“What is the Nigerian dream?” The man’s companion asked him.
The man responded with a puzzled and mildly irritated look so his companion elaborated, “Like you know how they are always talking about this American dream thing in Hollywood immersies; this life, liberty and pursuit of happiness thing that they are always talking about. Shebi you have heard it before?”
The two men were seated in the dirty beer parlour at the centre of sector 121 which was the easternmost sector of the 456th level of the monolithic Biafra-5 supercity. It was one of twenty six solid superstructures that made up the modern Nigerian nation-state. There were thousands just like it across the planet. Each one towered 7 km into the sky and imposed a 10 square km footprint on the ground like fingers pointed accusingly at silent gods and unresponsive ancestors. At its base, expansive fields of hungry solar energy units interspersed with endless fields of genetically modified trees surrounded them like bizarre, silicon cell pubic hair. Outside, the temperature was hot enough to kill an exposed man in a day. Inside, it was just warm enough to remind men of the terrible thing they had done to their planet.
The man scratched his sparse, knotty beard and said, “Yeah I have. Who hasn’t? What does that one have to do with us and why have you not yet paid for the beer you owe me, Chuka? We need to get going soon.”
Chuka smiled an oily smile and leaned forward in his chair. He was wearing an old-fashioned ankara shirt with short sleeves and his balding head was distracting the man under the harsh laser diode lighting of the beer parlour. Behind him, the quovision display deck crackled with high resolution holographic images of the new Persian prime minister in her purple hijab standing by the side of the suited up Chinese Premier in a hall, the familiar faces of some other world leaders behind them. The man could not read the scrolling byline beneath the image but he did notice the words ‘immigration control’ with mild curiosity. There didn’t seem to be any mention of the war that was currently raging right below them on the 304th level of Biafra-5.
Chuka had a tendency to become philosophical when he had been drinking. He also had a tendency to forget his wallet codes and insist that he would pay for drinks next time. Next time had been coming for a while. But after this meeting, there would be no next time.
“Leave beer first and answer me jare. What is the Nigerian dream? Abi we don’t have?”
“How am I supposed to know?” barked the man. He was getting annoyed, because he was anxious. He wanted Chuka to settle the bill and all the others that had been perpetually postponed to the never-arriving next time so that they could be on their way.
Chuka nodded, as though acknowledging something profound. “Exactly. You don’t know. Most of us don’t. But if you look closely at our history, you will see it. Since before the war sef.”
Then, Chuka gestured earnestly at his chest. “It’s inside here my brother,” he said, banging the left pocket of his Ankara shirt over his chest with a hardy fist. “How many Nigerians have actively tried to make Nigeria better? How many? We endure what we must without really risking anything to change things for the better. We survive. But in the end, once we get a chance, we leave. That is the sad truth. Always has been. This is a made-up country. Invented for colonial convenience. Some of us have even been fighting to leave it right inception. Others have just been reluctant participants in this silly national experiment. We didn’t choose this place, we didn’t fight for it, and so we don’t love it. In your heart, you know that the Nigerian dream is to leave Nigeria.”
The man laughed, waving his bony right arm that was covered in scar tissue from an incident involving a malfunctioning solar filter in the Ibadan superstructure on his first smuggle run. “You can’t be serious! That’s it? That’s your big revelation? Abeg, my guy, pay for the beer, let us go. It’s almost time.”
Chuka looked almost angry at the reception his speech had received.
Beckoning to the dour-faced waitress, the man said, “I thought you were even going to say something that makes sense. Whose dream is to leave a place? Leaving a place is what you do in pursuit of your dream. No one dreams of the journey. Trust me. I know. No one aspires to be on the road. It is a means to an end. The dream is the reason you leave. And everyone has a different dream. The very concept of the national dream is a farce. Dreams are personal and private things.”
Chuka grunted and said no more. He swiped his palm in front of the smooth black panel the waitress presented and keyed in his wallet codes. When the waitress left, the man pulled out a similar panel and placed it on the table. Chuka took it and repeated the gesture, transferring a significantly larger amount of money to the man’s accounts: for the beers he owed and for services about to be rendered.
The man smiled. His business was proving to be very lucrative in wartime.
Chuka did not smile. He had just parted ways with almost every credit he had to his name.
The two men rose briskly and rode an express intercity service elevator they should not have had access to for forty silent minutes down to the ground floor of sector 121, where gigantic access ports were carved into the eastern service wall, machines constantly ferrying harvested food in and treated waste out.
They crouched low and moved quickly toward a row of metal behemoths. The man stopped, pushed against one of the units and a hatch that Chuka could have sworn wasn’t there before yawned open. They slipped into a small, silver-skinned oblate pod that had been disguised as part of a wheat transport unit. The pod hummed to life at the man’s touch and quietly slid past the other units and through the supercity’s heavy titanium gate without interrupting the steady motion of the other machines. The city exhaled them into the open field. Above, an angry yellow sun raged in the sky.
“So, now that you’re on your way out is there any more to your dream than leaving Nigeria?” the man asked Chuka with the cool confidence of someone to whom risk had become routine as they sped over the green and silver surface below, taking the smugglers route that led to the Beijing supercity where the man’s business associates waited with a new identity chip for Chuka. One that would give him a new name, a new history and grant him access to all the benefits the Chinese state extended to those granted refuge within its supercity walls.
Chuka nodded, unconsciously touching the strip of fair flesh on his finger that marked where his wedding ring used to be before the soldier that had shot his wife in the gut took it near the elevator entrance to level 304. “My guy, nothing remain here for me. The country don spoil. The whole planet sef don spoil. But they say the Chinese supercities are peaceful and spacious. They say a man can easily get paid more than a thousand credits for a day’s work programming drill rig units in one of the lower levels as long as he doesn’t mind working twelve hours in the darkness. So, yeah, once I reach there, I go hustle, I go hammer. I go dey alright.”
The man had seen many men like Chuka risk it all for the same thing. He made his living off their hope, thriving off their desperation in the very place they thought hopeless because they couldn’t see beyond their losses and the tantalizing lures of a foreign land. He was tempted to tell Chuka what really waited for him in Beijing – segregated cities, anti-immigrant protests and violent immigration raids – but he simply grunted and said, “I hope your dream is worth the journey you make for it.”