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Wednesday, 23 December 2015 19:26

Short Story: Ark of Salvation

In my old smelly socks, I place personal papers and some money notes wrapped in remnants of plastic bag to avoid its destruction from seawater. The night gets dark when the smuggler informs us that the trafficking ark is near the shore and that tonight we have to be careful as lifeguards are nearby.

We are individuals of different background, individuals with a sole dream: salvation.
We do not know the smugglers’ names. They use nicknames. They drive us like cattle to the unknown. A few minutes pass, we are there. It is an old wet rusty fishing ark, but the crew assures us that it is the best way to cross the Mediterranean Sea. We head to its heart in the middle where caught fish are usually kept.A pervasive stench blocks our nostrils.

There were groups before us who had already taken their share of space in that miserable place.
We cram in so everyone fits. Bodies stitch to bodies like those in sardine tins from the above view. We are just that: sardine tins ready to export.

Our number is complete and ready for a trip of salvation. As the ark cuts waves, those on board vomit. They are mostly women and children who ride the sea for the first time. There is a hole to allow the air in near the ceiling of the room. The door is well-locked from outside so lifeguards do not spot us if they stop and search the ark. We feel the tightness of the place. Now and again, a crew member opens the door so we can breathe. Other times he throws water bottles at us. The journey is expected to take two days if things go well.

There is some enjoyment at first. Everyone is full of hope that soon we will get to the ankles of the elderly continent and that humanitarian organisations await us at the shore.
But boredom arrives. The disposal of rubbish and body waste has now become a challenge for some as there is an only toilet (mainly for the crew use) with a long queue. Some direct their cocks towards the sea to piss. Others shit in bags and then fling them into water. That is what we do at night.

Daytime. The human traffickers forbid anyone out on the board. They are fearful of sky guards recognising the ark as not a usual “fishing ship”. Silence falls on the room. Everyone shuts up with no more life tales when the sound of a helicopter echoes in the space. A human trafficker orders to halt all noise and motions. I stop eating the last biscuit I have so they don’t catch us because of the grazing sound. The noisy helicopter gets closer and closer. Heart beats fasten as the sound loudens.

We are an easy catch for lifeguards in the open sea while the sun sharpens above. The helicopter drifts away and we sigh with relief. Some recite prayers and verses. Others pray for Virgin Mary. We all ask for Sky’s mercy. Everyone returns back to conversation as the crew assures us that tomorrow we will arrive to the seaside. Joy.

We do not see anything apart from glimpses we have via a small hole where Canary fetches news vividly with the use of ringing expressions to describe the plane’s closeness. He comforts us, “Everything’s going to be alright”. Canary has three disorderly teeth in his mouth. He gets the nickname as he is the only source of information that flies around us with breaking news sometimes, full analysis other times and ends with a hysterical laugh when his inner organs are visible through/in his mouth.

Each person has a different story than the others. There is a man who has sold everything to pay for the trip. A woman has borrowed from all relatives. Everyone promised to pay debts. Each person has an own reason to leave, but all share a single goal: salvation. A new start for some, perhaps a dream for others.

Suddenly, footsteps of crewmembers quicken above our heads. They seem to run in different directions as we stay in the darkness below – we do not know what is happening above.
The sound disappears. No footsteps. Nothingness.

“They are running away, they are running away!” shouts Canary. All at once we reply, “Who is running away?”
“Crew members… those bastards are getting away in inflatable boats!”

We shout loudly, we hope to bring the crew members back. The door is locked from outside, no one can leave. Women and children scream. We look deeply at each other. Is it possible that we have been left on the open sea, alone with no crew and captain? Who will sail the ark, and where will it go? Men try to control the atmosphere and put women at ease with the assertion that lifeguards will find us with their satellite systems, sophisticated radars and variety of laser sensitivity equipment and that there is still hope for things not to go worse.

The ark rattles in the sea and the sole hope is that tiny hole. A single eye gazes from that hole to the horizon, behind it we wait for the moment that a rescue boat, lifeguards or helicopter will steal us from agony. Our location is only known to the human traffickers who have left us to face the unknown. No captain, no compass, no anchor. Nothing.

