Bamako, Mali had a peculiar scenery; and the mode of dressing of its people not quite distinct from that found in norther Nigeria. The city seemed to be opened to most people and refugees fleeing from, West African war affected areas, political persecution and plights. The polity seemed to allow them settle for a while for the great journey ahead.
Ndu and Sarko had sucessfully made it into Bamako, Mali having escaped the anti-drug law men. Sarko had exchanged his money into dollars and few left which could hardly last both of them to further their journey.
At a local lodgings where they lodged, most lodgers were from Sierra Leone and Liberia. Ndu and Sarko had to manage a room with two other Sierra Leoneians.
“You country is rich. Its oil is a huge source of revenue,” began Kemoh, one of the Sierra Leonians as they all sat in the room, “likewise my country in diamond.”
“Yes it’s a major source of revenue, though there is still plight in the Land,” asserted Ndu.
“In my country what do we get from the diamond? Killing, maiming, raping, burning of houses and such,” groaned Kemoh in a meek voice, as he wiped sweat off his brow with his palm.
“It was a terrible experience,” wailed Anjanu, his companion from Sierra Loene.
“I think one has to get over the past and embrace the future with a positive mindset'” said Ndu.
“The atrocities perpetrated during crisis are not easily forgetton especially when it affects you personally,” sighed Kemoh as he looked into space, “what were those rebels demanding for? You kill the people, you want to rule the people and loot the treasury of the people.”
A lady in the next room interrupted them by calling to their attention about the food she had finished cooking; the lodgings was more or less a living house. They hurried off to the lady’s room. At the lodgings, they were living like one big family irrespective of their diverse backgrounds. The food was served in a big tray pan and the ladies and the men ate from the same tray. A small radio tape was playing makossa music so as to prevent their miseries lingering in their minds momentarily.
Ndu had adapted to the new environment with his crony, Sarko the great.
“I’m now saturated. You’ve done well,” Sarko broke the silence.
“Thanks,” replied Bintu, the Sierra Leoneian lady who had prepared the meal.
“When is the next SUV coming?” asked Kemoh.
“In two weeks’ time,” replied Ndu.
“Two weeks is a long time. It seems as though the two weeks look like two years to me,” noted Kemoh.
“Like the tortoise who had stayed in a pit all his life, then, on the day he was going to be lifted from the pit, he began shouting to the top of his voice that they should hasten up,” returned Sarko.
“Meaning?” asked Anjanu.
“Let me put it to you in this way, you have been here for the past two months without complaining, now you have two weeks and you are complaining.”
“I got that now.”
“You had better do, or next time I won’t explain my self again. In my place radio does not talk twice.”
“What does that mean?”
“Like I said, in my place, once a proverb is said, you shouldn’t expect an explaination because if you do, it means the money used to marry your mother is wasteful.”
“I see. You are a real Nigerian.”
“Agreed. I am a true son of the soil, leaving home does not mean I will not come back some day to help rectify the problem we left over there.”
“We too, we shall return back some day to repair the ruins of war in my country.”
* * * * *
Three months had gone since Sarko and Ndu came into Bamako, the capital city of Mali. The long awaited SUV had finally arrived into town. Sarko had paid his transport fare together with that of Ndu to Rabat, Morocco through the Sahara desert route. The agreement between the duo was that Ndu would have to reimburse whatever amount spent on his fare when they made it to their destination.
A slightly dented red Pajero SUV was waiting for the passagers for the great travel ahead. Fifteen people, ten men and five ladies squeezed themselves in the Pajero SUV like some packed livestocks being taken to the slaughter house or pilchards packed in a tin. To the Sahara desert route, the Pajero SUV drove off.
Ndu had not seen such expanse of sand before as they made for the wide and wild desert way to their destination. Then, the first night of horror came as the night fell. A group of bandits descended on them, speaking both French and Arabic.
“STOP! STOP! STOP!” shouted a deep voice among the bandits.
“Climb down immediately, all of you!” bawled another.
“Search! Search! Search!” said the first voice.
