Closed eyes tightly as his mind told the brain to stay away from flirting with flaky memories, Samaran was falling half asleep while the memories slowly settled in peace. Heart began to beat faster as usual. Palpitations heard in his ears, Samaran was now in fear of death.
He got up, sat down on the bed and put a hand on his left chest worrying why the hell heart was hammering so loud. He was able to feel the tinge vibe, sweating excessively from his head even in the shuddering cold.
Had no patience to be seated any further, Samaran stood up. He could now sense the heart’s vigorous thumping from head to toe. He perceived wetness in his nose and felt moisture when touched the nostrils with fingers. He checked what it is, using the torch light feature of his mobile phone – it was blood! Fear grew even worse.
He went into the bathroom; switched the light on; when he looked at the mirror, blood was oozing from his nostrils. Samaran was able to sense the smell of blood in the nasal area when the heart thumped faster for a while, but bleeding was detected only today.
Samaran thought it was not nice to wake up his roommates at the Refugee Camp for all these things. He did not even care about the freezing cold, opened the front door and went out topless with just the sarong (kaili) on to relax and get some fresh air.
The Manager on duty shouted at Samaran : “Are you crazy?”
“Yes dude, everyone in here is crazy, just differs in percentage”, Samaran replied.
He was inhaling slowly and deeply while looking up at the sky, ignoring whatever the Manager shouted in response. Minus cold did nothing due to the changes in his body that were causing him to be hot and sweaty. Hammering heartbeat was gradually getting back to normal.
Samaran’s Russian mate Veski, who has a similar habit of walking around in the nights, came out for a smoke. Veski was astonished to see Samaran standing topless in shivering cold. Veski served in the Russian Army for a long time. Due to bitterness within the military troupes, he left the army, came here last year and claimed political asylum.
Veski asked, “when I was a soldier of the KGP Brigade in Russian Army, I was left to run topless in the freezing cold as a part of our training. As I was born and brought up in Russia, I am used to this kind of weather. Having been born and brought up in Asia in such a scorching climate, how could you bear this shuddering cold, topless?”
“Perhaps, you thought about your wifey”, he then chuckled.
Broke out a bitter smile, Samaran replied: “ Feeling so depressed, bro. ‘When there is no chance for a hot throbbing kiss, can’t help smoking’, dude.”
“Please give me a fag.” Samaran too joined in smoking. Heart beat was back to normal, body was beginning to feel the cold. “See you later, Veski. Good night, matey!” said Samaran, returning back to his room.
He felt as if a strange liquid electric current hit his head from his palms and lower abdomen, while looking at the bed and the chair at the bedside. His mind drowned in agonizing old memories…
Fled from home country, wandering between different countries for four years, finally had claimed political asylum in an European country. Still Samaran had been moved to various Refugee Camps. The reason for him wandering in between countries was his political standing; but, the reason behind him wandering in between refugee camps was just his snoring!
There were two hundred to three hundred people living in each refugee camp. Four people were allocated to each room. Some of Samaran’s room-mates woke up in the morning with sleepless red eyes and had a go on him. Some shook him till he woke up. Some threw cold water to wake him up. Due to this, at a point of time, Samaran had to stay awake all night then get some sleep during the day time when his roommates were all away. Having observed this, the camp management had to move Samaran from camp to camp. This was how Samaran finally ended up in this refugee camp.
Here too, Samaran was assigned to this particular room, considering the fact that all the other three room-mates snore on a regular basis. There were three room-mates, a Kurdish, a Lebanese and a Somalian. Although these three had a habit of snoring, none was able to excel Samaran’s snore!
In the initial days, they used to complain: “We all do snore, matey; but never had seen someone snore like you! Your snoring noise sounds like an MRI Scanner’s and we could not sleep peacefully at all”. However, they all became friends gradually. Samaran’s snore turned out to be a soothing lullaby for them! They tease Samaran that Allah has separated him from his wife so that she could escape from his ‘MRI snore’ for a while and sleep peacefully.
As the three had been members of liberation movements in their home countries, there was no scarcity for daily political talks and debates in their room. What happened to Kurdish was what happened to Tamils of Eelam; early Eelam Tamil fighters received training in Lebanon; unlike other Africans, Somali nationals’ appearance resembles that of Asians’. All these similarities resulted in all four of them forming an enduring friendship. Their bond got even tighter when they came to know that a large number of Eelam Tamils participated in the recent protest held in an European Country in support of liberation of Kurdish people. At times, they had even introduced Samaran to prominent members of their liberal movement who were in touch with them. In this way, their relationship grew stronger as a healthier one.
