Editor’s note: This story is inspired by real events. It is part four 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.
The wind was blowing; I could feel its pull. The wind, the blue sky, the sea, and sun—all accompanied me to Mytilene. My eyes followed the horizon but my mind was in another world. I couldn’t believe we had passed one of the most difficult parts of our journey or how I had jeopardized my friends and my life by tearing the boat up. Did I do the right thing? My heart started to beat calmly and strongly. I felt proud and ambitious—like a king—for overcoming all the ups and downs and succeeding, victorious. We sailed slowly through the water until we arrived at a place with land on either side, like a very big canal.
They took us to the harbor of Mytilene. Bashir’s and Omar’s clothes were gone; thanks purely to chance, I could put on my green blouse and sleeping pants. Ghulam was barefoot and had only a pair of shorts. We were brought to a police officer who took some information about our names, ages, and nationalities. In response to his questions, we lied, fearing that the truth would get us deported. Later we were taken to a hospital. Bashir said, “How nice and kind they are!” but afterward we realized how suspicious they were of us and I felt sick about the way they had viewed us.
At the hospital, they scanned our bodies thoroughly, focusing mostly on our stomachs. When the X-ray machine came over my abdomen, I realized they were examining us to see if we had smuggled drugs in our stomachs. Finally we were taken to a camp located at the top of a green hill in Mytilene about 30 minutes away. Sitting in the police car, I had an inner conversation with myself: what if I couldn’t succeed in this risky journey?
When they opened the door of the camp, we saw a giant building. Immigrants circled us and asked why Bashir, Qulam, and Omar had no clothes, so I told the story of how we had been pulled out of the water. Yusuf and Hashem, two Arab brothers, brought us food and something to wear. Later, a monitor broke the group into two parts. I was sent to the section for those over 18 years old, and my friends were sent to the section for under 18. They didn’t know my real age, but because I was bigger physically, they thought I was older than my friends.
In my section there was a big room with more than 500 beds. I took a bed next to the window. Every day around noon, a car arrived with food for the immigrants. I used to sit on my bed in order to see the camp better, and every day I would watch as new immigrants arrived and some immigrants left. We had been informed that we would have to stay for a week, and after fingerprinting us, they would let us leave the camp by issuing us a formal pass letter. Without that paper, we were not allowed to leave the camp, and we could not buy a ticket for Aton, our next destination.
After spending a couple days in the camp, I learned my way around. I discovered the monitors placed families together on the top floors and singles downstairs. There were many Africans and Arabs in the camp. A week passed but they didn’t fingerprint me. I was bored and restless and didn’t know why they were ignoring me. I went to the police officers several times, but they refused to take my fingerprints and never explained the reason. I thought maybe because I had torn the boat, they were keeping me in the camp or planning to deport me. I couldn’t sleep at night, worrying about the situation.
Seven days later, a monitor called my name and gave me the pass paper. They also brought my fellow travelers, and we were told we were free to leave the camp.
I could not believe they were letting us leave without fingerprinting. I hadn’t seen my friends for two weeks, and we hugged excitedly. Bashir asked me, “What spell did you cast on the police that they would let us leave without fingerprinting?”
I told him, “I hypnotized them. Now let’s walk faster—if they wake up, we will be arrested.”
It was still afternoon and we were all feeling cheerful, so we went to the seaport. But our happiness didn’t last long, because we discovered that we couldn’t get a ship ticket for Aton right away. It was close to Christmas; and the tickets were sold out. Worse was that Ali and Rasoul found they had lost their money in the sea.
We had to stay there and wait for the next ship we could get on, reserving the tickets for three days later. The price for a ticket to Aton was 170 euro. Bashir, Omar, and I each gave some money to Ali and Rasoul to buy tickets.
Although the weather was cruelly cold, we passed those three days hardily. We made a small shelter with two blankets that Bashir had gotten from a clergyman. We could really feel the coldness in our bones. Fortunately, Omar had a good sense of humor, and thanks to his jokes, we could spend the three days motivated by his happiness and laughter.
Finally the day came for leaving Mytilene. It was six o’clock in the morning when we arrived on the ship.
We went to the top deck to watch as the ship got farther and farther from Mytilene. When we could no longer see it, we went back to our place in the cargo hold (we hadn’t had enough money to reserve a cabin) to sleep. Our clothes had become very dirty and smelly, and I don’t remember how I was able to fall asleep. Early the next day, the engines seemed to have quieted down and the ship was moving slowly. We went up to the deck to see where we were and were surprised to find that we were very close to the Athens harbor. Our ship was about to dock.
To be continued…
By Mina M.
photo: Aton peak, Greece, by K. Velchev