(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A.Adams… continued from last week)
We all came to an illogical conclusion that to go to Europe was the way forward. Not to go to Europe was the way backwards. For me, because I wanted to compensate for my loss, and to prove to my family, someday when I see them, that I could still become ‘somebody’ in life.
For Somto, because she was worried, she might be pregnant with Mama Tee’s husband child. For Chelsea, because it was her only option to save her poor, diabetic father.
For all of us, because we all had pains. And we believed going to Europe was our pain reliever.
It was thus easy to believe Osas’ sugarcoated story.
“You can make it big in three months,” he was used to saying.
“No hassles of visa denials, preparing fake bank statements and hotel reservations,” he would say.
So we jumped into the bus, and after two hellish days on the road, we arrived at a white bungalow in a city, which has all its signboards and road signs, written French.
” Welcome to Ouagadougou.” A tall man with big eyes, said. His cornea were so yellowish that one would think he used to work in a quarry. He wore a blue baggy t-shirt, on which was written, in helvetica fonts, ‘Bon Arrive, Bon Chance.’
“I am Santos,” he said, almost inaudibly. As Osas spoke to him, there were movements in his eyes, some sort of twitching, but he neither smiled nor spoke any other body language.
We were a total of eight girls and two guys, that alighted from the vehicle that night, stretching our backs and flexing our limbs. At the back of the bungalow was a ramshackle boys’ quarters whose frontage was jumbled with empty crates of beer, condoms, cigarette stubs, matchsticks and bottle tops.
“Our spiritual father is coming to show us the way, ” Santos said, fixing those scary eyes on us all.
So we sat around a white plastic table, waiting. We were served hot pepper soup. Meanwhile, carousing went on at the bar behind. As we ate, the girls kept chatting about what they will do when they arrive in Europe. How they would suddenly become messiahs, sending money home to rescue their poor families; and how they would get themselves impregnated by any man in white skin, even if he was a lunatic, or old enough to be their grandfather- for the sake of papers or citizenship. They talked about how they would have half-caste children, whose vocabulary would be devoid of, “NEPA has taken light.” Half-caste children who would have impeccable skin, long hair, speak with a drawl, and a highly esteemed foreign accent. Half-caste children who would scream at the sight of cockroach and develop malaria fever, at one single bite of a mosquito.
“My half caste child will be ‘oyinbo’, European citizen,” one of them even said, as though, to be a Nigerian citizen was an unfortunate occurence.
They spoke about how they would only visit Nigeria when their parent died, to attend funeral parties or chieftaincy title coronations. And how they would seize the occasion to impress those at home with their flamboyance -new cars, shoes, jewelry, new accent and new ‘oyinbo’ skin. None of them talked about going to study and return to Nigeria to develop the infrastructure, or to build the society. But that was my dream- to study and return to Nigeria; to give back to the society.
After a while, a skinny, frail-looking young man, with two unequal legs, limped towards us.
“My name is Abdul……from your accent, I guess you guys are from Nigeria,” The chat stopped at once.
“Yes, Nigeria,” Chelsea was the first to answer. “Oh…you are my kinsman then,” with eyes intense, affixed on her, he played with his scraggly beards.
“Lagos,” Zobby answered.
“Benin,” answered Chelsea.
“East,” Somto, said
“Anhaa,” he smiled. It was the smile of one resuscitated to life after prolonged homesickness.
“Bo dia e…” he said in Edo “…you are my person,… I’m from Esako Central,” he hit his knuckles against that of Chelsea.
“I’m from Benin City, Guobardia…”
“Oh good, good….we’re one, so where are you people going?” He nodded- a well-informed nod of one familiar with the illusions of Nigerians travelling such routes.
“We are travelling to Europe.”
“Hmmmh,” he shook his head. I wish you luck. I have been here for four years now. But no money to continue my trip.”
“What happened,” I asked looking at him curiously.
“I was a banker at Intercontinental Bank. But I had this dream of making money in Europe. Two of my elder brothers have travelled and they are making it big. But the man that helped me collected all my money since then, I have been stranded here.” Everyone was quiet.
“Oh yes. I am doing shoemaker work here to make ends meet. I have no dime to even return to Nigeria.”
My heart skipped.
“We are many o,” he said. His Adam’s apple moved as he swallowed.
“Shoki, Shoki! Abeg come.” And towards us strolled another slender guy in brown tabard. In his gloved hands were a serrated-edged knife and long spatula.
“You see this guy, he is a great footballer at AJ City.” Have you heard of AJ city at Lagos. He is the Okocha of AJ city,” he said raising his brows.
“Ajegunle?” Chelsea chipped. By now she had dropped her spoon on the table.
“Yes. He was a defender. He wanted to enter Europe and join Arsenal club. He has been here for three years too. All these agents collected everything he had and now he is selling barbeque here.”
I turned my wrist, it was 2am.
Fear gripped my heart. I noticed Santos and Osas, had disappeared. Probably to call the spiritual father? I hoped my story wouldn’t be like that of Abdul and Shoki.
I became so paralyzed with fear, I had to rest my head on the table. From being a banker in Nigeria to a shoemaker in Burkina Faso? This is the irony of Nigeria- a country that decimates its graduates to people who don’t rate. A country so wealthy, but whose wealth only circulates in the hands of few; a place where the rich are drawing from oil wells while the poor are drowning in wells of poverty. A country of diverse languages and cultures, but unified by one language –the language of corruption.
Chelsea said, ‘God forbid!’ snapping her finger over her head, forwards and backwards.
“In Jesus name, I will get to my destination,” she shouted.
Chizoba, nicknamed, Zobby, a petite, fair-skinned girl, who newly joined us on this journey, also repeated Chelsea’s words and gestures. So did Somto, and the other girls.
While they were refuting and renouncing, another lady, tall with brown smoky eyes, approached us. She also came to inject us with her own dosage of gory story.
“Hello, my country people,” she said, her voice croaky. “You have nowhere to stay?” She pulled herself a chair on our table. She had an unnaturally yellow skin that contrasted her dark cuticles. “We are waiting for Santos and Osas, who brought us here,” I answered.
“Ha,ha, ha,,” she erupted into a ghostly laughter, that not only closed her hooded eyes and puffed her rosy cheeks but also sent cold shivers down my spine.
“What?” I looked at her questioning. “I’ve been here three years now. My husband has no money. So he said I should go and hustle. From Cameroon, I came here, but all promises fake. I am servicing men here.”
“Ehen..ehn,” someone said.
“The worst part of it is that they cut me with blade.” She stretched her hands displaying the incisions at the back of her palms. “They cut my pubic hair, nails, and said I must swear by the gods and pledge to remit dollars before I can travel. So that is what I am doing now.”
“ehn,” my mouth couldn’t close.
I think this is where my journey ends. I’d rather return than take blood covenant. But I no longer knew how to return. I had finally lost my way to Nigeria- the oil-rich country that chases away its youths; a country where the greed of its leaders force its citizens to drop degrees, to become refugees, in poorer countries.
Refugees not fleeing war or pestilence, but fleeing economic hardship. And its citizens, which had been crocodiles at home, become lizards abroad, as long as that lizard benefits from the commonwealth of all warm-blooded animals.
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.