Jones didn’t sleep. No-one slept. Sometime tomorrow they would see land, yet none of them knew what sort of welcome they would receive. A silence had enveloped the boat, save for the throbbing of the engine. As dawn light shimmered over the crests of the waves, Jones staggered to the deck. He was thirsty, but there was no longer any water. Only a few hours to go. Black clouds in the distance would soon bring darkness and rain. Jones strained his eyes to see land. Sarah appeared at his side.
“How do you know?” Jones asked, fear gripping the pit of his stomach.
“Jimmy has made this trip before.”
Sarah turned and stumbled away, the hem of her skirt filthy and torn, the soles of her feet black from the days at sea. Her shoulders were hunched over against the howling wind, brother to the black clouds.
Jones kept staring out to sea, looking for land. A glimpse. Was that it or were his eyes playing tricks? He looked away, blinked, turned back. YES! Land. He could have a shower. Food. A glass of wine, maybe.
Another engine sound pierced the wind. A small plane flew overhead, circled a couple of times and then flew towards the land. Madagascar, it had to be Madagascar.
The boat ploughed ahead as the waves grew higher, responding to the dance invitation of the wind.
Jones figured one hour, maybe slightly more and he would be off this wretched vessel. He would be free.
The next thirty minutes were maybe the slowest of his life. Those minutes were also the most peaceful. The only sounds were the wind and the waves. The engine sound was muffled by the power of nature.
The coast was now visible, but there was no sign of civilisation. Where the hell, Jones wondered, was Jimmy landing the boat? Surely somewhere where they would be processed, if not welcomed. Jones fought his way to the wheelhouse where Jimmy was intently studying the radar screen.
“Jimmy, where are we landing?”
“We must land without being detected. If we are detected at sea we will be turned back. That plane will already have reported us, so I must take evasive measures. If you are found on land, they will not turn you back.”
“What will you do after dropping us of?”
“I go back”, stated Jimmy, “There are more people to save.”
Jones saw his hopes of a shower, clean clothes and food vanishing rapidly.
Jimmy steered the boat into a small cove and sailed as close to the beach as he could get. Those who could swim were told to swim to the beach. Those who could not were loaded into the small life boat and rowed to the beach. Jones hadn’t swum for years but he could not bring himself to displace a child from the life boat.
He set out for the beach, being careful to not tire himself. Everyone was weak, they would land exhausted. He let the current carry him when he could to reserve energy. Sarah was swimming near him and he was stunned, although didn’t understand why he was stunned, at how professional she looked gliding through the water. She reached the beach before him and searched for her daughter among the children watching from the beach. Jones kept swimming, praying his arms would hold out. The rain was torrential and the wind so strong. The children were huddled together, praying their parents would reach them.
He felt sand beneath his feet and crawled the last few metres to dry land. They needed to find water. Urgently. Jones raised himself to his feet and found Sarah. He knew she would be planning ahead.
“We need to find water”, he rasped.
“Yes”, Sarah responded as her eyes scanned the bush. “There”, she pointed at a patch of bush greener than the surrounding area, “it looks like there may be a creek over there.”
They all followed Sarah’s direction, a ragged group of men, women and children desperate for food and water. At least we are alive, Jones thought. Sarah was right: as they rounded the curve in the beach, they saw the creek. From somewhere Sarah pulled a small glass flask and scooped up some water. Holding it up to the little prevailing light, it looked clean. But who would know? There was no way they could test this water. They had no way of lighting a fire in this storm and boiling the water. Jimmy had left them some lighters and two aluminium pots, brought to shore in the life boat. The pots would not catch enough rain water for them all to drink. Jones turned and looked out to sea: Jimmy and the boat were gone. They were on their own.
Jones felt he was dying of thirst. He grabbed one of the pots and filled it. He was about to drink when the soldiers shouted. He didn’t understand the words, but he knew the tone of voice. He froze. Beside him he sensed Sarah stand erect and turn to face the soldiers. “We seek asylum. Please help us.”
Everyone in the group followed Sarah’s lead and turned to face the soldiers. As they moved closer, Jones realised they were police, not soldiers. The police had brought safe water with them. Without saying a word, they motioned the children forward to drink from the canteens. Then the women, lastly the men. As Jones approached, he felt the eyes of one of the policemen piercing his soul. Involuntarily he shuddered. Was there no-where he would ever feel safe again?
The policemen herded the group along the beach. Still not a word had been spoken since Sarah had pleaded for help. Down a short dirt track through the bush which lead to a muddy road where three trucks were parked. The police motioned for the group to climb into the back of the trucks. They were driven to the compounds. Horrific compounds. Jones remembered the Manus Inquiry, but these were worse. So many people behind 12-foot cyclone fencing. So many people. The police vehicles pulled up in front of one compound and motioned for the group to get off the trucks.
They were again herded, this time to the gates of the closest compound. The gates were opened enough for one person at a time to enter and the group filed through. Jones was last to enter the compound. As he cleared the gate an inmate lunged at him with a length of barbed wire, razing it across his throat. Jones felt warm liquid running down his chest as blood spurted from the ripped flesh. He felt his head swim and his eyes close as he fell.
Continued at Pain.