They Went To The Beach Too

I look at you lying there and my heart swells like my belly was once swollen. I hover between relief and love: relief that you’re finally asleep, relief that now we can both finally rest. Your arms splayed out carelessly tell me you’re comfortable, that you’re safe.  Splashed across the sandy cushion, dark brown locks float to the surface around you, a halo of protection, supporting your head.  I see your mouth is slightly open, like a fish’s mouth and your lips paler and your rose-tinted cheeks whiter than usual.  I watch your belly, exposed since your red rainbow T-shirt has ridden up under your arms in the battle to put you down, but your stomach is still protected and warm under your chalky white vest, creased and worn.  Since you left my swell and became your own, the baby-swell has not left your belly and it rises and falls, rhythmic and reassuring.  Feet together, legs slightly apart, one dashed carelessly against the sofa, one standing erect, ready to spring up.  Your socks, where you’ve pulled them, make your feet look distended, longer, almost reaching for me, like fingers clawing desperately for a shore.  

I look at your feet and I’m taken back to when we had a day of firsts: we took you to the beach with your cousins so you could experience sand and the sea; so you could see how close I lived to the feeling of freedom.  I splashed in the sea with you on my back and you loved it, kicking up the waves as they lapped at me, at us, we were one and the same.  We wanted you to experience everything so took off your shoes but you couldn’t put your feet in the sand so you drew your legs up into yourself: it was too new, too much, too cold, too sand for you.  

As you stretch out to touch me with your distended feet, turning your head to the left, sighing in your sleep, I see her.  She went to the beach too.  Her spotty dress and grey leggings are peppered with a light sandy blanket and her head is turned in relief, relief that she can now rest. She is about your age.  Her eyes, like yours, half-open, look brown and shiny. Her mother knew she might be cold at the beach: she’s wearing a full-sleeved vest under that blue and white polka-dot dress, leggings to keep her legs warm.  There’s a wet sandy pillow beneath her head, turned to the side.  Ocean-blue lips, open and enquiring tell me about her day at the beach: splashing, so much splashing. It was too much, too cold, too wet. 

Further along the same stretch, an older girl went to the beach too.  Her red shirt ridden-up under her armpits, exposes her smooth chalky white skin, her vest-less belly swollen and distended, not a baby-swell.  She lies face down in her crumpled foamy pillow, arms strewn carelessly under her head, eyes closed, face turned slightly to one side, mouth covering the relief that she can now rest.  Her dark hair forms a halo, billowing to the surface; her hands, burrowing into her gritty pillow, hold on.  Wet pink jeans sit atop a camel-coloured mattress, clinging soapily to her legs, desperate to stay on as the waves lap at them both.  The foamy sheets and her wet clothes tell me about her day at the beach: splashing, so much splashing.  It was too much, too cold, too wet.  

When you’re all grown up, I’ll tell you the story of how you went to the beach.  You went to the beach. Just like them, they went to the beach too.  

Please, if anyone feels compelled to share this, do not attach pictures. 

A Letter from One Mother to Another

Dear Irresponsible Migrant Mother,

What exactly were you thinking when you woke your children in the dead of the  night, picking up the baby still asleep?  Don’t you know how important it is for children to get enough sleep? They’ll be cranky during the day if they don’t sleep enough.  They won’t develop properly if you keep doing this.  Children need routine.  That baby you’re holding needs to be warm and comfortable, cocooned and safe, like a tiny bud, waiting to bloom in the morning. Those toddlers won’t be able to walk the miles you want them to in the black night in worn out shoes without a good night’s sleep.

What’s that? Speak up.  You had to travel at night? It was safer? It was quieter? There was less chance of being discovered? Less chance of being caught if it was dark and the threat that hung over you was asleep.  I don’t know about that; I slept in my own bed last night, with my baby and my husband.

