The world is once again about to end. As the title suggests, cats are involved.
There’s a bored one, a big one and the black one. That black feline could be considered huge, if it was willing to fit into this kind of category.
Three humans are doing their occasionally heroic best to cope with the mess. They are more or less bored and black, just like the cats, but none of them is big. This makes saving the world a tad harder, but will look fabulous in a screen adaptation.
Please find below the most recent daily output:
Sipping away at a glass of water, to dilute an overdose of sweetness, Uzo contemplates calling her mother, or her sister. The Felinity challenge could be be imminent. Once it starts, she’ll be terribly busy. She doesn’t know in which way, but Safo was adamant that she would be, and the old lioness is the topmost available authority on the subject.
After some wavering, Uzo decides not to call Lagos. This doesn’t feel like the right moment to listen to one more admonition to keep on track and prove she’s worth the big investment. Nor does she feel ready for the next dose of sisterly consumerism.
When the facilitator warned her, about the loneliness of the illicit migrant, she shrugged. “If there’s one thing I’m used to,” she told herself, “it’s loneliness. Not fitting in, lacking friends, the whole panoply of wondering what’s wrong and keeps me from bonding, I’ve been handling that for like forever, certainly for the relevant parts of my life. More of the same, so what’s?”
Back home in Lagos, Uzo was genuinely convinced, of her ability to cope with all flavors of loneliness. Nothing like regular practice, to implement a successful routine. Right now, she’s discovering totally new dimensions of the phenomenon.
It’s one thing to lack a best friend, without counting Ruzo the Resourceful, when nothing of any interest ever happens. It’s nice to be able to share the tale of a particularly grueling commute, an especially untimely power outage or an exceedingly dysfunctional segment of officialdom, but not exactly necessary. Everybody reports this kind of incident, all the time. Tell it or don’t, face-to-face or on social networks, one more or less doesn’t make a difference.
What hurts, and Uzo is by now doubly aware how much it does, is living an adventure, something really extraordinary, all alone.
Telling the good old daily routine kind of incidents only ever triggers a cascade of corresponding tales. Everybody has been there, done or endured that kind of episode.
Not so for Uzo’s adventure. Successfully making it into Schengen land, by means of a clever stratagem, that would be something well worth listening to. Even the most migration averse Lagosian wouldn’t want to miss that tale.
Everybody knows it’s possible to pull this off, with the right kind of money. Very literally everybody. Mister and miss Olagundoye senior, Uzo’s parents, otherwise wouldn’t have managed to find a facilitator. But this general awareness doesn’t mean people know how it’s done.
They haven’t got the foggiest. Most speculation involves the assumption of some kind of bribery.
Not surprising, because people extrapolate from the familiar. Natural for Nigerians, to think corruption, forged documents, bought certificates. Feels evident and is complete off the mark.
The false French identity card Uzo carried on the Cannes to Karlsruhe leg of her journey was never destined for active use, just a fallback precaution. All that big stack of money, minus a well deserved profit component for the facilitator, went into travel expenses.
All the details of the trip only serve one purpose, to inconspicuously reach the destination, in Uzo’s case German. A yacht screaming filthy rich at the world doesn’t get searched for illegal refugees. For illicit money or substances, perhaps, if only very rarely. For the visa-short, no, not at all, never. One more or less black person in service attire catering to the rich, that’s not a difference anyone will care to notice. A minibus ferrying the more expendable section of the workforce to their next, that’s not a promising target for a paperwork check.
Most Lagosians would love to hear about this, and try to raise the money to give it a try. Which is why the facilitator promised to get Uzo killed in case she blabs.
The second part of the stratagem is even more clever. And Uzo feels bad about it, despite Ruzo the Resourceful’s insistence she’s doing no one no harm, not adding to anyone’s plight. He has a point, but Uzo is ashamed of this part anyway.
In the good old days, both ladies and gents would travel to Schengen land. They had to pick from a set of political scenarios and learn corresponding details, to be able to convince their asylum claim processors they were at risk of serious harm in their home country, e.g. Nigeria.
The lucky ones, or perhaps just the most skilled high performers, would be granted full political asylum, including the right to invite spouses and offspring. The jackpot. The rest would have to make do with a so-called exceptional leave to remain. A lesser status, non-permanent, but people still got to stay for a while, and were granted work permits.
