The young woman trudged along the country lane and through the thick, cloying mud, which covered her shoes and the bottom of her bare legs below her knee-length navy skirt. The exodus from the town she had lived in all her life had come so quickly that she was wearing the clothes she had worn for her job at the library, on the last day she had been at work; when, of course, her town still had a library, and not the pile of rubble it became after the bombardment. She hoped her colleagues had managed to escape before the mortar fire hit.
She had never been a refugee before, but she supposed that she was one now. She tried not to think of the people she had left behind, buried in the rubble of the town, instead of a proper graveyard like their ancestors. She hoped that one day someone would find their remains and give them the burial they deserved, and somewhere she might return one day to see the last resting place of her dear parents.
Over her shoulder she carried a small bag, into which she had stuffed items from her apartment, before the risk of dying became greater than the need to pack the clothes and trinkets she had once thought important. She had bought them from her meagre wages, and had so loved to dress up in her finery and go out with her friends, but when the bombs came she had been forced to abandon them and flee. All she had now were the necessities of life; the items that might make the difference between life and death. She thought of the pair of black patent heels which she had never worn, and which she had lusted over in the shop window, until she weakened and bought them with her last week’s pay. They would now never be worn, buried as they were under tonnes of rubble. Now, as she trudged along the muddy lane, she wore the comfortable walking shoes she wore when she had been walking in the countryside near to where she had lived. There was no need for fancy shoes on her current journey either.
Most of her fellow travellers were family groups, interspersed with a few male figures, singly or in pairs, trudging both in front and behind her, silent and resolute, trying to ignore the exhaustion to which they dare not surrender. She could see no other lone females and kept her head down as she walked, trying not to attract any attention, for fear of attracting the wrong sort. It was becoming colder and a light drizzle had begun falling from the leaden sky, and she wondered if she should seek somewhere to spend the night. She would try and find a place to share with one of the family groups for safety.
Up ahead she saw an old, stone barn, now partly derelict, but with enough roof and walls to provide shelter against the elements. A man and his wife, together with their three young children, peeled off from the path and headed for the barn, and the woman followed them. Thankfully the building was unoccupied and the man looked around before beckoning his family to a sheltered corner, where a few dusty hay bales remained from the days when the barn would have been full of cattle and feed. There was little farming going on now, with the war raging all around, and any livestock having long since been slaughtered to provide food for the ravenous soldiers and the remaining civilian population; the ones who had not yet tried to escape from the torment of the daily dices with death and destruction.
The other woman smiled at her, clearly happy to share their modest shelter for the night, and pointed to a place nearby where she could sleep, before settling her children down and taking some food from her husband’s rucksack. The woman found a dry, sheltered spot and sat down with her back to the solid, granite wall, and took a piece of cold sausage and some bread from her bag. Her resources were diminishing by the day and she didn’t know where the next meal was coming from. She hoped her meagre supply would last until she reached the next town. Despite her pitiful surroundings, once she had eaten, she soon fell into an exhausted sleep, praying that she would reach the border, and safety, by the following night.
She was woken by a noise and opened her eyes, fearful of what she might see. Two large figures loomed over her, and she froze with fear. One of them shone a torch in her face.
“See what we have here, a new toy to play with I think.”
She shrank back against the wall; in the forlorn hope that it would somehow protect her from what she thought was inevitable. She looked to her left in the hope that the man with the family would come to her aid, but the space was empty; the man had spirited his family away from danger. She was on her own. Terror began to envelop her and her heart was pounding.
The two men knelt down on the ground, one on either side of her, and strong arms began to manhandle her, trying to remove her clothes. The men were in combat gear and had weapons, which they lay on the ground next to them; close enough to reach if necessary, but not close enough for the woman to grab them.
She began to cry and pleaded with the men to leave her alone, but they were deaf to all her entreaties. She could feel the evidence of their excitement pressed against her and she knew that rape was inevitable, unless a miracle happened.
Hadn’t she suffered enough? She had already lost her parents and her brother was missing, believed dead. Now it seemed as though she was to be another victim of the war that was razing her country to the ground and driving millions of its citizens to desperate journeys in the hope of escaping the hellhole they had once called home.
So engrossed were the men in achieving their spoils of war, that they did not hear the sound of someone else approaching, and before they could react, a man wielding a thick wooden stick set about them, the stick making a sickening thud as it hit the skulls of both men, until both were knocked unconscious. The man reached down and grabbed both guns and threw them far away, out of the reach of the men in case they awoke. He did not take one. He had never used a gun in his life, and he knew that, even if he kept one, it probably would not save him if he came across a patrol of armed soldiers.