Samaran and his Somali friend Dawood are the married guys among all four. Their sufferings were very synonymous in terms of their private life. Similar to Samaran, Dawood too got separated from his wife and child within a year after they married and left the home country. Both of them resorted on Skype, the ‘media god’, to keep in touch with their families.
During Skype Video Calls, Samaran’s son said: “Dad, wide open!” while trying to feed rice to his dad. He even asked for Uncle Dawood then offered to feed him, too. This continued to an extent Samaran’s wife complained multiple times that their son spoiled the webcam in an effort to feed his dad through the webcam – a few mouthfuls of well-mixed dhal curry and rice.
When Dawood left his home country due to unavoidable circumstances, his son was a two months-old baby. Now, he was five years old. Each time his wife wept asking: “When will you come?”, “When are we going to see you?” and “How many days would I keep lying to this poor child?”. Dawood consoled her by telling Samaran’s story.
Almost all of the African friends who moved into the camp quickly got into a relationship with an European woman or vice-versa. ‘Knowledgeable’ European women adored Afro men and chose to get into a relationship with men of ‘that’ kind. To Samaran’s knowledge, there was no other Afro man remaining without a girlfriend in that camp. But Dawood, to Samaran’s surprise, having lived in this camp for over four years, never ever had a girlfriend. A few women approached him, Dawood had never accepted it. He was that much attached to his family. In a camp where hundreds of people from over forty countries reside, it’s easy to make friends with many. But only a few would become close to the heart. Dawood became a friend of that kind to Samaran.
The river flows near the camp, cautiously yet gorgeously, sliding smoothly forming curves hither and thither, alike affectionate words a beautiful woman’s lip gives birth to. Samaran and Dawood usually chit chat about their teenage love stories at this river bank in the evenings. In a never ending refugee life, the only comfort they had was ruminating timeless sweet nostalgic memories. “It had been five years since we moved into this refugee camp. I cannot stand to be apart from my family. I don’t care even if they shoot me, I really want to go back to Somalia”, Dawood was often lamenting in extreme hatred.
In a morning three weeks ago, when they all four were skimming through their home country news in their laptops, Veski came and said that there was a letter for Dawood. He replied that he would collect it in the afternoon when he went for lunch while busy watching some news. He looked so nervous as he had seen some important news. He called someone from his mobile. “There isn’t enough credit to make an IDD call, bro. Could I please borrow yours?”
Dawood got Samaran’s mobile, tried to make an IDD call over and again, but he could not get connected. His eyes were teary. Hands were shaky.
When Samaran asked: “Why are you so nervous, Dawood? What happened bro?
“I’m trying to call my wife’s mobile, bro; could not connect to hers”, Dawood replied.
“Why are you getting so nervous for this, silly? She may have gone to drop your son off to school. Don’t worry, bro. Try again in a bit of time” Samaran consoled Dawood.
“No, bro. There was a bomb blast near my house in Somalia. It was at a Sunday Market, so my wife would definitely have gone with our son to get cheap bargains. I did not call them yesterday; tried many times today, but the number seems not responding; that’s what panics me” Dawood replied.
He continued to call his wife enormous times, but had no success. There was a phone call from Somalia to Dawood’s phone. Never knew what he was thinking, Dawood gave the phone to Samaran and said: “Ask what’s up, bro”.
Dawood’s friend who was previously a co-militant – was on the line. Feeling so tensed, playing with his genitalia unknowingly, Dawood looked at Samaran’s face restlessly. Caller said what he had to say within a minute then cut the call.
Samaran stood up stunned for a moment without knowing what to say. Then hugged Dawood, holding his shoulders tightly. Samaran felt dizzy in thoughts of his own family while thinking about Dawood’s wife and son who died in the catastrophic bomb blast.
Other two roommates were going to hug him. He pushed them away, sat down on the floor, was then crying out loud, punching the floor with his fist, hit his head a few times on the metal headboard of the bed. While screaming: “My son had gone without knowing me till the end. Allah! you have made me never see my wife and son who waited for me so long – for the rest of my life”, Dawood tried to cut his throat with a knife. All the other three forcefully held him, took the knife away from him, he then escaped from them and ran away to jump off from the balcony. Urine was leaking all over beyond his knowledge. All three got him back, using their full strength and settled him in bed.
He was lying down for the rest of the day, releasing a cycle of intermittent, hysterical scream followed by a deep silence. All the other three sat up beside Dawood till 2am. Dawood sat up all of a sudden, booted his laptop, opened Skype, viewed the snapshots taken during his video call conversations to his wife and son, then asked Samaran in a faint voice: “My wifey and son would never ever come online on Skype, isn’t it, bro?” Samaran was able to just swallow his saliva which felt a bit tight when it went down the throat, he could not say even a word to Dawood.
