Your mother walks in your room and wakes you up from your deep slumber, you jerk as she taps your feet. “Nne bulie maka go slow o, uzor by this time ga di free,” She says.
You sit, use a hand to shield your eyes from the bright room light and peer at the wall clock. You turn to your mother in disbelief, lay back, curl and sleep.
“Get up its Three A.M if you get ready you will beat Ikoyi and Ikeja go slow, I haven’t mentioned Third Mainland Bridge. Your interview is by seven or have you forgotten?”
You gripe like a broken engine and kick the duvet off your body, yawn and stretch. “Good morning ma,” you say.
“Good morning, I’m here to wake you to get ready for the day,” she says.
“I heard everything, ma.”
“Ehen, you heard and stayed in bed, is the trip not important anymore?”
“Isn’t it still too early?”
“No, this time is good.”
You stand, yawn, stretch and then head to the bathroom. Reluctance swells in your chest as you raise your nightie to sit on the toilet bowl to pee. You’re not ready for an interview, not even to wear the expensive clothes you bought, a long tight body hugging skirt, with a gold zipper right up at the back, right spank in the middle, black stockings and stilettos, to impress the interviewer. There was water in a bucket in the bathtub; you get up from the toilet bowl and stick three fingers in it and feel the warmth, your mother had mixed your bath water already. You heave a sigh and then scoop water on your back. The warmth brings you to life. You wash- slip out, dry off, and then smooth pomade on your skin. You apply make-up with passion and love the results you are staring at in the mirror. After that, you slip into a pair of panties, wear a brassier and then your clothes. You take off your hair net and fix your hair and stare more at the mirror. You love the way you look and suddenly there’s brio to face the day. You look breathtaking when you emerge in the sitting room clutching your stilettoes under your arm. You sit and then your mother appears with a bowl of food.
“I will miss your care and kindness so much,” you say.
“Me too but it’s for your own good, you need the change of environment and greener pastures than the ones here in Nigeria. Just go and heal, I will be fine,” She says.
“That is if I pass the interview.”
“You will be given the visa, I prayed for you to get it and you would.”
You check the time and it was Four Forty-three A.M. You smile at your mother’s sharp intuition and time keeping. As you swipe the last flesh off the bone of chicken your mother appears with your handbag. “Everything you need is in there, I packed it. Look at the time it’s getting late.”
A wave of nostalgia sweeps you off your feet. You are optimistic about the visa, after all, you paid the agent your friend connected you with almost a million naira of hard earned savings.
“She got visas for my uncle to Georgia and my other friend to South Africa- she has people everywhere and can connect you with somewhere to stay since you say you have no one there,” Nancy says. You were at her boutique in Ikeja.
“Are you sure she is the real deal?” you say, sceptical about the average Nigerian being a con man or woman.
“You’re my friend, will I lie to you?” Nancy answers your question with a question like Nigerians do, and it did the convincing necessary. She gives you the agent’s number and tells you to call her to book an appointment. You did as Nancy told and call the agent to meet with her. When you meet you find out that the agent is Igbo, but she introduces herself and asks you to call her Alhaja.
Alhaja explains the visa process to the United States and then she names her price. “My sister I will not lie it is one million naira, American visa is hotcake, asks anybody. Some agents collect more, but I am a child of God and you are like a daughter to me,” Alhaja says. You see her gold necklaces and earrings, her smooth yellow skin and her pathfinder parked outside. You were in a restaurant where she asked you to meet her, it is a Tuesday and the weather is hot outside, though, inside the restaurant is cool due to the air-conditioners placed at corners. You and Alhaja sit at a booth by the wall and talk quietly.
“That price is just… ah- can’t you reduce it, madam? One million too much, ahn-ahn, please ma, Alhaja,” you say, and scratch the centre of your scalp.
“That is the price.” She says and runs her tongue over her teeth. You see her gold and silver canines. “My sister, go anywhere and come back here it is the same, I’m even cheap.”
Alhaja scrutinizes you.
“I am only doing this because of God and no one else, I will take nine hundred,” Alhaja says, “and I will need you to give me a deposit amount of two hundred thousand naira, the hundred that I chopped off was my gain in this business but no problem, I will help you,”
“Ah, thank you ma,” say and you genuflect.
“I just want to help you.”
You thank her and take your leave.