The bandits, five in number with arms, searched thoroughly, everywhere and their groins and robbed them of their possessions. Done; the bandits drove off with swiftness on the desert sand.
“My money! My money! I’m finished,” a lady amongst them was heard screaming like hell.
“I don’t think I can continue this journey,” moaned a male voice, “my money is gone. I’m left with nothing.”
“And we have not covered the journey half way.”
“I think we had better turn back.”
“Did I hear you right. Turn back to where?” another male voice countered, “look, we are going forward not backward.”
As this was going on, the driver was quiet, perhaps, he had hidden most of his money elsewhere in the Pajero SUV and the same mood was Sarko.
Sarko had dropped his money on the sandy desert and covered it beneath the sand with his right foot when they had got off the SUV.
“This is a dangerous route. We should be courageous to get to our destination. I overheard one of you saying ‘no going back’. This is one of the things we experience on this route. There’s no point lamenting, we have to continue.”
He looked at his wrist watch, pressing it for the light, it struck one twenty five a.m. The got in again. The Pajero SUV drove off with the passengers after they had gathered themselves and the driver started the engine running.
Two days had gone, still the Pajero SUV was on the desert route. The driver stopped the SUV for the engine to cool off. On the sandy Sahara desert, the passengers settled down for the remnant of canned food they had left with them.
“How many days do we have left to get to Rabat?” Ndu asked the driver.
“We have to pray, one- that the engine doesn’t develop any problem; two- that desert storm doesn’t confuse our route, then if none of these happens, we have more two days to get to Rabat,” announced the driver.
“Two more days of thirst, hunger and terror,” implored a passenger.
As they sat, the evening began approaching twilight. The driver braced up and the passengers all climbed into the SUV and he drove off into the thick, dark night falling.
They had been travelling for about ten hours when another set of six robbers drove up in a jeep and forced the driver to stop at gunpoint, to jump down from the SUV and to lie faced down in the sand. Few men in the Pajero SUV had wanted to prove stubborn. The bandits subjugated them by beating them black and blue. No one was an exception. The ladies were shoulder lifted to a few yards away from others, and were screaming to the top of their voices. The bandits made away with the trifles they could lay hands on and faded out in their jeep, leaving the travellers writhing in pains on the sandy desert. A lady was discovered dead and they were thrown into a mornful mood.
“We have to bury her,” suggested the driver.
“Is this what you see every trip you make?” quizzed a female voice.
“Like I said the route is dangerous, but not always do I encounter all these on my trip.”
“Will you explain to us what is happening here,” another female traveller roared at the driver.
Fellow travellers began to calm her down.
“Sister take it easy. We’re all affected in one way or the other. Just let the driver be,” explained Sarko, “you might think he’s doing us harm, but he’s rendering an invaluable help to us.”
“Not everyone would ply this dangerous route. And we all need this journey much as the driver needs our money. So, sister, calm down. It’s quite unfortunate we’ve lost her. Please, let’s take it easy.”
“I think my instinct is telling me, in no time we shall get to Morocco,” asserted Kemoh.
“When? Kemoh, is it when we have all died on this desert?” wondered the angry lady.
They resolved digging the sand with bare hands as the dawn broke.
After about one feet, the deceased was laid to rest underneath the peaceful and dangerous desert.
Kemoh had improvised a poem which he wrote on the sand with his right index finger:
Here rests a sister
Daughter of zion
Daughter of Africa
A heart once pregnant with promises
Because Africa failed and murdered
Courageous you stood and moved forth
Mother Africa refused your being
Daughter of Africa
Your early demise
Shall not be in vain
Come another day
We shall drink and dance
Rhythm of tom-tom
Tom-tom of Africa
Daughter of Africa.
The wind was a bit gentle as they stood there looking at the spot they had made, the heap conspicuous. Then, the whirlwind came, circling and circling in a mad rush, forming sand-dune and vanished they way it appeared out of the blue.
The Pajero SUV began moving slowly up the sandy desert as the SUV was filled with quietness of the experience gone through since the tedious journey had begun. The quietude kept accompaning the travellers for a whole day without food or water to soothe the thirsty throat. Undernourishment had started creeping in upon them on the fourth day. A male traveller began having crisis over his stomach.
