The sound of hurried footsteps through the mixture of soil and tarmac is masked by the strong winds. Dark clouds blanket the sky, concealing the stars that had been shining. It had to be tonight, they couldn’t leave it any longer.
‘Run, I know you can go faster than that,’ Daniel says in a half whisper.
‘I’m tired. I can’t go any faster.’
‘Yes you can, come on, we need to get to the other side,’ Rut huffs and picks up the pace.
The crack of thunder wakes the baby and she begins to wail. Daniel gasps and pushes Rut and the baby towards the bushes, out of sight.
‘You should have given her codeine like I suggested earlier on,’ he growls.
‘Well, I wasn’t about to drug my baby.’
‘Please just try to keep her quiet, we can’t risk being stopped.’
‘She needs feeding.’
He scours their surroundings, the route is clear and there is no place to hide. Their flash light shines a lone light in the darkness—it is dangerous enough.
‘Can’t you feed her while you walk?’
‘Really, Daniel? You expect me to hold her in place while I’m near enough running?’
‘Fine, feed her here but be quick.’
Rut unties the two knots she had made on the towel. Removes the child from her back. Places her on her small breast. The baby settles and drifts off to sleep.
Across the desert and beneath the stars they trek for hours. They can’t stop yet. It is too dangerous. With the heat steadily increasing, Rut feels her baby squirming on her back: the constant shifting propels her forward but she has to ignore it—walk on. With each step she can feel her legs quiver. She holds on to her hips, leaning to her left side.
‘Daniel, you will have to hold her,’ Rut says as she wipes the drops of sweat from her forehead and nose.
‘Give her to me.’
A large campfire flickers in the distance, they walk towards it. As they approach the fire, a group of men holding weapons: knives, machetes and pitchforks meet them. Rut pulls her baby tightly into her bosom and turns her head to look at Daniel and exhales.
‘Stay here. I’ll go first,’ he strokes her shoulder as he walks towards the men. Daniel stands tall with his strong shoulders back and nostrils flared.
‘What business do you have here?’ a man asks. The man wears a multicoloured checkered scarf around his neck—he is someone of importance.
‘We are on our way to the border: I have my wife and child, they are both tired. Could we please have a place to stay?’
The men lower their weapons and wait for the response from the man in the scarf. He nods and gestures for them to enter the tent. Daniel signals for his wife to follow him. As they enter they find four women shielding some infants. The women have positioned themselves to the far back of the camp, where they sit barricaded by sacks of sand from the dessert.
‘I think those are the wives and children,’ Rut whispers in Daniel’s ears. Slowly, they come forward and greet them.
‘Drink?’ a plump woman with fair skin says, offering them two metal cups of water.
‘Thank you,’ Daniel nods in appreciation. Rut mouths thank you and carves a smile.
The group clink their silver cups and make plans for the journey to come. They too are on their way to the coast. Some speak of the tales of the horrors they witnessed in their villages, others speak of their reasons for wanting to escape to Europe. They have no exact destination—all they know is that they have to go.
The man in the scarf was a preacher, who founded a Pentecostal church in his hometown. He speaks of how they would sing and dance in their church, worshipping and praising their God. How one night the soldiers came and set their house alight.
How they just about escaped the fire. He shows them the scar tissue on his legs from when he ran back into the house to save his son. It was too late.
‘I recognise your face from somewhere,’ the man in the scarf says to Daniel.
‘I’m not sure where you would know me from?’ Daniel says, turning his face away from the light of the fire.
‘I’m sure I know you from somewhere.’
Their talk is interrupted by the sound of an engine purring from afar, two lights beam in the distance. The man in the scarf squints in the direction the beams are coming from.
‘Men, grab your weapons,’ he shouts.
Shooting up from their seating positions they grab the weapons they had previously handled. Daniel jumps to the other side of the tent, taking the metal pole he had brought with him for protection.
The lights draw closer and closer. A rusty red pick-up truck appears with plates half attached to the front of the vehicle. A man, a woman and two pre-pubescent children sit wide eyed at the front. They too happen to be on their way to the Red Sea coast. In need of a place to stay, they offer the group a lift to the coast at dawn.
