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Alan Whittaker A Short Story




This piece is around 1400 words. The completed version is about 5800 words.

 I have written this story about a 13-year-old Syrian refugee, who has left his family behind in Syria. Much of this story will be fictionalised, and will go back to around 3 years, when the boy decided to leave the worn-torn trauma of his homeland.  His journey to the UK is based around him stowing away in the back of a truck, with the hope of arriving in England to a new life.

 They had smashed the walls where the framed pictures hung; generations of his family; their faces had bullet holes in them. Cousin Turko and her friend were taken to Deir ez-Zor and handed over to a Saudi man, a judge in the Sharia court. The first night, he summoned her to his bedroom. 


The sound of a woman’s moans and cries jerks Tariq out of his nightmare. The light from his phone only reaches a few feet. But he can just about see to the rear of the truck, which is loaded with some kind of contraband; he’s not sure what cargo it is. He’s never seen the inside of a truck before; but he can only see the wall of boxes and crates in front of him.

 Tarek had been on the road for a long time. He was weary and his nerves were frazzled. His eyes burned and his hands trembled. Shortly after he ran away, two bristly men with the look of the vulture in their eyes had approached him at the tea stall, promising him work in a rich person’s house in Europe far away.

 But he knew that he couldn’t trust them, or anybody for that matter; he had to be on his guard all the time, trusting nobody. He shivered. The 

 truck was getting colder and colder. It felt like the nights he spent on the hill, safe from the carnage, watching as his village burned.


     ‘Hey boy,’ a girl shouted from somewhere near by. ‘Boy, I’ve bought some candles with me that I stole from the Mosque.’          


     ‘You’ve stolen from the the house of God?’


      ‘Yes,’ cried the girl. ‘I was scared that I wouldn’t be able to see anybody in the truck.’


The wax from the burning candles dripped onto her soft fingers; causing her to moan. He could feel something hard on the floor next to his feet; he tried to shove it out of his way, then another voice, out of nowhere, screamed in his direction. Tarek peered around and made out a huge dark shape but all he could really see was a glint of gold teeth in the light of the candle.


     ‘Get off, that’s my bag you Syrian rat, move, fuck off you peasant’ Toothy snarled.


Tarek couldn’t move or find any free space so he had to squeeze so close to Amal that he could hear her heart beating. His mind wanders back to when he was about ten years old, he remembers the time when he and his sister Sofia used to play together after school; Momma would meet them at the old iron gates. She would always be smiling and very happy. 

  Momma would always take us to my cousin’s house on the hill, my aunt would cook us some Harisi. She would give us some to take home for Papa but Sayadieh was his favourite.


      ‘Hey you, girl, what’s your name?’ Tarek whispered through the dense light of her dim candle.

      ‘Why do you want to know my name?’

      ‘I don’t know, just thought that I would like to call you my new friend. I’m Tarek’

       ‘And I’m Amal’ she murmured shyly, ‘Can I call you Tarek?

       ‘Yes, sure.’ 

Feeling bolder, Tarek asked, ‘How old are you?’ 

       ‘Twelve but nearly thirteen, how about you?’


Amal could see Tarek’s big eyes looking at her; she was chewing her long fingernails. She tried to pull the black flea-bitten shawl over her face, to conceal her bashfulness.


      ‘Thirteen,’ he declared, ‘and I’m not a boy, I’m a man.’


Amal tried to hide her smile. ‘Why are you running away on your own? 


     ‘Where’s your family?’


     ‘Why are you asking? I don’t know you.’


 Tarek was abrupt but regretted it as he saw her face crumple and eyes fill with tears.


       ‘I have escaped Daesh, they have killed all most of my family, destroyed our town of Najaf’. Her voice was weak. She was upset: could feel the tears running down her dirty unwashed face; they were dripping down onto her hand and causing the remains of the candle to flicker.


It cast a pool of light that made them feel like they were alone, despite the hoarse breathing and rustling around them….. 


She stammered. 


    ‘I don’t have anybody left. I hid in an empty barrel that was in the back of a burned-out jeep. I was scared of somebody finding me. I must have been in the drum for a long time.  I was so scared of Daesh. I didn’t dare move from where I was. I had no food, just some water that was left in the remains of the jeep. It was dirty, but I was so weak and thirsty, I think that it made me sick.’


