When The Sun Comes: by Adaobi Onyeakagbu

There was nothing spectacular about watching the neighbour’s pool from the balcony of our fifth-floor flat. The scene below was nothing I hadn’t seen before – still, dark water that reflected no light from the mansion for which it was built, an indication of the absence of life in the big compound.

The April air was cool, perhaps too cool, and it seemed to kiss one’s skin intimately like the lips of a lover. Above me, a small blimp floated by, carrying “Have a Happy Reveal!” on its bright message banner. I sighed, looking back down at the pool in an attempt to immerse myself in the habitual calm that it brought.

My husband, Odera, was dozing on the couch, with a book in his hand. It was his custom to doze off after reading some pages from his favourite book, or right after eating Fufu for dinner. I was just about to close the screen door to stop the cold breeze from waking him when a jarring trumpet harmony played from the sitting room’s Vision Board, announcing an important incoming message.

Odera woke with a start.

I hissed quietly and walked back into the warm sitting room, just in time to see a man, with a shiny black suit and a matching shiny bald head, appear on the screen and begin the evening address in the common vernacular, Pidgin English. He spoke the language fluently, like most News correspondents, except for when he said ‘Tomorrow is a Public Holiday,’ in standard English.

I had seen this man deliver messages before, but his face seemed brighter today. He had a look on his face that I could not explain. I looked over at Odera, who was now fully awake, and noticed that he had the same look – in his case, the corners of his mouth turned up in a half-smile. He seemed fairly different too.

It was this type of shared excitement among the people that made the Government anxious about a potential drop in productivity. This explained the myriad of addresses about keeping the work morale up.

There was cause for worry, of course, as I had also noticed the look on countless faces at the Wuse commute station earlier that morning, as Odera and I stood, arm in arm, listening to the general address. Hundreds of people who shared my work route, had stood in front of the large Vision Board projected against the dark sky, watching the Province Minister give his speech. He had officially announced tomorrow as the Day of The Reveal— the day that the screen, which protected the Earth from the Sun, was going to be completely removed. He added that it was going to take place at approximately 1300 hours and the day was to be a public holiday to enable everyone to observe The Reveal the way they wanted.

The excitement was supposedly not to affect the morale as everyone was expected to work for their required number of hours. In other words, it was to be business as usual. But, it was rather too late for that. The streets had already been buzzing with the rumours of The Reveal, even weeks before.

After the morning address, Odera had dropped a chaste kiss on my lips and walked off to join his train. My eyes had followed his broad, retreating back till I could no longer discern his stiff gait in the crowd.

Like most of the people in the province, Odera hated his job. Our province had a terrible knack when it came to job placements. He worked in media when he felt he was more equipped to work in Education. Nonetheless, he came home most nights, like this one, brimming with various theories about how the system was failing.

As for me, I worked with a small department in Wellness.

My department had only been created as a result of the steady rise in suicide rates, which had doubled over the last few years. So, instead of cutting the people some slack, our newly communist government decided to curb this by creating a phone bank that would attend to suicide calls. In their goodness, they allowed a five-minute break every day to each worker who wanted to call the suicide hotline— which I thought was absolutely silly.

This meant I had to sit in my less-than-uncomfortable chair listening to people complain about their jobs and try to convince them not to end their lives. Everyday.

Needless to say, I hated my job too.

Odera had two running theories about the increasing rate of suicide.

First, and most obvious, was the extremist government. There was no need to dictate what type of job people did or the kind of life people lived. Even though we weren’t exactly sure how things were done years before, he believed that life would have been easier then, when people were allowed to lead their own lives.

“It’s either that, Iheoma,” he would say, “or people are going mad from the lack of Sun.”

I would always laugh whenever he said this. Not because it was funny, but because of the way he said it— as if he knew what the Sun felt like.

We had both been born in a time when there was no Sun. So, there being no Sun was, in fact, our reality. Saying there was a lack of Sun implied that he had ever felt its presence in the first place. In all my thirty-two years on Earth, the sky had always been dark, all day, every day, and that was how we all knew it. Anyone who had been alive when the Sun shined down was long dead. That was why The Reveal was so exciting.

***

From history classes, we had learnt that the Sun had been gone since the 22nd Century— not that it disappeared but rather, it was taken away.

Apparently, humans had gotten tired of living in perpetual fear of being burnt up by the Sun due to global warming. Before then, it really seemed like the end of the world was drawing near. Skin cancer and Sun-bites – a creative name for infectious sores – became very common, after a Chinese factory released very large amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere that further depleted the ozone layer.

Dark skin became the rave as cosmetologists began injecting supplementary Melanin into people like it was the new Botox. After a while, even that was not enough.

