(An excerpt from the novel AFTER THESE EERIE DAYS by Abiose A.Adams… continued from last week)
Mama Tee would take no further excuse from me, and I also would take no further threats from her. So on the night I met Osas, I had determined to cling to the straw. Before Osas came to our table, I sat with Jim, one of our day customers. He was a huge man whose manner was brusque and business-like. He flipped out his phone, and for about half an hour, he talked loudly about drugs and deals, encrypting and decrypting his messages. As the night wore on, several guys prowled and crawled from pub to pub. Soon, a man wearing a white, freestyled linen shirt and trousers approached us. On his feet were a pair of blood-red loafers. He was fattish and garnished his neck with a garish gold chain.
“Pleased to meet you,” he stretched his hand, and gave a smile which was meant to be alluring, but turned out annoying, for he crushed my hands in his, holding it a few seconds longer. His palms felt dry and as scruffy as the abrasive grit of a sand paper.
“You are a very pretty and fresh girl.” He looked at me, and at Jim, and smiled a knowing smile. The kind a merchant emotes when he sees a profitable product.
“Meet Osas my very good friend and business partner,” Jim said, finally setting his phone on the table. While Osas told me about how he ferries girls to Europe, and gets them jobs as nannies and baby sitters, my concentration was on his skin. The outermost layer had been scraped off by bleaching creams, leaving the second layer. And even that now looked pinkish, like the appearance of one going through healing in the aftermath of a hot bath.
“From Europe you can get paid in Euros and save some money to sponsor your education,” he paused, and leered again.
My mind returned when I heard money. “What do I need to do?”
“We just need to get all your particulars.”
“Money? How much?”
“Ha… N20,000? I don’t have 20 kobo,” I said with all transparency.
“So how can it be possible?” Jim entered the conversation, sounding disappointed that after all these weeks at MamaTee, I wasn’t still street-wise.
“If you cannot pay, we can arrange something for you,” Osas licked his soot-black lips and made eye contact with Jim, as though to soften the roughness around Jim’s speech.
“Can’t you just help me…please..?”
“Help?” Osas asked as his countenance mutated from leer to dispassion. “You don’t wait for anyone to help you,” he paused again. “…you help yourself!” He spat out the word, as though suddenly irritated by my naivety, maybe stupidity.
“Heavens help those who help themselves,” Jim added.
Heavens help those who help themselves? If humans could help themselves, why then do they need a supernatural being like God. Why did we put, in the Nigerian pledge, the phrase, ‘so help me God? Why did Michael Bolton need to sing, Lean on me? Why in the world did Jesus come to help humanity?
I needed help. But I wasn’t going to do their bidding either. I was ready to trek to Seme, hoping one good Samaritan would help me back to Lagos. And then I thought; do my parents even care? Two months since I had been thrown out of the house, the universe was still intact. Nothing has gone out of its place. I haven’t seen any announcement, on national television, about a missing girl. No police is offering any bounty to anyone who found Funto Colesworth. Why do I bother going back, even?
Then I noticed their conservation went over my head, ignoring me, not that I had nothing to offer, but that I was stubbornly ignoring the obvious.
“Efe, my daughter, won 2nd position in the pageant…..” Osas said, lighting a stick of cigarette.
“…aha! ..ha! congrats, my brother,” Jim said, and at that moment, his stony face melted into milk- the milk of fraternal love. I felt jealous, that he wouldn’t show me similar kindness.
“…with cash prize o…” Osas added, his voice texturised with pride.
“Me too,” Jim said, leaning back, his bulk filling the entire white chair… “…my baby won award of recognition as the most consistent in paying school fees.”
“My brother Naija hard o. Poverty everywhere. If you can pay school fees regular, regular, you be champion o,” Osas hailed, closing his eyes as he inhaled the cigarette.
They shook hands and shook their heads.
I froze to the chair, hearing, long after they had stopped talking, that these men have daughters who were so beautiful, they won beauty pageants. It was unimaginable that these men would pimp their ‘dear’ daughters. But they would other girls, and use the proceeds to score points, brag amongst themselves, drive big cars and lead fake lives. Men who claim to feel pity towards poor Nigerians, but are themselves pity stocks. Men who crush the innocence of other girls whilst preserving their daughters.’ I shook my head for them the way they shook their heads for me.
“I give you one more chance,” Jim said.
I clutched the straw in the bottle of malt, I was drinking, eyes lowered, I replied, “I’ll…I’ll,…. pay with my pay…. give me work anywhere.”
So I got a job as a storekeeper in a superstore owned by one randy, red-faced Lebanese, who had a bald head and wore a bored look.
A number of times, he would come to the store when others, were not looking; point to the bulge below his zipper fly, which looked wet. He would command me to massage it. I was supposed to earn a pay, for a day job and a bonus, for a blow job. Perhaps, because he employed me, and had been told I was very desperate. How so wrong he was! Unable to believe I was rejecting what he was offering, he would pursue me at the close of work. And I would flee. Because of him, I stopped sleeping in the store, sometimes I slept under the staircase, sometimes in an uncompleted building. I fed on dry bread and powdered milk, till I became dry and powdery. Here was I, a child, cushioned and cloistered, now a waif; more like a prey being encircled by wild beasts- beasts in human skin. In the day I wandered, in the night I shivered, from the cold. At all times, I was suffocating under the heavy slab of depression physically pressing again my chest.
On the night I slept inside an abandoned vehicle, I shed no small tears. That was the night I heard in my prayers, a voice saying ‘be strong, my plans for you haven’t changed yet.’ After fleeing for two months to raise N13,750, the Lebanese sacked me for theft. I wish I did steal! He paid me only N9,575, but I was glad the flight ended. I gave it to Osas and promised to balance later.
“We need your passport too,” he said with a graciousness alien to his nature.
On the day I went to the brothel to pick my passport, I met Somto ululating. She was on the floor, in a spaghetti top, hair tousled, face, uncosmetised. Chelsea was splayed on the floor beside her, in a wrapper across her chest. Two sympathisers were there too, crying as usual, louder than the bereaved.
The moment she saw me, Somto threw herself at me, causing us both to stagger, “Uju, Uju,…eh…eh….” She wailed.
Chelsea picked up the energy of her agony and filled in the missing words which Somto’s mouth couldn’t form, “Uju don die ooo…”
“Whaattt?!! I dropped. Shocked.
The grief-mongers told me that after Uju had been missing for one week, the police came with her body; all her organs were removed.
“What?!” I screamed, my two hands on my head.
“Dem use am do juju…ohh..e no go beta for dem… ehhhhh,” she cursed in a louder voice, and afterwards threw herself on the floor.
Though we were grieving, I understood the importance of those organs to her. That was her bargaining power, which got her the money- the money she told me (the last time) she won’t lend me, because she got it using her blood, body and sweat.
And then Chelsea added, “Emily don die ohhh.”
Again Somto added, “Zain is in hospital.. she was dayagonized of AIDS.”
Dayagonized? I couldn’t laugh, though I normally would have. I was breaking inside, wondering what more news will be added.
I sorrowed for Uju. The thought of where her soul had gone, depressed and guilt-tripped me. Though we were at loggerheads, I would miss her. Though she antagonised my faith, it also strengthened me. Without her criticisms, I probably would have been forced to join them. I would miss Uju.
Abiose A. Adams is a novelist, investigative journalist and programme officer at TheCable Newspaper Journalism Foundation. She can be reached on [email protected], @abioseadams, 08174217144(WhatsApp only).
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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