THE REFUGEE

27 Feb

It had been a long crawl across the rift and through the mountain passes before, wretchedly swimming across a salt-sea bay, cold and wet and shivering ,the old man staggering went.
He was Digwig and he was feeling older than his years, much older for his journey had already sapped most of his strength. But age wasn’t a saviour when the wars had broken out and he just had to flee, to find a home for his family where peace would reign supreme and death and destruction become a thing of the past. Back home, where once trees had flourished in majesty only to be struck down by man’s need for the materials to forge weapons, was a chaos beyond description. Back home was insanity.
He had looked about him and felt only despair. Things were worse than bad and the foe was wixked beyond his concept of wickedness.
So he had set out, determined to find a better place and better things. His kin deserved that, his woman and his babies. He was a refugee looking desperately for a refuge.
He had been in these wilds for an age already. Vast swathes of the planet had yet to be inhabited by man – though they would be, in the fullness of time. But the future is always a closed book until its pages are opened, and this particular future still lay a long way in the future. So in Digwig’s time vast areas of land were untouched by humanity – for the time being.
The trouble with Digwig’s homeland had to do with wars. Battles for possession, for food, for even a scrap of virtual wasteland, were never far away. One day the weaponry would be more damaging than slings and bows, but slings and bows can lead to a dreadful amount of destruction and create a frightening score of death if carefully handled by a vicious foe. And Digwig had seen too much of vicious foes.
By now, though, he was weary almost to the point of death.
Weeks had passed as he struggled along, crawling and clawing in almost impassable terrain, and he was constantly aware of the painful gnawing of hunger in his stomach. Sometimes he had to exist purely on the remnants of fallen leaves, blown to him on a chance wind, chewing them until whatever sustenance they contained oozed into his mouth. Other times he was more fortunate, managing to snare this or that half-starved creature of the wild before it, too, passed beyond the land of the living, brought down by its own starvation. But little proved to be better than nothing, and he was still alive.
He had seen only one person on his journey, and he had looked, dreaming of companionship on his hard road. It was an old woman who was madder than any mad person he had known and who had squawked obscenities at him as he had passed her tumbledown lean-to hovel. When it had become clear that in her raging mind her obscenities were likely to be enacted as deeds of the flesh – she started pulling the disgusting skins she was wrapped in from her body – he had scurried even faster off. Hunger might have slowed him, but fear of that woman’s wretched flesh and what she dreamed of in her grisly mind spurred him on.
He knew he might die any day when he passed a score of whitened, bleached bones. What they’d been in life he could only try to guess though amongst them was a skull that might well have been human. The thought of what had brought them to a blasted end in so lost a place, an inhospitable mixture of sparse scrub and desert, made him shiver, gave his imagination scope for the grimmest of thoughts.
And so he plodded on, ever weaker, ever more desperate for a peaceful haven. Maybe somewhere the sun shone daily and good folks, bellies full and generosity in their hearts, lived peaceful lives and were ready to be giving when a dying stranger entered their midst. Maybe even willing to lend him the land for a home, so that he could regain his strength before returning to the dread battlefield of his ruined homeland and fetch his kin.
Digwig was on his very last legs when he reached Saint Holi, and it was the place he had dreamed of. Spirals of smoke crawled lazily into the sky from fires that warmed the smiling folk as they sat around after dark and told stories to each other, stories that held the children and women in rapt awe. He could see them as he stood on the very verge of this unexpected paradise. Digwig had never seen anything as beautiful.
He paused at the very entrance to Saint Holi. There was a gate, a simple enough affair – but it was a gate and as such he respected it as belonging to someone else and signifying something. So he paused there and made small noises, needing to attract the attention of someone.
And someone did notice him.
A man with a fine set of muscles rippling as he walked came up to the gate and stared at Digwig. Digwig might have stared back, but his long journey had sapped almost everything from him, and his shoulders drooped. A grey mist seemed to descend over his vision as the man spoke in a language he couldn’t understand.
“A terrorist, eh?” snarled the man, “a migrant from far away, a despicable creature ready to rape our women and molest our children? Is that what you are? Be off with you or I’ll set the hounds on you!”
Digwig had no idea what the words meant, but he knew that tone of voice all right, and he turned, wretchedly, to leave.
He walked less than a dozen paces and the grey mist became black and in that instant he knew no more, nor ever would, as he slumped, lifeless and exhausted, to the stony land beyond the gate.
The man from Saint Holi stared contemptuously at him for a moment, then turned and sautered off.
“A bloody migrant,” he explained, “dead probably. Serve him right! Serve him bloody right!”
© Peter Rogerson 27.02.16

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