The Thorny Path to Europe - Episode 1

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Tunde Gbadegesin wasn't someone that found joy in complaining 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, that would make him stop leaving with his parents, his subtle complaints evolved and became jibes that were garnished with extreme bitterness.

Therefore, when someone told Emeka, Tunde's friend, to bring as many people he could find to his place for a business idea that would transform their lives, he dragged Tunde and Ade (Tunde's brother). Ade was teaching in a private school that paid him twenty thousand naira per month.

Tunde, on the other hand, was just retrenched, but that wouldn't have been a cause for alarm if he didn't lose his money to fraudsters . He and Emeka partnered to buy some goods that cost them close to a million, but the sellers swindled them. Since Emeka topped the list of the few people he could trust, Tunde had to accept his fate.

It was with the fear of the previous business transactions that he sat still when the man introduced himself as Jude Ikemba. Although he doubted his integrity, he felt there wasn't any bad thing in listening to his proposal. Nevertheless, the moment he got to what looked like the climax of their discussion, Tunde knew that Jude was dragging them into a quagmire.

He shook his slowly shook head, and used the bottle of soft drink in front of him to hit the table as he said, 'no'.

'No?' Jude questioned.

'No'.

Tunde glanced at Ade and Emeka to be assured that the decision he was about to make was something they both agreed to

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. The look on their faces didn't betray their emotion. He didn't love that but he had to expose them to the same thought he was having.

'This is like climbing Erin-Ijesha waterfall… The mountains. It's like climbing those mountains. If one wasn't careful one would fall on the way, and smash one's head on the wall. So, it's a no'.

 Emeka seemed to be deep in thoughts. He knew Emeka: whenever Emeka refused to talk immediately, it meant he was weighing the decision, and his mind was surely tilted towards accepting the offer.

'You of all people can't possibly be thinking of accepting this offer'.

'My people will say 'a hot pot of soup is eaten slowly and steadily'. I'm still staring at the situation'.

'But you saw the videos?' Tunde said in utter disappointment that Emeka was even weighing the option.

'What videos?' Jude asked as he shifted his plump, short body in the cushion he sat in.

Tunde shifted to the edge of his seat, surprised, as he looked at the faces of Jude, Emeka and the agitated Ade

'Ade, you remembered the videos I showed you that night?'

Being brothers, they had reasons to be roommates also as they were staying in their father's house. Tunde hated such but that was the situation of things had made him do. His hope was to stay there until he could build his own house. He had hoped to get his first land from whatever profit Emeka got for him. Although their parents have their own house, it wasn't large enough to make everyone in the house have a room to themselves. The two guys were given a room each, while his two sisters were given a room to themselves, while their parents shared the master bedroom.

The night Tunde was referring to, he showed Ade a video their mother forwarded to him through WhatsApp. The video did a documentary of how several Nigerians died on the way to Libya through the Sahara Desert.

'I showed you. The video of the way people died on their way to Europe?'

'That doesn't mean anything...' Jude said and turned to Emeka. 'or what exactly is he saying?'

Tunde shook his head as he gestured at his mouth. 'I'm saying that people are dying on the way. This country is sapping us and trying to leave the country is killing us. We are in prison by birth. People died on the way to Libya, through the Sahara Desert. I saw the videos'.

Emeka opened his mouth and closed it as he blinked repeatedly. He rubbed his lips, shook his head and sighed. Jude smiled, scoffed, and laughed hysterically. Ade nodded repeatedly, pointed a shaky finger at him to let him know he was right, and kept mumbling, 'yeah!'

'Why is he laughing, Emeka?' Tunde asked, stunned. He coughed. His cough was one that always came at the oddest hour. How will it come when they were talking about a matter that pertained to life and death? 'Why is Mr Jude laughing? Does he think we are playing here? This is our life at stake here'.

'I'm laughing because you people don't know who you're dealing with? You're dealing Jude 1, the grand commander of the federal Sahara Road Users'.

'Is that something like an association or a group?' Ade asked.

'It's the idea that is in everyone's head. They know me as their leaders. Even God knew I will be strong that was he sent me to a family with the name 'Ikemba' because I'm the strength of the nation'.

'Story. What's the strength of the nation? What nation? This man wants to tell us another story again', Ade said and burst into Tuface's song 'E be like say'.

'I thought...' Tunde said and looked bemused. 'I thought we came here to only learn how to resolve the issues of our lives'.

Emeka nodded and spread his hands as it was visible in his eyes that he was also surprised to hear what Jude was saying. 'He told me it is a big thing that we would get a lot of riches from it'.

'Well, newsflash', Ade said and shrugged. 'You've just being deceived into an unrealistic deal'.

