Upon reaching adolescence, every girl in the world becomes spontaneously pregnant. An international group of doctors, scientists, and mothers-to-be, makes their way from disparate locations to a small genetics lab in the US to search for the cause and a solution. But every discovery they make reveals a new, seemingly worse scenario, leaving humanity’s very existence in question.
Ayira Akilah Mukendi slipped silently through the curtained doorway, away from the sleeping breath of her brothers and sisters. She crept along the edge of her family hut, staying within the full-moon shadow beneath the thatched roof overhang. Her neighbor’s two mixed-breed dogs, scampering playfully in the path that ran by their huts, rolled to their feet and froze, ears pricked, muzzles searching for a scent. The smaller mutt challenged her with a yelp. Ayira stepped from the safety of darkness and stooped to the ground, hushing the dogs with a gentle word. Their tails whirled as they pranced over to her, licked her outstretched hand, then trotted off as she stood and moved back into the shadows. With a sigh, she leaned against the wall to gather her courage and pressed her fingers to the still sun-warm dried mud knowing this was her last touch of home.
Looking out over the twisted branch fence she and her mother had laced together, Ayira strained her eyes to see down the rocky path that wound through the village. Frightful expectation hung in the air and clung to her like sweat. She listened intently above the incessant chirps and chatter of jungle nightlife, for not everyone was asleep. In the distance, the grumbling of the village elders came on the night air, rising and falling like angry cats. Soon, their words would cease and the decisions they made would force their actions.
Before this night, she’d never thought of choices, for her destiny, the same as everyone in her tribe through all generations, was determined by those who preceded her.
But now, in her thirteenth year, choice had come to Ayira unbidden the moment the elders had made their determination. She immediately set upon an act that would change the fate of the life growing within her and that of the mja, foreigner, who’d given her a glimpse of a reality beyond her own imaginings. Even as she grasped the small bundle of clothes and food tighter to her chest, forcing her legs to follow her will down the path, she didn’t consider the consequences to herself.
Her eyes brushed over each hut she passed, thatch or stone, grass or mud, not so much looking for danger as committing the huts to memory. The aroma of boiled and fried food, always in every breath, saturating the vapor-warm air during the day, was gone now from the cool night. When she reached the field where the path broke from the village, the insects that had retreated into the grass and trees to drone their mating calls went quiet. She leapt into a full sprint as if trying to outrun her own shadow stretching out before her, and left behind the only world she’d ever known.
Within a minute, she was at the mja hut, built away from the village. This hut, clinging to the edge of the jungle in seeming desperation to hold its place between nature and man, was a welcoming gesture, the elders had told him. It was to assure him privacy, to thank him for his helpful efforts with his Western knowledge of food production and clean water. But Ayira knew that although his knowledge was welcomed, he was not. A field’s distance from the village was but an invisible barrier to keep his strange odor and any unwanted influence at bay. His hut, built of stone, mud, and thatch was similar to others in the village but for the wood plank widows and doors that sealed him in at night. To the elders, those secured entries and the several hundred meters of dirt and brush, had not done the job, so it came to them to put their world back to order.
Ayira approached cautiously, for she’d never been to the outsider’s hut. The entire village was warned to keep safe distance, especially at night, for bad things can happen in the dark. She didn’t believe any of the children’s tales told about outsiders, but her heart seemed to pound as loud as her fist rapped upon his plank door.
“Bwana David, Bwana David! Nisaidie, tafadhali! Help me, please! They come.”
A voice from sleep called back. “Nini? What? Who’s out there?”
“It is I, Ayira Mukendi. Please, open door. You must come with me now.”
Angled shafts of light moving through cracks, scuffling feet, then the door pulled back. David, squinting and shirtless, peered down with his flashlight beam into Ayira’s frantic eyes. “What’s wrong, Ayira? Are you sick?”
She glanced at his concerned young face, then grabbed his hand and tugged. “We must go now, Bwana David. They come for you.”
He grasped her shoulder with his free hand, steadying her trembling body. “Hold on, Ayira. What are you talking about? Who’s coming for me?”
Tears came with her words. “Wazee, elders, believe you made me with child and come ninyiua, kill you.”
He jerked away from her, breaking their connection. “What?!”
Ayira reached out to him, but he stepped back. “They no believe me. I say not you.”
“Well—Well, you have to tell them who it was then. You did tell them, didn’t you?”
“I could not.” Ayira’s eyes fell to the ground. “I mean, I tell, but they no believe.”
“Well, why not, for Christ’s sake?”
Her eyes suddenly grew wide. “Usu! Quiet!”
Whipping around, Ayira scanned the open field, angling her head. She turned back, hands clasped together. “We must go now! They come.”
“Wait. I’ll get dressed and talk to them.”
“La! No!” She grabbed his hand again, pulling in desperation. “If find me here, kill us both.”
David wrenched away from her to stare back toward the village. Bobbing firelight flickered through the swaying brush, harried voices arrived sharply with the breeze. The sudden sweat surfacing on his skin was a prelude to his actions. He grabbed the small backpack off the end of the bed, and flung himself out the door pulling Ayira along by the wrist. When they reached the jungle, Ayira moved in front.
“You must follow me. We take path animal, not path people.”
They ran at a quick pace, Ayira scouting ahead, David continuously glancing back, panting with rising fear. Within the cover of the trees the spongy ground absorbed the shock of their heavy strides, but through the intermittent open spaces, sharp grasses sliced at their arms as their heels pounded against the hard, rutted path that twisted their toes. Several minutes in, Ayira veered off the main trail, pushing easily through bushes and branches clouding the way. Though the jungle floor was hidden beneath spidery branches and broad ferns, she read the way by following the line of sparser vegetation ahead of her. This path was soft but firm, for animal feet didn’t wear away the soil down to the roots and rock.
“Good you take our ways, Bwana David. Other waja, foreigners, cannot walk in bare feet.”
“Ayira, you have to tell me who did this to you.”
She glanced back as they crossed an open patch of brush and grass, moonlight glinting off teary eyes. “It was nobody, Bwana David.”
David’s eyes raked her with bewilderment. In other parts of the continent her protruding stomach might be from malnutrition, but not here. He knew his comment sounded ridiculous as it left his lips.
“Maybe you ate something bad.”
“No. I am with child.”
“But, Ayira, what you’re saying isn’t possible if you haven’t been with a man.”
“The elders do not care what possible. They know not the way of outsiders, so believe you made possible. They know I not lie with mawanaume kijiji, village man.”
“Well, how do they know that?”
“They have looked me and my kizinda is there, still.”