The Arrival

The train rocked rhythmically. David’s head lolled against his chest and his eyelids dipped further and further, heavier and heavier. His arms grew slack until finally he dropped forward, waking himself in the process. He would have fallen if not for the bodies packed tightly around him.

The carriage was so tight. The air was stale and thick, but at least he had got used to the smell. At first it had grown, fresh layers piling on every time he thought it couldn’t get any worse. The confused and upset chatter of two days ago, characterised by indignant and speculation, had turned into a silence broken by muffled sobs and the occasional whisper.

A sudden screech rent the air, piercing and painful. The carriage jerked. David stumbled, reaching out instinctively even as other hands grabbed him for support. The carriage was filled with screams and cries.

‘You by the window!’ An elderly voice, quavering and authoritarian, came from the nearby. ‘Tell us what you see!’ Before anyone could answer, the door of the carriage slid open, hitting the side with a loud clang.

Everything was chaos. Shouting and screaming, pushing and shoving. It reminded David of swimming under the waterfall back home. It was a popular game, but there had been one occasion when the rains had been high, and he was the only one there. The water was more ferocious than usual, battering him around the head, loud and violent. He had been disorientated and unsure of where the sky was, turning around and around until eventually, unexpectedly, he broke the surface, panting and terrified.

The pressure was lifting, and he instinctively moved forward towards the door. As he got closer, a rough hand grabbed his coat and pulled him from the train, tossing him onto the ground like a piece of rubbish. He spiralled his hands to keep from falling and someone managed to regain his balance.

At first the light was so bright he was unable to focus. Another hand grabbed his shoulder and pushed him forward and he blindly obeyed. There was deep male shouting, but he didn’t understand the words. Below that was anxious muttering and more sobs. He had never heard so much crying in his life. A band was playing as well. Was that right? He even thought he might recognise the tune.

His eyes started to adjust and he looked up. From sky to ground, everything was grey, broken up by flecks of brown. The atmosphere was heavy and frenzied. A light drizzle was falling.  The ground was flat, the grass short and dry, and all along it were long low huts, standing to attention in orderly lines. Through the gaps though, the earth just kept running and running.

People were jostling around him, a sea of humanity confused and battered, herded into lines and groups and shepherded along. He instinctively looked around for a way out, but saw nothing. Bodies were closing in around him, and beyond them were guards, and all he could do was to go with them, then all at once he was beyond the gate, beyond the wire, and into the camp itself. It was all so sudden.

Some of the people from the train, the young, the elderly, some women, were going in a different direction. One little boy, he looked so much like David’s brother, so many years ago, and he felt a sudden urge to cry out to him, although there was nothing to be said. Just to shout, ‘boy!’ and see if the child turned around and if there really was any resemblance there or if it was just the trick of the light. He didn’t though. He imagined it was probably better not to stand out, if that could be avoided.



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