The Crossing is a micronovel in the genre of Afrofuturism written in honor of Black History Month. It will be published in excerpts every second Wednesday.
“Until the lions have their own historians, the history of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.”- African proverb
Ava’s Bitmoji hovered above her Google Maps, fading in and out of sight with a buzz. She shook her phone and the glitchy hologram reappeared and pointed a finger towards a building up ahead.
“Good job finding it, Avamoji,” she said, high-fiving her Bitmoji. The brown-eyed Bitmoji had a wide-toothed afro comb buried in its tightly coiled hair and was wearing a 2000’s crop top, a black choker and ripped jeans. The Bitmoji winked and disappeared.
Ava sucked in her breath and walked towards the building. It wasn’t hard to miss, especially since it was dwarfed by all the surrounding buildings that dominated the Atlanta skyline. Standing in between the Marriott and a Bank of America Financial Center was a dome-shaped hut. It could have looked like an observatory if not for the bright Ndebele geometric designs that colored the walls. There were all sorts of shapes on the walls; triangles and rectangles of blue, red, yellow and green cut across by zigzags of white and black.
“I’m feeling trippy just looking at it,” she said to her Bitmoji before she realized it was in sleep mode again. The joys of having a cheap phone, Ava thought with a sigh as she slid her phone inside her pocket and made her way inside the building.
“Welcome to the Kuuya Kumba Foundation,” an elderly female hologram greeted her as she walked through the door. The hologram spoke in what would have been called a Nigerian accent in the Old World. She was wearing a yellow gele that wrapped around her head like the petals of a flower, a matching beaded necklace and a white agbada that went all the way down to her feet and gave the hologram’s look an androgynous feel to it. “I am your guide today, call me Orisa. How far na? You sabi pidgin?”
“Hi Orisa,” Ava replied gaping at the hologram’s chic outfit. “Yes, I learned some Pidgin from watching old Nollywood movies.”
Suddenly, Ava and the hologram were in a room with an examination table which had kente cloth instead of leather. The walls were covered in mud cloth wallpaper with the old map of Africa painted across the ceiling.
“What happened?” Ava asked, spinning around in the oval room in amazement. “I’ve heard thousands of people come to this place every day.”
“Abeg lay down and relax,” Orisa said, motioning towards the examination table. Her tone switched between spontaneous African auntie and annoyingly robotic. “We personalize the experience for you as soon as you walk in.”
“Why do you still have the old map of Africa?” Ava asked, staring at the map as she lay down on the examination table.
“The old map has for centuries been a great symbol of hope for many; some still wear it on their necklaces,” Orisa responded. “Speaking of necklaces you have an interesting-looking choker around your neck.” Ava gasped, her hands going instantly to her neck.
“I had forgotten the new holograms can process real-time data,” Ava said. “It’s a slave collar.”
“I do not understand.” Orisa said, immediately switching to her robotic voice. “Please repeat that.”
“It’s not a choker, it’s a slave collar. I sew different fabrics and put them on top of it everyday to make it look more like a choker,” Ava said. “It was the collar of the last slave in my family to be freed. It’s passed down to the firstborn in my family. Only thing close to a heirloom we got.”
“It looks heavy,” Orisa remarked.
“You get used to it,” Ava said. “After a while it’s like it’s not even there.”
“Our pre-screening records indicate that you are the second born of your family though?” Orisa said. “If that’s incorrect I can update it right now with your permission.”
“I am the second born,” Ava said quietly.
“But you said the first-bo-
“My big brother was shot by police,” Ava said, stroking the collar. “I wear it now.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Orisa said after a pause. The holograms were programed to process emotional data too. “If you would to take a moment to—
“Thanks,” Ava muttered, cutting Orisa off. “Terminate Emotional Consolation Mode and resume Orientation Mode.”
“Emotional Consolation Mode terminated. Resuming Orientation,” Orisa said in the robotic tone before switching back to African auntie mode. “The Kuuya Kumba Foundation is a non-profit organization that sponsors free year-long heritage trips to Africa for recent high school graduates of African heritage. That means little pickaninnies like you.”
“You know that word used to be offensive right?” Ava said.
“Wetin be dis? A spider’s web isn’t only its sleeping spring but also its food trap,” Orisa countered. “Everything can be repurposed and used to one’s advantage. Shall I continue the introduction little one?”
“I’m 17,” Ava said rolling her eyes and crossing her arms. “I’m not that little.”
“Nawa oh! Only little ones ever cite their age in an argument,” Orisa said. Ava laughed and uncrossed her arms.
“Resume Orientation,” Ava said.
