By Emma Grace
Nari will leave his school’s Welcome Party and return to his aunt and uncle’s tenth-floor flat. He’ll stare at the sharp-edged graffiti on their front door and consider its resemblance to that capsizing boat. He’ll add his shoes to the six pairs already in the hallway and join his younger relatives in front of the TV, watching cartoons where punches and bullets have no consequences and cause no pain. No one will ask how his day was; they’ll know better than to upset him.
With a tight, tired face, his uncle will listen to unfamiliar Scottish voices on the radio. When he turns over to a station where a news report in his native language rings out, Nari will quietly leave the room. That way, his parents can’t be wiped out by a sentence or statistic. He can believe he’ll see them again. That he’ll get to go home.
At night, he’ll lie on the mattress on the floor and wait for his whimpering little brother to crawl over into a hug. Each tremor in his body will remind Nari of how the ground would shake back home whenever missile smoke streamed across the sky.
He’ll put out his hand to feel the steady calm of the walls.
Leela will go home after the school’s Welcome Party and drop her bag at the front door.
To avoid her mother, who is still on the sofa with blank eyes and a sagging jaw, she will sit outside on the wall and watch other children propelling themselves up and down the road. Their eyes will flick to her, then away. They’ll mutter, then laugh.
She will follow them into the nearby woods, beginning to enjoy how free she feels when soldiers don’t watch her every move. She’ll wander, deep in a web of branches, entranced by the odd beauty of dew-stained green leaves. The children will have climbed high above her, to the tops of the trees. Just as she’ll summon up the courage to call out to them, their urine will sting her cheek.
As she screams, she’ll shake the tree’s branches, hearing their jeers from above. Then, one boy will lose his grip and fall, the skin ripping from his arm. When Leela sees that familiar gash of red and hears his juddering cries, she will run and run, too frightened to stop.
There will always be boys with laughter like knives.
Seval won’t go home from the school’s Welcome Party.
He won’t go to his hostel bed where the thin sheets don’t keep out the cold and he hears the sounds of vomiting and cajoling from the bar next door.
Instead, he’ll tuck himself in the corner of a classroom, under the desk by the radiator, turning a teacher’s coat into a bed. He’ll eat the sandwiches he stashed earlier and bounce the ping-pong ball he pocketed during P.E. He’ll look through textbooks, fascinated by the nothingness the letters inspire, longing for a flick of familiarity, for it all to make sense and dance off the page. He will keep coming back to a photo of green hills spritzed in silver sunbeams, each strand of grass, inhaling and exhaling, thriving, alive. Finally, he will tear it out, even though there’s no one left he can send it to.
When he wakes in the morning, he’ll stare emptily at the classroom’s whiteboard and try to sound out the words still written there: “Welcome To Scotland.”
He’ll remember standing in this room, just the day before, alongside two other children. He’ll remember the limp balloons, the cloudy jug of diluting juice and stacked paper cups, the teachers who nodded and pointed at each of them while emitting encouraging sounds. He’ll remember what one teacher said to them without knowing what the words meant.
“You all have a lot in common. All new. All from far away.”
He’ll remember how the three glanced at each other with wide, wary eyes. How they knew they shared the same daunted faces but not a language that could articulate their differences, the weight of what each of them had been through. He’ll remember how they turned to look through the window at the other children laughing and playing in the rain. How they each waited uneasily to become absorbed into this building, this place, and this life. For everything to become familiar and easy.