'Departures' by Vicky Newham
The trucks bring new arrivals at night. Food deliveries and refuse collections take place in the daytime when it doesn’t matter which watchful eyes see what. But new arrivals are sneaked in when the shadows have appeared, when the sun is resting and the moon is in charge.
Do they assume that we are all asleep? That we’ve drifted into molten dreams and will allow sin to tap on our souls? Like words that drip from a serpent’s tongue, survival, they tell us, relies on co-operation. Ours. With no currency or traction, we cannot argue with their experiments.
I hear the trucks every time. I prime my ears for the warning signs. And as tyres crunch on gravel, I am wrenched from the agony of insomnia or, if I’m lucky, from slumber’s ambivalent embrace.
it’s a dog’s bark which wakes me and I slip from my bed, pull on clothes from the floor and steal across the dormitory. But deaf ears have heard the same as me. Eyes watch me leave while questions and empathy drown in the sluggish synapses of medicated brains.
In the yard, torch light slices through the night. The chosen ones wait. They’ve been given their orders and are ready to stow the cargo as quickly as possible. Lorry engines chugger-chug through the darkness, blurring the edges of silence. While attention is focused on the children, I tiptoe along the path and crouch down in my usual hideout in the undergrowth. It’s the voices which betray the nature of the consignment. Adults, who’ve been instructed to whisper, hiss urgent questions. Receive mumbled replies from those whose tongues have been sewn and whose eyes bleed with guilt – because fear has eclipsed truth again.
Dark-adapted, I watch as the children clamber down from the lorries. Their blurry outlines are wisps in the air. The smell of their fear reminds me of my own. Age and gender are both irrelevant, what matters most is how many there are. Some collapse off the lorry and drop to the ground like rags, eyes deadened from sleep deprivation and hunger, bodies weakened by the black blood which clogs their veins.
Herded inside, or carried like corpses, they are left in the quarantine dorm with the clothes of the dead and a door with a lock. Here, they won’t dare wonder whether they will ever feel safe again. And when they appear at breakfast in a few hours from now, they will shield their sparrow-like eyes, their ghostly pallor and pitted cheeks, and pretend they’ve been here all the time.
And I will check my numbers to ensure I’ve counted right.
For all of us here, integrity and fear collide. And survival depends on transcending both. It relies on counting. But even then, there are no guarantees that when luck spins she will find in your favour.
When sin’s hammer falls, will she point at me?
You see, each new arrival means one of us dies.