FROM THE OUTSIDE IN….

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All my life I’ve been an outsider, always on the outside and looking inside. I was 11 when I found out my father had another family, 3 brothers and 1 sister. They lived in another part of the world, and they were the reason my father was always absent from our home. We usually only get to see him 1 week a month, never longer. If we were lucky, we would see him for a week and a half. When I turned 15, I realized I would never be introduced to my siblings, my father told me it was for the best. My mother and I were the other families, she was the English mistress, and I was the illegitimate child. I didn’t understand it, I went on the internet, looked it up on google, and the word bastard pops up. What’s a bastard and why was that me, my name isn’t Bastard, it’s Roseline and I was damned if I would not prove it. This is my story… 

My parents were not the typical ones. My mother was a single English woman, who up until she met my father was a broke housekeeper at the hotel my father stayed in when he flew in from Nigeria. One day he was in the room. She knocked to see if it was okay to turn down his bed and that’s when things kicked off. She had an affair with my father before he travelled back to his country. 3 months later when he returns and calls her, she informs him she is pregnant with his child and wants to get rid of it. My father, being the proud man he is, said that was forbidden in his family. She should have the baby and he would change her life forever and that he did once I was born. He said he named me Roseline because, I was like a rose, smelt great, beautiful and sweet, didn’t cry one bit when they handed me to him in the hospital, I just held his hand and at that moment he vowed to protect me from everything I didn’t know he meant his other family. 

And then years later, I find out why 40 weeks of the year my mother is a lonely single rich mother and for the other 12 weeks of the year, she’s a happy rich mother with her man by her side. My father had another family in Nigeria, a place I only knew about what I read on the internet. When I asked him to take me to his other home, as I called it. He will say to me, “Pumpkin, (that was my pet name) you would hate it, don’t believe what you see online or on television, that’s only 1% of the population, the rest is full of poverty, murders, thieves, filth, injustice, corruption, greed, it’s the 3rd world, far away from the 1st world you live in here”. I didn’t even know there were 3 worlds, in school, the teacher said the earth was one. So where is this third world? From what my father said, I formed a mental picture of a horrible place I would never want to go and after that day I never asked to go with him again. But all that changed during my first year of secondary school. 

My father, despite his infrequent visits, still made sure we had a good life. He bought us an apartment and made sure my mother had more than enough money to take care of us, he also put me in a private all-girls school with a boarding house, up in the English countryside. The first day I arrived at the school, I was so scared, it was a far cry from London where I had grown up. My mother and I had taken a train from King cross station and rode it for 3 hours. We finally got to our destination at noon and proceeded with my two large suitcases to the Taxi stand. “The journey from the train station to the school would take 45 minutes” the Taxi man had said. So, we settled in, and the journey began. 

It was like having an out-of-body experience. All I could see were fields and fields of cows, trees and the odd farmhouse popping its head out. Finally, we arrived at our destination. It was an enormous castle, much like the ones I had seen in movies, ancient with intimidating, scary brown bricks and black roofs and large trees scattered all over the place. I noticed some students in uniform walking past us and some sitting on the grass, all behaving like zombies. “What’s this place Mother, it doesn’t look like any school I’ve seen? I asked, feeling sick to my stomach, suddenly I felt like going to the toilet, I was petrified. My mum, realizing I was about to have a panic attack, pulls me close, gives me a kiss on my cheek and says, “Well my dear, this is one of the best schools in England and your home for the next 5 years, don’t worry my love, am sure you will have fun”. I shuck my head nervously, as I looked up into her eyes, but I could see that even she didn’t believe a word she said. 

Anyway, my mother spent the night and returned home to London in the morning. The one-night stay was allowed for parents of new students, just to get them settled in comfortably. I woke up the next morning a Monday, it took me a few minutes to remember where I was. It was a large enough room for two students. Single beds, a wooden wardrobe each and a toilet and bathroom to share with the occupants of the adjoining room. It was a far cry from my London bedroom, with its plush carpet, a king-size bed, flat-screen television, wall to wall wardrobes and an ensuite. I looked at the ugly clock across the room, it was just 5 am. My new roommate was still fast asleep, she had been very nice to me yesterday and actually helped me unpack, while my mother and I made the bed. I was happy she was really nice, but we didn’t yet know anything about each other, which I intended to change, once she woke up. 

