was called dicky. And, Wanyama was called taily.

They had become what they wished to become – Mandanda, an environmental scientist; Sokhna, a medical doctor; Yetunde, a lawyer; Amaechi, a businessperson; and Wanyama, a genetic engineer. And they were about to graduate from their respective graduate schools. 

Though they had not physically met before, they had lived in the city all their lives. They even belonged to the same Facebook group, without knowing that they each had a special kind of body.

Recently, their different posts on the group went thus:

“Hi, I liked your post on neuropsychosis. But why is your face so hairy?” Yetunde posted.

“Congratulations on winning the case. But why is your chest like that?” Amaechi wrote.

“How did your telecom contract go? And, by the way, have you had the surgery?” Mandanda typed.

“How is your work on the oil spillage going? And, why do you always wear a cap?” Sokhna wrote.

“I’m interested in your research on gene mutation. Sorry, but I’m curious about the protrusion in the back of your trousers,” Wanyama posted.

With time, as they communicated and shared pictures on Facebook, they noticed they were different. They had discovered that their mothers were not like them. 

But how about their fathers?

 “Are they dead or alive?” Mandanda wondered.

“Were they locals or expatriates?” Sokhna asked.

“Do they have the same bodies as us?” Yetunde pondered.

“Do they even know we exist?” Amaechi sighed.

“Would they have loved us the way we are?” Wanyama wondered.

Their city was a small one, and they wondered if there were more people like them yet to be discovered. They had lived two decades and a half in different parts of the city but had known themselves only for three months through their virtual space. They would not be surprised − in fact, they were optimistic − that more people like them would soon be discovered. But, until that happened, they planned on how to meet, face to face.

“The hospital where I work is a good place,” Sokhna said.

“My office in the law firm I work at has a perfect view of the city,” Yetunde objected.

“If you guys don’t mind, my hotel room boasts the best rendezvous,” Amaechi said.

“Let’s meet at this restaurant I hang out at every weekend,” Wanyama protested.

“Let’s meet at the beautiful quadrangle in the church I attend,” Mandanda pleaded.

——–

Because they did not agree to meet where each of them had suggested, they unanimously agreed to meet in a lounge. The first sight of themselves in the flesh confirmed their common fear. Their Facebook chats did not prepare them for this long-awaited reality. 

They used the first few minutes to properly look at themselves, their bodies. For a brief moment, they did not know what to make of themselves. 

“This is kind of weird,” Mandanda chuckled, “isn’t it?”

“Wow,” Sokhna shouted. “I think for the first time I got me a family.”

“I don’t think I’m prepared for this,” Yetunde sighed.

“This is wonderful,” Amaechi said. “We should have done this a long time ago.”

“This is crazy,” Wanyama blurted. “But I love it.”

There was a brief moment of silence again to the point that the drinks and snacks before them seemed like they were used to decorate the table. All their lives, they had asked questions, pitied, and doubted themselves. Right now, they did not know the right questions to ask or how they could handle their common reality.

When finally they started their conversation, they asked the question that usually dominated their Facebook chats: Why us? The answer, even now, was depressing. Before their meeting, each of them had longed for a new identity, a new world, a new everything. They wanted to be proud of themselves, for people to be proud of them. They had thought that their physical presence under one roof would give them some sense of belonging and inclusion. Rather, it generated more questions and more rage.

“Why are we here?” Mandanda asked.

“Why aren’t we happy we’re here?” Sokhna demanded.

“What do you suggest we do now?” Yetunde asked.

“Where do we go from here?” Amaechi enquired.

“What’s next for us?” Wanyama asked.

Outside, the city was bustling with life. All their lives, they had struggled to believe they existed, that they were something, something that mattered.

They were no longer sitting down. Some leaned on the wall, others stood, while the rest paced the room. After leaning, standing, and pacing, repeating the process for the umpteenth time, two among them took a bite from the steak, two sipped their drinks, and one continued to stare out the window as far as the eyes could see.

It had dawned on them that there was a difference between virtual communication and a physical meeting. On Facebook, they sounded and looked special. Now, they were seeing eye to eye, they doubted if anything about them was special.

“Let’s go home and convene some other time,” Mandanda suggested.

“I think that’s a good idea,” Sokhna concurred. 

“I’ve got an idea,” Yetunde said.

“I’ve got an idea too,” Amaechi seconded.

“It’s good we all have ideas,” Wanyama added.   

