Travel: Greener Pastures
Kenny and Kate used to be the best pals at work. They were employed together at GTBank, and they both worked hard to become successful. While Kenny planned on becoming an entrepreneur, Kate saved as much as she can, every month, towards a single project: to travel abroad. Kenny had asked her a couple of times what she would do when she gets to the UK, but she had no idea. Her uncle, she was wont to say, would sort her out.
Kenny had tried to talk her out of such. Remain in Nigeria, he pleaded. We can make it here. But Kate was adamant. To her, the opportunities are waiting to be picked out there. She declined Kenny’s entreaties to travel, if she must, on a student visa which would guarantee her a long stay visa, on the grounds that she didn’t have enough money to pay for school fees. She would sort herself out in the UK, and then invite Kenny to come over within the next two years, she boasted.
Kate’s mother was sceptical. He daughter had secured a visiting visa to the UK, but instead of planning for a summer visit to coincide with her annual leave, she resigned from her lucrative bank job in search of greener pastures abroad. She was confident it would be a successful venture but her mother had her doubts. Not that any argument swayed her daughter. She had asked Kenny to talk her out of the resignation, but he could not. Pain and frustration were plain on the young man’s face as he left the house almost in tears. Her husband late, she had managed to raise her six children on her own, from her meager salary as a public servant. Kate’s pay was at least thrice hers. Being the third, she had the responsibility of helping her mother raise the younger ones. Her elder ones were helping out, but were relieved when she got a job to help out with the remaining three. They, naturally, were averse to her plans of leaving the country. But Kate was fixed on traveling. She knew she would make it out there. She knew life would be easier.
Ifeoma was overjoyed to pick up Kate from Gatwick international airport when she arrived from Nigeria. They had barely seen each other, but communicated a lot. Being age mates, the cousins had taken to each other from when they first established contact, writing letters to each other until technology made it possible to see themselves through video calls. Ifeoma and her siblings were born and bred in the UK, but had visited Nigeria a few times. Whenever she visited, Kate would spare as much time as possible to take her around. A favour she was intent on paying back. But she was working as well and could not afford to take time off work. Every member of the family worked. They had done since high school. So each of them contributed something to the family’s upkeep. She was surprised when Kate told her she didn’t plan on going back to Nigeria, that she needed to get a job and hence stay. Having come in on a visitor visa, she knew it would be near impossible to achieve that as the count has been tightening up its immigration system. But she couldn’t get herself to dampen Kate’s enthusiasm.
Uncle Ben sat in his office, his brow furrowed. He was worried sick about the action he was about taking. Since Kate’s arrival, she’d been in their house and the financial strain was enormous. He’d advised her to go back to Nigeria, but she wouldn’t budge. She said she had nothing to go back to. Well, there was nothing for her here as well and survival was easier back home. At least you could get food easily, but she didn’t see it that way. He concluded that she was ashamed of going back home. But then, she had come grossly under-prepared to stay here. For one, her visa doesn’t allow her to get jobs. Now she’s been around for three and a half months and her visa was nearing its expiry date. A valid visa didn’t help her much; what then could an expired one do? He had spoken to his sister, Kate’s mum, but no one could convince her to come back. Truly, she tried her best to get a job. Everyone could see how worried she was. He had made up his mind to allow her stay until her visa expired, when she would be forced to go back home, to which she had agreed. But now, her argument had started changing. Now she was convinced that even without a visa, she could make it in the country. Uncle Ben became exasperated trying to get her see reasons with him why her best move would be to go home. He looked out of his office window. His heart felt heavy. But he couldn’t let this folly continue. He sighed and got back to his work.