In the meantime, I took a look at the timetable the principal gave me. The first thing was exercise time at 6 am, breakfast at 7.30 am class starts at 8.15 am and stops at 1 pm for lunch and at 2 pm we were back to class until 4.30 pm. 5 pm to 6 pm study time to catch up on homework at co. At 6 pm we had dinner, 7 pm to 8.30 pm recreation time, 9 pm chapel time, confess your sins for the day and repent, it said in brackets then at 9.45 pm lights out. It was like a prison timetable, not that I had been to prison before, but I was used to freedom, doing what I want when and how I want, this for me felt like a prison. I dropped the ‘Prison routine’ and took an inventory of the uniforms handed to me by the matron yesterday, now seated on the reading table provided. Three pleated short skirts, 2 long trousers, 2 blazers, 5 white blouses, 2 jumpers, 2 tracksuits, 4 house wears and a sports kit, those were the permitted attire in school. We were allowed to keep 3 outside dresses, nighties and undies but everything else my mother had to take back home. I sneaked out a pair of high heels and my favourite Nike trainers, which were in my backpack. Brogues were our school shoes, for recreation, we had flip flops and for sports, white and black plimsolls. Gosh! They were horrid. 

Titilayo, that was my roommate’s name, she woke up just in time for us to put in a few minutes of catching up. When she told me about herself, I found out that we had a lot in common. Coincidentally, she was also a bastard, but with one small difference: she was born in Nigeria. Her father a wealthy businessman had an affair with her mum, his secretary. He bought them a house too, shipped them to another part of the county from Lagos, where she was born and gave them a life of comfort. She knew her mother was a second wife from the time she could understand. Her father always turned up every weekend and spent the whole two full days with them and when he was leaving he would kiss her and say “You are my princess, you have 6 brothers but you are my mother incarnate, that’s why I call you Princess, my mother was a princess and you look just like her. Titi had asked her mother about the complete story and her mum told her, that her father had 6 boys and was desperately in need of a girl. So, he promised her is she got pregnant and had a girl, he would leave in his will 50% of his entire wealth to the child, and so Titi was conceived. 

Up until Titi was 9 years old, things were normal, and then by some fluke, the other family found out about the father’s plan to leave her half of his inheritance and they sent hired killers after them. Her mother wasn’t so lucky she was killed at their home that night, shoot in the stomach, and bleed to death on the living room floor before help arrived. But luckily for Titi, she was at a sleepover at a friend’s house. Immediately after her mother’s death, her father flew her out here on the next flight and took on some foster parents to look after her. Then went back to Nigeria, with her Nigerian passport. And now that she turned 11, she’s found herself in this school. She hasn’t seen her father since then but she gets one phone call from him every month and when she asks when he’s coming to see her, he says “Princess, for your own good and safety I can’t come, I don’t want anyone to know where you are, just remember I love you and all this will be over soon”. She didn’t understand but she trusted her father and that’s all she could hold onto, his promise that all this will be over soon. 

That day after finding out we were both the same, we became sisters, closer than ever. kept our heads down, obeyed the rules, we just wanted the five years to be done, so we could get back to our not so normal lives but better than this. To everyone at school, we were the best, well-behaved students and very smart and this earned us lots of rewards, like outings to town. The school let you lose for 2 hours if you were very well behaved and had good grades consistently. Every month for 2 hours on a Saturday, the school bus will take you into the small village square. It had 3 high street stores, Marks and Spencer’s for clothes and shoes, Argos for knick-knacks and Sainsbury’s for food. Other smaller shops, I had never heard of, littered the street. It was on one of these trips that our lives took a new turn. 

Left alone to shop or sightsee or just eat and the bus comes back for you. No supervision just a few of us to watch out for each other, but no one really cared, we all just told each other where we will be and met back at the bus stop after the 2 hours. One thing though, you could eat all you want but you weren’t allowed to bring anything back to school, not even a sweet. Before we get on the bus the school matron, who always came back with the driver to pick us up, will all but strip search us one at a time. If anything considered forbidden is found on you, besides it being confiscated, you would not be allowed out of school for a whole year. Now we all asked ourselves, “was one sweet, or a slice of cake or a biscuit worth that?” definitely not was the answer, so we pigged out all we wanted and made sure we were squeaky clean by the time the bus arrived. 

It was in our 4th year that everything changed. Titilayo had told me stories about Nigeria that seemed farfetched, the wealth, affluence, beaches of Lagos, amazing people, the food etc., this was a far cry from the gory picture my father painted of his home country. All this did, was make me want to go see for myself. But as much as Titilayo who wanted to desperately see her father, discussed it, we had no idea how to get there. For one we both didn’t have Nigerian nor British passports and from our research online, which was heavily restricted by the school, because of our age we would need our birth certificates, which wasn’t a problem for me because online I could pay a small fee and request a copy but for Titilayo who was born in Nigeria that was a big problem. Besides that, our parent’s passports and their consent were required, which was a bigger problem. But all that changed was about to change. 

