(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A.Adams… continued from last week)
The morning after the wreck, I lay on the deck, dizzy, disoriented and dysthymic. A hand kneaded my neck and a pump suctioned my ears. The morning after the wreck, I heard the shriek of a woman whose only son was sunk in the sea. She was a widow, and she had become sunken-eyed because of her sunken son.
The morning after the wreck, was November 19. And it was my birthday. The day I officially left the sweetness of sixteen and entered the sensibleness of seventeen. But had I been sensible? Was it sensible for me to have believed that an unseaworthy rubber dinghy or a fishing trawl, would ferry hundreds of us across a sea of I,500 meters wide and 4,900 feet deep? How gullibly foolish we were! Folly so great that would make one equate the value of a human life to that of a fish.
Where I laid on the deck, I saw, in dizzy spells, a man whose skin appeared tanned. On his orange jacket, was the word, ‘Rescue Team’. He was pacing the floor of the deck, giving orders to his team members. He tossed his wet, red, curly hair to the side of his face, each time they got in the way of his sight.
I don’t remember whether the nurse who suctioned water out of my ears was African or America, European or Asian, all I remember was that each time she felt someone hand for his pulse, she would either whimper or whisper. Every whimper was an announcement that someone’s dead and every whisper was an expression of relief.
I recall seeing, on the shoulders of the rescue team, people whose wet clothes clung to their bodies like an additional skin layer. Whether they were dark or fair skinned, they all looked the same- bloodless and helpless, harrowed and swallowed up by forces higher than the earth’s gravitational force.
I saw a teen whose wet passport poked out of his trouser hip pocket. The photo on the data page showed the face of a determined teenager. But now his determination been terminated.
The bodies were arranged, mathematically, on the deck’s floor. The tan-skinned man kept counting. “Some still missing.”
“We can’t know.”
“Get the manifest.”
Manifest? Was that a joke? He was actually expecting a manifest of this ill-arranged, illegal, inhuman journey?
Understanding began to dawn, and then, I looked for Chelsea but didn’t find her. Her strained voice, under the water, kept echoing. She must have over-drank water with her lungs. Drowned.
The tan-skinned man pointed to the body of the preacher, and said he was biologically dead, but needed to see a doctor, immediately in Italy.
I saw the body of Medussa, the Togolese archaeologist, but I didn’t see his bones. I saw the Somalian woman, but I didn’t see his chatty five-year-old son. I didn’t see the Europe-euphoric African guys. And then I remembered the death of Somto, and darkness blanketed my soul. My sight became fuzzy and my seasickness returned.
By the noon after the wreck, the few survivors were healthy enough to hold a thanksgiving service. They were mostly Somalians and Eritreans.
The whimpering nurse nudged me to join. I told her I couldn’t. I told her my world was falling apart. I told her it was my birthday. A day that was supposed to be special, but I was crushing under the pain of not only being forgotten but being forgettable.
All I got from life is hatred and hardship, rejection and relegation. I don’t think I was worth being alive.
“But you have to thank the Almighty for sparing your life,” she whimpered again. “Many, many, many, perished at sea,” she said softly and soberly like one who understands the disappointment of a wild goose chase after the wind, and still be unable to catch the wind- the wind so omnipresent, yet so elusive.
She pulled me up. I followed her. I leaned on the railings of the ship, gazing into the injurious waters.
The Somali women who survived without their husbands, and men who survived without their wives, held hands, regrouped and repaired. A repairing necessitated not by physical attraction, but by psychical attraction. With tears flowing down their eyes, and trembling voice, they offered songs. The one that brought tears to my eyes was- “ On Christ the solid rock I Stand, All other grounds in Sinking Sand.
Christ indeed was the only solid ground. The reason, I found myself in this predicament in the first place.
I felt the sense of joy and loss like the first day I was thrown out of my father’s house. The joy of loving Christ and the loss of losing a family.
The song brought the memory of my family. By now daddy must be holding a memorial service for me. And my mom, my brothers and sisters- despite their rejection, they can’t deny I once belonged to that family. They can’t fast foward November 19 to November 20. They must live through my day! They must remember me today, for good or for bad. It was a remembrance that is congenital.
I turned and I saw the widow with sunken eyes. She had sobbed so much, she was beginning to gasp and convulse. Looking at her makes me a little relieved. And I whispered my thanks to God.
A slim dark man picked up the chorus again, his tremulous voice flattened by sorrow “all…other ground his …sinking sand,” he cried, rather than sang.
Another tear dropped from my eyes onto the metal rail I was leaning on and eventually fell into the sea. I watched as it became a speck in this ocean of mighty waters. Insignificant. That was exactly how I felt- insignicant in this whole wide worId. I had nothing left. No friend. No family. No photos.
Uju, Somto, Zainab and Chelsea- all gone. The family I had known for a little over 95 days. Our common situation had brought us together. We had shared a bond- the bond of commonality- common griefs and common hopes. But now we were no longer on a common plane of existence.
The thought of moving on was excruciating. All I had left was Christ and memories. Memories of what they said and did. Memories of their dreams, hopes and aspirations. Memory -that intangible, yet powerful multimedia file in us, with the ability to replay audios, videos, pictures, graphics, even texts. Though it was the end of that era, it was not the end of their memory. I was watching the movies in my mind until the foghorn awoke me. I saw small houses and an Island. Then the sailor announced that we had berthed on the coast of
Lampedusa in Italy. The rescuers helped the survivors get off the ship. I followed too. They freaked out, smiling to shutters of journalists, who swarmed us like vultures over corpses.
I couldn’t understand the awkwardness of their joy or how they managed to be professional in the wake of such immense human tragedy. Was it normal? Or was I abnormal? Thousands of migrants have perished at sea since January, I heard them say. So then, we are mere statistics to be fed to hungry news readers? Making money off our misery?
Oh well, all these happened the morning after the boat wreck. A day that left a bitter taste in my mouth- an unforgettable bitterness that left me so lonely, no money could replace, no honey could erase
Oh well, finally or alas, I was in the much desired Europe, but the euphoria was gone. Europe for which I took all risks. I was in Europe, and it was winter. The winter that would alter my life forever. I was in Europe empty-handed and rudderless, in search what next?
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.