People had to wear Bedouins whenever they went outside, which were really robes made out of Polychlorotrifluoroethylene materials that were named after the desert inhabitants of Sinai, the Bedouins. Bedouins were these big and lumpy, ugly pieces of clothing— that the fashion industry continuously failed to reinvent— but were able to withstand the intense temperature of the earth, but only for a short time.

It was until one day, an African president, known for his controversial statements, had been addressing a conference in South Korea.

“If the Sun is bothering us so much, why don’t we bother it back?” He had said, facetiously, with no idea that his statement would inspire a whole new research into ‘Bothering the Sun’ called SUNSCREEN.

Finally, sometime between 2120 and 2122, there was a breakthrough that allowed the Polymer scientists to create a material strong enough to screen the Sun from reaching anywhere in the galaxy. The day the Sun was finally screened was known as the Day of Black Sun— a day which used to be grandly celebrated, but eventually faded away over the years as its significance was quickly forgotten.

It was an unbelievable thing, but it happened, and life became dark. Literally.

Now, it was 2351 and we were now very used to the bright street lights everywhere, or having to depend on clocks as the only means of telling time, artificially growing our crops and taking drug supplements as our only source of Vitamin D. The Sun had become a distant thing in our minds, just like the moon or rain or even the end of the world. We only heard of those things in ancient books— they had become, to us, like saviour gods that we subconsciously yearned for, but simultaneously didn’t believe could exist.

***

The shiny-headed man finally finished delivering his message and the picture on the screen gave way to a blank screen, but a smooth jazz still played in the background that seemed to cosy up the small living room even more. I turned down the volume of the Vision Board.

Odera was sitting up now, watching me walk towards him.

“What is it?” I asked, as I flopped onto the space beside him.

“You wouldn’t believe what I saw some slum-boys selling by the side of the street on my way back from work. Sun shades!” He chuckled, “They’ve been extinct for what? Over a hundred years now?”

“Well, you should expect that the people will take advantage of tomorrow’s event…” I said and leaned into him, shivering lightly when he began rubbing my back.

We were silent for a moment before he began speaking again.

“Everything has been so different. Today, they let me put a cartoon in the papers that I had sent in for publication months ago. Do you know how often they let you put in your own cartoon? Never.”

I fully understood what he meant.

My otherwise busy line had hardly received any calls at work today, which was very unusual. I figured it was because people didn’t know how to act or what to do on the first day with the Sun. All anyone could talk about was the Sun and even though it seemed like a bigger deal for the Sun than for the people, everyone knew they couldn’t rid themselves of the chance to see the Sun for the first time.

I felt different too.

It was only earlier that evening, as I walked home from work, that I considered the possibility of feeling something other than cold air on my skin, or seeing something other than dark skies above me. I remember that as soon as I walked through the door of our flat, Odera had drawn me into a tight hug that I couldn’t wiggle out of. I giggled as he twirled me around and tickled my sides, his contagious excitement bubbling out of him.

I was excited, despite my best efforts, and I had caught myself more than once, looking out the window from my small cubicle at work, expecting the Sun to pop up any minute.

I also felt very lucky.

My father always said I was a lucky child, which was why he named me Iheomadiri, which was loosely translated from an extinct language as ‘the possession of good luck’. He named me this because I was born on the day the Super Eagles beat Brazil a second time, winning The World Cup for the first time ever. I was also born in the year that a MelaFerrOzone chemical was developed, which would eventually be Earth’s saviour. The chemical was able to absorb very large amounts of ultraviolet radiation. Thirty-two years in, enough of it had been released into the atmosphere to constitute a new and safer MFOzone layer for Earth.

***

Odera and I lay lazily on the couch, exchanging stories about our mundane daily activities until we began to hear the sound of fireworks outside.

We rushed to the balcony in time to catch the eruption of colours light up the skies of Abuja. We stood there, quiet and lost in our thoughts, and I tried to figure out what tomorrow would mean for us.

I had just recently discovered that I was two months pregnant. We hadn’t been trying and we had never even talked about children in our three years of being married. He had been very excited when I told him, but he calmly reassured me that everything would be alright. I could tell he was also very uncertain.

I couldn’t blame him— he was my second husband, though my favourite so far. My first husband had divorced me because of the countless miscarriages and the fact that I had refused to attempt Tubeys.

Tubeys were what people used to call Test-tube babies, until the process became orthodox and everyone just called them Tubeys. The process began as a means to help women, who were struggling with pregnancy, to have children without having to go through surrogates. Then, celebrities began having Tubeys because they didn’t feel like ruining their figures… and then everybody started doing it.

I still didn’t believe in the process but my ex-husband hadn’t shared my ideas. So, the state dissolved our five-year marriage.

