Carolyn Batcheler

Refuge

He stood, waiting in the cold. He was cold to the core of his bones, cold so he had ceased to feel his feet for, well, he just couldn’t remember for how long. He looked down at his fingers to check that they were still there. There were others before him in the line but he was moving slowly towards his goal. He had waited all night as he didn’t want to loose his place, gradually a few folk ahead of him had fallen away and he had moved forward. At one point the guy behind him had slumped asleep, upright with his head on his shoulder. He’d pushed him away, and then felt bad when he heard him fall to the ground. It was a guaranteed way to loose your place in the queue. There was a wave of hope that passed along as the morning light began to show. The shuffling and real movement didn’t start till the guy with power moved to the hut of decision.

It seemed like hours until he started work properly. He made tea and ate his breakfast in full view of those in the line. The majority had not eaten for days, and took sips of water from bottles just to stay alive. Today the glow from an electric fire was a bright focus. He disappeared for a while and came back with a pile of paperwork, the guy at the head of the line tried gently tapping on the little window but was ignored. After a while he opened the window and as the first applicant reached forward he snapped it shut again, and moved to the back of the hut before beginning. Each set of papers were examined and then stamped, for good or bad, but at least there was movement. It was nearly his turn when the guy went for his lunch. The guy at the head of the queue showed his disgust by pissing against the side of the cabin, and a gentle rumble of appreciation was heard amongst the fellow travellers. He had lost count of how many lines he had stood in, either for food, papers, transport and occasionally a bed, it was all queues and walking. A mind-numbing sadness had overtaken hope early on, but the goal had been set months ago at his parents’ fireside, so it was for the love of them that he kept going. His own needs were no longer of any importance, or value. He was no longer sure how far he had travelled, or how long he had to go, he couldn’t remember when he had last talked to someone he knew, but he did recall his mothers’ last words so he could not just lie down and die, as he had seen others do.

Eventually the slow grind forward began again and he felt like his legs were like that of a fixed statue that once stood in his hometown square. He no longer took notice as to whether his fellow got a positive response but the guy ahead of him did. He wasn’t sure what that meant for him but his hands shook as he handed his meagre documents over. He tried to speak but the man just held up his hand to curb his words. His papers were stared at, and examined, but he still felt the need to try and explain his case. He had been planning his words for weeks. The phone rang in the hut and the man talked and laughed with whoever was on the other end. Laughter was a distant memory, a thing belonging to others and it was a shock. The call seemed to run on and on, and he swayed as he gripped the edge of the hut to remain upright. He could smell food in the hut, not just bread, but spicy meat and onions. There was a cup of warm tea almost within his grasp, but he dare not take it. And then he was back looking at his papers, glancing at the words, slurping the tea, and picking up the stamp to say “No”

 

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