7920 words, novelette
Eclipse our Sins
I pray to You, Mother Earth, Mama Earth, Mmê Earth:
Sun, hide your eye, eclipse your birth from our sins.
When Climate Change came,
It tore into Your womb, Mama Earth, sodomized it
—and we watched.
We stood and watched You, Mama, crying.
Still we didn’t listen:
We were the wildfires
The sky’s mouth was wrapped around smokestacks and tailpipes,
muzzled, Your lip hog-tied around that foul,
folding the poison into Your lung,
burying it into Your oceans, making fire of soft bodies, perfumed in oil.
We slit Your womb to throw out the children who lay in Your bellies across nations,
distances they sacrificed,
as if Mama Earth is not their own,
Claiming the crime as many names like xenoph—I don’t want to say it.
Reality evolved to punish us for it was us who solicited climate change as Your murderer:
We have sin-fever
Your oceans swallowed continents.
What was once a relic, is our savior.
We can’t rely on technology when it relies
on electricity wi-fi fossil fuels that are no more.
A relic relies on nothing but itself.
Our souls were the only things we could rely on; from solar energy to soular power.
We had no other hope but to use them to light the streets and
our homes to give warmth in the long, rainy heat wave-winters.
Soon our actions, our thoughts became our enemies.
Mama Earth, we heed Your warnings, forgive us, forgive us for our sins.
The morning prayers ended, and we dispersed from the heat wave of the mosques the churches and tents in our respirators and cooling suits and the skyscrapers that raised their fingers to God’s eyes. Maybe one day Mama Earth will hear our prayers, maybe one day She will forgive us, and maybe She’ll set Her hound dogs—reality and the new culture—off from our bloodline.
It starts like always, a burning soul, a still sky, a quiet universe. A white rooster croaks, a death has been foretold. A quinquennial affair. The earth moans under our breath.
It is dusk. The sun is menstruating, smearing a rosy tinge across the bleak industrial skyline. It has teeth. Teeth to catch. Teeth of metal and jagged glass. Nothing homelike about this city. The smoggy vapor of every citizen’s breath obscures the soular-powered streetlights. I gaze out our cinderblock apartment windows at the masked commuters below in the streetways unable to tell who’s human, who’s not. Every machine’s gait is seamless, the joints oiled with the occult of the upper-city citizen’s desire and our rigged poverty. In the misty-sandstorm-laden morning, I watch some of the commuter’s smog-voices and smog-words rise into the air, like round shiny balloons, turning the skies rowdy and gray, tearing open the ozone layer. Even the poorest don’t have access to at least one basic human right: a respirator.
I lean against the window. Huff my breath until the glass fogs, and with my index finger, I draw the words “freedom is extinct.” My breath is smog. The window clears. I replace my mask, listen to the intermittent buzz-buzz sound of the breath purifier, the air purifier in our household, a secondary precaution in case the former fails. Every apartment window is a widow, staring back with lack of want and light, carved too deep into the façade to protect tenants from the penetrating hot eye of the sun, its fingers always hot and abrasive. We know it too well, for it probes our thighs, molests the unknown parts of ourselves.
It is morning, burning with too much sun. But in the other room, a darkness segues into a deeper dark, the air humid with a breath laden with too much evil that our masks rust by the second. Mama is in death throes with an immense force we can’t see, but we can see the slashes it leaves on her arms, back, and legs. It wants to silence her. But her voice has been to God and back, nothing can stand in its way. Even the shaman takes his shit and leaves, his shame tucked in between his legs.
“Fuck,” I yell, grabbing him. “You can’t do this! You can’t just leave. We paid you. We paid you.”
He lifts his palms. “Sorry, sisi. You paid me for the work, not its success rate.”
“What kind of bastard are you?” I shout. “Save her. You can’t just leave her like this.” My glare turns to Mama, her skin wet with sweat, exhaustion an axe in her mouth.
“I’m not God.” The shaman struggles with me by the doorway. “You can’t force me to be God.” My grip is viselike, so he snarls at me. “Aren’t you the hypocrite? How can you force a stranger to be her savior when you couldn’t live up to the task, yet she got you, birthed you for that reason? So you save her. You can’t just leave her like this.”
“Don’t talk about my birthright.” But my voice is weak, not as poisonous as my anger.
“Fong-kong human,” he spits, and the words wash over me like acid.
“I swear this is going to come back and haunt you, like all these diseases,” I say, my voice wet with pain. He pauses at this; for, an unfair treatment begets the owner a fatal disease. “Isn’t that how your wife died? She was racist, wasn’t she? She maltreated someone because of their skin-shade. The disease got her. It’ll get you, you fucking swindler.”
He falls to his knees, misery torn across his face. “I can’t be God. I can’t save everyone.”
My sister’s tiny arms wrap around my waist; her lisp weepy. “Tsholofelo, no, please, we’re burning up the minutes we have with Mama. Just let him go. Let him go.”
My grip slackens. The shaman shuffles and disappears out the front door.