The fact that they had ideas on what to do next was their first spark of hope and relief. But their ideas had rough edges – they were not on the same page on the way forward. They were ideas and thoughts that invaded their minds and made them wonder if people who considered themselves normal thought about such things. They were reluctant to volunteer more individual thoughts. They did not want to sound stupid, crazy, or insane. First impressions mattered a lot, and they knew that – their nature taught them that.

But they were intellectuals and professionals in their line of work. They had built wonderful careers with their geniuses and had helped communities grow with their expertise. Perhaps their ideas were not crazy or baseless, they thought. After all, they had achieved a great deal of feats with their weirdness. On the other hand, whatever they had achieved, they did it individually. 

They wondered what people would say when they discovered that there were five, or even more, of them in the city. They were not ready for such attention or publicity. They only wanted to, at least for now, meet each other and feel what it meant to have a family and to share a common space with people of the same kind.

Some of them resumed their pacing. Others leaned on the wall. They were deep in thought. After some more pacing and standing, they converged at the table, pushed the snacks and drinks aside, and began another round of conversation.    

“Let’s investigate how we came to be like this,” Mandanda began.

“It just dawned on me now,” Sokhna concurred.

“Good idea,” Yetunde smiled. “Who knows where it’ll lead?”

“Can’t wait for the results,” Wanyama said. “Let’s start right away.”

 “I’ll be glad to finance the investigation,” Amaechi added.  

——–

Mandanda raised his face from the dusty archival books and documents he had been perusing for almost four hours and yawned. He ran his hand over his head, caressing the small horn on it, as he looked out the window of the city library he had been researching his case for almost two weeks now. Before him, littered on the table were scientific and environmental reports, and other publications on the operations of the corporation in the last thirty years. He also had some classified reports and information he had bribed some staff of the corporation to obtain. 

His tasks were simple as they were complex. He was to extract as much information as possible from the documents and reports concerning how the operations of the corporation polluted the environment to the point it could adversely harm humans and other biological species.

The information he had obtained so far was looking good, but he needed to carry out some laboratory tests to ascertain the current state of the soil, vegetation, and water bodies around where the corporations had factories and mines.

As he stood up to pack the books in front of him, to go home, something dawned on him. It dawned on him to also conduct some tests on himself, on his comrades, and on some ‘normal’ people who would be willing to donate bodily samples, to further narrow his results.

He quickly placed a call to Wanyama to inform him about his most recent findings.

Wanyama was in a genetic laboratory sweating over the DNA images on his computer screen. In the last five days, he had barely left the laboratory. He had been busy analysing the DNA reports of plants and animals that inhabited the areas the corporation had mines and factories. 

What Mandanda just told him over the phone, he knew, would make his work more complex and time-consuming, but he liked the idea − the idea of extracting and analysing genetic reports and samples of him and his comrades, and those of some of the corporation’s workers few years before and after the comrades were born.

Exhausted, Wanyama stood up from his chair, bent his body to the right, to the left, and then slowly bent his upper body backward. Sliding his left hand through his back, he tenderly touched his small tail and took a deep breath. He sat down again, adjusting his tail for convenience.

Right then, a beep from his computer caught his attention. The results he had been expecting all day were staring him in the face. He double-checked to be sure of what he was seeing, and when he was sure, he quickly took his phone and called his comrades.

One hour later, they all convened in Wanyama’s office. 

“Guys,” Wanyama shouted. “This is both shocking and interesting.”

“This is not enough,” Yetunde sighed. “We need convincing evidence.”

“This means we have a good lead,” Mandanda said.

“Can’t wait to see how this will go,” Amaechi said. 

“So, what’s next?” Sokhna demanded.

Armed with the reports and findings of Mandanda and Wanyama, Sokhna locked herself in her office, pacing from one corner to the other. After a while, she stopped pacing, took a fifth look at the reports spread across her table, and took a deep breath. 

She was sweating in her laboratory coat, so she removed it, exposing her hairy hands. She rubbed her right hand over the left one and glanced at her wristwatch. In the last three days, she had been going through the reports. With each minute that passed, tiny sweets accumulated on her hairy face, which she shaved every three days.

Not long ago, she had called her doctor colleagues over the phone for some pieces of information on the report she was compiling. She sat down again, wiped some sweat from her face, and buried her face in the pool of documents in front of her.

A few minutes later, her computer beeped. It was an email from her colleagues containing the information she needed for her reports. She smiled and started printing the contents of the email.

Yetunde’s ringing phone woke her from her nap. It was dusk, and most of her colleagues had retired for the day. She cursed under her breath and angrily picked up the phone. When the call ended, she smiled, gently swinging herself on the rotatable chair.

