Her heart is pounding as she recognizes him.
Death. He is here. And he will carry her and her love away into the dark tonight. She knows this.
Her only hope lies in the idea that her beautiful Miriam will survive. Before they left, she used the last of their money to buy a life vest for her. The smugglers demanded more, laughing at her meager offering, but she cried and begged, pleading with them until they finally agreed. That money was all she and Moad had left in this world, but if it meant that their daughter could live and be free, she was willing to do anything.
There was no money left for their own vests so now, her precious Miriam will turn blue, shaking in the frigid waters, while her caretakers, the people that love her most in the world, sink to their grave below.
There is nowhere to go but the black depth of the sea. Forty or so people are crammed onto a raft meant for a maximum of eight. Mothers and fathers cling to their little ones as they begin to realize that this moment, these moments, are their last.
As the waves crash around them, water begins to pour in over the side of the raft, pooling around their feet, so painfully cold it scalds. She tries to lift her feet away from it, one at a time, but as the plastic deflates, it clings with each movement, the suction a reminder that they are mired in a death trap.
She frantically reaches for Moad, seeing his dark brown eyes, blood-red now from the tears streaming down his cheeks. He pulls her in close and she can feel the goose-bumps on his arms, the tension in his jaw, every muscle taut. He shouts, his voice drowned out by the raging storm around them, but she knows what he is saying, “Ana B’hebbek, Noir!!”
She knows. She knows exactly how much he loves her. Enough to risk everything. Enough to bring them here, to the middle of the ocean, in hopes of a better life.
She lifts Miriam to her chest. Her lovely child, barely three, so small and beautiful, dark ringlets matted by water now, big brown eyes squeezed shut in terror while her mouth forms a gasping wail, blending with the chorus of the screams around them.
She pulls the child close, wrapping her into herself, hoping to provide some small comfort, if only for a moment. The wind whips them with a stinging spray, reminding her that she has no warmth to give, only the prayers that come spilling off her tongue. She is praying, as hard and as fast as she can, that Allah spare her only child, send someone to find her beautiful daughter, someone to draw her from the water before her tiny heart freezes in her chest.
People are in a panicked frenzy now. They begin to mill about like sheep, each attempting to get closer to the middle of the raft. The first falls over the edge, creating even more panic and chaos. Another falls into the water screaming, clutching her baby to her chest. Time slows as she watches a man begin to slide, grabbing a teenage girl for support and taking her with him.
As she watches the woman in the water give way to fatigue, she realizes she must leave her Miriam. She will have to swim away to ensure that she does not pull her under as she drowns. She kisses the top of her sweet little head, then kisses her again and again. She tries to kiss the screams away, the terror etched on that beautiful face, she tries to kiss the tears away. She kisses her, hoping that she will have the strength to let her go when the time comes, hoping she will be able to stop kissing her long enough for her to float free. She kisses her, praying that she will not cling to her and drag her to her death below. Her prayers become more frantic, begging Allah to save her child, she has resolved her fate, but she begs him to save her child.
The raft is halfway underwater now. Bodies merge in her mind, one writhing, screaming mass that no longer has faces or names. They are clinging to the raft, climbing over each other, trying to pull themselves up, but only pulling it further and further under.
The water is up past her knees now. She sees a young girl, around ten or eleven, clinging to some of the plastic that is underwater. Her head disappears briefly, then she forces her way back up. The moonlight reflects on her face, her long hair cascading around her as she gasps for air.
That’s when she sees it. The girl is wearing a life vest. The same kind of life vest that is wrapped around her little love. She remembers now. She watched the girl’s father barter and beg for it from the smugglers, just as she did. They had fitted the girl right before putting the life jacket on her own child.
So why is she dipping below water? Why is she unable to float? Why is she clinging to the plastic, the only thing keeping her from a cold descent to death? Why is she sinking?
Why is she sinking???
She realizes, even as the question runs through her mind, why the girl will drown.
Her thoughts turn briefly to the smuggler’s faces, their wide smirks, their thieving hands wrapped around the last of her money, eyes black with greed.
She watches as the girl attempts one last lunge. Water fills her mouth as she tries to breathe. She sees the white terror of the girl’s eyes as her head disappears again, for the last time. Her arms waving, she sinks, sinks into the depths with the “life vest” strapped to her chest.
She realizes in that moment that there is no hope for her Miriam. They will all die, their little family. The man she loves with all her heart and the child born of that love. It will all be gone in a few moments now.
She reached again for Moad, feeling a moment of reprieve as she realizes that he is still her rock in all of this. She knows that she will not have to swim away from her Miriam anymore. She will hold her and kiss her all the way to death. Her daughter will drown in her arms, and she in her husband’s. The water is around her chest now, but she doesn’t struggle. There is no need, no sense in it. She accepts this last moment with tears as she leans into her husband and kisses her daughter for the last time.
She thinks of the children, far away. The children who are waking up right now, the children in their nice, warm beds with food waiting. The children whose mommies and daddies tell them stories, stories of a gracious, loving God of mercy who came to earth to save. They talk about how their child-God had to flee a wicked and violent king, how they ran to another country to escape slaughter. They are happy, they are at peace.
They don’t mention the color of the child-God’s skin, they don’t use the word refugee, and they don’t worry about Noir, or Moad, or their precious little Miriam.
No, as long as their children are fed and clothed, none of that matters. As long as their children are safe, everything is okay.
After all, the best kind of dying children are children dying far away.