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by Cath Barton

I wake with a start. I’m ready to jump up and run like so often before. But there are no loud noises, just the sounds of our breathing, my mother, my father and me, and a muffled sobbing from my sister Rima. I roll over and put my arm around her till she calms down.

I pull the blanket over my face — it’s rough on my cheek, but this is better than running out into the morning and hiding in a culvert while gun shots skim the air. Though then I think about Samir and I’m the one crying. Samir is my best friend in the whole world and I had to leave him behind. People say I’ll make new friends here. As if they understand about love.

It was when the bomb hit the house next door that my father said we must leave. It happened in such a rush. He told me they wouldn’t take dogs on the boats and it was time to be grown up. I got a knife from the kitchen and cut a little bit of Samir’s hair and tied it in a handkerchief. I’ll keep that forever. Then I kissed him for the last time and told him to run to the hills. Because more bombs would come to the city, but in the hills he could live with his wild cousins. He didn’t want to go.

My father said it was time to be brave and that I had to look after my mother and Rima. One day we’ll go home again, he said, but for now we’re going to find a better life in a place called England. You can’t live in a broken down city, he said.

We were crushed together in the boat, so many people, and the sea came over and washed some of them out. After ages we got to another country where there were people with angry faces who didn’t want us and it was cold, but my father reminded me about being brave.

The journey was so long. My mother hardly spoke. She covered her head with her blue scarf and went inside herself. I held her hand all the way, on the boat and in the queues and in the trains. And when we got to this place called England there was a woman who crouched down and put her arms around me and my sister and said we were to come to her house. Just until we find you something better, she said.

It’s been weeks and we’re still in the same place. My father goes out all day. He looks tired when he comes home. So does my mother. It’s hard to know how to look after her, especially when I don’t have any friends of my own. I get out the lock of Samir’s hair and stroke it, but it’s not the same.

Today, when we get up, I’m going to ask my father — is this really a better life?

Cath Barton lives in Wales. You can read more of her recent flash fiction at Retreat West and Zeroflash. Contact her at: @CathBarton1, https://www.facebook.com/cath.barton.5, https://cathbarton.wordpress.com/.