Amar and Samir found some of the boys already asleep when they got back to the tent. Those who weren’t yet, were just about to go to bed.
Samir avoided any contact with Mohmmad, although he felt him staring. He made up the simple bed, laying out the blanket, getting the sleeping bag ready. Amar had gone to talk to Nazir. Anas was there with them, but was already tucked up in the sleeping bag with his back to the other two.
Samir did wonder what they were discussing, if it was about him. He was sure Anas was listening. He decided it didn’t matter one way or another. After kicking off his sneakers, he crawled into the sleeping bag, and turned to face the wall of the tent.
It was not long before Amar joined him, wriggling down beside him, and snuggling up. Samir hoped it wouldn’t be a repeat of last night. It soon fell quiet, with the only sound being breathing, and the warm breath of Amar hitting the back of his neck. They fell asleep spooned together.
Amar woke up even before it was really light, he stretched, yawned and enjoyed the warmth he felt from their two bodies lying in the sleeping bag together. Like usual, he had a stiffy, every morning was the same. The idea inextricably played through his mind to take his pleasure with the younger boy lying next to him. It would be so easy to do a repeat of the previous night. Just thinking about it sent sensations to his loins.
The thing was though, there was something about this new boy. Perhaps he reminded him too much of himself? Maybe it was because he didn’t talk? Or simply that he regretted forcing himself on the boy last night.
He got out of the sleeping bag, doing his best not to disturb the other boy. He walked over to the opening of the tent, stepping outside into the chill morning air.
Samir was not asleep, but he had not moved. He had felt the hardness of the older boy. How could he not have, lying there so closely? It surprised him that Amar did not take him, like the last time.
Amar was not the only one awake before dawn. Nazir slipped through the tent flap to join him outside. The stars were fading in the lightening sky. The camp was still. Nazir noticed the bulge in his friends jeans. “You left him alone,” he said to Amar.
Amar stopped looking at the stars and turned towards Nazir, his hand falling to his bulging crotch. “Yes,” he replied. “I don’t know what I’ll do now.” He smiled as he said that.
Nazir rubbed his arms with his hands, trying to warm his body against the chill. He had only a jumper and thin underpants on. “There was a poet we studied at school.” He was looking Amar in the eyes. “I always remember these lines: Don’t stroll idly through the bazaar of the perfume-markers: Stay in the shop of the sugar-seller.”
A broad grin was on Nazir’s face.
Amar embraced his friend, he liked Nazir. He hugged him, exchanging some of his warmth. Nazir laughed when he felt the bulge of Amar’s crotch pressed against him. “I’m not going to take care of that thing for you.”
Amar’s hand dropped down the side of Nazir and came around between them. He gave Nazir a gentle squeeze on his junk. “No, I can see that,” he joked, “there’s nothing there. You must have enjoyed yourself last night with Anas.”
“I always enjoy myself with Anas, he loves me.”
Those words hit Amar stronger than the chilled air. ‘He loves me‘ played in Amar’s head; and his thoughts turned to the boy in his bed.
“I need to get back inside. It’s freezing!” Nazir exclaimed.
“And put some clothes on,” Amar added.
“With you walking around like that, definitely.”
They walked back into the tent arms around each other.
Samir wandered aimlessly amongst the tents, he needed time alone. People were up and about. The sky was clear, the sun had a faint warmth, time drifted.
He spotted Amar sitting on the ground, his back against the corner of the portacabin. Knees drawn up, with his arms wrapped around and his head buried.
Nobody was around, Samir was half hidden by one of the tents. He watched.
He was not close, but near enough to notice Amar’s shoulders shrugging ever so slightly.
He was sobbing!
Samir remembered a time that seemed an eternity ago, when he was younger. When he was pushing a handcart back from the market with his older brother Tarek. They were playing around. Somehow, Samir had pushed the cart over Tarek’s hand. It was fully laden.
His brother yelped really loud, stood up hopping around holding his thumb. Samir tried to get him to show him the injury, but he just kept whimpering and moving. He saw he was in a lot of pain. Pain he had inflicted. He wanted to make it right, but couldn’t.
Eventually the initial pain subsided and Samir managed to see his brother’s hand. His thumb was oozing blood and the nail was turning black. Tarek quickly covered his injury, gripping his thumb tightly with his other hand.
Samir struggled to push the heavy handcart alone. His brother left him, to run ahead and get back home. When Samir finally arrived home, his brother was sitting in the kitchen as their mother tied off a big white bandage. “What did you do to your brother?” His mother asked crossly.
He just stood there, in front of both of them. His arms hanging at his sides, his head dropped, he stared down at the floor. He burst into tears, and his shoulders heaved up and down as his little body was wracked with remorse. His mother’s arms soothed the crying into more gentle sobs.
Samir retraced his steps back around the tent and headed for the opposite side of the portacabin. He didn’t know why, but he felt a need to see what was happening. He wanted to get closer, to see if Amar really was crying alone.
He moved quickly, but carefully. Samir came around the back of the portacabin, and hid just around the opposite corner at the same end as Amar. If he stepped out, he could get a side-on view of Amar sitting there.
He was sniffling. Samir heard the little whimpers.
Samir stayed where he was, not moving, only listening. Then he stepped around the corner of the cabin, walked slowly along to where Amar was, and sat down on the ground next to him.
Amar felt the presence of someone sitting close to him, but he didn’t look up.
After nothing had happened, and the sad whimpering sniffles continued. Samir, despite himself, felt a huge sadness. The only way to stop that feeling was to reach out.
He shuffled next to the older boy and reached around his shoulders to hug him close. Exactly like his mother had done when he was little.
Amar believed it was Nazir, the only boy who would do that. His only friend. He felt better.
