The Voyage Part Nine – Brian and Samira. Bruce McCorkill
Brian and Lenny have worked out a mission to get Rashid and Samira on side.
The first part has gone well; Brian and Rashid have established common ground.
Brian now needs to talk to Samira
Brian was feeling quite chuffed. He was pleasantly surprised at how the first day with Rashid had gone. They had established common ground over the tools, and he was sure that they could develop a workable living arrangement. He was on the verge of asking for Rashid’s assistance in tuning the big Ford. He mused how strange this was, he had never allowed anybody else to fiddle with his prize baby, not even Lenny, and now he was going to let this Afghan guy open the bonnet and go for it. He imagined how it would have been to have a man like Rashid working in his old factory; the place would have run like clockwork. The funny part was that after talking to Rashid and learning about his impoverished background, the pain of losing his job had lessened somewhat, he was grateful for living in a stable and safe country. He also realised that maybe it was better to talk things out, rather than be a tough guy and hold it all in. So all in all, he thought that stage one of the mission was just about accomplished.
As Lenny had devised, stage two of the mission was to win over Samira. He needed to apologise for his behaviour and gain her trust. He was also intrigued about what her father had said about Samira having the knack of listening to people with problems, and how she was good at this “helping talk.” He had noticed that while she seemed happy to be in their house, at times she tended to withdraw into herself and looked very sad. Maybe they could swap stories and help each other. Lenny had advised him to be patient, and he was in no great hurry. Carol still didn’t want to talk to him, although she had made some comment about how he and Rashid seemed to be getting along. He took this as a positive omen, and waited for the right time.
Although he made sure he apologised quickly to Samira, in fact the next day, and it was along the same lines as his apology to Rashid.
‘Samira, I just want to say I’m really sorry for the way I behaved the other night. I wanted to make you really feel welcome, but something happened in my mind and I went crazy. I would not normally say all those stupid hurtful comments and make my racist jokes. My only excuse is that since losing my job, I’ve been feeling awful and having all these crazy thoughts. You suddenly reminded me of a terrible thing I did in a war a long time ago, and I lost control of myself. I hope you forgive me and stay in our house. I want to help you feel as though this is your new home.’
Samira’ response was also similar to her father’s.
‘Brian, there is no need to apologise. Like my father, I am grateful to be out of the prison of the detention centre. You have a beautiful home. Carol has been helpful to us. When we sat down and you suddenly looked into my eyes, I looked back into yours and I saw a lot of pain there. At the Refugee Centre I work with many people who have suffered many bad things. Every day I look into eyes which show suffering and pain, but also eyes that can learn to hope and look to a better life. I used to do this at home too. Even despite the Taliban threatening to kill me for trying to help my people. I don’t know why, but for some reason I seem to have a skill in listening to people and making them feel better. My parents went through much hardship and opposition to give me a good education. So I must use this to help people. There is too much pain in this world.’
Then Samira looked directly at Brian and smiled, and in her almond eyes Brian saw some hope for himself that if he could trust this young person, she may be able to lesson his burden.
‘In many ways Brian, you remind me of some of the Australian soldiers back home. They were kind to us. ’They protected us from the Taliban. We found them helpful. This is why if I can I would like to help you with your pain, because this is one way I can repay you for having us in your home. I hope we can both help each other. I also have a favour I need to ask you one day. But not now, please take me to your vegetable garden so I can start by teaching you how to grow better vegetables with less water. I think in this country you are called a water wally.’
So as with Rashid, Brian realised that he could develop a fruitful relationship with Samira. All he needed to do was just wait a bit for the right time for her to tell him her story. And then he would take a chance and tell Samira his story. He was happy to wait a bit, because stage three of the mission of confessing to Carol would be the hardest one. He wasn’t sure how Carol would react, hopefully she would understand, but she had been really pissed off with him. Maybe Jan could calm her down at their coffee meetings, which now seemed to almost be a daily occurrence.
His chance came quite soon. They were watching a late night news flash about a boat wreck on Christmas Island, filled with asylum seekers, where there were many people drowned. Out of the corner of his eye, Brian noticed Samira begin to quietly sob. He plucked up his courage and simply said,
‘Samira, please tell me what’s wrong. I’ve been watching you, I know you are happy to be here, but sometimes when you think no one is looking, you suddenly seem so sad. Then I see pain and sorrow in your eyes. If I saw my daughter crying like you, I would want to do everything I could to help her. All I know is that you had a terrible time getting to Australia. Your father has told me a little about that. But listen, you are now safe. You know I can be pretty thick, but I’m learning to listen to people. Please tell me your story.’
Samira considered a moment. She looked into Brian’s eyes and indeed saw deep in them a desire to help her. She thought again about her friend Sergeant Smith back home and how she could talk to him. She took a deep breath and it all came out
‘Brian, I could talk all night about our voyage here, about the journey from our violence torn home village to sitting on your comfortable couch. But for the minute, I will tell you the main parts so you can begin to understand. My father and I are Hazaras from the province of Oruzgan. A long time ago, the Hazaras suffered enormously under the Taliban rule and were the first to support the overthrow of the Taliban by the American forces in 2001. Our people supported the new government and democratic process in the post-Taliban period. But this caused the Taliban insurgents to attack our villages and towns in their quest for revenge.’
Brian considered this.
‘Yes, that’s the part of Afghanistan where the fighting is always in the news. I’ve never been sure why the fighting was always there. Now I know. What happened to force your family to leave?’