We had gotten one of our freedom passes, as Titi and I called it, and we walked into a small café that sold the best fish and chips we had tasted. Since we discovered it at the tail end of year 2, we always ended our trip, at the café, one for the fish and chips and two for the location, it was opposite where the school bus dropped and picked us up from. Now this faithful day, as we sat munching our meal, a Youngman approached us. He introduced himself as Ade and asked if we were Nigerian. “How did you know?” was the first thing that popped out of my mouth, before my brain told me I wasn’t supposed to speak to strangers. He was good looking, young but maybe a couple of years older than us. We were going on 14 and he said he was 16 and in a boarding school not too far away. He was out on an exeat to pick up some groceries from Sainsbury he said. That day we didn’t talk much but he found out we were there once every month and he promised to see us next month. 

Month After a month we met with Ade, and he changed our lives, when he found out my perception about Nigeria was whooped, he brought his iPad and showed us Nigerian movies, he lived in Nigeria and went back every holiday. We were stuck here; we were among the handful of students who could not leave the boarding school when on holiday. The only difference was the change in the timetable for the holiday period, we got to go to some nice places, camping, swimming, museums and a theme park but still went back to the old intimidating castle every night. 

By the time we were in our 5th year, Ade had just gotten admission into a university in London to study Law. He still came back every month to visit and promised us as soon as we were done here, that we had a place to stay with him, his father owned a 5-bedroom house in Hampstead, London and we were welcome to stay. The plan was simple after our final exams, we get one day off and that’s when we move. Well, how about my mother you ask? Well, she only visits once in a while and she would stay for a few hours and leave, she didn’t even come at all in my 5th year. As for my father I hadn’t seen him since I got into secondary school. 

On this freedom pass day, we set everything, we didn’t even take a pin, that day, the bus dropped us off, and we went around with the other students as usual. When we got into Marks and Spencer’s we picked up a couple of dresses and told our other schoolmates, that we were popping into the changing room and would meet them up at the café. As soon as they left, we dropped the dresses on the racks and left through another door. Ade and a friend were already waiting in a black BMW, we got in, laid low and viola we were on our way to London. 

Wow! The whole thing was so easy, easier than we thought, we were done with this place, final exams over, only 2 weeks of activities and stuff, no worries, all we wanted was our Freedom. I actually almost forgot what being in London felt like. Titi was different, she had never been, this was my territory, and I was going to show her all. I had plans, to go out shopping, and take Titi around in double-decker buses and all. I still had the bank card my father had given me, instructing me to keep it from my mother and spend it only in emergencies, this was one. 

But unfortunately, our joy was short-lived, as the next morning we woke up to the news that we had been declared missing and the whole of England was looking for us. As we watched the news, Titi and I were shivering, we couldn’t believe it. They posted our pictures all over the news, two young girls missing from a posh English boarding school, probably abducted by a paedophile, some reports said. They even had my mother on the news, pleading with our abductors to release us, we were just children, she had said before she broke down crying hysterically on the television. The reports went on, “last spotted in Marks and Spenser’s and seen getting out of the back door and disappear. Who has them? Has anyone seen them? A Reward put up by both families”. Day in and day out, we were headline news, and we knew we were stuck. 

After 5 days of being cooped up in Ade’s house, we were still headlining news, we felt like being in the boarding school again, but this was worse, if we stayed here, we could never show our faces outside this house. Everyone in England was looking for us, and for those who wouldn’t bother usually, now they would, because of the huge reward for finding us. For some reason, Ade and his friend seemed less perturbed by all the fracases. Titi and I, on the other hand, were petrified, beside ourselves with worry, all we wanted was for Ade to take us back to school before this got too much out of hand. When we kept insisting on going back, Ade’s friend, told us off for behaving like children, “but we are children, “I pointed out. He glared at me and asked, “Don’t you want to pursue your dreams of going to Nigeria to meet with your other family?” he added. He saw our confused look, how did he know “Oh don’t get your knickers in a twist, Ade told me about you two. How the world sees you as bastards, but you want to be legitimate, you are tired of your fathers hiding you, you want to go to the source of your birth, so here is your chance” He blotted out, then starred us for an answer. When none was forthcoming, he continued. “This is the situation; you have two options. Go back and confess that you ran away or lie you were abducted and didn’t see the faces of your abductors but escaped and find your way back or two?” 

“What was option two?” Titi asked with a whisper. Ade’s friend looked at us again and smiled, “that’s my girl, it’s simple, I have an uncle who said he could smuggle you into Nigeria without passports but first we have to get you two to Turkey. What, are these guys mad, smuggle us? I honestly didn’t know when I began to scream, “smuggle us to Nigeria, how would that work, all I hear is people being smuggled into Europe, but we are going to be smuggled in not out”? I asked as I glared from Ade to his friend. 

All this while Ade had been quiet, but when he saw how panicky I had become, he came over and put his arm around me to calm me down, it worked, because I stopped talking and looked questionably into his eyes. Then he said “Rosey, this is the only way, all you guys have been talking about since the day I met you is how you want to stop being hidden, no longer called the bastard children, now you are 16, it’s time to fulfil that dream, this is your opportunity, take it” 

Getting to Turkey was the chosen option we finally came to. Titi and I were given a day to sleep over it. We hardly slept; we sat up most of the night weighing our options. We go back to the boarding school, only God knows where we will end up next, probably in an ‘A’ level boarding school, then to university and we might have to wait until then to legally apply for a passport. Before we figure out how to go about things. So, we chose the Turkey way, how difficult could it be. Get to turkey and then Nigeria, just 2 stops. Little did we know we were about to start a journey of a lifetime. 

