(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A.Adams… continued from last week)
On the night Santos threatened to throw me into the sea, I picked up my diary, as usual, to record the day’s event. And it turned out to be the 95th day since I had been in this ring. This closed, continuous, winding circle which doesn’t suggest any way out.
On that night, I realized I had been sold and bought, a new kind of buying and selling of humans, which has nearly the same meaning as modern day slavery.
On that night, we were herded into a brown Toyota Hiace bus whose engine was chugging angrily in front of the white bungalow.
On that night, we were eight girls, taking steps towards the bus- uncertain steps to an uncertain destination, a voyage with no lanes to make U-turns.
There we sat, voice muffled. Though there were no muzzles on our mouths nor shackles on our hands, there were unseen shackles, muzzles, threats and words like whip, all weapons of enslavement, designed to stop us from thinking our bodies belonged to us- a change of ownership had ensued.
For the umpteenth time, I wanted to start weeping, as the bus entered its first gear, but even before I started preparing the sobs, it waned.
After 72 hours, we arrived at a small town of red mud houses. A dry, cheerless town whose people fed on the throes and woes of the trafficked and the smuggled.
Rather than welcome us with a handshake, it filled our eyes with dust and tears. I later got properly introduced to the phenomenon of sandstorms in Agadez- that violent lifting and slamming of sand, rendering anyone, in its way, momentarily blind. Africa’s human smuggling and trafficking capital- that is Agadez. No wonder its barrenness. No wonder its people look like masquerades, hiding under swirls of turban in the name of protecting themselves from angry sand storms- nature’s own vengeance.
Santos introduced us to one Mallam Mahmoud, a lean, dry faced man, whose turban gave him the look of one carrying, on his head, a bag of clothes.
“Bienvenue,” he said in a hoarse voice, attempting to stretch his gnarled hands.
His attempt at niceness didn’t land well. There was a meanness about him- that of one who has a morbid fascination with horror and terror, doom and death.
“Ca va bien, merci,” someone answered.
He led us to a grotty little room, which made me sneezed severally and said nothing to us for days.
If Santos closed all lines of communication, Mahmoud padlocked it, and threw the key into the bottomless pit. He would not respond to us in English, though I believed that anyone in the kind of international business he does would be multilingual. Before the night he sent us to the farm, he had brought something in a bowl that looked like a watery diarrheal stool. He called it beans. The weevils in it were black and as big as an adult beetle. No one could eat it. Nobody whose human dignity was still intact could.
Somto was sick. She had missed her period and suffered from a morning sickness, which extended to afternoon, and night. She cried for nutritious food to suppress the vomiting. But she couldn’t eat it.
We went to Mahmoud’s farm every day on empty stomach; axed woods, searched for water, which was scarce in such an arid land, trekked long distances in the extremely hot and dry country for three weeks. Somto almost died.
Chelsea took to prayers every morning, after which she would soliloquize, loudly stating what should have been, “If to say Santos want sex, shebi we go even sell, collect money take care of ourzelfs.”
At other times, she would slip into praise for Mama Tee, thanking her for her kindness and the freedom she had given us. I sort of agreed with her. At least at Mama Tee’s, we were spared a little human dignity, but here, we were stripped. One night Somto ran a scarily high temperature, vomiting and stooling. Chelsea, Zobby, Kiki and I kept the night watch. In addition to her pregnancy, she now had malaria and diarrhoea. Out of agitation, Chelsea and I went to meet Mahmoud.
“This girl needs to see a doctor!”
“pas d’hôpitaux ici?” he said. “prendre des herbes.”
Prendre des herbes? Whatever that meant.
One night however, Mahmoud’s rival, a bandit group attacked our room and kidnapped us. Isa, the head of the group, a tall, slender, youth, took us to another quarters and put us in groups of threes. He told us Mahmoud wanted to enslave us forever, but he would take us to Libya.
I later learnt that Isa had stolen us from Mahmoud because he was under pressure to deliver us as ‘goods’ to his agent in Europe since his previous ‘goods’ had perished in the Mediterranean sea.
On the day of our departure, we watched dozens of white land cruisers with black windows navigating towards us.
