I’ve been tinkering away on this for a long while now and have decided its probably as finished as its ever going to be. I would like to submit it to some competitions so any feedback is appreciated.
“Come on, out you get,” said a voice as torchlight spilled beneath the trailer. Khalid looked across at Amal, his bodyshape wedged in the gutts of the lorry.
“Move, then,” he muttered.
They dragged their bodies across the greasy tarmac to find the guards waiting beneath a floodlight, caps casting shadows across their faces.
“I’ve seen you before, haven’t I?” said one of them, jabbing Khalid in the stomach with a baton. Meanwhile, Amal squirmed nervously next to him. “What’s the matter?” said the guard, shifting his attention. “Thought we’d let you off?” The baton thudded against Amal’s ear with a muted slap. Another blow landed on his shoulder and he cried out. He lifted his arms up and the guard kicked him in the leg. Amal staggered, but stayed upright. That’s something, thought Khalid.
The guards marched them away from the quayside, past the line of lorries until they were outside the main gates. Khalid looked back and caught sight of the cranes and their blinking lights towering above the dock. They used to seem a lot brighter, thought Khalid.
“I want to go home,” mumbled Amal, dabbing at a bloody nose with his sleeve. Then his little body began to shake as the tears came.
“Well, you can’t,” replied Khalid. “You know what happens if you do.”
Amal sniffed hard and looked about, defiantly. “Where are we going then?” They started down the road towards the seafront, past groups of people huddled on the parched bank, eyeing up vehicles. Khalid looked for a familiar face, but their gazes travelled through him, seeking out a rattling lock or a nod from a sympathetic driver. Then a voice called. Khalid looked and saw Fadel squatted over a tree root. A cigarette burned between his fingers.
“When did you get back?”
“What’s with the hair?”
Khalid shrugged. “People look different over there.”
“Who you with?”
“My brother, Amal.” Amal wiped furiously at his eyes.
“This is Hasan,” said Fadel, tilting his head to a scrawny kid in a grey tracksuit next to him. “He’s from my village.” Fadel passed round the cigarette and Khalid took it, observing the smouldering end like it was the tip of a sharp knife. “You’re supposed to smoke it.” Khalid pretended to inhale before passing it back. “What did you do there?” asked Fadel, smoke drizzling from his mouth.
“Farmwork, mostly. Sold some things.”
Hasan leaned forward, elbows on his knees. “You should have done what my brother did and marry a Spanish woman, then you can get any job you want.”
“No, you can’t,” replied Khalid.
“I’m telling you. When we make it, you can come and stay with us. He’ll get us jobs.”
“Where does he live?”
“Madrid, I think.”
“How will you find him?”
Hasan stared back, resolutely. “God willing.”
“What about you, Khalid?” asked Fadel.
“I had an apartment for a while.”
Hasan nodded, eagerly. “I want a penthouse. And a garage for all my cars.”
Fadel flicked the butt to the ground and smiled. “I can live with that.”
The chatter of voices and ringing cutlery was the first thing to hit Khalid as they arrived on the promenade. The smells reached him soon afterwards and pangs of hunger jabbed at his stomach.
“You shouldn’t smoke,” said Amal, frowning.
“Mum wouldn’t like it.”
“She’s not here, is she? So, you remember what I told you? If you forget what to say, just hold out your hands, like this.” Khalid made a bowl shape and Amal copied him. They were about to approach the first set of tables when Fadel shouted from down the street.
“Forget it. They don’t give us shit anymore. We’ve got a better way.”
Khalid and Amal followed him to a side road lined with refuse bins. Hasan was crouched amongst the rubbish. A piece of cloth hung from his hand.
“Want some?” he asked. “It makes you brave.” He pressed it to his face and drew in a breath before passing it to Fadel. Even in the shadows, Khalid thought their eyes looked larger.
“Get ready to run,” said Fadel, with a rubbery grin. He sauntered up the lane to a metal door that was ajar and slipped inside. Moments later there was a shout and he reappeared with a stick of bread and an armful of fruit. Then they were all running.
“What does it say?” asked Amal, looking at the dim shapes scrawled on the wall.
“It’s just people’s names.”
“The ones who made it, you mean?”
“Does that mean yours is there too?” Khalid ignored him and took another bite of bread, but his mouth was too dry to chew it. Along the beach, fires were starting to come to life and silhouettes of men gravitated towards them like nightly spirits. Amal stared wide eyed at the flames.
“It’s not safe to be with the older ones,” said Khalid.
Khalid looked across at the driftwood shacks next to the seawall, their polythene sheets flapping in the breeze. Shame prickled at his skin.
“It’s just not.”
“So, how long did it take you to find work?” asked Hasan, tossing an apple core towards the breakers. Khalid tried to think back, but already it was a blur. Buses, fields, faces with no names all melded together in a patchwork of moments. Only the part where they came to take him away was still vivid as a photograph.
Amal sprawled next to him, eyes almost shut. “I don’t like it here,” he murmured. “How long do we have to stay?” But Khalid didn’t answer. All he could do was stare at the blackwashed sky and dig his fingers into the sand, hoping for the memory to pass.