Once we communicated to Ade and his friend that we were ready to go on this journey. Ade’s friend disappears from the house for 3 days, when he returns, he calls us all into the living room and says, “change of plan, you have to leave tonight and here is why” as he switched on the television. Up until then, we had been forbidden to watch Television. The news was on, they had intensified the search for us, the police had searched our rooms and found searches on our computers for passports, how to leave the country and so on. They had ordered all borders to be on alert and on the lookout for us. Titi and I didn’t know what to say, but the look on our faces and tears rolling down our eyes confirmed how worried we were as he said, we were no longer children, being smuggled out of a country required being brave and we were, so no tears. That night as we sat in the BMW miles away from Ade’s father’s house, we watched as Ade and his friend took our bank cards from us and withdrew lots of money from the ATM. “It has to be done this way because by tomorrow morning the bank will alert the police that you used your card and tracking your moments from here will commence. This way they will think someone stole them, that’s why we have the hoody sweatshirts on, to disguise our faces” he told us as he got back into the car. 

After collection of money, we drove to an industrial estate in East London, I knew this because we drove past Stratford station, my mother had brought me here twice to visit a friend of hers. We pulled up in front of a deserted looking warehouse, honked twice and the large rusty shutters squeaked open. We drove in and Ade parked the car next to an 18-wheeler truck. They ushered us out of the car and into the room next to the truck. Three men were already seated smoking. Titi and I coughed until our eyes dripped but eventually, they put out the cigarettes. Then the bearded Asian man asked if Ade’s friend had the money. He handed him the envelope, the guy didn’t count it, just looked in and said: “I see it’s all there”. He looked back at us and said, “You two, go in there and change into the clothes on the bed, hurry up, you leave in 30 minutes.” At first, we couldn’t move, we remained rooted to the ground, then the man shouted “Now” and then we ran into the room. Titi was crying and I was just in shock, “What’s happening, Ade and his friend were still in the other room, we had no idea what was going on, we thought we were getting on a train or a plane to Turkey, what were we doing in a deserted old warehouse, with crazy men. 

Ade came into the room a few minutes later and put his arms around Titi and me. We held him close and cried while asking what was going on. He sat us down one after the other, pulled up a chair and explained because we didn’t have passports, we had to be smuggled to Turkey. “These guys we see go to Turkey once a month to pick up goods to sell in England, but they also smuggle people in. The truck we see outside has a hidden compartment at the back with a mattress, lamps, breath holes and blankets. It also has a small plastic bucket for toileting. It seals after, so no smell. The journey from London to Turkey takes 39 hours about 2,368 miles, they drive through Austria and Romania where you will be allowed to stretch for a few minutes before heading to Turkey. The clothes you have to change into are for your protection to keep you warm, as these places have chilly temperatures. So please put them on, the heavy-duty thermal socks and boots too. There’s plenty of food, a battery food heater to warm water and some canned food and you will be there before you know it, the good news trucks leaving the UK are not subject to intensive searches like those coming in but a brief search is done, might be more intense, especially now with you guys missing but it will be fine. So, once you hear the truck slow down, turn off the lights of the heaters and keep quiet and in a few minutes, you’ll be back on your way. Here are 500 pounds, hide it in this fanny pack under your clothes, you might need money on the way. My friend doesn’t know am giving you these.” All he said had not sunk in yet but the worried look in his eye said it all. He said he had scribbled his no on a paper in the fanny pack and also a friend’s no in Nigeria, who will meet us anywhere, once we get there and that was it. I could have sworn he had been crying but I wasn’t sure. 

We were fully kitted now and could hardly breathe, but that didn’t last long once the cold hit us in the truck. We were ushered into this hiding space and the back of the container on the truck, and we heard the door locked. It had no handle from the inside, so we couldn’t go anywhere and from the outside, it opened with a hidden button pressed by foot under some panels. The lamp was on in this space, as Ade described it, and the mattress was on a raised wooden platform. The bucket for a toilet was in a corner, a heater for the food and water was placed next to the bed and some food and drinks were in a box. Titi and I settled in we lay side to side and covered ourselves with one blanket and slept off. The sound of the truck, funny enough made us really sleep. 

