David Carson, chair of the Nethergate Writers, has written this moving and highly topical piece.
Mohsen leaned against the tent pole. It was cold and hard. He looked inside at the crush of women rummaging through boxes. Hands stretched out and seized tins of soup, jars of spices and bottles of water. A tall figure in European dress came towards him. She wore a sympathetic but firm expression. She spoke slowly in English.
“You know how it works. If you don’t have a time ticket, you can’t come in.”
Mohsen held out his hands, palms up.
The woman shook her head. “So you have to go away. You can’t hang around here.”
The boy paused a moment, then turned and walked along the muddy makeshift street. Time tickets were like currency in the camp, better even. With a time ticket you got fifteen minutes inside the warehouse, the inn as it was called, to help yourself to food and drink, enough to last a week. With a time ticket you could relax, look forward to a full belly. With a time ticket you didn’t need to rely on Ashram’s kitchen where they served up rubbish twice a day cooked by people like Kurds and Eritreans who didn’t understand the needs of Somalian stomachs.
He’d had a time ticket recently, a few days ago, given to him by one of the volunteers. But the gang took it from him. Three of them surrounded him, pushed him, emptied his pockets, speaking a language he didn’t understand. Their eyes, dark and green, glowed when they found the ticket. In his village, everybody knew that if you had green eyes, you were possessed of evil spirits.
Mohsen thought about his home, a hut on the outskirts of the village, the wooden walls warm and inviting, the door always ajar. Inside, his mother, and aunts and cousins, preparing food for the evening meal. They would look up at him, gently mocking.
“There’s Mohsen, always hanging about. How tall he’s getting, too big for his boots – if he had any. We need water, Mohsen, off you go. Bring it to us in the buckets, you’re strong enough to carry them by yourself.”
And he would go to the edge of the field, with its gleaming standpipe and shining tap. Sometimes he regretted that he no longer had to splash into the stream, standing between rocks made smooth by the gliding water, flexing his toes and feeling it swirl over his ankles, then stooping to hold the pails against the flow until they grew heavy, judging when he had filled them to the maximum. But the pipe was easier, and when he bent down he could rub his cheek against the cool metal.
He was there the day the soldiers came. They arrived when his father and the other men were at work, at the canning factory.
They came in lorries, guns swinging and pointing, and took the women from their houses, His mother shouted at Mohsen to run, run, then screamed as she was dragged along the ground, the men pulling at her clothes. She was silenced by the butt of a rifle.
And Mohsen ran, and journeyed through the wilderness of the world to arrive at this den, this collection of tents draped with carpets, muddy and smelling of excrement.
“Mohsen, where have you been? I was worried.” The woman came towards him, carrying a bag, his bag. A volunteer, a house mother who looked after boys like Mohsen. At least, tried.
“They’re coming! They’re going to move everyone out. They’re going to knock the place down. There are buses to take you…somewhere else.”
Mohsen looked around and saw lorries, police, soldiers approaching. He snatched his bag. Once again he would run. But he knew that hell would follow him wherever he went.
David Carson. November 2016