Am I a neoimperialist?

Yola, Adamawa State, Nigeria. I met Nigerian writer and satirist Elnathan John at a social gathering organized by my colleague and friend, Steve Devitt. (More on him later). We get to talking and he makes a comment about “white saviors.” I quickly raise my hands in the universal gesture for hold on! and interject quickly with, “Don’t apply that term to me!”

My mind plunges inward, throwing up a smokescreen to obscure my exit. The forefront of my mind can work on autopilot for a minute while I look for clues to unconscious motivations and vestigial mental limbs. I saw three reality constructs sitting at a table. There was a single flickering light bulb suspended from a thin wire hanging above the table. I could see nothing beyond the blinking sphere of light surrounding this scene. I noticed that all of the constructs were connected by umbilical cords to some unknown origin in the darkness. I didn’t remember inviting them.

I approached. They were drinking from cups wrought of different materials; iron, gold, and plastic. I came closer. The first one was drinking blood, the second oil, and the third held an empty cup. “What are you doing here? I didn’t invite you here…!” The first one started scratching on the surface of the table with a stone arrowhead. The second raised its arm, and I could see marks on its flesh–chain-links branded into the skin. It opened its mouth to speak and started coughing, bringing something up from its bowels. It bent forward and heaved it out, the point of a sword stabbing into the table. The third one put down the empty cup and looked up; so simple a motion caused a piece of its face to flake apart and swirl away into dust.

“We need no invitation,” said the first reality construct.

“I don’t recognize you!” I shouted. Seized by a sudden anger, I stepped forward and overturned the table. The cups fell out of their hands and rolled away into the darkness. Beneath the table, formerly pinned down by it, was a thick brass stake impaled into the earth. Unloosed absent the table, something heaved and snarled under the pierced ground. I shielded my face with my arm as a pillar of water rent up through the broken soil and clawed into freedom. It poured down over itself and parted into five streams.

The water was translucent; its fierce uprising had destroyed the suspended light bulb, supplanting false light in favor of its own. The streams shivered on serpent-tracks into the darkness, dividing into a vast, ethereal spiderweb. The reality constructs, scattered by the water, now staggered forward. One of them was crawling towards its cup, its hands slipping in the spilled oil.

The others were crying and shouting, but my attention had been caught by something else. Rising and towering in the misty gloom above the waters, a snarl of green–a swelling tangle of trunks and leaves, barbs and clinging vines. It lurched forward and enveloped the constructs, undulating in a wave underneath my feet and pushing me upward…

“I didn’t come here for that,” I told Elnathan. “I’m just here to talk.”

It was a good conversation.


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