'Of course, you will get a lot of riches from it', Jude said enthusiastically. 'There's a lot of money involved'.

'If going through the Sahara Desert is your perfect idea of wealth, then your brain needs to be checked', Tunde said as he rose from his seat.

Ade nodded as he folded and unfolded his fingers. 'I swear. His brain is punctured'.

'Hey', Jude shouted and jumped out of his seat. 'I'm not your everyday person. I will take you there and would return you without any fear if you so wish. I'm the grand commander. I don't take rubbish'.

'Ah!' Tunde said. 'It's not your fault. The fault was all mine. I wanted an out. I wanted to see the way to get out of this impoverish way of life. I just needed to have the sun on my face because this poverty had become ice and had become our cloths'.

'That doesn't mean anything. Can you hear yourself? Whose brain is punctured? Mine or yours? What are you saying for Pete's sake? What?'

'I'm saying that I've suffered enough in life. I have made a lot of erm… I've suffered a lot in my life to be blind to the fact I'll suffer if I follow you again. I don't want to suffer because of the sun on my body or the heat of the Sahara or… Whatever… I want to be sure I make it in life, that I sleep in AC, walk and work in it. I want to live a life that affords me the ability to only feel the sun on my body because I feel it's worth it. I don't want to expose myself to unnecessary suffering'.

'You can see. We're saying the same thing', Jude said as he flopped into the chair again. 'Impossible', Ade said.

'Will you leave and let me deal with only Emeka? He would bring a lot of people for me to replace you. It's so easy to do'.

'That's why you're living in this type of house, right? You're so rich, so powerful that you couldn't get enough money to build a better house', Tunde said and glanced at Ade for assurance.

'Point', Ade said, nodded and pointed a shaky finger at him to tell him he was saying the right thing.

'I'm making a lot of money from it. Food… Money. Just because you see me here doesn't mean I'm like this. I'm rich. Before we talk much, where is my phone?'

'Are you asking me?' Ade said and sat back in his seat.

Jude rose and moved to the bedroom. Even if he said he had no money one wouldn't believe him  because, despite the small size of the house, the room was well-furnished. Yet, Tunde wouldn't want to be deceived into doing something that would ruin him. Jude returned to the parlour with a pad, balanced on the seat and began to press the pad while they kept looking from one person to another.

He kept moaning as he pressed one thing or the other. Afterwards, he edged forward in the seat, still staring at the pad.

'A Minute. I'm dialling someone on Skype now', he said, put the call on speakerphone, and stood to show them the Skype's connection. 'Come, come see'.

Jude placed the phone in a position the video would be visible to all of them. Within seconds, they were watching a very handsome man staring back at them. He was putting on his Pajamas, looking drowsy.

‘Ogbuefi one', the handsome man murmured and picked something outside the view of the camera.

'Who are those behind you?'

'I want to prove to someone that I'm real'.

'Real… In what sense?'

'Real... Like… You know. I want to take these people to Italy, and dem no believe me'.

'These guys?'

'Yes'.

'Hi, guys! I'm Ricoh'.

'Hi', Emeka said.

Tunde grunted and nodded, while Ade only waved at him and stared.

'I don't know what you people might have been discussing, but I'm supposing or should I say that

I'm assuming that he wants me to talk to you about the way he helped me. Many people I know died on the Sahara Desert but he has his own way of doing things that makes him stand out and made every one of us get there. I'm here because of him'.

'Thank you my friend', Jude said and turned to them after he switched it off. 'See, I'm not joking with you'.

'We will...'

'Let's see another one. Let's see it', Tunde said with a grim expression.

Jude stared at Tunde as if he was looking at someone going astray and shook his head. 'You don't trust people and it's bad. It's really bad. Business is trust'.

'Story. Story. Tell the worm to trust the eagle. It's never possible', Tunde mumbled.

Jude shrugged and began to press his phone. 'See. I'll even call a woman. Biko, don't take me for fraud. Before I even show you, come and see my chats and messages'.

Ade and Emeka rose to meet him as he began to swipe through his phone and the two of them continuously gave their exclamation of awe. Tunde wouldn't allow Jude to fool him with mere gimmicks. There are some basic things that could be done to make sure he got what he wanted, and he wouldn't be a fan of all the drama Jude was performing. Ade and Emeka returned to their seat. Emeka nodded repeatedly.

'I'm not a cheat', Jude said.

Ade shrugged and gave a gesture that the man was worth trying.

'The call', Tunde said as he rubbed the mouth of the bottle of the soft drinks in front of him, trying to refrain himself from coughing.