Those good old days, for those wealthy enough to pay a facilitator, were abruptly terminated by the EU decision to declare Nigeria, among many other African nations, a safe place. No more political refugee recognitions, no renewal of exceptional leave to remain status. No way for Uzo’s twin brothers to attain a legal status, unless perhaps, and only perhaps, if they were willing to claim being gay. An option Uzo’s facilitator prefers not to offer, on ground if religions qualms.
Nowadays, there’s only one reliable path to legal residence. If a girl or lady is a victim of human trafficking, if she is is willing to denounce her traffickers and if she is prepared to go to court, the prosecutors want her around as chief witness. They will make sure she’s granted asylum.
A lot of ifs. Too many for the typical victims of the scourge of modern day slavery. They’d rather get themselves deported than denounce the perpetrators. Even after having suffered abuse too horrendous to recount. It’s just too dangerous, for them and their loved ones back home.
Uzo’s clever facilitator spotted the demand, for victims willing to denounce their traffickers. He also noticed how easy it was to identify some such perpetrators. Not the big fish doing people and drugs at the transcontinental level. Known they are, but also way too dangerous to target.
Not so for the smaller fry. Many a Libyan dealer with the means to extort money from hapless villagers trying and failing their luck is scary only on a very local and close-uplevel, for the people he holds for ransom, but unable to strike back when hit by professional opponents.
To make sure some of these baddies get prosecuted, Uzo’s facilitator has each of his parcels, as he calls the ladies traveling with his support, learn by heart a story and a matching set of details pointing straight at a very real Libyan slaveholder. They show up at a shelter for battered women, physically unharmed because the merchandise is supposed to be delivered ‘fresh and in good condition’, and tell a tale of a perfidious trap followed by a lucky escape.
Uzo’s story involved a putative Au-Pair job with a marine biologist in the lovely coastal town of Stralsund up in Northern Germany. It went like this:
Some friend forwarded her a twitter call for Au-Pair applications, preferably from biology students. A couple of direct messages later, she invested all her savings into a ticket to Cairo. There she was supposed to meet her future boss and his wife on their holiday. The paperwork would be completed at the German embassy, and then they would fly on to Germany.
That fairy tale didn’t happen. She was picked up at the airport all right, by a taxi driver. He delivered her at a hotel, smaller and less international looking than expected, but still according to plan. She was served a soda in the lobby, while waiting for her future boss. Next she woke up in the back of what must have been a van, handcuffed and blindfolded. They rolled and rolled and rolled for such a long time she wet her pants. She might also have been unconscious, lost any track of time and place, unable to say if she had been on the road for hours or days.
They occasionally stopped, but never for long. Finally, they arrived at their destination. Near the sea, by the sound and smell. She was taken out of the van. One man told her off for having wetted her pants, in very rudimentary English.
Two or three men discussed in what might have been Arabic. Then she was walked to a house, or a cabin. The English speaker told her she would be shot if she tried to remove the blindfold, but that he would take her handcuffs off to allow her to undress, wash and put on fresh clothes. She argued she wouldn’t, not in the presence of men. He threatened to shoot her right away.
Scared deadly, she complied, and was very glad no one touched her. The English speaker called her good girl quick learner and gave her some bread, and a bottle of water to drink from. She was thirsty and drank, despite the toilet problem. Then they waited, and it was cold, must have been night. Another van came, and another, and men were talking, but not in English.
When it had become very cold, she heard a a boat arrive and there was a commotion, with lots of shouting in barely decipherable English. Still blindfolded, she was made to stand up and hold hands with what later turned out to be two other ladies, one on each side. It took a while until everything was sorted. They were just standing there holding hands, not daring to speak.
Then they were made to walk. They were still on the shore, but very close to the water, with the waves right next to them. Scary, she was afraid to fall into the sea. Up front there was shouting in English, the queue only advanced stop-and-go. She found out why, when it was her turn to board the boat. Still holding hands on both sides, she was grabbed and lifted and put down on deck.
Once the whole queue was on deck, they were told to sit down on the floor. They of course complied, and she feared to die at sea. But it wasn’t that kind of boat.