From time-to-time Alhaja calls for money, as well as things. Your passport, your passport pictures in a smart skirt suit, in casual wears, pictures of you and your family smiling, your schooling certificates and birth certificates, doctor’s report, a crocodile tooth, one white hen, your father’s scrotum hair and sand from your hometown. Africans need a lot to get a visa to the United States of America to convince them you are not running away and secretly seeking asylum. Anything Alhaja request for you provide – she forged a bank statement, driver’s license, and she had a sponsor letter ready just to make it all work out for you.
One night Alhaja finally calls.
“Good evening my daughter, how are you and your family?” she asked.
“We are fine, ma,” you say.
“Get good clothes and shoes; appear smart, your interview is next week Monday by Seven A.M.”
“Thank you very much ma, thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet, just be very prayerful, its crunch time.”
You thank her again before the call drops.
The next day you visit Nancy’s boutique at Ikeja to pick out a dress and a good shoe.
“Nawa for all these clothes my sister, gist me,” Nancy says.
“It’s for a job interview o, I just landed one job,” you say.
“Job interview kwa, because of clothes nka di onu o, these clothes are very expensive.”
“Amam, my sister I know.”
You don’t tell her about the interview because of your mother’s warning. “Nigerians don’t wish people good luck, keep this secret until you zoom off,” she says, “when you’re there call whoever that way their juju cannot work anymore.”
As you wear your shoes your mother came and stood in front of you.
“Do you know how to go?” She gave no time for answers. “Enter mile two, then drop and enter C.M.S. When the bus stops at C.M.S enter a bus going to bar beach-Eko hotel and then drop at check-point, come down, cross to your left and then walk down to the US embassy,” she says.
“I would take a cab, I called and he’s on his way.”
“Oya, carry your bag.” Your mother says. She beckons.
Outside, the drivers have arrived and have been waiting.
“Good morin ma,” he says in his Yoruba accent.
“Good morning, drive my daughter safe to the embassy, abeg,” your mother says.
“Yes, ma.” The driver says.
You get in and your mother hands you your handbag through the window.
The driver zooms off.
From Festac where you live the driver connects to Mile two and then to C.M.S, and then across The Mainland Bridge to Bar Beach-Eko Hotel. Because of how early it is in the morning the road is free, but there are signs of impending traffic as the day brightens. You check the time on your phone and it is Six Forty-seven A.M.
“How long before we get there?” you ask the driver.
“It is in front,” he says and points down the road.
Just then Alhaja calls. On the phone, she says she is calling to remind you it is almost time for interviews and you should hurry inside the building and join the queue. The driver parks and turns off the ignition.
“They don’t allow cabs beyond this point- the Embassy; walk down the block to the entrance gate, on your left is British high commission and Canadian embassy.”
Alhaja calls but you don’t pick up. She calls again and then you pick.
She wishes you good luck and tells you where to meet her after, and then she drops.
You get to the gate and enter the compound. Just by the gate, you see a security house and in it, there are two men. You ask one of the men about interviews and he points along pine trees and tells you to walk all the way down. You follow his directions until you find yourself in the building he directed you to.
You stand for hours in a queue like cars lined up during fuel scarcity since Buhari became president. There is an electronic board running numbers on the wall and every now and then a lady’s voice calls out a number. Someone goes in and comes out rejoicing and sometimes it was the opposite. A pastor is denied access to officiate the wedding of his cousin because his reasons are gratuitous.
“What will you are going to do in the United States, sir?” The interviewer says. She is a redhead in a black skirt suit.
“It is the wedding of my cousin- I want to be the officiating pastor,” the man says.
“You do not qualify sir- you can guide them spiritually through phone or online video calls.”
The Pastor takes his large leather-bound bible off the table and walks out.
The lady calls the next number.
The next to go in is an elderly Yoruba woman who only answers with how she wants to see her grandkids.
“Oti kpe mo folorun be, mo Kan Fe ri awon omo mi,” the woman says.
“You will come tomorrow for your passport, madam, will you like to come for it yourself or send someone on your behalf?” the interviewer says.
“Mo fe ri awon omo mi ni America.”
“You have been granted the visa, will you like to come for it yourself or send someone on your behalf?”
“Mo Fe ri awon omo mi se.”
