A3 back of the pile of boxes, I could see his fiery blue eyes, glinting with pure malice. Oh God, don’t let him catch me again!
His eyes swept the room again, and seeing nothing of interest, he turned to leave. He was out of the door, and was about closing the door, when I felt something wriggling inside my gown. I screamed my heart out, and saw the rat scurry away to safety.
But I had made a mistake in shouting. He turned again, and came directly to where I was. There was no escape this time. I saw in his eyes that he meant to hurt me in the ways only him knew how. He came to the boxes, threw them away, and saw me. My heart was clanging against my chest, I felt he could hear it.
“There you are bitch! I told you I was gonna get you!” He took a handful of my hair and yanked me up. He was spitting saliva onto my face, as he was raining abuses and blows on me. I tried to pry his hands away from my hair, but he was too strong. Twisting myself, I directed a kick to his groin, but he seemed to read my mind and shifted in time just before my leg connected. Infuriated, he punched me in the jaw. I felt as if a giant boulder was thrown to my face.
My legs felt wobbly; my eyes turned, and I saw darkness.
I woke up, groggy and disoriented. I was in my makeshift room in the attic of his house in the suburban part of Venice. My head was bandaged, and it felt as if there was a parade of some sort going on there. My hands were full of blisters, and I was naked.
Slowly, and painfully, I remembered the events of the previous night. As I recalled his punch to my face, I felt dizzy again, but I didn’t faint. I tried standing up, but I slumped again under my weight. My legs were too weak. There were footsteps approaching the room, I took my gown and put it on.
He came in, gave me his malevolent smile, and put down the plate he was carrying on the side stool.
“How are you my dear?” He was being caring today, and that scared me more than ever. Giorgio Bernazi, or Georgie, as he liked to be called, had terrible mood swings; one moment he was this kind and loving person, and the next moment, he would turn into a psychotic maniac. And whenever he was his belligerent self, I would be his punching bag. I had been beaten so many times that I thought I would be immune to his blows.
Sadly, I wasn’t as immune as I thought. Yesterday, he had come back drunk and very angry. Apparently he had lost big money in his normal gambling bouts, and came back requesting for his dinner. I had ordered pizza as he had requested before leaving.
After he was done with his meal, he called me for the normal round of sex. When I came into his room, I pulled off my clothes, and got into bed. He downed his drink, and climbed unto the bed with me. As he was running his hands over me, over my breasts, inside my thighs, he slid two fingers inside me. I felt such revulsion that I wanted to smash his head with something hard. But I could not do it. He would kill me if I didn’t succeed in killing him (which I’m not sure I could do).
As he climbed on top of me to ease himself inside me, he noticed something on my ankle. It was an ankle bracelet given to me by a man, a regular customer of mine. He was one of the few men who have been kind to me.
“Who gave you this?” he questioned as he yanked it off my ankle.
“It—It was Mr. Lorenzo. He…gave it to me yesterday after his business with me,” I replied, terrified of what he would do.
“And in your superior wisdom, you chose not to tell me?”
I knew that I was in trouble.
“No… it’s not that. I for—”
“What did I tell you about keeping things from me?” he queried, now infuriated. He had this throbbing vein in his temple. It was scary to look at.
“You said bad things happen to people who keep things from you.”
“Yet you kept this from me. Why?”
“I’m so—sorry. Please, I’m so… sorry,” I pleaded. The beating could start any moment.
“Could it be that you are having a secret relationship with him?”
Even if I was having anything of such, I would never let him know. That would spell my doom. As it was, he had already concluded that I was having an affair; he would kill me, I was sure. He stood up, brought out his belt, and was about to beat me with it when he received a call. He went to take the call, promising to come back and ‘set me right’.
Immediately he left, I knew that he would maim me if I remained there when he came back. I put on a gown and escaped through the window. Climbing down, I had the feeling of falling down and breaking one part of my body. I calmed myself down and gingerly made my way down.
When I touched the ground, I bumped into his car. The panic alarm went off, and he looked down and saw me. He dropped the phone and ran to get me. I leapt into the street, running blindly for my life. My escape was short-lived as I was caught in a storage room and beaten till I fainted.
“I’m fine,” I replied him, standing up and taking the food he brought. I was really famished and wolfed down the cold pizza without a second thought. He just watched me as a master would watch his dog who he had starved for so long. When I finished eating, he informed me that I had a client who needed a very ‘sexy and docile African girl’ for the night.