Mama’s giving birth to death; 13 hours so far of labor. Our uncle, he stands in the bedroom threshold, the daylight from the other room sharp against his back, promising to bring a hopeful help. That bastard man. From the nook, where each of our melanin hangs, my uncle yanks his skin-color coat, throws it over his shoulders, it ties to his bone, taut as ours, black as ours. He wears our skin color, but he’s not like us.
“I’ll be back,” he says gruffly.
My sister, Botshelo, nods politely. My head refuses to move, but my palms fold into rage. The coat belonged to my brother who lost the war to this family. My uncle wears it proudly as if he faced the war. Bastard. He has a slew of habits, terrible habits. My uncle, his terrible habits have become the sewage of our city.
Mama screams again. So I have to pin her down from breaking more bones. And I remember how it started. When she returned from work two weeks ago. I’d visit her at work, bringing her lunch I’d cooked. I’d watch her as she sat in her factory chair with knotted fingers, her illness weaving the time-holes, the laptops, the eye-held for the rich, the bones in her back screaming out of her skin. Her skin was too tight to hold anything. I stare out her bedroom window at the shock of sun’s glare, refusing to enter. I stare at the miles of the city, sprawled out. The city rests on tribal land in a metallic voice devoid of adobe sultry notes. Architecture is a refugee of this torn world, unable to run, its feet frozen to the ground. The city has teeth, and it devours the land with its politics and materialistic gluttony. Its devoured its way through nearby villages, upheaving homes for “better” franchised architecture. It’s not urban sprawl, its rural devouring; sharp glamorized buildings glooming above shacks and poverty. We, the city, stand in the tribal land of Kang.
The country is the city, and it’s devouring its way into my mother’s body.
Mama’s back cranes as she screams. Her teeth gnash, a few topple to the ground. I collect them quickly, shake them like dice for a miracle, and put them in the jar, place it on the shelf next to my great-great-grandmother’s. Mama refuses to die. Not yet. “Please, Mama,” I cry. “Please.”
Her skin sizzles with boils, her scream penetrates everything, like steel boring into my bones. Something beyond us harbors in the air. Botshelo foolishly tries to plead with this thing.
“Please, we’ll give you anything,” she cries, spinning around, unseeing. She’s naïve. She doesn’t know that to give is to sacrifice soul-blood. I cup my hand around her mouth.
“To live is evil,” something in the air says; maybe the air is not an accomplice, maybe it’s the victim to the voice-holder that hides itself in its folds, camouflaging itself to taunt and haunt us. But that voice came when we hurt the earth; now Mmê Earth hurts us in turn. In our tribal land, the human soul is tied to the land; what hurts the land hurts the soul. I listen to the burrowing screams, seismic, of mama’s cries as she gives birth to death, fighting it too. Trauma punches a hole into our family’s time—time-hole—because he left, my father.
“To save someone, it is better to kill them,” the voice in the air says.
But why, why why why?
This urban sprawl continues to eat into Mama’s blood, bones, her mind, destroying the culture that once disseminated in her bloodline. The still night is mixed with the sound of rattle-shakers, like cicadas imprisoned in beads, singing into a heated crescendo. The mourning voices of the choirs, a funeral song, as they beat their palms and thrust their illegal unfiltered breaths into the balmy air. The treetops inhale the wind, tossing it back and forth, collecting sin-dust and disposing it into our mask-less faces.
Mama bleeds and screams, breaking bones that recalibrate themselves. “Someone is killing our land. Someone is our enemy. Someone in our midst hides in our color. Catch them! Catch them; if your land dies, you die.”
Those were the last words as Mama fought death, a death that tried to silence her, but her voice rose higher than any flesh, a bigger purpose than us. Her voice, her words are immortal, lived longer than the people who thought killing her would stop her entirely. But she lives in those words and many more:
“Only non-sinners cast stones,” Mama used to say, “which is why I cast my voice to you.”
“But how do I cast my voice when it was stolen from me?” I’d ask her.
My world ended on my mother’s tongue. She was the only one whose voice wasn’t a murderer. Mama wasn’t a believer, but she survived on her beliefs for a while. “Nana, I will only believe what I see,” Mama used to whisper as she kneaded bread, “therefore all these superstitions are just make-belief hallucinogenic kak that people like to eat.” Kak; crap, shit. We covered her corpse to prepare for her burial, but hours later we found it twisted; the apartment yanked the voice box from her throat, and days on end, the apartment whistled a hazy dark into the folds in between our legs. I hate this apartment. I hate this architecture.
I don’t know why she had to test reality like that. Now she’s dead. She’s left us alone. And I wonder if she became a believer when she saw what was happening to her. Sometimes faith keeps you alive, but sometimes it kills you. So I hardly hold on to things or people. There are those before us who have sinned more than we have sinned, but they enjoyed the mercy of Mmê Earth, unlike us today.
Our sinful habits are the cause of everything that’s happening in our city—every action must birth a more powerful insidious reaction. Our sins are here to reap our sorrows into our corpses.
Mama’s gone and we are without her protection. We are demons; we can’t be exorcised.