She stood up, walked to the small library in her office, and pulled out the books she had marked for the task at hand. One by one, she arranged the books on the table, and some on the floor, and started typing on her computer. 

From the computer screen, the reflection of her three breasts reminded her that this should be her best job ever.  

She typed and typed into the night as Mandanda, Wanyama, and Sokhna bombarded her email with a plethora of documents she was struggling to keep up with. By midnight, she was only in her bra, fighting sleep and fatigue, but still sorting files, reading, and typing. By dawn, she was on the floor snoring, with more work left to do.

By the time Sokhna’s call woke Yetunde in the morning, some of her colleagues had already arrived for work. After answering the call, she dressed up and hurriedly left the office.   

Later that afternoon, they convened at Amaechi’s residence.

“I’m happy we’ve good evidence to pursue our case,” Yetunde said.

“Yes, yes,” Sokhna quipped. “But we need more.”

“More will come before the end of this week,” Wanyama announced. 

“The more the evidence, the angrier I am,” Amaechi frowned.

“I understand,” Mandanda said. “We all feel the same way too.”

When the others left, Amaechi stood beside his swimming pool smoking a cigarette. His doctor had severally warned him against smoking, but he kept quitting and starting all over again. He puffed out smoke from his mouth and nose and frowned at the protrusion in his pants. The two penises in there had always been a source of worry to him because seldom any woman stayed with him past their first sex together. His doctor said his chances of surviving surgery to remove one of the penises were very slim.

He puffed more smoke and watched his reflection in the pool. He did not like what he was seeing. He was a rich man. He knew his money could not make him normal − but justice, he believed, would make him feel good. 

——–

The high court, located in a reserved part of the city, was flooded with people to the extent the police and other security personnel were finding it difficult to control the crowd. The talk of the town was the class-action suit filed by the comrades against the corporation. Inside the courtroom, the press was having a field day, with their cameras focused on the five strange human beings they had not seen together under one roof.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” a television broadcaster at the scene shouted into the microphone. “The petitioners are special people with a special case.”

“Who really are these five people?” a radio woman quipped. “Stay tuned. You’ll soon find out.”

“This is a history-making case,” a court reporter said. “Let’s see how it plays out.”

The judge assigned to the case was a fifty-five-year-old woman who had a transgender child. Yetunde, the lawyer of the comrades, had specifically demanded the judge to be assigned the case through her law school boyfriend who was the clerk of the court.

   Scanning through the case files on her bench, the judge cleared her throat and asked the petitioners to state their case.

Yetunde stood up and stated their case. They were suing the corporation for its negligence, carelessness, unprofessionalism, and other activities that led to the pollution of the environment and harm to trees, animals, and human beings. She further stated that evidence would show that it was because of the accidents and radiation from the activities of the corporation that made them look the way they were. Part of their case included monetary compensation and punitive damage for the victims, dead or alive.

Three top executives of the corporation were seated behind their lawyers’ bench, frowning at the comrades.

“Damn sickos,” one of the executives fumed. “We gave their mothers jobs. Now, they are suing us.”

“Heard their lawyer has three boobs,” another tittered. “That makes the case scary.”

“This is not funny,” another said. “But, as usual, we’ll make the judge make it go away.”

The lawyers of the corporation were furious with the case. They described it as frivolous and lacking merit. They argued that the comrades were attention-seeking optimists who wanted financial gains from the corporation and public sympathy to feel good about themselves. They also argued that none of the comrades had ever worked for the corporation, and that if the reason they were the way they were was because their mothers worked for their client some three decades ago, why was it that children of other workers, as of the periods their mothers worked there, did look like them?  

The arguments continued for almost an hour. The noise and crowd outside were increasing by the minute. The judge had heard enough. She adjourned the case for the admittance of more evidence from the two warring parties.

Inside the courtroom, after most of the people had left, the comrades crowded at a corner, conversing.

“How did it go?” Amaechi asked.

“It went well,” Yetunde answered. “We’ve got a high chance of winning.”

“I know it,” Sokhna exclaimed. “I know it.”

“I’m relieved,” Mandanda said. “I almost cried during the session.”

“Let’s go, guys,” Wanyama led the way. “We’ve got a lot of work to do.”

As they exited the courtroom, the press and paparazzi followed and focused their cameras and microphone on them, but did not oblige. They just headed straight to their car.

The three executives of the corporation were outside too, discussing with their lawyers. Their eyes trailed the comrades as they drove out of the court premises.

