“A very moving depiction of the refugee crisis, emotively contrasting human experience with political rhetoric and media coverage. This story raises questions about what it means to be a ‘narrator of the truth’.”
Marianna Spring, Disinformation and Social Media Correspondent at the BBC and Orwell Youth Prize judge 2023
Rising rates of unemployment may be linked to high numbers of asylum seekers who enter the country illegally, according to a new report which has affirmed nationwide concerns.
“We want illegals out!” said Michael Hopkins, leader of Reform UK who are set to overtake the Conservatives in local elections next week. “They think they can just wander over here and jump the queue! Born-and-bred British should come first.”
On Tuesday morning, Ahmed woke with a start.
That infernal dog! He had good mind to send it away, but when he heard its woeful whining he couldn’t help feeding it. It wasn’t much, only scraps of whatever beige concoction he had gulped down the night before, but the dog didn’t seem to mind and came back with an irritating regularity.
Ahmed supposed it must be a stray, or perhaps it was the dog who sensed the same in him.
Most likely, it was just out for Ahmed’s shoes. Three pairs had already been swiped and probably buried under a pile of dirt somewhere. The charity had said it wouldn’t replace them anymore. He was already on thin ice.
Returning inside, Ahmed hovered in stasis by the door, suspended in thought, until suddenly remembering that he needed to write a letter. A letter to his dead mother.
Although I would never have admitted it, I will forever be grateful that you taught me Kurdish. Although I may have scrunched my nose in disdain at the prospect of practicing my script.
As ink bleeds into paper along the curve of each letter, I feel your hand over mine, guiding the shape of my mark. I hear your whispers, your phantom breath etches its own lines over my cheeks, my eyes and my forehead. The guilt I carry now is an innumerable weight, which pushes down on my shoulders and hunches my back. If only you could see what had become of your boy.
I once believed that I could leave some kind of legacy through my words, that I could sit on my windowsill, and breathe my wishes out into the night. But here, harsh and biting gusts of vitriol whip my ears and squeeze themselves through the cracks underneath my bed. My words are overpowered and I shiver in my sleep.
Ahmed put down his blunt pencil, there was a tremor in his fingers. Pressed into his temples they pulsed with each processional drum of his heart. By now, Ahmed had come to expect these episodes from time to time, especially after he’d written a letter. His legs were shaking now too.
The light above the bed flickered and twitched erratically, but Ahmed had no choice but to stare straight at it. To gaze into the night would be to let in a memory – of dark water up to his waist and the flashing lights of a rescue vessel, which drew close and pulled back just as quickly. Like the tide before a tsunami.
To let his eyes wander would be to embrace the towering wave and reality of his home – a bare trailer sitting on wasteland. Of his prospects – a life of scraping the bottom of the barrel in a country which spat at his bare feet. Or of his fear.
When Ahmed stirred, the sky had soured. He crossed the floor, lifted the loose wood panel in the corner of his room and tucked his confession deep into the floorboards.
Invasion ‘must be stopped’ says PM.
Ahead of next year’s general election, the Prime minister has assured the public that he is committed to protecting British citizens from “economic migrants who seek to take advantage of our generosity”, promising a “total ban on small boats” by 2028.
The statement comes following the 270 deaths on Monday after a rubber dinghy sank 3 miles from the Kent coast.
We’re taught that fear exists within nightmares.
The childish kind of nightmares that draw a vivid monster hiding under your bed. I had many of those in Syria. You were always a light sleeper, and would appear at my side to stroke my thumb, press your forehead to mine, and whisper ‘it’s alright. it’s alright. You’re safe now.”
Then I grew up and the bombs started falling – still you would cradle my head and swaddle me in your arms, chanting ‘it’s alright, it’s alright. I’m still here’. I didn’t need to believe in monsters anymore to know terror.
It would be typical of me now, after all I’ve suffered, to stay up all hours of the night without the warm hand of my mother to stroke my forehead and soothe me back into sleep. But I sleep like a child – deeply and in blissful ignorance.
When I am awoken by fear it is not because I am reeling from a fleeting nightmare. It is when I must leave my sleep, and rejoin the world again, that I am terrified.
Only in children’s story books are the grieving haunted under the cover of darkness by ghouls and benevolent spirits. I had grown out of childhood by the time you were lost to the sea. What sense would it make to be haunted by you in dreams?
Instead, I am haunted by you when I hear a piano play.
I am haunted by you and I close my eyes.
The following Tuesday Ahmed was woken by distant barking.
His only view from the window was over a barren landscape, twiggy trees preceded by a vast expanse of dark, grassy ocean, where a feeble light suddenly emerged.
Where was it coming from? It warped as if a living breathing thing, pulsing with energy. He stood, transfixed by its frenetic beauty until registering that it seemed to be moving closer.
The light burst through his window, spilling burning embers into the room, which swarmed up the walls and curtains. Ahmed distantly wondered what it would be like to reach into the fire and surrender to its hypnotic charms, as it wound a snake-like trail charging towards…
Ahmed tore at the floorboards and grabbed a fistful of paper sheets, scrambling towards the door, when a terrible crunch poured grit into his ears and a sharp cry echoed off the walls.
An object was blocking his path. A boot.
Ahmed looked up, a blurry man caught his eyes and grinned. A second figure ripped down his flag before dangling it over the fire. Flames licked hungrily at its edges, tasting the fabric. The men laughed wildly as Syria’s blazing stars were at last ignited and devoured in a combustion of smoke and fire.
Freak fire in trailer park!
Last night, a seemingly spontaneous fire erupted in an abandoned trailer park outside Halifax.
The fire sparks concern regarding the safety of such sites (often the residence of illegals) and risks they might pose to local residents. MP Mark Florin promises that the safety of his legal constituents is his ‘top priority’.
Ahmed felt no relief when the fire engine arrived in the early hours of the morning. The hard hat was approaching, asking a question he knew could only lead to another, more dangerous one.
“Are you alright?”
“Yes,” said Ahmed. He saw the officer’s face twist upon hearing him speak.
“Who are you? Where do you come from?” the voice came sharper now.
The fireman conferred with a police officer whilst Ahmed sat on the steps of the trailer frame, too broken to go on. He had become the lame farm dog, at the mercy of the men in front of him, and his only choice now was to await the metaphorical bullet.
In the first phase of his pioneering plan, the PM oversaw the deportation of 650 illegal immigrants yesterday. Many have praised the initiative calling it “decisive action” but others, like award winning journalist Sarah Foucault, label it “an abhorrent violation of basic human rights”.
On Tuesday morning, I woke with a start.
Outside, a dog was barking, and chewing an envelope.
He wouldn’t give it up – even though I could clearly see my name ‘Sarah Foucault…’ written in an elaborate script on the front.
Eventually, the dog relinquished its prized possession when offered some leftover breakfast eggs. They were devoured with such fervour that I smiled despite myself. I stared at the letter curiously for a couple of minutes before stooping to pick it up.
Within its pages I found the markings of an entire life. Ahmed’s words spilled from the page over the newspaper headlines on the breakfast table. His melodic musings rose above the thunderous rumble of my morning radio. His humanity was too wide and too deep to be ignored. There was nobody else to tell his story or to challenge the narrative which framed him.
I hope, dear reader, that you find me to be a humble narrator of the truth.
First published by The Orwell Youth Prize for the Orwell Youth Prize 2023