The Runaway- Episode 4
A week after dropping out of school, Mumina sat in a small fishing boat and watched the coast of Somaliland and the town of Zeila disappear over the horizon. She gripped the pink plastic bag she’d been allowed to keep and wrapped her arms around her knees. Her mother had packed a suitcase with clothing, tea spices, dates and sorghum flour for laxoox but as soon as the boat was out of sight, the captain forced everyone to throw their belongings overboard.
Mumina had watched her suitcase bob on the waves and begin to sink. She shivered. Other passengers had struggled to keep their luggage but when the captain slapped a woman so hard her lip burst, they hurried to obey.
There were twenty-two people, including the captain, crammed into the tiny fishing boat. Mostly men, with bulging khat-filled cheeks and dirty trousers. Mumina focused on the three other women, one of them with two young children. The children clung to one another and watched the waves. Their mother tilted her head back and stared at the sky. She was the one with the bloody lip but she hadn’t bothered to wipe her face.
They all look so scared, Mumina thought and she wondered if any of them could swim. She was counting on her strength, rather than swimming ability, to save her when the boat neared the coast of Yemen. She would leap from her seat and before anyone could stop her, would dive into the water and swim away from the landing, away from where her fiancé would be waiting, away from the destiny her parents had chosen. She would disappear into the sea of Somali refugees flooding Yemen and could start a new life, beginning with her finishing her education.
Mumina never had a chance to test her escape plan. Over an hour into the boat trip an explosion shattered the steady hum of the motor and rhythm of the waves. Mumina was thrown from her spot on the floor and landed in the water. She heard screaming and smelled burning wood but her eyes stung from the salt water and she couldn’t see. She felt something bump against her in the water, rubbed her eyes and saw a plank of wood. She wrapped her arms around it. She tried to kick but pain seared her left leg. She blinked hard at the salt in her eyes and tried to see what was happening.
Smoke rose from what was left of the boat. The people were all in the water, scrambling to catch hold of anything floating. Mumina heard shouts behind her and turned. The mother of the two children flailed beside them, a large piece of metal protruding through her cheek. Her face seemed frozen in shock and as Mumina watched, her eyes rolled back, she stopped struggling and she disappeared beneath the waves.
“Hooyo!” the children cried. “Hooyo!”
Mumina felt an arm snake around her waist and someone began pulling her under water. She kicked at her assailant, wincing from the pain in her leg.
“You’re young and strong,” a man’s voice shouted. “Give me that piece of wood.”
Mumina kicked again and caught the man hard, in the chest. His grip slackened and she shoved off his body, kicking water into his face and ignoring the pain. She passed the children and tried to avoid their faces but could see their strength ebbing.
She saw the captain ahead, sitting on an orange and white flotation device. She wondered briefly where he had found it but was too exhausted to concentrate.
Mumina squeezed her eyes shut and kicked until her lungs burned. She lost track of time. All she knew was that her legs ached, her eyes burned and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. Just after her shoulders grew numb, she felt hands encircle her arms and hoist her into another boat.