He felt it in his small bones, saw it in the drenched sorrow leached into the creases of his mother’s ragged tunic. Watching her pay the money over, every blood-earned cent lining the pockets of some faceless demon of promises, he saw her tears flow, etching further fine trenches into filthy skin, harrowed from months in camps of stench and death.
They clung like limpets to the listing pile of wood and metal they dared to call a passage to freedom. They packed them on and pushed them off. The creaking heap didn’t last long as deafening fissures split the rotten timbers. The women, including his mother, wailed and keened.
Her death was swift, her wailing silenced by the swirling waves sucking her under, her already ravaged body rapidly despoiled to bone in an underwater feeding frenzy.
He thrashed, caught in the folds of a stranger’s sari, the bright colours drowning in the black waves. The darkness won.
Darkness always wins.
His engulfed body was yanked upward, snapping his ribs.
Something was beating him, slapping him. He vomited and passed out.
‘Wake up! boy. I didn’t pull you out of there for you to die in my arms. Wake up!’
The voice was hollow, the pain visceral. He’d gone to hell for not saving his mother. Thrashing in a frenzied seizure, he flailed into the darkness.
‘Hey, this one’s alive.’
A rough cloth smothered his face forcing his eyelids apart. Choking, he succumbed, slumping against his attacker, cracking his head.
He woke up, bound tight – a prisoner again, his ribs and skull throbbing. Daring to peer through scrunched eyes, he saw two dark brown eyes, staring, but kind.
‘It’s ok, little one. You’re safe now.’
War is all he knows.
He doesn’t know safe.
ALVA HOLLAND is an Irish writer from Dublin. First published by Ireland’s Own Winning Writers Annual 2015. Three times a winner of Ad Hoc Fiction’s flash competition, her stories feature in The People’s Friend, Ellipsis Zine, Train Lit Mag, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Cabinet of Heed and Jellyfish Review.