TJ considered himself an opportunist. He has given up on trying too hard in life, since life continued to throw him curved balls. So any half-opportunity that came his way, he pounced on, making lemonades out of the lines he saw. He lived on council support and engaged in different scams to make easy money. Very intelligent and clever, he could convince you today that he’s a banker, and tomorrow, an architect, or an engineer. Two years ago, he had met Kate on the verge of being thrown out of her uncle’s house. He had convinced her she could make it here without a valid visa. After all you didn’t need a visa to become a scammer. When things became too hot at home, he had offered her accommodation and she jumped at it. So angry she was with her uncle that she changed her SIM card and refused contacting any of them. To avoid them getting her number, she always used a call card to call home. Of her own volition she shut down her social media accounts. But then, she had refused to become involved in his scams. So they had fallen out. One day, after her visa has expired, he had come home from an all night club, angry with himself for allowing another guy snatch his date. He has gone into her room and demanded to sleep with her. She refused. He threatened to get the police in and deport her. She acquiesced. And so it has started. She never moaned or showed any signs of pleasure, rather she’d sigh and cry. He felt disgusted with himself, but he couldn’t stop. Until she got pregnant. The stupid bitch didn’t bother taking any pills. Gave birth to a handsome boy. When next he tried touching her, she rained abuses on him like fire and brimstone. He never knew anger could be so potent. In anger he’d dumped her ass on the streets. Both her and the baby. She showed up two months later with the police and social services. He was charged to court with rape. A charge he denied. He begged her to withdraw the case but she wouldn’t even utter a word to him. She only stared stoically, the kind of state that slowly cut your heart in little pieces. So he’d ended up in jail. Given fifteen years without parole.
Jennifer had met Kate on the streets. From her story she gathered she had been without shelter for two weeks. At first, Kate refused to talk. Clammed up like a snail. But Jennifer persisted. She involved her mum, a veteran social worker and crusader. When she finally opened up, her mum was in tears. They had taken her into their house and installed her in the attic. Sometimes in the middle of the night you could hear her rocking the baby. Fearing she would be deported, Mrs. Randolf had contacted her attorney who dissected the case and told them there was a fat chance she won’t be deported, on compassionate grounds. Only then did she agree to come forward to the police. The scum had been arrested and successfully prosecuted. But then the immigration police had come for her. It took the iron will of judge Harold and his heavy gavel to obtain a perpetual order against the police from trying to deport her. On compassionate grounds. For the first time since she arrived the house, Kate relaxed. She managed to get in contact with Ifeoma, who couldn’t hold back years as they were reunited. Even uncle Ben came to visit. They had made frantic efforts to find her to no avail. Uncle Ben’s apologies flowed profusely. She was invited back to the house, to stay as long as she wants. Kate only promised to visit often, smiling with a distant stare.
Mrs. Randolf knew the girl needed help. She had been through a lot and it showed. The blank stares. Rocking the baby for hours long after he had slept off. The mutterings. She knew the signs. She had conferred with uncle Ben as the most senior family member around. He had agreed. But Kate refused as was expected. She got worse by the day until one day, luck fell on them like a silver sandwich. Ifeoma, who was very close to Kate and had known her friends, ran into Kenny and recognised him. Kenny was torn to shreds when he saw her. She melted into Kenny and was crying rivers. Someone finally got through to her. Luckily, Kenny had moved into the UK as he had gotten a job in the financial hub of London. She made him promise to take care of her son as she finally accepted to be committed to the mental health facility. The doctor had indicated that because of the trauma she had passed through, she may likely be a resident for up to eighteen months, then she could be released for follow up therapy.
As Kate glanced around the white walls of the facility, she couldn’t help but wonder how her life would have been like if she had stayed back in Nigeria, or even returned home when her visa expired. Her mother had cried and cried, but she ended up cutting off every family ties when TJ’s assault started. She couldn’t bear to inform anyone. What exactly the craze to travel abroad had been about, she couldn’t understand. She had lost more than she would ever have gained. If not for the kind judge, she would have been deported despite all she had been through. She blamed no one but herself for her predicament. When one throws away her own pot of soup in anticipation of eating from her neighbours, then no one is to blame it on her arrival, she discovers that the pot has been washed. Those who the gods wish to kill, they first make mad, she mused. Well, she had learnt her lesson the hard way. If she were to return to the time before she left the country, there were a lot of things she would do differently. Her main mistake was to travel abroad in the first place.
The nurse tapped on her door. Time for her drugs.
© Chukwu Dominic