Travel of a Different Kind… – Kushagra Verma

[Disclaimer: Kinda Depressing]

[Sorry for the clickbait title]

I’d always loved travelling. As a kid, I loved going over hills and swimming in a nearby pool of water. I loved the crystal clear water, the colour and smell of the trees around me, the sunlight filtering through the leaves. It was the highlight of my day.

Later, as an adult, I would take my family with me on as many holidays as we could afford. The inflated economy didn’t help, but we would do our best.

But running for my life from armed men, my family along with me, through the barren wilderness of my country? I hated it. My brother had been lost a few score miles ago, fighting a group off, allowing us to flee. I felt guilt and shame for not helping him, and hoped that he had made it to safety.

I remembered his last words to me- “Take the kids, I can hold them off!” He pushed me away and ran out of our makeshift home with nothing but a dagger.

Now, I looked at his baby son, wondering if he’d grow up blaming me. I shuddered and went to sleep in the back of the horse cart, which we’d stolen from other survivors we’d found.

Another thing to feel guilty about.

______________________________

My wife woke me up the next morning, with the sun’s first few rays. You wouldn’t think much of her, but she had steely courage and grim determination. I couldn’t have kept going without her.

We spent the next hour answering the calls of nature and having a brisk breakfast, and speedily went on our way. We were hoping to reach the border by the next sunrise, where we hoped to find a refugee camp.

We crossed a forested patch, with a stream flowing next to the thin path we were on. We stopped to drink some clean water. I spent some time gathering fresh fruits, drawing upon my knowledge from my childhood. It felt good to be back with nature. I breathed in the air, enjoying a few brief moments of peace.

I started towards the cart, with the assortment of fruits in a plastic bag.

______________________________

We ate silently, sitting next to a large oak tree. I could almost imagine that it was a picnic, like the ones we used to have. My wife smiled at me, no doubt having similar thoughts. I gave a few apples to the horse.

My 12-year-old daughter kept glancing around uneasily, and with good reason. The shadows were starting to get longer, and the night would bring out various predators.

I hope things will get better for us.” She said. I squeezed her hand and told her, “Of course, honey.” She’s another reason I kept going.

We finished up and started going to get out before sunset. I was at the front and the horse galloped out, the rest of my family gently snoring.

Despite everything, I felt happy being with my family. I prayed for my brother and for our safety.

When we reached the border the next morning, our hopes were crushed.

______________________________

A border officer.

Two men jumped out of a military vehicle, speaking to each other in hushed tones. I thought I heard one saying, “But he’s with family, sir.”

They weren’t carrying guns openly, but I’d learnt that that meant nothing. My daughter gripped my hand tightly. My wife stood next to me, my nephew in her arms.

I raised my hands in surrender, and my daughter and wife followed. The men came closer. I said, “We come in peace. Please, help us. We’ve been travelling for a very long time.”

The one on the right ordered, “Sir, I need you and your wife to follow me. Hand over the children.”

My eyes widened, “Where are you taking them?” He started coming closer, and I started backing away. Instantly, a pistol appeared in the other soldier’s hands, pointed at me.

Move.” He said. “Hands straight up.”

They piled me and my wife into a car, while my daughter and nephew were taken by another soldier.

The thought of never seeing them again broke me. I started sobbing.

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That was 5 long, long years ago. Once we were granted citizenship after 2 years of being a refugee, we got a home, and started searching for the children and trying to track down my brother. No one knows whether he is still alive.

Yesterday, my wife got a call from the foster home the children had been in. Her expression went from anxiety to surprise and then a mixture of relief and joy.

I guessed what had happened, and whooped with jubilation.

______________________________

Driving down the road to the foster parents’ house in the town’s suburb, I can barely hide my anticipation. My wife is in a similar state. The house comes into view, a large villa painted white and red.

We jump out of the car, rush to the door, and ring the doorbell. A pleasant jingle emanates from the inside.

Suddenly, we hear joyous cries of two people. I start to grin.

Things did turn out for the better.” My wife says, smiling, the sound of feet pattering on the floorboards coming closer.

~Kushagra Verma, Amity International School, Noida

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