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The refugee
“Mommy, where are we going to?” asks the little boy to his mother. Innocent eyes look up to her. Eyes that have seen too much, things nobody should see. His mother gives him a smile. “We’re going to a new home. Somewhere you can play on the street, make friends, and where you can be happy.” The little boy holds his mother’s hand. “What’s that? Be happy?” The mother sighs. How has it come to this? Children are supposed to grow up in a safe place where they can play on the streets. And even though they do not know what happiness is, they should be happy. The mother carefully chooses her words. “Happiness is to enjoy. Enjoy things in life. Laughing and running on the street. Friends you take home to play games with. Going to school. You will learn how to become a fireman, a teacher, or you might even become an astronaut.” The boy puts his arms around his mother. “Mommy, I want that. I want to be happy. It sounds nice.” The mother answers his hug. Tears appear in her eyes but she uses her hand to cover it. There is no time to cry, this time she has to be strong. Not just for herself but for her son. That is a promise she made. She turns her son around and puts him in her arms. He falls asleep with a smile on his face. She puts her little kid next to her on the carpet which is meant as a bed. She takes off her coat and throws it as a blanket on her son. She uses her hand to get away a string of hair on his forehead, and gives him a kiss upon. “You just dream about a better tomorrow. Because tomorrow everything will be different.” She is laying down and tries to close her eyes. She used to be able to sleep right at the moment she was in her bed. Now in a room full with strangers, who are constantly whispering to each other, falling asleep is impossible. Even when it was quieter she would never be able to sleep. Not with the danger in their life, not with all these uncertainties.

A loud bang fills the room. People are running, children are lifted, there are screams, there are cries of desperation. The children hold their mothers. Fathers protect their family. Adila presses her son close to her. She whispers in Fahim’s ear. “Everything will be alright. Remember what I said about being happy?” He looks at his mother and nods. “Yes, mom. Being happy is closer every day. How many days until we are finally there?” Before his mother can answer him, four men appear with heavy loaded guns in their hands. Fear fills the entire room. Everyone is quiet, nobody dares to move. Adila pushes herself and her son closer to the wall. She tries to be invisible. The men are all shouting at the same time and pointing their guns to each of the fathers who are trying to protect their families. The longest of the four yells. “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” He looks in anger to the group. His voice echoes in everyone’s head. “I said: join now or regret later.” Nobody has the courage to speak up. On the right, one of his men looks at him and laughs. “I think we should help them.” He walks towards the group and stands in front of a father with a little baby. “Do you want a bright future for your son? If you join us, there will be education, even an entire new and better regime. Better for everyone.” The father closes his eyes, whispers a prayer, and holds his baby close to him. “Your loss.” The man takes his gun and shoots at the blanket which keeps the baby warm. The eyes of the father are getting bigger, it will be the last thing he will see. Everyone is silent when the father slowly collapses to the ground, with his arms still protective around his little son. Each one of the fathers looks at the men with the guns. Disbelief, fear, anger, it is all written in their eyes. One by one they step to the men and bow. These men will not touch their families. There will not be another child who has to die. Not today. The men with the guns walk ahead while the fathers give their family one last hug. Children begin to scream and hold on to their father, mothers try to calm down the children. One of the gun men walks back and shows his gun to the group. The fathers hurry after the men. Adila holds her son tightly. Women are falling to their knees, children are crying. “It is alright, they are gone. We are safe – for now.” Adila tries to give some words of comfort. “We are going away, far away from here.” None of the women dare to do anything, afraid of what will come. Adila, always a calm, intelligent woman who does not like to interfere with someone else, now stands up. She keeps Fahim close to her. She is straightening her shoulders so she seems stronger than she actually feels. “We have to go. We cannot stay here any longer. We still have a day left until we reach the coast. We must not give up. We do this for those who have been taken away from us. For those who are now fighting for us.” The women look at her in disbelief. A woman with a large scar on the right side of her face looks furiously at Adila. ‘How dare you! We’ve just lost our husbands and now you want us to listen to you. You and your bastard child. We do not trust you.” Some women nod their heads fanatic. Others look doubtful at Adila. A voice follows from the center of the group “And yet I believe Adila’s right.” An elderly woman walks to their direction. “We have to leave before they come back.” The woman with the scar looks at her arrogant, and with every word she utters her voice. “And why should we listen to you?” She throws her hands in the air – from powerlessness, from anger. Before she can say anything, Fahim walks up to her. Adila tries to grab him, but he is faster than she is. “Fahim, no…” but her son does not listen. ‘I want to get away. To happiness. Mom says I can be happy. Tomorrow I can go to school and then I become a policeman.” Fahim looks at his mother full with pride. She cannot help herself and smiles back. A few kids throwing their arms in the air and are cheering. Their mothers look back encouraging. The older woman holds Fahim’s hand. “Adila, what’s the plan?” The mothers, who first looked doubtful, are now staring at her encouragingly. There is an atmosphere of approval, they are ready for it. The woman with the scar frantically shakes her head. “No, this is…”   “Well,” replies the older woman. “It’s time that you leave the past behind you. Especially if the future is waiting for you.” Even the women who were against her, are now facing Adila. All of them are waiting for the redemptive word. What can they do.

