And the Tide Turns by C J Richardson 2015

 

The stench of vomit is overwhelming. The roll of the boat fetches up the dregs in my stomach. Each wretch twists painfully under my ribs. I don't understand where it all comes from. I haven't eaten for days, except for a small piece of dry bread my father gave to me yesterday. The water in the bottle he holds to my lips is precious. I want to drink all of it but he controls the flow, snatching it away as soon as I swallow.

 

            'Enough my child. Enough.'

            My lips are cracked from the salty air and my throat is dry and sore, aching for more of the sweet, clear liquid.

            'Please, my father. Just one more sip.' I beg.

            'Soon, my angel. We must make it last.'

            He strokes my face, brushing the hair away from my face. He peels the vomit soaked strands from around my mouth.

            'Akram.' I can hear a familiar voice shouting. 'Akram. Look.' Uncle Hani is looking over the side of the boat and pointing. My father eases me away from him.

            'Stay here, Yana. I will come back soon.' I snatch at his shirt as he unravels my fingers and gets to his feet.

            'What is it Hani?' he asks, stepping over people who lie moaning and weak on the deck.

            My eyes follow his every move. I mustn't look away or he will disappear. My mother disappeared. We were running to the boat. My father in front pulling me along. My mother behind. There was a loud bang. I turned and she was gone. I saw one red shoe through the cloud of smoke and dust that was flying about us. I ran and picked it up before my father swept me up in his arms and carried on running. I looked back over his shoulder. I still couldn't see her. She would follow us. She would be cross with herself for losing her shoe. Only last week she had scolded me for kicking stones around in the rubble on the street. "Take care of you shoes, Yana. We cannot afford to buy you anymore. Once they are gone, they are gone." She will be glad I rescued it. I will keep it safe until she finds us.

            Uncle Hani starts to wave his arms above his head. So does my father.

            'Here. We're here.' They shout in unison. Others raise themselves up and join in. Their voices rise in the wind until they seem to be part of it; their words a choir, singing in time with the roll of the boat, in time with each swell of the waves. My stomach parts with another burst of acrid bile and my head starts to spin.

            There is a droning sound. A boat engine. Getting nearer. Nearer. I can still see my father as men climb on board. I think they are speaking in Italian. That is where we were headed. A new life in a new country. I don't understand any of the words but my father does. He is a teacher of languages. Well, he was before the war. My mother is very proud of him. I think he is telling them how the Captain and his crew deserted us. Leaving us without food and very little water to die in this old boat as it drifts in the middle of the ocean. They took every Syrian pound we had managed to save in return for this journey to freedom and safety.

            My father is smiling as he comes back to me.

            'They will pull the boat to shore,' he says. 'We are saved my precious one.'

            'Will mother be able to find us?' I ask, holding the red shoe to my chest.

            'One day, Yana. One day we will all be together again.' He settles down beside me and holds me close. He is blinking and his black eyes are shiny. He must have the salt spray in them. I rest my head on his chest and I can hear his heart beating strong and fast.

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