The motor boomed into life and the truck lurched forward. Amar was nearly thrown off for the fourth time. He clung on for his life.
Once they were well clear of the border crossing and soldiers, the truck ground to a halt at the side of the road. The cab door opened, and it was Ayberk’s head peering underneath.
Amar let go. He crawled out. Ayberk reached out a hand and pulled him up.
Samir was standing next to Ayberk, his eyes wide as saucers, his mouth open.
Standing before him was a filthy boy, whose face was a mess of tears and dirt, and who smelled of urine. Samir looked him up and down. Stepped towards him. Took hold of his hand and led him around the truck and up into the cab.
Ayberk pulled back onto the road and headed for Gaziantep.
Ayberk left them in a street in the Tanaar district of the city. This was one of the poorest areas, full of Syrian refugees living in a shanty town of ruined houses and buildings. Irrespective of the insalubrity of the accommodation, the Turkish owners would still demand a rent and often charge for the water supply which they didn’t have. The only water available was from a communal tap in the street, next to the mosque.
No doubt Ayberk thought this was the best place for the two boys. What else could he do? He had his own family to think about. He’d risked his job, if not his life, getting them here.
Amar and Samir started walking, and looking around. They needed to figure out what they could do.
Looking inside a house on the left Samir noticed an old man. He was sitting on a crate in a small courtyard. It was actually an incomplete room. Perhaps an extension to the house that was never finished. Roughly thrown together brick walls on two sides. One wall about two metres high, the opposite side was lower, and the front wall facing the street, only half of it existed. Samir could see clearly into the inside.
The old man stared back at him and beckoned him over. He smiled at Samir who noticed his missing teeth, his hollow drawn cheeks. Amar was still walking, he hadn’t noticed. Samir grabbed his arm and tugged.
Amar stopped. Samir pulled him towards the house. Now he too saw the old man. He wore loose fitting trousers, the baggy Arab ones, under an old worn grey jacket. He had a scarf wrapped around his head.
Samir led the way into the courtyard and they both stood in front of the old gentleman who looked up at first one, then the other. When he spoke it was in their language. “You need a bed for the night,” he said. It was not a question, but a simple statement.
Amar was hesitant, but thought the old man could pose no threat, besides he was right. “Yes,” Amar replied.
“You stink,” the old man added, looking at Amar.
Amar felt the blood rush to his cheeks, he was very embarrassed and his eyes could not look back at the old gentleman. Instead, he regarded the dirt floor and said nothing.
“You can fetch some water for me,” the old man told him. “From the mosque. You can see where it is?”
Of course he could see. The minaret towered above the houses. Amar nodded.
“Fill these buckets and the drums,” the old man instructed. “When you’ve finished you can wash yourself. I don’t want stinky kids staying here.”
Amar wondered if it was a trick to get them working for nothing. Afterwards they would be left on the street. He couldn’t decide, but Samir had already picked up two buckets, so he did the same.
It took nearly an hour and several trips back and forth to the tap outside the mosque to fill the two drums. Both those drums were empty. The final trip left them with four buckets to wash with.
The old man pointed to a corner of the yard where a hole the size of a large pipe went through the wall. There was a wooden pallet to stand on, that was the shower.
Amar hesitated, there was no privacy, but he was filthy. He stripped off his clothes, watched by Samir and the old man. He took two buckets of water to the washing corner, the old man stood up and found a tiny bar of soap which he handed to him.
Amar did not like the way the old man’s gaze rested on his private parts, and when he took the soap and turned away, he felt those eyes following him.
Samir picked up Amar’s clothes and set about rinsing them whilst Amar poured the first bucket over himself and shivered with the shock of the water hitting his skin. He soaped himself all over, shooting glances occasionally at the old man who was smiling all the while, and no doubt enjoying looking at Amar’s nakedness.
The second bucket rinsed away the soap and he stepped off the pallet. The old man gave him a small towel he’d found somewhere. Samir hung his jeans and underpants over a wire to dry in the weak midday sunshine.
As soon as he was more or less dry, Amar put his t-shirt back on. He pulled the blanket from their knapsack and wrapped that around his waist. Samir thought about washing, but all he had was a couple of t-shirts, so he left it.
The old man had pulled two more crates next to him. He indicated for the boys to sit. Next he disappeared into what looked like the only interior room of the house. Samir and Amar looked at each other, they were both uncertain about things.
Some time later the old gentleman returned carrying a tray with three glasses and a long stemmed teapot. Samir stood up and fetched over the fourth crate. The old man smiled at him and laid the tray down.
All three were now sitting on makeshift chairs around a makeshift table. Carefully, and with a certain elegance that seemed all the more striking given the situation, the old gentleman poured three glasses of tea lifting the pot high into the air each time. Not a drop missed its target.
“My name is Burhan.” The old man smiled.
“Amar, and this is Samir,” Amar looked over at his friend.
That was how he thought of Samir now, they were friends. It made him think of Nazir and Anas who were left behind, still in the camp in Syria. He wondered if they would get out. In his heart of hearts, he also wondered if one day he and Samir might be together like they were.
They drank the tea in silence, Burhan seemed content to sit and sip his tea. Looking at one boy and then the other, smiling for no particular reason. When they had finished, and it took a while, Burhan got up and asked them, addressing no one in particular, to wash the glasses and teapot.
