Dear Readers, This week’s flash fiction story reexamines the true nature of bravery. It was inspired by a photo taken on May 25, 2022, which displays dozens of migrants falling into the water while others cling to the side of a capsized boat in the waters off of Tunisia. Their will to survive inspired this piece.
The Will to Hang On
I don’t need a life jacket, I told the guy when I arrived on the rotting dock.
“Take it, hombre, I don’t need another drowning man on my conscience.”
“Even illegals require safety these days, eh?” He let out a laugh but only after an uncomfortable pause. The exhale of his cigarette was camouflaged by clouds.
“How we gonna sneak into a country in bright orange vests? I’m not comfortable with how reflective they make me.” My brothers were content wearing vests, working la mina the rest of their lives, sweating, but I was taking my chances on the sea.
“They’re not optional.” He crossed his arms. “I seen too many of these chacharro’s sink.”
I put the smelly thing on so I could board the beat-up boat, wait for it to fill past capacity.
“I heard about Mexicans in a car, but this is loco. Why we gotta be enforcing a stereotype?” Several laughs from the crowd.
“Standing room only, ese. So make space or find another ride.”
When the last pendejo boarded, we were packed worse than adobo peppers in a tin can. We didn’t need no lifejackets, we could buoy each other by breathing.
A family of five stood in front. The mother put her doughy arms around their youngest son.
“Don’t cry mijo, we’re almost there.” Lies started before the boat had even left the dock.
Apparently, we had to wait for the exact time we’d paid la juda off.
By the time the engine sputtered, the sun had already turned our reflective vests into heated prisons. The plastic stuck to my arms, and every time I tried to move, sweat plopped out and splashed one of my neighbors.
“We’re making waves from heatwaves, amigo.” The captain called out, excited now that his racehorse was about to be released.
When I thought I might have to hop overboard to cool myself off, the boat shot from the dock, a bullet with a clear destination. We musta paid for only four minutes of time to go the distance that a normal boat would cross in fifteen.
Waves rocked us. We seemed to hit each swell head-on. Heated headbangers on the bay.
“You trying to capsize us, amigo?”
“It’s now or never. You know what I mean? Now or never.” And the captain tilted his head back just like in the movies and laughed, his long hair a streamer behind him like an 80’s rock god.
The rudder swooped far left. The boat reared into the air. Illegals clung to the base and sides like barnacles because to hit the water meant you were left behind. And all that was behind was hell, and a short life before you got there.
I watched as the youngest son’s arms gave out. He made his own splash below.
“Mijo!” the mother cried. “I can’t let him swim it alone.” She looked at her husband.
“Don’t you let go, Mami. I need you.”
“He needs me more.” And with that, she released her wobbly arms and plopped into the salty sea beside her son.
I thought our ship would flip that soon we’d all be joining them, but like a newborn calf, it found its footing on the next wave and raced the sun out into the open sea.
I was never going back to that grave. In the silence that followed, I grieved a bit for the little boy and what his life could have been had he possessed the will to hang on.
© 2022 | K.Hartless