Let’s play a game, use your imagination and follow along.
You’re cosy in that recliner you love, you know the one. You picked it out together right after you brought your first home. It was after the wedding, of course. But before you started painting the nursery pink and stocking up on tiny socks.
It’s a late summers night, the coolness of autumn is just beginning to set in and that warm cup of tea feels just right in your hands. You switched from red wine that day the bump started showing through her favorite merino sweater, that super soft one you’ve always liked. You squeeze her hand just a little tighter. Despite the political problems flashing past on the television, the world couldn’t seem any more perfect in this moment.
You’ve always been pretty proud of coming from Britain, such a solid country with a great history. It’s been a great place to grow up, and your life has had its challenges, but overall been great. Your friends are here, your parents are here, and when you gaze out the window past the falling leaves your eyes keep coming back to the tree that you will one-day build a tree house in for your daughter, once she’s born and grows a little of course.
The BBC reports are coming more and more frequently these days. Walking down the roads conversations overheard mostly focus around the future of your country. As each day passes, things seem less certain than they did before. Just yesterday you bumped into an old school friend down at the supermarket who told you he was pulling his superannuation out. ‘That’s crazy’ you exclaimed under your breath. ‘Surely you’ll have to loose..’, ‘yeah, at least fifty percent’ he finished your sentence. ‘But, you know, it’s better than loosing it all – and if we have to leave suddenly, I want some cash behind me, y’know what I mean?’. You nodded along, but couldn’t quite grasp this concept. Why was everyone so concerned? This is a safe country, this is home.
The leaves are beginning to fade into orange outside the nursery window, the room that remains half that awful eggshell color you hate. I’ll finish painting in a few months, you think. Once things settle down a little and we know we will stay. Surely this war wont go on forever, besides, they are fighting up the other end of the country. Yes, it’s uncomfortable, of course you never expected to be living in a country under siege, but, you do believe it’ll get better. There’s hope.
You wake suddenly, with a jolt. As the weeks have passed and the leaves are more red now than orange, the bombs are becoming more frequent. This one was the closest yet. You start to think about what is best for your family. You don’t have a lot of money, you’ve invested so much into the house recently getting it ready for your new family. It’s ok, you think to yourself, we will just leave the country for a while. We will come back to our beautiful home soon.
All but a few of the leaves have fallen now, and you are saying one last goodbye to your home, to the half-painted nursery and to the tree-house that hasn’t been built yet. You and your wife are heading downtown to meet a group of people, you’ve managed to strike a good deal to get out of here and you’ve managed to sell off a few things to pay for it. You’ll be taking a boat across the channel to France, a nice one they say, that’s why you sold the car in the end – to get the upgrade. Only the best for your family, plus it left you with a little extra cash in your pockets for the trip.
Fast forward a few days and you’re still holed up in an old, abandoned hotel. You want to go home. You’re hungry and frightened, but you’d loose all your money if you left now. You’d be taking your pregnant wife back into an active warzone, broke and defeated. What else is there to do but wait? They keep promising you’ll go soon, but the weather is too bad. Autumn is coming to an end and the winds make the sea rough. So you wait, squeezing her hand a little tighter each day that goes by, feeling her growing belly through that soft merino sweater. You tell her stories of pink-painted rooms and promises for the future to take both your minds away from here.
Finally the time comes where the world seems to be shifting in your favor. You’re woken abruptly in the middle of the night. Hurry, hurry, it’s time to go, the voices rasp from the darkness. Normally this scene would read more like a horror movie, but after days of being shut away from the world to a landscape of bomb blasts in the distance, you are just relieved to be getting the hell out of here. You’re all driven for what feels like a lifetime round windy roads and backstreets. Eventually the van pulls in to a stop and your group tumbles out onto the cold soil.
It’s quite late at night, and after your eyes adjust to the darkness you see other small groups of English people around, groups just like you waiting nervously with their families and meager possessions. The air is cold and you can smell the pine forest around you. The sound of crashing waves is enough to give you hope that you’ll be out on the water in no time, sailing away to your new safe place. As your shoes tread prints in the dark, damp sand you spy a small rubber boat on the shore. This isn’t the luxury sailboat you paid so much for, you ponder. You turn to the man leading the group to ask, but before you get a word out he pulls out a gun. ‘Get in the boat’ he commands.