When we woke up the truck was just slowing down, we stood on the bed, looked through the tiny holes created for breathing and saw we were joining a row of trucks and remembered the border inspection Ade spoke about. A few minutes later we heard the door of the back open and voices and footsteps, they spoke French, I understood from French class, they were talking about us, missing girls, the voices got louder, and the footsteps got closer, and then we heard a bang on the wall of the partition, trying to find an opening. Titi and I held each other shivering, just when we thought it was all over and they would burst in and find us, the banging stopped and a voice said in French ‘’ll n’y a rien ici” translated, there is nothing here. And the footsteps retreated. Phew! That was close. 

We arrived in Turkey 41 hours later, Titi and I ate the baked beans and bread, biscuits, instant noodles, and boiled eggs, we drank the coke, water, and juice, and went to the toilet for no one, 4 times and no two, twice. The truck came to the last stop, reversed into a warehouse, and the door opened again. This time we heard footsteps and the hidden door opened. Sitting holding hands on the bed, the driver said congratulations and as we stood up, we saw Ade’s friend behind him, he had flown out that day to take us to meet his uncle, to be honest seeing him was a huge relief. 

The ride in a jeep from the warehouse to Ade’s friend’s uncle’s house was long, but we didn’t care, we were with a familiar face and in a comfortable car, which was enough. We arrived in Turkey when it was still dark, but by the time we got to the uncle’s house, it was 8 am. It was in a place called Ankara when Titi saw the name, she said it was the name of popular material in Nigeria. Ade’s friend, who was also Nigerian said it was also pronounced the same way. On arrival, uncle was waiting for us, he turned out to be a 50 something man, living in a nice house with lots of cars. His wife was Turkish, and you could see the affluence as soon as we stepped in, everyone dressed nicely, we, on the other hand, were still in our crazy clothes. The maid was instructed by the uncle to take us in and help us freshen up and change into other clothes, we will remain in Turkey for a few days before our trip across he informed us. All I heard was the word Across, where was Across was all, I could think of. 

On the 4th day. Ade’s friend told us it was time, we got into the jeep and were told we were on our way to the Port of Izmit and from there we will be put on a cargo ship heading for Lagos, Nigeria and the journey will take 23 days. When we got to Izmit, uncle and Ade’s friend walked us to a very large cargo ship, it looked like it stretched on for miles, as it sat anchored on the port, couldn’t even see the end. We climbed up the metal stairs and walked on the deck, then through a set of doors, up some more steps and came to a door that said, Captain. Uncle knocked and a short, broad-chested, hairy man opened the door. “Ah! Uncle, you are here”, he said. “Yes Captain, these are my nieces that need passage, thank you”. The captain shacks his head, picked up the intercom and said some words in a language we didn’t understand and in 3 minutes a guy came, he said a few more words and the guy, beckoned to us and said: “Come”. We went with him while waving bye to Uncle and Ade’s friend. I had mixed feelings; did we make the right decision I asked Titi. She looked at me with dreamy eyes and said: “Rose, I think it’s too late to wonder, let’s just go with the flow”. So, up and downstairs and finally, the guy opens a door to a cabin with a double bed, shower and toilet, it wasn’t all that, but it was luxury compared to the back of the truck. He left us with the words, “will be back”. 

Titi and I looked around, we were afraid, I guess with all the surprises we had seen recently, we were slowly getting used to our new situation. I looked around the room, at least we could lock this one from the inside and had a handle to open it. The bed was nicely done, and Titi checked the shower, it had hot water, which was great. Suddenly the phone uncle gave us rang, it was Ade’s friend saying bye-bye and wishing us a safe journey. Uncle came on the phone and said we were in good hands, the captain had done this for him several times, although it was bringing people back not taking them there, all the same, we should relax, the captain was a good man. He will call us regularly, there’s enough airtime to last us for a while. His call made us feel a bit better and at least we had some money on us. The phone was also a blessing because it had data and we could surf the net. Looking up our route from Turkey to Lagos. We saw we were going to go through Bulgaria, Greece, Dakar, Freetown, Monrovia and then Lagos. 

It’s amazing how when you are thinking of a plan it seems so straightforward, but when it’s actually in play, it’s much more complicated. Our trip across the Atlantic started off okay, the day we arrived on the vessel, the captain came to our room later that evening with the man whom he called earlier and told us no one will bother us, all meals will be brought to us in our cabin and this man was the only one to have access to us. All other 12 crew member doesn’t even know we are on board. We didn’t understand the implications of this, but we were about to find out. 

The journey was going well, all routine, nothing complex. 3 times a day, the guy will bring us food, the food was nice, and we got drinks as well. The captain brought in a small screen television and surprisingly we got good channels. Satellite images were great, watching these films made the time pass quickly. 20 days into our trip, the captain came to our cabin and informed us some pirates have been spotted off the Gulf of Guinea, but according to reports, they were heading towards Lagos now. He said we will be slowing down to give us enough time to let them leave before we got there, so the journey might take a day longer. I was curious, “what do the pirates want from you”. He didn’t mind me asking the questions, he just said, “well we are an oil tanker, and they hijack the oil”. Up until that minute we had no idea the sort of cargo the ship was carrying. “Why do they do that,” Titi asked. “Well, young lady it cost a lot of money and these smugglers are professionals, well-funded and well-armed. They get on board, kidnap and demand a ransom from the ship owners before releasing the crew and most times they siphon the crude oil and release the crew with no harm. The Gulf of Guinea, which stretches from Gabon and goes as far as Lagos and beyond is a known pirate territory, ships have to always be on the lookout”. 

