Image © Copyright Amy Charles Media 2014

14 May 2016

22 Miles

It's sunny enough to squint
but there's a fairly decent breeze,
so I do take off my jacket
but I leave it on my knees,
and the lads are urging -
"pull up a stool!
Come sit down and eat."
I try to resist,
but a penniless host
will never admit defeat...

Jam baguettes and cigarettes
and milk in little cartons.
They ask which football team I support,
and grimace when I say "Blyth Spartans."
But still the conversation flows
on buckets, chairs and stools.
My only prior insight
being articles in vestibules...

After lunch we pass the time
with packs of cards dictating pride.
The sun retreats, the breeze persists;
we quickly scuttle inside.
I lose my boots
for this handmade house
as Ethiopians brag.
But the Eritreans take the lead,
as I find myself sitting

on a Bradford City
sleeping bag...

Claret and amber stripes
beside a cockerel.
The distance between my front door in Wakefield,
and Bradford City's stadium,
is 22 miles.
The distance between this front door in Calais,
and blissful British soil,
is 22 miles.

This lad beside me:
we share a birthday, a bed,
a childlike enthusiasm
for Leicester City's title chances,
and a deep disdain for David Cameron.

Yesterday morning,
I'd complained to myself
about the guy on the MegaBus
snoring for five whole hours.

The lad beside me
counts himself lucky
that it took him three months to get here:
most of which spanning
the Sahara desert
in the boot of a car.

Out there, on the strip,
it's a makeshift manmade Glastonbury.
Rows of businesses
from bookshops to barbers.
First Aid comes from caravans
with boxes of donations.

Every refugee you meet
appears cheerful, and generous.
Every freckled British face
is a volunteer.

Police patrol perimeters with guns that need
both hands,
beneath barbed-wire fences
that every language understands.
Barbed-wire fences
built by taxpayers
in Britain;
a message in a bottle
that doesn't need to be written.

Midway through this game of cards,
he taps me on my knee.
With eye contact,
I flinch through guilt
from everything I see.
He leans in
and he asks me
to gently justify.

The cards stop:
and everybody
waits for my reply.

The house succumbs to
He's not asking me as a reporter,
or a lawyer.
Just a person.

It's like Auschwitz has a waiting room.
human beings are graded
and these didn't make the cut.

These entrepreneurs;
these bold, brave souls.
Forced to flee from falling bombs
to sit and rot,
or gamble again.

I feel sick.
And the longer I sit silent,
the worse it gets.

22 miles.
Thousands of lives.
Zero answers.