Monday, 18 February 2019

#WEP/IWSG Challenge - 28 Days. My #flash fiction, Steps to Freedom.

Welcome to my blog! Today I'm posting a little early for the February WEP (Write...Edit...Publish) challenge, 28 Days.

I struggled to come up with an idea for this prompt. 

Finally, it hit me and I began to write faster than I've ever written before. 

I began to imagine this refugee trudging through Africa heading for an imagined freedom. I come from a country where the boats are turned back, not a good look. Nor my belief. My argument is - what did I do to be lucky enough to be born in Australia? Nothing. 

Image result for australia turn back the boats images

I want to share the fictional Abioye's story. But I'm not sure how fictional it is...

Image result for refugees walking from sudan to ocean

Steps to Freedom

He took another step.

Abioye looked down. He saw red dirt, swollen, ripped feet, and his lengthening shadow. Miles behind him was his village, burned and looted, everyone he loved, dead. Ahead of him lay freedom.

He took another step. 

As he walked, he kept his eyes on the roadside. Already he'd been lucky enough to find a rolled-up mattress, a cringing dog, a goatskin of water to add to his swag. He'd been getting his swag together for weeks - a few tins of supplies the warlords dropped when they swooped into his village and drove off into the hills, automatic rifles over their shoulders. They stole the UN dried milk tins from the mothers’ tents, taking from the babies' mouths. They stole all the rice, showing not a whit of conscience for the starving villagers.

Then they took more than supplies.

When there was nothing left to steal, one day they returned and took the lives of everyone - all the old men, all the women, all the children. The only survivors were the young men like him, young men who roamed the sparse land, looking for edible herbs and grasses in the desert-like landscape. He'd returned at nightfall to the devastation. He ran. If they found him, he'd be forced to become a boy soldier like so many others who'd disappeared.

He took another step. 

Abioye felt the sob in his throat. But he was a man. He refused to cry despite what he'd lost.

He took another step. Then another. And another.

It was the only way forward to the north. To the boats. To the sea. To freedom.

He'd heard stories of boats that left from Tangier in Morocco. Boats to take him across the water to another land. A free land. A land with food. A land with jobs. He'd work in Tangier until he saved enough to board the boat. He'd heard stories of a man who hired young men to escort tourists through the medinas*. He'd heard it took 28 days of working 7 days a week to save enough for his trip to the new land. To Utopia.

He took another step. His feet pained so much he was surprised when they moved. One step. Then another agonizing step. 

The sun beat down mercilessly. He sipped from his meager water supply. He must make it last. He might walk for months and find no village, no water, no food. 

The dog cried. What could Abioye do? He carefully poured a mouthful of water into his palm and the dog lapped, not wasting a drop. It licked his leg in gratitude. Abioye reached down and patted the mutt’s head.

He took another step. 

Every few steps he had to adjust his belt. He'd lost so much weight in the past few days, the belt kept slipping down over his hips. Once he'd forgotten and the next thing he knew his trousers were flapping around his ankles. He laughed at the ridiculous situation, then stopped, afraid he was hysterical from the horror he’d seen. But it didn't matter if he laughed, cried or screamed. There was no one to hear him. He was crossing the Sahara Desert. Alone.

The road became rocky. He stumbled. Landed on his knees. He was sobbing now. He couldn’t help it even though he was wasting moisture. The sun. The rough road. The hunger. The thirst. The vision of his parents' burned bodies. His young sisters. His beloved -- How could he go on?

The dog licked his face. Abioye dragged himself to his feet. He had to go on. In memory of his father, his mother, his two sweet sisters, his Candis who’d been promised to him when they were both three years old. They were all alive in his head.

Abioye took another step.

He felt like he was falling, not walking. Falling, falling, falling, but never hitting the ground. 

How long had he been on the road? Was it 28 days already? Surely, soon, he must pass by the green plants that leaked water. Then he and the dog could drink their fill. He felt the moisture on the tip of his tongue as he dreamed of it.

I'm so tired. I need to sleep. On my mattress. Just for a little while. 

He took another step.

Toward the edge of the road.

He mustn't stop. To stop was death. Then there'd be no one to remember his family. No one to remember his Candis. He saw her in his mind – her wide smile, her red lips, her teeth pearly white, dazzling him, her short black hair cropped close to her scalp, her graceful long limbs, her colourful dresses that brushed the ground when she walked.

I will never forget you, my eternal love.

He took another step.

Whether it took 28 days or a year, he would press on. He would make a new life. Away from his cursed land. The land that God forgot. Maybe God had turned his back on Africa but still lived in that new land where the boat would take him. Maybe God would welcome him to its shores and surround him with love and plenty. Instead of sobbing, he smiled.