The group pack what little they have onto the back of the trunk. ‘Hop in, and keep the tent close so we can use it as cover if need be,’ the driver says. The women create holes in the tent so they can breathe easier.
‘Everyone in?’ the driver turns to receive confirmation from the man in the scarf.
Cramped in the back, Daniel finds a spot in the corner sat next to a brown-eyed boy with hair that sweeps across his face. He grabs a flashlight from his pocket and starts scribbling in a small notebook.
‘What are you writing?’ the boy looks at him and waits.
Daniel continues to write. The boy taps him on his elbow.
‘Stories,’ Daniel says.
‘What kind of stories?’ he tilts his head at an angle so he can see Daniel’s face.
‘Stories about people, true stories.’
The response does not satisfy his curiosity, he turns away and begins speaking to the other children.
The man in the red scarf turns to Daniel and whispers, ‘you’re that reporter aren’t you?’
Daniel bows his head.
‘Don’t worry your secret is safe with me brother.’
The smell of damp engulfs them as they walk into the one room that will be their home for the time being. Mold stained walls tell a story of the white washed paint that had been. Cracks in the walls have created a motif that extends itself over time. The carpet squelches as they tread carefully avoiding the rat droplets. Their eyes remain transfixed on the state of the walls. Rut begins to sob. Daniel takes her in his arms, stroking her hair and then caressing the baby on her back.
‘I can fix it, I promise,’ he says
She stares into his eyes then back down to the ground.
‘We need nappies. Your baby needs nappies.’
He opens a tan, distressed leather wallet with the initials D.T. etched on the corner. He hands her 10 euros. He tries to caress her hand but she fiercely pulls it away and walks out the door.
‘Go back to your home!’ A group of white men chant as Rut stands in the shop. The small Asian shopkeeper stands quietly pressing the panic button behind the counter. He is used to this. Rut has the baby wrapped in a towel on her back, she puts her hand behind to ensure that her baby is secure.
‘I have my papers, leave me alone!’ she screams.
‘Go back to your country you monkey,’ one of the men shouts. The shopkeeper manages to get Rut and the baby out of the shop and helps them escape from the back door.
She runs back to their one room home, in hysterics. Daniel forcefully takes her into his arms and embraces her. Rut starts banging her fists on his chest crying.
‘This is your fault,’ she pulls away from him wiping the snot from her nose.
Her lips tremble as she repeats her words.
‘This. Is. Your. Fault.’
He sits down, head bowed, as she erupts on him.
‘I was the supportive wife to you Daniel. All you had to do was write, report and get paid but that wasn’t enough for you. You just had to write that bastard article. Look where your freedom of expression has got us.’
‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry,’ he mutters as beads of tears fall on the small wooden table.
The door slams, she turns and looks.
‘Any luck finding anything today?’ Rut says.
He loosens his tie from his neck, strolls over to the cushion the baby is laying on, kisses the baby on the cheek and plays with her fingers.
‘Hello princess,’ he places kisses on her tiny cheeks.
‘Daniel, I said did you find anything today?’
He pulls the baby’s bib up to her lips and wipes the spittle from her chin.
‘Daniel!’ Rut stands with both arms around her tiny waist. Face scrunched and wrinkled.
‘No, not today,’ he sighs as he undoes the top button of his shirt.
About the Author
Ruvimbo Maria Kuuzabuwe is an occasional blogger and writer. She recently graduated in Creative Writing and Philosophy at Manchester Metropolitan University and is currently studying towards a Masters in Gender, Sexuality and Culture at the University of Manchester. Born in Zimbabwe and raised in the UK her experiences have lead her to develop an interest in using storytelling as a medium to convey multiple realities; as a means to transcend the spoken word and allow the reader to travel to another place or time where they are able to think and see things in a new light. She is influenced by contemporary African literature and cites Chimanda Ngozi Adichie as one of her biggest inspirations.
by Aleksandra Prokopiuk