Every December for a few years now a friend has written to me and to everyone she knows requesting donations so she can purchase gifts at Christmas for people who have found asylum in our country. I send my small donation, very aware of its smallness. Presently my friend sends me – and all her circle of donor people – a photo of the gifts our donations have amassed. I am duly amazed: for in total they are not small.My friend was raised in a home where the ambient Evangelical Christianity weighed heavily. In time and in pain my friend left the family code behind. And so it is that my lapsed Evangelical friend and her many friends – including this unlapsed Jewish friend – send Christmas presents to a bunch of Muslim refuge seekers.
Christmas was never a part of my upbringing. When as a child , inevitably I learned the story of the nativity, I was moved. “No room at the inn” stayed in my mind as the saddest phrase, as a reproach. The inn in which I live is a Four Star establishment called Australia. There is room at this inn, lots of room.
In this state of mind I post the following children’s story. It feels appropriate to the season of goodwill. This is excerpted from a forthcoming book* provisionally titled ‘A Threefold Cord’, to be published on-line in 2016 by Hybrid Publishers. I have read the book and I like it. I commend it to your children: it is ideal for shared reading between an adult and a child aged from eight to twelve years.
This story begins with a five year old girl named Samara mustering her courage and her crumbs of English to tell her story to her Aussie friends, Jennifer, Nystagmus and Snoth:
“This story, my story. Today I say story. I English say.”
Samara spoke eagerly, her face serious and excited at the same time.
Her friends of the Threefold Cord were surprised to hear shy little Samara speaking like this. They listened without interrupting.
Samara stood up and screwed her eyes closed for a moment. She wanted to be brave and she needed to think hard, to search for every English word.
After a moment she started: “Mans with guns come our village. We family very frighten. Soldiers shoot many shootings. Father’s brother run outside house. He praying. Soldiers shoot guns. They angry because I girl, I going school. They think big mistake, they think Father brother is my father. They shoot father brother. He fall down, he not move, he many blood. Soldiers laughing, go away. Father hold his brother, he say Ahmed! Ahmed! He say Ahmed, soldiers shooting wrong man. Must shoot me, not brother.
Ahmed not answer. Father crying, his face on his brother face. Mother crying, my brother crying, Samara crying. Soldiers send bombings onto house. House is breaking. Is very noise, is very frighten.
Then Father hiding us under house. When is dark outside, Father bring donkey. He putting Mother, brother, Samara on donkey. Father walking. We riding, Father walking all night. We come far village, we hiding, we sleeping in day at Aunty house. And in night we riding, walking, we hiding when hear soldiers in night. Always we hearing shootings, bombings, we very quiet, Father giving donkey eating so donkey mouth have food, donkey not speak soldiers.”
Samara paused and blinked. The friends saw drops of water at the corners of Samara’s eyes. The child took a deep breath and spoke again. “I tell about more bad mans. Not gun mans, truck mans. Man say Father, you give money, I take you in truck. Father give man many money, man put family in truck in night. We say goodbye donkey. Brother cry, he loving donkey.
Truck go. Truck stop. Truck man say truck broken, not go now. Father pay money, truck man take money. He say, Truck not work. You walking. Sorry for truck.
We walking, walking, no donkey, no truck.
We come new country, no soldiers shooting. We come big, big water, shiny water like silver. Man say father, You come boat. I taking you family America. You pay money. Is also bad mans. He take all father money, none left now, we get in boat, fast fast, much peoples comes in little boat, such much peoples, boat very crowd. Is dark.
Boat start to move. I am excite and I am too fright. All peoples in boat very fright because big wind and big black cold water. Water come in boat, all peoples scream, cry, cry, scream.
Mother hold Samara and brother, Father hold too, boat is jump, jump, fall, fall, water is in boat, we very fright.
I praying, mother is pray, brother, father – all pray to Allah:please save us, save us please.
Boat stop, water push boat on side, push boat on other side, peoples falling on floor, fall on peoples. Mother, father holding tight children,
Big big water come and boat fall over, all peoples fall out, we all in water, wind is loud. We call Father! Mother! – no-one not hearing. I not hear voice, I looking, is everything black.
I not swimming, we family is not know swim, in our country is desert, is mountain, not is big water.
I look father…”
Samara stopped again and blinked. She blinked again, and a third time. She breathed deeply, opened her mouth, closed it. Finally she produced a small voice: “I look brother, not see.
I look mother, not see.
Father say Samara, you get up on top this wood, you hold tight. Father is lift me, I am hold tight, father head under water. He come up, he not close now, he under water.
I not… I not see him again more. I not see no-ones. I hold wood, I crying, I cold, I not family. Family is gone.
I pray Allah, I praying Allah, you bring back Samara family. If family not live, I not live. Allah, You take Samara paradise. I not family, I not want live.
But all time I holding wood like father saying me.”
The child shivered as if she felt again the cold water. She said: “Soon I say end of Samara Story. Big ship come with big light. I see water, water, empty, all empty. Not peoples, only many water. Man taking me in big ship, coming Australia. Man is good man, Australia man. But Samara alone, I no-one have. I in Christmas Island, I in Australia, Samara sad, sad all days.
Red Cross say they try find family. Maybe in one country, not Australia country.
Then one day you friends come Refugee place.” A small smile as Samara looked from Jennifer to Nystagmus to Snoth. She touched the face of all three.”You tell me many story, you teach me speak English. Samara not alone now.”
* the author of ‘A Threefold Cord’ is Howard Goldenberg