In a remote refugee camp many diverse lives collide.
A child with a love of wizards and an ageing rock star share their fate with a collection of disparate visitors when the camp is attacked.
Years later, they find a way to tell their stories.
One day in the year of my birth, a man I’d never meet finally decided that he’d had enough of the situation in our country.
Maybe this happened as he sipped his tea that morning or as he kissed his wife, or maybe it was his wife who said it first: ‘It’s time, darling, we must change the world together.’ However it started, the repercussions of this decision would lead to me fleeing seven years later, would force the hot breath out of mymouth as I ran – for my mother’s life, for the memory of my brother and father – through a city that seemed to be roaring, whose bones creaked under the weight of the rest of the world.
We would cross multiple countries and traverse borders that existed only in the depths of the sea. We would survive for just long enough to die for real.
Of course, you could trace the beginning of this war back further. Right now I’m in the perfect place to do it; my bones one small part of a museum exhibit. I could speak of the origin of walls, of the rising and falling of empires as regular as the tide, wiping everything clean, over and over again. Maybe
you’ve studied history already, maybe not, but I guess you sense its presence on this page. It’s all I am, after all. To help you understand it, I could tell you the name of my country, the nature of my war, so you could pick apart my story, tell me how it really happened – but I don’t know the modern name
anyway and, besides, it doesn’t matter.
Now I lie scattered, broken up into fractions of what I once was, no more than pieces of bone encased in glass and wood. The story of human evolution is right next door:
Homo ergaster with her strong face and solid posture, hominid confidently strolling through the plains with no idea of what is about to befall him, Homo antecessor merrily spurring a porcelain fish from a dry river bed, and finally Homo sapiens, the interim victor. Yet we were not the only weavers of ritual,
not the only ones to love and question, to mourn our dead.
Homo neanderthalensis was right there with us, along with the elephants of course.
At night, as I hover through the galleries, I stare into the glassy eyes of animals I never saw alive, and, from what I hear from the chatter of my guests, can no longer be seen.
Monkeys scream at me silently as I pass them on the staircase.
They’re upset about the extinctions, right from the very first one up until now. In the case of the woolly mammoths, it was the warming temperatures in the south that forced them to flee, the first humans hunting the remaining refugees. Even the survivors of the Pleistocene transition are now gone.
Here in the museum, the common-spotted cuscus, the bushtailed rock wallaby and the rabbit-eared bandicoot stare out blind-eyed, nailed down as they are to wooden plinths, and call out a mute protest at their annihilation to a moth-eaten giraffe killed and stuffed in 1909. I wonder if they also inhabit this space as I do, trapped and unseen. Sometimes I wait, listening for their voices. Occasionally I hear a distant howl or hoot – and then, nothing.
There are other people with me, speaking a language that I know, though it’s not my own. Some of them I knew in life; some not, though I had at least seen their faces in the refugee camp where I lived. Now, we are all part of the same spectacle. Their voices surround me as do their bones; it is all we have left, half-lives and memories. We are displayed as we were found, our last moment preserved for eternity,
lived relationships enacted still through entangled limbs held in place by the once sun-warmed earth that surrounds us.
I’ve tried to filter out our stories, our difficult truths and complicated lies. Sneaking around the darkened corridors of the museum and the archive room that the curators think is locked, I’ve managed to piece together an account of how we ended up here. We want to be understood. We are a lesson,
and I hope that when it has finally been learnt, we will be free.
Thank you, Emma Musty and Legend Press
About the author
Emma is an editor and writer with Are You Syrious?, a daily news digest about the refugee situation in Europe and a long term member of Khora Community Centre which works with marginalised groups in Athens. She is also a freelance consultant for Refugee Rights Europe.