An extract from The Days and the Years
They had waved goodbye to him as the bus crossed the border. She had run to try to catch it but the wheels span faster than her short legs could carry her and he hurtled away through India, and then on a plane to Indonesia and a boat to Australia.
They were so hopeful those first few years, as her father completed the journey, calling every night to tell them that he couldn’t wait to see them again, that soon all three would be reunited in that far, distant country of which she had only heard bright tales.
But the days wore on and still he hadn’t left the detention centre. And slowly they realised that it would be years before they could make their own way to Australia. And as the years wore on it seemed they would never be allowed to go.
As court case after court case came to a disappointing ending, as more and more refugees found themselves deported, they found themselves losing hope.
He stayed, for four more years, working one job and then another, overworked and underpaid, paying high rent for cramped, dirty and depressing lodgings.
He stayed and he saved and he sent home gifts: boxes so big he could have fit half of himself inside, which, in a way, was his aim.
He lovingly packed the boxes with chocolates and toys for his daughter, jewellery and crockery and clothes for his wife. Over land and over sea the boxes would travel, passing through so many pairs of hands to arrive at the doorstep he used to know so well. And from that doorstep they would call him, and thank him for each gift. Gently unpacking each item he had packed weeks before was the closest they came to touching one another.
And it seemed to the girl that her father was fading away, and no matter how hard she tried to remember him, the distance between them was growing ever wider. How could a father stay away for so long?
In a lonely home
as the sounds and smells of frying roti filled the air,
a comforting replacement for the sun which was nowhere,
a mother and daughter offered up their prayer.
Together at the table
to the Lord they gave their plea:
“Let the third of our three
pass his journey safely over land and over sea.”
As they bid one another goodnight:
the girl clinging to her teddy bear,
the woman alone, in a bed too big not to share
Perhaps he could see the sun somewhere?