By Mitchell Aghatise
As I check my watch, it occurs to me that I am running late. It is 5am, and Edosa – my smuggler – had been very clear that the bus to Kano departed daily at 5.15 am. Despite packing up my few belongings last night, second thoughts are now creeping in. I quickly banish these thoughts, it is essential that I follow through. I am not selfish, materialistic reasons haven’t informed my decision to leave. I consider this to be a reasonable duty for my family. Caring for six kids is not easy for papa and mama. With the recent plunge in crude oil prices, the economy has taken a dive. Papa was an unwilling casualty, despite his hard-work and dedication to duty; he is still being owed a year’s worth of salaries. Feeding has become an issue; talk less of life’s luxuries. When Edosa convinced me to leave Nigeria, it was a no-brainer, especially with the rewards Europe has to offer. I haven’t told mama, she is rather strict. My earliest memories are of Mama, stirring some beans in the pot and muttering – “My daughter will not end up prostituting in Italy.” No, I must not tell Mama.
You know, Edosa said I will be employed in a bank when I arrive in Spain. I am quite excited about this, especially as I wasn’t a stellar student in high school. Although I find it rather suspicious that my very mediocre grades will be extolled abroad, I choose not to press Edosa on this. I am excited. Maybe I can finally help papa finish the house at ring road within a year. While I am yet forming these thoughts, the driver of the rickety bus informs us that we will soon be at the border to the Sahara desert – we must all disembark.
As we approach the Sahara desert, the new smugglers demand payment for the next leg of the trip. I try to explain. “…I paid to Edosa. I have paid! I paid for the whole trip! I have paid!” I notice eventually that my cries are not gaining traction. Edosa swindled me. I am on my own – literally, in the middle of nowhere.
At this juncture, choices have deserted me. A trip back to Nigeria is too expensive. Staying in Mali is not an option. When the smugglers suggested an ‘alternative form of payment,’ please understand that I was left with no choice. As my legs open wide to pay for the rest of my trip, I focus solely on Europe and all the fruits she has to offer. With eyes closed, I convince myself that Europe is worth my dignity. This is the first time I am raped on this journey. As I’ll soon discover, it is not to be the last.
I want you to understand this: when I arrived the river crossing to Spain from Libya, payment by sex was not because of my immorality. I want you to understand that I had become resigned to my fate. I want you to understand that circumstance made me accustomed to sex as a currency; a currency to pay my way to Europe. Some nights, I question what I have done; I question whether Nigeria was ever this bad; I question whether the snake bites I suffered while trekking through the Sahara was worth it; I question life itself. But I am not one to wallow in regret. As soon as it is time to hustle into the jam-packed boat, I shamelessly bully my way in. It is too late to remember all the ladylike mannerisms mama taught me.
As we pull out from the coast, I begin to smile. I see Europe in the distance. The chase is almost over. I awake with a start. There is pandemonium. There is a leak on board – the ship is sinking. The weather is not helping matters. Although I had become a fighter in the desert – the Mediterranean waves are too strong for me. As I begin to drown, I remember mama’s prayers, “My daughter will not end up prostituting in Italy.”
Writers note: It is a shame that Nigerian nationals have to die while crossing for a better life in Europe. It is a shame that a country so wealthy has failed its citizens – such that, a treacherous journey is better than life in Nigeria. To all the silent workers, who ensure that another can climb the ladder of success in Nigeria, this piece salutes you. In our own communities, let us all seek to make an impact such that our countrymen don’t have to be sacrificed on the altar of the Mediterranean.