THE Speaker. He would have to remember that.
‘You need to study harder,’ the tutor glares through half-moon spectacles.
‘I will,’ Ajani nods vigorously. But it wasn’t easy. It wasn’t instinctive.
When the militia swarmed into his village, their truck a satanic porcupine of brass and steel, empty black eyes spelling out their intentions as solemnly as a wedding vow, then it had been instinctive.
When his bus was halted at the border, when every third passenger was herded out at gunpoint, he had known to keep his hands clasped, his head bowed. Instinct.
When he arrived at the coast, the cold salt spray overwhelming, waves unfamiliar, he knew his destination like claws dug into his belly. Instinct.
When the boat foundered, he knew to cling to the driftwood, splinters pricking his fingertips. Knew to kick grasping hands away as their owners sank around him.
When coastguard backs were turned, a wall of bright orange torsos, he leapt from the holding pen.
Waiting at the roadside for the one truck in a thousand to slow, to stop, to offer him a lift to the camp at the edge of the sea.
Fashioning shelter from broken crates and sheets of corrugated iron. Eying the lorries as they pulled in and out, waiting in line to cross the black churning water.
Instinct when his time arrived, jumping aboard, curled between frozen boxes of shellfish, teeth clenched against the biting cold.
Instinct to ignore the chill, to stay hidden, half breathing, half dead, as the ferry swayed and passengers laughed high above.
Sitting warm in the classroom, the air stale and safe, birds trilling outside, a silver pen in his hand and echo-screams inside his head, he had no idea how he had managed the journey.
And still no idea of the official title of the House of Commons’ chair.
‘You need to study harder,’ the tutor sighs. ‘You need to put in some effort. Let’s try again.’ He shuffles his chair beside Ajani, leans over his scribbled notes. ‘Do you want to be in this country or not?’
© 2019 Tom Burton