We'd been travelling for many days when they finally stopped us.
I hadn't wanted to leave; my home was very dear to me, and I now ached for the little things that made it so. Our small house, with the cracks in the paint and the flickering lights and the spots of mould in the corners. How I wished to trace my fingers along the cracked line one last time, how I wished to glance out the dusty window and watch as my son returned home from school, his bright red blazer in contrast to the very dead and dreary bushes in the front garden. To some extent, I even missed the sound of sirens blaring in the night. There hadn't been much noise since we left, from the outside I mean, seeing as we mostly travelled in the dead of night.
I'd spent the journey huddled up in a corner of the lorry, my son right by my side. He'd barely said a word, resting his head against me, his dark brown hair soft against my skin. It was comforting, having him there beside me, knowing he was safe.
But we weren't safe. And I think he knew that.
I think everyone knew that.
We were hungry, dirty and slowly descending into madness. There was only so long you could be pushed up against the wall of a lorry container, having to hunch up every time someone wanted to move. There were two very young babies onboard, crying at every pothole and bump, every twist and turn in the journey to safety.
I shouldn't have been so ungrateful about it. We were safe, or felt safe at least.
The truck came to a sudden halt sometime in the night. At first I didn't know the time of day, we'd all lost track of time since we'd been cooped up in here. I suppose chickens don't care for the time much once the gate to the pen is closed. There was an excited murmur throughout the people kept in the coop like us, perhaps it was a toilet break. Perhaps they were going to give us food or water again. Maybe they were going to ditch us at the side of the road: you never know.
No-one comes to open the doors of the truck, ans we await in silence and listen out for any noise. There are distance murmurs in another language. I couldn't understand what was going on.
Until the shots rung out.
It was quick succession of fire, nothing I hadn't heard before but something I hadn't been expecting. My son doesn't flinch. He's grown so used to gun shots, they send him to sleep. I wondered who'd been put to sleep outside.
There was more shouting from foreign voices and then the doors were pulled open. The bright light of multiple torches cut through the dusty air and shine upon us; refugees, now staring down the barrels of half a dozen guns.
They shout, motion for us to exit our coop. We obey, knowing full well what guns can do. There are soldiers in front of us, behind us, to the left and right of us, on the roof of the lorry. The driver of the lorry and his partner are swimming in a pool of crimson on the road. Their eyes are open, widened and terrified. They didn't try to run.
It's dark, and dark shadows of tall houses loom down over us. It's foggy, and despite the flash lights I can barely see a couple of feet in front of me.
They shout again, and I hug my son tight. He's scared, shaking, afraid to make a sound. None of us try to defend ourselves; we haven't done anything that may brand us deserving of this. We tried to escape one conflict and were welcomed with another. I wanted my son to grow up away from reminders of a place where men were gunned down for having a simple opinion that differed from the state.
Soldiers keep shouting to each other, searching the van, scouring every inch of our temporary home, as if maybe one of us was still hidden. Why would we hide; we know the outcome will be worse. A woman cries out- a soldier had shoved her. He shoves her again and she falls to her knees weeping. She'd had to leave without her husband. He was a soldier too.
We're made to stand in a long line, and I keep hold of my son's small hand as they inspect us. The man to the left of me is trembling, his labourer's hands once strong and steady now twitching. I recognise him from home, from a small farm. He hadn't had any animals for months now but he kept us stocked with as many vegetables as he could manage, old and alone. He's on his toes, glancing around; even in the dark I can tell he's sweating. He doesn't care if the soldiers are watching. It's dark, and I doubt he thinks he can run without consequence. He's crazy.
Or maybe he just knows it's not going to get any better.
And he runs.