“Bastards,” one of them scowled. “Heard one of them has two dicks.”

“Forget about dicks,” another interjected. “I’m afraid the case is not going well for us.”

“The judge,” the other intoned. “Buy the judge over, and we win.”

——–

For almost a year, the case raged on. Today was the final day for the ruling on the case. The court and its promises were packed with people. The press was flashing camera lights, sticking microphones in the mouths of people who cared to air their views on the case. LGBT groups and human rights organisations had their stands, with their posters and placards displaying words and images that did not speak well of the corporation. 

A section of the press had surrounded a spokesperson of the corporation, and all their gadgets were directed at him.

“This case is a jamboree,” the spokesperson smirked. “It’s frivolous. It lacks merit.”

When the leader of the LGBT group castigated the spokesperson for his comments, the press turned to the group. 

“We’re here for justice!” the leader of the group shouted, his comrades shouting along with him. “All the atrocities this goddamned company has committed will be met with justice.”

Inside the courtroom, the comrades were seated in their corner, with virtually all eyes on them. They wore the same colour of suits, smiling at themselves and at those who looked in their direction.

“We look good together,” Sokhna whispered.

“And smell even better,” Amaechi added.

“We’re celebrities now,” Wanyama smiled.

“What do you think the headlines will say?” Mandanda asked.

“Fellas, we’ve got a case to win first,” Yetunde interjected.

Representatives of the corporation were in the courtroom too, talking in low tunes. They were aware of the crowd outside, insulting and abusing them. The abuse did not start today. It started a week ago when the date of the final ruling on the case was announced. In the media, on the streets, and in the headquarters and major offices of the corporation, different groups had been demanding justice and retribution for the harm the corporation had caused them and the damage they had caused to the environment.

“Faggots and nincompoops,” one of the representatives fumed, staring out the window. “We make their lives meaningful. Now this?”

“We’re not here for this now,” another cautioned.

“The judge… You think he’ll look at our path?” another asked.

“We talked to him,” another answered. “Let’s be hopeful.”

For more than ten minutes now, the judge had been reading from her laptop computer, stealing cursory glances at the impatient people in front of her. Mindful of the crowd and noise outside, she increased in voice, tracing the words on the screen with her finger as she read them. Fifteen minutes later, she gave her judgment in favour of the comrades. 

The courtroom exploded with applause. The comrades hugged themselves and those who cared to hug them. Outside, the crowd had gone haywire.

“What the hell!” one of the corporation’s representatives groaned.

“I thought we got to the damn judge,” another fumed.

“We’ll appeal this nonsense,” another said.

“The hell we will,” another concurred.

As soon as the representatives stormed out of the courtroom, the press chased after them, but they ignored the press and drove off. 

The comrades were now outside, addressing the press and their well-wishers. Even with the noise and jubilations, they could still be heard.

“Today, we all made history,” Yetunde said. “This landmark victory against a heartless corporation is not just for us alone, but also for everyone out there who is like us and has been discriminated against for their queerness and body.”  

Quipped on what was next for them, they stared at themselves and smiled.

“To live our normal lives,” Amaechi answered. “And for the world to see and appreciate us for who we are.”

——–

Image: Public Domain Pixabay

Kingsley Alumona
Kingsley Alumona
Kingsley Alumona is a geologist, writer, poet, and journalist from Delta State, but lives in Ibadan, Oyo State, Nigeria. He has a B.Sc. in Geology from the University of Nigeria and an M.Sc. in Geophysics from the University of Ibadan. He is a reporter with the Nigerian Tribune newspaper. His works have appeared in the 2018 African Book Club Anthology, Kalahari Review, Nthanda Review, TUCK magazine, Brittle Paper, Afritondo, Digirature, Ngiga Review, Pawners Paper, Omenana (Issue 17), Transition Magazine (Issue 131), Afrocritik Magazine, and Botsotso Literary Journal. His nonfiction story is forthcoming in Fortunate Traveller Magazine. You can reach him on Facebook: @kingsley.alumona.1

3 COMMENTS

  1. Wow!
    First, it was the story telling technique and then it transcended into their stories and even the stories behind the stories.

    The fact none of them didn’t get a father to support them and their mothers dying due to the selfishness of others.

    The painful fact the five of them had to live with the visible secrets that distinguished them and yet we’re successfully in their fields.
    I’m happy justice was on their side.

    It was a wonderful read.

  2. I am not surprised by this magnificent piece that Mr. Alumona has here – his works has always been bright and beautiful

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