Every piece of you wants to run. What are you doing here? What did you bring your family to? Your mind races in circles and panic sets in, but it’s all too late to turn back now. A young child starts to cry. Shut up, shut up! The man exclaims, clearly agitated. People are shuffling from foot to foot, slowly edging toward the boat. The women, children, the sick and the elderly are instructed to clamber in first. Your wife’s cool, clammy hand loosens its grip on yours as she is ushered away. You feel a knot in your stomach and a sense of dread, not the first one you’ve had this week.
By the time it’s your turn to pile into the boat, it is already very clearly over capacity. There are way too many people here, but nobody has a choice anymore. You’ve been duped by a people smuggler. As the frail and weak are kept safe down in the bottom of the boat, the men are piled around the outsides and on the top. It’s cramped and uncomfortable, but you keep bringing yourself back to the reminder that this is only for an hour or two, soon you will be in France. Soon everything will be safe again.
A spaghetti sea of tangled limbs is bobbing in the unforgiving ocean. Your leg has gone dead and you can hear wails from inside the pile of pile of bodies, they’ve been howling for two hours now and you’re imagination is serving you unlimited reasons why. Another two boats left not long after you, and you can see them not far behind. Like yours, their engines have broken down halfway too. In some moments you wish those wails were coming from your wife, any familiar sound to let you know she is still alive and breathing, buried down there. A hand reaches for yours. An old woman, head peeping out at you with tears streaming down her face. I don’t know how to swim she confesses.
You spot a ship in the distance moving toward you. Momentarily you forget about your vomit-drenched clothed and frostbitten toes. About how you’ve been sitting out on the relentless waves, in the cold for many hours. Your mind distracts you from how the old ladies grip is loosening from your wrist and her lips are staining blue. You’re being rescued. It’s ok. The people are waving and shouting to the big boat, but it is a little too far in the distance behind you, you can see it getting close to one of the rubber boats that is trailing behind. We’ll be next, you sigh in relief. It’s been the most difficult night of your life, but the end is in sight. Safety is near.
You watch, incredulously, as the boat comes to a halt, dwarfing the tiny rubber boat beside it. That lump in your throat feels harder now as you can but only watch in horror as instead of pulling the occupants up to safety, the people on the boat are stabbing it with knives, filling it with water. The final screams of your drowning fellow safety-seekers will haunt your nightmares for the rest of your life.
Nobody speaks for the rest of the journey.
After 11 long hours you make it to shore. You see unfamiliar faces pulling your boat in toward the rugged coast, but by now you’ve lost all sense of who you can trust. What language are they speaking? You try to listen closer to work out if you’ve landed in the right country but their voices are drowned out by screaming babies. Your mind swirls with questions. Most importantly, where is your wife?
Winter has set in now and she barely speaks anymore. Since the early hours of that morning, when you finally found her, hypothermic and curled up on the beach surrounded by doctors. The first thing you noticed was how she was soaked in your un-born daughters blood. Things have not been the same since that day. Your eyes haven’t met since the night when her hand slid out of yours, when she crawled into the bottom of the boat, never to return the same person. Partly, she blames you for taking her on this journey, even though most of her knows knows she would’ve died back at home. Hell, what used to be called home is now just an expansive stretch of shrapnel and rubble that flashes on television screens across the world when the evening news comes on.
You find yourself with much time to think. Your mind wanders to that half-pink room, you’ve even come to miss that eggshell colour. Maybe you could go back, perhaps you could fight in this war. You’ve already lost your home, your money, your daughter and your wife is as good as gone now, she wont even come near you anymore. What more have you got to loose?
Life continues to roll on forward at a steady pace, taking you with it whether you like it or not. Suicide slips into your mind more frequently with each passing day. No matter how much you resisted at first to push the thoughts out, they just keep creeping in with more and more intensity. You’ve not nothing and nobody to lean on. You’d never felt truly alone until you heard the news of your parents passing in the latest blast. An orphan with no home, a despondent wife that would have left you by now, if she had anywhere to leave to. You have no money, and you’re loosing hope of seeing any kind of future. What is the point anymore? When you try and reach out to the world, you’re treated as a criminal, an animal, somebody less than worthy. And as day after day passes, you begin to believe it too.
This home doesn’t want you. Your old home no longer exists. What do you do?