When they had left the shore, a man ordered them to take off the blindfolds, in passable English. There were twenty four of them on board, and the man who had given the order, and a captain. It was a big boat, like for groups of holiday makers, with cabins, sanitary, everything. They were allowed to move freely on board, provided they didn’t go near the captain or the other man. There were granola bars and water, no one was going hungry or thirsty.
They sailed for six days. After the second day, they could sometimes see a shore in the distance on their right. Especially at night, when there were beacons. In the sixth night, they reached a concrete jetty built far out into the sea. On the shore, everything was dark, no town, not even one house in the vicinity. They had had to assemble on deck in advance and were made to disbark in a hurry. As soon as the last lady was off the boat, it steamed off, full speed.
Not knowing what to do, they walked to the end of the jetty, hoping to find something or someone. They found a big concrete surface, like a parking lot, but there wasn’t anyone waiting for them. In the darkness, with little moonlight, they didn’t dare walk further and stood there, discussing what to do, one group in English, one in French, one in Arabic.
Suddenly, headlines came towards them. They turned out to belong to a container truck. It stopped right next to them and the passenger alighted. He carried a gun, and barked at them, in English, to hurry into the container. It was battered, with Chinese signs for logo. But when the gunman opened it, the inside was clean and there were like bunk beds. They had to climb in, one lady per slot, were told to shut up tight, and that they would be safe.
There was no light inside the container and they were at first scared they would lack oxygen, but there must have been holes somewhere, air supply turned out to be no problem. They rolled and rolled and rolled until a first stop, somewhere in the woods, where the first six ladies were told to get off. Then they rolled again, and four more at the next stop. And so on, until there were only four of them left.
At the last stop, once again on a small bay on a deserted road, the three other remaining ladies where left standing there, in the middle of nowhere, while Uzo was told to come sit up front, between the driver and the gunman.
At first she was scared they might have bad intentions, but they gave her coffee and cookies and explained they had another two hours to roll, to deliver her to the middle of yet another nowhere. They both spoke good English and were in a talkative mood, perhaps because of drugs.
They bragged, about how big mighty bandits they were, despite their youth. And how they would build big houses back home in Passau, from the proceeds. They also badmouthed the Libyans at the other end of the route, in Tobruk. Especially a fellow going by the name of El Jameer.
When they stopped at a petrol station, she asked for permission to go to the bathroom. They let her go, because the station was out-of-town, there was nowhere for her to run.
They didn’t expect her to ask a lady she met in the bathroom to give her a ride. She did and rolled off before her captors even noticed she was missing. Luckily, the lady spoke fluent English and was well aware of the plight of the trafficked. She provided Uzo with the address of a shelter for battered women and dropped her off in walking distance.
Staring at her small TV without listening to the newsman, Uzo once again feels the sting of shame. She’s a liar. A notorious one. She has been rehearsing and telling this tale so often that part of her believes she has been there and survived it.
When she was introduced to the plot, back in Lagos, she of course considered backing out. Riding the wave of the plight of fellow girls and women, towards an even more comfortable future than her not so bad present, what could be more despicable? Her parents didn’t raise her to go fishy, forge and fake, they were principled people.
“Those same principled people paid a fortune to get you going”, Ruzo the Resourceful argued, in Uzo’s head. “They know that what they’re paying for doesn’t qualify as straight and neat. As long as no one gets hurt, so what? This mister El Jameer, if ever Interpol catches him, he’s bad for real, committing atrocious crimes. Not against you, OK. But guess how his real victims feel, about this particular detail? You know how you would feel. You’d want the bastard behind bars.”
Uzo is aware of all these sound arguments. She did what her parents had decided she should do. Unfortunately, this doesn’t help one bit, against the sting of shame.
And the Felinity challenge, it feels like the punishment for her sins. Uzo spent months telling lies, pretending she had been through an ordeal she had instead developed, scripted and rehearsed with an acting coach. Doesn’t get much bigger, on the deception side.
Uzo isn’t into magical thinking or religion. She doesn’t need a guru or God to tell her that lies are bad. Basic common sense makes her aware that others hate being lied to as much as she does.