They Never Talked
Tunde Gbadegesin never complained about things and whenever he did, it was always subtle, without any iota of anger. However, after his sixth year of trying to get a permanent source of income, after he was retrenched for no reason from the small one he had, his subtle complaints evolved to become jibes. His complaints became repulsive to the extent that Chukwuemeka was compelled to tell him about an agent that could help them travel out of the country to Europe through the Mediterranean Sea.
That day, Adejobi, Isaac’s immediate elder brother was also in the room with them. Tunde was the eldest in the house. They sent Isaac out of the room despite the way he argued that he was already in the 100 level in the University, that he knew right from wrong.
However, when they were to leave home, he was around and witnessed the way they fought his father, who was suspicious of the way they got their money.
So as he followed Tunde, Adejobi, Yahasa- their landlord’s daughter-, and another guy that he had never seen, he wondered what happened to Chukwuemeka.
‘Isaac, this is the time to return to your wailer of a father’, Tunde said as he boarded the private car that would take the four of them to the North. He sighed and dumped their luggage in the trunk of the car.
As they settled in the car that was to take them to this place, Adejobi grabbed a sachet of water. They had gotten five bags of it, enough cartons of biscuit and a lot of other junks. He wondered what they would need all those for, but he couldn’t possibly ask them since they were bent on hiding the details from him.
‘Do you know the meaning of what you are doing?’ Yahasa lamented. ‘Have you forgotten the hotness of the Sahara that we would be walking? Was I the only one listening when the agent was giving us the instruction? I’m the lady here for crying out loud. I should be the one doing all this rubbish’.
Adejobi hissed and washed his face. He always loved to look good.
‘Oh! You’re so vain’, she grumbled.
‘You are nudging my vein. Stop disturbing me’.
‘Would we have needed the water?’ Tunde fumed. ‘Tell me, would we have to trek to the border that leads to Libya if we had the opportunity. I mean the legal opportunities. And unfortunately, those that got the chance to go the legal way are either soiling our name or complaining about us. How do we grow?’
Isaac’s face wrinkled with a smile. Tunde didn’t disappoint him. He knew his complaint would supersede that of everyone in the car.
‘I’ll miss you’, Isaac muttered as Ade got down to hug him. Ade nodded and smiled. Tunde sighed as he also came to give him a hug. He released him and hugged him again. Their hugging might have lasted for hours had the tiny voice of Yahasa not broken their concentration.
‘I hate to ruin this emotional roller coaster but we’ve got to go’, she said and yelled with her hands lifted to the sky. She turned to look at the other guy who was laughing, ‘what’s wrong with you people? Break-up already. Are you sure you people are guys? I think we’ve got to pull down your trousers to confirm. Ah!’ She yelled.
‘Yuck!’ Adejobi said and dumped the sachet of water on the ground.
‘Pick it up, Ade’ Tunde said as he released Isaac. ‘That’s what we are saying. Look at everywhere. Littered with the anger of people, littered with dirt’.
He picked one of the bottles of water on the ground and threw it into the nearest dustbin. Ade murmured and did as Tunde instructed. Then, their car drove off.
Isaac watched their car drive off. He might not be seeing them in a long time. Although he really had the desire to follow them, he was aware that his brothers went through a lot to make sure they got the money.
Despite not being sure that what he heard was right, they were accused of robbing a man to get the necessary money for the journey. It took a lot of intervention from him and his mother to stop their father from physically fighting his sons- Tunde and Adejobi- the previous night.
They couldn’t get enough money to travel through a plane. So, they would be giving up their comfortability to sit among a lot of people. He gritted at the thought of the horrific body odor, choking incense-like perfumes, wanton behaviors, reactions from petty and vain people. He wasn’t even sure he had the guts to do what they were about to do.
When he couldn’t see their car again, the only thought that overshadowed his mind as he rushed home from the park was the fact that his father mustn’t even know that he followed his brothers. But how was he to watch his brothers leave without seeing them off to the park? He tried sneaking into the house but was accosted by their father who was still raging.
‘Where are you coming from?’
‘I went to read’.
‘Papa, this is not the time. This is not my first time of returning home from reading with a mate’.
