At The Immigration
He was fierce.
He defended his green card with such patriotism that even Jaja of Opobo would envy. He would not let anyone tell him of the evils the hearts of his people bore, he would let no one tell him of the latest schemes Nigerians had for smuggling goods across borders or of their countless experiences as immigration officers, meeting people with smiles that charm even the devil and hearts as cold as metal. He would have none of the wicked stares and dismissal by the police officers who did little than hide their disgust at the mere sight of the green card. He matched them up, every one of them, and even outwitted them. The prowess of his vocabulary and perfect pronunciation gave him away as obviously very educated, perhaps, a bit on the arrogant side. He took his time, explaining to them, why they simply could not label any entire nation of 140 million people bad. He convinced the rest of us on that line that the immigration officers were xenophobic, and did not deserve their jobs, as they were partial and ruthless beings, revelling only in making others unhappy.
There were shuffled whispers amongst the crowd, many of us were, just like that man, my quintessential hero, bearers of the green card, and victims of this hostility on several international borders. We did all we could to encourage him, but I, shy as always, remained silent.
I admired this man so much I resolved with such strong conviction that he was my hero; he was everything I wanted to be. He was bold and had such charisma he could convince a person to put their hands into the fire, but judging from how he dressed and spoke, he would not put his rare talent to use in such meaningless endeavours. After staring at him for what seemed like an eternity, and absolving all his character traits I wished to imbibe, I drifted into my world. I imagined that Nigerians had such impeccable reputations that people boasted of having Nigerians as neighbours and friends, or even as acquaintances. I dreamt of a time where the world would flock into my country for our cultural festivals, carnivals, investments, education, and merely to have a Nigerian visa in their passports.
Unfortunately, my imagination was indeed, as far as can be from the gruesome reality that faced me. Suddenly, there were insults and curses, occasional cries of babies, and even lovers and couples exchanged unpleasant words, out of frustration. Once again, my conversations with my friends of other African countries at my school came to mind. The stories they relayed were so embarrassing, they became funny. Some told me their parents had warned them sternly against mingling with the Nigerian students. Others had simply resolved to retain their relationships with Nigeria students at arm’s length; for fear that they may be introduced to drugs, ‘419’ or cybercrimes. Others simply told me off claiming they ‘wanted to retain their morals and values’.
Suddenly, I tripped, and almost fell, everyone in the line was protesting. I looked around me, trying to gather as much as I could with my eyes. My ‘hero’ was once again, dazzling the crowd with his impeccable oratory, however, he had been shoved aside by some police officer. I gasped and a shiver ran down my spine. The young lady behind me tapped my shoulder, quite vigorously. ‘Yes’ I answered her, and turned around. ‘My sister’, she began, her stare was so piercing I had to lower my eyes a little. ‘This immigration is just annoying me sha’
At first, I did not know how to respond, but I thought again, and mumbled, ‘oh’, quickly thinking of ways to keep the conversation going. ’I think this is the most vicious search I have seen’ I laughed, and continued ‘not like I have seen so many anyway, I am in school so I travel just about once a year, but then, I guess it’s never this bad, at least from the stories I have heard’
‘Hmmn’, she chuckled, ‘then I guess the stories you have heard do not give the full pictures of the things that go on as you try to pass this border…’, she looked at her wrist watch, and back at me, ’I am really tired of all this, and I have to endure the embarrassment ever so often, given the nature of my job’. Her eyes twinkled and I thought to myself how this woman must love her job, for there to even be a twinkle in her eyes at merely speaking of it.
‘So’, I asked, ‘what do you do?’ she smiled, and after a moment, answered, ‘illegal businesses’ ‘yeah right’, I said to her ‘and you think you can sell me at that? Well, I do not believe you though; I mean, you wouldn’t go through all this stress in the name of illegal businesses. Okay seriously, tell me, what do you do… or are you going to visit a relative, friend, or…’ I stopped, and then continued, ‘are you cheating on your boyfriend?’ Immediately, I realised the gravity of the statement I had just made. Thankfully, she began to laugh, and she laughed so hard, I wondered if she was laughing at something else.
‘No I am not visiting any one’, she said and began to laugh some more.’ I’m actually going on holiday with my boyfriend’
‘Well then, that means he is somewhere on this line, doesn’t it?’
She blushed and then nodded her head. I looked around me and tried to guess who this boyfriend was. Then I turned to her and answered ‘once again, I do not believe you.’ She had the funniest expression on her face ‘well, whether or not you believe me does not matter, I have a boyfriend, and I’m actually travelling with him’, she smiled, and then said, ‘in fact, he is standing right behind you’. I bet my facial expression at that point would win an Oscar for the best-facial-expression, if there were ever to be something like that!
