Breathless, by Leanne Moden

He tells you about his journey to Britain.
It took him eight months, he says.
Eight months of running,
Eight months of crouching in corners
Moving under cover of darkness.

I felt like I was in a cage, he says.
And wherever I went
The bars followed me.

He tells you about the boat.
About the sea salt stinging his cracked lips.
The pitch and shift of the waves
And the nausea that could have been sea-sickness
Or something deeper.

He tells you about the beach crossed by moonlight.
Silently walking between sun-loungers and parasols
Up to a waiting truck;
Headlights turned off.
The parasols were probably yellow, he says,
But in the half-light, they all looked grey.

Inside the lorry it as dark as pitch, he says,
And hotter than the sun.
But the low hum of the engine
And the rolling rumble of tyres on tarmac
Sounded like progress to him.

He remembers the murmur of one hundred men breathing;
The sharp scent of bodies pressed together;
Hope and dread swirling through his blood
As dawn broke on a new continent.

He didn’t speak during the journey, he says.
He was on his own for eight months,
Surrounded by people who didn’t know him.

He tells you that, whenever he got scared,
He would hold his breath.
That, if he couldn’t control anything else,
At least he could control that.
I felt like I held my breath for eight months, he says.
Sometimes, I still feel breathless.

These days, he likes to sit still.
The pitch and shift of immigration centres
And endless paperwork bring
That same sense of nausea,
And he tastes the threat of deportation
On his tongue like seawater.

But the low hum of his breathing
And the rolling rumble of hope and dread
Still sound like progress to him.

He is only fourteen years old,
But already, he has seen so many terrible things.

In class, he will talk for hours.
He tells you he misses his mother, his sister,
The city he used to love.

At the end of the day,
He catches your arm. Pulls you into a tight hug.
Thank you for listening to me, he says.
I feel a little less breathless today.

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