The four year old girl crouched in the footwell has never heard of christmas and wouldn’t care if she had. She stares at her hands and wipes them on the pink anorak that used to fit but now hangs more loosely from her shoulders.
The twelve year old boy next to her is angry and feels himself uprooted and displaced. He has heard of christmas but he blames the westeners who celebrate it for where he finds himself. His eyes tell simultaneously of a child’s dark despair and the blazing hatred of the adult he will become. He is already conjuring revenge in his head.
Their grandmother strokes his hair and nuzzles the girl closer to her feet but cannot be their mother. She too knows about christmas but finds it impossible to disentangle her feelings about it from their current plight. The flags of the people who mark it are often the ones which bring destruction, or which hesitate and do nothing to stop it. But some of those same flags fly proud at their destination which promises relief. Those people will be celebrating soon and what will that mean for her and the little ones?
Her son crashes into the seat next to her, scarf around his face, weapons bulking his khaki jacket. ‘We’re leaving,’ he says to his children, ‘Stay down.’ The gunfire stops, then starts again. The green bus starts then stops. There are two more starts and stops before the convoy eventually inches away along its assigned corridor of broken, bombed out buildings, abandoned family cars, and three blackened buses once as green as their own.
While his mother sobs silently into the chill air, the young father hunches over his children, a futile shield against snipers. He breathes them in and prays not to see their blood, but at least if they die today, the world will be watching. Soon it will be christmas day and then the countries of the puppet masters will be looking elsewhere. Their TVs will be full of joy and fun, their fridges stuffed with food, and their minds wiped of far-off troubles. No news is good news and they will not look for news.
Later, when they come back to pick up where they left off, believing somehow that the world will not have moved on while they were otherwise engaged, the father of children, widowed husband of a young wife, and son of a weeping mother, wonders what there will be of this fragile caravan for them to see. He hopes not ghosts. His son glances up at him and the father sees a ferocity burning in his eyes that he recognises. He bends to soften it, to say that there are good people everywhere in the world, but he cannot bring himself to promise it.
My thanks to an activist friend, who has spent much time volunteering among refugees at the Calais Jungle camp, for her comments on an earlier draft. She said no one she had met blamed Christians and so I have softened that reference. They do blame the West though, and I have taken licence to push that to the front in service of the message, which is that refugees and evacuees will still be in huge peril while most of us will be looking elsewhere until after the new year. If bombing and injury were not enough, starvation damages young brains, and emotional insecurity damages young minds. How can we hope for positive change when the next generations are so physiologically and mentally vulnerable? If you have a moment and a spare pound or so, please consider a donation to Save the Children for Syria or DEC’s Yemen crisis appeal. Thank you.