The Wetsuitman

By Freek Mariën
Translated by David McKay

Volume 8, Issue 4 (Fall 2021)

The playwright, Freek Mariën, writes, “A few years ago I read ‘The Wetsuitman,’ an article by the Norwegian journalist Anders Fjellberg about two refugees who tried to swim from Calais to England and were washed ashore in Norway and the Netherlands. I couldn’t get the article out of my head, where it got tangled up with other stories, frustrations, and observations about identity, all of which resulted in this play. Several people I met also had a crucial influence: I’m thinking in particular of the young Afghan Nazilla and her father, the Syrian author Maria, and many others I met while writing in Calais, Dover, or right here in Belgium. This is not documentary theater. I took the liberty of combining stories, departing from true events, and making some things up entirely. None of that makes the issues raised in this play any less real.”

The Wetsuitman premiered in the Dutch language on March 22, 2019, in DE Studio in Antwerp, with a cast of three. Robbert Vervloet (a Jewish Belgian with a Near Eastern appearance) played Magnussen, the coroner/forensic pathologist, a salesperson, the lifeguard, the policeman, the hacker, the customs official, the interpreter, and the brother. Maxime Waladi (a tall, half-Moroccan Belgian) played a Norwegian police inspector, the mother of a French diver, the beachcomber, another salesperson, the researcher, the spokesperson, the aid worker, and the father. Yinka Kuitenbrouwer (a blond Dutchwoman with a Belgian passport) played an architect, Hustvedt, the French diver, the beach bar proprietor, the young woman from the tourist office, yet another salesperson, the shop manager, Nadine, a refugee, and a mother. The playwright, Freek Mariën, was also the director; Ruth Mariën was the dramaturg, and Carl von Winckelmann acted (Fall 2021) as coach; all three play central roles in Freek Mariën’s Mechelen-based theater company Het Kwartier, which co-produced The Wetsuitman with the Mechelen Cultural Center. A video recording of this production informed my English translation, but the play also lends itself to very different interpretations—for instance, a much larger cast is possible.

I first approached Freek in the summer of 2020 about translating one of his earlier plays, Waiting and Other Heroic Acts. What fascinated me about Freek’s writing was his ability to use formal playfulness, memorable characters, and linguistic ingenuity to shed new light on complex social issues. Freek asked me to consider translating The Wetsuitman, and I soon saw that it combined the strengths of the earlier play with a remarkably compelling story and a unique narrative structure in which successive layers peel away like an onion, bringing us ever closer to the emotional core. Not only were Freek and I fortunate to receive financial support from Flanders Literature, but in an incredible stroke of luck, I also had the chance to participate in the first online edition of the Foreign Affairs Theatre Translation mentorship, organized by the Foreign Affairs theatre company in London. This translation is deeply indebted to the inspiration provided by the company’s founders, Camila França and Trine Garrett, as well as the feedback and input from the mentors, Paul Garrett, William Gregory, and Charis Ainslie, and the support and enthusiasm of my fellow participants.

Two English-language productions of The Wetsuitman are planned for 2022, one by Foreign Affairs and the other by the Cherry Arts in Ithaca, New York.

Freek Mariën is an author and playwright and the artistic director of the Belgian theatre company Het Kwartier. His plays are read and performed in Flanders and the Netherlands, and his work is published in the German-speaking world by Verlag der Autoren. His productions are characterized by socially relevant themes, compelling narratives, distinctive voices, and unexpected forms. His awards for his playwriting include the international Kaas&Kappes prize, the East Flanders Literary Prize and the Toneelschrijfprijs for the best Dutch-language play.  His recent plays include two 2021 Dutch-language premieres: Een of andere Rus (“Some Russian or Other”) and De gemoederen (“Uproar”). Dramaturg Peter Anthonissen writes, “Mariën is the embodiment of what a contemporary playwright in Flanders can be. … His plays display an extraordinary sensitivity to language and form, while expressing a profound connection to human beings and our world and an ever-growing sense of engagement.”

David McKay translates plays, novels, short stories, a wide range of non-fiction, and poetry. His work has been described as “dazzlingly lyrical” (Neel Mukherjee, The Guardian). He is the ALTA Dutch-English mentor for 2021. He received the Vondel Prize for his translation of War and Turpentine by Stefan Hertmans, which was also nominated for the Man Booker Prize International and shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award. His co-translation of the Dutch anti-colonialist classic Max Havelaar was shortlisted for the Oxford Weidenfeld Prize 2020, and in 2021 he received one of Cornell University’s inaugural ICM Global South Translation Fellowships for his translation of Anton de Kom’s classic anti-colonial manifesto We Slaves of Suriname, to be published by Polity Press in 2022. In 2020 and 2021, he translated the Flemish plays The Wetsuitman, HIDE, Platina, and Antigone in Molenbeek and the Dutch play The Polish Bride. He has just completed his translation of a second play by Freek Mariën.

The Wetsuitman

By Freek Mariën

Translated by David McKay

This play was inspired by actual events. Characters have been merged, timelines streamlined, names changed, and gaps filled. For three to twenty-eight performers.

1. THE INVESTIGATION

norway

architect

westerman

magnussen

pathologist

medical examiner

                                                                                                    hustvedt

mother

french diver

ARCHITECT

            i’m an elderly architect

            i live near the edge of the village

            on the coast

            there’s a fjord

            or that’s how I picture it anyway

            we’re in norway

            it’s morning

            i can picture the morning light

            low sun

            mist

            and i’m walking the dog

            i have a dog

            a labrador

            a terrier

            not really sure

            doesn’t really matter

            i’m an old man with a dog

            and I’m walking the dog on the coast

            that much I know

            i’m walking the dog

            and my dog is barking

            there’s no leash

            there’s big rocks

            a cliff

            and a black spot

            out there in the distance

            not normally there

            at first I think

            it’s oil

            I think

            I think the first thing I think of is oil

            it happens now and then

            with all the ships here

            drilling platforms

            birds get stuck

            and I keep walking

            my dog’s still barking

            he’s near the black spot

            heading straight for the oil

            so i leave the path

            if there’s a path

            if there is a path

            I leave the path

            and i get closer

            and see that the black spot’s

            a wetsuit

            so I think

            could come in handy

            not that I dive

            i have gone diving

            i think

            otherwise I wouldn’t think

            could come in handy

            i’ve reached the wetsuit now

            there’s a flipper next to it

            my dog barks

            and snaps at the flipper

            and I pull him away

            and the flipper comes with him

            he’s got the flipper with him

            in his teeth

            and he drops it

            and I flinch

            and he barks

            and I stop him

            cause he’s straining forward

            and I kneel

            and sticking out of it

            are bones

WESTERMAN

            inspector westerman

            pleased to meet you

            you called

ARCHITECT

            that’s inspector westerman

WESTERMAN

            i’m inspector westerman

            fifty years old

            still fit as a fiddle

            married

            two children

            one all grown up

            the other still at home

            sons

            anthropology

            and criminology

            in the old man’s footsteps

            that’s how I see it

            I have a case

            that won’t let go of me

            a missing girl

            ten years ago

            or eleven

            nine maybe

            not a round number

            dumped on the beach

            not far from here

            raped

            barbed wire around her neck

            never found a suspect

            no one saw a thing

            just a black car

            with an open trunk

            and the engine running

            and no plates

            and it keeps me awake nights

            the drinking

            the case

            and I see her face in front of me

            and I feel that barbed wire

            and a moustache

            I may have a moustache

            yeah

            I’ll have a moustache

            that’s how it’s done

            the inspector has a moustache

ARCHITECT

            follow me

WESTERMAN

            so I follow him

ARCHITECT

            we go down the path

WESTERMAN
            if there is a path

ARCHITECT

            and we reach the wetsuit

WESTERMAN
            i look around

            the wetsuit’s in a kind of bay

            a cove

            let’s say a cove

            takes an awfully high tide

            to rise this far

            high winds yesterday

            did the water reach this high?

            the fin’s lying next to the wetsuit

            must have come off

            can’t see the face

            just a wisp of dark hair

            or is it seaweed?

            i call the medical examiner

            the diver is dead

            that couldn’t be more obvious

            but rules are rules

            only a doctor can make it official

            i put on my plastic gloves

            do i take photos?

ARCHITECT

            you take photos

MAGNUSSEN

            how about me?

ARCHITECT

            later for you

MAGNUSSEN

            maybe i’m already here

            maybe i’m the one taking the photos

            i’m magnussen

            pleased to meet you

            i’m the intern

            criminology

            i remind you of your son

            i mostly just follow you around

            work through some files

            and this is my first case

            my first body

            stay professional

            I think

            I think that’s what I think

WESTERMAN

            so you take the photos

MAGNUSSEN

            with numbers

            i put those little numbers next to them

            they use those numbers right?

WESTERMAN

            right

MAGNUSSEN

            and i’m nervous about getting up close

            excited but scared

            one leg is missing

            i wander away from the body

            westerman!

WESTERMAN

            what is it uh

searches for the name

MAGNUSSEN

            magnussen

WESTERMAN

            magnussen yeah

MAGNUSSEN

            there are bones here too

WESTERMAN

            i join him

            little bones

            like shards of bone

            a few meters away

MAGNUSSEN

            here too

            those little numbers

            plastic baggies

            plastic gloves

ARCHITECT

            and i’m right here with you

WESTERMAN

            or maybe over there

            this is a crime scene

MAGNUSSEN

            i’ve roped it off

WESTERMAN

            with crime scene tape

            red and white

            or blue and white

            yellow and black

            police line it says

            do not cross

            or crime scene

            or something norwegian

ARCHITECT

            and i’m right behind you

WESTERMAN

            or maybe back at home

            nice house you got

            architect

ARCHITECT

            i make tea

            i’m trembling

            and someone takes my statement

WESTERMAN

            here comes the medical examiner

MEDICAL EXAMINER/PATHOLOGIST

            norway is a country made for

            accidents

            we have cliffs

            storms

            big ships

            big rocks

            all those people

            on drilling platforms

            and god-knows-where up in the arctic

            we freeze to death

            we’ve got train crashes

            plane crashes

            shipwrecks

            terrorists

            and remember half the time

            this is in total darkness

            so whatever can break down

            will break down

            and if no one else does it to us

            we do it to ourselves

            norway

            land of alcoholism and suicide

            it’s not what the brochures say

            but it’s true

            we beat the world in drinking and depression

            we beat each other to pulp in the darkness

            drunk and depressed

            we fall off cliffs

            that’s if we don’t get blown up

            flattened

            sucked into a propeller

            which is all just to say

            we’re the best at identifying bodies

            got it down to a science

            give me a body

            i’ll give you a name

            i’m the medical examiner

            and also the pathologist

            i smell like formaldehyde

            and have a hard time getting into relationships

            because women seem to think

            those hands of his

            were just inside a corpse

WESTERMAN

            what was the cause of death?