Jude nodded. 'I see you're a diligent man. It's people like you that make it to the end'.

He placed another call to the woman and, soon, she was telling them of how God had used Jude to get her to Italy.

Tunde, now assured that he was legitimate, sat up and smiled for the first time in that room.' So, we can go to Italy?'

Then, Jude laughed and looked at Emeka and Ade for a split second as if he was looking for a way to mock Tunde at their approval.

'See, your guy. See him', Jude said and giggled. Tunde smiled sheepishly.

 'Oga, you know we have to be sure', Tunde said and turned to the others. 'Isn't it?'

Emeka shrugged again as he stared into space as if the weight of the world was placed on his shoulders. Tunde felt sorry for him as he had the opportunity of seeing the move from grace to grass.  The way he tumbled down was too much for a single man to bear, but Emeka was still strong. Things all went wrong at the same time. If he was a Yoruba man, his family members would have concluded that his ex-wife was a reason for his downfall. Despite being sceptical about such things, Tunde couldn't help but notice that his downfall really came after he married her. The most interesting part was that when the going became tough, she packed her loads and decided to return to her mother's house.

'So, what do we do?' Emeka said as he licked his lower lips.

Jude dropped his pad and rubbed his hands. He glanced at them and smiled and chuckled. He remained silent for a while. Tunde had seen such things before and knew very well that Jude would accost him with the weirdest information of the day.

'Just pay me five hundred k'.

'What for?' Emeka said and grunted. 'That's just too much. My brother, say the right thing. That money is too much'.

'Five hundred? Let's fly with a plane…' Ade said as he looked at his brother.

'You're right', Tunde replied.

Jude edged forward. 'Ask anyone you know. Where is the money to go for air? The money you will use to fly. The money you will use to buy things. Have you collected a visa and passport? This money doubles the money I'm collecting'.

'We will get a plane to fly us...' Ade said and shook his head.

'Let me hear the word', Jude said and rubbed his beardless chin. 'I have been in this business for long.  Let me tell you, they can't give you any Visa'.

'We will try'.

'Try kwa? What do you think this is? We are talking about business here. Do these people want people that would help their country? You have money?'

'We will get'.

'You will. Oh! You think this job is easy. You will be sent barking like my dog used to whenever they beat it. Your tail will be between your legs, and you will be sweating so much that people will think you took a bath at the embassy. They don't give broke people visa and passport. They give people that are rich'.

'We will try...' Ade said.

'Tah!'.

'We will...'

'Brother', Emeka said. 'This is money... Ego. We are talking about... My people have a saying that 'when a dead person starts smelling, even a friend that's like a brother to him will…'

'Will have to run. I know', Jude interrupted.

'So, let's go outside to see what we can do. We will see what we can do'.

'Do? Did you see us agreeing to this dung?' Tunde said as he threw a scornful glance at Emeka.

'No. We are not fools. We can't take this rubbish. We're not fools. We're Lagosians for crying out loud. Someone cannot use a big loaf of bread to park the small soup we have'.

'Yes. Let him beat it down', Ade said. 'Oga, beat it down. The price is just too exorbitant'.

 

 

'Exhor what? Exorbitant? From your mouth', Jude said and his eyes seemed to be on fire, even as his vein protruded from under his skin. 'This business is like an investment. That's why I do it. It's like my dog, you will have to feed and use your money on it, but the moment it gives birth, you sell it. The amount we pay to customs. The money we will pay everyone that will follow us. The money we will pay in Italy. I can't take anything less'.

'And so?' Ade retorted.

'And so. There are so many things that we will have to meet on the way. We will pay for so many things. that will make you understand the meaning of 'and so?'. We are talking about so many things that many people would kill for here'.

'Okay', Emeka shouted as Jude's voice increased. 'Brother… Brother. Hold on. Before we agree...'

'If we even agree...' Tunde corrected.

'We might agree in case we discuss it. But we will need you to tell us how much you can help us remove. The trouble we're facing in this country is just too much. We need something better. This money wouldn't help the matter. We don't have enough money. And if my people say, ' if a woman decides to make the soup watery, the husband will learn to dent the foofoo before dipping it into the soup'.

'That's even if the foofoo is enough. This foofoo can't feed my dog'.

'That's why we rushed to heed your call when you said that you can help us. We are damn helpless.  Abi no bi wetin pesin dey find be this? But money. Ah! You have to help us'.

'My friend, see. I've told you the truth. I'm only helping you because you're my brother. Others would pay seven hundred thousand'.

Tunde hummed his disbelief. Ade placed his palm under his chin and stared at Jude as if he was talking to himself as if he wanted to catch him in a lie.

