by Nnedi Okorafor
“Bush Radio” is a retelling of a Nigerian story, and serves as the prologue to Nnedi Okorafor’s unpublished novel of the same name. When Chioma ventures to her parent’s native country to connect with her roots, she encounters more than she can imagine. Angry deities of the bush, the love of a tree-like albino man named Bem, the residues of ethnic, religious and gender warfare mixed with a touch of madness. Chioma’s scientific, structured life is shaken up beyond recognition. The question is, can she pull herself together and hear the urgent message being broadcast to her? Wrapped in a web of folktales and history, Bush Radio is an organic adventure into the memory and future of a haunted country.
Until lions have their own historians, tales of the hunt shall always glorify the hunter -(Igbo proverb)
Quiet girl, I need silence so I can weavetogether the story you want to hear. Sit still. Just listen. You wanted to know about her, so be good and don’t get on my nerves. Good things never come without discipline. Good, good, I knew you had it in you. And so I’ll begin.
Idemili was the only female born to Chukwu and Ala. She was well known for her hard-headedness and independence, “male” qualities that she adopted and imitated from her five older brothers. Idemili didn’t care much about reputation and tradition. She was too busy reveling in mischief and causing childish trouble. It was more fun that way.
Existence was good for Idemili. People revered her with love and dedication and in return she lavished them with lush bountiful crops and made sure the stream ran with water so sweet people came from miles away to fill their calabashes. Idemili’s people built her shrine on a hill close to the sweet gurgling stream. One of Idemili’s favorite pastimes was to appear as one or three mermaids. People visiting from other villagers would run back to the locals swearing they’d seen a woman-fish frolicking in the stream. They claimed that she’d splashed them with water, giggled and disappeared back into the water. Most of the locals would just laugh, a knowing gleam in their eye.
Idemili often visited villagers, mainly women, though often young boys. She’d appear as a dove, her favorite bird, or a bug-eyed tree frog during rainy season. Other times she’d appear as a light mist and just hang around observing and dampening the wrinkles out of people’s clothes. The villagers were never scared, they were used to her presence in their huts. The only individuals who feared her were those men who’d heavily laid their hands on their women. Few doubted the rumors of men waking up with their penises missing after shaking a mysterious woman’s hand, or of a man covered from head to toe with purple bruises by the hand of his tiny but enraged wife.
One century, the bushes began to sway and the ground began to undulate. The forest flourished with wild sweet smelling pink flowers, vines, and ferns sensitive to touch. Palm trees bore heavy fruit and grew farther into the sky than people had ever seen. Other trees became thick and gnarled, twisting upward. Bush fowl babbled happily to themselves easily finding thick bushes to lay their eggs in. Monkeys played in the treetops. The jungle was breathing. That was the century that Adu came trundling from the depths of the jungle.
No one really knew where he came from. But before they knew it, Idemili had fallen in love with Adu’s wildness. But her arrogance made her shy away from him. When the flowers bloomed, the skies remained clear. When the trees grew thirsty, the stream’s water level dropped.
When the jungle began to thrive again, there was only one explanation: Adu had fallen in love with Idemili, and Idemili had finally accepted him. Their coupling weighed tree branches down with plump doves and the mangrove trees standing in the stream seemed to wade into the water on their waterlogged legs. Once again the jungle sang with life, to the villagers’ delight. Worshippers of Idemili began to make offerings to Adu. Life was good in the village. Food was abundant and people were happy, as were the local entities and spirits.
Idemili’s only annoyance was the people’s perception of her relationship with Adu. She couldn’t understand why in their stories they described Adu as her ‘dominator,’ for they were about the same age, had the same power. At times he tried to dominate her, like when he created the flowers that collected gallons of water and could survive even during drought. Or the animals with furry hides that swam the stream with the ease of fish. But Adu never succeeded.