I did turn around and well, it was the ‘role model’ I had made for myself while waiting to sort out immigration problems, how ridiculous! Several thoughts crossed my mind, and I bet he could make out that I was in utter shock and confusion. I mean, not that I liked him or anything, I just least expected him to be this lady’s boyfriend.
‘Well, then, I guess you have made a new friend, Dara’ he looked at her, and then turned to me ’I am Rotimi, and I am pleased to meet you, young woman’
I stuttered, ‘I am pleased to meet you too, my name in Blossom’
‘So, Blossom, tell me a little bit about yourself’
’Uhm, I’m in my third year in Law school, unfortunately, I think I’m terribly shy, but I just happen to like law, if that makes any sense’
‘Well, it does, you know, why would it not?’
He began to say something but was cut short. The immigration officers had to do one final search, before we could leave to the arrival area. I was so irritated, why would they have to search us now, just now, when I was beginning to learn a little more about this gorgeous man, why would they want to ruin the results of the single boldest decision I had made, I had never spoken to anyone so spontaneously, so speaking to Dara and Rotimi did mean a lot to me, besides, who would not want to be associated to such a well-bred young man.
Soon enough, we were all directed to a screening room, and by the looks on people’s faces, this was not-so-fun. I was in the least bit terrified, I mean, I hated people touching me like that, but then, I had nothing to hide, and I did not even know what hard drugs looked like. So, I was fine.
Suddenly, Dara appeared beside me, ‘Well, where have you been?’ She had beads of sweat on her lip and she looked perturbed. ‘Nowhere sensible, I just wanted to find out what was really happening up there’
‘I sure hope so, I cannot wait to get out of this airport, really, like it was a long flight, and now, all this palaver’.
Dara walked away and I sighed. I felt so bad for her, a respectable and responsible young lady, having to undergo such humiliation, and very often, given her ‘illegal business’.
Suddenly, Rotimi walked out fuming ‘so nowadays, there is nothing like privacy anymore, this has to be the most embarrassing day of my entire life, I mean, I had to take my clothes off, and undergo a full body scan, can you imagine, Blossom, I mean the likes of you need to return to home and restore Nigeria’s tarnished image. This is simply …’
He broke off while I walked into the scanning room.
I was traumatised; I had been treated like a criminal for bearing the green card. I looked around me, and found Rotimi, a blank stare on his face. He was obviously disturbed. I looked around and did not find Dara, I guessed that was the problem. ‘You do not have to worry so much, she is not a child, and she’ll come out very soon’ .
He feigned a smile, before he mentioned ‘I wonder why this is taking so long’
She did come out, with hand cuffs and police men all around her. I was in utter shock, and Rotimi looked just as helpless as I did. The police men then asked if she knew anyone around, and she feebly pointed at Rotimi, who looked just as stunned as I.
‘So, young man, do you have anything to say?’
Rotimi turned to Dara instead, ‘Baby, why did you do this to me, to us, to Nigeria. Dara, you know I love you very much, and even more so because you stood firm by me, while I did my entire fighting-for-the dignity-of-the-green-card-bearer-thing, so why, why Dee, why?’
Tears coursed down Dara’s face, so her words were barely audible, ‘Ro, it was Uncle Tee who convinced me, he told me he had his guys here at the immigration waiting for me, I’m sorry Ro, really I am, and you know I would never dis…’
Rotimi cut her short, ‘No, you are getting it all wrong, it’s not who made you do it, it is why you did it, Dara, your pay-cheque comes in six figures every month, yet, you indulge in such…there is nothing more I can do, I will give your Daddy a call, and tell everyone at home, at least, as courtesy demands. I guess the road has ended for us’ His voice broke, and the tears flowed.
A crowd had gathered already, and it had become quite a scene, so Rotimi and I moved to get our luggage and Dara’s as well. We did it as though it was some mundane task we had performed from time immemorial, and the silence that enveloped us was deafening. I could only surmise what went through Rotimi’s mind after everything; his fierce defence of the green card, the show of love and affection for Dara, everything. He truly did not deserve such lot in life.
I wondered if the millions of Nigerians fighting for this country deserved anything of the bad treatment they got once abroad. Truly, one rotten egg could do damage to an entire crate. As much as I left the airport that day perplexed, I knew I had come one more step to understanding the reason for the xenophobia we Nigerians were subject to. The remedy for this situation had to begin from us, we had to first purge ourselves of our ills and evil-doings, only then could we dream of rebranding our image.