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Creative Writing

Ships in the Night

1/1. Life in the midst of war, upheaval and uncertainty: the daily possibility of becoming the next statistic, the difficulty of getting basic household items, the intermittent electricity and other essential services. Sitting in the dark of night watching tracer fire and explosions in the moonlight with a warm breeze on your face. Somewhere far away from here, men and women in high places make decisions that produce these conditions without care or regard for the effects they have on us, while down here away from safety, we live in fear for our lives. Our children have nothing better to look forward to than more of the same; their future is the same grim struggle for survival, day after day. Knowing the future that awaits them here is the sharp end of the despair that engulfs us, that tortures us. They deserve so much better than this — so much better than the inhuman fate those in far distant places have, for whatever reasons of their own, consigned them to. A better life awaits us across the seas, a land of sunshine and beaches, a land of beer and barbeques. We have only this one life; we must do what we can to escape this land all things sane and just have forgotten.

1/2. Life in the midst of boredom and protracted precariousness and uncertainty: the daily likelihood of feeling like a statistic, the difficulty of being able to afford basic household items, those goddamn bills that keep rolling in contemptuous of your ability to. Almost like they gold-plated the grid or something. Drag myself out of bed somewhere past 11 o’clock, spend ten minutes picking the sleep out of my eyes and feeling listless and dumb while the water and aspirin go to work on my pounding headache from last’s night’s drinking bout. Flip on the idiot box and watch something inane and stupid because the sound and movement is distracting, helps to forget everything else that has gone wrong and continues to be gone wrong, probably will still be gone wrong tomorrow. How many days, weeks and months have I been dwelling troll-like within these walls, waiting for nothing, knowing that whatever I do or don’t do to try to help myself, nothing will change? Have lost count. I can’t see a future, just another day to somehow deal with, time slipping away like someone leaving a tap on when they go away for the weekend. How much would I love to get on a boat or a plane and leave this place, this nowhere existence. I would go away, far away from here. In the meantime: hair of the dog.

2/1. A man with a dubious air and shady associates offers us passage to a western country where it is safe and our children will have a future. For this he demands an exorbitant amount of money; it is the textbook example of a seller’s market. He know that, for us, in this situation, it is make or break, and that we will pay whatever he asks because we must have the service he demands. He and the criminals he works for have their turf marked and their market cornered; if there was competition, they were run out of town with bones broken or the sun is bleaching their bones somewhere out in the desert. We take stock of our possessions and valuables, and mourn for the life surrounded by friends and family, people we had known since we were born and who populated the world as it was welcoming, approachable and familiar to us, had they not been killed and scattered so. We sell everything, and beg borrow and steal for the rest. When we are done we have more money than we have seen in one place in our entire lives, our sum total value. We cannot help ourselves but give it away to the man of dubious character, who bundles us into a truck. As it rumbles to life he closes the back gate and bangs on the side to signal the driver; the truck pulls away and we say goodbye to everything and everyone we have ever known, forever.

2/2. A man of dubious character and shady associates offers me passage from the increasingly torturous meaningless and anomie of my directionless, helpless existence. For this he demands my unquestioning allegiance; we are in crisis mode and must act now, so if I make myself a burden on our national defense by insisting on thinking for myself, the enemies of our great nation win. We are beset by those who want to destroy our once great nation says the shady man, by permissive elements who don’t understand anything of the real conditions of our lives, who want to sell us out to people who want to take advantage of our way of life when we are in trouble ourselves. It is certainly tempting; what use do I have for individual will when I am so clearly incapable of doing anything to help myself anyway, when I am so useless and insignificant. Maybe if I ally with this man of shady character and dubious associations, I will somehow become great by association. Well, maybe not great, but at least people will notice me. They will be hard pressed to ignore me if I’m making a lot of noise and waving a flag around and saying things that are an outrage to basic decency and human feeling, to be sure. I admit to being tempted. I take stock of my life and mourn for what might have been in other circumstances, for a life where I felt like I was able to do a better job of helping myself. Then I take another swig.

