Running for Them - 2nd Winner in the European Solidarity Essay Prize

28th Oct 2020 | Greece By Rebecca Tozer

Her breathing heavy, Sahar continued up the steep incline, carefully following the path. Her feet repeatedly hitting the ground, quick and thumping, as she ran towards the clearing. Music blasted in her ears, but only bird calls and footsteps could be heard by the others walking past. Stopping suddenly, Sahar turned around to look at the valley spreading out below her. A smile crept onto her face as the sun shone brightly. She closed her eyes, the pale ochre rays warming her skin.

Joyful song lyrics faded into the shouts of the few market stall holders as the warm sunlight transported her back to the Grecian refugee camp. The streets crowded and busy, full with people trying their best to get their food and go back to where they slept. Sahar had slept on the ground, only a thin sleeping bag below her and a thin tarpaulin above. She could clearly see the thousands of tents lined up like school children in her mind’s eye. Back then, she wore sandals and could feel the dusty earth beneath her toes, the trainers now cushioning her feet had been one of the first things she had bought on arrival to Britain. In the camp, the sunlight shone bright, most days cloudless. The happy sky the antithesis of the people it shone down on. In the present, the same sun now reflected her happy mood.

Shaking the year-old images from her head, Sahar spun back around and resumed her run. The quick tempo of guitar chords and piano notes filled her ears as she gracefully pivoted around sudden corners in the tree lined trail. This route now as familiar to her as the line to the solitary water tap once was. The parched stream that the path hugged made a similar slow dripping sound, returning her once more to the place it had taken her so long to leave.

People with buckets and tubs and bottles crowded the singular spout, all there hoping their turn would come soon. Sahar had become used to the queue and had perfected the art of budging her way to the front. Skillfully ducking past colorful skirts and elbowing her way through the closely knit labyrinth of elbows, she placed the tub her mother had given her under the tap. Standing protectively over it, Sahar watched the clear liquid fill the large tub. A now prized possession amongst the starved and dry throated refugees, the grand size of the container was envied by those whose smaller receptables could not capacitate enough water and required multiple trips to the lone tap.

Shaded forest track lay ahead of her, the sun now hidden by thick emerald leaves. Sahar quickened her footsteps as her body sensed the closeness of her destination. A pair of squirrels aptly navigated their way up a tree ahead of Sahar, a trail of russet standing out against the stark white of the birch tree. Sweet smelling blossoms floated on the wind, reminding Sahar of the fairies that filled the tales her mother had told her when she was little. Her mother, strong and unbeatable, had made Sahar’s life here possible. A hand seemed to squeeze her heart as thoughts of the unstoppable woman ricocheted around her mind.

Sahar approached their tent, and although it was barely distinguishable from the others, she had not yet been unable to find her way back. Her glorious mother was sitting on the ground, singing a lullaby to Sahar’s youngest sister. She placed the tub on the ground, cautious to any wasteful spills and her mother smiled gratefully at her. Handing her the toddler, Sahar’s mother set to work. She rinsed the few clothes they weren’t wearing, carefully pouring the precious water across the tattered threads then began to wash the bowl that had held last night’s meal. Watching her quick movements, Sahar felt pride and love for her only parent, the one who had got them out of Iran, had got them to the camp, and looked after Sahar and her sisters, all by herself. The only thing her mother hadn’t done was finish the journey, and now Sahar had to do it for her, all by herself.

She knew thoughts of her mother wouldn’t bring her any closer to Scotland, but that message never seemed to get through. Thoughts instead of her younger sisters back at the house filled her mind – she would need to finish her run soon. Spurred on by the waning amount of time she had left, Sahar hastened her speed. Her legs carried her to the edge of the hill rapidly and Sahar fought to catch her breath. Taking in the panoramic view below, she sunk on to the oak bench and paused her music. The warbles of different birds resting on the shadowed tree branches concocted a symphonic melody. Sahar allowed herself to become enraptured by the soothing birdsong before she would need to return to her responsibilities. She felt almost guilty, enjoying the lockdown – it meant she was safe from any sudden deportation. But her mother was trapped with tens of thousands of others, terrified of the virus penetrating the camp’s barbed wire. She knew just how quickly it would spread in a camp, quicker than wildfire. All those people, sleeping and eating just millimetres from each other. It would be impossible not to become infected. Sahar could only hope and wish and pray her mother could leave soon. Her mother could come here, and then they could be a family again and she wouldn’t have to manage alone.

Winners announced for Action For Education’s 1st European Solidarity Essay Prize

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