By Khaled Diab
Friday 7 October 2016
Alone and lonely, I feel a deep sense of melancholy overcome me. How could I have expected my prison guard to understand my predicament and release me? I scold myself for my naïve streak. I feel an immense fatigue wash over me and, despite everything or perhaps because of it, I succumb to the comforting embrace of slumber. I curl up as best I can on the hard bunk and am immediately overwhelmed by blank darkness. While asleep, I sense we have hit rocky waters… or perhaps it is my rocky dreams that have suddenly erupted upon my inner eye. On the verge of waking, the rocking subsides and rocks me back to sleep.
When I awaken, I am not sure how much time has elapsed. It feels like hours but it could have been minutes. I sit and patiently await a return visit, during which I fully expect to be escorted off the ship and onwards towards oblivion, first in a prison cell in Israel and then in the prison of Gaza, where the chains binding my soul bound to feel thicker and heavier after having come so close to escape.
But the moment refuses to arrive. I wait and I wait and I wonder how it can take so long to reach an Israeli port.
Eventually, I hear the clanking thud of boots on metal and I know my time has arrived. I brace myself. The door swings open to reveal Major Beige and a couple of his subordinates. “Follow me,” he instructs in a neutral tone. When we come up on deck, I am surprised to discover we are still in open waters.
My inner compass cannot determine. I interrogate Major Beige with my eyes.
“I’ve never accepted my lot,” he says cryptically, “and neither should you. You’ve done nothing wrong and you’ve wronged no-one. You don’t deserve prison, so I’m returning you to the sea.”
Disbelieving, I stare wordlessly at him, while his comrades look on, some with supportive gazes, others with barely concealed disgust and contempt.
“Over there is Cyprus,” he points, though I can’t see any land in sight. “I can’t get you any closer without infiltrating Cyprus’s territorial waters, and I’m in enough trouble…
“So you’ll have to swim from here,” he says. “If you can,” he adds, his eyes betraying doubt and concern.
“Thank you,” I say, wondering what comeuppance awaits him for his act of mutiny, trying to convey my concern with my eyes.
Discomforted by my gaze, he motions to me with his eyes to move closer.
The officer unlocks my shackles and leads me towards the edge of the ship. I climb back into the sea, barely able to believe that my insane scheme is on the verge of succeeding, unless I drown on the home stretch, and that in a short time I will be taking off my skinsuit to reveal the bikini underneath for the first time ever on a beach.
I turn in the water, drag in a deep breath, and dance ahead. As I head towards my salvation, my mind drifts and swims to the places and, more importantly, the people I’m leaving behind. I wonder when I’ll next see my parents, family and friends and under what circumstances. As I swim towards my escape, I am buoyed by the prospect of possibility after all the impossibility I have lived through, but I am also pulled down by the sinking realisation that even if I survive the sea and find freedom, I will never truly be free.