Dawood, feeling so tired of crying, finally fell asleep near the dawn. Samaran was not sleepy. He went downstairs for a cuppa. The officer said: “Here you are! This is the letter to Dawood from the Department of Immigration”, while handing it to Samaran.
Samaran thought it must be something important regarding Dawood’s political asylum claim. Samaran was already given permission because of their close friendship tie; as he knew for sure that Dawood was not in a position to read that letter, he opened the letter and skimmed through it. The letter read: due to situations had got better in Somalia, it is believed that there was no existing threat for Dawood’s life should he return there, so that his claim for political asylum had been refused; he could appeal against the decision within 15 days from the date of that letter should he wish to, otherwise he would be deported.
Samaran understood from what the letter read, that this is a pre-preparation for deportation. It was a terrible dilemma for Samaran: “How to show this letter to Dawood at his present mental state? Cannot hide it from him as he has to do the needful to appeal within two weeks’ time”. Dawood needed to see the solicitor to appeal against the decision showing reasons of why it was not safe for him to return to the home country with proper evidence. It was his wife who used to collect all the newspaper cuttings of the news published about him, get it translated accurately and send it to him. Now it was hers and their son’s death that was going to be one of the reasons this time. Dawood always said that it was really difficult to get certification in Somalia; needed to offer a lump sum as a bribe. Besides, Dawood was never willing to use his freedom movement links for this purpose. Samaran reached their room, speaking to himself like this.
Dawood, tired of crying, is now deep asleep snoring. “It is dawn, I will wake up in the evening then speak to you all. I feel so sleepy, I’m going to get some sleep now, please do not let him go out on his own, do just look after him” told the other two, Samaran went to bed.
When Samaran woke up, Dawood seemed to have gone out with his friends and boozed up unusually excessively. Sat unbalanced on his chair, was looking at his wife’s and son’s snapshots zoomed out on Skype. Big drops of tears were rolling down his cheeks continuously like the rain water dripping off from plants after a heavy rain. The other two friends warned Samaran with their gestures not to tell Dawood about the letter.
When Samaran tried to speak softly to Dawood the next morning, he responded with just a “hmm” for everything. In between, Samaran said: “The Department of Immigration and Emigration sent you a letter. Nothing to worry. Just need to send an appeal. Get ready, bro! Let’s go and see the Solicitor”.
Replying nothing, Dawood got the letter from Samaran, skimmed through it so quickly, broke out a bitter smile, threw it away towards the wall, then said: “Don’t speak about this letter anymore, bro” and went out in his pyjamas. Since then, every night he returned excessively drunk, not seeming to be eating enough, our room that used to be so noisy with political debate and satire, is now in dead silence as if someone put a spell to switch off something, turning everything still.
Other three friends spoke to each other only when Dawood was away, but they never felt back to normal. The appeal deadline was close. The money Dawood earned by working hard illegally overnight to send back home to celebrate his son’s seventh birthday, was now the source of finance for his alcohol addiction.
Meals won’t be available for someone who was not present at the dining room at dinner time. Hence, the cheese and egg that were generously available became Dawood’s snacks after he returned heavily drunk each night. Dawood never listened to Samaran’s warning about health hazards of excessive intake of full fat cheese, being a Cholesterol patient.
On his son’s birthday, Dawood returned heavily drunk to an extent that he could not even manage to insert the electronic card to open the door. He returned overly drunk the following days too, but went asleep with no much fuss. Dawood returned excessively drunk once again today. He was sitting across in bed leaning against the wall, weeping silently, rolling the toy car that he bought for his son’s birthday present.
Samaran offered some hot meal from downstairs, but Dawood responded nothing, just remained at the same position, but now with his eyes closed. As Lebanon friend reminded him that he had to wake up early the next day, Samaran kept the meal on the side table, switched off the light.
Samaran was listening to the Tamil song “Play in silence thee! O conscience!” repeatedly, he could not get sleep, was just tossing and turning in bed. Around 3 o’clock in the morning, Samaran sat up to go and get some water to drink and found Dawood was still sitting in the same position.
Samaran then got up and approached Dawood, said: “it’s okay if you do not want to eat, bro; just lie down properly in bed”, touched Dawood’s shoulder, felt his body was unusually cold and the head hung to the left. Samaran started to shiver all over. Switched the light on, shouted “Wake up, guys!” towards the other two. Similar to how the monkeys check heartbeat placing a hand on chest and breathing placing fingers near the nostrils, they all three were replicating those actions running here to there, restlessly. One of them called 999.
