On a beach at Gravelines,
the dawn sunlight touching the waves with gold
I shiver, not from fear,
my jacket’s worn and thin. I’m cold.
The boat’s in the water, the waves not too high.
The traffickers are shouting, come on, get in, this is it, no more chances.
I know that. My money’s gone. This is my third try.
If I look hard, I think I see the cliffs of white
the slightest glimpse of freedom in the early morning light.
Will I drown on the crossing,
will I make it over?
I’ve faced fear before, my home was bombed, my father killed,
my twin brother left for dead
in the street,
I see the blood on his head
on his hands, on his feet.
We survived, we three,
my mother, baby sister Rana, and me.
They cried a lot, but I did not.
We fled our country with other families,
found a damp basement to share,
we were refugees.
I scavenged in the gutters for anything to sell
picked up old cabbage leaves in the market for Mum to cook
took any sort of work, exploited, hardly paid, look
this is no life, she said.
You have to go, for a better future,
but standing on this shore I don’t know anymore.
Sara runs past me, she’s preganant 8 months gone,
her husband follows quickly, he’s sure it will be a son.
They’re clutching bags, a blue blanket, a plastic sack.
All they’ve got now after months of walking and waiting and trying to get a visa.
Their home and shop were destroyed, they won’t go back.
They’re from Syria, I am too.
We didn’t know each other then
but I shared my tent in Calais with them
so now I do.
They’ve got in the boat, they’re smiling with hope.
I feel numb and lost, but I jump in too
with 19 others from Sudan and Yemen Iraq and Syria.
The men we paid laugh, shrug and fling us the rope.
We’re on the sea now and this dinghy is deflating
I can hear the air hissing out but I don’t say anything.
I miss my Mum. she told me to go, it seemed right at the time but now I don’t know.
Will I make it to the UK, will I be safe?
will I get an education, be a doctor, that’s my dream,
will my Mum and sister be able to come,
will I ever be happy again,
will I get a welcome?
I’m freezing, wet through, we’re all frightened,
this rubber boat is sinking fast,
will this day be my last?
Then on the horizon a UK ship appears.
Everyone sees it, everyone cheers.
There are tears
We’re rescued, given a strange sandwich, taken to Dover
My name’s Khalid. I’m fourteen.
This nightmare isn’t over.