For two days now we had hardly slept or eaten. We just kept on walking, following the refugee trail, seeking to put as much distance as we could between ourselves and those who wished us certain harm. Even now I fear every noise and every stranger; the images of heartless slaughter still etched into my mind. The screams of mothers clinging to their lifeless children haunted me, along with the sound of the brutal mocking blows that bore down on those men who desperately tried to stand between the soldiers and their loved ones.
Our new life, our new child – we just had to run to preserve what we had. People said that I was lucky to have the good sense to get out before the death squads got around to our house. For some reason they seemed to have targeted the richer neighbourhoods first. For once I was glad that we’d been reduced to living in borrowed rooms and makeshift shelters. But sitting here now, a lost stranger in someone else’s land, I wondered if our lot was any better than that of those we had left behind.
Just a few months earlier, our whole future had seemed so happy and secure. We had plans and dreams of settling down, taking on my father’s business and giving him and my mother grandchildren to be proud of. But look at us now: another helpless refugee family running to stay ahead of the latest tide of hate and bloodshed.
We needed to rest. The border was now just a few miles away, with a whole new round of dangers and threats. I’d heard stories about some of the army patrols and the demands they made of refugee women if they wanted safe passage. Even if we did get through, what would be waiting for us on the other side? What kind of life could I provide for my wife and our infant child in a place I had never even been before? I had skills; I was a trained craftsman. But I’d heard that migrant workers were not welcome in some parts; we seemed to be seen as more of a threat than useful citizens.
But there was no time for such thoughts. Right now we just needed rest, so we wandered over to where another group of migrant refugees had made camp. I still had some money left that my brother had given me before he smuggled us out of the city; perhaps it could buy us some food. I noticed a few women with young childrenof their own; maybe they would find my wife some shelter and safe space where she could feed our restless child.
“Come on,” I said, pointing across to the makeshift camp. “Let’s see if we can spend the night with them.” But though I tried to hide it, she could sense the uncertainty and fear that I was harbouring.
“Joseph,” she whispered, “it will be all right. Remember what the angels told us: this is God’s child. He will be with us.”