Early the next morning Firas was up before it was properly light. He shook Amar awake.
“Amar, Amar,” Firas spoke softly.
“What is it?” Amar was still half asleep.
Samir, disturbed by the commotion, opened his eyes.
“I’m gonna take you two to the factory,” Firas told him.
“But I’ve got no clothes.” Amar wasn’t about to put his probably-still-wet jeans on.
“I’m making some tea.” Firas told him. He nodded towards a plastic bag by the bed. “Look in there.”
Amar hunted through the old clothes and pulled out a pair of faded red shorts. They fit, the legs came down to his knees, but they were okay. Samir grinned as Amar pulled on the baggy shorts.
It was freezing cold. The little gas burner Firas used to heat water in a dented saucepan, gave off little heat to warm the boys. Amar wrapped the blanket around himself and Samir as they sat crossed legged on the cardboard sheet.
“It’s terrible work,” Firas was telling them as he poured the boiling water into the teapot.
“All day from seven to seven, with hardly a break. But it pays fifteen lira and we need the money.”
He took three glasses and poured the tea, with none of the ceremony employed by Burhan yesterday.
“Burhan is sick, you know. I need to buy medicine and food… and pay the rent for living here.” He looked directly at the other two boys.
Amar nodded, “I understand.”
“I’m really pleased you two showed up,” he said. “I didn’t know what we would do.”
“It’s okay,” Amar replied. “Samir and me, will help.”
Samir nodded his agreement.
“We’re glad to be here. To have somewhere to stay.”
They finished the tea, and washed the glasses and teapot. Then the three boys headed off, leaving Burhan still sleeping.
The first rays of sunlight dispelled the darkness, but were too weak this early to offer any warmth. Firas led them off the almost deserted main street and into a small alley. He pulled open a metal door and they went down some concrete steps into a large room full of sewing machines. The machine operators were a mixture of boys and girls. A stark strip of neon illuminated the workshop.
Samir and Amar followed Firas past the machines and up a wooden staircase. The glass door to a small office was half-open. Windows made up the whole of one side offering a clear view of the machine room.
“Who have you dragged along with you this morning?” The speaker was a large man whose belly strained his baggy shirt. His voice was as deep as a contrabassoon. The man glared at Firas and the boys behind him.
“My two friends need to work.” Firas explained.
Amar and Samir stood still as the large overpowering man looked them up and down. Samir shivered, feeling the man’s gaze, it felt like being in a cattle market, as the man gauged the quality of what he was buying.
The owner’s hand went around his chin as he considered the new prospects. Then he walked back to a desk that had papers scattered all over it. Nobody moved or said anything. He turned back.
“Ten lira,” he said, “if they last the day.”
Amar was about to answer, but Firas raised his arm in front of the other boy.
“Fifteen is the going rate,” Firas interjected. “Fifteen and that’s robbery.”
The man looked at the top of the desk, shuffled some papers.
“Twelve for the older one, ten for his little friend.” He addressed Firas directly.
The negotiating went on for quite awhile, until finally agreement was reached by each side. Amar would get fourteen lira and Samir twelve lira. Mustafa, the factory owner, charged Firas with showing them what to do.
Just as the three boys were leaving the office something caught the eye of Mustafa, who pushed past them, rushing down the stairs. He grabbed a boy, who looked to be about twelve, and whacked him hard round the head, and slapped another boy next to him. He ranted at them about the quality of their work, telling them that next time he’d kick the shit out of them.
Firas led Amar and Samir quickly away. He introduced Samir to a boy about his own age, explained he was working with Iran, and should do everything he’s told. He took Amar off to show him his work.
The factory was more like a big workshop. Two rows of old industrial sewing machines, five on each side. They were making shoes. The children cut leather, then sewed the pieces together, and glued on the soles.
Samir worked collecting the shoes after the soles were glued. He then stuffed in paper and card, packed them into boxes, finally stacking the finished products in the delivery bay. Amar was gluing soles to shoes next to Firas.
They worked non-stop all morning until about one o’clock, when they got a half hour break. Firas shared some bread he brought with him. They ate that and drank tea or water.
The only adult in that place was Mustafa, all the workers were children, and they were all Syrian.
It was dark when they got back home. That was how Amar thought of it, no matter it was temporary. They had had the good fortune to tumble upon Burhan and Firas, and found a place to stay.
Over the meal that night, Burhan regaled them about his life and family before the war. They were farmers for generations, but his two sons received an education. One worked for the government as an accountant and the other for a big import export business.
