Damian wasn’t one of those Harlequin-perfect boys: dark hair, lazy eyes and a step that had just enough bounce to make a statement without being extra. I’m Chiemela, 16, in my final year in senior secondary school and I had a huge crush on the new boy in class.
I was a happy teenage girl with a fairly routine life. Daddy got up at 4 every weekday morning and left before I woke up two hours later. He worked at the topmost floor of a building in Lagos, and once when I asked him pointedly during a weekend dinner, he replied, with a fondness that contrasted my sharp tone, “In this city, you either get going as early as you can, or you don’t get going at all”. He did try to make up for absence: calling on most nights to say goodnight because he wouldn’t make home in time; leaving little presents—often books—on my bedside table so I would wake up to them. I have memories of when Mother would play me recordings he had made of book readings—he had read me bedtime stories even though he was miles away. Countless times, I was soothed to sleep by his voice.
I haven’t heard his voice since that evening, when my nightmare began.
Classes ended pretty late that day—a few minutes after 6 pm. There was nothing extraordinary about that evening, not a sound was out of place. Until I saw him. He had one of those faces that made one start. I noticed he was walking straight towards me and began crossing over to the other side. He turned as I did and stared at me as I did him, expressionlessly. I realised how fairly deserted the street was and whipped around to run. I bumped into a man built like a wall and he held me fast. Where had he come from? He anticipated my instincts before they could kick in and placed a meaty hand firmly over my mouth. Everything else happened in a blur: the arrival of the car and the drive to uncertainty
I knew enough to try and prepare myself mentally—not for death but what would happen before—but I couldn’t stop the trembling or the sobs. The car stopped in what looked like a port. I was guided out of the car and into one of the large metallic boxes. They took one final look at me and locked me in. I wasn’t touched that night. They didn’t touch me that night. I heard a movement somewhere behind me and jumped.
I couldn’t make out the shape of who or what it was.
“Who is there?“, I managed to get out in a breaking voice.
“Welcome“, said a voice from the blackness. A girl. I continued after a beat, more steadily, “What is this place? Where are we?”
“I don’t know. I’ve been here for about a day; some of us, more”
That was when I noticed other stirring and breathing noises, audible in the severe quiet. I heard something else from outside—wind and water. I heaved to the ground.
I lost count of the days as they grew in number; about five girls had joined us since I arrived. We were allowed a bath every two days and a daily meal—just enough to keep us alive. One of them always watched while we ate. Wordlessly.
There’s not much else to do here but cry, think, wait and pray. Hope keeps working hard at slipping away and I try to hold fast. I really do. A throat clears to my right…