Each week, on a Sunday, we rose early, went to church, sang hymns, waited for the priest to slap our heads desperately trying to extract the demons in our bodies. We’d return in our Sunday church-anointed bodies, and in dark rooms and secret-encased closets, we’d remove our skull-covering, clean the sticky residue of toxic thoughts. Sometimes we’d lick them, gluey and chewy, push them down our throat, wondering how something sweet and delectable was a danger to the environment.
I pray to You, Mother Earth, Mama Earth, Mmê Earth:
Sun, hide your eye, eclipse your birth from our sins.
Earth’s hands taste like smoke and suicide.
We held our unborn,
lay open beneath the cirrus veils of sky,
catching sunlit stars without knowing the death we salt their throat with—
our babies, their eager lungs slurping, thinking all is oxygen, all is milk.
In the mornings, we pray.
Because of infertility from this global war,
men have taken children from the streets, to have their children.
It’s sick; Sun, hide your eye, eclipse your birth.
My bed is a comforting grave at times. The night is still, sleep is a villain, taunting me to lull in its quietude waters. Death is a silent walker. I am drowning in a room full of oxygen. Oh, dear God, no, has the sickness come to get me? Has Mama Earth’s hounds come for me?
I don’t want to die like my brother, Itumeleng. Mmê Earth was angry. Her tides were high, her labors strong. She was purging a group of them one by one by their sins. By their lack of consideration for the other. The natives who looted the foreigner’s businesses, burning them down, beating them up—they were found walking about like ghosts, in incomprehensible chatter. My brother, Itumeleng, was one of them. We pulled him home. Several days later, he died. His xenophobic predilection killed him. Sin-fever is fatal.
But no, I am not sick. Something else must be the problem. A loud siren flares in the darkness, my bedroom, supported by intermittent flashes of a warning red light. My respirator screeches into the midnight hour, wailing. I sit up, pinwheeling; my lungs burn with pain as I gulp for the excruciating unfiltered air that scrapes its way through my nostrils, frying my alveoli. The respirator continues to cry, clamped to my nose and mouth, a gaudy beast, unlike the sleek expensive models that my friends have. It has a chute leading into my esophagus as thick as a python that swells and assesses the safety of food that enters my body. Tonight, it gags me.
Warning! Replace your respirator immediately. I need to change it. Warning! Pollutants rife in the air, in the city: carbon emission, racism, oil spills, sexism, deforestation, misogynism, xenophobia, murder . . . I’m not the only one screaming in our neighborhood tonight. Someone is dying because of a simple skull-escaped thought, and as they exhale their smog-breath into the air it contaminates us all. We hurt the earth, and so shall we hurt each other.
I fall onto the floor, banging my fists, trying to reach for mercy, gulping for air, but choking from its excruciating asphyxiation. I yank open my side table drawers desperately looking for another respirator as I would a sanitary pad when I leaked onto the bed. Dear God, I don’t want to die, not today, please, I’m only eighteen years old. Please, God. I’m hiccupping and sobbing, desperately pleading to God that I hope I didn’t forget to at least leave one spare respirator. Several rustic ones sit aside for return-and-exchange purposes.
As I rummage, the glinting eye of a respirator calls my attention as my bedroom’s soul-light licks its reflective surface. I yank the current respirator off my face, and it swivels to the ground, the chute covered in mucus as I choke out stomach-sac produce. Sin-dust quickly steals entry into my nostrils, making me sneeze and cough. I slowly dangle the new respirator’s chute like a spaghetti string into my mouth, and slowly slide it down my esophagus, and to avoid a gag reflex I attempt to do this with ease as I’m dying; it is a skilled art I learned the hard way.
Eventually, the mouthpiece fits snugly into my mouth and nose. A green glow fills my face, the new respirator hums gladly, filtering the air that enters smoothly and cleanly into my body. Fresh air is as rare as a non-manufactured human being. Respirator installed into the body successfully! I made it in 2 minutes 39 seconds, but the poisonous, unfiltered oxygen slimes the surfaces of my lung sacs, deteriorating them further.
I fold into the floor, tears dampening my face, panic gripping me. The soul-lights in our home flicker. As renewable as they are, the bandwidth of our souls is bone-thin, in need of being replenished. Darkness will fall soon. Life, for the generations before us, used to be easier, air floating around their bodies, easy to inhale, easy to exhale. Mmê Earth, You used to be so healthy for us . . . until we destroyed You. I understand now why You want to purge us from Your womb. But it is unfair. How come we are the ones to suffer for the before-generation’s desires that smoked our future? I hate them. I hate them all. And now this is who I have become; I sinned by breathing more pollution into Mother Earth’s belly. Nonetheless, I must show gratitude to Mother Earth, God, and the Universe. I prostrate, take a deep breath, glad and desperate for clean air.
