I stare at the message in disbelief, my guts churning and sour. Onye is already on the way? My fingers are trembling so much I can barely type the word. “How can this be? You don’t know where I am.”
“In the app. I found your location in the settings.”
I click the small cogwheel in the upper left. It shows my name on top and Onye’s full name just below. I hover the cursor over her name and a little box appears that says “outside Yaoundé, Cameroon”. I hover the mouse over my name and it says “outside Yerimaru, Nigeria”. I have never heard of Yerimaru, so I click on the little box and it opens a map site in a new browser window. It’s a site I’ve not found before, and it has more detail than I’m used to. I see Gembu down on the bottom right of the screen, and then a glowing blue circle in the center, just to the left of the word Yerimaru. The map shows a thin thread leading from just north of us down to Gembu, and I see this is the path of the old road, the one a few kayems from our gate that the scavengers follow to Gembu. The blue dot is me. I go back to the Mercury app and hover over Onye’s name and click on her box when it pops up, and I see her glowing blue circle about a half dozen kayems from the northwest outskirts of Yaoundé.
“Why are you doing this?” I ask her. “I told you not to come!”
“I want to meet you,” Onye replies.
“It’s too dangerous. You could be killed!” I type. The keys click under the force of my fingers.
“Binyelum, I am lonely. So lonely,” Onye says, after the circle spins for nearly two minutes. “I want to meet someone like me. Face to face.”
“I’m really worried about you.”
“Do not be worried. I told you, I can make it without any problem.”
Our back and forth lasts an hour, but Onye won’t be dissuaded. A stubborn girl, and supremely confident in her ability to reach me safely. I ask her how she is able to communicate with while traveling, and she tells me about a small cart made of stiff metal wire with hard plastic wheels. She’s mounted her suncell and laptop on it, and is bringing it with her. So, stubborn and smart. The more we talk, even as the anxiety chews at my brain, I like her. It makes me even more nervous for her.
And that’s was how it goes. We talk every morning for an hour before she continues her trip and every night for an hour before the batteries in our laptops go perilously low.
I tell her about our village and the people in it. She loves hearing about how we live and grow crops and raise babies together. I tell her about the gone-away world. It should have been a lot to digest, should have been too much, but she doesn’t seem shaken by it. She doesn’t seem shaken by anything. She’s been alone too long, doesn’t know anything else. Just determined to learn as much as she can about the world.
I tell her about my theory, as much as I think a child can take. She’s ravenous for it, and I end up telling her everything. I’ve never told anyone these thoughts. No one in the village would care. It’s the past, they would say. The why of the gone-away-world’s going away is of small use in trying to carve out a living future.
Onye Na-Acho Ihe Omuma cares. Seeker of knowledge indeed. So I tell her what I believe. I tell her my utmost fear. That the scorpion children didn’t come because of the war, from radiation and plague. They aren’t an unnatural mutation, they’re natural selection. Before the war, we turned our planet into a garbage dump. We killed oceans and polluted rivers, poisoned the air. The planet who wombed us was turning into a choking tomb. There were changes just before the war, efforts to turn things around. Too small and too late.
I believed the scorpion children born to human mothers were the next step of humanity. A step backward, some might say, toward violence and savagery. But I say perhaps a step forward, toward survival in the hell we created for ourselves. Armor and stingers and pincers and the ability to hibernate through dry seasons, thriving in the heat and blazing sun. Claws and incredible speed and teeth and toughness, at the expense of a step back in their understanding and empathy. Their…humanity.
Onye agrees with me, says it makes sense to her, although she thinks perhaps they are more intelligent than we believe. She says my theory answers so many questions about the world she found herself in, about the ruins of Yaoundé and the old technology she found, the tech that brought us together. It’s a validation I never expected, and my heart is full at the thought.
“Soon I will be there, friend Binyelum. Soon.” It’s how she closes every one of our talks. Her grammar and diction are improving with every exchange.
I track her progress on the map, watching her blue circle get closer every day.
Sixteen days later she’s here. It’s our evening conversation and her blue sphere hovers between the center of Gembu and Yerimaru. Eight kayem away, half a day’s journey at most.
And then she says “I would like you to come out and meet me.”
“I can’t,” I respond, shivering although the day is hot. “I never leave the walls. If you come to the gates I’ll meet you. My people will welcome you.” I hope, though I don’t say it aloud. I’m still worried the okenye might turn her away, but I think that if she actually makes it to us, this young girl who’s journeyed so long to find us, he’ll have to accept her. Another mouth to feed, perhaps. But Onye is young and smart and tough, to have made such a journey. She’d be an asset to the community, not a hindrance.
And there will finally be someone else like me, someone I can talk to. Working together, who knows what we can achieve?
“I do not want to come to your gates alone. I am afraid of your people.”
“They won’t harm you, I won’t let them! They’ll welcome you,” I replied.
“I would feel safer if came you to meet me. Then we could together go to your gates. Please Binyelum friend.”
Her word misplacements happen when she types quickly. She’s agitated. The green circle spins as she continued her message.
“Please. I am scared.”
I sigh, hugging myself. I’ve never gone beyond the safety of our walls. Other than the scavengers and scouts, few ever do. But there’ve been no sightings since the big monster Onochie killed, and if I meet her at midday when the heat of the sun sends the scorpions into torpor, it might be done.
For this girl, the only friend I’ve ever known. For Onye, I’ll do it.
“Okay,” I type. “How will I find you? I don’t have a cart like you.”
“Look on our map,” she responds. “See where the old road forks by your village? I will wait for you at the fork.”
I study the map. It isn’t far. Couple kayems at the most, nearly in view of our walls. I can do this. I can.
“Okay,” I type again. “I will meet you there at midday, when the sun is highest.”
“Do you promise?”
“Yes,” I force myself to reply.
“I will see you then,” Onye replies. “I cannot wait.”
I don’t respond, because now my fingers are trembling too much to type a coherent response. Instead I find myself on the wall, watching until the sun goes down, then listening. Listening so hard I give myself a headache. Straining for the rustling, the chittering, the clacking of pincers. Wondering if tomorrow I’ll finally meet my friend, or if we’ll meet only death.