The driver stopped the engine running when the man’s pain got worst. They alighted to stretch their muscles having sat for too long. Sarko brought out a damp packet of Marlboro cigarette from his shirt pocket and lit a stick. The taste of the cirgarette down his throat was harsh, for he needed water. He threw away the cigarette.
“I’m famished. I am thirsty,” wailed a male traveller.
“My stomach! My stomach!” cried another male traveller who had made the driver stopped in the first instance.
It happened in a short while and he drifted and passed on just like a mist.
It was agonizing, the whole setting hapless and they were inert, but could only manage taking the demise of yet another fellow, the one with stomach-ache as one of the realities of life.
The cold hand of death crept in and took this fellow fleeing his war ravaged country to a land, that would give them, perhaps, a sense of belonging or that could be even hostile to them.
“God! God! Where are you?” queried Ndu rhetorically.
“Driver, when do we get to Rabat?” wondered Sarko in fierce voice.
“We are almost getting to Rabat. You need to excercise patience,” assured the driver.
“We are impatient,” Kemoh with a face contorted in frustration.
“This is two days we have been without water,” groaned a lady in a husky voice.
“Now someone has dropped dead again,” Anjanu spoke like one in the blues.
Constipation had become another problem accompanying them in this great journey. The driver was accustomed to the hardship faced by the travallers, he only needed time to get them to Rabat, have a little rest and get back for another trip. Most travellers had indulged in quenching their gullet with their natural liquid.
The fallen traveller was lay to rest after the ground had been dug and was covered with the sand. They were all reeking of sweat, the sun severe.
They lay by the Pajero SUV, the shadow of the SUV cast a shade and they were tired and had to take a nap to regain the strength sapped and lost the previous minutes. As they were resting, the driver poured the remaining diesel into the fuel tank.
On a narrow track to the stream, Ndu and a friend had gone to drink some water, it was difficult to get water in the vicinity, however, they discovered the stream had dried up completely except the ‘nkume alammiri’, the source of the stream. His friend, decided to move in to drink, as he stepped few yards further apart from the initial point into the source, Ndu could not see the fellow again. He began shouting in his dream such that his co-travellers lying beside him, woke him up.
“What was that?” they asked in unison.
“A dream. I just drifted off. . .”
“Maybe, it’s a fever,” said Anjanu.
The driver was now moving in a swiftness that was necessary as some fresh air of life had begun lingering in upon them in the SUV.
Ndu bowed his head in prayer to his Chi, when it came to his shocking reality that he could not say the paternoster nor utter a single word to God Almighty, but slept off as the SUV touched the soil of Rabat, Morocco.
In a bush near the border of Tangier and Mediterranean sea, the refugees had settled, waiting for what the future would bring. The new arrivals were astonished to see the number of hapless people in the fiendish bush. There were many erected make-shift tents. Ndu could not help cogitating about the number of the refugees in the bush; roughly over one thousand in number.
“The crossing over is tonight, the night is moonless,” began Kemoh.
“Tonight?” asked Anjanu.
“of course, provided the weather is favourable.”
“What batch is leaving tonight?”
The time was twelve midnight, a moonless night, the fourth batch set forth for the journey ahead when they had gathered the trifle left with them. In the thick darkness, they trekked onto the dusty, bushy path, beat the border barrier and moved to the sea shore.
At the Mediterranean sea shore, a flimsy raft manned by a man who could pass for an Arab was waiting while his assistant collected the fare from the travellers. The man and his assistant wore life-jackets as he stood in the raft waiting for the refugees to climb onto the raft. The life-jackets reminded the passengers the adventure was a matter of life and death. No going back, they had resolved to cross-over to the other side of the sea.
The raft which had fifteen passenger-capacity, was crammed with thirty refugees, having paid a thousand dollars each to the trafficker. A normal fare from Tangier to Tarifa for the 35-minute ferry ride could be around twenty five dollars. However, the refugees were eagar to embark on this dangerous sail through the Mediterranean. The man sailed away into the horizon to Tarifa, Spain through the Strait of Gibraltar.