Chelsea held my hand on the right, and Somto bent over my left. About 35 other people, several young Syrian women fleeing their war-torn countries with their children and husbands; breadwinners, seeking fresher and more regular daily loaves, energetic Europe-euphoric youths, too, all carrying 50-litre water kegs, all waiting to get into the land cruisers.
I looked into the Sahara ahead, that vast sea of sand, lonely and bloodthirsty plain. I looked behind. Isa was there. And his eyes said no going back. Not that I even had a contrary choice, anyway. To step into the van was to subject oneself into the lethal harshness of thirst and the desert. Still, one by one, we went into the pickup van, until we were about 30.
Somto entered with her pain, and her hope that she would have her baby in Europe.
The driver, a haggard-looking man, revved the engine, threw sand into the air and began exploration. The more he explored the scarier it got. We were between mountains of sand dunes, and many times, the tires of the explorer would get stuck as though there was a demon in the sand clawing at its wheels.
And then the sandstorm would pour dust in our face. The windshield would be covered in dust and we would all be suspended in a dust haze for minutes.
The weather tottered at the extremes- in the night it was extremely cold and in the day, it was like a furnace. We heard all sorts of sounds, some like woes, some like hummings and some like whistling, some so loud was the sound, it felt like a hurricane. It was impossible to sleep. I tucked my head between my laps. I became breathless from the cold and my throat went sore. Somto was breathing through her mouth by now. As we advanced, we began to see skeletons of dead people, parts of broken down vehicles. And then the stories began to roll in. Gory stories of how bandits waylaid vehicles, how the sandstorm could change the pathway in such a way the driver would miss his way. Once that happens, he would get lost and fall into the hand of bandits. I lifted up my eyes and looked at the road ahead, it was endless and limitless, as endless as the sky above us. Fear caught me. What if I die in this desert? Who will even ask of me? The men kept talking, they said those were bodies of missing people or those who died of thirst. I never knew thirst could kill until my water finished. And my bread too.
I looked at Somto who was flexing in agony. She had no water and I had none to give her.
“I’m dying, I’m dying,” Somto cried weakly
She attempted to vomit, but there was nothing else left in her body.
Other passengers looked at her and then turned away.
After three days of bombarding the driver with an SOS call, he finally stopped for her at a police checkpoint near town.
“Where is she?” a talk dark complexioned turbaned officer enquired.
“Come and see her here,” Chelsea said.
Mademoiselle,” he called out to Somto, stroking her feet with his truncheon.
But there was no response.
He felt her pulse, shook his head, said something in French.
“Who is with her?”
“I….I…” Chelsea and I, said at the same time, raising up our hands.
“Bring out a wrapper.”
I quickly rummaged her rucksack for her night wrapper. And handed it over to the police.
Without hesitation, he drew it over her face and body.
I looked at him questioningly, and at Chelsea.
Waters began to fall from Chelsea’s eyes.
“Wwa, wa whahaaat, “ I stammered.
But there was no answer.
Synopsis (After these eerie days)
She is ambitious but unschooled in street-wiseness. Seventeen-year-old Funto Colesworth did not know the trip to study her dream course, Medicine, in France, is one to nowhere until she finds herself in a brothel in Cotonou.
Rather than remain there to hawk sex which she is mandated to do, she escapes and joins another set of human traffickers to cross the ghoulish Sahara Desert with ten other trafficked girls. On surviving, she continues her flirtations with danger; gets into a close-shave with death in the Mediterranean Sea, where she is the only survivor amongst the girls. Arriving Italy breathless, Funto is introduced to Rome’s red-light district, where she subsequently meets a rich and snazzy footballer, Khalil.
Their whirlwind romance would have resulted in marriage and landed her a fortune, but her hopes went up in flames again when he is killed by his irascible, psychotic twin brother Hamil. Then she realises the more ruinous cost of naivety when Hamil implicates her, leading to her imprisonment in Germany. Thrown in gaol, and with no clemency in sight, Funto felt defeated until she meets a Ghanaian missionary, Duncan Melanby, whose romance with her leads to the fence-mending between father and daughter, after twelve eerie years.