My respirators last only a month each. This is my last one. I need to buy a new one, tampons, period-pain medication, anti-depressant medication, food, water—these are all necessary things that I can’t do without. Maybe I can do without food for a bit, but with my anemia, I need some iron at least. All my uncle has to worry about is food, Chibuku, and porn. Normally, Mama was the only one who’d remind us to change our respirator the day before they expired, or when we needed to buy more food supplies. These are the holes in our families, the holes we must survive with. Even now, I can’t maintain the tasks she managed. How did she even manage our water harvest, for when we open our taps, the droplets grip to the metal mouth, refusing to release; how did she ration and stretch our food storage for months long?
When Mama died, I had to become a mother to people and grown-ass men I didn’t even give birth to. I only care for my sister. But my bones are tired, they want a rest I’m too afraid to give.
Every girl-child is given one of three roles: warriorship, housewifery, birther of death. My sister is neither, so she is considered useless. It’s only been years since my mother died, but it feels just like yesterday. The time-hole initiates the memory every month. We can’t run away from it. My cousin is rattling through the house, carrying away dust and sin, which coagulates to the upper-roof of the soul-blood, slick and sticky. She came when the time-hole reported my mother’s funeral to every family member. Everyone is here. She keeps bustling about every room. I want silence and shadows.
A low frequency forces itself into our ears, a burning signal, Morse code. The disparate breathing of the earth, its belly. By rote, I rise. Unfold my skin-coat; it ages slowly. I pick my thought-dial, it refuses to connect. Our soul’s bandwidth isn’t strong enough to carry our message, it needs funds, and maybe in many lightyears, someone will hear our story light the sky. Communication and commerce have merged with our bodies, tore its way into our minds with no need of access codes and passwords. It needs our bodies more than we need it. When we were young, Mama used to chide my sister, Botshelo. Botshelo thought of every unforeseeable bad thing. The divorces in our family. Men who weren’t supposed to touch girl-child nieces a certain way. Affairs that clung to the dark in the closets. And every time Botshelo woke up, she wondered if the city had shat her out yet, had purged her yet. She’d see me and hope ceased to light her eyes, so she’d lie back hoping one day that she’d actually die.
As I enter my sister’s room, her soul-light flickers as my shadow stomps on it. Her sickness is a gauzy yellow veil in the bedroom. Soon I swallow its acrid taste, bitterer than bile. On the other side of the house, I hear her thought-dial ringing, endless, the hour hanging fruitlessly on the limb of the only technology that connects us. She hardly opens her mouth. But her thoughts always crowd me in the kitchen as I knead bread, hoping to deep-fry magwinya for us. And now, whoever is calling us is impinging on our thought-dial’s bandwidth—we bought two to share five winters ago; we may as well share the same skull. I feel Mama Earth’s force clench around my body, and I do a quick prayer, I will police my own thoughts before they’re skull-born, before You feel their whisper bend Your bones. It’s a hard thing. Our bodies are no longer the refuge of our souls. The flesh soul-holders are grief-stricken.
Botshelo sits in the dim light, her feet dusty with not-belonging as she ropes sectioned parts of her Afro in wool. For days she looks like this, a medusa with maphondo-styled hair. Her time-hole is rusted and old and hangs next to the rain-wet umbrella by the door. That’s how I remembered that tornado day. The mud footsteps that led to her bedroom. The miasma of her sickness and sweat that hung humid-thick in the air first notified us she was sick, but she wouldn’t tell us why. That’s how I remember my sister. Her time-hole, a metal thing that stored everything about us: biometric data, digital life, AI assistant, bank accounts, medical aid info—everything, yet it wouldn’t tell us what she did.
I pull aside Botshelo’s tattered curtains, and a bird, something rare in our city, sits on the windowsill pecking at our window.
Botshelo sits up from her bed, joy brightening her eyes. “Death’s coming,” she says, staring at the bird. “It’s knocking on our window. My window.”
“That’s not a good sign,” I say, sighing. I knock my fist against the window. The bird throws itself into the air, flapping its wings.
My sister crosses her arms, a sour twist to her lips. “Why won’t the doctors just kill me if they won’t save me?”
“You know why they can’t kill you,” I say, crying. “The city still needs your body connected to the grid. How else can they connect to your soul?”
Our souls light up the riches’ avenues and streets we can’t even call home.
“Now, here, it’s time to go for your meds,” I say, dragging out her wheelchair from the closet.
She pushes herself into her pillows, sulking. “Please, tomorrow. I hate that place.” She raises her pinkie. “I promise I’ll be more agreeable tomorrow.”
“It’s the only way they’ll let us live here,” I say, folding the wheelchair back.
“But this was our grandmother’s home. It’s our home,” she cries.
I walk toward the bed, wrap my arm around her. “Things will work out, let’s just be a bit more patient.”
“People used to live longer than this,” she whispers. “Sisi, we expire so fast, but why us? Why not those who had the chance to enjoy Mmê Earth? Why are we living in their shit?”
I hold my head in fear of it snapping off my neck. So, like always, my sister counts my fingers hoping that they stay even.