‘How dare you talk to me in that manner?’ Their father said and scrambled out of his chair to slap him. But he was prepared. He dodged it and escaped to his room.
He went into the small room they shared and smiled for the first time since he returned home. He closed his eyes and inhaled at the thought of the silence. Now that he had the room to himself, he could probably bring Rita home. Many times, she had forced him to sleep over at her place and had always demanded that he make her get same opportunity.
While revering the future and all it would bring, he heard his mother murmur. That could only mean one thing- his father was coming to his room to rage again, and he wasn’t in the mood to appease the god of anger residing in the old man’s heart. However, to be on a safer side, he sneaked up to them to listen to their conversation.
‘I don’t know where they are?’ His mother’s mumbled with her raspy voice.
‘Don’t you dare tell me rubbish! You know where they are. They are on the sea, traveling to the Europe’, his father replied. ‘They are rowing their both down the sea and singing ‘London bridge is falling down’.
‘Who told you that?’
‘Were you deaf when they said they were going to Europe and that Tunde Tunde, my own son, was telling me with pride that would he send for me. Me. He said he didn’t mind going through the cold of the sea for us. Who does he think he is? I’m still the head of this family’.
His mother became silent, and soon the parlor was silent. The only thing he could hear was the low raspy voice of his mother. Suddenly, his father sniffed loudly and quivered.
‘Papa Tunde, you’re still the head of this family’, her mother mumbled again. ‘They know that. Stop crying’.
‘I know they are men. But if I had enough money why do my children have to travel through the stiff cold? No. It’s not right’, he began to yell, but his mother must have done something to him because soon the volume of the voice drastically reduced.
That night, as Isaac slumped into the bed and the full moon shone into the room, he was mesmerized by the silence. The memory of the days he would miss flooded his imagination. At least, Tunde would have been lying on his ragged, tiny bed, complaining about things- Different football clubs and their coaches, Nigeria and her crazy location, American citizens and their lack of empathy for others, Nigerian government and its policy, Arab killers, Nigerian’s corruption.
He tossed and turned as he hoped to drive himself to sleep with the imagination of how things would be immediately his brothers started working in Europe. They would start enjoying the coziness and the food. Probably, they would soon start shaking like dancers to a very fast beat, their teeth could clatter crazily and they would aim to stay warm through a woman’s hug, and very hot, presumably, alcoholic drinks.
He just couldn’t wait to finish his university to join them. As he was about to doze off, he received a phone call from Tunde, who was excited at the way things were at Libya. Tunde used the first few minutes to complain and describe how a whole lot of people were streaming out of the country.
‘I got something to use as a souvenir. Libya makes sense. If not that Europe is my ultimate goal, I would have stayed around’, Tunde said.
He was happy, but his happiness was soon ruined when he began to compare Nigeria and Libya and then Europe. He wished he could return to Nigeria in great wealth so that he could help the country.
Later, Isaac talked to Ade and they were soon saying their goodbyes. He was super excited and kept smiling with the hope of savoring the moment because he was always of the belief that something new might take over the joy soon. It was, therefore, necessary to enjoy the moment.
And true to his belief, the next day around 8 am, when his mother was the only parent at home, someone came knocking as though they would break down the door. However, Isaac was still happy, so he refused to allow the person’s incongruity ruin his joy. He hopped to the door only to be met by Yahasa’s mother, whose eyes were swollen as if she had been crying since birth.
‘Wheres your father?’ She yelled and pushed her way past him.
‘He is not at home’, Isaac said and stabilized himself, heaving to push out the drop of anger that was already paving its way to his core emotions.
‘Call them’, she said and repeatedly stomped on their white, old tiles like an agitated horse.
With the concern of a mother, the respect of a tenant and the love of a neighbor, Isaac’s mother hurried out of the room to meet her.
‘Mummy Yahasa, what’s happening? I hope everything is alright’.
‘Your sons have happened’.
‘My sons. Which of them? Tunde and Ade have traveled’.
‘Yahasa’, Yahasa’s mother said and lamented.
‘Yahasa? My sons? Why will they ever want to do something to Yahasa? They have self-control around women’.
Isaac suspected what was about to happen, so he shifted to a wall and prepared for the worst.