PATHOLOGIST

            no signs of injury

            from propeller blades

            no stab wounds

            no gunshots

WESTERMAN

            so he drowned

PATHOLOGIST

            no

WESTERMAN

            he didn’t drown

PATHOLOGIST

            no

            maybe

WESTERMAN

            did he drown or not?

PATHOLOGIST

            there are no visible injuries

            on the remains that were found

WESTERMAN

            oh come on

            give me something solid

PATHOLOGIST

            the body was lying in the water

            cold salt water

            in a wetsuit

            at this point my friend

            solid is not the word for it

WESTERMAN

            but can you rule out foul play?

PATHOLOGIST

            no

            i couldn’t even tell you

            if he’s been dead three days or three weeks

WESTERMAN

            so i have to try to figure out who did this?

PATHOLOGIST

            i don’t even have the whole body

            the salt’s eaten into everything

            i can’t take fingerprints

            can’t even use the teeth

            for identification I mean

WESTERMAN

            so you found nothing?

PATHOLOGIST

            tell you what

            i’ll leave my lunchbox

            underwater

            in a bathtub

            chuck in a couple of sacks of salt

            and after a week you can tell me

            what I was going to have for lunch

WESTERMAN

            I get it

            I get it

PATHOLOGIST

            DNA

            that’s all we have

            DNA
            and that wetsuit

HUSTVEDT

            what can we tell

            from the wetsuit?

            i’m on the case now

            hustvedt

            head of missing persons

            i’m taking over the investigation

            bald spot

            big mustache

            clenching a cigarette in my gold teeth

WESTERMAN

            isn’t that kind of

            over the top?

HUSTVEDT

            no seriously

            the whole top row

            don’t know about the bottom

MAGNUSSEN

            but why?

HUSTVEDT

            don’t know

            maybe I was on duty

            shadowing someone

            someone who knocked out my teeth

            I was on the ground

            bleeding

            just had time to shoot him in the legs

            or maybe my mother

            used to smoke

            and fed me candy and lemonade

            all day long

            if she fed me at all

            and drank too much

            she drank too much

            and come to think of it

            maybe she didn’t smoke

            but she neglected me

            and I grew up

            with gangs

            and small-time crooks

            but I pulled myself up

            out of that world

            and now I chase the criminals

            and I went to the dentist

            for the very first time

            and said

            do the whole thing in gold

            so they can see

            so they see

            that I’m out

            that I’m flush

            or something

WESTERMAN

            ok

HUSTVEDT

            and maybe i visit my mother

            once in a while

            and i think she’s not proud of me

            but disappointed

            and i don’t know why

            or maybe i do

            maybe it feels to her like betrayal

            my gold teeth

            and every smile

            reminds her of her failings

            did i have to cover the rotting stumps

            with all that flashy gold?

MAGNUSSEN

            so what does this have to do with the case?

HUSTVEDT

            oh

            you know

            I thought

            backstory

beat

            so what can we tell

            from the wetsuit?

WESTERMAN

            it’s a dark gray wetsuit

            five millimeters thick

            neo… (searching for the word)

MAGNUSSEN

            neoprene

WESTERMAN

            with a hood

            or whatever they call it on a wetsuit

            size medium

            sold for around eighty euros

            tribord

            that’s the brand name

            a men’s wetsuit

            almost forgot to mention

            it’s the model for men

HUSTVEDT

            so what we have here is probably a man

WESTERMAN

            good reviews

            value for money

            but never mind that

            a few logos on the label

            all washed off in the salt water

            it says

            tribord

            laundering instructions

            do not launder under any circumstances

            a square with some wifi symbol

            scissors with a dotted line

            made in thailand

            designed for diving and snorkeling

HUSTVEDT

            a male diver

            good

            anything else?

WESTERMAN

            yeah uh

nods at magnussen

MAGNUSSEN

            magnussen

WESTERMAN

            yeah

MAGNUSSEN

            yeah

            i got in touch with the manufacturer

            they’ve been making this model since 2012

            size medium means the chest size

            from ninety-two to ninety-five centimeters

HUSTVEDT

            male diver

            on the slender side

            who bought the wetsuit some time since 2012

WESTERMAN

            or maybe

            it was a gift

beat

HUSTVEDT

            right…

            any other leads anyone?

MAGNUSSEN

            i looked into those bones

            i found nearby

HUSTVEDT

            and?

MAGNUSSEN

            still waiting

            for the lab results

WESTERMAN

            we spoke to the neighbors

            most never went to the place

            or rarely

            the last time anyone had been there

            was two days before he was found

            a young woman

            says she went walking there

            and didn’t see anything

HUSTVEDT

            so we have a time frame

MAGNUSSEN

            another neighbor

            the day before he was found

            saw a black car

            with its engine running

            as close to that spot

            as a person can drive

            and it didn’t have plates

            an older model of SUV

            she didn’t see anyone around

            no one coming or going

HUSTVEDT

            magnussen

            tell the pathologist

            to hurry up

            with those bones

            and ask the neighbors

            about black suvs

            in the area

            westerman

            get a list of missing persons

            see if that leads anywhere

WESTERMAN

to the audience

            that must be more or less what happened

HUSTVEDT

            something’s wrong

WESTERMAN

            what?

HUSTVEDT

            that diving suit

            it’s all wrong

MAGNUSSEN

            what’s wrong with it?

HUSTVEDT

            you two ever gone diving?

MAGNUSSEN

            together?

WESTERMAN

            no

HUSTVEDT
            ever wear a wetsuit like that?

MAGNUSSEN

            once

            or twice

            on vacation

            rafting

            surfing

            last time i went to portugal

HUSTVEDT

            it’s too thin

MAGNUSSEN

            i didn’t notice

HUSTVEDT
            good enough for portugal

            but the north sea?

            five millimeters

            it’s five millimeters thick

WESTERMAN

            help me out here

HUSTVEDT

            five millimeters

            so thin you can almost see the goosebumps

            that’s fine

            when the water’s sixteen degrees

            but i’ve lived on the coast a long time here

            and the water hardly ever

            hits fifteen degrees

            when you found him

            that day

            it was ten degrees

silence

MAGNUSSEN

            maybe a day or two earlier

HUSTVEDT

            the day the sea reaches sixteen degrees here

            is the day you stop going to portugal

            for your beach vacation

            our guy knew nothing about the north sea

            our guy was an amateur

            you cannot dive in that wetsuit

            not around here

WESTERMAN

            the dna came in

HUSTVEDT

            and?

WESTERMAN

            it got here last night

            i ran it through the database right away

            stayed up all night waiting

            but

            nothing

HUSTVEDT

            not a single match?

WESTERMAN

            no

            i guess no one reported him missing

HUSTVEDT

            no one?

WESTERMAN

            i checked the neighboring countries too

silence

HUSTVEDT

            we’ll send out a black notice

WESTERMAN

            interpol?

HUSTVEDT

            the whole world will see it

            send some photos along

            a description

            somebody must know who the diver was

WESTERMAN

            yeah

            maybe

MAGNUSSEN

            here’s something

            a frenchman

            just reported as missing

            by his mother

            lost at sea

            young

            slender

            male

HUSTVEDT

            get the dna and compare

MAGNUSSEN

            already did

WESTERMAN

            and?

MAGNUSSEN

            waiting for the lab

HUSTVEDT

            did you talk to the mother?

MAGNUSSEN

            even better

HUSTVEDT

            the mother?

MOTHER

            one sec

            yeah

            he’s always pulling crazy stunts

            hitchhiking with truckers

            throwing darts with a blindfold

            jumping off cliffs

            i always tell him

            you’ll get yourself in trouble one day

            good head of dark hair

            like me

            i’ll send you a photo

            anyway

            he always looks

            as if he just came out of the thrift shop

            but i guess that’s hip these days

            he goes away a lot

            but he always lets me know where he is

            or at least

            if i call and ask him where he is

            he tells me

            but now he’s not even getting my messages

            otherwise he’d let me know

            “this place is amazing

            i’m sleeping on the beach”

            doesn’t scare him

            every summer

            right out on the beach

            oh yeah

            something else

            he had his diving suit with him

            in his backpack

            he planned to go diving

MAGNUSSEN

            commander

HUSTVEDT

            commissioner

MAGNUSSEN

            commissioner

HUSTVEDT

            yes

MAGNUSSEN

            that wetsuit keeps getting weirder

            i got in touch with the manufacturer

            about the socks he had on

HUSTVEDT

            what about his socks?

MAGNUSSEN

            they told me they’re for synchronized swimming

HUSTVEDT

            for what?

the telephone rings

HUSTVEDT

            hustvedt

            luster police station

            no

            no comment

            ms nilsen

            the investigation’s in progress

            and as long as it’s in progress

            my lips are sealed

            and so should yours be

            what do you mean already online?

he hangs up

MAGNUSSEN

            what?

HUSTVEDT

            who leaked?

WESTERMAN

            nobody

MAGNUSSEN

            i didn’t do anything

HUSTVEDT

            how else could they know all this?

westerman looks at hustvedt’s phone

WESTERMAN
            french diver washes up on norwegian coast

HUSTVEDT

            what must his poor mother be thinking?

            what kind of person would inform the press?

            amateurs

            just suppose

            you’re a family member

            and you read in the paper

            that he was found dead

            washed up in some norwegian backwater

            it’ll make people furious

            at us

            at the police

MAGNUSSEN

            and well they should be

HUSTVEDT

            sometimes

            sometimes we don’t move fast enough

            but sometimes the papers are a little too fast

            they jump to conclusions

            we can’t be sure about

WESTERMAN

            who’s going to call the mother?

