In the near future, in a land on the edge of Empire not far, far away….
I look into his eyes. And see nothing. No flicker of emotion. No spark of humanity. Just cold and hard, matter-of-fact. He thrusts a life jacket into my shaking hands and shoves along me after the others, a bedraggled snaking line of thirty people. We clamber down the last few slippery rain-soaked steps cut into the cliff to reach the isolated shingle beach below. Barely visible in the early morning gloom beyond the line of breaking waves I see the outline of a fishing boat moored alongside a short stone jetty built in the lee of the rocks. This boat is taking me to a new life.
I sink ankle deep into the wet shingle and my feet crunch across the beach. The wind drops, the squally shower ceases and the steely grey light is now tinged with threads of gold. There is a sense of urgency and several figures dressed in dark clothing gesticulate towards the jetty and the boat, pushing us along.
I reach the jetty and await my turn, suddenly racked with doubt. Raised voices, an argument breaks out. An older couple lugging a heavy suitcase and another man in black with dead eyes.
“No baggage, no possessions. Space is for people. People pay. Unless you want to pay more?”
The woman screams and the suitcase is abandoned. It’s not the only one.
I take my place on a bench near the wheelhouse. The boat stinks. Reeking of diesel fumes and fish infused with stale sweat, urine and vomit. It doesn’t take any imagination to work out which catch is the most profitable these days. We are shoe-horned aboard, ropes are untied and cast off and the engine coughs and stutters into life to begin the short journey around the point.
I had been desperate to get out for ages. I’d lost my job, was unable to find another, my savings were disappearing and I could see no future in staying. Then I met this man in a pub who knew someone who could offer me a job and a fresh start. An opportunity too good to miss and soon everything was agreed. I just had to make the necessary arrangements, say goodbye to my old life and leave everything and everyone I had ever known behind. It wasn’t easy, the country had changed and these days you had to be careful. Normal channels and procedures were difficult and took time and I realised the only way was a ‘moonlight flit’. Phone calls were made, I spoke to faceless people, money changed hands, instructions were received and my journey began.
Now it is nearing an end. The stench of the boat is fading and I trudge across the firm sand searching for the boardwalk between the dunes and the spiky marram grass to lead me to a rendezvous with a man in a white van on a narrow coastal road.
I find my way. A transit van glints in the early morning sunshine, the driver leans against the side smoking a cigarette and checking his watch. I pass an old millstone at the side of the road and read the now faded lettering.
‘Failte gu Alba’, it says, ‘Welcome to Scotland’.
I turn my back and walk away.
Words Copyright © 2016 by Antony J Waller