But you made them walk for miles before you reached the first border.  Those children will be shattered.  They will be hungry.  You gave them the last food you had when you got into the truck.  You should have been more careful with your food and drink, there was always a chance it would run out before you got where you needed to go.  Don’t you know, children need nutritious meals and snacks throughout the day if they are to be healthy and develop into healthy, intelligent adults? Those chocolate bars you saved are not going to be sufficiently nutritious as a meal in the morning.

What’s that you say? You saved them because you will need to keep the children quiet when you get into the next truck? You’ll need to stop them from crying from hunger pangs as you don’t want to be caught? You grabbed whatever you could when the last bomb went off on your street? What else were you supposed to do, there was no other food? They came for your husband? I wouldn’t know about that; we had chilli con carne with boiled rice last night.  We had lots leftover so I put them in the fridge for today for when my husband gets back from work.

You didn’t even pack any toys for them.  Your little boy has his teddy and the baby has her blanket, but don’t you think they will need more stimulation?  Children need a variety of stimuli to help them learn through play.  They don’t need expensive electronic toys, but they definitely need more than what you brought with you.  They need to be kept engaged and stimulated to help them to develop cognitively.  They need to have fun, after all they’re children. You’ll have to make do with talking to them lots instead and try to increase their vocabulary on the journey; perhaps make up some games and songs to make it more fun.

Sorry, speak up? It was more important to grab food and supplies than toys?  You forgot in your haste? You’re embarrassed to tell me these are all the toys that your children have since your family home was destroyed?  You can’t talk to them, you have to keep them quiet? The group you’re with says it’s safer to travel in silence, especially when the truck gets checked at the border? Especially when you board a precariously balanced boat in the middle of the night? Especially when you’re trying to sneak under a fence, through razor sharp wire? What are you supposed to do to keep your children happy? You want to turn it all into a game but you don’t know how?  I really can’t help you there I’m afraid; you see, my child has lots of toys, plenty of educational materials and cuddly animals, but she also plays with my things; often I sit and play with her and we make up songs and stories.  I’d like to believe she’s quite happy playing with me; I have lots of imagination sat on the floor of our living room.

Whatever were you thinking? That truck doesn’t seem very safe.  There seem to be an awful lot of people in there. It’ll be terribly dark with the doors closed. The blackness might engulf you all, opening up and swallowing your children in its toothless ebony mouth.  What were you thinking? That dinghy doesn’t look very stable, especially in the ocean.  And those life jackets on the children won’t stay inflated for long.  The water seems treacherous and icy, lapping greedily at the sides of your tiny vessel.  It’s biding its time, waiting for you, wanting you; you can see it licking its lips, licking the sides of your inflatable hotel, waiting for a taste. What exactly were you thinking? There is no shelter beyond that barbed wire; it’s just an open field.  It’s just more running, picking up the children, running, dragging them with you, running.  The border guards pushing you back with their riot shields won’t know about your children underfoot; they won’t know about the baby as she clings to you, screaming.  What were you thinking?

What are you saying? I can’t hear you, you’ll have to speak up.  You didn’t know what else to do? You were desperate? It wasn’t safe where you were? The threat of death clung to you all, threatening to snatch you, so you grabbed whatever was precious and ran? It wasn’t safe so you ran? It wasn’t safe on land so you took to a cramped truck, an open field, a tiny boat balanced precariously on a greedy ocean? I wouldn’t know about any of that; you see, my child is napping while I type this letter to you, on the sofa, next to me, perfectly safe.  I might even cover her with her blanket to make her more comfortable.

You really must speak up, I’m struggling to hear you.  I’m struggling to hear you through the blackness of that truck, through the gaping hole of that ebony mouth that seems to have swallowed you.  I can’t quite make out what you’re saying while you are pushed against that riot shield, the crowd surging like a tide behind you, forcing you forward though you don’t want it, squeezing your children.  I’m straining to hear you from the salivating lips of that greedy ocean, licking you up, like a gourmet meal, spitting you out.

There you are: washed up on the shore, wet and bloated. There are your children peacefully blue from the icy lips of the water.  I can’t hear you, but there you all are.