After some discussion, the women all agreed. The men who were responsible for their ticket out of hell told their wives where they should be headed to. Because it is too dangerous to go with a large group, they have divided themselves into five smaller groups each with the last remaining men. Adila and Fahim are in the same group, just like the older woman and a mother with six children. They are the last group escaping from this place.

At the appointed time Adila, Fahim and their group get out of this depressing, claustophobic, terriying room. They all step outside and are blinded by the bright sunlight. Adila grabs the hand of Fahim and squeezes it. “It will be alright, Mommy!” he says. The older woman gives him a smile. Then they all run to the nearest truck and hide behind it. Adila says to the group. “Okay, we have to act fast. Where can we go without them noticing us?” The mother, Yazleen, looks around. “Maybe we could try over there?” She points at a building which once was a school. “No, Mom.” answers her daughter. She moves the hand of her mother to her right. “There!” Adila glances at the place. There is a dark bus. “I do not …” begins Adila. “Arghhhh …” screams the youngest child of Yazleen. Everyone turns around frightened. They are all facing a man in a uniform. ‘Sshh! It is okay. I won’t harm you.” Adila normally keeps quiet but the adrenaline takes over. She walks up to him and wants to hit him. He is faster and has her hand already secured before she can do anything. “I wouldn’t do that,” he whispers. He turns Adila around and she feels his breath on her neck. Suddenly he lets go of her hand. She sweeps her hand at the back of her neck. “I wouldn’t use that bus you were looking at. Do you see the bus on the other side?” The entire group finds courage to take a look at the other side of the truck. “That’s mine. I go to the coast.” And he walks away. Adila has a choice: do they believe a stranger in this dangerous world, or do they follow their own path and do not know if they will ever reach their destination? Mind should win from the heart, but Adila has always followed her feelings. “I trust him.” She looks at the older woman, she shrugs. “Whether it happens today or tomorrow. We won’t go down without a fight.” The children get scared and look at their mother. “Mom, Mom, what does she mean?” Adila looks angry at the older woman and says to Fahim. “Nothing my sweet boy, we continue our path to the future.” She briefly discusses how they should get to the bus, but that is not necessary. There are no men with guns at the square, they are all inside the buildings. The women sneak to the bus. Behind them they suddenly hear a loud scream. They do not know what to do, so they run to the bus, and throw themselves inside. Adila with her son on her lap is sitting in the front seat. She presses the lock on the door, not that it will keep them safe from a bullet. Still, she feels safer. The man she had just spoken with is in the driver’s seat. He looks in his rearview mirror and asks them if they´re all ready. He puts the bus in the right gear and gets out of the place. The women and children are squeezing each other’s hands. The mother closes her eyes and mutters a prayer. Adila keeps looking behind them, afraid of being chased, but there is nothing and no one to see. This is too easy, she thinks. She looks at the man next to her and then sees that he has a scar below his ear. The same one her brother had. This is impossible. He turns to her and with his hand he touches his scar. “That hurt. I did not want to learn how to shoot, but father forced me. Then it all went wrong.” Adila attempts to hold back her tears, but it doesn’t matter anymore. He takes her hand. “I’m sorry, for everything.” She swallows a few times and breathes heavily in and out. “I thought … I thought you were not there anymore. Mother said you had an accident and you were hurt so badly that I couldn’t see you. I believed it. I believed it.” He squeezes gently in her hand. “And that was for the best. They are in war for so many years. They are looking for young warriors everywhere. I did not want to, but they said they would hurt you. There are too many children who became victims of this war. I had built a “good” name and I knew I had to do something with it, especially when they hurt all these children. Now I transport families to the coast so they can find a new life on the other side.” Adila needs time to process this information. Her own brother was alive. All these years she had believed that he was gone, all those years in sorrow and pain. He is alive and helping them to escape.