3/1. We are cooped up in the truck for a long time, with little food or water and no ventilation or sunlight. At length the back opens up and a shady associate barks at us like we are dirt, like we are nothing. We are ordered out of the truck. Our limbs are numb and sore at the same time; the morning sunlight is bright in our sleep-deprived eyes. We are in a place we don’t recognize; we have become foreigners. The feeling of dislocation is acute. If before things were dangerous and there was no hope, at least there was familiarity. Now the danger is replaced by uncertainty and a fear that somehow the man of dubious character will go back on his word and we will find ourselves abandoned in a strange land. We will have no recourse for justice against the one who put us here and no way to help ourselves except to go back to the situation we gave up everything to leave. Fear, anxiety and a million other thoughts bounce around my head endlessly as we are moved into a dingy warehouse for what seems like forever. The few windows there are a dirty and caked over with dirt and dust; the ground is cold and covered in seagull droppings and industrial detritus. It has been a long time since this place was used for anything productive. We wait, and wait, and wait, forgotten by a world that passes us by; time presses heavy as our hearts.

3/2. I sit on the bus for a long time to get to the job interview. Once off I quickly get lost and walk around in circles trying to find the place, feeling like an interloper with no business being in an area where work happens. You will enter and make your pitiful stand for paid employment, you pathetic spectacle in your department store bought shirt and slacks, and then leave and never be heard from again, the environs of this industrial park seem to say. You have no business here, you silly drunk, you were deluding yourself to even come. How did you even manage not to spend the money for new clothes on more booze. I ask a guy in a hi-vis jacket where the place I’m looking for is; he looks at me like I’m dirt, like I’m nothing, and then tells me. By the time I find the warehouse where I’m expected, my feet are sore and I’m a long way from the bus stop, and the bus stop is a long way from any part of the city I recognize. Inside the office, I introduce myself to the lady behind the desk and take a seat with a clipboard and a pen, and begin filling out my details. In the front office I wait, and wait, and wait for my name to be called. The air becomes thick and hard to breathe; my eyelids become as heavy as my heart. I feel like the world has forgotten me, like life is passing me by.

4/1. A boat arrives to transport us to salvation, a leaky old fishing vessel. We are going to drown, one of my children says mournfully. We abandon the last of our effects, presumably to be sold by the syndicate running this operation for further profit on their part and injury on ours, and climb on board. The shady associates pack on as many people as they can find sitting room for, leaving no space to walk around or exercise, and we set out into the open ocean as the city it was attached to recedes slowly into the horizon. We have only a few jugs of water and almost no food. After some initial relief to be leaving and on the move we settle into the grim reality of a long and arduous journey. Overhead, the sun is hot and beats down on our little boat; we have very little shade. Many become seasick; they vomit onto the floor of the boat, filling it with a pungent, bitter stench. We have nothing to do but endure that which must be endured as hour after endless hour piles one on top of the other, pressing down on the chest like the sunlight was collecting there in the process of burning our skin. With every moment we get further away from home. We don’t feel any safer, only more dislocated.

4/2. A bus rolls up to the bus stop where I’m waiting, a smoky rattler with a loud diesel engine. The route running through the industrial area servicing the factory slaves gets the oldest vehicles in the company fleet. It’s late, after dark. The headlights of the bus shine across me momentarily, breaking through the darkness outside, but nothing breaks through inside. I wonder if maybe I’ll drown in this feeling that there’s nothing I can do to help myself and that nothing will even change. Feeling that this is exactly how things will turn out and sensing that my chances of my interview coming to anything are slim given the five other candidates who came and went before and after me, I silently abandon any hope of anything coming of this day. Standing, I step into the bus, bathed in dim half-light, buy a ticket and sit down. The bus pulls out and the city speeds past us outside the windows, a long journey ahead of most of us into the city to change onto train or another bus and then another the rest of the way home. All the people look like corpses, packed in so tight you can barely swing a cat. All the hot, dirty bodies squeezed together gives the air a heavy, slightly foul odour that the periodic opening and closing of the doors only seems to partly relieve. I take note of the smell and it occurs to me that any of these people could have just have just as easily been at the job interview. I look around at them and think about some of the things I’ve been hearing, wondering how many of these people really deserve to be here. I was born here, what about all of you. Is this why I must endure one aimless day after another, the one piling on the other like the sense of helplessness piling despair on my head? I don’t feel any better for getting out and trying to improve my lot, only more dislocated, and defeated, and thirsty.