He stretched his hand towards her, and urged her to rise.
“Come, we must run. If they catch us they will kill us both.”
The woman took his hand, instinctively knowing that this man was her only chance of salvation, and they ran from the barn, using the torch taken from one of the attackers. The man was fit and strong and she had to run hard to keep up with him, until she could run no more and begged him to stop. He slowed, and looked down at the young woman whose hand he was still holding.
“We will try and find some shelter, and then you can rest.”
They walked for a further fifteen minutes, until they came to a disused church, the only building left standing in a small village that had been almost obliterated by the bombardment that had caused the population to flee. The man pushed at the door and found it unlocked. The heavy wooden door creaked as they entered the building cautiously, in case it was already occupied, but it was deserted. He shone the torch and directed them to the front, where some of the original pews were still in place.
He saw that the woman was shaking.
“It’s okay. You’re safe now. Did they hurt you?”
“No, I’m not hurt.”
Her voice shook as she spoke, and he realised that she was probably still in shock.
“Are you cold?”
He sat down on one of the benches and drew her down beside him, and clasped her tightly in his arms, so that some of the warmth from his body could transfer to hers. Gradually her shaking ceased.
It was completely dark in the church, but the woman felt safe in the arms of this stranger, who had rescued her from rape, and possibly death. His solid, warm body felt so reassuring after her ordeal, and all that had gone before; the loss of her family, her home, her job, her friends. She had been happy, working in the library and talking with her friends as they sat in the coffee bar and listening to the latest music on someone’s laptop or phone. That life had now disappeared, to be replaced only by death and destruction, cruelty and hate.
His solid, warm arms made her feel safe and secure. She nestled close to him and could hear his heartbeat beneath his clothing. The man began to talk calmly to her in his rich, deep voice.
“Where are you heading?”
“I hope to cross the border tomorrow, but in the long term I hope I can reach London. I have two cousins there. They are the only people I have left.”
Her voice tailed away into silence. He did not respond, for he understood completely all that she had suffered and endured, for they shared a common story. He too had lost the people who were dear to him. She continued to talk.
“Where are you going?”
“The same as you, London, because I speak English very well, and because I know the city. I used to do business there before…”
He stopped, and she too knew exactly what he meant.
“My wife died of cancer two years ago, and we had no children. I lived with my elderly mother, but the house was hit about a week ago. I was at the shop when it happened, and by the time I returned it was too late to help her.”
He lapsed into silence and they continued to cling to each other. The woman was no longer sure who was comforting whom.
From a distance they heard the familiar boom of bombs being dropped.
“About twenty miles away, I would guess,” the man said. They were quite familiar now with the sounds of war; the aerial bombardments of the towns and villages of the place they called home, as well as the ground artillery; but still the woman clung on to her rescuer, as though she was afraid to let him go, in case he left her alone again. She was so tired of being alone. The loneliness ate through her body and into her bones, and she was afraid that she would never lose that aching void within her.
She had never had a lover, and she was afraid that she might die without knowing what it was like to be loved by a man. She had never even been held in a man’s arms, the way this stranger was now holding her. She felt safe and wanted, feelings she had not felt for a long time. She could not even see properly what he looked like, just that he was strong, and warm, and kind; qualities that were more precious to her now than a handsome face. The world had become ugly and cruel, and full of hate, and she wanted to escape to a place of sunshine and happiness, of peace and laughter.
“Do you want to sleep?”
“No, I will stay awake,” he said. “But if you want to sleep, why don’t you lie on the bench and rest your head in my lap?”
She did as he suggested, but she could not fall asleep, even though his hand stroking her hair soothed her anxious mind. In the dark, and unable to see the man’s face, she felt brave enough to share her worry and desires, in a way that would have been impossible in her normal life. But this was not normality. This was anything but normal. The fear of imminent death did strange things to people’s perceptions and behaviour. She whispered into the dark, uncertain if he would hear, and if he did hear, whether he would respond, or pretend that he was asleep.
“I have never…you know…with a man. I had a boyfriend last year, and we used to kiss and things. But I never let him…”
Her voice faded away for a moment, before she continued. “He had to go into the army and I never heard from him again. I don’t know what happened to him. I don’t want to die without…”
The man had stopped stroking her hair, but his hand rested on the side of her head. There was silence between them for a moment, before the man bent his head and kissed her gently on her cheek.
