This is the seventh finalist in Young Post’s 2016 Summer Story Competition, which offers a grand prize – a Samsung Galaxy VR headset and a 32GB Samsung Galaxy S7! Each week, we’ll publish one finalist’s story, with the winning entry appearing in Young Post on August 27.
The sky was just visible through the tiny holes in the ceiling. A flash of lightning accompanied the pounding rain. Wrapping my arms around myself, I inched closer to the corner of the hut, wincing at the pool of urine and sewage flooding in, as always happened during heavy rain. When was Papa coming home? I trembled in fear. It was so dark outside. Papa should have been back already – was the wind too wild to walk through? Did he get lost? Why wasn’t he back yet?
Was it my fault? I’m so sorry, I thought. I’m so sorry Papa, for ever making you angry. Will you just come home now?
Just last night, while Papa was watching me eat, I had complained about my constant hunger. Papa had sighed. Although I had been starving for months, Papa had only eaten half of what I’d had. I hadn’t ever seen Papa so sad.
“I’ll try, Adil, I’ll try,” Papa had said. Now I wished Papa would just try to come home. Food didn’t matter anymore. As long as Papa was with me, the measly food would do.
I tried to focus on the memory of last night, when I had been curled up next to Papa on the bamboo mat. I had woken to the sound of agonised sobbing. Papa was talking in his sleep.
“No, no, no ... they wouldn’t hire me ... illegal ...”
“Food won’t come ... boy is starving ...”
“Better in prison ... food ... work ... room,” Papa mumbled.
What was Papa saying? I was worried, yet I was powerless to comfort him, for I understood nothing. I rolled over and gave Papa a hug. It’s alright, it’s alright, I whispered. But Papa’s sobbing never ceased.
A boom came from the door. Finally, Papa was back!
“Papa, let me open the door for you, let me help you,” I squealed, leaping up.
But as I made for the door, a tree came crashing through our tin shack. Its branches speared my thigh. I yelped in pain as blood spurted out. I instantly thought of my own death. The relentless wind made it difficult to see anything clearly. I struggled to get the tree off me, wincing at the searing pain. Sitting in this windy mess of leaves and debris, I thought I would die. Focus, Adil, focus. I continued pulling on the branches.
After what seemed like years of effort, I finally freed myself from the tree. A cold sweat covered my forehead. I sighed in relief. The wound was still bleeding though, and blood had seeped into the twigs and leaves. I had to get help, and fast.
Gasping, I limped to the nearest house. Was I going to die from the wound? What if I flopped dead on the floor? I almost fell on the slippery mud. But I was more worried about Papa. What if he had been hurt on the way home? Or worse?
An old lady answered the door after my panicked pounding.
“Bleeding to death! Papa not home!” I screamed in fear.
“What?” she asked, her face clouded with confusion. I pointed to my bleeding wound, and she gasped.
“Okay, okay, bring you hospital now,” she cried in broken English. She picked me up without a word and ran to hail a taxi in the pouring rain. I was in agony but the lady looked incredibly concerned and determined to help me. When we got to the hospital, I watched her as she talked to the nurses. I couldn’t understand, but I sensed that she was worried about me, and her words were full of care.
“Can you tell me your name, young man?” the doctor asked me in a kind, soft voice.
“Aaa ... aa ... Adil,” I replied, trembling.
“Okay Adil, do you know where your parents are?” he asked, wrapping a blanket around me while trying to get a better look at my leg. I cried at the mention of Papa.
“Papa ... Papa ... never came home ... no ... he ... maybe he’s dead ... no!” My fears tumbled out of my mouth, scaring the doctor.
“Steady,” he whispered. “Where’s home?”
“The ... tin house ...”
“Where does Papa work?” the doctor asked. I couldn’t answer.
“What is Papa’s name?” he asked.
“Faraan ... Hosseini,” I stuttered. Saying Papa’s name made me shiver. I didn’t know where he was, but I knew I had to be strong for Papa.
“Okay, the police will help you find Papa,” he said, turning around.
“No! No! Papa said never call the police ...” I shouted, shocking the doctor. He assured me everything would be alright and quickly went to get a nurse to bandage my leg, as although I was still in a lot of pain, he had finally managed to stop the bleeding.
I still remember when Papa really hurt his leg but refused to call an ambulance. His leg was bruised and bloody, and he told me that one of the brothers in his gang had beaten him up for “something”. I had stared in horror as he lay on the bed, immobile for days. When I insisted that Papa call the hospital, Papa firmly said no. He kept saying that his leg was okay; rest was all he needed. Terrified and unsure of what to do, I almost ran to a neighbour to use their phone.
“Adil ... we must never, ever call 999,” Papa groaned in pain, “they would send us back ...”
“But Papa, you’re hurt!”