By the time the captain left, we had our hearts in our mouths. The peaceful, straightforward journey with no stress had become frightening and scary all in one. Titi and I knelt down and prayed for the umpteenth time and asked God to please protect us and let us arrive safely in Lagos. And that was another matter. Thankfully we had one hope and that was the no Ade gave us to call when we arrive in Lagos, Ade promised he will help us locate our fathers. 

On day 21 around 4 am, we were awoken by a lot of noise coming from the top deck. It got louder and louder, it sounded like people shouting and running. We heard a lot of people but couldn’t make out who was saying what. By 6 am the noise was still on, when the door to our cabin opened, the captain had his hands tied behind his back with a gun pointed to his head, he apologized and said he had no choice, the pirates had boarded the ship and were going around all the cabins, the crew members said no one else was on the ship, so did the captain but the guy who was in charge of us said the captain had two females in his cabin when they dealt him a blow on his head and threatened to blow it off if he didn’t tell the truth. 

The pirate had a scarf over his mouth and nose, only his eyes were visible. He also wore a winter woolly black hat, his eyes were bloodshot but when he spoke to us his voice was so soft and had a slight foreign accent, which surprised me. He asked us to get up and follow them. We were marched into the ship’s haul where all the other crew was sitting on the floor with their hands up. 6 other pirates with guns surrounded them. We all sat there for about 2 hours, with no one making a sound except for Titi and I crying silently and sniffing the catarrh back in our nostrils. Just then the lead pirate who came to get us spoke to one of his men who then left his position and came towards us, grabbed Titi and me by the shoulder and shoved us towards the stairs, with the lead pirate in tow. The captain tried to protest but he got hit on the head with the butt of a gun and crumbled to the floor. Right then I knew we had to obey these pirates, or our lives will also be in danger. 

That day the Pirates lowered us from the Turkish vessel into their boat, it was smaller in size, but we could see it had offloaded some crude oil from the big tanker, pipes were still attached as we were lowered down onto their boat. The lead pirate just said, “come with me” and led us to a cabin. Now this cabin was much nicer, he had a carpet, a nice bed, Tv, fridge and a kettle. From the outside, the boat looked like a normal one, but it had hidden compartments for storing crude oil. I guess this was to fool the oil tankers as they approached them. The lead pirate went into his bathroom, and we watched as he took off his mask and washed his face. When he turned around, Titi and I were in shock, he was one of the most handsome men we had seen, and we both confirmed that later. He was dark, tall and had curly hair, his brown eyes sparkled. He saw our reaction and smiled, then he came over and asked us in a perfect English accent, what are you guys doing here? My name is “Mr M, what’s yours?” We couldn’t speak, we were gobsmacked, he kept staring at us and us at him, then he clicked his fingers, and we came back to reality. What’re your names? He repeated, this time slowly as if slurring his words. “Titi and Rose”, Titi responded. “Nice names, so how did you get kidnapped by those Turkish sailors?” “Kidnapped, no we weren’t” and so I went into the summarized version of how we got there. Now it was his turn to be gobsmacked. “Hold on, really, you are trying to smuggle yourself into Nigeria, when everyone is trying to get smuggled out, o my gosh! no one will believe this, everyone comes from the inside out, but you are coming from the outside in”. “He picked up his phone and called a guy named J. asked him to come here with 3 other guys. When they arrived, he repeated our story and they fell to their knees laughing. One of them said “Sisters, shuu! Who did you guys like this, Na witch?” we didn’t understand his question, but it became clearer really fast. 

After we left the Turkish vessel, things became a bit more fun, the lead pirate told us he was on his way to Warri in Nigeria, and he would get someone to take us from Warri to Lagos by road. He was wealthy he said and if we want, we could spend some time with him and his family getting to know Nigeria before we go looking for our fathers. That day things went smoothly. Then the second day which would have been day 23 on the Turkish vessel, we were awakened by gunshots. The leader asked us to wake up and get in one of the cupboards and stay quiet. Lots of yelling gun shoots and then all goes quiet. We were not sure how many hours went by but when we came out of the cupboard, the vessel was no longer moving and everywhere was dark and dead silent. 