He'd seen mirages in the desert many times. A mirage was coming toward him. A big green tank shimmering through the waves. Surely it was full of water.

He took another step.

The mirage came closer. No! It was a jeep. Soldiers in the back. Soldiers in the front. Guns pointed. At him.

He spun around and took another step. Away. Away from the killers. Away from bondage. Away from death.

He heard the dog yelp. His throat closed over. Turning, he saw its head a bloody mess and its eyes stared sightless into the searing sky. 

'Stop or you're next!' One of the soldiers waved his gun, then shot a round into the air. Crack! Crack! Crack! 

'Don't take another step, boy. Or you're dead.'


* Medina - the old walled part of a North African town.


Thank you for reading. Please join us if you have an entry that would fit 28 Days. If not, please consider joining us for April's WEP challenge - JEWEL BOX.


Jemi Fraser said...

So powerful, Denise!!!
I'm teary eyed. Such a sad reality for so many.
I was lucky to be born in Canada - and there isn't a day that goes by that I'm not grateful.

Denise Covey said...

Can we swap Prime Ministers? Our PM (at least this week!) used to be Immigration Minister and upheld the cruel, inhumane laws re who comes to our country -- generally people with lots of money.

Olga Godim said...

Oh, this is so tragic. You're right, this fiction was probably someone's horrible reality. That poor, hopeless boy.
Your writing is very evocative; it paints the picture in all its distressing colors.

Nilanjana Bose said...

I'm not sure how fictional this is either. Too many Abioyes. So heart breaking and so frustrating! Wish there was something we could do!

Great descriptive details as usual. I can completely picture this boy and his lone animal companion, his panic and despair.

Botanist said...

That is a tough and poignant story. Very powerful.

Roland D. Yeomans said...

You drew us into the poor boy's anguish, pain, and desperate hope. It is in our nature to destroy ourselves. The powerful prey on the weak, and the weak have few advocates. Great story,

cleemckenzie said...

Your story reaffirms just how grateful we should be for being born in countries where we still have safe haven from such widespread violence. Thanks for your WEP contribution, Denise.

L.G. Keltner said...

It's heartbreaking to think how many people in the world live like this. I did nothing to deserve being born where I was. I was simply lucky. You did such a good job of setting the scene and showing us his pain and his strength. I only wish he could find his happy ending. Unfortunately, so many like him never do.

Debbie D. said...

Such a heart-wrenching story! And even more so, knowing this type of tragedy occurs on a daily basis. Thankfully, in Canada, our government has compassion for these poor people.

Tyrean Martinson said...

Every step hurt, but he kept going through hope and hopelessness. Despite the ending, I guess I still have hope that he'll escape and make his way toward freedom again -in some way.
Beautifully written.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Tyrean. A happy ending would be nice.

Denise Covey said...

Be thankful for your government for showing compassion.

Denise Covey said...

I'm sure this story is true for all too many.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks for your kind words LEE!

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Roland. it practically wrote itself.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Ian.

Denise Covey said...

Perhaps it's creative non-fiction. I've listened to so many of these stories about Sudanese refugees to know this is a common experience.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Olga. It comes from the heart...some would say a bleeding heart.

D.G. Hudson said...

Wow. Intense writing and reading, Denise. I'm sure in many war-torn countries, the villagers are treated like this. He will have to wait until the time is right, but I hope he never gives up his dream. Liked this, and wondered if you drew on any of your traveling experiences for this.

Pat Garcia said...

Hi Denise,
Your story is so real. To see the cruelties that humans do to humans is unbelievable. It hurts. I like how you build up Abioye plight intermix with some background of what had happened in his village, to his family, and to the girl he loved.
Excellent story. It depicts a very real situation going on not only in Australia but in many affluent western countries.

Shalom aleichem,
Pat G

Toi Thomas said...

"Maybe God had turned his back on Africa but still lived in that new land where the boat would take him. Maybe God would welcome him to its shores and surround him with love and plenty." Excellent and heartbreaking, more real than fiction. Wonderful entry. Thank you for sharing it with us.

Unknown said...

An intense and realistic entry for this theme Denise. Well done, Denise.

Rebecca M. Douglass said...

Powerful and heartbreaking, and as you say, all too true. We can invent distopias, but sadly there are real ones worse than we can comprehend.

Denise Covey said...

Glad you liked it D.G. I drew on my experiences in Morocco, especially Tangier, right on the water opposite Spain. I can see him working in the medinas and scraping together enough to board a leaky boat but I fear the corruption would ensnare him. Sadly.

Denise Covey said...

I'm glad you like the tale and the telling, Pat. All too real...

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Toi. I guess these thoughts have been simmering and exploded into this tale.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Christopher!

Denise Covey said...

Yes, we really don't have to invent dystopias in this world.