Jude, banging the arm of the chair, said, 'I can't help you at all. I can only... Erm... I can only help you to… I don't know'. He sighed and slumped into the chair, then pointed at imaginary things in the air as if he was pressing a calculator. ' I don't know. I don't know. I can only help you by taking you at that price. When we get to Libya, anyone that hasn't paid that amount always faces hell… Real hell'.

 

'Tunde', Emeka called as he rose and he nodded at Ade. 'let's talk outside'.

Tunde still looking gloomy, glanced at Jude with a very disgusted look. He just couldn't believe that Jude would consider asking them for such ridiculous amount of money when Emeka must have told him all of their plights all their plight when he could see what they look like when he knew the plight of people in present-day Nigeria.

 Tunde marched out and when they were sure they were out of Jude's earshot, Emeka giggled.

'My brother, we're becoming Italian. We are going to Europe. Oh! My Europe! We're becoming rich'.

'What are you saying', Ade said and turned Tunde. 'What's he saying?'

'Emeka, you're not thinking right, I assume...'

'Yes. I'm not thinking straight. My people say…'

'Please forget what your people say', Tunde retorted.

'I was about to say how will I think straight when I have finally found a way to move on with my life? The solution that I've been searching for all these while is currently at my palm, and to get it, all I need is five hundred thousand naira. Were you not aware of the way I suffered to get my last visa? The problem was that I even made you ask me those boring questions so that I'll get a visa and they still didn't pick me. God will punish them in America'.

'Hey! Let's face the business of the day', Tunde said.

'If God will even punish them. It was better for him to do that after I have left the place when I have made enough money', Emeka said.

'Before you people go into the prayer room or the front of your church to start rejoicing about how you've been blessed, remember that there are things that wouldn't be counted if you want to make it'.

'Like?'

'Like the fact we are about to pour 1.5 million into a thing when we can easily use it for business and make money from it'.

Emeka stared at him with his mouth agape as if he just realized that Tunde was wise all along. Tunde felt a smile break through his grim face.

'You're right', Emeka said as he placed his hands on Tunde's shoulder. 'I like that a lot. Rather, I loved that. I used to try to do business. I don't like this at all. Not a bit. I love when we all have the same mindset'.

'What's the mindset? Tunde said and flung Emeka's hands away. 'You are allowing this man to dupe us. Please, I'm not sure that amount is enough or worth what we are about to do at this time'.

'What? I'm not sure I agree with you', Emeka said and shook his head. 'The only thing I like is to ensure is that we are not duped but I think it worth it. It's so much. We might end up looking for things and end up doing things that would change us but I bet you we are not going to suffer as much as we've done this before we ma'.

The little time they had with one another was enough to let him know there was no way he would successfully convince them to use the money for a business.

'But because you failed once doesn't mean you'll fail again'.'

'Abeg... Those foolish quotes do not work in any business. I've ruined close to two million on business. There was no way I would let myself go through the same pain I did. The problem is like a bell in my mind. It's still ringing. Nothing works in this country. It's a desert. Dry. Killing. Exhaustive'.

'He knows', Ade said. 'He knows this place is a bloodsucker. We all know. Our creativity means nothing here. This countries' irregularity can only work for you if you're a criminal. And we are not...'

'That's it, Brother. But if I stay here, I'll act like a criminal. I'll act like one. I'll be one soon. Don't let anyone deceive you. Nigeria would not let you have a happy ending. This is not fiction. It's not a fantasy or a fairy tale. This is the reality. Cold blooded reality. It's staring at us in the face and baring its rotten teeth at us. America is the fairy. That's our fairy tale. When we will get our happy ending'.

'You're shouting again, Emeka', Tunde cautioned.

Read " Don't! Look Closer " by the same author ( Akíntayo Akinjide )

. Emeka was fond of shouting as if he wasn't in control of himself.

'so....' Emeka said and spread his hands to let him know that he was ready. 'We can...'

'Can still do nothing. This kind of opportunity is like finding a bar of gold on the street. It's so rare.  Let's grab this opportunity. If possible, let’s use our teeth to hold it down. Now and let's meet our solution'

'Brother' Tunde said and shrugged. 'Let's go'.

It wasn't that he wasn't interested in making it to Europe. He just wanted to make sure they were playing safe and that if there would be any risk, it would be minimal. However, he had to agree with them if they had to make it there, they had to be ready to go.

'We will go'.

They walked to Jude as they expected, he rejoiced that they finally used their brain.

They agreed to get back to him the next week. He asked them to be fast because he was accepting final payment the coming week's Tuesday so that he would know the number of people he would be dealing with. They went home and began to do the countdown.

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