“Mama won bere boya ema wa fun passport abi e ma ran eyan wa.” One of the security guys offers to translate.
“Ah! I come, oshey, oshey omo mi oshey, modupe.” The old lady says and rejoices.
Still, on the queue, you take stock of the environment. A couple and their child dress in cooperate, suits for the husband and their son and skirt suit for the wife. They call their numbers and then they go, shortly after which they return down cast.
Three persons are left in front of you in the queue- you overhear their conversations about the United States embassy experiences.
“I find them stereotypical in character and sometimes rude.” The first man in a blue suit says. “This is my fourth try.”
“You cannot blame them, my brother.” The second man in a grey suit says. “They are adjusting to the fact that most African petitioners lie in one form or the other, people are never straightforward with these things.”
“If you’re honest they would not give you, I don’t think honesty works, and you have to rie thlough your teeth.” The woman behind the second man says in a thick Anambra accent. “It worked for my two daughters and I’m going to join them, the eldest is getting mallied to a man she met there so I would also stay for the omugwo, I hope they give me a year.”
“One whole year madam, are you a thief? They would know if you tell a lie, they can read minds. All your information must be intact,” says the second man in a grey suit.
“Look at you, a fliend who was issued at her first attempt says I’m honest, the day I went to the embassy, light in flont of me people ried thlough their noses and were glanted. I went in and say the tluth, now I intend to tell them a very good stoly I cooked up about stem cell tlansprant.”
You’re caught in two minds, to tell lies or be honest- you decide it isn’t important, yet. Your legs ache and the rice you ate had evaporated from your stomach and your mouth felt parched and in need of moisture. Another number is called and the man in the blue suit goes in. He returns disappointed.
“They rejected me again,” he told them on his way out. They smiled sadly at him.
The second man in a grey suit goes in and returns disappointed, he lied and was refused. The lady goes and tells her stem cell lie and is granted. She came out and singing songs. Your number is called.
You walk into the office, scan your fingerprints and then sit. Three persons are in the office sitting behind a desk and staring at screens, the redhead, a man in beach wears and a brunette in a cream trouser suit.
“Good day,” says the red-haired interviewer.
“Good morning.” You say.
“So you would like to travel to the United States?”
You nod and say “yes.”
“Where will you be visiting?”
“What will you be in Georgia doing?”
“I would be going for a conference with my company.”
“Uh-huh, are you married?”
The question pierces and you wince. It has been a year and a half since Obimna left with Anwuli, your best friend and married her off. He promised to propose, led you on through making plans and then you and he never settled on a date. He postponed until one day he came clean and told you everything. “I and Anwuli have been together for almost a year now, we just didn’t know how to tell you, or want to hurt you,” Obimna said, trying to hold his head a little high. You never heard from him or your best friend again after that day, they left you to face the embarrassment of your friends and family. Everywhere seemed uncomfortable for you after that, you just had to leave, start afresh somewhere.
“Are you married?” asked the red-haired interviewer.
“No, I’m not.”
“Will you be going there because you require treatment?
You shake your head.
The interviewer says nothing but stares at her screen. “Do you have any relatives there?” she asks.
You nod and say “Yes.”
The interviewer looked down at your petition form and compared it with the information she had on the screen right in front of her. She looked serious and engrossed while you waited anxiously for when she was going to address you on the issue of your American visa. “Here,” the interviewer said, suddenly, waking you up from your mind drift. She slid your passport under the glass looking glass separating you and her; there was a white sheet of paper in it. “You do not qualify, that piece of paper will explain everything,” she says.
The next number is called.
You have mixed emotions as you walk out. You open your passport and stare at the paper but can’t see the words written in it. How much you spent to acquire the visa flash in front, N I N E H U N D R E D T H O U S A N D N A I R A, and then you begin to feel duped. Immediately you grab your cell phone and you call Alhaja.
“Alhaja they did not give me the visa they say I did not qualify, tell me what that meant!?” you say.
“Calm down my sister, and explain everything that happened inside that office to me,” Alhaja says.
“Where are you please I’m coming to meet you right now.”
“I am at the car park, have you eaten?”
“Food is not important right now.”
You hang up and hurry to the car park.
Alhaja is on a call when you get to the lot. You intend to yell but she signals for a minute. The anger deflates.
