Last night an explosion woke me up. I heard my sister cry. Father came into my room and picked me up. He hadn’t picked me up for years. He said that we had to leave. We were all in our pyjamas, but we just put our coats and shoes and left without wearing anything else. We didn’t take the lift.
On the street, I heard more explosions and the noise of planes. Everything was dark, but then I saw a flash, like lightning in a day of storms, and a ball of fire appeared towards the city center. Father made us run towards the underground car park on the other side of the street. I saw many people run towards it, too.
The four of us ran inside and walked down to the lowest level. I think it was the third one. There were many people there. Outside I could still hear the explosions, one after another as if it was a party day, and planes. Always planes. But they sounded far away.
In the morning my brother and I went to school. Mother came with us. I felt embarrassed because I’m grown up and I go to school alone, but I saw many parents walked their children to school, too.
When we crossed the park I saw smoke. Lots of it, from far away in the city center. I heard sirens. It sounded just like when there was a fire three blocks from home last year. We watched the house burn while the police and firemen worked.
Our teacher was at the school gate, and she talked to the parents. I don’t know what they talked about, we were playing in the yard.
In the classroom, our teacher cried.
There were no more explosions that day.
Air attack. That’s the name that Father gave to the explosions. I heard Mother ask why they attacked civilians. That means people that are not in the army, I looked it up. Father said they don’t respect us.
I don’t know who they were talking about.
That night there was another air attack, and we went to the car park again. I noticed people started calling it refuge. People are strange. It’s the car park, it’s always been.
I thought I heard the explosions from the air attack closer.
The earth shook. Twice. People screamed and several women and children cried. I did not, and I held my sister’s hand.
Mother walked us to school every day.
One day the park was gone. I cannot understand it, but it was gone. It was all rubble and smoke. That day we didn’t go to school.
One day there was no school.
Father came home and said we were leaving. His brothers were leaving and we were going away too. I thought we were going on holidays, but I saw Mother pack a few things only. She cried all the time. I asked her if I could take my football. She said no, but my sister could take her doll. I cried.
Mother slapped me.
She had never slapped me.
Mother hugged me and cried a lot and asked me to forgive her.
I didn’t want to, but I cried.
When we left Mother stopped to lock the door. Father told her it was useless. I didn’t understand.
We got in a truck and there were my aunts and my cousins.
I don’t know how long we rode in the truck. We stopped many times.
I was hungry. I was always hungry. We ate little. When we stopped Mother and my aunts made and fire and cooked something, but it was usually bad and we didn’t like it, but we were hungry and we ate it.
One day the truck stopped forever. We got down and started walking.
Now I was tired and hungry. And it was hot during the day and cold during the night.
We all stayed together. I saw many people walking with us, other families. I didn’t know where we were going. I heard Father and his brothers talk about a different country.
I have always wanted to go abroad. But I thought people used planes or trains to go abroad.
All of this was strange.
One day we reached a metallic gate. It was like one of those fences in the zoo. There were policemen that opened the gate and let us through.
We lived in a tent for a long time. The first days it was fun: there were many tents, all full of families, and we played all day with other children.
Then one day Mother told us there was a school.
I missed school. But this was not like our school. It was just a large tent, and we had no books, only notebooks and pencils, and all the children were together. But my sister couldn’t be in my class, she is two years younger than me.
I told our teacher, and she said that was in our old school, and this school was different.
I didn’t understand.
One day when we came back from school Mother wasn’t in our tent. She came back later and told father she had money. Then she started crying and Father left.
Father didn’t came back for days.
One of my cousins disappeared. We looked for her everywhere but couldn’t find her. I saw Father and my uncles ask the policemen, but they didn’t understand them. One of the policemen pointed his gun towards one of my uncles, and he raised his hands.
My Father and Mother and Uncles and Aunts all cried and looked for my cousin. I couldn’t understand how she had disappeared. Father and Mother told us we could never go alone through the tents and made us promise, and then they cried together and father asked Mother to forgive him.
One day we left again. Father said that some people had heard they would take us in a different country. I thought I would like to see a different country, but now I thought maybe they all looked the same.
The family of my lost cousin stayed.
The new country was like the old one. We had a smaller tent.
