(NOTE: This piece was written in September 2016 as a response to the devastating image of Alan Kurdi. I later revised this piece so that it could be used for a creative writing submission. It was not initially my intention to have this read by anyone other than myself, as I use writing as a means to deal with overwhelming emotions. However, I seem to be finding that my most vulnerable works are succeeding in garnering a reaction from readers. If reaction means dialogue and dialogue can lead to change, then perhaps this is the way forward. R.I.P Alan Kurdi and all those innocent souls who remain nameless, yet never forgotten x)
There’s stillness, save for the flutter of the newspapers in the hot breeze of the Underground. The tube swerves into sight but the commuters bat not an eyelid- they’re fixated, withholding tears as their eyes follow the curve of the corpse, the young poster boy immortalised like the Falling Man.
On days like these, the urgency of the Western world subsides into a dull drone. Sirens and beeping horns on the main roads trade places with the laps of the waves. The vibration of an incoming text fails to be heard over the call of the ocean. The Kurdi boy reaches through the monochrome bars of the print and he refuses to let us go.
There’s silence over morning tea. An awkward clearing of the throat as John or James or Jack, or whatever his name is, goes to get some fresh air. He stands in his empty garden and sheds a solitary tear for a boy that he doesn’t even know. It doesn’t matter, he tells himself. The kid was probably the same age as his grandson. It’s a tragedy, all the same.
It’s a bit worrying, that it takes so much to get us to pay attention. Only when the truth reaches out to us via the tentacles of the internet and news, drawing us out of our daily lives like dirt from pores, do we acknowledge the presence of something much bigger than ourselves. Until then, we scroll past devastation in favour of finding funny Buzzfeed articles. We flick over the BBC news updates in favour of something a little more light-hearted, justifying ignorance as being entirely acceptable after a ten-hour shift at work.
And on the days when the truth leaks into the sterile space our brains occupy, we find ourselves utterly lost. A fleshy sack of nerves. We cling to our children a little tighter. We see the faces of the dead in empty cars on bitterly cold nights.
It’s been more than a year since that newspaper headline.
In the meantime, the refugees of this world, the direct products of our bombs and our exploitation, are still condemned and still unwelcome.
I don’t know if James, or whatever his name is, even remembers that morning but I sure do. I went home last night and thought about the little boy. He was all I could see before me as I tossed and turned. When I finally fell asleep, he was there waiting for me.
He’d cried himself dry, pummelled at the water with every bit of force he could summon. He kept screaming out for his mother in between being stifled by the waves which seemed like mountains, constantly building up and avalanching down upon him. He was trying really hard- his little legs pumping with an instinct to survive being the drive behind every movement. He kept trying to hold onto the water but no welcoming arms reached out to embrace him.
I was calling out to him, shouting as loud as I could when I saw his head bob beneath the surface a final time. I swam as hard as I could, it felt as though something was pulling me down towards the bottom of the sea, tugging hard at my ankles. But I pushed on, calling over and over. I got close to the spot I thought I’d seen him and tread water with all my might. A little way off I saw something and it was him. Surfacing again. Only this time he emerged as a new boy.
A still boy.
When I got to him, he was peaceful. His hands were unfurled and his body had curled up into the foetal position.
I held him like a baby. He was just a baby.
My salty tears joined with the waters. I let the force of the water carry us somewhere, somewhere that could have, should have, been home for him. With heavy limbs and against angry waves, he’d succumbed to the urge to finally stop.
We arrived, jutting from the foamy mouth of the sea and found ourselves stuck on the sandy shores. I watched as they claimed his corpse with a snapshot, capturing a magnificent dusk against the horizon, against the lifeless version of him. Still. Hair plastered to his forehead, face submerged in the glistening grains, waves licking at his legs.
That’s what they said in a foreign tongue that sailed across the turbulence of the Mediterranean. The anguish travelled in the winds but we didn’t hear it.
We turned our heads away from the TV because the images made us feel so small and so sad that we couldn’t keep watching.