The Angolan passport ready, Boomi, Rajeesh, and Emil made the long trip by car from Cotonou, Benin, through Togo all the way to Accra, Ghana where Boomi would fly out of Kotoka International Airport. Still in charge of all the arrangements, Emil’s smooth talk parlayed their way through the border crossings using the Indian passports. Several different airlines fly from Ghana to Canada: Turkish Airways, Lufthansa, British Airways and KLM.
Emil asked for money only when necessary, and now he needed more money from Rajeesh to buy the ticket. Boomi and Rajeesh waited in the hotel in Ghana while Emil secured a seat on Turkish Airlines, which meant a stop in Istanbul, which required a visa for Turkey. Boomi would have to wait several days there, but don’t worry, Emil told them, he had good contacts in the embassy. Even though the passport was fake, the visa for Turkey was original. So long as some of the documents were real, Boomi was persuaded that he could manage the transit stop in Istanbul and the onward flight to Canada.
Boomi doesn’t usually put up with being manipulated. When he was undergoing treatment for his leg injury in Singapore, he would march boldly into the National University Hospital and demand that his wounds be dressed, appointment or not. He would refuse to pay a cent for his treatment, insisting that his employer be billed for his entire treatment. In order to make his point, he might have to engage with the Tamil woman behind the hospital counter, knowing that his charms would be more effective with her than on the Chinese staff, but in the end he always got his way. He fought hard for his compensation, he defended his claim in spite of the company deporting the witnesses, and he won in the end. Boomi was not one to be trifled with or manipulated.
In restaurants he likes to demand a cleaner rag to wipe the table, more curry, more sauces, another chapatti, another thosai. He informs the staff when he’s not pleased with the service or the quality of the food. He keeps the staff moving, but in the end makes sure that they receive a generous tip. He makes sure that he gets what he deserves, even if it takes using every bit of charisma. He has honed the balance of charm and assertiveness, request and demand, knowing that he can’t rely on his rather common looks alone to influence the outcome of events.
Here in Accra, his tolerance for Emil’s cockeyed schemes was eroding and he didn’t like what he was expected to do. He told Emil that the plan was impractical, it would take too long, the risk was too high, and he’d been through enough. Emil knew he’d need another plan and was ready with one. Boomi could cross by ferry from Turkey to a refugee camp in Greece where he would explain that he’s from Angola and he’d be given a passport. With that, he could apply for asylum and then move easily to whichever country he liked.
Boomi could take no more. “How can I answer the questions correctly when they ask me why I have an Angolan passport? I’ll never fill a story with enough detail about what my father is supposed to do in Angola. I don’t know one thing about that country, and barely any more about Benin where I’ve been locked in a room for almost five months. I’d have to learn much more of that country to convince an immigration officer. Airport people are experts at spotting counterfeit passports and nervous travellers. They’ll see right through this zany scheme and I’ll rot in some African jail. All this after I paid the agent to get me a legal job in Canada.” They had driven 9 hours in the car for Emil’s idiotic ideas.
Rajeesh was still a few steps behind in his understanding of how disastrous the situation was. He hadn’t yet grasped the futility of the plan and continued to fret about the costs. He was asked to pay more and more money as complications multiplied with each new solution. His faith in the plan persisted, but his discernment and judgment was not as fine-tuned as Boomi’s.
Boomi told Rajeesh that he’d had enough of Emil’s deception and double-dealing. Those African guys are eating all their money and doing nothing in return. Rajeesh finally woke to the situation he’d been denying for so long. He blew up at Emil and showed his temper. Still ready with new designs, Emil put forward another plan, to fly back to Mumbai, from Mumbai to China, and from China to Canada. It got crazier and crazier.
Boomi was almost as annoyed at Rajeesh’s unquestioning trust as he was at Emil’s deceptions. Rajeesh never challenged the mendacious Africans, never probed for details of the itinerary, never doubted the effectiveness of the Africans or the credibility of the documents they produced. It wasn’t as if Emil’s father was working at the Canadian immigration counter and Emil could ask him to clear them through. For all they knew Emil’s connections might be that the man who collects parking fees in the airport once shared a taxi with him, or the sweeper outside the airport is the father of the woman who sells vegetables in the market. Not the people who have a say in approving passengers through immigration. Yet of the US$2,000 that Rajeesh had turned over for the ticket, Emil had taken out his fee of $1,000 for doing nothing more than suggesting a transit country between here and Canada.
The tears fell long after Rajeesh ought to have known they’d been swindled. Rajeesh cried like a lost child when he told his wife and parents over the phone that all their money was gone. He hadn’t been giving them regular updates and his mother had been doing her part by praying regularly at the temple for the safe passage of all the eleven young men. Mothers are more proactive in seeking protection from the gods than the men are, even though Rajeesh’s father was in full support of the temple visits, having no better method of helping his son. While Emil cooked more devious plans, Boomi and Rajeesh cradled their heavy hearts carefully on the trip back to Benin, in the same rusty rattling car along the same pot-holed roads.
To be continued.