“I shouldn’t have sold my eggs,” she whispers, “to the manufactures. Look at all those abnormal manufactured humans. Yes, they live longer, they’re resilient, but still, we’re still humans, we matter as well. I shouldn’t have signed up for the experiments to save this family—look at me now, they destroyed my body. When it wasn’t satisfactory for them, they fired me, took me off their payroll. They don’t even give a fuck about me.”
“You were gone for years,” I whisper, “what exactly happened?”
She realizes now the acerbic rise of the past, existing in this little room of ours, burning her tongue. Realizes how she never spoke of her experience. Realizes how her discomfort triggers the trauma. I watch her, silently calculating, sifting through her thoughts, editing them then throwing them away because neither one sounds good.
She pulls her knees to her chest, peers at me through her thick eyelashes. “Why am I the one who’s ashamed when it should be them who’s ashamed?” It surprises me, this response of hers, the light sharpening her pupils to a dark pinpoint in her brown eyes.
“What did they do to you?” I ask.
“There are many of them out there.” She rests her chin on her knees. “I don’t know how many. I’m going to die without knowing how many . . . ” She hiccups. A sob. A tear streams down her cheek.
“How many what?” I ask.
Her grip tightens around her knees, her shoulders clench forward, as if gripping onto her secret. Maybe she realizes that she doesn’t have long to live, maybe that’s why she’s slowly opening up to me every day.
I catch her teardrops and massage her shoulder. “How many what?” I ask softly.
“My . . . ” She sighs, digs her head into her knees, then in a muffled voice, whispers. “My children. The manufactured ones.”
No one in our family likes her mouth except me. They’d gagged her with soap once. She woke up to find him with his arm down her throat, soapy and acrid. She couldn’t even scream. His thought-dial, unlike ours, was portable. He was authorized by the family to do that. Their reputation was more important. Perhaps, at a microclimate level that’s how it started—accumulated from every family, from every district, from every nation to the whole continent until it overwhelmed Her, Mmê Earth. So when my sister tells me she has children, I think it’s just her typical mouth speaking silly stuff.
“The plan behind the experiments was to migrate the upper-class citizens into a more resilient body that can withstand our climate,” she whispers. “They’ve already paid body rentals and purchases of the manufactured bodies.”
My respirator makes a hoarse noise, then I realize it’s me gasping, choking. I clasp my hand to the respirator, as if it’s in the way of my breathing. It’s the shock, filling my bloodstream with adrenaline. Is this what Mama meant? Someone is killing our land. Someone is our enemy. Someone in our midst hides in our color. Catch them! Catch them; if your land dies, you die.
Our land is our bodies.
I’m supposed to love my sister, to care for her, but each time I look at her, I feel this grudge, its furnace burning in my body. I stare at her as if she’s holding a knife to my back. I could be next. I could be Mama. I grip her shoulders, my sudden movement stunning her. “Why is She doing this to you?” I ask. “What did you do to Her?”
“To who?” she shrieks.
“Mama Earth!” I yell. “What did you do to turn Her against our family. Are you telling the truth? I ask. “Is this why you’re re-sick? You only become sick when you’ve sinned against Mama Earth.”
“I became part of their experiments, part of their sins, and yes, I may have sinned.”
“What did you to Her?”
She clasps her ears with hands.
“Please don’t be ashamed,” I say. “Just tell me.”
“Everyone sins against each other thinking they’re going to live forever, thinking they can trick Her. You can’t. Sin leads to death.”
“You’re the only one sick in our family,” I say.
“Even malome is sick,” she yells. Malome; uncle. “He thinks I don’t hear him at night, creeping through our passage into the toilet, vomiting every night, his diarrhea filling the toilet bowl, him wearing heavy garments in this heat wave. He’s trying to hide the rash from the sin-fever.” Her eyes turn deadly on me. “Soon you’ll fall sick.”
There are secrets in our family. Terrible secrets that lie on our skin like rash. The rage in me burns. I stare at the blatant, gaudy sickness clinging like a batshit lover to her skin. The rash. The boils. The scathing lies. What did you do to become like this? Are you still my sister? Why do you cling to your secret like this disease clings to your bones? What pollution did you impose into the environment that it turned on you? Did you burn down someone’s house? Did you talk down to someone because of their religion? Did you kill someone? Mother Earth no longer stands for such pollutants anymore. I ask these questions only to myself because she won’t say. Who are you? I hate that there’s a part of her that I don’t know. Mama Earth knows all our secrets, Her and God and the Universe, and They will not let us live freely with them.
“Haven’t you learned anything from Itumeleng?” I ask her, reminding her of the family fable, the death of our brother.
A family fable:
The only reason someone becomes sick is because they sinned, did something terrible. Last summer when the sun was boiling the air, my brother was one of many behind the xenophobic attacks on foreigners’ businesses—looting, burning, killing. The next morning as I made breakfast for the family, he sat in the middle seat as usual. He tried to eat the bread. He tried to drink the coffee. But his mouth was skew, and everything slipped out. The next morning, his mouth was slack, teeth unhinged. He had a knife. Scratched at his skin.
He was allergic to his skin.