     ‘When did you decide that you had to get out of the barrel?’


     ‘When it was dark, and silent. I was freezing, but I knew that I had to make a move that night.’


‘I would have been scared’ said Tarek. 


        ‘Yes, probably so replied Amal,                       

        ‘I was scared that somebody might have caught me, and give me to Daesh; they would have sold me to the bad men, and they would do bad things to me.’ 

        ‘I was so frightened, so……’ Amal’s eyes filled with tears.


Tarek scowled.


       ‘I will never go back while Daesh are there but I worry about my family.  I feel sad and guilty but I couldn’t take any more punishment from them dirty pigs. The only reason I was able to run away is because I hated my papa, he didn’t like the fact that I stood up to him, even though I’m only thirteen years old, maybe its because I’m stronger than he thought I was.’

 The memories drew over him like black cloud drifting overhead, and he fell silent…


     ‘Tarek,’Tarek the girl shouted, ‘what’s wrong with you? I’ve been calling out to you. The truck is going slower; I have been throwing bits of burnt wax at you. I’m scared, why have we slowed down?’


There were shouts from within the truck; refugees were scrambling to hide behind the contraband. Some were crying and shouting out loud. I can’t go back; I can’t go back. They will kill me; don’t let them take me back. I’m begging you all, somebody please help my child and me.


     ‘I don’t know,’ Tarek, whispered, ‘maybe we are at the port ready to cross to England but I’m terrified as well. The doors might open, and we could be found and sent back to that filthy camp in Calais.’



Tarek, was trembling, he tried to tell the girl to stop panicking, but she kept on shouting, she was hysterical. Now everybody else in the truck was shuffling around, trying to hide behind each other, Tarek could only see the whites of their eyes, staring towards the back of the lorry.


The truck suddenly lurched to the side of the road with bodies flung around. There was cursing and sobbing.


Then it all went quiet.

     ‘Tarek what’s happened?’

       ‘ How do I know?’

       ‘ We have stopped?’ I’m scared - could it be the police?’ cried Amal.’


Voices could be heard outside.


They were unfamiliar voices. Footsteps trampling on what sounded like crunching gravel, the shadows of people moving around the front of the truck. The driver slammed his cab door he was murmuring something, but then he got back in the truck and pulled away.


As the tension in the truck eased Tarek began to fall asleep, his mind along with the strange surroundings began to play tricks on his imagination. 


     ‘I’m not sure Momma where Sofia is; I last saw her playing at the back of her friend’s house; maybe she’s looking at the chocolate in the store, you know she likes chocolate, but Poppa won’t let her have any. 


    ‘Will you go and look for her Tarek?........’


    ‘No mum, the store keeper won’t let me near his shop because he caught me stealing some food, he said that I haven’t got to go in there again or he will beat me.’


His thoughts were drifting back to the time when a cockroach clambered onto his bed.  He was only 9 years old at the time; the last thing that he saw before mom put the lights off was its hunchback shiny shell before the last of the lights disappeared; it crawled around his pillow making crackling noises with its twig-like legs.  The crackling becomes louder and louder, then he leaps up and shouts.


     ‘Amal, Amal, Amal!’ 



©Alan Whittaker 2020


  • Hi. The story is certainly dramatic and sounds almost as if it is drawn from some very challenging personal experiences - emphasised by the flashbacks. It needs further work - especially in regard to punctuation.

    I found the Calais reference a bit confusing:   

    ‘I don’t know,’ Tarek, whispered, ‘maybe we are at the port ready to cross to England but I’m terrified as well. The doors might open, and we could be found and sent back to that filthy camp in Calais.’ 

    I understood that the lorry had been travelling for a long time and from much further afield than the French coast. (Your introduction states: His journey to the UK is based around him stowing away in the back of a truck, with the hope of arriving in England to a new life.)

    Anyway: good luck with it.


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    • Alan, Thankyou for sharing your story. You mentioned that the story is longer so I wasnt sure if these are exerpts or not. There are a few things that confuse me about the story. From what I can tell the protagonist has ridden in the back of the truck from Syria to France. He would have to go through Turkey, eastern block countries and across Europe. It is not very believable that he would be in the same vehicle all this way. I was also confused about there being a Saudi judge. You might want to research more. That's a good place to start. Wish you the best on the story. I look forward to seeing the finished product.

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