Then, I met Odera, who balanced my extreme cynicism out with a wit of his own, and a cool head that I could not explain. We were content with just being.

When the firework show died down, our eyes drifted down to our neighbour’s pool once again. We had always shared the thought that it was absolutely pretentious, because who kept a pool in their backyard anymore? Their three-storey mansion was even more pretentious, because they were rarely home.

Everywhere was quiet again, save for a dog barking in the distance.

“So, what do you think we should do tomorrow?” I asked Odera, breaking the eerie silence we had been enjoying.

He pretended to think for a while before saying, “Stay in and fuck all day.”

I laughed and nudged him. I definitely would not waste my first day with the Sun in bed.

He soon began to talk animatedly about Vitamin D and how it would make people sane again. His eyes lit up as he talked about all the things he wanted to do to me on the top of a mountain with the Sun above, shining on us intently. He was not a romantic, but the excitement of The Reveal was making him say things that released the butterflies in my stomach and made my toes curl.

When we made love, it was different too.

We spent the night tangled up in bed, creating stories of how the world would adapt to the Sun.

When the conversation drifted to his mother, who had always been obsessed with feeling the Sun, I finally whispered, “I think I want to feel the Sun too…”

It was the one thing I had in mind to do when the Sun came.

Odera sat up to look at me before speaking, “We aren’t even sure it’s safe enough to go outside tomorrow. People will probably be wearing Bedouins tomorrow.” He leaned back and continued, “Besides, the Sun is not even a thing to be felt. It’s just there to give light.”

I laid across his warm chest and dozed off listening to the strong beating of his heart and his steady breathing, knowing my mind was made up.

***

Excitement, or perhaps anxiety, did not let us sleep for too long. I was in the process of arranging my closet when I found a forgotten, white two-piece swimsuit I had bought but had never worn because the weather was always too cold for me.

I laid it out on the bed and continued my cleaning.

At 1100 hours, two hours to The Reveal, I found Odera reading in the study and pulled him into the room.

“Look what I found.” I said, gesturing to the bed and bracing myself for some form of dispute.

He sighed deeply. “Iheoma…” He started, but then he shook his head and smiled.

“I know just the place to go.” He finally said.

We dressed up quickly— I wore the bikini while Odera wore short bottoms and then, we covered up with large coats.

We ran downstairs to the back of the flat, to the fence that separated our building from our pretentious neighbours’. Confident that no one was home, we scaled the tall fence into the dark compound with much difficulty. As we shrugged off our coats, the cold air began to assault my skin again. It was worse in the pool, but then I got distracted trying, and failing, to suppress my giggles, as Odera made a show of coming over to kiss my trembling lips.

The skies were still dark when we laid on the lounge chairs, shivering from the cool breeze that followed.

What seemed like many hours later, when we eventually saw the first patches of sunlight, I let out a deep breath I didn’t know I had been holding. It felt like I had been holding that breath all my life.

On that cold afternoon in April, as I laid on that lounge chair, I fell in love with a particularly beautiful ray of sunlight.

The ray of light travelled through the medium of hot air and burst into a colourful hue of dispersed light right above my eyes, blinding me temporarily. I squinted so that my eyes could adjust to it, and that simple action made the light even more beautiful. The colours danced deliciously before me and I was tempted, just for a second, to stick my tongue out to taste it.

I closed my eyes, savouring the feeling of the hot Sun warming the beads of chlorinated water that clung carelessly to my dark skin. I imagined I looked beautiful as I lay there, even though Odera had said so, with the white two-piece that deliciously framed my body, my jet-black afro forming a halo on my head and without the stubborn bulge on my lower abdomen that had more to do with junk food than the growing foetus.

I shivered, wild goose bumps taking over my skin, and I immediately knew what it meant to be living without the Sun. I could feel it now – the presence of the Sun. It was there on my skin, each ray of light like thirsty drops of water on my skin and then forming something bigger than anything I could express.

There was a smell too, a smell that came with the Sun, and it smelled like…

Sunlight.

When I opened my eyes, the sky was bright blue. I turned to look at my husband, who sat with a look of wonder clouding his face. The light seemed to make everything brighter— the pool, the buildings, even Odera’s face. It fascinated me, and made me want to believe in something greater.

I did not know what colour the Sun was, because I could not stare directly at it. It was not yellow like I had read or amber like I had imagined it to be.

It was just pure light in the sky.

And it was glorious.

 


Adaobi Onyeakagbu (@The_Ardah) is a writer with an Engineering degree who likes to describe herself as a ´Restless wind´. She loves nature, travel, film and culture, and harnesses her experiences to create mostly great content. She is also a disillusioned screenwriter.

Related country: Nigeria

All rights to this story remain with the author. Please do not repost or reproduce this material without permission.