Alcohol is the greatest equalizer, Hir remembered thinking as soon as hir eyes adjusted to the harsh rays of the rising sun. It doesn’t matter what time period, what planet, what dimension you walk into, a few shots too many and you would wake up just as clueless as hir did on that fateful April morning. As hir eyes settled, hir looked around; the motion wasn’t in hir head; they were indeed in the middle of an ocean. Hir was surrounded by sombre men, quiet women, and squealing children of all ages. There was hardly any red as vivid as the one on hir own body.
Hir didn’t know where the boat was headed, or how hir ended up on it. Straightening hir red, something in one of the pockets squeaked. It was the sound of candy wrappers, and it was the way hir would find out the parts of hir own story hir had missed out on. It didn’t take the children long to start gathering around hir, and they were chatty. The ship had originated from Libya but most of the people on board were Syrian and Palestinian. The children didn’t know it, but it was heading towards Lesbos.
“We’re one of the Marsh Arabs.”
“That’s not true. He just likes the Marsh Arabs very much.”
“How many times do I have to tell you Amir? I’m a girl. She likes Marsh Arabs. “
Amir made a face at the girl in response.
A very long time back, Hir had found hir way to the top of Mount Qasioun to be greeted by a sight that still popped up in one of hir happy dreams every so often. The whole city looked so beautiful from the top, it was impossible to imagine it being a war zone. Some kids were talking about how uniforms had occupied the mountain. It sounded unnatural. Amir and Anees had started squabbling over the fair distribution of a piece of candy. Hir decided to interrupt them with a question.
“What part of the city did you like the most?”
It had been so long since hir travel to the City of Jasmine, hir didn’t expect to hear the name of a familiar place. Humans are changeful; it was this fluidity about the planet that had captivated hir in the first place.
“I liked our photographs at the Khan.” Khan As’ad Pasha, had it succumbed too? Hir took a long breath before hir could gather the courage to find hir next words.
“Did you like the place?”
“It was okay. Ummi looked beautiful.”
It took a while for Hir to register what the girl meant. It didn’t look like the mother had made it to the boat. Anees did not sound hopeful about seeing her again.
Some suspicious parents had started to gather around the strange person in red robes on the boat headed to Lesbos. Soon they had already befriended the stranger. The boat was still solemn, but the stories flew regardless. Men talked about Damascus and Aleppo, and the old days, as the wistful women looked and whispered among themselves.
It was days before they reached the shore. Hir kept the children engaged in tales from stars they had no belief in. The children in that boat had each their own bagful of stories, and sacks full of rumours they had some part in spreading among others their age. They parted without words or gestures when the destination arrived. It was here that they finally heard about the other boat that was following their own. There were no survivors. Hir imagined five hundred bodies floating together towards Lesbos, free at last of the mortal coil but still bound towards the destination life made them pick at random. To shake off the image, hir looked around, desperate for sparks of life.
“They’re all bad!” shouted a five year old before she ran away and into the waiting arms of a weary father.