He then went on to ask me, “I hope you have no objections against working tonight?”
As if I had any choice. He practically owned me; ever since he bought me in Tripoli over two years ago, he had done whatever he wanted with me.
“No, I don’t have any objections,” I dutifully answered.
“I thought as much.”
He then left me. Without anything to do till later in the night, I went through the events that brought me to where I was. My family was poor, my parents had to use all they had to pay for my university education; but then, they had nothing to train my four remaining siblings with. My elder brother, who would have alleviated our suffering died in an automobile accident one day when he was returning from work. This was before I graduated. His death was the darkest time of my life. I was very close to him, he was my role model.
After his demise, things turned worse. My father had to sell a parcel of his land to enable me finish my education. Finding a job proved to be tougher than I thought. I submitted applications to many companies, most of them never called back. The ones that called back wanted something in return for the jobs.
From the time I started looking for work till now, it was as if the ghoul of prostitution was hovering around me. So many managers made passes at me, but I rebuffed all their advances. Little did I know what the future had in store for me.
One day, my boyfriend Emeka told me of this agency that helps people get to Europe where there are greener pastures. I had my misgivings about the whole thing, but he was very convinced that the agency was legitimate. He had always been the one who took care of details and all the important stuff. According to him, the agency required a registration fee of five hundred thousand naira. That immediately put me off the more. But my boyfriend was insistent and very persuasive. In the end, I had to borrow the money from various people to register for going to Europe.
Battered by the surge of memories, I started crying; I cried my heart out and did not know when I fell asleep.
When I woke up, it was already nighttime. Georgie was hammering at the door, shouting that I should better dress up quickly.
“Olivia! You better hurry up. We’re taking the metro to Paris and our client doesn’t like to be kept waiting.”
France? That was a different area of operation. Normally his pimp business was centered on Venice and its environs. The client must have some clout to have pulled Georgie out of his kingdom. I settled into the business of making myself as attractive as possible. Given my general physique, it doesn’t take much. I applied mascara lightly on my face, making my naturally brown face to appear lighter. I didn’t want to wear heavy makeup especially when the business I was going for had little to do with my face than other parts of my body. So, I also applied a gentle dab of lip gloss, which accentuated my full lips.
I then chose a tight-fitting, thigh-length gown, which Georgie had given me six months back. He has said it was a present, but he never gave out something without expecting anything in return. Finally, I put on four inch high stilettos and I was ready to go.
The journey to Paris was uneventful. When we alighted from the train, we got a cab which took us to the hotel Antoine Dubois (that was the name of the client) was staying. At the hotel, we were met by Mr. Dubois’ valet, who took us to his room. He was staying in an executive suite, which was tastefully furnished. Before I could further appreciate the room, Giorgio made the introductions.
“Mr. Dubois, may I introduce Miss Olivia, my associate and your escort for the night?” The way he said those words sent up a bile of revulsion up my body. I seriously felt the urge to spit on his face. Instead, I plastered a smile on my face.
Mr. Dubois said, “Miss Olivia, a pleasure to meet you.” He took my hand, and as he kissed it, he leered at me. Oh God, let this be over quickly. We went down to the bar, and started drinking. As the men engaged in ardent conversation, my mind drifted to the how I finally came to Europe.
After Emeka and I had registered, we were smuggled to Libya, where, according to them, we were to take a flight to any European country of our choice. Emeka and I had different places we wanted to go to, but at the same time, we wanted to be together. But things turned sour before we even had the time to choose a country. The agency kept us in large warehouses. I was separated from Emeka and kept in a warehouse which contained about two thousand people. All of us seeking passage and better life in Europe. It was amongst those people that I realized the full extent of my predicament.
They told me that we were not going to Europe, not unless we were sold there. That sounded strange. As it turned out, we were slaves. When I asked what we would be doing as slaves, their replies further shocked me.
“The women become sex slaves, while the men are sent to work at some factory or the other.”
Oh Emeka! What have you gotten us into? I later learned that some people who didn’t want to be separated claimed to be married so as to be kept together. I looked for ways to get to Emeka, but I just couldn’t.
The day we were to be auctioned off was when I knew the name of the city we were: Sabha. After the sale, the slaves will be taken to Tripoli, where we would be ferried to Italy. It was here that I was sold to Giorgio Bernazi. I also reunited with Emeka. He was looking like a shadow of his former self. His seeks were sunken, his eyes bloodshot, and his face, lost and forlorn.