He never said what happened to them, nor to the rest of his family. As usual, Burhan went early to bed, leaving the three boys around the heat of the oil drum in the yard.
“You got any plans?” Amar asked Firas.
He considered things for a minute before answering. “I can’t stay here forever that’s for sure, but I’m not leaving Burhan.”
“What is it with you and the old man?” Amar asked.
“He’s been very good to me,” Firas’ voice betrayed his emotions.
“Sorry,” Amar said, “I don’t want to pry.”
“No, it’s okay. It’s just like I told you, he’s sick… and… he’s old. He lost his whole family.”
“I’m sorry, Firas.” Amar hated sad stories. It seemed the world was nothing but sad stories. Everything good had been destroyed and only sadness remained.
It was getting cold, they were all tired, so they went inside to sleep.
The next couple of days saw them following the same routine. The work in the factory was okay. It was a long day, but it was something you got used to. When Amar had time to think about it, he knew he needed a plan. It was like Firas said, ‘ you can’t stay here forever.’
Friday was the one day of the week they had off. No one worked at the factory on Fridays. Mustafa was, despite everything else, a good Muslim. Friday was the day of prayers.
But this Friday, Firas decided to go and find Jordan, a Westerner who worked for Christian Aid. Jordan could get the medicine Burhan needed and at a low price. It was Burhan who introduced Jordan when he first took Firas to the clinic. Now the old man rarely went out, except when it was absolutely necessary, and going to the clinic was. At least it was until Firas showed up.
The Christian Aid clinic was quite some distance away. Amar wondered how Burhan ever managed to walk that far, given the state of his health. He supposed perhaps he had been healthier before Firas arrived. He must have done something to pay the rent and eat.
There were a lot of people at the clinic. With no seats inside, it seemed a person stood in every available space. Firas told the boys they needed to find Jordan and would have to hang around for him.
“But we don’t know what he looks like,” Amar told Firas, who smiled.
“Yeah, I know. He’s young, short cropped blond hair, tall, clean shaven. You will know it’s him.”
Amar and Samir stayed together near the main entrance where most of the people were gathered. Firas went off inside to have a look around.
There seemed to be some sort of queue around Amar and Samir, but it didn’t move very fast. Occasionally a man or woman in a white coat, presumably a doctor or nurse, appeared. More people arrived and the entrance filled to over flowing. People were now waiting outside.
Samir tugged Amar’s arm. He had been looking outside at the people arriving, but turned back to Samir. Firas was back and with him was a slim, blond haired boy. Well a young man, but he didn’t look that old to Amar.
Firas spoke first. “This is Jordan,” he said.
Jordan gave a huge smile which revealed perfect white teeth. His face was tanned, smooth, almost gleaming.
Amar looked up at the tall young man and stared into eyes a shade of blue he’d never seen before. Jordan offered his hand, and Amar, then Samir each shook it. He talked to Firas in English, Amar just watched him, but understood what was said. Jordan would be leaving here next month.
Jordan smiled again, turned and left, disappearing back into the crowds.
Firas held up a couple of boxes. They contained the medicine he’d come for.
“That guy is beautiful,” Amar said.
Samir thought the same, the tall blond youth had an aura that attracted like a magnet.
“Yes, I know.” Firas grinned. “And he came through with the medicine.”
“Shall we go then?” Amar asked.
“Yeah, let’s get out of here.”
On the way back, Firas explained Jordan told him he would be leaving in about a month. “He’s offered to take us with him,” Firas said, “If we want.”
“We?” Amar asked.
“Yes, all of us. Thing is though, I can’t leave Burhan on his own.”
“Where’s he going?”
“Antalya. Then he’s flying home. Antalya is halfway out of Turkey. It’s a free ride away from here.”
“But if you can’t go?”
Firas looked sad. “Well, if I stay, it doesn’t mean you have to.”
“No, if you stay, we stay with you,” Amar told Firas. Samir nodded, he’d not missed anything that had been said.
“What’s he want in return?” Amar wanted to know.
“Why’s he doing it then?”
“Don’t be so suspicious, Amar,” Firas replied. “Why did Ayberk help you across the border? Not everybody wants something. He’s a Christian. It’s why he’s here helping at the clinic.”
They fell into silence for the rest of the walk back. Amar found it hard to believe someone would do something like that and not want payment. It was true Ayberk had helped them, but that was different. He’d known Ayberk some time. This guy Jordan, he didn’t know at all.