“There will be love for you one day. We will get out of this place and find safety, and you will begin to live your life again. There will be young men who will fall in love with you, and you will dance and laugh again, and they will make love to you in the way you have always dreamed of.”
“But if we don’t escape from here…”
She sat up and came close to him again, reaching out her hand to find his face. It came into contact with his chin, with the roughness from a few days without shaving. She turned his face to meet hers and reached up to plant her lips softly against his. “Will you make love to me?” she whispered softly to him. She had only met this man a few hours ago, and yet it seemed as though she had known him forever. He had probably saved her life, and had certainly saved her from a savage rape, and she wanted her first experience to be with a kind man, not two young men with guns, drunk with the power that comes from the barrel of a gun. “Please,” she urged.
The man kissed her back, but with a little more pressure this time, and she felt something ignite within her. His lips moved over her face and on to her neck. He kissed her ear lobe and her shoulder, murmuring sweet words as he did so. She felt as though an electric current was racing around her body, igniting her nerve endings and bringing to life that secret recess where her fingers had sometimes strayed when she had been alone in her bed, and dreaming of the man whose arms would one day hold her and touch her in the same way.
“Sit on my lap, facing me,” he whispered, and she did as he asked, her skirt spread out over them both. She linked her hands behind his neck and his warm hands crept under her skirt and stroked her thighs. She sighed, the desire beginning to build up within her.
His fingers slowly moved between her legs, and slipped beneath her cotton panties, stroking her with tender touches that made her catch her breath and gasp. His lips sought hers and their kisses became more passionate as their breathing became louder and faster. His finger slipped inside her, lubricated with the fluid now seeping from her body.
“You sweet girl,” he whispered as he swirled his finger around her entrance, before finally stopping at a place within her that his touch electrified. She had never felt such a desperate need for release as she did now.
He paused for a moment and unfastened the front of his trousers, pulling them down out of the way, so that their contact was flesh upon flesh.
“It may hurt a little, but I will go slowly.”
She nodded, even though her movement was invisible in the dark shadows of the church. He entered her slowly, pausing only when he reached the point where he knew that a little force would be needed to breach the membrane. With one thrust he was through, and she gasped as the pain spasm hit. He paused, giving her time to adjust to the feeling, and the pain had subsided, before he began to move again, slowly at first, up and down her channel, and then with a little more force as she responded to his rhythm and thrust back against him.
The young woman had not known that it would be as beautiful as this. The man seemed so powerful and yet so gentle. The sensations that coursed through her lower body were so powerful that they ignited great emotion within her that made her want to cry with joy. She gasped each time he drew back and surged forward, rubbing that sweet spot inside her, which she had found before only through self-exploration.
He kissed her again and again, on her lips, her neck, her ear, whispering loving words to her, that made her feel as though she was a princess being wooed by her prince. She felt an intense sensation begin lifting her, as though she was climbing a high mountain…up, up, up, until her climax began to crash over her and she was flying free, and all she could say was groan, “Oh! Oh!” as intense shivers travelled the length and breadth of her body. The man felt her clench around him and he released himself within her.
They clung together, still joined, for a long while. Then he bent his head down to kiss her and realised that she had fallen asleep at last. He kissed her gently on the forehead, and pulled his coat around them both.
As dawn broke, the man stirred and realised that they should get on the move again, to try and reach the safety of the border. He gently shook the woman awake, and they rearranged their clothes as they stood and stretched out their tired, aching limbs. She looked up at him, and he realised for the first time how pretty she was, even in her current dishevelled state.
The woman looked up at her rescuer and now her lover. She would never forget this night, but she wondered if he would now leave her.
He knew what she wanted to ask.
“Don’t worry. I will take care of you. I won’t leave you. We will travel to London together.”
They opened the door and began their long trek to freedom and a new life together.
This story was inspired by a long thread on Facebook recently, about Syrian refugees, to which I contributed, and which left me wanting to say something more, which I have done in the form of a short story. Refugees are not a homogeneous mass, but individuals, with their own unique and often tragic, stories. I deliberately did not post a photo of a genuine refugees, because I did not feel it was right to attach a picture of people who had not consented for their images to be used in this way.
The following words were written by a young Syrian girl, living in a refugee camp:
'The past has a smell that you can’t forget, and its memories don’t leave us.
Oh summer that went away, and our nights are gone, and I just saw my family in my dreams. The eye cries of sadness and longing, because being away from you is like a rock that every second hits us.
~ The Lover of Syria.'
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