Sunday, July 06, 2008

On the racks: "Lagos"

I just picked up the August issue of Asimov's, containing my story "Lagos." It's gotten good reviews so far, so I hope people enjoy it. Here's a preview:

Safrat liked being a vacuum cleaner. Of all the jobs she might be given, it was her favorite: she liked to see in the rich peoples' homes, even if her point of view was only three inches off the ground. It was light work, too, not like digging earth or handling barrels of toxic waste. That shouldn't have made a difference but it did, at the end of the day when the motor-muscles she didn't have ached beyond words.
The amber warning lit up: only half an hour left in her shift. She switched to light suction and began moving more swiftly around the floor, scanning for any spots she might have missed or where dust might have settled since she started. The foreman, Adegoke, had said that a house could never be clean enough for the rich people. If they were not satisfied then there would be no more demand for workers from Lagos, and the telepresence booths the government had built with World Bank money would sit idle. It was up to workers like her, he had said, to do a good enough job that even the rich white people would be satisfied.
She had just finished her inspection when the red warning lit, and she started to disengage from the vacuum and return to full wakefulness. You could not work the machines, even the very simple ones like vacuum cleaners, when you were entirely awake: you shuddered and jolted and made stupid mistakes, as if you were thinking about every step while you walked. Many of the workers drank palm wine or smoked India hemp before their shifts to get into the proper state of mind, but Safrat found it came naturally to her if she chose one simple task to start with and did it slowly and rhythmically. Like the others, though, she was always muzzy after a shift, and she was glad her brother Paul was able to meet her and guide her home.
It was only five months they had been in Lagos. The city was for the ambitious, and neither of them was that: they had been happy to tend battery trees in the country, up north of Ilorin, until the state energy company had chosen their village as the site of the new transmission station. After that there was no choice for either of them but to go to the city like all the rest, try to find a relation who would help with a job and a place to live. They had found a cousin, an oga named Tinubu, who had quickly gotten Safra the telepresence job -- they preferred to hire women for some reason -- but could only find casual work for Paul, hustling and running for him. This meant that while Safra gave Tinubu only a quarter of her salary Paul had to give half of whatever he made, since he could not be relied on to bring in anything at all.



Kessa Taab said...

Just picked up a copy of 8/8 Asimovs Science Fiction and read Lagos. Great story! Its interesting to see an author writing about worldviews that may not be native to him. What prompted you to study Yoruba culture?
I also noticed your study of japanese culture and worldview (sorry for your families loss)

Matthew Johnson said...

Thanks, Kessa, glad you liked to story. I studied Yoruba culture because Lagos seemed like the best setting for the story... plus I read a great article about Lagos in The New Yorker that was full of details I could use. It connected quite nicely with the elements in the story, I think.