MAGNUSSEN

            what’ll we tell her?

HUSTVEDT

            that we’re on the case

            too early to say

            that we’re still waiting

            for DNA

WESTERMAN

            and sorry

            tell her sorry

MAGNUSSEN

            so I—

            OK

            fine

magnussen calls

FRENCH DIVER

            bonjour

MAGNUSSEN

            good afternoon

            this is magnussen

            of the norwegian police

            is mrs—

FRENCH DIVER

            i heard you were looking for me

MAGNUSSEN
            excuse me?

FRENCH DIVER

            i was just about to call

MAGNUSSEN

            who is this?

FRENCH DIVER

            so i get home

            and the newspapers

            tell me i’m dead

MAGNUSSEN

            i don’t follow

FRENCH DIVER

            i ran into some norwegians

            we went out in their boat

            and my phone fell in the water

            i was doing this trick I know

            but the boat was too wobbly

            anyway

            went away for one week

            never thought there would be such a panic

            i’m always pulling crazy stunts

hangs up

MAGNUSSEN

            it was the french diver

silence

westerman throws the file to the ground

HUSTVEDT

            it’s just another case

WESTERMAN

            right

HUSTVEDT

            westerman

            go home

PATHOLOGIST

            westerman

            about those bones near the body

WESTERMAN

            finally

            come on

            something solid?

PATHOLOGIST

            you bet

            a fox

            and a few small rodents

WESTERMAN
            you call that solid?

PATHOLOGIST

            the lemmus lemmus

            the vulpes vulpes

            and the rattus rattus

            to be exact

westerman is drinking

magnussen enters

westerman hides the bottle

WESTERMAN

            still at work uh…

MAGNUSSEN

            magnussen

WESTERMAN

            right

MAGNUSSEN

            the forms for my internship

            I’m almost done

silence

            could i have a sip?

the bottle comes back out

they drink

            everything OK?

WESTERMAN

            the bones led nowhere

            the frenchman led nowhere

            and that dna won’t get us anywhere either

            i don’t even know what we’re looking for anymore

            a wetsuit that’s too thin

            socks for synchronized swimming

            one leg

            gone

            and no one even bothered

            to report him missing

MAGNUSSEN

            i was thinking

            we may be overlooking things

            cause we keep calling him a diver

WESTERMAN

            what?

MAGNUSSEN

            we have no idea

            what he was doing in the water

            surfing diving jet skiing rafting

            for all we know the guy was playing polo

WESTERMAN

            so what do you want us to call him?

MAGNUSSEN

            the wetsuitman

WESTERMAN

laughs

            the wetsuitman

MAGNUSSEN

            what’s so funny?

WESTERMAN

            sounds like a superhero

MAGNUSSEN

            whose special power is synchronized swimming

WESTERMAN

            right

they laugh

            the wetsuitman

MAGNUSSEN

            and whenever there’s trouble

            he changes into his wetsuit

WESTERMAN

            and it takes forever

            with that fucking neo-whatever

MAGNUSSEN

            neoprene

WESTERMAN
            so he’s always too late

            maybe that’s why he drowned

            he was there on the beach

            putting on his wetsuit

            to save the world

            when the tide came in

MAGNUSSEN

            or maybe he had a sidekick

            to help him with his wetsuit

WESTERMAN

            say that again

MAGNUSSEN

            maybe he didn’t put it on himself

            maybe someone else—

WESTERMAN

interrupting

            shhhhh

silence

            what if he didn’t drown

MAGNUSSEN
            what do you mean?

WESTERMAN

            we have to find that black SUV

hustvedt joins them

WESTERMAN

            hustvedt

            it’s about time

HUSTVEDT

            so what’s the big deal

            at this time of the morning?

WESTERMAN

            listen

            magnussen?

MAGNUSSEN

            so

            nine years ago

            there was a big black car

            with the trunk open

            and the engine running

WESTERMAN
            my old case

MAGNUSSEN
            his old case

            and now the neighbors

            see a black SUV

            in the same spot

WESTERMAN
            two sightings

            two bodies

HUSTVEDT

            you think it was murder

MAGNUSSEN

            we can’t rule it out

HUSTVEDT

            so what about the diving suit?

WESTERMAN

            doesn’t make much sense does it

            too thin

            the wrong socks

            it’s a put-up job

            maybe they even put him in the wetsuit afterwards

MAGNUSSEN

            just like the barbed wire

HUSTVEDT

            what?

WESTERMAN
            my old case

            she wasn’t strangled with barbed wire

            they wound it around her neck

            afterwards

silence

HUSTVEDT

            ok westerman

            put in a request for those old files

            and see what else matches

            magnussen

            get a list of norwegians

            with a criminal record

            and a black SUV

everyone leaps into action

the telephone rings

magnussen picks up

MAGNUSSEN
            yes?

            hello?

            what?

magnussen hangs up

            interpol

WESTERMAN

            our black notice?

HUSTVEDT

            a dna match after all?

MAGNUSSEN

            no

HUSTVEDT

            what is it then?

MAGNUSSEN

            forget that black car

            it was the netherlands

            they found another guy in a wetsuit

2. THE INTERVIEW

the netherlands and france

beach bar owner (a woman)

salesperson

beachcomber

police officer

tourism officer (a young woman)

scientist

lifeguard

second salesperson

corporate spokesperson

hacker

third salesperson

branch manager

customs officer

nadine

BEACH BAR OWNER

            you’re not recording yet

            are you?

            oh

            yeah

            OK

            well

            right

            go ahead

SALESPERSON

            what?

            uh

            no I’d rather not

            uh yeah

            yes

            but

            thing is

            ma’am

            we’ve been told

            not to talk to journalists

            but i’m happy to answer all your questions

            about clothes and sports equipment

            i can’t comment on that

            i’d like to comment

            but my only comment

            is that right now i have no comment

            wish i could comment

BEACH BAR OWNER

            so i was out running

            like i do every morning

            i have a bar here on the beach

            lots of deep fried stuff

            but i watch my figure

            you know

            so i was out running

            you see

            and um

            i go out early

            we serve breakfast right

            so i have to be back in time

            but that morning

            i didn’t even open the bar

            the diving suit was half inside out

            you could still see some hair

            dark hair

            and the skin

            well um

            did you see the photos of that

            bridget jones woman

            renée

            renée zellweger?

            that facelift that went wrong

            or botox

            or whatever it was

            like a swelled-up chicken breast

            sort of

            so i live above the bar

            and from the window I could see the police

            they took photos

            put a tent over it

            made it look kind of

            romantic all of a sudden

            like a camping trip

            but

            they had to work fast

            cause the tide was rising

            they had a stretcher

            so i’m watching the whole thing

            and the whole time

            i’m saying to myself

            i found a body

            i found a body

            when my girlfriend gets home

            i hadn’t warned her or anything

            just didn’t think of it

            just wasn’t thinking

            that day

            so anyway

            she couldn’t help laughing

            cause there’s me sitting

            squatting really

            in my running shorts

            and sneakers

            and um

            you know

            glued to the window

            my head under the curtain

            i’ll take that glass of water now please

            can’t even believe i was the first one there

            it was well after high tide

            and the beachcombers

            they’re always right on it

            to see what got washed up

            whoever gets there first

            finds the most stuff

            they’ve got their metal detectors

            those bags on their belts

            for their finds

            they find nice things sometimes

            i don’t know why they hadn’t got there yet

            or didn’t call or whatever

            ever since then

            when i go running

            i take a detour

            crazy i know

            but what it does to you

            it’s so real

            you have no idea

            cause there’s death

            all up in your face

            right where you sell french fries

BEACHCOMBER

            we don’t steal from the dead

            ms nilsen

            not unless they’ve been dead

            for a couple of centuries

            i have a case in the museum here

            where we display our finds

            they go back to 1146

            part of a crossbow

            the only one in the netherlands

            with its trigger still intact

            not everything comes from the beach

            but even so

            i asked willy

            he’s a lawyer

            another member of our association

            we’re exploring our options

            legal options

            treating us like suspects

            because that’s how it feels

            when so often we can

            we’ve been known to help

            it makes me sick

            everything we do

            we do out of respect for history

            you write that down

            we shed light on history

            we bring it to life

            we have our own fucking spot

            in the museum

            so why would we ever

            falsify history?

            but that’s what this is

            these accusations

            the police showing up to talk to me

            me!

            the police!

            asking all kinds of questions

            about my profession

            about my friends

            about my colleagues

            embarrassing

            that’s what it is

            embarrassing

            so that’s what i told them

            and then i told them

            our conversation was over

            we have an association here

            we have principles

            and new things

            are the least important things of all to us

            that’s all i have to say

POLICE OFFICER

            annette right?

            thing is

            annette

            in my long career

            been around for a while now

            dead people

            ’kay?

            they wash up

            from all over the channel

            from england scotland belgium

            france germany

            you name it

            from here in holland

            holland of course

            what caught my eye

            annette

            was the hair

            most people round here

            don’t have such dark hair

            so we thought tourists

            spain portugal

            that direction

            that could explain the wetsuit

            the water’s warmer there

TOURISM OFFICER

            we’ve observed that the netherlands

            continues to grow in popularity

            as a tourist destination

            the largest numbers of tourists come from germany

            great britain

            belgium

            and the united states of america

            but recently we’ve observed a sharp rise

            in southern european visitors

            spain portugal and italy

            have discovered the netherlands

            and especially

            the dutch coast

            now of course

            this hasn’t just come out of nowhere

            for a number of years now

            we’ve been investing in training programs

            so we can now offer

            professional instruction

            so say for example you’d like to learn to sail

            this place is a paradise

            and we have so much more to offer

            like our Frisian islands

            and some top international museums

            a few real gems believe me

            and completely aside from that

            when we ask

            people tell us

            that our image as a tolerant country

            in other words our laws on

            drug use

            prostitution

            and homosexuality

            are the decisive factor

            for certain demographics

            to choose the netherlands for their getaway

SCIENTIST

            well

            here’s how it works

            you’re recording now right?

            a body in open water can drift

            a long long way

            first the body sinks

            then it starts to decompose

            gas builds up

            and it rises again

            and once it’s on the surface

            all sorts of factors come into play

            wind

            the currents

            nearby vessels

            now

            here in the north sea

            as a general rule

            a deceased individual would tend to move

            in a northwesterly direction

            now of course

            all i can tell you is

            how bodies move

            i can’t begin to tell you

            what moves people

            who dies at sea

            or who goes to sea

            to die

LIFEGUARD

            more and more people do it

            drinking and diving

            like drinking and driving

            and just as dangerous

            especially in weather like this

            you don’t feel the cold

            and of course

            you think you’re up to it

            Dutch courage

            you know that expression?