He scraped it down to white flesh that was just as quickly flooded with bright-red blood. He became allergic to himself. The only cure was death. Mama Earth was trying to purge him as he tried to purge the outsiders; but not as quickly as he snuffed them. She did it slowly and painstakingly so that perhaps remorse diluted his rage. Only good and God and Allah or whoever holy you believe in will exist. All evil will be extracted out like a bad molar from Mama Earth’s mouth. The rest, She will purge unto death. The racism and exclusion too, hit back like a bad wave of locusts, harbingers, a pandemic of encephalitis. The population was low. They tried to manufacture new people who’d be more resilient to this new climate.
Tomorrow is looking for Future
We still continue to sin. I have been out, looking for a second piece-job; it’s been a failure. I am brilliant, I am smart, I am talented—I know that, but I lack the privilege and wealth to get into “somewhere, somewhere.” Every department’s response: “We are looking for someone with mass appeal,” they say, every snow-white strand pulled tautly from their scalps. “Your work, your body is not a fit for our list . . . unless you are interested in signing up for our experiments.”
I was desperate, but not that desperate. Look at what they did to my sister’s body, and I still have to take her to them for meds. But I didn’t want to be blacklisted for my attitude, so I bowed my head, smiled, and thanked them for their consideration. When I stepped outside, I couldn’t breathe. I was filled with a burning panic at the truth: there are walls built around me. I can’t see them, but I can feel how they suck at the air around me leaving me unable to breathe. All the things they want me to censor about myself will eventually censor my existence in their eyes; from this, as Mother Earth has dictated, they will die. But they don’t believe in this “superstition” like Mama didn’t. And now she sleeps in a grave.
On the way home, I tried contacting my sister, but she was not responding to my thought-dial, so I had to storm up the dirt-stirred concrete stairs. She’s probably with her boyfriend. Lung-borne pollutants proliferate the air, obscuring the hallway’s path. I bang on an apartment door—her boyfriend’s. I bang it again. He, the boyfriend, yanks it open. Climate change has made a home in the marrow of their bones. His studio apartment contains doctored air hyped with amphetamines, secondary meth-smoke.
The lady downstairs selling gene-hacked vegetables told me that she heard from a neighbor that my sister and her boyfriend stoned a young couple a few days ago.
I refused to believe her. “They’re not violent people,” I tried to tell her. “No, not my sister.”
“They called the couple terrible words, said they’re sick, yet your sister and her boyfriend are the sick ones. What fucker does that to another human being? Bashes their head in because of their love?” she’d asked. “They’re sick, I tell you. Demented.”
Then the old woman hobbled to her workstation to pick up her thought-dial and sent me the image that was circulating through many thought-dials. The couple, two young girls in love, lying huddled in the street. My sister and her boyfriend, their hands bloody, their eyes rabid and fierce.
I staggered backward. “This is not my sister, no, she’s—she’s not capable of this.”
“You’re so foolish with your faith in your sister,” she’d said.
I want to rid our city of this pollutant that continues to destroy our world. This pollutant that infests my sister’s body. If my sister dies from sin-fever—no, I can’t watch her die so that the world continues to live. She is my world more than this Earth is. It’s not her fault—but this is her, hurting another human being, for what reason?
“My sister, she’s only fourteen,” I whispered. “She’s just a kid. He’s twenty-three.”
“Dating a kid. Perhaps that’s why he’s doubly sick.” The old woman grabbed her thought-dial back. “The police don’t need to lift a finger,” she said, “Mama Earth will sort these criminals out. They deserve what’s coming to them.”
Actions and thoughts lead to real sickness. Stoning someone can give you a disease worse than cancer. And I see it now, what Mama Earth is doing to them, the encephalitis sickness of their consequences, gripping to their sharp cheekbones, as they limp around the small apartment, looking puny and pitiful. A cackle of thunder as if Mama Earth laughs over this. My sister’s boyfriend is shaky, at first, bones brittle, cytosine rife with anxiety and depression like every other citizen, and saturated with commercial ads that probably sprayed every tester at them from every façade with cleaning agents to protect society from their sickness, charging them an automatic “small” fee that they couldn’t pay.
“Why?” I ask. They both stare at me stupidly.
“I’m sorry, I was puking,” Botshelo says. “I didn’t have my thought-dial. Just saw your message. I’m ready, we can go.”
“Is it true?” I ask. “Did you hurt those women?”
Her lips tighten into themselves. “Don’t believe every rumor you hear.”
I raise my rusty thought-dial. “I have evidence of you and him—” I point at her boyfriend without staring at him—“hurting them.”
“It was a misunderstanding.” She picks up her luggage and drags her body to a stand. “We’re going to be late.”
I stand in her way. “Why did you hurt those women? They’re barely holding on to life at the hospital.”
“Speaking of the hospital, if we don’t leave now, we’ll be very late.”
I shake my head. “Take your damn self.”
As I turn my back on her, her voice reaches out to my neck. “You think you’re so innocent. Don’t neglect your family or Mama Earth will punish you like She’s punishing our uncle. You’ll be next soon.”
