How I came to your country
I came here over the sea. I was on the sea for a long time, I felt it moving but I never saw it until the end. The Captain said, stay hidden down there. If they find you they will send you back. They will send you back.
And so we stayed hiding in the dark and my dad told me everything about your country. It was hot down there, there was no room to move. The air got thick until I couldn’t breathe and I dreamed my mouth was full of dirt. But my dad told me about the jumping animals that sleep in the day and wake up at night. They are not dogs or rats or horses, he said, but something in between and they keep their babies in their pockets.
I was thirsty and my dad gave me water but then there was no more, only outside the boat, only outside. I asked him, are you thirsty dad? Are you hungry? And my dad said, where we are going there is too much food to eat and the sun always shines, even when it’s raining. There is no fear in that country. The people sit around drinking cold drinks and telling jokes. When they are strong they work and at night they sleep quietly, when they are hungry they can eat and if they want to go somewhere, no one will stop them.
People cried in the dark listening to my dad’s stories. They scratched the walls like mice. Some of them lay quiet and started to smell bad. But my dad told me, all the kids have bicycles. They catch the bus to school and after school they go swimming in the sea. It’s a good place, he said, nice people. You’ll be happy, you’ll be happy.
At the end, when everyone was quiet, Men opened the door and pulled us up into the light. It hurt my eyes at first but then I saw the sea.
My dad’s not here now. Men took him to the dentist and he didn’t come back. I think his teeth hurt him a lot, he couldn’t even talk before they took him and he cried at night.
There were other people from the boat here too, before. Some of them were nice to me, some of them rocked back and forward like they were still on the sea. We were all together in one room, I slept on the floor with my dad. Men let us go outside sometimes but not close to the fence. We were in a burning country made out of sand. It went on and on like a red plate under the sun and very far away I could see red hills that looked like they were made of sand too. There were no trees, only small plants like on the bottom of the sea. That’s how my dad knew we were quite near your country – he said the hills were the end of the sand country and the sea was on the other side.
It was hot in the little room with all the bodies. Flies every day, crawling on the rocking men, going round and round nowhere. Sometimes at night when people cried and scratched I thought I was still inside the boat. I asked my dad when we could go to the country in his stories, when I could swim in the sea. He said, there’s a window but you can’t open it, you can’t open it.
There were some other kids but the bus didn’t come to take us to school. Sometimes we found things in the bin to play with but most of the time it was too hot. Then I just sat with my dad. One time some visitors came from your country to see us. They sang and called to us outside the fence but they couldn’t come in. My dad whispered, go round to the other side where the sea is and maybe we can come to the fence. But we were locked inside and the visitors went away. Then Men told dad it was his turn for the dentist.
One day after my dad left, a rocking man got up and went outside. I followed him to see what would happen. He went right up to the fence and when he got there he turned into an angel. Big orange wings came bursting out of him everywhere and he went flying all over the place and he sang to me in the voices of God. Men heard him singing. They came running and broke off his wings till he fell down on the ground. Then I went up close and saw him. Bits of him kept on jumping while he lay there, like he had small animals inside. He was black and his hair was gone and another thing is angels don’t have any skin, just what’s underneath.
After I saw that angel, they all stopped talking to me and, one by one, they went away. I’ve been waiting for my turn. Men leave me food and water but I don’t need it because of what I’ve seen. I think about your country – the place we were going to before we came here. And I can see through the fence to the red hills where this place ends and your country starts. That’s where the others have gone. The kids are swimming after school and Dad is there and Mum and my sisters and all the people who sang outside the fence and they’re sitting around drinking cold drinks and telling jokes and when they want to go somewhere, no one stops them. And soon I am going too. The gates will open for me and I’ll walk out of here and Men won’t stop me because they’ll know it’s my turn, it’s my turn. I’ll walk over the sand until I come to the red hills and I will climb the hills to the top and when I look down everyone will be there waiting and you will be smiling to welcome me and I will not be afraid then because I will be in your country.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Clare Moleta grew up in WA and has a Writing Diploma from RMIT in Melbourne. Since moving back to New Zealand in 2005 she has been a finalist in the Katherine Mansfield short story competition, won Travcom’s New Travel Writer of the Year award and had work published in Sport 34. Most recently she has been writing for the Herald on Sunday and AA Directions magazine.