Plants and wildlife needed water, even those flowers would need it sooner or later after their collected water was all dried up. And the furry beast could be swept into the deep waters of the stream with one big wave. But what was a stream without trees to drink its water, water bugs and fish to swim within its depths, beasts to bathe in it? What was rain without trees and bushes to appreciate it? The two needed each other to be happy.
Over decades, aside from turning Adu into Idemili’s dominator, a few men in some places even decided to turn Idemili into a male being. Others fractured her into many less powerful feminine entities, all the wives of Adu. This enraged Idemili. She was not male, she was female! And there was only one of her! And Adu was her lover.
Adu suspected that this was a sign of something bad approaching. He warned her that it was coming from across the waters, but Idemili only laughed. The villagers would come to their senses in time, she said. That bad thing Adu spoke of turned out to be the color of the flesh of unripe paw paw.
The Pink Way. Its hold was so strong that both Idemili and Adu were driven far into the jungle. This was the beginning of the decline. The number of villagers visiting the shrine began to dwindle. Idemili often found herself waiting inside the statue of her shrine for days before anyone showed up. The shrine still stood on its hill but it was deserted. Idemili and Adu had lost their people.
Over time, the two became ripe with rage. The stream turned from sweet and clear to brown and filmy, smelling of rotten eggs. Flowers stopped blooming in their usual clockwork fashion. Adu made little effort to preserve the shrinking jungles. He’d let the villagers wallow in their own destruction. As the jungle continued to shrink, it brought them close to the people again, but Idemili didn’t want anything to do with most of those she saw. Yet a bit of compassion still was in her heart. A few times, she’d come to the rescue of villagers in trouble. She helped the man lost in the forest and the child drowning in the stream.
Adu’s disgust was deeper. The locals held their crosses to their chests with too much vehemence. It was as if they had never known anything else. And the blank look in their eyes disgusted him. He had always had a very short-term memory and over the centuries, he could no longer remember where he came from. These people and Idemili were his only family. Sometimes trees would bloom huge flowers and then even fatter fruit. And when the villagers would pick them, they would explode, spattering the villagers with the worm infested meat of the fruit.
Vines wrapped themselves overnight so tightly around huts that its dwellers couldn’t get out. When both entities were especially angry, their powers would intertwine. The stream would flood, rain would fall for days during dry season, trees would fall on houses, and the village would be croaking with frogs all night and covered with dove droppings. But the villagers only prayed harder to the pink god. The mermaid became something to be feared. A monstrous creature that would disembowel any human that stepped into the water. Evil. Some people grew afraid of the stream itself.
The flushed people of the pink religion would preach and preach, saying that their cruel pink god was punishing them for their sins and that they had to get on their dirty knees and pray for forgiveness and give away all their valuables. Idemili and Adu, though angry, could not completely give up. If they saw potential in someone, they would try to feed and teach that someone, child, man or woman. But all of these folks were either killed or driven from the village in shame where they’d revoke their love for Idemili or Adu.
It was a sad existence for such powerful entities. Hang around deep in the forest and you can eat the fruits filled with Adu’s sadness. Stand too close to Idemili’s shrine statue and you’ll feel her scorching anger, even to this day. Her shrine is the radio of the bush.
One day it will be loud enough that all we will be forced to listen.
Nnedi Okorafor is a writer and journalist. She recently won third place in the Hurston/Wright Awards for her story Amphibious Green. She also received honorable mention in The Year’s Best Fantasy & Horror (14th Ed) for her short story The Palm Tree Bandit. Her short story “Windseeker” was also one of three finalists in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest.
Okorafor’s short stories have appeared in the following literary journals: the Women’s International Network Magazine, the Margin Anthology of Magical Realism, The Witching Hour Anthology, and Strange Horizons. She received her bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, and her journalism master’s degree from Michigan State University. She is currently working on her master’s degree in English at the University of Illinois, Chicago. Learn more at Nnedi’s Web Site (www2.uic.edu/~nokora1)