‘Yahasa followed them’.
That was surprising. ‘How did you know?’ Isaac asked before he realized he had talked.
‘That’s a horrendous question. She called me. She called me. Ah! Your sons are doomed if I ever lay my eyes on them’.
Isaac’s mother looked afraid but wanted to confirm her fear. ‘So, she is on the sea with them, right?’
‘Sea? They are not on the sea. They are now slaves’.
Isaac hissed. Yahasa’s mother was known for her exaggerations. He shouldn’t have even stayed back to listen to her.
‘You’re an idiot’, Yahasa’s mother exclaimed and turned to Isaac’s mother. ‘Slaves. Like slaves’.
‘Talk to me. Mummy Yahasa. Talk to me. What happened? What’s slave?’
‘Should I start defining slavery again?’
‘Yes, of course. Because this is the twenty-first century. Why will anyone believe people can be made slaves again?’
‘Yes, of course’.
‘Oh! I get you. You mean going abroad would make them slaves. It’s true. We are all slaves in one way or the other. We work with’
‘I mean slaves. Chain. Shackles. Slaves. Those ones that are beaten. Slaves’.
‘Oluwa o!!! How did this happen? When?’ Isaac’s mother exclaimed.
‘I was in the house this morning when a strange number called me’, Yahasa mother started.
Isaac wanted to tell her to cut to the chase already, but he kept his calm because she was elderly, and it was rude to interrupt an elder according to the obnoxious Yoruba tradition, that finally would go into extinction in the next forty years. Moreover, Yahasa’s mother was only spicing the situation with her fear. Whatever was happening to his brothers and Yahasa shouldn’t be that serious.
‘I didn’t want to pick it at first. And when I did, the people calling said they wanted to speak to me. I was surprised. They said I should talk to my daughter. Then, Yahasa started talking’.
‘What did she say?’
‘She said Ah! When we could have helped her raise the money’.
‘She said that she And She and your sons, Ade and Tunde, and some other people had been held captive because they didn’t pay the complete money. Yahasa was crying and it was horrible. Ah! My daughter’.
‘So What is happening?’
‘The men demanded a balance of their money. They said Yahasa was owing two hundred thousand naira, while your sons were owing a hundred thousand naira each. Chief had gone to pay them four hundred thousand’.
‘Oh! God!’ Isaac’s mother screamed. Even Isaac was stunned and transfixed to a position.
With immediate alacrity, his mother ran into the master bedroom, returned with her phone, called his father and lamented till he promised by heaven and hell that he would get home in the next few minutes.
‘My husband is coming home. We will refund you. But where do we get two hundred thousand now, when we just paid a huge amount for their brother’s fees for his study in the University. Can we get the number that called you?’
‘It’s no longer reachable’.
‘What do you mean no longer reachable?’
‘I tried to talk to them again, but it was saying that the number was unavailable’.
‘Okay. We’re doomed. Were doomed. So doomed’, Isaac’s mother wailed and clasped her hands on her head. The huge grey skirt she wore was soon flapping around her body as she rushed into the master bedroom again and returned with her large worn-out Bible. Isaac sighed. He was in for a long time in the presence of these wailing women. He wished he could help his brothers scout for money, but there weren’t any means of doing so.
Soon, his father returned, rattled by the news. He and Isaac’s mother left home for the landlord’s place. Isaac wished he could follow them, but there was nothing he could really do to help.
The day’s tension was increased by the silence of the day and he wished he could just find an answer to the problem at hand. Since he couldn’t do much, he kept dialing Tunde’s phone number which refused to connect.
As the night progressed, his parents came once-in-a-while to the house in a hurry and would soon be seen rushing out of the house as if they were in a movie and were being fast-forwarded. He tried to move around for crumbs of information but got none. That infuriated him.
So, when Yahasa’s younger sister came to inform that him that his parents, as well as Yahasa’s parents, wanted to see him, he hurried like one that had just been stung by a bee.
When he got to their midst, they sat in silence, depressed. His dejected father asked him to sit, while a furious landlord pointed out a seat for him. Soon, Yahasa’s mother was wailing about being disappointed by her daughter’s careless, ‘unlady-like’ behavior.
