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Moria, a Short Story by Caroline Siebbeles

Moria, on the Greek island of Lesvos.


 “Two miles to go to camp,” say walkie-talkie man. His uniform is blue, secret languageon his sleeve, I see A and S, like in alphabet song we sing in English class, and M fallen on its side, like a spring I can press, E Λ Λ A S. The road is dark, cars toot, zig zag, all the people too tired to step aside in the ditch. “One more mile,” uniform man shouts. Light far away and some tents I see. People say we go to Moria, I think is good. She mother of baby Jesus we learn at school. I climb up the hill, stench go in my nose, flipflops say splash and sloshslosh, my yellow dress touch mud. When I come close I see tiny tents, for children I think, but people say no, and shoo us away. Stars are the roof, stones on the ground, just the same as home. Mama put me down under tree, olive I know, my body feel stingy things. Mama say sleep and she hug me close.


My home in Syria, loud bangs I hear, my hands on my ears, mama say bombs fall from the sky, she grab me down the stairs like she is the wind. We wait in the dark, my torch I shine on mama’s face, all grey with dust. She pray to Allah, please stop his planes, I think Assad is his name.

We come up from the basement, the rooms are gone, one big space filled with big stones everywhere. I look up and see stars, I look down and see roof on the floor, floor is dust, everything upside down. Smoke in my nose, itchy sting in my throat. Mama pull at her hair, her voice like the peacock in the zoo. I go look for Barbie under all things broken, chair filled with glass, steel wire sticking out, bits of sofa, TV screen gone, now an empty box. She is inside, half her face dented, one blue eye pressed in, her long blond braid beautiful, a plastic leg come off.


On beach mama give money to big hairy man. He give me orange present, he say it is vest with magic air. When we go on the dinghy I afraid, I cannot swim, but he say we relax, and he make engine start. But he jump overboard, all people fear shout, boat go up and down, a boy clutch engine stick, all men sit on the rubber edge to make dingy quiet. We all alone on the water now. Mama bend over me and say “we go to a big white tent, under olive trees, with figs and oranges growing, a Cinderella sleeping bag and Barbie dolls to play.” She hum a song, her voice so sweet, her breath like dates, she whisper in my ear, “I will always be there.” She clasp my hand, so firm it hurt. Dinghy rise up and fall down, I feel sick and scared. Then water come, mama’s hand let go. People cry and laugh, my feet feel sand so hard, I cry and laugh too. A woman lift me from the rubber boat. I see tattoo bird on her arm, olive branch in its beak. She like Barbie with long blond hair, but my Barbie wear heels not rubber boots. I see wet on Barbie woman cheeks. Her yellow T-shirt has Smiley looking at me. I turn up the corners of my mouth with my thumbs. I see big pile of same orange vest I got from the man. Tattoo woman say “I find your mama” and she put her smiley shirt over my head. I spin around in my new yellow dress. Then I hear mama’s voice angry, “I not see you, why you change your clothes!”


Something hit me and I wake up, three boys kick a ball. I see barbed wire I not see last night. Old woman wake up next to me, stretch out her wrinkled hand. I help her stand up, she shuffles to fire where a big boy make tea. There is other boy he push little girl in dirty dress, he tie her hands to a fence. She no dog I think but she not make a sound. A man with sad eyes, two water bottles on the ends of a stick, he lifts the weight, like I saw in a film. Mama say we go to Dixie, to pee. I think she a nice girl, to share her toilet with us. I tell my belly to stop make funny sounds. “There is foodline down the hill,” old woman say. The boys shout “We take you,” they jump one leg, then other, “tap only clear ground, chicken-bones, bottles, food and poop you cannot touch.” A river of water like coffee we jump over, my feet all wet, a dead rat floating, garbage bags spill waste. When we come to the bottom of the hill I see no line of food, only people in line.


A girl, brown curls like me, come running to boy, green cap over his eyes. She pull at his sleeve, run away and come back, again and again. Why he let her do I do not understand. I see red scars on the inside of his arm. He try tattoo I think but it does not look nice.


“Habibi,” say a tall woman, a plastic card on a green cord around her neck. She give plastic card to other women, but we do not get. I see letters I know, U N H C R. “You’re not allowed to take pictures of refugee people,” she say to them. “And don’t let the children become attached to you.” Attached I don’t know, she friendly face, all children laugh and cling to her legs. “Alibaba,” she say and push them away. She look at my flipflops and say “Just wait, I go in ISO box to find you shoes.” I scared of ISIL but she say “it’s okay.” She come back with white shoes, a swoosh on the side. I put them on, they too big, but I say thankyousomuch.


Caroline Siebbeles was born in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, where she teaches English Literature. She has written short stories in English, her story ‘Moria’, narrated from the point of view of a Syrian refugee girl arriving at a Greek camp, was published in the book ‘Wegvluchten’ (Fleeing). She has an MA in English Literature, Drama and Film. Currently she is working on a novel, set in the post-war years in the Netherlands. She is also a human rights activist, she worked in refugee camps and is co-founder of ‘Wake Amsterdam’, an Action group that fights for a humane migration policy.


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