            “i’ll just swim out to that island there”

            “i’ll just swim down to the ocean floor”

            and before you know it

            you’re on a one-way dive

            a lot of times

            i pull people out of the water

            with hypothermia

            and i can’t even tell

            if they’re talking that way

            because their teeth are chattering

            or because they’ve been drinking

            and they stumble around

            so we wrap them up

            in a shiny blanket

            and tell them to keep the blanket on

            keep moving

            if they can

            you don’t really want to have to

            pull anyone out of the water

            what you’d really like

            is for everyone

            to make it to shore on their own

            grab a towel

            dry themselves off

            and if they’re in no condition

            what I mean is

            there must have been people

            who could have told them not to

            who could have stopped them

            who could have said

            bad idea

            don’t do it

            too cold

            too deep

            too far

            yes it looks so close

            but you’ll never make it

ANOTHER SALESPERSON

            oh

            no

            i uh

            i’m not supposed to

            no

POLICE OFFICER

            no fingerprints

            no papers

            no signs of past injuries

            the teeth were useless

            that wetsuit was all we had

            nothing else

            so we retraced our steps

            and then suddenly

            annette

            suddenly we couldn’t help thinking

            about one of those logos

            on the wetsuit

            a square with little squiggles on the top

            like a wifi symbol

CORPORATE SPOKESPERSON

            ever since the roll-out earlier this year

            eighty-five percent of our products

            have been equipped with an rfid tag

            this is how our company

            is staying at the forefront

            of digital evolution

            these chips will facilitate distribution

            with what we call a shower scan

            we can check the whole warehouse inventory

            in minutes

            and unlike

            the previous generation of anti-theft chips

            these rfid tags don’t have to be removed

            so our customers can enjoy

            a speedier check-out

responding to a question

            yes?

            the tag never has to be deactivated

            as soon as the system has registered your item

            as sold

            you can walk straight out the door with it

            no one will stop you

            the tag requires no electrical supply or batteries

            so we can assure concerned customers

            that it’s washing machine safe

            yes that’s right

            but we don’t see any cause for concern

            about customer privacy

            i’m afraid i’m unable

            to go into technical details

            i don’t think it’s helpful for anyone

            to be speculating about hypotheticals

            and furthermore i can’t speak for other companies

            but on behalf of our company i can tell you

            that our security gates do not read tags at this time

            at this time

            as i said before i cannot respond

            to technical or hypothetical questions

            our company has no plans

            to track our customers’ locations

HACKER

            blur out my face

            ok?

            no face

            a give me like a distorted voice

            ok?

            no seriously

            ok?

            cause i know how that shit goes down

            ok

            ready?

            action!

            so

            when the police came to me

            wifi

            the guy called it

            well i knew i could hack it

            those chips are everywhere these days

            in your bank card

            your id

            your dvds

            so there’s one in that wetsuit

            ok?

            in the label

            as soon as i saw it

            i knew i could read it

            where and when it was sold

            the serial number

            and

            best of all

            if there was a credit card number

            on the receipt

            i could see who had bought it

YET ANOTHER SALESPERSON

            what day of the week?

            oh

            then it must have been nadine

            yeah no i do work tuesdays

            but i’m usually over by the bicycles

            she does the register

            but it could be

            maybe she said something about it

POLICE OFFICER
            tuesday the thirteenth of october

            the branch had just opened

            and someone went to the register

            with a tribord subsea five millimeter

            wetsuit

            medium

            he also bought hand paddles

            a snorkel

            a diving mask

            swimfins

            water socks

            and a waterproof A4 document holder

            paid cash

            no video

            no witnesses

            in a decathlon in calais

BRANCH MANAGER

            excuse me

            could i ask you not

            to ask my employees any more questions

            that’s right

            no all the security footage has been erased

            i’m not just saying that to you

            i also had to say it to the police

            after a week the recording

            is wiped automatically

            we had no way of knowing

            that anything special had happened that day

            i can’t answer that

            no

            i can’t—

            i can refer you to our spokesperson

CORPORATE SPOKESPERSON

            we see no need

            for either the company name

            or that of the brand in question

            to be made public

            the name of the place where the product was sold

            adds nothing to your story

            so it’s really no use to you

            whereas

            being associated with this event

            would put our company in a bad light

            and we’ve done nothing to deserve that

            yes i’m aware

            i’m aware of that

            but it’s a question of perception

            if our customers associate our products

            or our shopping experience

            with that kind of person

            it’s bound to have an impact

            on sales

            we offered our fullest cooperation

            to the police

            but we’re under no obligation

            to offer you anything

            it’s not that we don’t want to help

            we just don’t really see the point

            when the case has been solved

            oh yes it has

            the police have stopped investigating

            so the case is closed

POLICE OFFICER

            now the funny thing was

            annette

            was that that receipt

            was for two of everything

            i could account for one wetsuit

            because we had it in storage

            but just when we started to think

            we’d cracked the whole thing

            not only did we have a missing person on our hands

            but also a missing wetsuit

            so when we saw the alert from norway

            we sent the other serial number

            from the receipt

            and bingo

            then we pooled our information

            no dna match

            either here or in norway

            and that store in calais

            it’s near the jungle

            that camp they have there

            so we started to think

            about refugees

            annette

            that maybe that camp had something to do with it

            but they don’t talk to the police

            and how can you be a missing person

            when officially you’re not even here?

CORPORATE SPOKESPERSON

            look annette

            just between you and me

            no one wants to have anything to do

            with illegal immigrants

            and if we start to look like immigrant lovers

            handing out diving suits boats submarines

            god knows what else

            to those poor bastards

            then here’s what happens

            one

            our own little wave of refugees

            right here in the store

            and two

            no more real customers ever again

            there’s not a company in the world

            would want to be associated with that

            donate a bunch of crocs to orphans

            no problem

            buy a backpack

            and we plant a tree somewhere

            heartwarming right?

            soft drinks for kids in Africa

            whatever

            but you don’t do a PR stunt

            in a prison

            refugees aren’t sexy

            didn’t anyone tell you that

            before you started poking your nose around?

            this story of yours

            who wants to hear it?

            if you really can’t leave it alone

            then make sure you hook them

            before you tell them

            what it’s really about

            cause no one wants to know

            so tell them it’s a murder mystery or something

CUSTOMS OFFICER

            my little booth

            i work for customs here in calais

            walls covered with posters of missing people

            so that we can all keep an eye out

            all white

            caucasian

            whatever

            every one of them

            hits me every time

            you got a few thousand people there

            refugees

            and a lot of them just disappear

            lots of missing kids

            it’s a real problem

            and then the posters here

            all white

            or caucasian

            whatever

            anyway

            never reported missing

            that’s what our friends down at the station tell us

            and I’m sure they’re right

            because who would ever report them?

            and maybe for those people there

            a disappearance is good news

            cause it means you made it

            you’re in england

            or something

NADINE

            you have to understand

            they cause trouble sometimes

            those—

            that kind of people

            coming in here

            no money

            helping themselves to the merchandise

            think about it

            after a while

            it’s more than enough

            to make anyone a racist

            but now that they know

            that we call the police here

            and stealing means handcuffs

            and handcuffs means bye bye france

            our lives are a whole lot easier

            some stick around because

            it’s warm here

            i think

            nothing wrong with that of course

            except we notice that other people

            are scared to come in

            i swear

            with all those sketchy types around

            it’s sad really

            how little we sell these days

            mostly professional diving equipment

            the regular customers keep coming back

            it’s the tourists who keep their distance

            and that’s where the money is

            couple of chocolate bars at the counter

            a ball

            a kid who wants rackets for beach tennis

            and keeps whining until he gets them

            we hardly see them here anymore

            and even the kids

            —and don’t tell me it’s all our in our heads—

            even the kids keep quiet

            and don’t ask for candy anymore

            when they see those men hanging around

            they cling to their parents’ legs

            and they’re out of here in no time

            sometimes even before their parents

            it’s psychology right?

            the tourists see those people

            and they feel for their wallets

            —not saying anything bad

            that’s just how it is—

            and they don’t want to buy anything

            “have to watch out for my money”

            that’s in their heads

            that’s psychology

            they think those men…

            but then they think

            the same thing goes for us

            “keep a close eye on your money”

            if we made it our slogan

            a big sign over the entrance

            it would have just the same effect

            as those men

            but what I’m trying to say is

            yes i remember

            that two of those men came in

            to buy stuff

            two hundred and sixty euros worth

            they paid for it

            cash in hand

            where’d they get it?

            don’t ask

            you run it through the scanner

            you check if it’s real

            and you say

            thanks for shopping with us merci

            merci

            they know what that means

            then they leave

            au revoir

            they don’t know that one

POLICE OFFICER

            keep looking?

            what do you mean?

            the case was closed

            it was a refugee

            yeah sure

            but we could keep looking

            the rest of our lives

            if we had to look into

            every dead refugee

            no time for any other cases

            no one there has papers

            no one wants to talk to us

            and after all

            it’s obvious what happened

            ms nilsen

            you try looking for one refugee

            among seven thousand

3. ON THE SCENE

france

refugee

interpreter

we generally hear the characters as they hear themselves, speaking fluently and without accents beyond those of the actors

the characters often address the audience, narrating events in different parts of the camp

when two or three characters are in the same place, interacting, there is no space on the page between their lines

morning

REFUGEE

            i am mouaz

            i am a man

            i am a refugee

            i want to go to london

            and i am stuck in calais

INTERPRETER

            i am youssef

            also a man

            once a refugee

            i now live in london

            but i used to be stuck in calais

AID WORKER

            i am luc

            not a refugee

            i was born in calais

            i live in calais

            and i plan to stick around

INTERPRETER

            why have i come back here?

