Nkem was an Igbo girl.
I met her in Tripoli on my way to Italy in 1999. She was stranded in Libya and didn’t know how to go back home.
Nina and I were out in the street one day when she walked up to us and asked us to help her with some money.
Initially, we told her that we didn’t have money but when she summarized her situation to us, we gave her 10 dollars each from the little we were given at the hotel where we lived.
Nkem had come to Libya the same way we did but according to her, she had been waiting for her contact in Italy for three months.
The woman who was supposed to pick her up in Tripoli had not contacted her as at then and there was nothing she could do. She had been evicted from one of the cartel’s hidden hotels all over the town and was forced to sleep in the same room with some of the Nigerians men hustling in the city.
“Why don’t you ask the men to help you out?” I had asked her.
She had looked me in the face with agony and said “Nobody cares about anybody here. They are hustlers and hardly make enough for themselves. The few who had slept with me were kind enough to give me money for food so that i stay alive for them to climb again. Look at me, i don’t even know if i am pregnant, i haven’t seen my period for the month”.
She was crying.
Her story had moved us to the extent of giving her 20 Dollars which she grabbed as if her life depended on it.
From what she narrated to us, it was clear that our condition could easily turn to that if our Aunty Philo from Italy didn’t show up.
We couldn’t imagine what we would do if that happened.
“You can come and stay with us in our hotel but the bed is just for two people” Nina had told her.
It was a chance she grabbed with both hands.
We had asked her to go and get her clothes but to our greatest surprise, Nkem said she had no other set of clothes except the Jean trouser and the blouse she wore at that time.
I didn’t know if she was telling the truth or not but we ended up in our room that evening.
That was how she came to stay with us and use our clothes.
Nkem would wake up in the morning first and cleaned our room. All efforts we made to let her know that she was not obligated to do those things fell on a deaf ear.
She was just a nice girl that found herself in the cold desert of Libya.
One week after we met Nkem, our Aunty called again.
She said she won’t be able to make it to Libya but said that the hotel manager would brief us on what next to do.
“Aunty there is something i wanted to tell you” I had said on the phone.
When she asked what it was, i told her about Nkem and her situation.
Aunty Philo said that the money she sent to the hotel manager was to prepare Nina and I for our next phase of travel which was to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe. She said she didn’t have more money for one more person and told us to just forget the girl and focus on ourselves.
“She is not the only stranded girl there. There are others and she knows” Aunty Philo had said.
Nkem knew i was going to speak to Aunty Philo about her; she had been reminding me to do that ever since she came to stay with us.
“She said there is nothing she can do for you” I had said to her.
It was the most difficult news i had ever given to anybody since i was born. There were tears in my eyes while giving her that news.
Nina herself knew she was going to cry for Nkem and as a result, she stayed away from us when i was telling Nkem what Aunty Philo said.
“What is going to happen to me when two of you leave?” She was all tears.
I told her to have faith in God.
Have faith in God?
I had no idea what that meant but i said it anyway because there was nothing else to say.
A day after We spoke to Aunty Philo, the hotel manager came and announced to us that we would be leaving for the harbour the following night.
He asked what Nkem was doing in our room and we told him she was squatting with us.
He was very angry and said we should have taken permission from him before allowing anybody to sleep with us.
The worst part was that he ordered Nkem to leave the hotel immediately.
We tried to plead with him but he didn’t listen; he just called the security men to throw the girl out and that was the last time we saw her.
We stayed indoors the entire night and the next day until the manager came again and told us it was time to leave.
We got ready and went to his office where two tall men were sitting already.
After telling them we were the subjects, they nodded and stood up, shook the hands of the manager and asked us to follow them.
Outside the hotel, a black Toyota Carina 2 was packed.
We entered the back seat and they drove off.
By a few minutes before 9pm, we got near the harbour outside Tripoli and stopped.
“No talking” One of them said to us as we got down from the car and followed them.
We walked for about 10 minutes before it happened.
One hundred Flashlights came on our faces at the same time.
Another ten voices shouted at us.
I didn’t know what they shouted but the moment the two men leading us stopped and froze in one place, i knew it was trouble.
A large number of Police men emerged from the dark and put hand cuffs on us.
We were led to a large truck parked somewhere and were pushed inside.
“No problem, you come out tomorrow” one of the men had said to us at the back of the locked pickup truck.
We didn’t know where we were taken but when we got to a facility, we were pushed into separate rooms and the cuffs were removed.
I needed nobody to tell me that we had been arrested by the authorities.
I wondered why those two men didn’t know the route was dangerous.
The worst part was that the authorities didn’t ask us any question. They just locked us up in separate rooms and left.
There was a small wooden bench inside the small room where i was locked.
I had no other option than to lie on it and forced myself to sleep.
I didn’t know what was going to happen to us next but i didn’t care much anymore.