My lungs feel as if I’m sucking in shards of glass. I can’t breathe, I’m not sure I want to. I try to shut out the image of Ahmed’s baby boy. An hour ago he had been smiling at us both. He had been turning his soother around in his mouth, a trick his father made him do for everyone who would watch. Looking at him made me forget for a moment where we were, where we had come from. I could shut out the smell of vomit and faeces, the look of wretchedness etched on every single face as we bob aimlessly in the ocean. Looking at Ahmed’s boy gave me hope that I might someday live to have children.
It had started with the sound of panic on the far side of the boat. It moved liked the waves around us until we were all consumed with a fear so deep it paralysed us for moments. We were a people used to fear and yet in those moments I had never felt a terror so immediate. We were taking on water and our desperate attempts to throw it out were as pointless as digging holes in the surf. I don’t know how long the screams went on for, how long I watched mothers and fathers desperately tie their children to their bodies trying to maximise the use of the scarce life jackets we had been given.We had all seen the news, we all knew how this could end. Human nature is easily disguised but I have never seen it as raw as I did in those final moments before we began to sink. Scrambling,squabbling, screaming, crying, whimpering and then a silence more chilling than the water we were immersed in. I cling onto a piece of wood and look for Ahmed among all the debris and bobbing bodies. The water is getting rougher by the moment and colder.
‘Kader help me’ Ahmed’s is swimming towards me and he is trying to cling on to a large plastic petrol bottle with one hand as he holds his boy with the other.
‘Please take Amal.’ His lips are blue and he can barely talk ‘Please’.
I grab the silent bundle from him and it takes me a moment to realise that he has died. I stare down at his blue face and I know there is no hope.
‘Ttttthank you.’ His convulsing stops. Over his shoulder I see a huge swell of water coming towards us, I open my mouth to shout but all I see is black as I feel the shards of glass course through me.
I am one of the lucky ones. I was rescued by a ship called LÉ Eithne and taken in by a kind Irish family. Today they are putting up their Christmas tree.
‘You probably don’t celebrate Christmas’ Sheela smiles at me, almost apologetically.
‘I’m alive, I’ll celebrate’.