I have been thinking and thinking for long time whether to write that and publish it or not. I didn’t sing him a song in a bar when I should have had to, so I guess it’s all right to write something to honor him and many other souls lost in the sea.
Hesham was a shy young man, he was 22, if I’m not mistaken. He was always smiling and laughing. He would ask her sister over and over again to go to his house and invite us to their place so that he could talk to my friend, 15 or 16 years old by then. I was 21. Hesham would cook for the five us (my friend, her sister, his sister Ibtisam, himself and me) when his parents weren’t around. While we girls were chatting he would take really good care of my friend. He would give her flowers, he would have really long talks with her, he would joke a lot, he would do anything she wanted him to do. He really was in love with her. He wanted to marry her. But my friend was too young and she asked him to wait for her to be over 18. He never asked another girl out, he never talked to other girls. He only had eyes for her.
He lived in a very poor neighborhood in Tangier, in Morocco and things weren’t easy for him and his family. At some point he decided he wanted to come to Spain. When he told that to my friend, her face changed. He didn’t have any means to get there safely, he had been trying to cross the border under a bus while we hadn’t been around. We tried to talk him out of the idea. I offered him some money. I offered him some help until he could go legally to Spain. Or at least, safely. He didn’t want anything. He wanted to do it all by himself. We told him how Spain isn’t as nice as it seems. How immigrants are living in the streets, how people is racist, how he wouldn’t have a job without legal papers or, if he had, it would be a 20-hours turn for nearly no money at all. He thought we were inventing that. But we weren’t. We were afraid for him. We asked him to promise he wouldn’t go to the bus station the day after. He didn’t promise.
He and his friends went back to the bus station the next morning. They wouldn’t stop trying. For Spain is the country of the opportunities, they say. Well, long story short, while they were trying to cross the border the police saw them again, just as every day. They run on dangerous walls, bullets flying to them. No bullet touched them. But when they were all together again, Youness was missing. They went back to the wall. The wheels of the bus were still on top of him. He was dead.
A week of mourning. No sight of Hesham. We were afraid. Maybe it hadn’t been enough of a lesson and was still trying? We talked to the brothers of my friend. One of them was a friend of his. He wasn’t trying anymore. He was sad. He had been thinking on our words.
About 10 days after that, Ibtisam comes to us again. They want us to go for lunch. There we go. I had never seen Hesham like that. He was really sad. He hardly ever smiled, only when my friend was looking at him. Only when she touched his leg or his hand. She hugged him. She whispered: I love you. He invited us and my friend’s brothers to the beach the next day. We had to persuade her parents. But if the brothers said it was only the brothers and us it would be ok.
It was the 23rd of July and it would be a great day in the beach! We had no parents around so we would be able to talk to any of the boys that were there with us if we wanted to. We were a lot of people. Someone had brought an inflatable boat for playing. While someone was inflating it Hesham whispered to me: “Now, we’re gonna cross the Straits of Gibraltar and get to Spain. I’ll see you there when you go back!” He winked his eye. I had seen him crying for his friend. He couldn’t swim. It wasn’t true. Of course it wasn’t. I laughed, hit his arm with my fist and added: “Oh, yeah, of course, with an inflatable boat!”
Long story short, they took the boat and went to the sea. We were there playing, having a bath, talking… It had been long time now… maybe he was saying the truth? Maybe they really wanted to try? No, of course not.
Loads of people is getting together. Some are shouting and they are taking the kids away. “Help! Help!” Someone shouts. “This kids are half drowned!” I look at the people. My friend wants to go and see but I tell her to stay. I’m really scared. I’m afraid. God, please, tell me it’s not them. I see the plastic boat, broken. It cannot be. It cannot be. It’s the same color. “Shit!!! Fuck!!! It’s our boat!!” One of the brothers shouts. I stand up and run. I run and run. Push the people aside. Three boys are trying to stand up. Hesham is there, on the Earth. His t-shirt broken. No trousers. A fish is moving, wishing to stay alive, while Hesham’s eye is inside its mouth.
If only I had believed him when he said he was gonna cross the Straits… If only I had said something out loud when he had whispered… If only I had told the brothers… If only I had asked for the boat and not let them used it… Maybe he would still be alive.
I’m sorry Hesham. I’m sorry I didn’t listen to you. I’m sorry I let you do that.
I’m sorry for every and each soul lost in the Strait ‘cause someone may have told them Spain is made of gold. May all those souls rest in peace.