“Kuuya Kumba defines ‘young adults of African heritage’ as people whose ancestors were forcibly removed from Africa during the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” Orisa said as a screen popped up in front of Ava with the Foundation’s logo of a sun rising behind the old map of Africa and broken chains. “‘Kuuya Kumba’ is the Shona word for ‘coming home.’ Shona is one of the languages spoken in the New Southern African Peninsula, what was called Zimbabwe in the Old World.”
“So how does this birthright trip stuff work again?” Ava asked as images of the Old World Zimbabwe flashed on the screen. “How can you possibly know where in Africa my ancestors came from? I can’t just visit random countries and pretend that’s where my people came from.”
“That is a good question little one,” Orisa said. “Due to our advanced DNA technology we are now able to narrow down which tribe or tribes your ancestors came from. Please lift up your arm to begin the procedure.”
“How long will it take?” Ava asked as she felt a sharp prick on her arm.
“It’s a matter of minutes, no wahala,” Orisa said as Ava watched the screen loading up her DNA results. Ava held her breath and wiped away a trickle of sweat from her forehead. She realized her hand was shaking. It was as if all the generations that came before her were in the room with her, counting the seconds till the results came out. It’s only a matter of minutes, she repeated to herself.
“The process is complete,” Orisa announced robotically. “Are you ready to review the results?”
“I’ve been ready,” Ava declared, digging her nails into the kente cloth to stop her hands shaking. “Generations and generations of my family have been waiting for this. We can finally know where we were taken from.”
“Ava Freeman of Atlanta, Georgia, the total of your genetic breakdown that isn’t Sub-Saharan African is 12%,” Orisa said as the number flashed on the screen. “Please tap the screen to continue to your Sub-Saharan African genetic breakdown.”
Ava swallowed as she tapped the screen. All the answers she had ever wanted were available with just a tap of the screen. It felt…almost anticlimactic.
“Ava Freeman,” Orisa said slowly. Ava shifted on the examination table. “You are 5% Ewe, a West African tribe concentrated in the Old World nations of Togo and Ghana in what is now part of the New West African Peninsular.” The number flashed on the screen, along with images of Ewe people smiling back at Ava. “3% Ga, a tribe concentrated in Old World Ghana and 62% Shona in Old World Zimbabwe. We have approximated that your ancestors were captured inland and sold through the slave ports in Old World Ghana, Angola or Mozambique.”
“All that history in my blood,” Ava said holding back the tears gathering in her eyes. “All that history has just come to—what—? Numbers?”
“Because this is emotionally distressing information, would you like a few moments before we continue?” Orisa said, her voice bordering between auntie and robot. “We can even reschedule you for another day and connect you with our human trauma counselors on standby.”
“Nah, I’m good, terminate Emotional Consolation Mode and resume orientation,” Ava said, as her hand found her collar. She began to rub it slowly. “I owe it to my ancestors to learn as much as I can.”
Orisa resumed, “Your genetic break down has been narrowed down to West African and Southern African tribes; it is now your choice which tribe you will visit. Because there are so many in your position, the Kuuya Kumba Foundation can only offer one cultural re-immersion trip — one chance to spend a year with the tribe of your ancestors. We recognize that this is a hard choice to make given that most descendants of enslaved Africans can be traced back to more than one tribe. With this in mind, you have been given a week to decide which tribe you want to visit. Would you like to choose now or wait for a week?”
“Fuck it,” Ava said. “I’ve come this far. I’ll go to the 62% one; it’s what I’m made up most of anyways? Seems logical.”
“You have chosen to use your trip to visit the Shona. Please confirm your desired destination again for our consent records.”
“I will use my birthright trip to visit Shonaland.” Ava declared.
“Congratulations!” Orisa said. “You have completed Stage One of your Kuuya Kumba journey. Remember the journey takes place nine months after your DNA Breakdown Procedure to give you enough time to thoroughly research the Shona people and their history. In the nine months you will receive a Shona language learning course and begin correspondence with your local guide who will accompany you throughout your trip. After a year in Shonaland, you have the choice to adopt a new name, renounce your American citizenship and start a new life there.”
“I guess I’m finally going to Africa,” Ava said quietly, looking down at her chain.
“Correction, you no dey hear word little one. If we are to be specific you are not going to Africa,” Orisa said. “The continent has no borders anymore. You are going to Shonaland in the New Southern African Peninsula of the United Tribes of Africa, commonly referred to as the U.T.A.”
“Shonaland borders Ndebeleland, Zululand, Xhosaland, Chewaland and many other tribal regions,” Orisa continued.
“Yeah, yeah, whatever you just said Orisa,” Ava said, shaking her head as the hologram faded away like an apparition.