Samir took it upon himself to do the washing up and then he carried everything back into the house. Amar picked up the tray and followed him, he needed to piss. Burhan was lying propped up on a mattress on the floor, when Amar said he needed to use the toilet. He got up and held open a curtain in the corner of the room, behind which was a proper toilet.
“When you finish, refill the bucket with water.” Amar regarded the toilet and saw the bucket used to flush it. He nodded to Burhan.
Samir had put the things away on a crate which rested next to the far wall. As he was going back outside, he passed next to Burhan who could not resist giving the young boy a little pat on his arse. Samir just looked at him, but was not upset. The incident did not go unnoticed by Amar, who thought to himself, ‘That old man’s got an eye for the boys.’
The rest of the afternoon they spent in the yard. It was warm enough in the sunshine, but Amar doubted his jeans would dry. That meant he was sort of stranded here, which wasn’t too bad. They had at least found somewhere to spend the night.
When the air started to get chill as the sunlight faded, Burhan lit a fire in an old oil drum and slung a pot over it half filled with water. He added roughly chopped vegetables, salt, and some spices to the pot. It was the same as in the camp.
The stew would simmer away and offer a hot meal later, which whilst not a feast, would fill their stomachs and stop the rumbling emptiness they often listened to.
Sitting around the fire of the old oil drum warmed them from the cold darkness. It offered a glow of light in an otherwise sombre courtyard, whose only illumination was one outside street light on a tall wooden pole.
That outside light barely penetrated the walls that almost surrounded them, but it was sufficient to alert Amar to a shadow approaching from the street.
He stood up, immediately alert and ready to act, but Burhan told him, “Sit down, it’s only Firas.”
Amar sat down wondering who Firas was, when a boy smaller than him walked into the yard and came to join them by the fire.
“Who have you got here Burhan?” Firas asked the old man.
“Two boys who need a place to sleep,” Burhan replied.
Firas regarded the two newcomers, then he went to sit down on the crate Samir was sitting on. “Move over,” he told Samir, who shifted to one side.
Samir felt the new arrival next to him, his body pressed against him, but it felt safe. Firas was not really paying much attention to Samir. Instead he addressed Burhan, “I’m knackered,” he said. “That Turk is killing me in his factory.”
“We have to live,” Burhan said gently. “Wash your hands and we can eat.”
Firas stood back up and went to wash his hands, being sure to use the bucket Samir had used to wash their clothes. Burhan had already told the boys there was a bucket reserved for drinking water.
“Get the bowls and spoons, Amar, please,” Burhan instructed, and Amar noted he said ‘please.’
He was building a picture in his mind of who Burhan was, what sort of person he was. So far he found him to be a nice. If the old man liked boys, so what, that didn’t mean he was a nasty person. He thought Burhan was not in the best of health. The old man was probably glad to offer a roof to two boys who in return could help out.
Then he wondered about Firas, but as they had only met tonight, he thought it would not be right to ask questions.
It was Firas who broke the silence between them. “So where have you two come from?”
Amar told their story whilst they ate. He explained how Samir was being taken to someone in the city, that it had been arranged by the camp coordinator. That he was getting rid of all the orphan boys because there would be an inspection.
He told him about how he hid beneath the truck and the young soldier who saw him. That was when they stopped at the border crossing, but the soldier had not raised the alarm. They got through and it was Ayberk, the truck driver who helped them get to Turkey.
Firas understood straight away, he knew Graham the camp coordinator. He had been in the camp himself, and he most definitely knew all about the man in Gaziantep that Samir was being taken to. He’d lived with, and suffered Edmund for a long time, before getting thrown out and finding Burhan.
It was Firas’ turn to pull all the pieces together. Over a glass of tea and whilst doing the washing up, he told them everything. He was the boy who’d left the camp as Amar arrived. He told the boys about life with Edmund, how he was beaten and used for sex.
Burhan already knew the story and had gone to bed. Samir held onto Amar as Firas told his story.
“In the end,” Firas said, “I was just too old for him, and he only kept me with him because there was no one else. I think I was always too old. At the beginning he saw that as a challenge, because I wouldn’t let him do stuff, even if he hit me.”
“One time though, after about nearly a month of me resisting and him hitting me, he sort of lost it.”
Amar felt Samir’s arm squeeze his waist and he returned the hug to pull him tight into him.
“That was the night I gave up. He had me tied up and just kept whacking me with a belt. I was crying like a baby, it hurt… it hurt like hell. It was that night he raped me.”
The story made Amar feel sick; it was also close to home. It could have been him if he’d carried on being selfish, and forcing younger boys into having sex.
He wanted to think he wasn’t like Mohmmad, and definitely not like Edmund. He had changed. He felt sure of it, but he also knew he’d done some mean stuff.
Samir and Amar had only the blanket and each other to keep them warm. They lay together on one side of the little room on top of some cardboard sheets that provided meagre insulation from the ground. Firas joined Burhan, they slept together on the old mattress.
As they drifted off to sleep Amar told himself that now he knew quite a lot about Firas, but not everything. His thoughts, however, turned to what they would do next.