Tuesday, 22 August 2017

The Island of Hope

He paddled the small boat in the darkness, following the star he had been told would lead 
him to the island. The island of his salvation. The island of dreams. The island where the 
streets were paved with gold. The island where all you ever need is there for you. It 
had been a long journey but it was almost over.

Paddling in the dark kept the dreams away. He didn’t like to sleep these days. Sleep 
brought reminders of the nightmare he had lived through. The war that had raged in 
his country, a war he did not understand. The bombing and the gunfire. The men who 
charged into his shelled home who raped and killed his mother and sister. They had 
not seen him buried under the rubble of the house, but he had seen them. He wished 
he hadn’t. He wished the falling wall had knocked him unconscious. No. he wished 
the falling wall had killed him.

Amazingly he had not been hurt but he was now alone. The menfolk of his wider 
family had either been killed or conscripted into fighting for the war whether they 
wanted to or not. It was mere luck that he had avoided this for they took everyone, 
even boys younger than him. All the women had fled or had suffered the same fate 
as his mother and sister. He did not know where to go for safety.

He wandered the ravaged city for days, scavenging food from bombed out houses, 
until time and the heat had turned all the food bad. He joined a line of people with 
all their possessions in packs on their head heading for what they thought would 
be shelter and safety. A refugee camp, although he didn’t know what that meant.

At the camp he told his story to strange people who spoke a different tongue 
which he didn’t understand. They filled in forms and gave him a label then sent 
him to join other boys who had arrived on their own, all lost, all without family, 
without hope.

It was here that he first heard about the island. It sounded like a myth, a fairy story 
you told children. But people spoke of it as being real. It sounded like a good place. 
A place without war. A place of prosperity, where you could get food every day. 
And work. He wasn’t afraid of work. He had frequently helped his father in the 
shop, had risen early to go to the warehouse to collect what goods they needed 
before the shop opened. He was not stupid. He could do his sums. He could read 
his own language.

Some of the older boys and young men who had escaped the war began to talk 
about going to the island. They didn’t really know where it was or how to get 
there but it seemed like a good idea. Better than sitting around in the camp all 
day. They let him join them. All they knew was it was towards the setting sun 
and so they set off in that direction. Some were lost in skirmishes they encountered, 
the war ever present. Some were lost to the heat of the desert as they crossed the 
wasteland. Some simply gave up, turned back or went to join the fighting for
whatever side would have them. By the time they reached the coast there were 
only three of them left.

The island was in the sea. It would be, one of the three explained, that’s what an 
island is. They found a small boat, a rowing boat, but as none of them had ever 
seen a boat before, they paddled it facing the direction they wanted instead of 
rowing it. They paddled for three days before the storm came and two were taken 
by the sea. Now he was on his own, unsure of where he was, unsure of where 
the island was, exhausted but afraid to sleep.

Up ahead something loomed out of the sea, something solid and still. The island. 
Weeping with joy he paddled harder. As dawn lit the sky he was confronted by 
steep cliffs which gave him no landing site so he followed the contour of the 
island until he reached a beach.

He guided the small boat up to the beach and all but fell onto the shore. He had 
been paddling for so long his body had forgotten how to stand, at least that’s 
what it felt like. He crawled up the sand to where the land became firmer. 
Dunes covered in grass. He stood up and walked through the dunes. He could 
see houses in the distance and wandered towards them.

The first people he saw were not friendly. They threw stones at him and shouted 
in a strange tongue he didn’t understand, just like the people at the refugee camp. 
Some big men came and dragged him away. They did give him some food, something
to drink and some clean clothes. But that was all. After that they took him away and 
locked him up in another camp with more strangers.

This must be the wrong island, he decided. There were no streets paved with gold. 
No opportunities. None of the things his former companions had told him about. 
The island he wanted was still a myth.

Copyright©Kristen Stone 2017

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