REFUGEE

            it’s morning

AID WORKER

            early

INTERPRETER

            far too early

            i step off the ferry

            the man next to me

            whose cap says kentucky

            asks me “where you from?”

            at first I’m not sure

            if i should say london

            london or syria

            what do you mean exactly?

            he’s as mixed up as I am

            we stutter

            and stammer

REFUGEE

            i wake up to a voice shouting

INTERPRETER

            nice warm sun here

AID WORKER

            there’s no a/c

            in my white toyota

REFUGEE

            i get on my feet

            or try to

AID WORKER

            i get out

            oof this heat

            say hi to the volunteers

            we shake hands

            sticky

            isn’t there a window we can open?

            fluorescent light on a summer day

            dusty old supplies

            didn’t we have a fan here?

            we open the hatch

            and load up the car

REFUGEE

            i can’t move my foot

AID WORKER
            sheets

REFUGEE

            why can’t I move my foot

AID WORKER

            tarps

REFUGEE

            I push myself upright

AID WORKER

            water

            and canned food

REFUGEE

            test my foot

AID WORKER

            and i drive on

REFUGEE

            wouldn’t say it’s sleeping

            i’m limping

            it’s throbbing

INTERPRETER

            the fence is higher now

            i walk to the parking lot

AID WORKER

            stuck in traffic

            I hit the brakes

            check my messages

            six hundred re-shares

            six hundred people shared my post

            i smile

            i’m glad

            to see people still get angry

            still care about something

REFUGEE

            what happened yesterday?

            the dark

            the lights

            the doors

            the doors swung open

            shoving and shouting

            “out of there you

            get out of there”

            batons

            the hood of a car

            did I run for it?

            yes, and then

            pepper spray

            that’s why my eyes

            are crusted over

            dried-up tears

            how did I end up back here?

INTERPRETER

            how would she dress

            a journalist?

            i see someone waving

            could it be her?

            i give it a try

            hi

            i’m youssef

            your interpreter for today?

            she nods

            “annette nilsen”

            and holds out her hand

            “you know your way around here?”

AID WORKER

            this is the city

            that people pass through

REFUGEE

            where everybody stops

INTERPRETER

            but no one stays

REFUGEE

            a lot of us get stuck

INTERPRETER

            where boats and trains

            and cars and trucks

            go back and forth

            from there to here

            and here to there

REFUGEE

            crossing the channel

            without a care

INTERPRETER

            where the fences keep growing

REFUGEE

            they’re fifteen feet high now

            i’m just five foot eleven

            maybe six if I stand on my toes

            they stretch on and on

            more than seven miles long

AID WORKER

            where they spend more

            on guards and fences

            than on food and shelter

            where I do what I can

            and don’t know if it helps

INTERPRETER

            where sensors

            look straight through plastic sheeting

            straight through clothes

            and find the warm hearts beating

REFUGEE

            so they pull us over

            open the doors

            and it’s out of the truck for us

            back to the camp

INTERPRETER

            why have i come back here?

AID WORKER

            passport check

            they pull me aside again

            “papers”

            i show them

            they let the other cars drive on

            they hold my photo

            up to the light

            “is that your real name?”

INTERPRETER

            why have i come back here?

            i remember clinging

            to the bottom of a moving truck

            all my muscles cramped

            bound for death or the far side

            and here I am again

            because somebody asked me

AID WORKER

            “where’d you get that car?”

INTERPRETER

            did i want to interpret for a journalist

            did i want to help her find out who he was

            the wetsuitman

            “you’ll be paid”

AID WORKER

            “luc

            that’s your real name

            luc?”

INTERPRETER

            we walk into the camp

            annette pulls out her camera

            and takes a quick photo

            bad idea

            should i warn her

            or just translate?

AID WORKER
            i work in the camp

            i’m bringing supplies

            water

            it’s hot and sticky

            i show them my badge

            they say to each other

            “does that look like a luc to you?”

            “is that your real name?”

INTERPRETER

            winding our way between the tents

            me here with a white woman

            how does this look to them?

AID WORKER

            i know

            i don’t look french

            mais luc

            c’est mon nom

            et j’aime bien le vin

INTERPRETER

            this place is bigger than ever

            and more crowded than ever

AID WORKER

            they laugh

            “go ahead

            drive on

            sorry bout that”

INTERPRETER

            i ask everyone the same question

            annette shows them a photo

            well, actually

            a sketch

            she says

            they need to know that

            not a photo

            a sketch

            the idea of a person

            amazing

            what those experts can do

            you give them a skull

            they give him a face

            the wetsuitman

            that’s what he looked like

            i nod and translate

            have you seen him?

REFUGEE

            i see a man in a safety vest

            sir

            excuse me sir

AID WORKER

            someone’s calling me

            he’s limping

INTERPRETER

            have you seen him?

REFUGEE

            i go up to him

            he’s an arab

            one of us

            i say to him

            my foot

            look at my foot

            it’s throbbing

            they hit me

            and I twisted it

INTERPRETER

            have any of you

            seen him?

REFUGEE

            help me fix my foot

            i have to get out of here

            tonight I have to

AID WORKER

            “I don’t speak arabic”

            are the only words of arabic

            I know

            he looks confused

            then switches

            to a kind of english

REFUGEE

            look at my foot

INTERPRETER
            did you ever hear about a man

            who tried to swim across?

REFUGEE

            he wraps my foot in gauze

            it should be tighter

            firm around the ankle

AID WORKER
            he takes over

REFUGEE

            doctor

AID WORKER

            i don’t know who he means

            him or me

            you’re a doctor?

REFUGEE

            a nurse

            but i don’t know how to say that

            so i nod

            doctor yes doctor

            but my foot

            will my foot be ok?

AID WORKER

            he’s speaking arabic again

REFUGEE

            can I walk tonight?

            run

            if i have to?

            jump

            if i can’t reach high enough?

            can I land without shouting in pain?

            can I slip away?

AID WORKER

            sorry i don’t know what you’re saying

REFUGEE
            with this foot

            can I go

            to the land of paddington?

AID WORKER

            peddipong?

REFUGEE

            paddington

            rowr!

he imitates a bear

AID WORKER

            oh paddington

            right

REFUGEE

            i go there?

AID WORKER

            paddington bear yes

REFUGEE
            thank you

            thank you very much

AID WORKER
            he kisses my hand

            searches his pocket

            shows me a photo

REFUGEE

            my daughter

            she can talk now

            three years old

            here she’s just a baby

the aid worker searches his pockets

and produces another photo

AID WORKER

            my baby girl

            look

            the same age

afternoon

INTERPRETER

            it’s afternoon

            a beautiful sunny day

AID WORKER

            sweltering

REFUGEE
            dust and sweat

INTERPRETER

            i see someone in a safety vest

            one of the aid workers

            maybe he knows something

            they’ve been here longer

            they’re the ones who stay

            i go up to him

            his face looks familiar

            was he here before

            when i was stuck here?

            annette catches up to me

            and pulls out her press card

            “may i ask you something?”

AID WORKER

            talk to them

            not to me

INTERPRETER

            i show him the sketch

            it’s me

            youssef

            any chance you’ve seen—

AID WORKER

            is it my uniform?

            a safety vest

            so I must be safe to talk to?

INTERPRETER

            i don’t understand

            it’s me

            youssef

AID WORKER

about himself

            “at least this one has a job”

INTERPRETER

            nothing for me to translate

            i wave the sketch at him

            annette’s as bewildered as I am

AID WORKER

            i take the videos here

            that she should be taking

            and you

            her little helper

            her walking excuse

INTERPRETER

            i try to calm him down

            with a few words of arabic

AID WORKER

            oh great that again

REFUGEE

            i know sweetheart

            you’ll see daddy soon

            daddy—

            soon—

            first i’m going to england

            then you can come too

AID WORKER

            what do i know

            i just hand out blankets

REFUGEE

            yes i miss you too

AID WORKER

            patch up injured feet

REFUGEE

            what?

AID WORKER

            offer advice

            and a listening ear

REFUGEE

            sweetheart?

AID WORKER

            but every night i go home to my own bed

REFUGEE

            you’re breaking up

            sweetheart

            I’m losing you

AID WORKER

            to my own daughter

            to my own house

REFUGEE

            fuck

            fuck

            this fucking connection

            no no not you

            there you are again sweetheart

            could i talk to grandma?

            no no story today

            phone calls cost money

            grandma

            give me grandma

            later

            when you’re here with me

            there’ll be stories

            about england

            about driving on the left

            about paddington bear

            because he’s here at the camp

            on a poster

            a brown bear

            with a red hat

            and a blue jacket

            and a suitcase in his paw

            and he says “migration is not a crime”

            that means it’s not naughty

            to look for a new place to live

            and he knows all the questions

            they might ask

            if I

            when I get to england

            they printed them out

            and hung them up for us

            under his paws

            if I

            when I get there

            it’ll be because paddington bear helped daddy

            now can I speak to grandma?

            yeah

            thank you, sweetheart

INTERPRETER

            i spent a long time this morning

            thinking about what to wear

            it’s dirty over there

            you get dirty over there

            i have to show them i’m one of them

            that they can trust me

            i have to show them i’m not one of them anymore

            that you can get out of this place

            so i shaved

            dash of cologne

            now here I am

            in a filthy stall

            dabbing my chin with wet toilet paper

            to get rid of that musky odor

            pulling off my shirt

            wadding it up

            and putting it back on

            rolling up my sleeves

            leaving half my buttons undone

            my belt in my bag

            behold: a rumpled man

            with mussed-up hair

            have you seen him?

the interpreter shows the refugee the sketch

INTERPRETER

to the audience

            annette takes a picture

REFUGEE

            no camera

INTERPRETER

            he covers his face with his hands

            annette freezes

            she thrusts the camera

            back in the bag

            and shouts

            “no camera”

            her hands in the air

REFUGEE

            no camera

INTERPRETER

            they shout back and forth

            a few times

            “no camera”

REFUGEE

            i move on

            limp away

            no police today

INTERPRETER

            no no police

REFUGEE

            not that on top of everything

            not now

INTERPRETER

            she’s a journalist

REFUGEE

            i stop

            shouldn’t walk now

            have to rest my foot

            for tonight

            the white woman with him

            nods

            and asks questions

            he translates

INTERPRETER

            does he look familiar?