The raft made a successful sailing to Tarifa so believed the refugees left behind, since they could hear of no boat capsize or raid by the police for the past two days the raft left.
* * * * *
One mouth had passed as they slept in the bush. Their source of water was a point gushing water beneath a corner on the pebbly sand in the bush, the cooking utensils dented big milk-powder tins.
The tenth batch of the refugees had moved towards the shore. The night dark and quiet. A big boat which could cram up to fifty was waiting. The refugees got onto the boat, and the engine came alive and began to sail off.
A few minutes away from the shore, the Moroccan authority trailed the boat and raided with a helicopter. The boatman was directed to divert from his course to the point of departure. The police guided them caustiously till the boat got to the sea shore where they met some police men on shore. All fifty of the passangers were apprehended when they disembarked.
After interrogation, they were deported to Bamako to square one.
Then, came another fateful night after it was heard of the raid off shore, the police raided the refugees hide-out in the bush.
“POLICE! POLICE! POLICE!” bellowed a refugee.
The refugees began running helter-skelter in all directions in the bush. The police apprehended many of them.
The next morning as the rest of the refugees changed location into the town of Tangier, Ndu did not see Sarko when they converged at a fair-ground. He was with Kemoh and Anjanu save Sarko.
At the fair-ground, they could see a shimmer of light at night from Spain. Anjanu wished he were a bird, then he could fly to the other side.
“I have not see Sarko,” began Ndu.
“Maybe, he was amongst those apprehended,” added Anjanu.
“It’s likely he was.” said Kemoh.
“At least he should have surfaced. Today is the second day after the raid, yet no trace of him. I have just fifty dollars left.”
“That’s serious.” that was Kemoh.
“How do you go about it, I mean about raising the fare?” Anjanu inquired from Ndu.
“I think I will have to work and raise the money.”
“We all need it so we can raise more money to cross over to Spain.” Kemoh showed some concern.
While they were heading to the fair-ground ealier, Ndu had seen a lady whom he could not place where he met her back home. When he intimated his friends about it, they persuaded him to go see her.
“It’s not necessary.”
“What did you call her? Is she not a lady?” asked Kemoh. “Look around what do you see? Robust looking ladies.”
“We have to wake up, the music has changed, hence our dance steps should follow suit.” Anjanu uttered firmly.
“Look, just look at Spain.” Kemoh pointed at the horizon.
“Calm down. We will make it to Spain.” Ndu assured them.
Inside Tangier, most dark skin Africans were already living big, those were men and women who had made some money and resolved to cross over to Europe their own way having been denied visa. Running away from Africa to a future unpredictable.
Ndu recalled when in Kano, he had gone to a restaurant with Sarko.
“My intention is to do my Masters overseas,” he had begun.
“And how do you intend to achieve that?”
“I plan sitting for some examinations, though, I need to raise the money for the examinations.”
“I have told you to join my canoe, but you feel reluctant.”
“I’m still contemplating about it.”
“Keep thinking about it while some people are leaving the country every now and then.”
“If only I have a means. . .”
“Look, I know another route of getting to Europe. So, if you have the courage to make some money here in Kano, we’ll have to leave the country together.” Sarko patted him on his left shoulders as they sat down in the restaurant.
* * * * *
“Have you heard?” Kemoh began in a husky voice.
“Heard what?” returned Ndu.
“The boat capsized last night.”
“Did what?” Ndu breathed in more air, “cap what?”
“No one was rescured, not even a single soul?”
“What might have gone wrong? People keep dying here and there. Not even here is exempted. At home it was torturing, maiming and killing. Here death keeps trailing one’s path.”
“We are in dilemma,” Anjanu looked directly into the distant space.
They were outside, in front of the lodgings and could see a faint light of Tarifa. They gazed at the faint distance with a mixed feeling.
After spending four hours outside the breezy night, they crept into the room, which served them for the meantime, and lay down waiting for the unknown future.