On Salt and Crossing

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In early September, the body of a three year old Kurdish toddler named Aylan Kurdi washed up on a beach in Turkey. The boat carrying him, his family, and other Syrian refugees capsized en route to the semblance of safety. As his body was removed by Turkish authorities, a photo was taken of his tiny frame face down in the sand, his red shirt cinched up above his belly, another as his distended body was lifted from the sopping earth. His mother and five year old brother also drowned this night, leaving behind a husband, a father more desperate than that which drove them to the treacherous waters.

Days later, I found myself on a transcontinental ferry crossing from Europe to Africa, Spain to Morocco, by the waters of the Straight of Gibraltar. The boat glided through the salt, parting the heavy morning fog still resting on the sea. The ease of my crossing was troubling, unjust. I was acutely aware of the breadth of the water we floated across, how hundreds of miles to the east the same fluid strength that carried me safe, embraced this boy in its depths before pushing his drowned body to land. How undeserved that fleeing spurred his journey into the water, how curiosity prodded mine.

Looking over the edge of the boat I feel the humid air on my skin, leaden with damp, blowing through my hair. As I think of Aylan’s father one hot tear escapes the corner of my eye, falling on the edge of my mouth. Unconsciously, I lick it away, the taste of brine on my tongue. My heart aches and I wonder if when he weeps for his family, he is carried back to that night, as the taste of saltwater falls on his lips too.

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