Stella Leventoyannis Harvey

“Every new beginning comes from some other beginning’s end.” Seneca

Last week you saw the trailer for my novel, The Brink of Freedom. Here is a short excerpt of the reading I’ve been giving audiences on the tour. Hope you like it.

“Sanjit is so small, so sickly. How could we possibly leave him?”

“How will he ever become a man? You baby him too much. He wants to become a man. You see how he carries large scrap pieces to help me. You refuse to let him. You want him tied to your sari forever. It cannot be this way.”

“He is six years old.”

“My mother abandoned me when I was younger than that. And I became a man without her,” Vijay said with pride. Yes, he’d been a product of a rape. And his mother had thrown him to the streets as soon as she could. But somehow he’d survived. By the time he was five, he was sweeping streets. Later, he heaved out garbage for a restaurant owner. That owner taught him how to read and write, allowed him to go to school, and showed him how to apply for scholarships. That’s where he fell in love with the bustle of a busy restaurant, dared to dream he’d have one of his own. He’d accomplished a lot, but there was still more to do.

 “And is that what you want to do to your son too?” Saphal said. “Is that the only thing children are good for? To be abandoned like street dogs?”

They stood apart, but he felt himself backing away towards the counter, his arms behind him in the same way they’d been when the police first arrested him months ago.

“You know that is not how I feel,” he said softly, but he was angry too. She should know better than to argue with him. He was the man of the house. Whatever he said must be respected, but there was no use saying this. Reasoning with her was his best chance of getting what he wanted. “You know it is expensive. We have some money. Okay. It will help. But it is not enough for all three of us.” He hadn’t spoken to the smugglers about this yet, but he knew it wouldn’t be cheap. It had been expensive getting to Greece a few years ago. And had taken months. They could have gone through Russia, maybe secured a visa to go there as others had done, then entered Turkey undetected. But that was the most expensive option and they had needed the cheapest.

They’d taken a bus through India and Pakistan. A friend of Vijay’s had an old school bus that he ran across borders, cramming as many people as he could into it. For the entire ride, Vijay had stood with one duffel bag between his feet and Saphal leaning against him. Sanjit sat on the other duffel, holding onto his mother’s sari.

In Lahore, they’d found a smuggler to hide them in a semi-trailer truck through Iran. So many people squeezed together. The stench and the heat unbearable. Still he’d withstood it. When they were finally released from the truck, his achy legs and sore back refused to allow him to stretch out or stand straight. Fresh air had been all he had prayed for when he was in the belly of the truck. It had taken days for his body to loosen. It took longer for the dizziness to leave him. Little sips of water was all he could handle. And still they had a long way to go.

It took nearly two months for them to walk across Turkey — Vijay and Saphal taking turns carrying Sanjit along with their bags — until they arrived in Izmir on the Turkish coast. They slept in parks where refugees gathered.

After that it was easy to connect to a local smuggler in one of the many coffee shops these people sat in waiting for customers like Vijay and Saphal. The smuggler was no more than a boy, Vijay had thought, a refugee himself from Syria, but it didn’t matter who he was dealing with as long as the smuggler guaranteed their safe passage over the Aegean into Greece. The smuggler surprised Vijay by offering him a deal.

“We’ll give you a lesson in steering,” the smuggler had said. “They are not such big boats. There will only be twenty passengers to worry about. And you will save some money, three passages for the price of two.”

Vijay nodded. What good was an opportunity if a person didn’t take advantage of it when it came his way?

Vijay, Saphal and Sanjit were taken by van to Cesme, a small coastal town on the edge of a peninsula. Vijay was shown how to steer the 9-metre boat. The boat and the engine were not so big. How difficult could it be? he’d thought. But then forty-five people crammed onboard. Thankfully the journey to the Greek island of Lesbos was short and the coast guard was there to rescue them when the boat took on water. There were many families like Vijay’s when they arrived in the town of Mytilene on Lesbos and not many officials. Vijay, Saphal and Sanjit slipped away in the chaos. Vijay found a sympathetic tourist who was trying to help the many migrants by providing food out of his van. The man was a British student on vacation. After hearing their plight, the man stowed them away in his van and boarded a Greek ferry heading for Piraeus.

This time he would have to get false identification, find a way to guarantee their entrance into Germany. His best chance to secure refugee status was Germany. But telling the truth as he had done with the Greek authorities hadn’t months before hadn’t helped.  Concocting a story was the only way. This escape would he far more expensive than their first journey. It had to work. He didn’t have the kind of money to make any further attempts at freedom.

“I will not leave my son behind,” Saphal said.

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