Rhianna Mason (age 15), Temple Carrig School, Greystones, Co Wicklow
She hoped her prayers would be answered
Veronica woke up at precisely seven o’clock, her alarm screeching loudly. She turned over in her plush double bed, her hand reaching out of the warm covers to turn it off. The bright rays of early morning light danced through her curtains, rousing her from her deep, undisturbed sleep.
She took a shower, warm water flowing abundantly from the oversized shower head. She got out, wrapping a big, plush towel around herself. She smelt faintly of some exotic flower, from one of the expensive lotions she owned.
She brushed and dried her long, groomed hair to a shine and put on her crisply ironed uniform. It was a heavy uniform, with a jumper and tie. It was obnoxiously formal and excessively tidy, perfectly reflecting the private school she attended.
She proceeded down her carpeted stairs to her kitchen. Her mother greeted her with an apprehensive smile.
“Good morning,” her mother said tentatively.
Veronica ignored her and continued towards the fridge. She also ignored her mother’s sad, defeated look at her cold dismissal. Veronica wasn’t sure why she was ignoring her mother at this point, she vaguely remembered a fight they had.
Fight, in this instance, meant Veronica screaming profanities at her mother, while her mother apologised for whatever minuscule thing she had done, trying to end the fight before it started.
The car horn interrupted their stony silence. Veronica took that as her cue to exit. Casey, her best friend and ride to school, didn’t have an ounce of patience.
Upon storming out the door, she paused, just for a moment, as the news on TV snagged her attention. It displayed scenes of chaos. It was a boat full of refugees, hopeless and crying, being intercepted by the coast guard. The coast guards appeared to be planning to send them back. They were not being granted access to the country.
A flicker of sympathy ignited in her, but disappeared quickly from her head as her thoughts switched to the algebra test that awaited her in school.
And so, she continued her march out the door. She heard her mother’s cautious footsteps behind her. Her mother started to wish her well.
“Have a go . . .”
But Veronica didn’t hear the end of it as she forcefully slammed the front door in her mother’s face, rattling the intricate glass design that rested in the solid wooden door.
The cool early morning wind bit her nose and tangled her hair. She inhaled the crisp air, filling her lungs. She was always so glad to be out of that house.
She strutted to the lavish car that awaited her in the driveway. Her best friend poked her blonde head out the open car window.
“Ready for that algebra test?” Casey teased, grinning like the cat who caught the mouse.
Veronica groaned, rolling her eyes to heaven.
“Let’s just pray that Ms Evans gets hit by a bus and can’t make it to class,” Veronica said hopefully.
She mimed praying and they both dissolved into laughter.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The blistering sun stared harshly onto Amira’s face, cracking the dirt that coated it. But she continued to stare up at the cloudless sky anyway. It was the better option.
If she looked behind, she would see the vast expanse of ocean, sunlight glittering off the shifting blue waves.
If she looked ahead she would see that land approached, but was not yet close enough to make out distinct buildings.
And if she looked down she would see her sister, clinging to her like a raft in a stormy sea. Her sister’s frail shoulders rising and falling at a steady pace only sleep could bring. Her tear-stained face was buried in Amira’s side, seeking comfort even in sleep.
Amira rocked gently from side to side. The small, persistent waves nudged the dingy around gently. The rocking was steady, so Amira tried to focus on it.
Left. Right. Left. Right.
The sound of muttered conversations from the others drifted past her ears. They were hushed, as no one had really accepted what had happened last night. It hung over them all like a blanket of sorrow. Barely contained, heartbroken sobs could be heard if one listened closely.
Amira closed her eyes. Perhaps if she tried hard enough, she could pretend she was back in her old life. Perhaps she could pretend everything was as it had been. Back when her sister had light in her eyes and a smile on her lips. When her sister was not painfully thin from hunger and she had friends and no worries and her mother was alive.
She couldn’t help it as tears escaped from her closed eyes. They streamed down her face, carving lines through the cracked dirt on her face.
Her mother. She couldn’t think about it. Wouldn’t think about it.
Wouldn’t think about how her mother had passed away yesterday in the storm. How she had made Amira promise to take care of her sister. How she had been swept over the edge of the dinghy with countless others, and Amira could do nothing but watch.
A broken sound escaped from her throat. Amira’s eyes closed tighter. Her mother couldn’t be gone. She was the one who knew what to do. Maybe it was all a bad dream and if Amira only closed her eyes she would wake up, and she’d wake in her bed, her mom and sister waiting downstairs eating breakfast. But she knew it was no nightmare.
Now, it was just her and her sister. Alone on this earth. How she wished for her mother to wrap her arms around her and tell her it would be okay. That they’d find somewhere safe and start a new life.
Amira clamped her eyes tight, keeping her tears in. She had to be strong. Her sister depended on it.
A siren blared through the silence.
Loud and persistent, it invaded her ears and made her disoriented. Her sister beside her jumped and people screamed, adding to the confusion.
A boat was speeding towards them, the coast guards, and a helicopter whirled loudly over their heads. The dinghy was in chaos. Some people jumped overboard and tried to swim, struggling so hard for the safety they craved.
Her sister started crying and Amira pulled her close. She hummed her a song their mother used to sing them, fighting to be heard over the noise.
The boat drew closer and people panicked. Were they being saved or sent back? Amira closed her eyes and focused on the rocking of the boat. The only steady thing.
Left. Right. Left. Right.
She clung to her sister and hummed her song as the world descended into defining chaos around them.
As the boat reached them Amira prayed they were being saved. Prayed for a bed. Prayed for a meal for her and her dying sister. She prayed for a home, a house to find shelter in. Somewhere she could be a normal girl again, without any worries, without responsibilities.
She hoped her prayers would be answered.