‘You need to understand that the Taliban were strongly against our people gaining an education. They thought that as long as people were uneducated they could be fooled and would endure their persecution. Most importantly, they made sure that women could be kept as second class people if they had no knowledge of how better life is for women in the Western world. Your world, where women have the same rights as men and are not just thought of as possessions to be owned and traded. Luckily for me, my parents were very enlightened. They fought for me to have an education. They sacrificed much to send me to a private Islamic school. You will have noticed that my use of your language is quite good. For that I have to thank the dedicated teachers at the school, but mostly my mother. It was she who always encouraged me to continue to learn, and then to teach my friends in the village about how to be free from oppression by the Taliban.’
Brian thought for a while, and then asked.
‘This sounds like my daughter Chloe. Carol saved to send her to a private girl’s school. I think she learnt a lot about how to be a strong woman and have a good life and career. But then again, there were no soldiers hanging about trying to harm her. What was the final straw? Something really bad must have happened.’
‘What happened Brian is that on a holy day I gave a speech in our village square. I spoke against the oppression of the Taliban against women. I asked all the girls in the square to demand they go to school. I spoke of a lot of things that day; it was all about informing my people there could be a better life for us. My father had warned me that the Taliban had threatened to take drastic action about me. My speaking out must have been the final insult to their intolerance. I had never worn the full covering of the burqa. This to me was demeaning to women. I only wore the hijab scarf under protest. At the end of my speech I tore the hijab off my face. Suddenly a group of Taliban appeared and attacked me. My father came to my aid but could not do anything. Luckily, some Australian soldiers were nearby and stopped the attack. In fact it was my friend Sergeant Smith who saved me.’
Brian was dumfounded. This was some brave chick. He wondered what Chloe would have done. But he was curious about something.
‘Why do you still wear your scarf, you’re safe in Australian now. You can choose what to wear.’
Samira looked at Brian, almost as if she was considering if she could trust him. She gave a little shrug and took off her scarf. Brian gasped. Because extending from just below her ear to her jaw was a jagged scar. Brian had seen war wounds, but this was a bad one. It must have been deep, done with a serrated knife, and the flesh repair stiches had been done quickly and roughly, leaving a vivid raised zig zag pattern all the way down.
‘This is why I still wear my scarf Brian, even in your free country. I am not ashamed of my face, I just am tired of people looking at me and making comments behind my back. But in a good way it reminds me that if your soldiers had not reached me, I would now be dead. So this is my small victory over the Taliban, thanks to you Ozzies.’’
Brian was having trouble taking all this in. It was quite a different matter seeing pictures of dead and wounded Afghans on the six o’clock news, even on the big plasma, to looking right at Samira, who had actually been through this trauma. And he thought, had managed to survive. Samira continued her tale.
‘After that, our family was doomed if we stayed. The Taliban would have killed us when the soldiers weren’t nearby. We fled that night. Luckily my parents had been expecting this and had an escape plan prepared.. It is a long story, but my father managed to get us to the refugee camps on the Pakistan border. This was the worst part of our journey. Conditions in the camp were terrible. There were no proper toilets, no decent food, officials were corrupt, and many people got sick and died, with their bodies flung into big pits. Women had to always be on guard against rape. But finally we managed to get on a boat run by people smugglers my father trusted. My father and I finally reached Australia, after a horrific trip in an overcrowded old boat, with no decent food, life jackets or toilets. We went through Malaysia and landed on Christmas Island, and finally we arrived at the Detention Centre in Melbourne.’
She smiled at Brian and took his hand.
‘Then Brian, after months of living in the awful Detention Centre, we were saved by Carol and yourself allowing us to live with you. For this we will always be grateful.’
Brian was again amazed. He was having trouble taking all these graphic and disturbing details in. This was a long way from comfortable pots and parmas at the club. But he was curious about something.
‘Samira, what about your mother? You said that your family left the village, but that only you and your father arrived in Melbourne. Carol said that you never talk about your mother. Is she somewhere else, is she still alive?’
Samira just looked at him, then the tears started. She broke down and wailed uncontrollably, huge sobs and streams of tears running down her young face. Brian could only wonder what he would hear next. Finally Samira calmed down.
‘Brian, Islam faith holds there is always a balance, one good thing against one bad thing. My good thing is reaching your country. My mother is dead. She died on the boat trip. In the refugee camp she got sick; with no doctors or medicine we didn’t know what was wrong and couldn’t help her. She became one of the many dying people. All we could do was to try to speed up our trip to Australia. When we finally got on the boat, we thought she would be able to be saved with modern medicines once we reached Australia. But she got worse and suddenly died only one day before we reached shore. The boat had no area for storing bodies, and the crew had to throw her overboard. All I could do was comfort her as she died and thank her for being a loving caring mother. My father could only promise her that he would look after me. He was heartbroken as he loved her greatly. He has never forgiven himself for not getting my mother to Australia sooner. I think that is why he likes working at the Refugee Centre and helping you; it gives him something to do and stops him grieving too much. That is my bad thing. But I like to now believe that my mother in the next life is aware that I am safe with good people.’
At this point Brian realised that while he thought he had problems with demons, he wasn’t the only one suffering, and that his new friend Rashid also had his own demons to confront. He also vowed that he would do all he could to help his new friends. Samira concluded.
‘So Brian, that is my story. Thank you for listening to me. I want to hear your story; I think it will help you to tell someone who cares about you, but right now I am feeling too tired. I only have strength to pick some of your tasty carrots. Also, I have a request to ask you, but it can wait for a while.’
Issues for the fixer to sort out.
Has Brian won Samira over, and what is this favour she wants?
How will Brian start the final stage of the mission – confessing to Carol?
To be continued.