Should we die before we wake, I pray to God our souls to take.
I prayed silently as I claimed a corner of the crowded deck and wrapped my children in their silver survival blankets. I dare not speak the words aloud. My son, nine years old, already brave as a lion, was singing to his little sister, calming her as she clutched her precious dolly. I could not betray his courage by sharing my anxieties.
There were already scores of people on board and still more to come.
“When you board you must stay on deck. It will be cold, but better that than to be trapped in a cabin.”
My husband’s words, the day before he was arrested and taken from me.
Farid was a minor civil servant, a clever, modest man, making a quiet living working for the ruling council. A few months ago he instructed me to make plans for our escape. I remonstrated, unaccustomed to taking orders. Before my marriage I had been a doctor, decisive, independent.
“Amira! Listen! This is no time for debate. The regime is changing. I will be forever tainted by my proximity to the old politicians. If we flee we have a chance of freedom; if we stay I fear imprisonment and worse.”
We prepared in secret, gathering supplies for the long journey to Europe. Farid delicately sliced through layers of red tape to negotiate our passage. He believed the ship’s captain to be an honest man, but this was no luxury cruise to exotic places. There would be no stamps in our passports to show off to the neighbours. Farid paid a premium to ensure that the captain did not switch boats halfway and leave us stranded, but the dread remained. We delayed our journey, unwilling to leave our comfortable present for an uncertain future. We lingered too long.
“If I am taken, you must go. I promise to join you later.”
His eyes willed me to believe him, though we both knew that no-one escaped from Libya’s prisons. Nonetheless, the lie gave me hope and purpose.
The sun was shining when we embarked, the ship’s wake the most turbulent feature of the glassy sea. I prayed for tranquil weather as I protected my children from the trampling feet of other families jostling for position. God granted my prayers for two days then a storm rolled over us. The overloaded boat capsized.
I am drifting on flotsam. I cling to my daughter’s dolly. It is all I have left of my family. The mirror sea is sprinkled with the reflections of countless stars. They are beautiful, but I yearn to tell my daughter that they are not as beautiful as her smile. I long to hear my son reciting the names of the constellations. I crave my husband’s shy devotion and the warmth of his pride.
But the sea lies between us.