The ship that took us was crammed to the capacity with slaves. These were people who were deceived by the promise of better life in Europe. Many of them were Nigerians, but there were other African nationalities there; Ghanaians, Cameroonians, Togolese, many of us Africans were jammed together for an unknown but unpleasant future in Europe. It was during the journey that Emeka and so many others died when our ship capsized.
As I reminisced, I felt the hands of Mr. Dubois sliding inside my thighs. He had long, calloused fingers, like the hands of someone who was familiar with rough work. I looked up at him, he threw a glance at me and smacked his lips. He looked like a predator stalking his prey. Shortly, he gave a nod to Georgie. That was his cue to leave us alone. He stood up, kissed me on the cheeks and left.
Antoine also stood up and extended his hands to me. I took it and he led me to his room. Inside his room, he told me to go and freshen up while he did so too. After the shower, I came out with only a towel draped over my body. I lay in bed waiting for him. I just wished it would be over fast. When he came out and saw me, his eyes glazed over with pure lust. He sat on the chair opposite me, and looked at me for terribly long time that I started getting scared. There was something in the way he looked at me that unsettled me. He said:
“My dear, you’re absolutely stunning. And as much as I want to taste every part of you, I want things to be more exciting.” He then removed his belt and leered at me. It was then that his intention became obvious. I’d heard of men who derived pleasure from hurting women but I never thought that I would encounter one. This was really a nightmare. He asked me to remove the towel and lie on my belly. I did as he commanded, praying that he would change his mind.
The first landing of the belt on my bare back sent slivers of pain throughout my whole being. He landed the second one, and third one. He then flipped me over, sat astride on me and tied his belt on my throat. I was choking, but he was oblivious to my muffled shouting. He was moaning with perverse pleasure. I felt myself slipping out of consciousness. With a a last strong-willed effort, I pulled out the pin I used in arranging my hair and stuck it in his shoulder. He yelped in pain and slackened his hold on me. I pushed him off, took my clothes and ran into the elevator naked.
I gave no thought to the fact that someone might be in the elevator; I probably wouldn’t have cared. I dressed up inside the elevator and walked briskly out of the hotel. Outside, I started running. I had been told many times by Giorgio that he had contacts in the Italian police and immigration, and as such, I had no place to run to. But I was in France, maybe I had a chance to get out of the hellish life I was in. I was heading in the opposite direction we had come from when suddenly I felt something of tremendous weight hit me. I was thrown in the air, and then I saw darkness.
I woke up to the sound of dials and the smell of antiseptics. I was in a hospital. I tried getting up, but I felt such an indescribable pain that I moaned. That was when I saw him. He rushed to my side and was asking me if I was alright. Who was he? Why was I here? Did Georgie find me? But these questions did not leave my mouth. I felt my head swooning and I fell unconscious again.
He was still there when I woke up again. He was looking at me, with a worried look on his face. He had the kindest eyes of any human being I’ve seen. He left, to call the doctor but I was sad that he left. The doctor came in, took my vitals and said that I was indeed lucky to be alive; it was the car of the man who was with me that had hit me.
The man, whose name I found out to be Chike was apologizing profusely and asking me not to press charges. As if I could. He then asked me questions about what I was doing, running like I saw a ghost. At his inquiry, I recalled what happened and started crying. I tried to stall the sobs, instead they came out in torrents.
“Hey! Hey. Take it easy. Calm down please. I’m sorry if my question was uncomfortable for you,” he said.
Later, I calmed down. And for the first time since I came to Europe, told my story. I told everything, about my family, how we tried getting to Europe, how we were slaves and sold off as sex workers, and finally, what happened to me which caused me to flee. After I finished talking, he was very disturbed. He informed me that he was part of the Nigerian diplomatic mission to France and that he was coming back from a meeting when he hit me. He also promised to send me home.
I remembered what Georgie said about having contacts everywhere, and was scared that he would find me out. He saw that I was agitated, and said,
“No harm will come to you dear, I promise,”
Two weeks later, I was back in Nigeria, among my family members. When I came back, Chike helped me to gain my feet back. He organized rehabilitation programs for me and at his request, I would set up a foundation to educate people about the dangers of illegal travels to Europe.
Today, I was scheduled for an interview with a prominent news agency. My story had become popular and everyone wanted to know what had happened to me. As I stepped into the newsroom, I saw the faces of my family and Chike, I smiled at them. I am now home, among the people that matter. No harm can come to me now.