I turn to her. This is my sister. When did she change? Become this way? Is it the sickness now changing all that remains of her? In the days to come what will she turn into before she dies? Does she still love me? No, not if she will stoop so low to threaten me so as to do what she needs.
Chemical weapons fondled Earth too much. I guess the environment became sick and fed into her, then she became sick and fed into the environment—this cycle, no quarantine. I remember we’d drive for miles, the fields barren, the quarry a white-torn wound in the earth. The earth tried to swallow back its ocean, but it came back in tsunamis, washed aside our homes in toxic acid. My eye-feed blurs, another village has gone down. Everyone is living in temporary housing, but the rich stay in the sky, smoking it up, because they can afford it.
I slam the door leaving them alone, wiping tears from my face with my fist. My family is falling apart, Mama Earth. I’m sorry, please forgive them, I yell at the sky.
I step outside, the heat boiling the air. Fuck.
We have become foreigners to Earth, and it has turned xenophobic.
Darkness falls. The moon clicks into place, like a bullet into the chamber. I must hide. I catch sight of the moon, half-slain, a stranger. Why is Mama Earth punishing my uncle? What has he done?
Nightly. Moonlight sways through the air abnormally, and once in contact with skin, a rash quickly develops. Severe asphyxiation initiates. Soon death befalls the body. The moon is a toxic beauty. We must remain indoors; the tectonics of architecture are built to restrain outside toxins from us, and our toxins from the natural environment. It’ll be only an hour before the city shuts the moonlight out.
Night; the world dissolves into black. All I hear is humming rain, panting breaths. Every noise slows down to a heartbeat. Soul-lights flare. Only the broken moon’s shadow tells us the time. I can leave my residence now. I will follow him, the honorable uncle, to see what he does under the cloak of night.
Maybe once I witness his ugly actions, then I will understand the sickness that pervades my sister, that is killing my family one by one. As I follow him in the dark—through the backstreets, the gravel road, the barren fields, to a lowly place between two hills, a tavern overlooking a bonfire—my thoughts burn a feverish gloom, evaporating from my skull, almost exposing my hiding place. It’s not just us, there’s a tavern of them. Oh, dear, God, Mama Earth—it disgusts me what they do. I crouch lower behind a cactus. Moon, hide your eye, eclipse your birth from our sins. A tavern of them stand, dancing and drinking around the bonfire. Laughing. Little children. There are little kids here. How can these people laugh at this evil they create?
Who can I cry to in this very second that can stop this cruelty? Even if I ran back to the city to report them, they’ll be gone by the time I get back. My thought-dial has no network. Mama Earth, there are people made of devil-skins unburned by God hands. These are the people I see in our newsfeed in our government in our schools who act as our guardians—these are the people that make a noose out of bible pages, wrap it around our ears and eyes, and hang You dry. They wrap it around the night, saying, “This is the lung of Earth.” I know these men with starving throats so full of fire to evade the teeth of ethics; they’re carving hunger into the belly of our children, saying our food security is compromised, saying there is drought, yet they’re taking these children’s hunger to dress their dinner tables. They light the torch of hunger in our bellies and parade streets and slums saying, “Here is light, here is star.”
I press my fist against my mouth to stop me from screaming at the horror. Behind closed skins, and even in the sockets of eyes, they bury themselves in wombs of little children to carve their names inside them, until their bellies balloon to sky, their hearts nowhere found. Is this what happened to my sister in her experiments? I can’t watch this anymore. Sun, moon-stain your bloodied ribs. We’re a spatter of sky, there are sinless stars broken from the voice in our throats. These men, there are deserts in their heartlands. They’ve learned how to open children-thighs, their mouths are spraying evil into the crooks of their knees, breaking the language from them in villages where the tongue is tender, the brain soft.
The village, a mecca for men
who still fondle the night with their wife hung around their necks.
They make a shebeen of children’s limbs,
turning their hearts into sorghum and dust,
teeth nicking their magic from children’s milk,
children who don’t know what it means to be the hourglass of birth
as death lilts at the cages in their chests.
It snows in parts of them that didn’t know the sun.
“Child, do you understand my anger now?” the voice in the fold of the air enters my ears, quietly. I jump, turning around. There’s no one near me. No one has seen me.
Mama Earth is intimate with my thoughts: Mama Earth is that you? Has it been you all along?
“Child, do you understand my anger now?” She asks.
All along it’s been Your voice in the air, Mama Earth?
“Child, do you understand my anger now?” the air-voice repeats into my ear.
I understand Your fury, Mama Earth.
“What must I do now?” You ask. “Must I let such people live?”
Stop them, stop them, the kids—the poor kids!
“To live is evil,” Mama Earth’s air-voice says. “Do you see that now? Now tell me, what must I do?”
Stop them please.
“How must I stop them?” She asks. “Don’t you remember this? Remember we have been here before?”