“Why you dey squeeze your face like say you tight mess?” Alhaja says as she hangs up the phone call she was on.
“Madam cut the jokes, I didn’t get the visa!” you say.
“Is that why you are shouting?”
“Why didn’t I get the visa? You assured me.”
“My sister some persons get and some don’t, not everybody you see in that embassy gets that is just how it is.”
“Why didn’t you tell me from the onset that it is trying your luck?” you say as bile rises in your throat.
“My sister its business, and your passport is a virgin, virgin dey hard, but I tried my best. Look, try Canada or South Africa, Malaysia or China, build your passport first.” Alhaja proceeds to tell you prices and the processes involved. You just sit and listen. At a point, you zone off thinking about how you expected to come out smiling, how distraught your family will feel about the rejection. You think you will leave the past behind in less than a week, you even told everyone at the office you will quit. But it was all a dream.
“Madam I don’t like this o, I gave you money and you assured me, you promised me and I counted on you madam, I trusted you.”
“I did my job and got you an interview, the rest was on you, it was not my fault at all.”
“Madam, you mean you gambled with my money? What kind of talk is that, is that even talk at all?!”
“Look, don’t yell at me, you went and got rejected how is it my fault?”
“You’re a thief, you duped me.”
Alhaja laughs hard like your words are music to her ears.
“Get down from my car please- I cannot be insulted by a small girl.” Alhaja makes a call and speaks fluent Hausa into the receiver, ignoring your presence in the car. You alight and leave balled fist and teeth gritted and ten you make your way home.
At home, your mother tells you to forget everything and forge ahead, but you refuse for the sake of your money spent.
Three days after, you visit Nancy’s boutique. You wear jeans in case there is a fight.
Nancy is surprised to see you early- she greets but you skip pleasantries.
“You promised Alhaja was legit, you says she got for your two uncles!” you say.
“Ahn-ahn Boma, my sister, take it easy naa fight?” Nancy says.
“That woman duped me!”
“Don’t blame me, maybe she changed, how would I know?”
“I will arrest her- she will cough out my money. Take me to her house now-now, Nancy, the police are outside.”
Nancy goes to check. She sees three officers, a woman and two men in a Black van.
“No, be small thing my sister, make I lock shop.”
Nancy drives with you to Alhaja’s house with the police following behind. When you get there everyone goes upstairs. There, you bang hard on the door until someone comes.
A boy playing a PlayStation portable opens the door.
“Where is your mother?” you ask.
“She is asleep, who should I tell her came?” he asks.
“Go wake her please.” You enter, and then the officers follow.
“Do you want anything?” he asks.
“Just call your mother here, and tell her not to waste our time.”
The boy goes inside the house and then returns shortly to say Alhaja is on her way.
You take stock of the room. There is a 32 inches Samsung SUHD hanging on the wall, the curtains, and glass tables. In pictures of Alhaja hanging on the wall, she looks happy.
“Please what’s your name I want water,” you say.
The boy pauses and looks up from his game. “Jeff.” He says.
“Bring water for me too.” the policewoman says.
Jeff leaves and returns with water for everyone, and then returns to where he sat.
“Where is your mother we have waited for her since, where is she!” you say.
“Calm down, Boma, the neighbours can hear you,” the policewoman says.
“I will not keep calm!”
You yell your bitter experience at the embassy and how much you spent but the policewoman is not having it as an excuse to be unruly.
“Keep your voice down- if I tell you again you might be sorry for yourself, don’t do our work for us.” The policewoman says, to calm Boma.
Alhaja emerges with a smile- her face looks washed. On her body is a Black jalambia and on her feet are rubber slippers. She had no jewellery on.
“That is the duper!” you yell.
“Boma calm down abeg!” the policewoman says.
“I will not keep calm, my sister if it’s you will you be happy! Don’t tell me to calm down.”
The policewoman gets up and places Alhaja under arrest. The policemen stood up too.
Alhaja ignores them and walks over to you. “Boma, are these people for me?” she says.
“Madam shut up your stinking mouth.” The policewoman says.
Alhaja remains calm. “Which police division are you taking me?”
“You will find out soon.”
Alhaja nods. She calls Jeff into the room and whispers instructions into his ears. He nods and disappears into the house. After, she walks towards the door. You and the police follow. Downstairs one of the policemen takes Alhaja to the back of the van. You and the other Police persons enter and then drive off.
