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Flash Fiction 2018 Competition

As part of its annual festival Writing on the Wall held a Flash Fiction competition with the Theme of ‘Crossing Borders’ (500 words maximum). Have a read below of the winning entry. 

Raft by Philip Charter

A large African man looks around the office. It’s stripped bare apart from the table and chairs. Even seated, he is almost a head taller than the man with a uniform and a name badge — Juan. The two men look across the table, through the silent steam of the teapot.
Juan inspects his fingernails and weighs up the first move.

“Do you need a translator?”

“No. I speak your language.”

Juan removes a damaged photo from a plastic wallet. “Can you tell me about this?”

The man remains silent, his big features muted. He reaches for the photograph, then changes his mind.

“We need to identify them. Do they have documents?” says Juan.

“No documents. I cannot help you.”

“We can speed up your application,” says Juan.

The man bows his head and begins to cry. Juan busies himself pouring the teas.

“That’s me in the middle,” the man says between sobs. “The whole village is there.” He swallows. “Now only me.”

It’s been just one day since the crossing from Libya. The hours huddling together felt like years, clinging on while the raft was tossed about like a cheap paper plate.

“And who was with you?”

“Son, daughter, and my brother’s family. My wife stay at home.” A tear rolls down the man’s pudgy cheek and narrowly misses the paper photograph. “You cannot tell her. You must not—”

“Can you write the names for me?”

The man writes the names.

Juan reaches across the table and rests his hand on the man’s for a second, then removes the paper.

After a pause, Juan speaks. “We want to reduce the deaths.”

The man looks up, through watery eyes. He shakes his head.

“Who did you pay?”

“I cannot.”

“Think of what you came for. A better life,” says Juan, smiling.

The man is not listening. “I tried to drown, but my body don’t let me.”

“Who put you on the boat?”

“They kill me.” He draws a finger across his throat.

“Anything you can tell us. The payment, the dates, any face you remember . . .”

The man shakes his head again.

Juan sighs and takes out a packet of cigarettes. “We need to keep the photo, for identification. I’m sorry.” He slides the photo back over towards the plastic wallet.

“No.” The man catches his hand and stops him.

“You’ll regret it if you don’t tell me now,” says Juan. “There is no more time.”

“What does time matter to me? You people will still be asking the same questions in a hundred years.”

The tea sits between the two men, untouched.