Ornery Owl of Naughty Netherworld Press and Readers Roost (Not Charlotte) said...

Wonderfully constructed and all too real. I wonder at all the pain in the world. How can people be so callous and cruel?

Carrie Ann said...

My goodness, I'm so teary-eyed I can barely see to type this. Well done!

Jemima Pett said...

Very powerful. I thought of lots more to say on the whole situation, but really, your words say it all.

N. R. Williams said...

Hi Denise
A powerful tale that is tragic and often true. It makes me cry for all refugees. When I worked at The University of Denver, years ago, I met a young man from Africa who was now an American Citizen. He was going to school. I did my best to welcome him and encourage him. I never forget that my own ancestors fled oppression to come across the ocean to this land. Your story is well written and captures the characters heart.

dolorah said...

Ah Denise, this was so real. I agree, its likely not fiction. There is such true horror in the world, and my heart weeps for tragedies such as this. How has the modern world not stamped out such terrorism?

Well written and evocative.

Sally said...

Wow, so tragic. You certainly have a wonderful way with words to draw emotions out of your readers.

Michael Di Gesu said...

Gulp.... how tragic. How completely sad. I HATED the ending. I wanted him to find his solace. The poor dog, such a loyal companion meeting such a cruel and heartless end. WHY? Why do situations like this continue? Why? Sadly, it comes down to Life...

VERY, VERY gripping, Denise. Well done!

Bernadette said...

So heartbreaking...

Denise Covey said...

Makes you wonder, doesn't it?

Denise Covey said...

Glad it had an impact on you Carrie Ann. All too true.

Denise Covey said...

Not much more to say, except why is this happening?

Denise Covey said...

Hi Nancy. There's books written about Sudanese walking across deserts and I guess that inspired me. Some actually ended up in Australia.

Denise Covey said...

How indeed? Makes you wonder, if like the AIDS epidemic in Africa, and the Ebola virus, it is deliberate genocide. Horrific.

Denise Covey said...

That warms my heart more than what I wrote, Sally. As I said, it wrote itself. But it's something I think about a lot!

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Michael. Maybe he escapes?

Denise Covey said...

It is indeed Bernadette.

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Denise - very powerful ... seeing the boats and hearing the stories that are happening all around the Mediterranean and now the English Channel; having seen 'Human Flow' the film made by the Chinese activist Ai WeiWei that I wrote about for WAWTB last June ... your 'story' brought the whole home to us who are reading as part of the IWSG and WEP. Fantastic writing ... so well done. One wonders what history will tell of this time - for all the things that are happening ... and I am so grateful to be British and born free.

Excellent entry - congratulations on the story line ... Hilary

Anstice Brown said...

Argh-that ending! What a powerful story. I could feel Abioye's growing desperation with every step. So tragic and sadly a reality for many people. I think you did a fantastic job of creating a really clear picture of this young man's situation and causing us to empathise with him straight away.

Denise Covey said...

Thank you Anstice. I was full of desperation too and it showed, obviously.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks Hilary. Yes, there's so many first-person accounts and so many conflicting opinions. This is a polarising issue for sure. Yes I'm glad I'm born free too, but as I say, I did nothing to deserve it. In another life I could be one of these desperate people finding doors slamming in their faces after all their hardship and suffering.

Nick Wilford said...

Very powerful stuff, Denise. I think those of us who are more fortunate (by random chance) find it hard to imagine the devastation and trauma experienced by refugees, but you get close here. I hope he does survive and finds a new start.

Denise Covey said...

As do I Nick.

Roland Clarke said...

Powerful and distressing piece that brings out the tragic reality for to many.Too many people forget that they might have refugee or immigrant ancestry.

Denise Covey said...

That would be most of us Roland. Lest we forget.

J Lenni Dorner said...

Wow. That was a very powerful story.
And it's so universal, because if he was in Mexico (which isn't, as far as I know, as bad as Africa as far as war), he could be headed to the US and dealing with a potential wall and the haters with it. *sigh*

Really great and powerful story.

Denise Covey said...

Thanks JLenni. Much the same scenario for sure.

Michelle Wallace said...

Poignant. Really hit close to home, Denise...
I also ask the question: maybe God has turned his back on Africa? There is just too much poverty and suffering on this continent.
Far too much.
However, I feel like one of the fortunate ones since I have a good job, a home, food, opportunities to travel, to progress...

Denise Covey said...

The Rape of Africa is a seeping sore. Have you read the Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kinsolver? The big guys have done a good job of doing her over. I'm so glad for you and those like you who have security despite this. Onward and upward...

Michelle Wallace said...

The book is somewhere on my to-read list.
I'll have to push it to the top. A priority read.

Denise Covey said...

You will be riveted to every page.

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