REFUGEE

            for the first time

            I take a good look at the photo

INTERPRETER

            sketch

REFUGEE

studies it for a while

            hazara

INTERPRETER

            annette nods

            she’s excited

            it sounds like a name

REFUGEE

            he looks like a hazara

INTERPRETER

            it’s not a name

            it’s a people

REFUGEE

            those eyes

            that nose

INTERPRETER

            afghans descended from the mongols

REFUGEE

            why not ask the hazaras

INTERPRETER

            are the afghans still along the roadside?

REFUGEE

            you two have been here before?

INTERPRETER

            i was stuck here for a while

REFUGEE

            and now…

            again?

INTERPRETER

            oh no

            i live in england now

the refugee smiles

and shakes his hand

REFUGEE

            mouaz

INTERPRETER

            youssef

REFUGEE

            that’s a really nice shirt

AID WORKER

            ghettos

            in this place

            what does that say about people?

            when even here

            in a camp

            that nobody planned

            each group has its separate

            patch of land

the interpreter points

INTERPRETER

            sudan

            nigeria

            and over there’s iraq

REFUGEE

            iran

            you were close

INTERPRETER

            everything is so different now

            so much bigger

REFUGEE

            we’ll pass iraq later

            you don’t want to stop there

            does she follow you everywhere?

INTERPRETER

            or the other way around

            i don’t know

            i’m here to translate

REFUGEE

            i used to have a little white cat myself

the refugee laughs

the interpreter laughs half-heartedly

INTERPRETER

            that church there is new

REFUGEE

            we built it ourselves

            are you staying till sunday?

            we sing on sundays

            are you a good singer?

INTERPRETER

            i’ve already lost track of where we are

REFUGEE

            near the toilets

            we started over there

INTERPRETER

            so over there by the flag

            is where you eat?

            do they still serve meals?

REFUGEE

            just one

            at five pm

            if you want more

            you can get it

            in afghanistan

INTERPRETER

            that’s where the market is

REFUGEE
            that’s where the market is

INTERPRETER
            what are those fences for?

            they were just starting to put them up

            when I left

REFUGEE
            that’s where they stick the women and children

            we can’t go there

            are you spending the night here?

INTERPRETER

            looks like these days

            the night club is in eritrea

REFUGEE

            and you

            where do you come from?

AID WORKER

            i’m an aid worker

            i’m french

            i studied law

            i’m a man

            i’m a father

            and yes

            i have dark skin

            my grandparents

            came to this country long ago

            and even now

            the first question is never

            who i am

            or what i do

            but always

            where i come from

            so i feel brown

            i’m supposed to be lebanese

            never been to lebanon

REFUGEE

            turn left here

            cigarettes?

            you want cigarettes?

            you can buy cigarettes here

            welcome to afghanistan

INTERPRETER

to the audience

            now he’s asking for my number

AID WORKER

parallel monologue, not in the same place as the interpreter
            i give out my number sometimes

INTERPRETER

            i’m not sure

AID WORKER

            so sometimes they let me know

            how it’s going in england

INTERPRETER
            i give it to him

AID WORKER

            and then they ask me

            to say hi to so and so

            have i heard from such and such

            can i tell them where to find—

INTERPRETER
            there he goes

AID WORKER

            better not to get started

            so many names

INTERPRETER

            bye mouaz

AID WORKER

            so many faces

REFUGEE

            bye youssef

INTERPRETER

            so we look around

            and ask around

AID WORKER

            there you sit

            on your birthday

            and you’ve just unwrapped

            just that very minute

            your new mobile

            when a message comes in

            it’s mahmoud

            in england

            “haven’t heard from my nephew recently

            something wrong with his phone?

            i’ll send money for a new one”

            funny coincidence

            you say to yourself

            and you laugh and think

            if i find my old phone

            i’ll give it to his nephew

            but the whole thing slips your mind

            till the uncle

            mahmoud

            his name was

            sends another text

            “still no news?”

            so you tell him you’ll keep looking

            and he keeps texting

            and you think to yourself

            you should stop giving out

            your number all the time

INTERPRETER

            “would you like some tea?”

            some hazaras take us

            to a tent where tea is served

            i’m her smuggler

            her ticket inside

            they speak pashto

            one says he speaks english

            “little bit”

            turns out to be

            a very little bit

            “i’ve been stuck here longest

            and never heard anything

            about wetsuits or swimming”

            they pass around the sketch

            “so sad no one knows who he was

            but that’s how it goes

            no one cares

            about some dead immigrant”

night

REFUGEE

            the sun is going down

INTERPRETER

            we hurry back to the ferry

            annette at my side

            she’s quiet

            we never got any closer

            than “hazara”

REFUGEE

            i’m searching

            my bags

            looking for black things to wear

INTERPRETER

            i’m going back to england

            where i’ll always be the foreigner

            they cross the street

            so their paths won’t cross mine

REFUGEE

            all around me

            a whole jungle dressed in black

INTERPRETER

            why am I here?

            why am I there?

REFUGEE

            we stand for a moment

            spread out

INTERPRETER

            i carried my mother

            my handicapped mother

            across the desert on my back

            my children behind me

            the youngest in a sling on my belly

            one and a half

            was his age when we got to england

            one and a half

            and now he’s going on six

REFUGEE

            the last light from our mobiles

INTERPRETER

            they shout the same things at him

REFUGEE
            see you on the other side

INTERPRETER

            go back to your own country

REFUGEE

            then we have to leave

            we put the phones away

INTERPRETER

            you want us to go back?

REFUGEE

            we start walking

INTERPRETER

            you want them to go back

            to some strange country

            they hardly know a thing about

            except what they’ve seen on the news?

REFUGEE
            no one says a word

INTERPRETER

            the images of war

            people dying

            people blowing themselves up

            women can’t go to school

REFUGEE

            in a large procession

            like mourners

            we leave the camp

INTERPRETER

            the only thing they know about it

            is why we left

REFUGEE

            we break up

            into small groups

INTERPRETER

            because I found my eldest daughter

            twelve years old

            in a well

            violated

            shot dead

            by our country’s soldiers

            that’s the country

            you want us to go back to?

REFUGEE

            we walk through the darkness

            keeping away from the road

INTERPRETER

            and yes

            lots more men than women here

REFUGEE

            have to watch the foot

INTERPRETER

            if i hadn’t left

            i’d be in the same army now

            that raped my daughter

REFUGEE

            not bang it into anything

INTERPRETER

            i’d have to kill civilians too

            so I’m a deserter?

REFUGEE

            i have to get out of here

INTERPRETER

            i left

            so i wouldn’t have to fight

            wouldn’t have to be cruel

            and now all of a sudden

            i’m a terrorist

            they shout it straight in my face

            right in front of my children

            “terrorist”

AID WORKER

            police at my doorstep

            what’s wrong?

            they say my name

            what’s wrong?

            “get out of the car”

            they say

            “c’mon move”

            so I do

            and I tell them

            I don’t have much time

            I have to pick up my daughter –

            is my daughter okay?

            but they’re already turning me around

            putting on the handcuffs

            what’s going on here?

            have I done something wrong?

INTERPRETER

            a decathlon ad is playing

            while we wait for the ferry

            i take my phone out of my pocket

            and turn it back on

            mouaz has been texting me

            the whole time

            what questions did they ask

            when i made it

            across the water?

            was i in a truck?

            could you take the train

            in those days?

            the messages just keep coming

            it’s bleeping again

REFUGEE

            maybe your journalist could do something with this?

INTERPRETER

            there’s a link to a facebook group

            where they keep in touch with family members

            who’ve already made it to england

            annette’s already on her way home

            should i follow up on this?

            another bleep

            his last one

REFUGEE

            see you on the other side!

INTERPRETER

            and then nothing

REFUGEE

            we’re in a group

            four or five of us

            most of us have tried this

            many times before

            night after night

            the procession

            through the dark

AID WORKER

            they play the video

            and glare at me

            as if I’ve done something wrong

            while I watch

            the things they do

            see them hitting

            see them kicking

            and then

            right here

            see them dragging

            one onto the hood

            and then the way they laugh

            i don’t get it

            what did i do?

REFUGEE
            there’s the parking lot

            a truck pulls up

            look

            someone gets out in front

            his jeans already half open

            he heads for the bushes

            someone gives the signal

            we run for it

            the truck opens up

            and we crawl inside

            now the curtain is closed

            his fly’s zipped up again

AID WORKER

            “you can’t just go filming the police like that sir”

            what do you mean just go filming?

            the woman beside him

            wears a business suit

            instead of a baton.

            “at seventy-two seconds

            you hear one of us

            ask you to stop filming

            yet you kept filming

            that’s a violation of privacy”

            it was a public road

            “you’re not a journalist”

            i’m a citizen

            a concerned citizen

            “a citizen must always obtain consent

            prior to making

            audio or video recordings

            and must obtain consent once again

            before sharing the material

            did you obtain consent?”

INTERPRETER

            i click on the link

            and ask to become a member

            a moment later i’m accepted

            i post a message to the group

            “does anyone know who this is?”

            then all the facts

            the sketch

            the story of the wetsuit

            the date of purchase

            thirteenth of october

            and the disappearance afterwards

REFUGEE

            we’re stopping

            we’re hoping

            please no inspection

            give us a chance

            we’re burrowing

            deeper and deeper

            behind the boxes

            voices outside

            footsteps in back

            a tube sticks through the curtain

            those tubes can see carbon dioxide

            so hold your breath

            and don’t get too warm

AID WORKER
            they have me log in

            on their laptop

            to “delete the video at once”

            lots of people have shared it

            all those groups

            there’s a message on my timeline

            that photo

            or sketch

            or whatever it is

            the wetsuitman

            it’s from that interpreter

INTERPRETER

            youssef

AID WORKER
            i recognize his profile photo

INTERPRETER
            it’s me

            youssef

AID WORKER

            and i see the date

            thirteenth of october

            “sir”

            that’s my birthday

            the day i got the phone

            the day mahmoud asked me

            if i’d heard from his nephew

            “sir”

            i look at the sketch

            he looks just like mahmoud

            a dead ringer

            “sir

            delete the video now sir”

            i click

            and it’s gone

REFUGEE

            we drive on

            how is it possible?

            we drive on

INTERPRETER

            i get in line

            passport control

REFUGEE
            they didn’t even open the rear doors

INTERPRETER

            i see heads turning

            people frowning and then

            they pretend they weren’t looking

REFUGEE

            are we past the police?

