I never saw him again after he disappeared into the bowels of the refugee camp. He told me that he’d caught sight of the little girl clutching the rubber dinghy as it was sinking. He grabbed her and hoisted her onto his back, keeping them both afloat. By the time our rescue boat picked them up, he was exhausted and shivering, although he was still able to bear the weight of the child.

The girl’s grip around the man’s neck was so tight that I had to prise her arms loose with force. At the moment of separation, she cried without shedding a single tear. Not a drawn-out keening, but a rapid series of violent shrieks like knives stabbing. A high, staccato sound. Her eyes in that thin, dark face, holes of despair. She would not eat or drink, so I put her on a drip. A sedative calmed her to sleep.

Later, I learned that the dinghy had gone down in the storm taking fifty passengers with it, including the child’s mother. Only two had been saved: the man who could swim and the girl with no name.

© Monica Balt

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