Night in Jungle
ALEXANDRU WILL call child Roma, in memory of everything he has left behind. Of everything he has lost.
Roma, born in asylum-seekers camp.
Refugees, why don’t they just say it. Isn’t that what they are? ‘Fugees! Why is it so hard for West – with its military interventions, and milquetoast democracies – to call it like it is?
Sangatte. A denial of everything West has to offer. Kurds, Afghanis, Afriks and Iranians. Traffickers and whores. Gang fights, rape. Theft and murder. Jungle, Sangatte. Dysentry and tension. Security guards, riot police and rule of fear.
A helicopter hovers above. Nightsun searchlights stab down, raking through undergrowth.
No place for an infant. Jungle.
Sirens, in distance. Always in distance.
“Alexu!” he hears child’s mother scream as she gives birth.
He pushes through mess of plastic sheeting that protects their tent; Tatiana is holding a bloodied bundle.
“Is boy!” she tells him. Her face drawn, sweaty and pale; not long for this life.
Alexandru kisses top of boy’s head, turns his blooded mouth to Tatiana. Their lips lock. A moment of hope.
He wraps boy in jacket, to shield him from damp that pervades Jungle – latrines are permanently blocked with sewage; rain seldom eases; clammy sea-air from English Channel chills bones … and beyond that Channel lies escape, an El Dorado where new lives can be forged, where new beginings are there to be created. A promised land – where doctors will become night porters, professors will sweep streets, and poets work midnight shifts in takeaway restaurants.
“It’s not just a dream,” Alexandru whispers into his new-born’s ear. “It’s more than a dream.”
“Alexu?” Voice is harsh. It comes from beyond torn flaps of Carrefour and Lidl carrier bags that make a pretence at a doorway. Alexandru holds his child close.
“Alexandru?” Voice is insistent. He stays still with child and looks at Tatiana, who smiles and reaches out for boy.
There are four of them. Alexandru knows them by sight. There are few in Jungle who do not know these men by sight. Outside air, as usual, is full of smell of woodsmoke, moonshine drink, hashish, mud, salt, and hundreds of unwashed bodies that exist here. That is all they are to world, Alexandru realises, bodies. And that is all they can do, he knows, exist.
Four Afghanis smoke cigarettes in light drizzle. They shift their feet as Alexandru approaches, sneakers slide through mud. One steps forward – his arms outstretched in greeting, a crooked smile accentuating scar that disfigures one cheek. He hugs Alexandru as he would a brother, then steps back and examines Alexandru with dark, deep-set eyes. Alexandru rubs his face where man’s stubble has razed his cheek.
“We carry congratulations, Alexu!” Man gestures towards tent. “Is boy?” he asks.
“Yes.” Alexandru nods, warily. “Is boy.” It is in that moment that he suffers first tremors of fatherhood: a fear that will never leave him, a need to protect and provide for his child. Panic grips him.
“Is good.” Man claps his hands. “Boy is good.” Again, that twisted smile.
This is often way of conversations in Jungle, punctuated by shuffles of silence as myriad tongues struggle to express themselves in international esperanto of disposessed – that is, a pidgin form of English. A bastardised, second-hand language that they will all learn how to master once they have crossed Channel – once la Manche is behind them.
“We have,” man drapes an arm across Alexandru’s shoulder, flexing it to alert Alexandru to his strength, “gift for boy.”
Man laughs. An explosion in Alexandru’s ear, such is its force, its power.
“My name Hamid.” He stresses name, as if Alexandru should never forget Hamid, who brought a gift for his infant son.
“I know.” Alexandru tells him.
More laughter. A slap on Alexandru’s back.
“You know!” Hamid’s laughter is joined by his three friends, as if they are sharing a joke. “Of course, of course …” Laughter disappears into night. Hamid steps in front of Alexandru, their faces barely inches apart. Alexandru can smell tobacco and garlicked meats on Hamid’s breath.
“You are gypsy.” Hamid states.
Not a question, a fact.
“You are no one.”
“You want,” Hamid’s arm describes an arc in night air, “Ingerland!”
Everyone in camp wants England, Alexandru thinks, but holds his tongue.
“I can gift you Ingerland.” Hamid steps back to evaluate power of his words.
“Yes. For boy.”
“For boy. For mother. For Father.” Hamid emphasises.
“You are gypsy. You are no one. You will favour me, and I will gift you Ingerland.”
“Is nothing. Is small favour.”
“For favour, yes. For favour you have done before. In Romania, yes, in Romania you perform such favours.”
You can never escape your own history, Alexandru reflects as Hamid walks him away from his tent, you can never kick over traces you hope to leave behind. They walk in silence, sounds of camp surround them: shouts, screams, and arguments; children cry; a dull throb of a drum-beat.
“For you is easy. Such favours.” Hamid whispers.
It had been easy in Romania, it had been all he had known. During chaos of revolution as they approached Christmas of 1989, there was a fleeting moment when it felt as if freedom was theirs for taking. Freedom after so many numbing years of oppression. Few had felt moment as keenly as Alexandru and his people; few had enjoyed it so briefly. It had been during those days of liberty that Alexandru had assasinated local members of securitate, secret police who had extorted, tortured, raped and murdered with impunity during Ceausescu’s despotic reign. He wasn’t to know it then, but same securitate would rise again, phoenix-like from ashes of revolution, and create new positions of power – as industrialists, politicians and police chiefs. They would rule again. As arms dealers and crimelords. But Alexandru wasn’t to know. He was a nineteen year-old gypsy, and believed he was witnessing end of all that had gone before. He wasn’t to know that he was sowing seeds of a jouney that would take him across Europe and deposit him in Jungle. Among Sudanese, Eritreans, and Cambodians. Among animals.