INTERPRETER

            will they stop him?

            is he allowed to board?

            he looks suspicious

REFUGEE

            first the french

INTERPRETER

votre papiers

REFUGEE

            then the british

INTERPRETER
            papers please, sir

REFUGEE

            and then those scanners

INTERPRETER

            i nod at the staring faces

            they turn away fast

REFUGEE

            another stop

            we hide again

            someone opens the curtain

            takes out a box

            cuts it open

            or that’s how it sounds

            don’t look

            don’t say a word

            most of all don’t move

AID WORKER

            i step outside

            have to turn my phone back on

            my code

            her date

            the day the month the year

            and she was born

            i call

REFUGEE

            a walkie-talkie makes a noise

AID WORKER

            is she still there

            can you put her on?

REFUGEE
            an englishman sighs

            curses

            and leaves us alone

AID WORKER

            i’ll be right there

REFUGEE
            the curtain is closed again

            we’re huddled together

            where no eyes can find us

            holding our breath for the scanners

            but they can see you

            through iron walls

            through plastic sheets

AID WORKER

            my daughter

            my arms

REFUGEE

            we’ve stopped again

AID WORKER

            and sorry

            really sorry

INTERPRETER

            i join the crowd

            on the gangplank

            below us trucks roll by

            once i was down there

            cramped and desperate

            the ferry a parking lot the tunnel

            i tried everything

REFUGEE

            nothing happens

            then we’re on the move

            slow and bumpy

            going inside somewhere

            the floor is moving

INTERPRETER

            i get on the boat

REFUGEE

            are we boarding the ferry?

AID WORKER
            home at last

            my daughter’s in bed

            my phone is bleeping

            almost out of juice

            back to facebook anyway

            there’s that message again

            that interpreter and the wetsuitman

            staring out from my timeline

REFUGEE

            the cabin door opens

            and falls shut again

            lots of voices around us

            murmuring

            making phone calls

            and then it’s quiet

INTERPRETER

            the sea stretches out ahead

            the crowd stretches out on deck

            people from cars

            school groups from buses

            men dressed as nuns

            and one as the pope

            downing pints of beer

            teenagers whooping

            and throwing bottles

AID WORKER
            i make an international call

            mahmoud

            it’s been a long time

            fine fine

            i have a question

            your cousin who was here

            do you have a photo of him?

REFUGEE

            the gate closing

            faint honking

AID WORKER

            mahmoud sends a photo

            could be him

            i text:

            was he a good swimmer?

            instant reply

            a screenshot

            messages

            in arabic

            a mystery to me

            i click on youssef’s profile

            and send it on

            with my number at the bottom

INTERPRETER

            a bleep

            a message

AID WORKER

            i think i have a lead

            can you translate this?

INTERPRETER

            i open the screenshot

            “hey mahmoud

            just got to calais

            i can see england

            it doesn’t look far

            maybe i should swim for it?”

            the reply is a smiley

            “i mean it”

            then mahmoud

            “bad idea

            don’t do it

            it’s too cold

            it’s too deep

            it’s too far

            i know it looks so close

            but you’ll never make it”

            “i’ll try today”

            and then nothing else

            questions without answers

            and again and again

            “this message could not be delivered”

REFUGEE

            we’re on our way

INTERPRETER

            i call

AID WORKER

            i pick up

INTERPRETER

            and tell him the translation

REFUGEE

            we made it

INTERPRETER

            ask him

            who sent that

            who is the wetsuitman

4. THE MEETING

syria

mother

brother

father

MOTHER

            when you called

            it was the first time

            we’d heard anything

            we couldn’t usually reach him

            from here in yarmouk

            and ever since october thirteenth

            whenever we call

            we always hear that same song

            even now

            if we call

            I’ll call him

            ahmed!

            ahmed!

BROTHER
            yeah

MOTHER

            it’s the journalist

            she wants us to call

            call neimat

BROTHER

            what?

            why—

MOTHER

            for the voicemail

            can’t you call neimat?

            this lady’s asking us to call neimat

BROTHER

            i’m calling now

MOTHER

            put it on speaker

a song plays

            his voice mail

they listen

            that’s my husband

            he sings at weddings

            such a beautiful voice

FATHER

            yeah right

MOTHER

            no really

FATHER

            hmph

MOTHER

            it’s his job

MOTHER

            it is

            he was a good boy

            always wanting to be friends with everyone

            imagine that in this country

            where everyone is fighting everyone else

            looking for reasons

            to bash each others brains in

            there are shias here

            sunnis

            christians jews alawis

            and they all loved god

            and they all loved him

            that’s how he was

            you saw him

            and you wanted the best for him

            you could never be angry at him

            any argument

            he’d put himself in the middle

            so many times i told him not to

            sometimes on the street

            when two people

            went at each other

            like they do

            he would put himself in the middle

            yeah

            but his brother’s no different

BROTHER

            what?

MOTHER

            you can’t stand injustice

            i’m telling the lady

            you won’t stand for it

            and a real sense of responsibility

            neimat i mean

            as a student for instance

            even when all his friends

            started leaving the country

            he stayed

            he wanted to earn his degree

            he was studying to be an industrial engineer

            electromechanics

            at the university here

BROTHER
            he was constantly being stopped

            by the police

            or anyway

            by assad’s troops

            rebel or student

            we all look the same to them

            they arrested him once

MOTHER

            and he was such a good boy

BROTHER

            took him down to the station

            “to confirm his identity”

            hard to put yourself in the middle

            when you’re the one

            taking the beating

MOTHER

            now make no mistake

            he could take care of himself

            but that was a dangerous road

            neimat couldn’t go on with his studies here

            so he went to jordan

            the university of jordan

            that was the plan

            but they have no eye for talent there

            or they were too full

            i don’t know

            so he tried turkey

            but couldn’t enroll there either

BROTHER

            we welcome refugees with open arms

            says the university there

            we’ve reserved so many places

            just for them

            it’s the other way round

            only so many refugees allowed

            turkish students?

            sure, no limit

            and they count the refugees on their fingers

            and then it’s full

MOTHER

            they do their best

            we all do our best

BROTHER

            we didn’t hear much from him

MOTHER

            i blame us

            he got in touch as often as he could

            but our reception is not so

BROTHER

            i don’t blame us

            i blame our own country’s army

            which has us under siege

FATHER
            shhhh

BROTHER

            which shot my knees to pieces

MOTHER
            he was such a fast runner

BROTHER

            which is starving this city

            and then stops us from even

            calling for help

            no communications

            we have no idea

            how often he tried to call us

            but if you call

            no connection

            leave a message

            no response

MOTHER

            we always tried to call him back

BROTHER

            you can see why you might get discouraged

MOTHER

            the last time we heard from him

            he called us

            you talked to him

            didn’t you darling?

FATHER

            it was all too much

BROTHER

            he was living on the street

MOTHER
            always cheerful

            and then suddenly

            it’s all too much

FATHER

            it’s all too much

BROTHER
            he couldn’t pay the travel agents

MOTHER

            he was somewhere in france

            “i’m in the land of the eiffel tower”

            that’s the text he sent

            he sent us that

            i wrote back to him

FATHER

            it’s all too much

MOTHER

            he wanted to buy a wetsuit

            and swim to someplace

            so we scrimped and saved

            went around to the family

            and there was another wedding

BROTHER

            people still get married

            can you believe it

MOTHER

            so beautiful to see

            i was invited along

            and when he’s on stage

            my husband

            it’s a real celebration

            i married a firework display

            and you sang that song

            the one

            that’s on his voicemail

            sing it again

            he has such a beautiful voice

the father is silent

            but we had a lovely evening

            and we raised some money

            and ahmed figured out

            how to send that money

            to him

BROTHER

            that sounds more straightforward

            than it is

            when you live here

MOTHER

            the sixth of october was the wedding

            the seventh of october he had the money

FATHER

            he was a good swimmer

            always used to go swimming

silence

            until the swimming pool

silence

            things get smashed up

            in the end

            it all gets smashed

FATHER

            i was the the one

            who asked him to leave

MOTHER

            he had talent

            you always said

FATHER

            someplace where he could find a job

MOTHER

            two peas in a pod those two

            when i fell in love with him

            he looked just like neimat

            but such different talents

            neimat couldn’t sing

BROER

            metal

MOTHER
            that’s not singing

BROTHER

            he had a band

MOTHER

            like your father always says

            that’s not singing

BROTHER

            he was the singer

            in a metal band

MOTHER

            but his real talent

            lay in his hands

BROTHER

            the sniper slumpark correctional

MOTHER

            he had a garage here

            where he worked as a student

            he tinkered with cars

            he was good at that

            popular garage

            always friendly too

            and then the war came

            and lots of things got smashed

            including cars

            but still he had to go

BROTHER

            you try getting by

            as an auto mechanic

            in a city under siege

            where no one can drive in or out

            where they’ve cut off the fuel supply

            there’s no money here

            no jobs here

MOTHER

            but we’re here

BROTHER

            my father was right

            you want your child to have a future

FATHER

            and now he’s dead

MOTHER

            you couldn’t have known

BROTHER

            we hadn’t heard from my brother

            for a week

            a whole week

            and even mahmoud

            our uncle in england

            had no news

MOTHER
            they were normally in touch every day

BROTHER
            good reception in england

MOTHER

            you just don’t know what might have happened

BROTHER

            we thought he’d been mugged

MOTHER

            “no need to worry about me”

            that’s what he always said

            when I asked him if he was keeping warm

            if he had enough to eat

            “no need to worry”

BROTHER

            or maybe his stuff had been stolen

            or he’d been beaten up

            and was in the hospital

MOTHER

            he had money all of a sudden

            maybe they noticed

BROTHER

            near the university

            there’s always good reception

            we went over there

            to call our uncle

MOTHER

            to tell him not to worry

            but maybe he could go to france

            ask around at hospitals

BROTHER

            our uncle thought neimat had been arrested

            and that was why he couldn’t call us

            “i’ll ask the police”

            so he went over

            we should tell you

            our uncle’s a big guy

            beard

            looks like dad

            right?

            him and you and neimat

            they’re like triplets

MOTHER
            you take more after me

BROTHER

            so he gets there

            walks in through the front door

            “where’s my nephew?”