Khaleed drives as fast as he can. In their calculations, they would be at the coast in a day, at this speed, it will take them less than half a day. The children cheerfully begin to talk, even to bother each other. The mother smiles and wants to say something about this behavior, but the older woman shakes her head. “No, let them be kids.” Although they all fear what lies ahead of them, there is a burden sliding their shoulders. Soon they sail towards freedom. In a little while their misery is over and it makes room for happiness. They see the harbor getting closer. The women and children have never seen boats before. Fahim just wakes up and stretches. “Wow, that is a big one!” The children shout, the end is near. Khaleed keeps looking in his rearview mirror and drives even faster the last minutes. “I will explain to you what you have to do. I drive towards the middle ship. When we´re stopped, you all start to run towards the ship. Yes, run because it leaves in two minutes.” Adila looks at her brother. “Understood?” He asks her again. She takes his hand and says. “I pretend that you are running after me. Like the old days.” He laughs and hits the brakes hard. “Now!” “When will I see you?” “Love you, sister. Now go!” Adila gets Fahim and runs with him towards the ship. The rest follows her immediately. The men already removed the ropes and the ship gets away from the shore. It´s their last chance so Adilia with Fahim in her hands, the other two women and the children jump, trying to reach the ship. The men on the ship give them a hand to help them. When Adila is on the ship, she turns around. She wants to wave one last time to her brother. “Mommy! Don’t look.” Fahim puts his arms around his mother’s leg. Adila does not understand what is going on. Her eyes follow the place where her brother should be inside his car. But he is not inside anymore. He stands with his face towards the car, hands behind his head. A group of men in uniform are standing behind him. One of them has a gun. Adila’s eyes grow bigger “No, no, no.” She falls on her knees, Fahim gives her a tight hug. She did not look but the shot can’t be erased from her memory. The older woman and Yazleen come to her. They whisper words in her ear. Words that do not matter anymore. They mean well, but it does not change anything. It has already happened, it is over. She lost her brother again.

The men who helped them on the ship are telling them they need to go to the basement, with the rest of the them. They almost fall over the people on the ground. It is full and there is barely enough oxygen for everyone. They move carefully to the side, looking for a place to sit.

Suddenly Adila wakes up. She does not know how long she has slept – she did not even realize she had fallen asleep. The older woman pulls her sleeve. Adila, still sleepy, stares at her. Then the boat turns over to the right and Adila is trying to keep her balance. This is not good, it does not feel right. “What’s happening?” She whispers. “We have to get out of here. I have calculated the time and we’re almost there. But with the storm we can never reach the coast.” responds the older woman. Yazleen stands behind her and grabs the hands of Fahim to lift him up. Slowly Adila gets up. She feels her head. It feels like it is about to explode any time. The group walks to the door which they entered earlier. Adila pulls and pushes the door, but it does not let go. “Let us out! HELP!!” It does not work. Adila falls against the door, “I cannot believe it. We have come this far and for what?” The older woman looks at her sadly. She puts her hand on Adila’s face. “No girl. We do not give up. And remember: we are not going down without a fight.” She looks at the lock of the door… It looks fragile. She walks to the crowd and raises her voice. “I’m looking for something heavy. Something that I can use to open this lock.” People turn around, feeling left and right and give stuff to each other. The older woman is going through everything and announces “This I like, this will do it.” She grabs a heavy bar and walks to the door. She is close to the lockt and releases her anger: with a strength she never knew she possesed she hits the bar against the lock. The lock cracks but nothing happens. She repeats this process over and over until the lock finally breaks. The door jerks open. The rain falls in the door and they walk outside. ‘Fahim! Stay with me!” shouts Adila. Yazleen makes sure that her eldest children hold their younger sister and brother. “Now let’s find the lifeboat.” Before they can walk, the crowd runs in every direction. Women are screaming, men are shouting, and the children are crying. Everyone wants to leave as quickly as possible and is doing everything they can to flee away from this place. Adila is trying to walk to the older woman, but she is being run over. She holds Fahim firmly, but their grip reduces. She turns around and wants to lift him, but then some men with children bump into her. She falls to the ground. She must be strong but she can’t feel her legs anymore. The rain is troubling her sight. “Fahim!” She tries to get up and leans against a crate. She forces her eyes to open and starts looking left and right of the deck. “Fahim!” The people, the rain, everything is obstructing her view. She cannot find him anywhere. The vessel is shaken back and forth, people are falling, losing sight of each other. The wind cuts in her face, she is tired. She cannot give up. Not now. With heavy legs, she stumbles to one side of the ship. She clings to the railing. Then she sees the older woman again and walks towards her. She grabs her by the shoulders and shouts in her ear. ‘Did you see Fahim?”. The older woman’s eyes fill with terror. “No, I lost both of you when everyone started to run.” Both of them are trying to find Fahim but he´s no where close. The storm is only increasing and the ship begins to capsize. It will not take much longer before the ship cannot handle it anymore. Adila sits on the ground and stares at the sky. “If there’s something or someone up there, please, make sure he gets out of here alive. For me, you do not have to worry, but he … he needs to know what happiness is. He deserves it. He really wants to go to school. He is a good person, better than you expected.” Adila cries. The older woman sits next to her and throws her arm around her. Words are not enough. The ship is now uncontrollable. “Mom!” Fahim crawls to his mother. The older woman makes room for him. Adila does not know what just happened. She takes her son in her arms and holds him tight. “Mommy, I know what happy is. I am happy as long as I am with you.” Adila gives him a kiss, her eyes are filling with tears. She will never leave him. The ship slowly sinks…

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