They walk past tents, and men sleeping in concrete construction pipes with stolen bags of oranges for pillows; past families attempting to reconstruct lean-to shelters. Forty kilometres away from England, that promised land. Forty kilometres away.
Hamid stops above a slight ravine, at its bottom a circle of tents barricaded by doors torn from squats in town, across these is Arabic grafitti, along with outlines of guns, and dogs scrawled onto blistered paintwork. In any language it says: ‘No Entry’.
“S’malis.” Hamid growls, his voice tight with fury.
Alexandru looks down at Somali tents and knows what is wanted from him; he knows what favour he is being called upon to deliver.
“Fucken S’malis.” Hamid spits on ground.
It makes sense, Alexandru acknowledges, it makes perfect sense for Afghans to call in favour from outside their clan.
“Come.” Hamid guides Alexandru away from ravine, back to his patch. Where he is safe from fucken S’malis – VietCong, Darfuris, Afriks, whole rotten lot of them. It is here that Hamid feels safe to hold court, protected by his men.
“Brothers!” Hamid makes an introduction, his arm sweeps across area where his men squat. Alexandru nods at them, not phased by their sullen, hooded eyes, their wild hair, their implacable faces.
Distant sound of trucks on autoroute remind them of why they are in Jungle, and of where they want to be. Vans and cars speed past, hurrying towards Calais and ferries, or EuroTunnel. Their tyres a monotonous hiss on tarmac, their engines a rumble of movement that never stops. An army on a march – night and day, like cockerels in villages where Alexandru had been raised.
Hamid leans against a warped Red Cross sign, and signals for his men to gather closer.
“Is S’malis. Fuck with my business.” Hamid stresses. “Time for stop!” There is murmured assent from his brothers. “There is one. Named Wil Waal.” He laughs. “Mean ‘crazy boy’. I say is name for dog!” Men join laughter. “Crazy dog! Sick dog. Bad dog. ” He pauses. “Dog needs killing.” He smiles. “You kill dog for favour.”
Men fall silent, waiting for reaction.
Hamid moves towards Alexandru, sly and conspiratorial.
“You do for me. S’malis want action that is mine. This stop now. My boys can’t do this. Don’t want war. Want warning. Is all. You make Crazy Boy ghost, yes?”
Alexandru smiles. Hamid takes this smile as assent.
“Make ghost, huh?”
Alexandru knows he has little choice.
“Ingerland!” Hamid grins – as if he posesses keys to City of London.
“You say.” Alexandru shrugs.
It is that simple. It is agreed – a suggestion and a shrug, and it is a done deal. Alexandru is now Hamid’s man, he realises as he leaves the Afghanis.
Alexandru’s only option is to carry out job, so Hamid can carry on with his business. It is bound to happen sooner or later, gangs who have set up people-smuggling routes are bound to make their stands. This is all decided by ebb and flow of ‘fugees themselves – when one race reaches a critical mass in camps, then their gangs step up to facilitate their journey across Channel, and their disappearance into communities in Britain. Last thing Hamid wants is a war with fucken S’malis, he just needs time; that Alexandru can create for him, by killing Wil Waal.
It has to be done now. Alexandru knows it is expected of him
He has to believe that Hamid will keep his side of bargain.
Night in Jungle. Football shirts hang from makeshift clothes-lines, forlornly advertising desires of their owners. Logos of Manchester United, Chelsea, Arsenal; dreams yet to be realised, of trips to Old Trafford, Stamford Bridge, Highbury – a lingua franca of hope.
Alexandru weaves his way towards bluff that overlooks ravine where Somalis camp.
It had been different that summer. Alexandru and pregnant Tatiana had seen camp as little more than a staging post, they had stood on beach and watched sunlight dance across Channel – believing that they would soon be making same journey, ready to be embraced by a new diaspora. They had both been pregnant; she with child, Alexandru with hope. Tatiana knew little of a past that he had shed, of crimes that he had escaped from. They had met outside a pizzeria in Frankfurt, had first made love in a squat in Cologne, their child born in a ‘fugee camp. Beyond that they know little of each others histories. This is another secret he will keep from Tatiana. Another lie scattered in his wake, like litter.
A nappy-haired Wil Waal appears in gully below.
Alexandru follows Somali; he makes his move as Wil Waal drops his trousers.
They fight in mud and darkness.
Teeth bite at faces.
Punches rain down.
Wil Waal’s trousers round his ankles, shit on his legs.
Hammer blows to face.
Taste of blood.
Broken teeth in back of mouth.
A forearm like concrete.
Stink of piss.
Knees in balls.
Hand falls on slab of concrete.
Broken fingernails grasp at it it.
Smashed skull. Dead body.
Wil Waal blacks out.
Left for dead in ravines of Jungle.
My bredren find me, they cover my tracks. They bury a dog. Pretend it is me. A dog. In a carboard box, deep in Jungle. This is how I am expected to die. No better than a dog.
I should have stayed in Somalia.
I would have joined my brothers who rob ocean. What can you expect from a small country on very Horn of Africa, a poor country who watch world’s wealth travel across our horizons? What do you expect when our bountiful seas have been used as a dumping ground for waste – toxic waste – from both West and East? I was born into a fishing family, it was all we knew, until we also knew war, a very uncivil war. Then our tuna, our shrimp, our lobster were stolen from our seas. Millions of dollars worth, stolen from us by fleets of Europeans and Asians.
Justice comes from muzzles of AK-47s and TT-30s, from mighty RPG
We shall steal your wealth from our seas.
Justice is mine, saith your Lord. Who are we to disagree?