- Vol. 03
- Chapter 03
Image by Ville Miettinen
The journey northIt starts with bombs. Gunfire. Snipers. Murder. Mass murder. Innocent murder.
We cheat death amid the destruction and rubble and corpses piling up on the streets. It’s no way to live. My father says there is no future. He begins speaking. To people he knows. To people they know. Everyone trying to find the elusive ferryman.
Mum maintains order at home. Makes sure we eat well and read books. My sister cries constantly. So does Mum. I can see her hiding it behind her eyes.
The regime comes knocking, door-to-door. Rounding men up to fight.
Money exchanges hands. Finally, it’s time.
We cram essential items into backpacks. Papers, medications, clothes, and leave under cover of darkness to the sound of machine gunfire. A wooden dinghy awaits us on the beach. Crowds of people. Men with torches tell us where to stand to avoid overbalance.
The ocean appears rough, waves crashing. We are given orange life vests. Thin pieces of plastic to preserve our lives.
The dinghy lurches in the waves, bobbing along in the darkness. We are soaked. People screaming. People retching. People sick. The torches yell orders, don’t move, don’t move. Dad holds me close by his side. Mum carries my sister in her tired arms.
The man next to me convulses, vomits down my arm. I shiver. I’m cold.
Our journey is a mystery. Five days, six. It depends on the weather, the tides, and local authorities.
Talk of shipwrecks. Hundreds drowning. Just yesterday, making this very same crossing.
The journey northLemons are handed out, for nausea. Bottles of water too. But they only last so long.
We’re forced to switch vessels at the halfway point. A strategy, apparently. Making the change in the middle of the ocean is fraught with danger. Passengers fall into the water, old people and children. They are rescued.
Our new dinghy is even more rickety than the first. Older and slower. A strategy.
The sun rises, sets. There is concern, anger. Are we heading in the right direction? Doesn’t the sun rise in the east?
Planes circle overhead. We’ve been spotted.
This is good news. There is a palpable sense of relief. Joy. Land is not far.
We’re met by the coastguard on a rocky beach. Holidaymakers sip their morning coffees along the beachside promenade. They watch us discard our lifejackets into a massive orange mountain. My father falls to his knees, kisses the ground.
Names are taken. Papers collected. We’re shown to a safe house, a former hotel. Mattresses and fresh water. The locals serve nourishing home-cooked soups.
Our journey is over yet it’s just beginning. There’s still thousands of miles to go, north. But it will be over land. Past checkpoints and through barbed wire fences.
At dusk, my family sleeps. But not me. I head back down the sea. There’s a tourist taking photos of the sunset. I avoid looking at the horizon. I don’t want to picture what’s happening on the other side.
I discard my shirt.