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The Refugee

Angela Lucas

The danger was tainting, probing, prying. She looked anxiously around the house that had been a sanctuary; the insidious deceit of danger was palpable, almost had a heartbeat that relentlessly tied in with the rhythm of her fear.

The bag was ready by the door; everything prepared for the journey ahead, the ticking of the clock remorselessly drowning the sound of the boiling kettle.

There would just be time for a last cup of coffee. No, not coffee, not caffeine, something to calm the anxiety. Searching the cupboard she found Chamomile and Honey tea. Her hands shook, as she poured the boiling water over the herb bag, watching it sink in the cup, sinking like the fear in her stomach.

The people had been streaming out of the town for the past few days. At first it was a mere trickle. Men knocked on her door in passing, calling out, 'The fear is coming, get out while you can.'

She had ignored them waiting to stay in the safety of her home. She sensed the danger that lurked outside. But the danger had encroached, sucked into her home as if it had a life of its own. It had come uninvited and stayed as an unhealthy guest.

Closing the door behind her, holding tightly to her bag of necessary possessions, she watched as the stream of people gained in pace and was swept along with them.

After some days she was aware of the old high-stepped parkland. Averting her eyes she looked in desperation for safety. Long ago she had walked this road and knew the sullen dangers hiding, watching behind each tree.

The trees should have been chopped down she thought then, as now. The bushes should have been razed by fire defying sanctuary to the malevolent forms hiding, waiting, grabbing.

Quickly, fear lending speed to her feet, she moved on not knowing if it was safer to join the growing crowd or walk on her own.

Lorries piled with furniture, bedding and refrigerators were overtaking her on the road.

Children walked in clothes too long, having been made to last the journey. Who would tell how old they would be before the fear departed?

Silent screams gave birth inside her, lodging in her belly, finding no outlet for fear of shame. Were others screaming? She heard no sound except of the feet on the road, and the rumble of tyres.

A child stumbled, others around her urged her to continue but no hand was extended to help, to touch. Maybe that was it, no one could touch in case the fear was contagious.

Before the death of appeasement, she had thought it best to do nothing, while others had an ecstatic embrace of violence unaware it would created desolation. That which lived to destroy had imprisoned minds.

Her belaboured brain harboured buried thoughts of the ancient freedoms and innocent activities.

She noted now what she had not seen before, no mother holding her child, no husband helping his wife. The fear separated them.

The ill looking man who walked nearby had a familiar appearance. Then she remembered a meal they had shared in an eastern restaurant. That was in the days before the fear.

But already in that long ago day the beginnings had shown.

The waiter brought tiny dishes to the table each overflowing with smells and tastes. Coconut curry with shredded pork, vegetables thinly sliced; had the knife been honed to sharpness to form those thin batons of peppers, beans and carrots?

The beef, almost wafer thin (was it the same knife) sat in a dark glowing sauce impregnated with red chilly peppers, the seeds rising and falling as if prepared to strike the innocent who knew nothing of the strength, the incapacitating heat...the danger in the shiny skins, the seeds that birthed the fiery pain made worse by gulping too much water. He had laughed; 'Water won't drown the flames.'

The remembering shuddered through her. The shuddering brought sharp shards of memories of other heat, other pain.

There was no space for all that now, the crowd was moving on.

Nearby mumbled a man with a bundle held tightly to his bowed body, listless feet scraping the ground. He had a daughter, maybe three years old; one he held not by the loving strong hands of a father, but by distance. By the distance that kept them all apart.

Death had been the bridge between them, between father and daughter. The day the dread had killed the child, the father was at last able to hold her. He wrapped her in his old shirt binding her to him with his jacket. The weight of her body aged him. Death had been the bridge.

For a long time she had use the option of the ostrich, burying her head in the trivia of life, refusing to listen to the urgent warnings - as if not knowing would protect her.

One night many of them found shelter in an old building. At the entrance was a large hall from which crept corridors leading into small rooms long defiled by distance.

Before long, the storm had come. First an enormous crashing that picked the building up, shaking it violently before setting it back on its base. The rain thundered its way through every crevice as if nature wanted it to wash away the fear.

At the back of the hall, a dark stained table held a glass orb horribly magnificent dwarfing the nearby furniture. The outside glass had a rough haze to its surface giving glimpse to three coils inside. There was a deep blue thick vein running vertically through, this was twisted around a vivid yellow vein together they wound round a pale green strand. In her imagination she thought it was like someone's bad dream entwining the past with the present and the future.

Suddenly voices were heard above. The echoed wound moved quickly back along the road, 'They are opening the border ahead, quickly, quickly we must be there before darkness settles, before the border is closed.'

She fell losing hold of her bag. The screams buried deep moved from her belly, filling her throat and erupted into the approaching night.

For her the border was too far away; a hand reached out wrapping the screams in an old silk shawl. It was her grandmother's shawl, emerged from the past, dusty with age-intruded holes in the fabric.

The hand, was it now or the future?

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