The doctor and police arrived within a short while. Doctor tried his very best to resuscitate, his efforts appeared to be all gone in vain as he shook his shoulder and gestured to notify Dawood was no more. Policemen paid respect to Dawood – ‘the dead’ by taking off their hats. Immigration Police too arrived in the meanwhile.
All co-residents assembled by the room entrance as the news spread so quickly as a fire. Their faces appeared hard as a stone with the thought that this could happen to either of them one day. Following the inquiry of what happened and that, when they lifted Dawood’s body on a stretcher to carry away from their room, Samaran went mad at them:
“Your Immigration Intelligence Team is working so efficiently! Well Done!! Now you could deport Dawood with no hassle”, he shrieked.
That’s all what Samaran was able to do for his best friend. The whole crowd was watching the scene with teary eyes while the ambulance left the scene silently with Dawood’s body. The story of true friendship between two strangers from two different continental plates, has now come to a denouement. Everyone returned to their rooms heavy heartedly without speaking a single word to each other.
When Samaran entered their room, the management was ‘tidying’ Dawood’s place and said his friends could keep any of Dawood’s belongings if they wanted to. Everyone did so. Samaran took just the toy car that Dawood was playing with – in his last moments. The rest of the belongings were removed from the room, tied up in a black bag. Dawood’s wife’s and son’s snaps would remain in Skype unopened forever…
The other two were lying down in bed quietly, covering their faces with their duvets. Samaran could not get sleep. He turned towards the opposite side of Dawood’s bed then fell asleep.
While woken up feeling something strange, Samaran looked at Dawood’s bed, found a new refugee room-mate was now replaced in place of Dawood! He was sleeping so innocently. Samaran thought: “Even before the bedspread gets colder, losing Dawood’s body warmth, the management has replaced someone else in it! Time and tide waits for no man. Whatever happens, life has to move on. People get on with life pretending as if nothing has happened”. Hit his forehead with his palm not knowing how else to react, he lied down in bed.
With the thought running in mind that the same thing would happen to him too one day, his heart began to beat faster. But Samaran was not sitting up scared this time. The blood dripped from his nostrils was staining his pillow and bedspread little by little. Samaran did neither want to look at the mirror nor to clean it this time. He was lying down still curled up in bed as if his mind and brain were forcefully separated apart.
Written By: Thirukkumaran
Translated By: Gugatharsani
Thirukkumaran is an Eelam Tamil poet in exile, writer, journalist and environmentalist who graduated from the University of Jaffna.
He is the author of four Tamil anthologies: thirukkumaran kavithaikaL (Thirukkumaran Poems: 2004); vizhungappatta vithaikaL (Swallowed Seeds: 1st Edition 2011; 2nd Edition 2015); thaniththiruththal (Seclusion: 2014); vidaipeRum veLai (Time to Bid-adieu: 2019); and a Scientific Monograph on Indian Ocean: Sethu Canal Project – A Military, Political, Economic & Environmental View (2006).
His poems have been translated into four other languages (English, German, Irish and Sinhala) from Tamil, appeared in publications such as Eanir Magazine, Veerakesari, Thinakkural, Uthayan, JDS Lanka and Raavaya. His poetry books were launched and featured in Literature/ Book Festivals in many countries around the world including India, United Kingdom, Germany, Switzerland, Ireland and Canada. Further details could be found on: Thiruchchelvam Thirukkumaran.
Gugatharsani is a Chartered Human Resources Consultant, Interpreter and Translator; was born in Sri Lanka; lives in the United Kingdom; earned her Bachelor & Master Degrees from the University of Colombo and Middlesex University, London; worked for a renowned company in London as a Tamil/English, English/Tamil Face-Face Interpreter; is a former staff of North East Provincial Treasury and the Ministry of Public Administration & Home Affairs, Sri Lanka.
One of her English trans-versions(poetry) was featured in JDS Lanka (2018). She has translated/ interpreted a few hundreds of poems, short stories, articles, songs, short films, lectures, dictionary chapters, accounting reports, medical/ council meetings/ briefings, immigration interviews, affidavits, witness statements, etc.
She has an ultimate passion for writing poems and short stories in Tamil. ‘thamizhkkizhaviyin kiRukkalkaL’ is her first anthology in Tamil. She won prizes for Tamil poetry, Tamil Short Story and English/Tamil Short Story Translation at the Inter Government Services Literary Creation Competition (2005/2006).