Then the tears just came again, and without looking he turned his head and buried his face in the other boy’s shoulder.
An arm held him close. A hand brushed through his hair. The gentleness only made him sob harder.
Samir felt the damp tears find their way through the tiny holes in his jumper and wet his skin. He just held Amar and comforted him. He was unable to let him go.
Amar stopped crying. He thought to himself how sad it was that Nazir had a boy. Sad for him. He desperately needed someone, someone to love him.
He felt the gentleness of the other boy next to him. He was embarrassed to be found like this, but he raised his head to look at his friend. To thank him.
The realisation was a shock.
Perhaps the biggest shock of his life. The boy sitting next him. The boy being gentle, holding him, comforting him like a baby was Samir!
Samir held his gaze. Hugged him and let his hand stroke Amar’s hair one last time.
Amar wiped his red eyes with his hands and stared back at the young boy, and cried. He could not stop the tears coming. He had been crying for himself and now he was crying for Samir. He was sobbing for the boy who didn’t speak. Thinking about what he had done. He was sorrowful because… because.
Because he loved him.
Amar bumped into Ayberk, the guy who drove one of the trucks for UNHCR. He was a Turk and his family lived in Gaziantep. Ayberk had been here when Amar first arrived. He had been the first adult Amar had spoken to. They had become friends.
Ayberk knew everything that went on. Both here in the camp, and across the border in his hometown. He hadn’t found Amar by coincidence, life didn’t work like that here. Only Westerners thought stuff happened by chance.
“Graham is going to get rid of you boys,” he told Amar. “There will be a camp inspection and he doesn’t want anything going wrong. He wants you all out of here.”
“Where will he send us?” Amar had been here ten months. He would be glad to leave.
“There’s the problem,” Ayberk replied. “He has no official route, no way to do it.”
“So… it’s not good for you.”
“What do you mean, not good?”
“First, in a couple of days I have a supply run to do. Graham wants me to take the new boy and hand him over to the guy at the office in town.”
“So he gets out of here and into Turkey.”
“He’s not a good type, that guy.”
He didn’t need to elaborate further, Amar knew what that meant. “And the rest of us?”
“Nothing fixed, but it won’t be anything good. Gaziantep is not the town I grew up in. There are kids on the street, working in shit conditions in factories, and then there’s prostitution. Run by the local mafia. None of it is good.”
Amar was registering what Ayberk was saying. Starting to think about what he could do. He needed a plan. Ayberk was just about to help him out.
“How about you sneak onto the truck when I leave. It’s dangerous, but I’ll drive slow. Once we are across the border, you join us in the cab. I’ll let you both out when we reach the town.”
“What will you say to Graham. He’ll be real pissed.”
“I will think of something. Say I broke down. There was an accident, you jumped ship and I couldn’t leave the truck.”
“And the rest of the boys?” Amar was thinking mostly about Nazir and Anas, he really didn’t care what happened to Mohmmad.
“Nothing I can do. It works once. It’s like that.”
That was the truth. Everyone for themselves. Occasionally there was someone like Ayberk who lent a helping hand, but that was rare.
“Okay. It’s yes, and thank you.”
Ayberk smiled. “I will tell you when I’m going if I can, but stick close to the new boy. If you see me or Graham come and get him, you get to the truck.”
As Ayberk walked off, Amar reflected on the risk. It wasn’t that far to the frontier control, but he would be clinging on under the truck. That was the only way. If he lost his grip, he could be badly injured, or worse, killed.
When he got back to the tent, he looked around and found Samir. He needed to share the news, they needed to talk. Amar was embarrassed. He felt bad and at the same time he felt good. That didn’t make any sense.
Amar avoided looking directly at Samir. He could have avoided the whole encounter, but that would mean his heart was well and truly frozen.
He sat down cross-legged on the floor of the tent. He beckoned Samir to join him. Nobody else was inside, they were alone.
Amar whispered, “I don’t think you can forgive me, but I am sorry. I am sorry.”
Samir watched the older boy as he moved the dirt in front of his feet with his fingers, not looking at him. ‘It wasn’t enough.’ he thought to himself. He can’t just say sorry and not look him in the eyes. He had to feel the pain. ‘I could grab hold of him and pound my fists into his face and it wouldn’t be enough.’
It was silent in the tent. Just the background noise of life outside, a hardly audible murmur in the intensity of this confrontation.
Samir stretched his right arm out towards Amar. Gripped his chin and raised it up to look him in the eyes.
Amar saw the anger. The young boy’s eyes burned through him.
“I am sorry,” Amar repeated, a tear escaping the corner of his eye.
Amar didn’t see it coming.
Samir had released his hold on Amar’s chin. His arm came back, raised in the air. Then with some force swept downwards and the palm of Samir’s hand slapped the older boy hard across his left cheek.
Amar flinched at the blow, felt his cheek go warm as the pain hit him.
Samir leaped towards him, like a highly-strung wild beast. The force of the impact pushed Amar backwards.
Samir’s fists were pounding into Amar’s chest. He had tears in his eyes.
Amar brought his arms across in front to protect himself from the blows, but he didn’t fight back. He knew he deserved this, the anger and the blows.
The pounding fists kept hitting his arms. The tears pouring down Samir’s face, and Amar was crying too.
Slowly the force of the blows evaporated. Became weak taps on his arms.
Amar’s arms went around Samir and held him. He pulled Samir down on top of him.
He went to kiss the young boy. Samir pushed him back.
“Forgive me, please?” Amar’s eyes were wet with tears. Samir looked hard at the older boy. He wanted to reject him, but he wanted to hold him at the same time.
Amar looked back and moved forward a second time. This time he didn’t try to kiss Samir, just to hug him. The other boy responded. He let Amar hold him. Amar had his answer.