Thursday, July 8, 2010

Burkha

Christmas Eve and he's pissed off. He should be with his family in Darwin enjoying seafood and champagne and his mum's Lithuanian silkė su grybais and deep fried dumplings. She'd never cottoned-on to the traditional Christmas meal even though she emigrated here 30 years ago. He should be sitting pogged on the verandah watching the lightning of a cooling summer storm roll in over the bay while the kids struggle with their training wheels and fill themselves to bloating with cheap lollies from their stockings but no . .  he's out in the Indian Ocean just off the north west shelf wondering how on earth 'they' manage to sneak through the flotilla of patrol boats.  Foreign debris, most destined for a free flight home, when he couldn't even afford to take the kids to Seaworld.

Dulinskis leans hard against the patrol boat railing with the retrieval hook in hand. He's there to rescue another 'reffo'. Another stinking cheater claiming asylum against certain death, hopeful of moving forward for a chance at life without going through the 'proper' channels.

He hated cheaters.  But these bastards still manage to find the dosh to pay a smuggler's bounty and reach Australian waters. He isn't enamoured of illegals, even less so after being dragged out at Christmas. The pricks sure know how to time their entry.

She can't swim, let alone keep afloat. Her swaddling clothes wrapped and warped around her frame like a  funeral shroud.  Waves of warm water ebb and flow over her flailing form, pulling her down into the depths. The thin blue fabric of her burkha twisting against her every breath, strangling, slow and suffocating. She is drowning, submerging, submitting - giving up after her ordeal, and the thought of dying panics and terrifies her.

He heaves the wringing, writhing blue mass from the crystal brine and lands her on the deck like a fisherman lands a yellowfin. She recoils, gathers her saturated robes, kneels, puts two hands beneath the blue in prayer-like pose and mutters words of thanks in a quavering voice, "Tashakur mikonam! Tashakur!! Tashakur!!!!"   She is drenched. He forces a polite smile as a modicum of sympathy takes hold and he wraps her in a Navy issue blanket. It isn't cold, she'll dry off soon enough he thinks, before turning his attention and hook back to the others. He leaves her still kneeling and heaving, a small blue pyramid of submission. A pose that looks so natural and yet so wrong.

All around him his crew are digging  the dirty dags out of the water while the smugglers burn their sinking craft. No boat, no evidence, no turning back.  Still, they pluck the bastards who ply their nasty trade out of the big blue as well.  There are 25 of them this time, all claiming to be children of war. Few have papers to identify their origins. They could be Pakkis, Taliban or from Timbuktu for all he knows but they'll all  be shipped to Christmas Island on Christmas Day and 'processed' eventually.  Dulinskis feels a little comforted in the knowledge that he isn't the only one missing out on the Festive Season.

The detention centre is clean, a little too clean. The people are cool and unsmiling and she understands nothing of what they say.  Her saving grace is being separated from the asshole who calls her wife, for that she is eternally grateful.   The buildings are starkly white and antiseptic, an odour she hasn't smelled since being hospitalised after a beating at Ali Habad outside Kabul. The beds are sparse but comfortable, the food strange but sweet. Soft mangoes, plenty of meat and greens, no spice, but she forgives because food is food and it has been a long time since she has been able to eat more than one meal a day and retain it in her belly.

She attends her English class, she speaks with her counsellor, she chats in broken English to the guards through the mask of blue. She watches television. She's never watched television.

Once a month the hairdresser comes and combs her luxuriant, black, straight hair, braids it in a European style and she feels gorgeous, feminine, worthy. Such a small gesture means so much.  When it's time to meet with him, she dons the blue and feigns respect but wears someone else' dress beneath. A small act of secret defiance. All the time they talk, she remembers his casuality with the stick. He beat her if she argued, he beat her if she was menstruating, he beat her if she did anything to feel more like a woman. He raped her within the law and beat her within an inch of her life. He beat her hardest when he found her stash of foreign magazines beneath the mattress. Left by marauders, their pages filled with beautiful women, beautiful lives. He beat her . . often and hard and she will never forgive him for it.

Months go by but she is dogged. While they sew their lips in protest, she reads. While they climb the razor wire topped fence, she verbalises. While they protest in their native tongues to ears deafened with insensitivity, she writes. While they hunger strike, she studies.  While they wave plaquards and complain about their treatment, she learns English and the ways of the promised land.  Her .  . an Afghan woman, no education, no language, no rights, no freedom. She, who'd begged within a puddle to put food on their table.  This woman who dragged a gasless car across the country filled with nothing but their few worldly possessions.  She who'd saved the smuggler's fee for the past 10 years. She is becoming someone else.

The wife beater stands close enough to touch, his body pressed against the cyclone fence ignoring the terse instruction to "Step back mate!"  He spits at her feet and calls her whore.  He will  be returned to his traitor's lair while she walks through open gates. She might be ignorant but she isn't stupid and secreted her papers, her badge of authenticity.

She walks beyond the  open gate. The sun glints off the razor wire. Strangers extend open palms in welcome.   She turns her head, so slightly to profer a parting glance. Her face, sun-browned and radiant, her lips glossed and lush. Her visa in her pocket. She smiles the beamish smile of freedom.

The Burkha burned, her bridges broken, her shackles released, her war is over.

It's another holiday weekend. Dulinskis leans hard against the railing of the patrol boat and fishes a flailing yellowfin from the warm Indian Ocean . . "Bloody reffos . . " he mutters under his breath.

4 comments:

  1. Very nice. Watch your damned tense shifts. :P

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  2. Good for her!

    You're right, your entry and mine have a similar theme. This is good, more so because parts of it touch on one of my inner conflicts.

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  3. i am glad she survived...and found her freedom. nicely done helen...i may need to get an aussie dictionary next time tough...smiles.

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  4. good stuff--had to go back to reread the beginning, but the whole thing was interesting enough to make me want to

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