Boat to Heaven

by Muhammad Khurram Salim

‘I’ve not seen any hope for months,’ thought Amana with tired eyes, her back to the boat passengers of the flashing deep sea.  ‘Don’t know about Kaila or Sahira … Just drifting.  Going somewhere I suppose .. . that place of help.  They have to give me a rope to cling to, or what will I be?’  A tear rolled down her left cheek. The wind blew strands of her hair this way and that. She wanted to be hopeful. Her head hurt from exertion and a bit of fever she had.  ‘I wanted to be someone, all those days.  Someone who can have a family.’

The channel water was cold, though the day was generally kind to their senses.  There were 12 of them and they were mostly quiet; their leader Sana was the brawny muscular one who shouted out to them sometimes, telling them that they were headed for paradise.  The sun shone bright and the clouds were few, the bluest of skies favoured them with a nod.  Amana looked at the expanse of water in front of her and closed her eyes. She wanted to believe that paradise was there for her after the millions of waves.

‘I couldn’t see hope, not a sliver,’ she said to herself glancing at a woman breast-feeding her baby girl.  ‘Where was it on those dark and lonely nights?  Simply nowhere, like a long-drawn-out cold silence. Sand blew in my face, my childhood seemed idyllic and my old friends .. . I missed them immensely. When the rain fell, it wanted to flood us. .. the angry rivers swelled and swelled. Where was hope, or any measure of relief? No, there was poverty, the grime of neglect and want.  We were dirty and abandoned. All poor countries are always just abandoned.’

The sea seemed endless, a child cried, the men on the rubber boat bickered.  Amana looked back at what they had left behind, the expanse of silence, the waterway and skyline wrapped up in a muddle of thoughts of that past.  Her mind was muddied by darkling images from the last many weeks and months, the years.  She could see babies crying, their tearful faces contorted by hunger.  Famished people walked around like ghosts, and she stood among them with a bowl for rice or bread, and a bottle for water. Her eyes were tearful; she could remember details of her suffering.

She felt a weakness that didn’t leave for a prolonged period; she had to drink from her little bottle.  Water made her want to feel better, the sea breeze made her sleepy, the sun warmed her head, neck, shoulder and back.  She spoke a few words to two old ladies beside her, about how they had only a little food left.  Amana felt feverish and hoped she would get her strength back. ‘Is it a reasonable hope?’ she thought to herself, ‘one that can stand up by itself?  What else should I hope? I can’t be feeble and persist.  What can I do?’ 

The boat got nearer and nearer to the shore, and the English sky over the island of Avalon seemed welcoming enough.  But upon arrival things were different. The immigration workers seemed too curt and dismissive, distant, and impersonal. They ordered and scolded and didn’t respond to what Amana and her compatriots said.  She felt rigid and ill and lay down on a blanket on the ground.  The sun was obstructed by a large cloud and the breeze felt cold.

Immigration said they were going to send them back, maybe ship them off to Rwanda.  She did not want to go anywhere where there would be confusion and barbs for her.  Weak and troubled, she lay on her side with thoughts of being abandoned.  She needed medicine but none was forthcoming. They said it would take a few hours before she could be treated. She became weaker and saw her mother in her mind, the way she used to look years back, and she was laughing and inviting her to the next world.  Amana knew she was joining her and closed her eyes.