We listened for voices, but nothing, too afraid to leave the pirate’s cabin we sat in the dark panicking. Hunger had begun to set in, so I opened the fridge, power had been out for a while, luckily our phone still had 40% battery life as Titi had kept it switched off for a while. We checked it for signals, but there weren’t any, so we used the touch to search the fridge and found some Fanta and apples. We ate the apples and drank Fanta. In a few hours, Titi suggested we venture out and I agreed. We opened the cabin door slowly and walked out, not sure which direction to go we switched on the phone torch and went back the way we came. After a few wrong turns, we reached the deck. It was pitching black outside; all we could hear was the sound of crickets and frogs. The boat was anchored but no sign of life and no clear path of how to get off. We walked around the deck and then found a ladder that has been extended down the side, so we climbed down and landed on the harbour dock. We had no idea where we were or what happened to the pirates. Could they be dead, I thought? 

We flashed the light around and saw a small building just up ahead, we decided to check it out, as we got close, nothing, no sign of life. We got right in front of it, found the door and tried the handle it opened. We went in, it was an office, with 4 tables and a lot of chairs and filing cabinets. Titi suggested we stay in here until daylight when we can decide where we need to go. So, we stayed and honestly didn’t know when we dozed off sitting in chairs with our heads on the table. I was awoken by someone shaking me, I looked up and saw 4 men staring at us, Titi was already awake, and one guy was pointing at his phone and at us, “these are the lost girls, their parents are offering 5 million naira for anyone who finds them”. “Forget 5million one of the other guys said, he appeared to be the leader, the vessel we jacked yesterday will fetch us 70 million minimum so let’s use and dump them”. Use and dump, what did that mean, Titi was crying and all I could think of was clarify ‘Excuse me, Sir, what’s Use and Dump?” And the leader busted out laughing, “This one Nah ajebo o, ah! We no fit use and dump this one, we go dey use am as film show, I don dey think sef, these ones too fine to dump, let’s just use and keep”. Translation, these ones are too posh, we can’t use them, we will rather listen to them speak with that accent of theirs, we shall not be using and dumping these ones, just using and keeping them”. 

On day 25, 2 days after we would have arrived in Lagos with the Turkish vessel, we were taken from the office where the guys had locked us for 2 days feeding us bread and coke. One of the guys turned up his name was Rueben and asked us to come with him, he put us in the trunk of a car and drove. Bumps, all the way, the road was untarred and dusty, the dust got into the trunk of the car and titi, and I sneezed endlessly and were covered from head to toe in dust. Finally, the car stopped, the front door of the car slammed shut and Rueben opened the trunk, helped us out and led us into a small bungalow. Once we were in the instructed a lady to look after us, gave her some money and told us to stay with her and he will be back tomorrow to explain. As soon as he left the lady ushered us into a room, gave us pairs of jeans and t-shirts and asked us to have a bath, there is warm water in the buckets she said and left Titi and me. “What’s going on, who was Rueben and why is he helping us.” Titi asked. “Maybe he wants the ransom for himself” I blurted out. 

We had a long bath, the water was a lot and really warm, we changed, lay on the bed and slept. The next morning the lady came in with brand new toothbrushes and toothpaste, she didn’t speak much, just asked us to brush and she will bring breakfast soon. True to her words breakfast came, it was bread and fried eggs with hot chocolate. It was good to finally eat something nice, food had been manageable since we left turkey, in comparison this seemed like luxury food, so we gulped it down in a hurry, drank the hot chocolate and waited. Shortly after Rueben came and said let’s go, ladies, no pleasantries just urgency. 

As we left the town behind, Rueben got more relaxed, and then he began to update us. The pirate took us off the Turkish vessel. He slipped into the engine room when they were hijacked by Warri pirates. He watched as we got off the boat and went into the office, he also saw the Warri pirates lock us in. he had waited until the coast was clear and went to his friend whose wife, he took us to borrow his car to transport us. Mr M and the rest are waiting, they all escaped on a dingy. He called and he has asked him to bring us. 

Now you must remember I was no longer that naïve girl who left the boarding school, we had been smuggled in the back of an 18-wheeler, gone from London to Austria to Romania to turkey. Then smuggled into an oil vessel through Greece into the Atlantic and down to Lagos before pirates kidnapped us. We have just been blessed that no one has attacked us yet. We still had the 500 pounds, the phone and the name of the guy to call, but no signal to make a call. So, I did what anyone would do I decided to bribe the guy. “Mr Rueben, we will offer you 200 pounds to say we escaped all you have to do is tell us how to get to Lagos,” I said. He put his foot on the breaks and the car skidded to a stop “200 pounds, you have it here?” “Yes, we do, do we have a deal?” Okay, let me see first. While I was talking, I had put my hand under the top I was wearing and counted out 4, 50-pound notes, which I held up to him. His eyes lit up. Then he smiled and said, you know I could just take it from you and still take you to Mr. .M, right? It was Titi’s turn to speak, “Yes, we do know, but we are begging you please tell us how to get to Lagos and we will be internally grateful God will bless you and your children too will get helpers” That did the trick, he turned the car around and we headed back to town and straight to a luxurious bus park. He asked us to wait and then came back with 2 tickets that said Warri to Lagos, He also gave us 5,000 naira in case we stopped on the way for food. We gave him the 200 pounds and we got on the bus. At that moment we felt totally safe for the first time, we were on our way to Lagos, nothing could go wrong, or could it? 