MOTHER

            “we can’t help you”

            he’s a good storyteller

            our uncle

            “this police officer

            he has a mustache

            and a kind of a club in his hand

            just the club in his hand

            not the mustache”

BROTHER

            that’s what he said

MOTHER

            good storyteller

            “may I see your papers?”

BROTHER
            “of course of course”

MOTHER
            “what was his name?”

BROTHER

            “neimat”

silence

MOTHER

            “that name’s not in our system

            did he apply for asylum here?”

BROTHER
            “he was waiting to apply in england”

MOTHER

            “if he’s not in our system

            he wasn’t here

            so he can’t be missing

            so we can’t help you”

BROTHER

            right

            that’s when he said

            “we can’t help you”

MOTHER
            right

            so he

            mahmoud

            such a dear sweet man

            brings a photo of neimat

            to calais

            to the jungle

BROTHER

            “has anyone seen this man?”

MOTHER

            no luck at the hospitals

BROTHER

            not even at the morgue

MOTHER

            that dear sweet man

BROTHER

            “has anyone seen him?”

MOTHER

            he never gives up

            we’re all like that

            we’re not giver-uppers

            are we, darling?

            not him

            not you

            and not neimat

            with your smashed-up knee

            you just keep on going don’t you

BROTHER
            i just keep on going

            don’t have to join the army now

            can’t run away

MOTHER

            i called mahmoud every day

            to find out if there was any news

            when i had no reception

            i went to the university

            along the same road

            neimat used to take

BROTHER
            i told you not to

MOTHER

            he wound up in libya at first

            and traveled on from there

BROTHER

            it’s dangerous there

            people get bought and sold

            like mopeds

MOTHER

            he found a job in a print shop

            not a university

            not a garage

            but at least they had machines

            and his boss taught him how to dive

            got him certified and everything

            he always loved being in the water

            when he went to italy

            on the rubber boat

            with the travel agents

            it felt so good to know

            that he knew how to swim

            when he got to italy

            he planned to open a garage

            or become a diving instructor

            or both

            or an underwater welder

            always full of plans

FATHER

            i couldn’t do a thing for him

            and the one thing I did

            was the death of him

            i can just see myself there

            singing

            for a little cash

            so he could swim

BROTHER

            they say he met someone there

            in france

            another refugee

            that was all the police knew

            and all they wanted to know

            they must have found each other

            then they bought the equipment

            without much money

            or much idea

            what they were doing

MOTHER
            he was a good diver

BROTHER

            how should he know

            the water’s too cold there

            and those flippers don’t help

MOTHER

            he was an instructor

BROTHER
            no

            he wanted to be an instructor

            just like he wanted to go to england

            wanted to work

            wanted to help us

            a swimming certificate

            and some diving lessons

            that’s the best he ever did

FATHER

            ahmed

BROTHER

            we sent him money

            he bought diving gear

            and he swam

            not because he loved swimming

            but because

            he had no other choice

MOTHER

            you don’t know what to hope for

            when you haven’t heard from your son for such a long time

            no news

            is good news

            you can only tell yourself that so many times

            and at the same time you don’t want to know

            then along comes a journalist

            with a story

            and you send her your dna

            to see if it’s him

            and meanwhile you keep hoping

            “no

            it’s not him

            he’s still out there somewhere

            without his phone

            and he never learned

            my number by heart

            neimat and numbers”

            naive

            i know

BROTHER

            it was morning

            a scorching hot day

            i had to walk halfway across the fucking city

            on this fucking knee

            to find food

            when there’s practically no food to be found

            but practically nothing feels like a lot

            now that the siege is over

            no more trouble with the army

            or a little less anyway

            and food coming in again

            a little more

            hungry?

            sure we’re still hungry

            but that’s not how it feels now

            when you’ve seen your neighbors eat grass

            cactus leaves

            and eventually

            even the cats disappear

            being hungry doesn’t mean much

            strange how fast you get used to things

            shrinking portions

            shrinking stomachs

            so I’m wandering the streets

            no cats

            no air raid warnings

            or maybe it’s just

            that they turned off the sound

            the noise was so constant

            that maybe they just stopped

MOTHER

            i write children’s books

            we sit at home

            my husband and i

            and i read to him

            what i wrote the day before

            i can see from the look on his face

            when my writing is working

            he laughs at the least little thing

            such a gorgeous generous smile

            with those dimples of his

            i fell in love with those dimples

silence

            he’s the best listener a person could ask for

BROTHER

            i cut through the crowd

            jostling for the packets

            that the army hands out

            they intercept the deliveries

            they play the good guys for once

            they negotiate

            with other countries

            we’re the bargaining chips

            “drop the sanctions

            and they get fed”

            and what do you know

            they drop the sanctions

            so i have food

            i have meat

            i got my hands on some meat

            a leg of lamb

FATHER

            mutton

MOTHER
            sheep

BROTHER

            it’s been years since we had

            sheep

            like a feast

            that’s how it feels

            to find some meat

            in this day and age

MOTHER
            it’s the story of a bear

            looking for a place

            to sleep for the winter

            he goes from one animal to the next

            “can I stay with you”

            squirrel’s den

            too small

            rabbit’s den

            too full

            white fox’s den

            too cold

            porcupine is too prickly

            and the mice are too tickly

            they panic

            and run all over him

            when he rolls over in his sleep

            so he wanders around

            and the snow starts to fall

            and there’s no one to see him die

            because the others are all fast asleep

            in their own safe little hollows

BROTHER

            strange how happy you can be

            with what you used to take for granted

            i run home

            as fast as my smashed-up knee will carry me

MOTHER

            you shouldn’t run

BROTHER

            she always says that

            “you shouldn’t run”

MOTHER

            and my husband says

            i need a happier ending

            who wants a book that ends

            with someone freezing to death

            so we start talking

            about all the animals

            who see him shivering

            and get together to dig a big hole for him

            the sheep gives him a blanket

            the glowworm a night light

            and they read him a bedtime story

            “the very same story

            you’re reading now”

BROTHER

            then my phone rings

            it’s you

            and you tell me it’s him

            neimat’s dead

            he got as far as norway

            i’m standing outside our house

            i can see my mother inside

            reading to my father

MOTHER

            i see him through the window

            his phone in his hand

            and what is that

            part of a sheep?

            i jump up

            he has meat with him

FATHER

            i jump up too

MOTHER
            we rush to the window

            and i see

            that sheep’s leg

            fall

            thud

            into the dust

            and i see his face

            and i know

            and i fall down too

            and you’re still standing

            the only one still standing

            ahmed comes inside

            into my arms

            and you’re still standing

            and you walk outside

            and you pick up that piece of sheep

SELECTED READING

ARTICLES

– Salma Abdelaziz, CNN, “Our terrifying swim: Two Syrians’ journey through dark waters to Greece”

– Rami Alhames. globalvoices.org, “Syria’s Yarmouk Camp Between the Hammer of Hunger and the Anvil of Extremism”

– Rutger Bregman, De Correspondent, “Empathie is niet de oplossing, maar de oorzaak van onze grootste problemen” [Empathy is not the solution, but the cause of our biggest problems]

– Yves Delepeleire & Jef Poppelmonde, De Standaard, “UK? OK!”

– Anders Fjellberg, Dagbladet, “The Wetsuitman”

– Toine Heijmans, de Volkskrant, “Twintig jaar zoeken naar een naam bij een lichaam” [The twenty-year search for a name to go with a body]

– Isabel Hunter, Daily Mail, “Swimming to a new life: Incredible story of Syrian refugee who left his home in Damascus after it was bombed then swam for seven hours across the Aegean desperate for a safer future in Europe”

– Jan-Cor Jacobs, Algemeen Dagblad, “Vluchtelingenkamp Yarmouk: Overleven in het hart van de hel” [Yarmouk refugee camp: surviving in the heart of Hell]

– Florent Maillet, lsa-conso.fr, “Decathlon prépare son ‹‹ big bang ›› mondial de la RFID” [Decathlon prepares for its worlwide RFID rollout]

– Paddy O’Connell, BBC, “Desperate migrants try to swim to Britain from France”

– Maite Vermeulen, De Correspondent, “Wat voor de één een mensensmokkelaar is, is voor de ander een reisagent (en nog 10 begrippen die je anders doen kijken naar migratie)” [One person’s human trafficker is another’s travel agent (and 10 more terms that will make you look at migration differently)]

– Vice News, Vice, “We gingen langs bij het vluchtelingenkamp in Calais”[We stopped by the refugee camp in Calais]

BOOKS

– Paul Auster, The New York Trilogy

– Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow

– Valeria Luiselli, Tell Me How It Ends

– Nicolaas Matsier, Het achtenveertigste uur [The forty-eighth hour]

– Patrick Ouredník, Case Closed

– Maxime Waladi, Eeuwig anders. Mijn identiteit op scène [Forever different: my identity on stage]

OTHER SOURCES

– Surprising Europe, “Border Control Calais,” YouTube video

– Farah van Valkenburg, Het ‘kamp’ in Calais: Een onderzoek naar de ‘morele economie’ van de Franse overheid en een humanitaire hulporganisatie in Calais [The “camp” in Calais: a study of the “moral economy” of the French government and a humanitarian aid organization in Calais], master’s thesis

– Henk Wildschut, Ville de Calais [City of Calais], visual art

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