5/1. Adrift in the middle of the ocean; our motor died in the middle of the night. Maybe it sensed the general mood amongst those on board and felt that there was no reason in going on. Maybe it was too much to take. For those of us who are still turning over, our own anxiety and mounting fears are too much to take, let alone the collective mood that infects each as it inflects all. In addition to giving in to despair everyone is dizzy from hunger and thirst; the meager provisions with which our little vessel left port have been long exhausted. The man with the dubious air around him certainly demonstrated that the impressions he left behind were justified. We we have been out at sea for so many days and nights we start to lose count. What little food there was lasted a couple of days and the water ran out soon afterwards. A rumour goes around that someone at the back of the boat is dead, an older person maybe. I don’t want to know. And then a cry goes out — hey, over there! In the distance, a large vessel, a navy vessel. The pilot of the boat sends up a flare; the navy vessel draws near. Crew from the navy boat drop inflatable dinghies into the water and soon large men with guns are standing in the boat, looking around at the people and swearing. We are so happy to have been saved. We will be on land soon.

5/2. Adrift in the middle of the night; at some point the walls come crashing in. Maybe they sensed the general mood amongst the group who were sitting around waiting to interview for the one position earlier in the afternoon. My mounting anxiety and dread for the future are too much to take; I get up and go outside to get some air since there seems to be so little inside, but it’s no help. Outside is more air but I am no more able to take any more in. If someone came up to me and told me I was an ancient being whose only job is to play emotional sink for the despondency and aimlessness of the world, a nomad whose fate was to wander the industrial wastelands of the Earth dizzy from hunger for meaning and purpose, I would in no way be surprised. Not that anyone would likely miss me. I go back inside the kitchen, sit at table and just cry. A bottle of wine is sitting on the table so I start drinking. When I’m properly drunk I leave the house again, wandering the streets yelling all sorts of shit about how I can’t take it anymore and this country’s fucked and we shouldn’t be taking in all these bloody refugees when we can’t even organise enough jobs for everyone who’s already here. Somewhere along the line I break a window. Someone calls the cops who turn up presently, arrest me and throw me in the drunk tank; they advise me I’m to attend court upon my release the next morning.

6/1. We are locked up on a camp on a small island nation and have been for quite some time. They did not allow us onto the Australian mainland; somehow someone pulled some legal manoeuver to do with removing the mainland from the migration zone so that, while the government was still a signatory to the convention, it didn’t have to abide by it because legally there was no zone for anyone to cross into where it would apply. We are treated like criminals despite having never committed a crime and held in captivity against our will despite never having been charged with anything. The government of Australia detains people without trial on a offshore gulag and calls us a threat to the Australian way of life; for us the irony is impossible to miss. Its consequences are a daily reality. We are back to the grim struggle for daily survival with nothing in the way of hope for the future to brighten our lives, and wonder if anyone even understands or cares what we live with.

6/2. I’m locked into a court-ordered alcohol treatment programme. If I mess this up and cause more trouble, then I’m in even deeper trouble. They wouldn’t let me off with a good behaviour bond; they said I was too old for that kind of ridiculous behaviour and that I needed to pull myself together and get on top of my alcoholism if I wanted to pull myself out of my rut and make a go of my life. Just before my case is heard is another involving a bloke who turned up on a boat, something about trying not to get booted out of the country and sent back to where he came from. The guy is sitting there in court; I study him as they read out the particulars of his case. Escaping a war somewhere in Central Asia in which western powers were intervening and helping to inflame, there were no ways of applying through regular channels for admission as a refugee as the civil arms of government had broken down. They picked him up and threw him in a detention centre somewhere with no trial. I look at this bloke and wonder, what do you know of life in this society you want so desperately to become part of, how much do we really have in common, and how well would we actually relate if we actually talked? Who knows, in the end, who knows.

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