I woke to the sound of rushing water. Loud, like a flood. Occasional thuds, then quiet splashes, trickles even. Seconds of stillness before the same noises started up again, but in a different sequence. It was the sound of the sea, of waves rushing up and down the beach. I must have been asleep for hours, I thought, and rubbed my arm across my face, trying to jerk some life into my tired, numb body. Grains of sand fell onto my eyelids. I flicked them off with my fingers, opened my eyes, and raised my head. I gasped. I rolled over, sat up, and bent my knees. I looked out at the blue sea for a moment then dropped my head into my hands and sobbed.
I was safe now, away from fear of sudden death, persecution, torture, famine–free to say what I thought, behave as I wish, and worship my religion. I could go to university, work, dress as I like, listen to music, read books, watch TV, see movies, travel, and follow my dreams. I could be a doctor, a writer, a singer, a film star, a teacher, and do whatever I wanted to. I could walk down the street, hand in hand with my boyfriend. I could marry the man of my choice.
I looked out at the sparkling fluorescent ocean washing against the golden sand, the foaming spray as the waves smashed against the black rocks. I cried again. We’d boarded the boat at midnight, four days ago. Five hundred of us crammed into a vessel that only had room for about a hundred. Some people clung to the side as the boat pushed away into the dark Mediterranean. Many of them dropped off, their fate determined by the murky sea. Old people and small babies were squeezed in amongst us. A few bottles of water were passed around on the first day. There was no food, no shelter from the scorching daytime sun, no toilets, and nowhere to sleep. We were just rammed in, our bodies pressed together. Some died, and were tossed overboard.
I’m young, fit, and a good swimmer. Once I saw land, I decided to take a chance. I dived off the boat into the black water, and struck out in the direction of the lights. Two hours later, I waded out of the water, stripped off, and fell, exhausted, onto the beach.
I bit on my lip. Tears started to trickle down my face. I’m free, but have nothing. The day before I fled from the country of my birth, a gang of terrorists drove up to our house and dragged my mother, father, my three sisters, and my baby brother outside. My father pleaded with them to take just him and let the others free. They took no notice and butchered my family. I’d tried to run and help, but my friend–who’d I’d been swimming with–stopped me. We hid, but heard the screams.