There are so many memories in my head. We became man, the machine that decimated the planet, hastened its way toward its end. The phantom of our thoughts rose from our limbic systems as we slept and night’s tentacles fed into our nervous system. Anxiety and depression grew like the urban sprawl of our cities into the marrow of our bones.
“What else do you remember?” Mama Earth asks.
Our home villages were gone, replaced by cold foreign skyscrapers, its mother tongue guillotined. With toxic lungs, our thoughts carried weapons through the night, tore the trees down, sullied the waters. I remember seeing an angry moon that night, leaking death into our time-holes. Time-holes, the only thing close we had to sanity, to humanity. That night, we silenced our thought-dials, watched our time-holes glow in the dark. My sister was bone-tired. “Climate change has crept from the built environment into the marrow of my bones,” she’d whispered in that raspy voice of hers. “That’s what’s wrong with me. Climate change lives in me. The old are lucky to have died and lived in a safer Earth. This one wants to purge me—Earth doesn’t want me born.”
I remember she’d stared at her time-hole hoping for a better reincarnation, but time was a ceaseless, indifferent creature. Her time-hole sat on the mantelpiece, anachronistic, beeping at the endless updates it starved for. During the night, we listened to the hoarse grumble of taps that were thirsty for water. She checked her time-hole where every part of her life resided. There were no funds. There were no jobs. There were no opportunities, except the hole in between her thighs to hold men who didn’t want children.
“You can start afresh,” Mama Earth’s air-voice says. “But to live again you have to die. It’s the only way I can stop or save them. Tell me, how must I stop them?” Her air-voice fills me. And I know what she wants me to say. “Why do you keep choosing to relive your family’s past and trauma. Let’s stop it now. Do not be afraid, child.”
I stand on the edge of a rock, whisper to the wind, “I know what I’m going to do will be considered evil, illegal. I do not care.” Summertime languishes on winter’s skin. Sky tears are saltier than ever. Forests and grasslands are scraped back like alopecia of the land. We’re buried in this tombstone of tar; a desert gives birth to anorexic trees.
How can they not feel that? How can they not taste that? Our evilutions are running through Mother’s bloodstreams.
Sun, Earth: your truth needs pain.
I’m sick of it.
I do not care;
so Sun, hide your eye, eclipse your birth.
Tonight, the city goes.
Sea-rise will be our baptism, brushing Her breath of our toxin.
That’s when the fissure tore through Your layers, it’s Your anger Mama Earth, and rocks from the hill eclipsed some lives. That’s why You drowned some continents, Your bile swallowing whole civilizations. Many times this has occurred based on such morbid actions. You’re sick of it. So sick it hurts. You, Mother Earth, taste like suicide, smoke, smog.
I don’t know where I am currently. I am a being freed of flesh. I am sight without bone, without structure. Hope is a sun that never rises. A moon that never “woke.” All it knows is a night full of stars it pulls from people’s hearts.
There’s no existence in the constellation. There is only smoke and no God in the horizon. Look at Her, Mother Earth, Her womb protruding into a constellation of space and dark matter—we matter. The heat warms Her globe, She is lit, She is lava. Atmosphere is our gas mask, forests are an underbrush of sky, and ocean waves emulate amniotic fluid. Gravitational pulls, the labor pains. The ozone layer unfolds, the gases choke. The sky is screaming. The sun broke, and he’s bleeding past our horizon.
I am gone, I am going, but I am here too.
Everything hurts. Everything—it hurts. The Earth, She hurts—we degrade Her skin, discriminating it with war, bombs, shootings, and pollution . . . there are parts of Her body desecrated, forcing people to flee, leaving Her naked. Don’t you see? She’s human too. We live in Her—Her womb. Earth can’t commit suicide; we commit it for Her. I am gone, I am going, but I am here too. Everything hurts. Everything—it hurts. Don’t you see? But the pain. Tell me you can’t smell that? The summer sky smells smoke. I smell smoke. Her soul, a pyre for our desire, burns. The summer sky . . . my starry eyes are smoked. This is what we became; Her ozone layer is torn, the sun leaks through. She is bleeding moon. Everything hurts . . . the oceans, the ecosystem—Her heart, it beats outside Her.
Our heartbeats were cataclysmic, a big bang, giving birth to pandora-things. Every creation gives birth to chaos as well—we know this now and we will be reborn.
And that Woman, soft rivers run in her throat, volcanoes thunder in her voice
She is lady,
She is monster,
She is Sun,
Hide your eye,
Eclipse your birth,
Sea-rise will be our baptism
We will be reborn.
Tlotlo Tsamaase is a Motswana writer of fiction, poetry, and architectural articles. Her work has appeared in Terraform, Apex Magazine, Strange Horizons, Wasafiri, and other publications. Her poem "I Will Be Your Grave" was a 2017 Rhysling Award nominee. Her short story, "Virtual Snapshots" was longlisted for the 2017 Nommo Awards. Her novella The Silence of the Wilting Skin is forthcoming from Pink Narcisuss Press in 2020. You can find her on Twitter at @tlotlotsamaase and on Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/tlotlotsamaase.