Now it was autumn and it rained a lot, and it was always cold and damp. My sister was sick. She always coughed. When Father said there was a new school, my sister stayed in the tent.
I told my Father we should give her medicines, like back at home. Father kissed me and walked me to school.
My sister died before winter came.
Father and Mother never smiled again.
Father said we were going to move again. We were going to board a boat. Mother said they had decided not to do that, but Father said that now that my sister wasn’t with us we should take the risk. He said that we would be welcome, and that we had nothing to lose.
Mother looked at me and said they still had a lot to lose.
We left the next day.
The boat was large, but it was so full of people that there was no room left. We went downstairs. Somebody told me it is not called downstairs in a boat, but I don’t know how to call it.
I realized we had left because the boat moved a lot. I felt sick. Several people ran upstairs to get some fresh air. I didn’t think I needed it, but I didn’t feel well.
I don’t know how long we had been in the boat when people started screaming. I realized the movement of the boat was different, and it looked like it was always bent.
Father grabbed me and Mother and said we needed to hurry and leave. He made sure we had our life vests on. They were ugly and red. Mine was too large, but Father tied it tighter.
I saw that Father had no vest.
The boat moved a lot, but it kept bending sideways. I saw people fall to the sea. Father grabbed some kind of handle and shouted, pointing somewhere. An even larger, grey boat came towards us, but it was far away. Father told us to jump into the sea and swim towards that boat.
The water was cold. I thought it was the coldest thing I had ever touched, except for ice cubes. Mother grabbed me and we started moving towards the new boat. Father grabbed us and pushed us.
When the new boat picked us up, father was no longer there.
Aboard the ship they gave us blankets and soup. They didn’t understand us. Mother hugged me and never left me. I saw her cry and cry, even when she thought I was asleep.
I cried too.
On land more policemen walked us away from the sea, and gave us another tent.
It was even smaller.
Here there was no school. But Mother never let me walk alone through the tents. It wouldn’t matter, because there was a fence all around the tents and there were policemen with dogs always walking on the other side of the fence.
We ate something that Mother said was called rations. They were terrible, but everybody ate that.
It was so cold that people made fires with everything. The fires smelled bad. We kept our blankets from the boat and we always wore them over our clothes.
Mother was ill one morning. She had a fever. I knew there was a doctor a few tents away, so I left alone to fetch him. He came with me and saw Mother. He told me to wait outside the tent, but I spied from the door.
I heard him cry and tell my Mother to forgive him, because he had nothing to work with. She couldn’t talk, but she touched his face.
I ran away.
I never saw Mother again.
I was alone when they arrived. It was raining. I was soaked, but I didn’t mind. Nothing ever mattered.
I heard the truck engines, and the gates opened and the trucks came in. They had large letters painted on them, but I couldn’t read them.
Many people walked off the trucks. They carried large boxes and packages, tents, blankets and water. I heard shouts in my language, and in other languages I didn’t know to which but people started answering.
There were people with notebooks calling out names, and they shook hands and talked to people from the other tents and pointed at the trucks, and the people from the other tents hugged them and gathered their belongings and went into the trucks.
I heard a woman call Father’s name. She called again and again. I saw her, and she was about to write on her notebook, so I shouted at her. She asked me in my language if I was Father. I told her I was the last one in my family. She said she was sorry. I didn’t mind.
She offered me water, and food, and clean clothes. I didn’t mind.
She told me to wait. I sat and ate in silence and enjoyed a new dry coat.
She came back with two more people, one man and one woman. They all spoke my language. They offered me more food, and tea, and they talked to me. They asked me who I was, where I was from. They told me to tell them what had happened to us.
Then they said I could leave with them if I wanted to. To a family that would be waiting for me in the country one of them was from. To live there forever if I wanted to.
I said I didn’t want to forget my family or change it for a new one.
They said that way I’d always have two families.
I thought about it. I said yes.
This is my entry for this week’s Chuck Wendig’s Flash Fiction Challenge: Hope In The Face Of Hopelessness. The challenge was straightforward: 2000 words of, well, hope in the face of hopelessness.
This is possibly the hardest story I have ever written, because when faced with that challenge all I could think of was “refugees”. In the end, the story demanded me to write it.
Woefully, the very last part, according to the news, is fiction.