It took a while for the bus to fill up, but eventually, it did, we were due to leave at 6 pm. By 5.45, the bus was ¾ full and the driver and another guy got in the front cabin, which for some strange reason was cordoned off from the back passenger seats. I had been on coaches in England for excursions, none had this strange configuration. Titi and I saw people buying plantain chips, bread and can drinks so we bought some too from the money Rueben gave us. At 6 pm on the dot, the bus engine came alive, after a few rives we were on our way. The coach was smooth enough, two small tv screens hung from the ceiling showing Nigerian films, we took seats from the second to the last, so we had a pretty good view of everything going on the bus. 

Five hours into the journey a loud bang woke everyone up, it was 11 pm and most of us were asleep including Titi and me, the bus was weaving to the right and the left, and the driver was struggling to control the bus, then suddenly we faced a big tree and smack! The front of the bush just missed the tree, but the side got scrapped from the beginning to the end and the bus finally came to a stop. Miraculously we remained upright, the driver’s mate got down and came to the back, asking if everyone was okay. No one was injured. We all got out of the bus, it was pitch black, but everyone turned on their phone torch and we saw 2 tires had been shredded to bits, something was on the road, we heard one man say, let’s pray it’s not armed robbers, said another. To be on the safe side, the driver and his mate asked us to take cover in the bushes while he and the mate tried to change the busted-up tires, they always carried 4 spares in case of incidents like these. 

They toiled for a couple of hours, finally changed them and whistled for us to come out of the bushes and get going. Titi and I had followed a group of people who crossed to the other side of the road, there were a few hefty men in the group compared to the other group mostly elderly men and women. Just as we sat down and the driver put the bus in gear, we saw headlights and heard gunshots, in seconds we were surrounded and asked to get down if we loved ourselves. We all filed out and as we did, we were separated. Titi and I were the only ones in our group. The gang went through every pocket, bag, and luggage and took all the valuables and then it was our turn to be searched. Then they found the fanny pack and the 300 pounds. The leader this time, put the money back in the pack, gave it to me and said, “bring this two with us”, we got dropped in the Hilux truck and were driven away into the night. 

Okay now, it’s still a miracle no one has actually sexually assaulted us right but honestly the trauma we have suffered aged us 10 years and turned us from ‘aje butter’(posh) to ‘aje paki’ (local) as our Niger Delta brothers said. These ones were not pirates they were just thieves, highway robbers in every sense of it, they took us to their hideout in a place called Ore, which spelt like iron ore, but pronounced in a totally different way. I was initially wondering and asked Titi why he suddenly took interest in us, but we didn’t have long to wait. When we got to the hideout, a house with high walls, he put us in a room with a bed and air-conditioning, then he said the strangest thing “Your fathers will soon be here”. What did he mean, how did he know our parents? No answers came until the next morning around 12noon, the door to our room opened and in steps first my father and then Titi’s father, oh my gosh! it was like a dream. How did you find us Dad, Titi asked her father, “well this young man, pointing to the gang leader called and ask me to come here this morning and get you, I didn’t believe him, so he sent a picture of you two. I remembered when we go in, he asked us to stand together and he took our picture, so that was what it was for. Titi’s father was looking all over Titi to make sure she wasn’t hurt, said: “Apparently you girls have been trending on Twitter and Facebook, this Youngman said he recognized you instantly and felt it was his duty to inform us and collect the reward, so he called us and sent proof”. My father on his own was holding me so tight that he must have kissed my forehead over 10 times. I cried and held onto him. I guess we were just so overwhelmed. 

As we drove off in the same jeep our fathers had brought, the questions came, “How did you get here, where are you coming from?”. Didn’t even know which one to answer first. My father was in shock, he held me tight and said, “my darling Pumpkin what have you done, the whole of England is looking for you and your mother has been beside herself with worry but, I Thank God you are both alive”. 

Well, we finally made it, smuggled into Nigeria, found our fathers, and they had no choice after all we did to be reunited with them, they introduced us to our siblings. how did that go you ask? well, that’s another story on its own. 

but what I can confirm is things got extremely better for both of us after that. years later Titi and I are now happily married. we still keep in touch; she’s moved with her husband to America, and they have 4 wonderful children. I went back to England with my father and because of what we did, he took my mum to the registry and married her legally. I also got married to a wonderful Nigerian man and now visit my Nigerian family regularly as Roseline the child of Chief Thomas Akindele and not Roseline the bastard Child of the chief. 

 

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