There are walls that surround us, with an opening that never closes. Not during the day, anyway. They close at night, and sometimes in the day when it is dangerous, but it is not to keep us in. I think they know we won’t leave anyway. After all, where could we go? The sounds of the ocean used to help me sleep. But is a wall too. I am here, the ocean tells me, and I will not let you pass. Maybe if we got on a boat again, but if we did, where would we go? Weren’t we already in the safe place?
The walls, the real ones, have teeth, wrapped around to tops in hoops, though you can see right through to the other side. You can even walk around them, stand out where the blue suited men do. The Blue Men, that’s what Maman used to call them. It is strange, looking from outside. It looks like a prison, but with open doors, and surrounded by a beautiful white sand beach and a oceans bluer that the jewels Maman used to wear. It is a treachery, she says, that such beauty should entrap us.
They are there to scare us, I think, the walls. It is hard to imagine how the people could think they would be scary though. The blue men, with their guns, that laugh when Maman falls down, they are scary. They eat and drink plenty, never sharing, and get to use real bathrooms, with clear running water. Their eyes are darkness, and they all wear the same, blue clothing. Sometimes I wonder if they are people, or just pieces of the bigger monster, each just doing the bidding of a greater mind, an evil bewitching them to do it’s will.
That, I think, is far less scary than people wanting to be here. To see the men, knowing they are just like Baba, knowing that they go home, eventually, to their own pesar and doxar, maybe even their own Maman and Baba. It terrifies me more than any walls, even walls with teeth.
I don’t think I will see Baba again. I remember him, holding me while the world moved, while a hundred strangers huddled as family, and the Skinny Men told us we would be safe soon. Baba told me that we were going to the safe place.
Before that, were no walls. The sun was bright and hot, and the boat after was wet, but neither were like the safe place. It is always hot, and always wet here. Even away from the water, though it is only a small walk from one ocean to another. That is what Maman says. She used to say lots of things. Things like that we would be safe soon, that before the weather turns, we would be together with Baba again. Then the winds and the rain would come, and she would say that when it cleared, we would see Baba again. And then it cleared, and turned again.
She would tell me stories of great sand oceans, of the hero Ya’quab, and the Huma bird. I used to dream that one would fly to us one day and take us away.
“But Shideh,” Maman would say, “even if they did, the Huma spends his life in the air, free to fly anywhere. Why would one ever come here?”
Because this is the safe place, isn’t it?
She would always be so quiet after the stories, even before she was quiet all the time. Sometimes, she would tell stories less magical as well, of great stone domes and colourful dancing men, twirling for hours. They sounded just as wonderful to me, though Maman assured me they were real.
She does not talk now. I don’t know why. She walks sometimes, but never past the walls. I wonder if she can see some walls that I cannot, that maybe there are different walls for everyone. Maybe mine are open, and hers are closed. Maybe the blue men don’t exist to her. Maybe that is why she doesn’t seem to see them, why she doesn’t react when they talk at her, when they hit her. Maybe she does not realise the men are there, confused to what reaches out and touches her with such force. Perhaps it is because she is worried about her belly, growing every day like it did with Dalir. It is strange though, when she was growing Dalir, her and Baba would laugh and smile at it. Maman just stares at is, sometime crying, sometimes no expression at all on her face. Perhaps she just missed Baba. Or perhaps there is something here that scares her too.
Except this was the safe place. This is where Baba was taking us, when the neighbours were taken. When people came to their house and stole them away, and Baba was so certain they would come back for us someday. When we got on the plane, he told the people at the airport we were going on a holiday, that we would return after a time. But he lied. I used to think that lying was bad, that Baba would have to beg forgiveness for it. I was fearful for him, scared that God would punish him for it.
But Baba lied to get us away, to get us to a sanctuary, he said. A place for the Lucky.
The blue men don’t lie though. They tell us what they will do, and then they do it. We will take your food. We will turn off your water. We will beat you if you do not listen. Or if you do, it does not matter.
Sometimes, it seems the men that tell the truth are far scarier than those that do not.
Not all the blue men are bad, but those that are not do nothing. They watch, they scowl, and then they go. They do not last long. I do not know where they go. I hope they go home, but sometimes I’m scared the other blue men might have hurt them as well.
I wonder sometimes if Dalir will remember Baba. I don’t think he will. I remember him, but not so clearly. I hope we get to see him again, though the blue men say he went away, to another safe place, to another sanctuary. That he left us behind.
I think they are lying. But I don’t know for sure, and that is something I find terrifying.
I think, though, that what I find most horrifying is not the walls with teeth, nor the nastiness of the blue men, or even how much they seem to enjoy it. It’s not that I might not see Baba again, or that Maman seems to have her own set of walls. I think the most terrifying thing is that this is meant to be our sanctuary. This was meant to be our safe place. This is where we came to escape the violence, and live out our lives as peaceful, and as free as possible, just like the Huma bird.
This place where the walls have teeth.
This is our safe place. Our sanctuary.
And that terrifies me.
2 thoughts on “The Safe Place”
[…] writing the shortest stories I’ve ever done, then looking across my most successful short story The Safe Place, and reading again through The Survivor, Indecision (not posted), and Ko, which was and continues […]
[…] The Safe Place – Published in Idiom 23, the CQU literary journal. It isn’t a huge print or distribution, but this is a very important story to me, and I’m just excited to see it out in the world! […]