“Adil, as long as you’re alive and well, I couldn’t care less about getting hurt. Just let me rest ...” Papa said. His resolute expression scared me into silence.
The police were scary men who didn’t seem to care about my problems. They didn’t care that I had almost been killed by a falling tree. They didn’t care that I’d lost my Papa. They didn’t care that I was trembling in fear, or that I was seriously injured. I wanted to cry but I had to stay strong for Papa; I had to find him. But the police just pestered me with more stupid questions. They never told me where Papa was.
“What’s your father’s phone number?”
“Where are you staying?”
“Where does your father work? Do you know his employer?”
“Has your father ever said anything to you about being a refugee in Hong Kong?”
“PAPA!” I wailed. I was terrified of their stern attitude and worried about Papa. Tears ran down my face. Why did they ask those questions? Were they trying to find Papa? When was I going to see him again? My loud bawling triggered the policemen’s pity. I cried harder, scared of the misery that was haunting my life.
I woke to the sound of someone whispering my name, and found myself back on the hospital bed.
“Adil, Adil, Adil ...” the doctor whispered, dragging me back to reality.
“Your papa is in this hospital, Adil. You must see him now,” he said.
I beamed. Papa was not dead, after all! He was right here, in this very hospital, waiting for me! We could finally go home! Papa and I could joke and laugh, and I vowed to myself not to complain about the food ever again.
The doctor gripped my hand tightly. I tried to free myself from his grasp, but he only clutched my hand harder. I pulled on his hand, wanting to know how Papa was doing. But the doctor remained silent, his face as pale as snow.
“Adil ... your papa isn’t doing too well. He was hurt while he was at work, and his injuries are very serious,” he said.
I didn’t stop to think about what the doctor was saying, I just wanted to see Papa. After walking for what felt like forever, we reached a pink door. I eagerly entered the room, only to unlock hell in front of my eyes.
Lying on the bed was Papa, bloodied and purple all over. I almost choked, unable to process what I was seeing. Why was Papa’s head bandaged up like a mummy? What had happened to his chest, bruised and reeking of pus? Suddenly, a loud scream pierced the room. It took me a few seconds to realise it was my own scream. I began wailing for Papa to wake up, to look at me, to tell me everything was okay.
The machine started panicking with me. Beep be-beep be-beep be-beep. Papa was now gasping for air, his chest heaving uncontrollably. What was going on? The doctor was fumbling with the controls,
trying to calm Papa down, but he seemed agitated. I put my face next to Papa’s and cried.
He blinked and looked at me.
“Adil, forgive me,” he mumbled, with his last breath of air.
“What is there to forgive?!” I cried, devastated and confused.
The machine let out a final, flat beep and I clung to Papa, willing him to wake up.
“Eight forty seven,” the doctor muttered, writing the number on his pad.
He then patted me gently on the hand, but I didn’t look up. I clung to Papa, talking to him and telling him it was going to be OK, if he just woke up, until the doctor had to drag me from the room.
20:47. That was the time Papa left me. That was the time my life changed forever, and I was thrown into a world of loneliness and misery.
Time slowed to a nauseating crawl after 20:47. Time had no meaning without Papa.
Everywhere I went reminded me of him. Hearing the children’s laughter at the orphanage, I longed for Papa’s hilarious jokes; going home to get my belongings, I crumbled as everything reminded me of Papa. I missed his care and comfort. I drifted numbly through time.
I felt so small and alone. In just a few days, I had lost Papa and my home, and was being sent back from the relative safety of Hong Kong to a place of squalor and war. What was in store for me? Only time would tell.
Soon enough, preparations were made for me to return to Syria. But home was not home without Papa.
Step Ma told me that Papa had entered Hong Kong as an illegal immigrant to see if he could get me settled here. She even showed me his letter, in which he spoke of his high hopes for my education in Hong Kong. I remember tears streaming down my face when I read that. I thought back to how I had complained to Papa about wanting to go to school when he tried to teach me himself in the tin house. It was then that I was motivated to live up to Papa’s expectations for me, and also to help refugees in need.
When I was old enough, Step Ma also told me how Papa had been crushed by a piece of cargo while working illegally at the docks, and the illegal workers around him were too afraid to help him and risk deportation.
Papa had lain helpless in the typhoon for hours before being found, barely alive. By the time he was sent to hospital, there was nothing that could be done for him.
After my return to Syria, I had been more determined than ever to get an education; not only for myself, but for my Papa. It hadn’t been easy; walking to school through rubble and debris, and classes constantly being disrupted as we had to move underground to shelter from the threat of bombs.
The buzzer rang, bringing me back to reality.
“Adil, the next family have arrived.”
Standing up to welcome them, I smiled as I thought of my Papa, and wondered if I would have ever got a job helping refugees if it hadn’t been for him, and our time in Hong Kong all those years ago.