It was the silence that engaged my attention as I stood on the edge of the crowd, not a silence of expectation or hope – rather that of pain and knowingness. Huddled side by side, everyone waited. Perhaps a few of them still hoped, still believed, and it was this small glimmer that kept them all standing together as one. Who were they? Why were they here? 

I searched the faces near me looking for someone who could answer my questions. Eyes evaded mine, eyes that were filled with fear. A baby’s cry caught my attention and I reached out to sooth her. Her mother smiled at me in acknowledgement, one parent to another, one human being to another. I moved closer and spoke. 

‘Why are all these people here? What is happening?’ 

‘We are waiting.’ 

I was puzzled. It was a damp drizzly day. The field we all stood in was muddy underfoot. There was neither bus nor train to wait for. What could she mean? 

‘Waiting?’ I queried. 

‘Yes,’ she replied. ‘We are waiting for a decision on our futures. We are waiting for your country to decide whether or not we can stay. We are waiting for our lives to be saved.’ 

‘Where are you all from?’ 

‘Many places. We have travelled from all over the world, fleeing danger, in fear of our own lives and that of our families. We have seen atrocities that made our hearts bleed, walked many miles, tried to breathe as we hid in cramped places, hungry, thirsty and exhausted. We tried to help others and yet…’ She paused, tears pooling in her eyes. 

‘And yet after a while we continued our journey knowing we could not help everyone, that perhaps our own freedom would be of more benefit to them, that the stories we told would be strong enough to open closed hearts and minds. Now…. now I’m no longer sure.’ 



The sound of engines caught my attention. Armoured trucks surged in and surrounded the crowd. Militia spilled out rifles held aloft. Some people broke away from the crowd and ran, but most stood stalwart, strong and silent, hands now reaching out to clasp those of their neighbours. 

The trucks edged closer forcing everyone to move forward, herding them into a tunnel of narrow spaces, each space separated by huge gates. People were now panicking, rushing to get through every gate before they clanged shut – forever. I also ran, carried forward by the momentum of the crowd. 

My hand reached out and grabbed the handrail that ran along the wall. My mind screamed in protest as I felt the collective pool of sweat, blood, and tears seeping into my skin. The rail held no support, no promise of a better day or a better future. 

Tattered pieces of paper hung from the wall. Rotting pieces of paper making a travesty of what should be. Bureaucratic rules and regulations, Proclamations of Freedom, the Rights of Man – curling at the edges, damp and tattered, words of hope faded and gone and the few that remained ricocheting off the walls tearing into bodies and minds stripped of their power, stripped of all humanity. 



I ran faster and faster, blood pumping around my body, forcing my legs to move. I was determined to reach every gateway before it clanged shut. Pain was now my friend. There was no other option. I was afraid to look back and see despairing faces staring at me, pleading with me to open the gates, pleading for help. 

Finally, I came to the end of the tunnel. Daylight. Sinking to my knees, breath rasping in my chest I became aware of a loud chanting. I raised my head. More crowds, but these were different. There was no sign of thorns upon their foreheads. The chant rose and fell in the air. 

‘Free our people.’ 

‘Help our people.’ 

I got up and walked towards one group whose placards proclaimed them to be Sisters and Brothers of Doom. 

‘They are doomed to years of Direct Provision. Sleeping in cramped dingy spaces and being treated less well than the animals in our fields. They must wait for the powers that be to decide their futures. Will we allow them to stay? Will we allow them to work? Will we help them find the lost members of their families – assuming they are still alive? Will we treat them with respect, or will we judge them as being less than human, a carbuncle on our country. Our pity is short lived, and our compassion has a very short sell by date.’ 

‘What can I do to help?’ 

‘Leave your message for the whole world to see.’ 



I glanced at my hand, at the imprint of thousands now united with mine. Walking over to a blank wall I reached out and placed my splayed palm on the pristine white facade. Blood, sweat and tears formed and shaped into the hand of providence. People’s futures written in blood. And more blood dripped from that image. 

Now I pray that I do not forget. I pray that I can wash the stench of fear from my body and mind. I pray that I do not forget the lives lost in the name of my freedom. I pray… Is this my cross to bear? Is this my conscience? 

I awoke from my dream, trying to shake off the fear of all these people who fled, people I did not know. Just a dream. Dawn broke, light streamed through the slatted blind. I looked out the window. Muddy fields stretched beyond my gaze to an unknown horizon, broken by snatches of colour – torn scarves – a mother lost; a child’s shoe, a child’s sock – a child lost; a man’s cap – generations lost. And as quickly as dawn had broken, the sun sank below the horizon leaving no glimmer of light. 


I have been exiled from all that I know and love, 

I have been exiled from my home, my country, 

The basis of my identity. 

I have been exiled through war, live in fear, 

And in exile – 

I remain exiled through the war of words and more fear. 

I am threat to your composure, 

I am the past you have left behind,

I am the unknown you do not wish to know. 

I am in exile from my home, 

A stranger in your country. 

©Helena Abrahams

Read my blog –  Stuff that makes me cringe and wince!

I have written two novels available on Amazon

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  1. Wow Helena very powerful stuff.Bones of a short story there for sure!!!!

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