(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A.Adams… continued from last week)
It was sunrise in the world, but sunset in my world. The sun was shining and smiling, but it failed to lift the gloom in my heart. I sat and stared. That was, perhaps, all I did those days- stare and care, and get scared of the future.
It was September, and the weather was very hot. But I was cold. Colder than ice, denser than mercury. I stared through the window of the bus driving us through the busy streets of Ouagadougou.
A wagon carrying a sticker with the message, ‘The downfall of a man is not the end of his life’ sped past. Another with the message, ‘A man’s problem is an indication of his greatness’, also overtook us. Hope surged through me, and for a second, I thought the message was directed at me. Maybe I would still be great.
While I thought about it, the tires of our bus screeched to a halt, suddenly. The driver had almost hit a child. I looked. She was a girl of about five, stunted, shoeless, and in a tattered dress. She was on the street, running after passers-by, begging for money. Maybe she too would be great, since she obviously had a problem- the problem of hunger and survival. And then, there was a fruit seller by the roadside, wearing a hand woven, raffia hat and a frown. Maybe she was frowning at the sun for wilting her fresh fruits, or it was a frown after a quarrel with her husband. She too would be great, because she obviously had a problem- financial or marital.
After travelling miles, we arrived Bamako- a rather sluggish town, covered in red dust. Most of the men of the town were characteristically tall and dark, and they kept full grey beards, like some Nigerian Hausas.
Shortly after, the bus pulled in front of a house with a prison-high fence. The driver hooted, and a skinny teenage boy with protruded incisors, first reared his head; and later ran out to open the big, black gate. We drove into the premises and met a suspicious-looking, white bungalow with white curtains and sliding doors. Surrounding it were several flower pots, bearing white rose plants. The nine of us got into its unfurnished sitting room.
Because of its eerie quietude, we turned to one another, asking questions, hush, hush. Santos pretended not to hear us. But the walls heard us and echoed our fears.
He went out and came in with five men in deadlocks and skull caps.
They tied wrappers around their waists, and on their bare chest were pendants of tortoise shell and calabashes, suspended by a red rope. Though, they wore layers of makeovers that heaped 20 additional years to their age current age, their eyes, voice and demeanour, all said, they were young.
“All of you will enter this room, so they can examine your star, to look into your destiny. So that we can know which of you will implicate this ring, and which of you will bring us goodluck,” Santos said with a French accent. We were all seated on the dusty floor, looking up at him and at ourselves, trying to understand what he said.
In no minute, he flipped out, from his hip pocket, a rumpled, white sheet of paper, and began to call out our names. His face, expressionless as usual. Interestingly, the girls were excited to check out their destinies.
“What did the Oracle say,” the other girls rushed at Somto immediately she came out of the room. She told us, they saw her sunset. Chelsea told us they saw her luck, padlocked.
When it was my turn to go in, I perceived in the room, the smell of turari (local incense), and a decomposing animal. One of them who was boasting of his zoological powers, (I guessed he wanted to say astrological powers), began to shake, like a wind-tossed plant.
“hmmmh….,” he said. “this girl is bad market.”
Santos, who stood there, asked why.
“Hhhhhhmmmhh…hhm mm…She has some supernatural powers, that is destined to implicate this ring.”
“She will lead to your arrest,” another said.
“What can we do Baba?”
“Get rid of her!”
Baba?! But these guys were not anything close to being addressed as baba. They were school leavers, probably some unemployed graduates now appearing in all shades of dishonesty. And from their accent, they were Nigerians. Nigerians who have turned their skills into schemes, and talents into tactics. Nigeria, the giant of Africa, and also the giant of traffickers. Traffickers- those shenanigans, who necessarily don’t need to charm their captives, but the illusory desires of their captives itself, is the charm.
Santos threw me out, separating me from others.
I walked out, sat on the edge of a railing at the verandah towards the back of the bungalow. He stomped towards me.
“If you don’t confess to me your powers, I will send you back to Nigeria,” he said, tersely. I looked at him, resisting the urge to insult him.
“What good news,” I said.
He looked at me in wonder. For the first time, his expressionless face livened with this emotion of ‘wonderment.’
“What do you mean good news?”
I didn’t answer but continued to stare.
“I ask you for the last time, tell me what supernatural powers you have.”
“I think the ‘spiritual fathers’ are in a better position to know.”
“I am not joking girl,” he said through gritted teeth. His face suddenly metamorphosed from wonder to danger.
“I have Holy Ghost supernatural powers. Jesus’ divine power resides in me.”
“Holy Ghost my foot!” Jesus my foot!” He barked, panting so hard, I thought for a second, he was one cheap bully.
“That is nothing but the truth. I can’t deny who I am because I am in this situation,” I replied, suddenly, brazenly.
He bent towards me and stared, the flap of his baseball cap, almost touching my forehead. I flinched, thinking he would hit me.
He must have thought, me strange. Because at that point, no one wants to be turned back
I had heard him and Osas discussing while in the bus, that one Signora Magdalene in Italy, was waiting to take delivery of us. She had made huge down payments, and none of the nine of us must be lost.
“Let me tell you something…. Europe is just at your nose. After here, you will cross the Sahara and the Med-Sea- you are in Europe,” he shrugged and said with the ease of reciting, A,B,C.
“…You better cooperate with us now, and keep your Jesus inside your pocket! If you implicate this ring! I will personally,” he paused to hit his broad chest with his fat fingers, “….throw you into the sea,” he stomped away.
I stared, speechlessly, at his huge retreating back.
That night, I wanted to walk out of the whole deal, but the gate was heavily padlocked, the fence, jailbreak-proof. I walked to the back, there I saw, through the perforated fence, a river flowing, carrying planktons and cartons. It must be the famous River Niger en-route to Nigeria, where it empties into the Atlantic ocean.
Transfixed by the effect of the moon on it, I saw myself in a silhouette on its waters, flowing past. I wished it could, in reality, carry with it, across the Atlantic, these desires of mine. This desire to be someone great in life, the desire to get a university education, the desire to have my faith rewarded, the desire to be reunited with my family- to be out of this cruel coldness and be safe in the warmth of family kindness. Though the sun has set on this river, and I am a prisoner of these desires, I saw, on this river, the silhouettes- silhouettes of my desires.
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.
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