‘I shouldn’t have even walked that afternoon’, Yahasa’s mother exclaimed, ‘My grandmother told me to never walk in the afternoon’s sun, but I refused to heed her instructions. Now, I’ve given birth to a demon. Yahasa is a demon’.
‘What’s this one saying? My own daughter isn’t a demon’, the landlord said and turned to Isaac. ‘Isaac, do you have another phone number you can use to call your brothers? We’ve been trying to reach them through the phone number they used to call us all day but it hadnt been connecting’.
Isaac was skeptical about sharing the news of how they had been unreachable, and how he was sorely afraid. And when he did, the men glanced at themselves for a while, then at the women. There was a sort of silent communication between the landlord and his wife. Then, the landlady’s eyes widened.
‘I can’t believe it’, she shouted and sprung up from her seat. ‘I can’t just believe this’.
‘Mummy, what’s that?’ Isaac’s mother asked as curiosity overpowered her grieve.
‘My husband believes our daughter is trying to cheatNo, I trust my daughter. I trust her with my life. If she says she is in danger, she is in danger’.
‘Let’s hope and see’, her husband said and dialed the number again. But he got no response.
That night, like the day before, Tunde called Isaac. He greeted him and told him all was well. He asked him to give his father the phone. Isaac was afraid that his father would be angry and would fling the phone away. However, at the mention of who he was speaking to, his father hurriedly collected the phone. He clamped the phone to his ear for a while and sighed.
‘Seriously? Now, I don’t know what to believe again’, his father said.
Isaac wished he could get something tangible from what they were saying, but it was total balderdash. When they finished talking, the only thing he could get was that his father had a mistrust for them and he flung the phone at Isaac.
Isaac knew it was over. Three days later, they called and this time he gave it to his mother when his father refused to talk to Tunde. Yet, no one told him anything tangible. But, he still got crumbs from his mother. According to her, the people at Libya refused to release them despite the money they paid. And they were being made to do extremely hard labor.
Despite her cry and plea that they were being raped- both the men and women, their fathers refused to give heed to what was being said. And that made the women move about for money from every source. They began to sell things, which after he considered it, amounted to nothing. The problem the women faced was enough lesson for him. When he was prepared for marriage, Rita must be industrious so as not to be in the same quagmire as the women around him.
The women cried their eyes out but the men didn’t budge. The only time the men came back to their senses was two weeks later when a video went viral and their children were seen in the background.
By this time, the women were disturbing the house with their wailing, whining, and repulsiveness. Luckily, the Nigerian government got them back two weeks later. That Wednesday, there was a lot of wailing and hugging at the airport when Tunde and Ade returned home, looking terribly haggard.
‘Where’s Yahasa?’ The landlord asked after the last person had stepped out of the plane. Tunde stared at them, sighed, opened his mouth and closed it again.
‘She’ He started to say something but kept quiet.
‘She got the opportunity to go to Europe’, Ade hurriedly said.
Yahasa’s mother fell on her knees and cried her praise to God. ‘My daughter is going abroad’.
Ade further expressed his disgust at Yahasa’s stinginess. He said she refused to allow the men pay on their own behalf. The landlord and his wife expressed their deep regrets.
‘Let’s just get out of here’, Tunde said and they went home in silence.
Yahasa’s parents left them to take care of themselves.
‘She is dead’, Ade moaned when he was sure the landlord was gone. Then, he proceeded to narrate the ordeal of how Yahasa was raped to death, for three consecutive days. She died four days back. They all wept and promised not to tell the family.
When they got to their room, Tunde hugged Isaac like the last time. Then, he gave him a lovely wristwatch. ‘We got this for you’.
Isaac wanted to hear the story of what happened to them, but they always avoided talking about it. Instead, they locked up the experience in their memories and proceeded to tell Isaac the good and funny things that happened while on their journey, but they never talked about the horrific things that were done to them in Libya. Interestingly, no one talked about what those at home faced also.
Nights after they returned from Libya, Tunde would wake suddenly from sleep, shouting incoherent things. Ade would be found whimpering in his sleep. Isaac would watch them and hope to never go through what they had gone through, whatever it was. More so, Tunde never complained about anything again.