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I raise my eyes to the darkening sky and pull the stranger’s coat tight around my neck.
“Thank you.” My teeth chatter as reach down to help Wee Fergus with his new fleece. Someone’s old fleece. The smiling volunteer moves on with her bulging plastic bag.
“How low we have sunk!” I almost spit out the words, just loud enough for Mark to hear.
“Now, don’t talk of sinking, will ye! Not now!”
And I almost laugh, though nothing is funny about tonight:
Wait for dark to fall. Sneak out of the camp and find our way to shore where some liar or other will be waiting to take the last of our pounds. He’ll promise safe passage and good weather and fair winds and happy ever-afters as if anything was in his power to deliver. ‘You’ll make it across, no doubt about that,’ he’ll say. ‘Where’s your cash?’
And we will nod and smile and pat each other on the back like we did weeks ago when we crossed the Channel. It was warmer then. We made it after all, didn’t we? And maybe one day, when things are different, we’ll go home.
There’s no place like home, my mother used to say. Of course, she never lived to see it all blow up with Faslane.
“Now,” Mark whispers.
He doesn’t need to say any more: the volunteers are all busy down by the tents. ‘Shhh,’ I warn my boy and pull him into the copse of trees. Soon we stumble across farmland towards the shore. Mark follows minutes later and easily catches up with us.
At least now we have something to aim for – the horizon. The dunes, and beyond them, the beach where we’ve been told our new life will begin. My heels are bleeding again – none of their shoes fitted properly, but just got to push on. Wee Fergus drags his feet through the deep sand between the dunes, whimpering.
Suddenly, a bright light shines on us, from everywhere, and we freeze.
A man in official uniform saunters towards us. With him are at least twenty others. I blink.
“GOOD evening,” he says in broken English, half addressing those behind him over his shoulder. I can now see the badge on his jacket. Probably means border police. Flashing lights confirm that the crowd are journalists – several are wearing press vests. “Where are you from?” a woman yells from the back of the pack.
“Scotland.” Mark’s voice is brittle with defeat.
“Where do you want to go?” A man near the front holds out a microphone on a stick and leans forward as if he cared.
“Ahhhh,” the border guard interrupts, chuckling. “That’s easy. They all want to go to Syria. Peaceful. Jobs, good life. Everybody wants to go to Syria. No-one wants to stay in Scotland.”
Mark carries Fergus all the way as we are ushered back to the camp. And just as we settle down with strangers’ blankets in a stranger’s tent, he hisses out under his breath.
“Try again tomorrow.”