Editor’s note: This story is inspired by real events. It is part three of a story about an Afghan man – the writer’s brother – who left Iran illegally in order to escape prejudice and seek a better life.

We quickly inflated the boat, then took our clothes and shoes off and put them in the boat bag. We did this to avoid making a hole in the boat. It was so cold I was shivering. Quietly, the six of us began to count: “One, two, and three…” and quickly ran with the boat to the sea, trying not to get our feet wet. We jumped in and sat down. I picked up the oars and began to slowly row. At first, the boat turned in circles because I didn’t know how to row. One of the guys pretended to cough, trying not laugh. The others looked nervous, cold, tired and a little agitated because I couldn’t make the boat go straight. After five minutes, I got the hang of it and began pulling away from the shoreline.

The calm sea was a friend to us. In the dawning light, the islands still looked as if we could touch them. We whispered to each other, wondering which islands were part of Turkey and which belonged to Greece. We decided that the furthest one from us had to be Greece.

As I rowed and the sun began to rise, it looked as if the islands we were aiming for were all connected. I didn’t know what the others were thinking or if they noticed. I just prayed that I was taking them to Greece and not Turkey. The memory of finding places on a map with my friends as a boy flashed through my mind. I was so good at that game. How different, I thought, is a real situation.

The light-gray color of the sea washed everything in gray. Clouds covered the sun. Off in the distance, a big ship moved toward us. As it grew closer, I kept rowing. We all watched in silence as the ship approached. It was a Greek Coast Guard ship.

I stopped rowing and reached for the boat bag, grabbing a knife from my pants pocket. I told the group to be ready because I was going to destroy the boat. My companions were wide-eyed and speechless. I could see looks of doubt on their faces. I remember thinking, “What if the Coast Guard does not pull us out?” I didn’t want to look at their faces because I knew some of them could not swim well. I heard one call to me, “Farhad, they won’t save us.” But there was no time for hesitation. If I didn’t cut up the boat, they would probably return us to Turkey.

The Greek Coast Guard ship arrived fast upon us. Our boat had three layers; I had to tear them one by one. As the ship was almost alongside the boat, I quickly tore the bottom of the boat. Within a minute, we were sitting in the water. The sea took the rubber of the boat away from our bodies. As our boat sank, I could see our clothes floating out of the boat bag.

As the Coast Guard crew threw out rescue rings, I pushed them toward the weaker swimmers and then swam around behind them so I could keep an eye on everyone. The reaction of the Coast Guard was very quick, but for some of the guys it was a long torture. The water seemed to grow colder by the second. I was so cold I was numb, and I could see many of my companions shivering as they gripped the rings with fear. After they fished us out of the sea, they used a hook to catch our clothes floating on the surface.

When we arrived on deck, a guard kicked me for tearing up the boat. I doubled over. My hand had been cut by the knife and my blood stained the deck of the boat. The crew threw a bucket of water onto the deck and then they gave me some towels to put on my wound.

As I wrapped the towels around my hand, I could see that the ship was moving toward the island we had been rowing towards. I was soon to learn its name: Mytilene.

To be continued…

By Mina M.