Hopelessness oozes its way into all people in the room. There are only waves around us as we take turns to observe the world outside from that small hole. Air becomes rare while rife stench suffocates us. A mixture of vomit, shit, body odour, fish, old walls and the smelly socks I wear. We take turns to watch from the hole. That is our only world now.


our home
is but one country
truly, the whole earth
is there for them to settle
tell us if you can, where else
shall we go when they have come?
they do not belong in our homeland
you should blush when you say to us
we must turn our vision up-side down

we must turn our vision up-side down
you should blush when you say to us
they do not belong in our homeland
shall we go when they have come?
tell us if you can, where else
is there for them to settle
truly, the whole earth
is but one country
our home


No longer do we desire the elderly continent. No longer do we seek humanitarian organisations. All we want is to see the sky and touch the shore anew. Any shore, it does not matter where anymore. Waves play with the ark, left, right and centre. Darkness arrives, and the sound of nothingness but waves that make love to the ark’s body. The sea is a scary creature in darkness. There is not enough light in the room. Mobile phone lights fade away gradually. Hopelessness.

All at once we look to the sky and ask… where is the salvation? “You in the sky: Why doesn’t the ark sink and snatch us from this slow death!” Exhaustion takes charge. Eyes surrender to sleep. The ark rocks me like a newborn baby in the cradle. Images invade my head. My childhood and allies. Hallucination. Faces I have met in my life become clearer and clearer with fish masks on. The fish that a few minutes from now will taste its worst meal ever eaten between their jaws when they eat me. Perhaps the fish here are used to immigrants’ meat. For we are not the first, nor the last they eat.

I hold myself together not to cry and search for a piece of paper to put down my last moments. The last life confession. It must be the most beautiful and truthful thing I write. It must be with heart. I find a single expression: Sorry. Sorry for things I leave hanging in the air. Sorry, my country. Sorry, mama. Sorry, baba. Sorry, siblings.

And thank you, salty Mediterranean, for your warm welcome, even though we don’t have passports and visas. Thank you for shells at the bottom. Thank you for seaweed that will catch between teeth, cover nostrils and eye sockets when we are corpses in your deep blue belly.
We will be more beautiful as our carcasses float, reach the shore where tourists push them back to water just as they do with whales that accidently land on coast.

As I hallucinate, the ark rocks violently. It hits something. Everyone is in deep sleep, or at least that is what I imagine. We hear footsteps above on the board and a language I do not understand. A group of guys among us move towards the shut door. Crazily we start to hit the door with our bare hands and shout in all languages, “Help us, help, we are here. Help.”
Someone tries to open the door. We scream. A few hits on the lock, it breaks. The door opens – the light bursts into the room. For a few moments we see nothing.

Then things clear up. We see those outside better when eyes adjust from darkness to the light. As if they were aliens at first. They speak a language we do not understand. They try various languages. They start to speak in English, “Where are you from?”

I answer instinctively, “We are from Earth”. I sense their astonishment by the answer. They ask nothing thereafter. Hands pull us out like babies dragged from wombs. A new birth after the painful journey. Eyes still cannot stay open. They refuse the light. They like darkness. They are used to it. The ark is hauled to the shore like a man sentenced to hang and pulling the rope behind himself to death spot. When my foot touches the shore, a loud cry leaves my chest to echo in the world. I kneel to smell and kiss the sand of the beach. I act instinctively. I sit to watch the ark as they take corps one after another: children, women and elderly, all put in blue plastic bags. Each body has enough space now, to stretch. No more gatherings, tightness and squeeze. They are free now.

I feel desire for revenge. I only find that wicked ark in front of me. I stand up. Speed up. Shout loudly and throw stones at its wrecked body. All stones go to that small tiny hole we used for seeing the outside world. It swallows all stones one by one. Others join. They scream and throw stones. The ark continues to swallow stones from the small hole. That nasty hole eats the entire universe.

Eventually the ark sinks. We hear it screaming on the way down. We look at each other. We are empty, with all possessions in that ark where the dark room is, where that tiny hole is.
The hole resembles Jesus’s body. We run towards it to erase sins. That hole is our presence. It is everything we have. Apart from that, nothing is worthy.

translated by Amir Darwish. Embedded poem by Rod Duncan

Read 764 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 January 2016 18:26
Muhanned Mohamed Khorshid

Muhanned Mohamed Khorshid is an Iraqi born artist and writer, living and working in Helsinki.

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