Your mother’s friend, Mrs. Adepoju is a Deputy divisional Police Officer. She is a stocky woman with small eyes, small nose and mouth. She has tribal marks, and when she speaks her mouth shaped like a kiss. You sit in her small office cramped with old furniture and shelves packed with files. She has a large table with books and stationaries on it, an old cushion, a broken wall clock and a small television.
“We have seen cases like this, dupers, you are lucky she took a small amount from you. Don’t worry; we will squeeze out your money.” Adepoju says.
“I would be grateful- my mother says you would help.” You say.
She tells you the story of your mother her and as mates in secondary school and then assures you.
You genuflect, thank her, and then stand to take your leave.
“Ahem, my sister,” Adepoju says. “Drop something for mobilization and transportation; we need a van to arrange men, my sister, and Thirty thousand naira because I know your mother.”
“Ahn-ahn, Auntie…” you say.
“This is what you have to do to get your money back from the Alhaja woman.”
You and the policemen arrive shortly after being on the road and Alhaja is taken from the back of the van and into the building. You smile and go to Adepoju to inform her of your arrival.
You and Alhaja write statements, sign and then it is filed. Alhaja agrees to your claim, but she argues she used all the money you paid to her for genuine reasons.
“She is a liar,” you say.
“This is a Police station, not a market place.” The IPO in charge of the case, Mr. Frank, warns.
Alhaja remains calm and unperturbed. “It is not my fault she was not granted the visa, my brother, you are a policeman you know those people.” She says.
“But you took the money and promised a visa,” Frank says.
Alhaja keeps quiet.
The IPO takes the signed statements to the Deputy. After the Deputy overlooks the statement, she takes it to the Divisional Police Officer.
The Divisional Police Officer’s office, Mr. Akanji, is a large room. On the wall is a map of Lagos state and blueprint of the police station. He is a pot-bellied man, and the fingers he uses to hold his walkie-talkie are like sausages. Unlike the rest of the offices his is well furnished with leather seats, air-condition a television, and a neat shelf with files carefully arranged. Adepoju and the Frank stand at attention. He eases them and then offers everyone in the room seats.
The IPO introduces the case.
“This woman, Boma Okorie claims she gave this woman, Mrs. Anumba the sum of Nine-hundred thousand naira for an American visa.” The IPO says.
“Is that true, madam.” Mr. Akanji asks.
“It’s true,” Alhaja says.
“Why, why did you give her all that money, why didn’t you go to the embassy yourself?” The Divisional Police Officer asked you.
“It was a friend that connected me to her, sir.” You say.
“It was a friend that connected you to this woman, where is this friend, why is she not here?” he says.
“The friend is at work but she has confirmed to me about the business between Boma and this Alhaja woman,” Adepoju says.
“You are aware of the case?”
“Yes, sir, it was brought to me and I directed her to my junior officer, Frank, who is the IPO.”
The office landline rings and the DPO picks. He introduces himself to the caller and soon he is on his feet. He exchanges pleasantries with the caller, he laughs; he thanks the caller, and then drops the call. He clears his throat. “I have a meeting very soon with the state commissioner. Boma, do you want your money or you want Alhaja taken to court, because if the Nigerian police cannot solve it then we have to give it to the lawyers.” Akanji says.
“I just want all the money I paid, almost a million naira.” You say.
“Exactly how much did you give her?”
“Nine-hundred-thousand naira was written, sir,” Frank says.
“Alhaja, how are you going to pay the money? By the way, it was your brother calling from Abuja.” Mr. Akanji says.
“I can afford to give half, she is seated there; she saw the things I did, documents I manufactured,” Alhaja says. “I can pay Twenty-thousand every month end, anything else I cannot afford.”
The Divisional Police Officer nods. “That is all she can afford, except you want to go to court then meet the IPO and arrange a date.” He says. “Frank, take Alhaja’s statement saying how she would pay, sign it and bring to me to clear this case off.” Mr. Akanji says and then dismisses the case. Alhaja thanks him as she walks out.
You Alhaja’s sign your statements about the transaction and then also for how she intended to pay you back all the money she took from you, twenty thousand naira every month until she pays all, and a ten-percent fee to be taken by the police. You felt like another citizen outsmarted by the system.