He was her age, good looking, a very attractive guy. Bazyli had introduced him as ‘my friend Joram,’ Amelie wondered just exactly what the term friend meant. Ariana was someone he new quite well and Joram was a friend, or more than just a friend?
Amelie dismissed her thoughts about who was what to whom and decided that that was maybe her own problem – always trying to work out other people's relationships. Was that because she harboured her own desire for someone special in her life? Perhaps, but that's pretty much normal for someone her age. She did have this other terrible habit of drifting off into aimless imaginings.
“I was involved with the boys,” Joram was talking to Bazyli.
She'd missed his question, and mentally kicked herself, to remind her to focus and pay attention.
“Can you tell us the whole story, from the beginning?” Amelie smiled.
Bazyli glanced at her with an odd expression on his face. Somewhere she thought, between are you listening and it’s me asking the questions. But she ignored him, trying to recover some semblance of professionalism, and still smiling at Joram.
He obviously responded well to her charms. “I can tell you what I know, but that isn't everything. You will need to talk to Halil.”
“Okay, but tell us your part.”
“And I get what?” He grinned and looked at Bazyli.
Carefully Bazyli took out his wallet and counted out some notes. He handed the money to Joram. Amelie had no idea how much he'd paid him, but that was obviously how things got done here.
“I worked with this guy Stefan,” Joram started to explain. “Let's walk.”
They exited the hanger together and made their way across the open port to the wharf, where they sat on some crates next to the water’s edge. Joram explained about Stefan, how he took photos and made pornographic films for another guy called Rushid.
Bazyli interrupted telling them he had some place to be, that he would leave Amelie with Joram, and she could call a taxi when she was finished. Bazyli really didn't want to waste the whole day, Amelie said she didn't want any photos, so why hang around?
“I'll call you tonight,” he got up to leave.
They watched him walk off, and Amelie pondered over whether she shouldn't have got him to snap Joram. Anyway too late, she always had her phone.
Joram continued his story about Stefan and the events leading up to a tragic night when a kid called Amar had been run over and another boy Samir hurt.
“Did you know both these boys?”
“Not very well.”
He was rather circumspect about his involvement in all this, telling Amelie that everyone here knew what happened, and that the police were looking for Stefan and Rushid. Joram told her a lot, a bit like when she had met Jordan, but unlike Jordan, she sensed that he wasn’t giving her the whole story.
She wasn't concerned with whatever it was he wanted to hide, or maybe he just wanted to distance himself from things, what with the police being involved, and two boys in hospital. None of that mattered to her. What struck Amelie, were the names, Amar and Samir.
When Joram mentioned the boys names her skin went cold, she literally shivered in the sweltering temperature. Joram must have noticed, because a concerned expression crossed his face.
“Are you okay?” He reached out to gently hold her arm.
“Yes,” Amelie desperately tried to recover. “It's just those names.”
“What do you mean? Do you know these boys?”
She pulled herself together. It took quite some effort, but the little voice inside her head that was the journalist, told her to follow things through, get the information - that's what you have to do.
“No, I don't know them, it is just such a harrowing tale.”
Joram's face had a completely blank expression. “What? I don't understand.”
“Sorry,” she smiled. “Such a terrible thing to happen.”
Recognition, now he understood. Joram put her reaction down to her being a woman and hearing about the accident. For him it was just another story amongst hundreds of similar histories and it didn't really mean anything, but for someone like her he thought, it could be shocking.
“Yes, terrible,” he sympathised, but he felt nothing really for those boys, he just liked this young lady he was talking with.
Amelie realised that she had most probably got all she was likely to from Joram, but she thought to herself, before the meter runs out, I need to meet this other guy, Halil.
“Could you take me to see Halil please Joram? I would very much like to talk to him as well.”
“Sure, no problem,” he smiled and stood, holding out a hand to help her up.
Bazyli, she thought, would never do that. “Thank you,” she said, getting to her feet.
When they arrived at the makeshift camp on the other side of the railway tracks, Halil wasn't there, but Firas and Rifat were. Joram made brief introductions, then took Amelie's hand in his and smiling said goodbye.
Amelie could see straightaway that the two boys were nervous. She guessed the younger one must be about twelve or thirteen, the other older, maybe sixteen? How to put them at ease and win them over? That was her problem, the obstacle she needed to surmount.
The two boys sat side by side on a wooden plank with Amelie seated opposite.
“Joram told me about some of what happened with a man called Stefan,” she started.
Immediately Firas looked away, put his head down, and stared at the ground. Instinctively, to both comfort and protect him, young Rifat put an arm around his friend's shoulders.
Whoops, Amelie thought, I've put my foot in it. “I’m sorry,” she continued gently. “I didn't mean to bring back bad memories for you, but...” She paused, trying to gauge their reactions, but not being able to see Firas’ face, made that difficult.
“It's not just because I'm a journalist looking for a story. I am of course, but I have a friend who lives in America. He's a nice young man about my age who I met only a short while ago, before I came here. Before I was sent here by my editor, by my newspaper.” She added newspaper because she wanted them to understand. She wanted to avoid the mistake of earlier, talking English as though they spoke it like her, which she knew they didn't.
Were they listening, following, did they understand?
“Do you understand?” Amelie looked at the boy Rifat.
“Look lady. I think you should go. You're making Firas very sad.”
Amelie stood up. She was not insensitive and could see she was just making things worse.
“Perhaps I could come back another time?” She asked hopefully.
“What for? Why? Nothing will be different.”
She was about to walk away and leave them, but she just couldn't get Jordan's story out of her mind. She had to ask. Even if the names were simply common names, but it seemed so weird. It seemed ridiculous when she had told Jordan, if I hear anything I'll let you know, and now she had heard something.
“My friend in America,” she said hesitantly.
Rifat scowled at her, not happy she hadn't left yet.
“He knew some boys like you... his name is Jordan.”
Firas looked up, tears were streaming down his face. “You're lying! You’re lying!” He screamed at her, then dropped his head into his hands, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Look what you’ve done,” Rifat told her angrily.
Now Amelie was torn between staying and leaving, hurting the obviously distraught boy or comforting him. She carefully sat down on the edge of the wooden plank next to Firas.
“I am not lying,” she whispered. “Jordan told me he took three boys through Turkey and on a yacht to the island of Rhodes, where he left them. He got a phone call awhile ago saying they made it to the Greek mainland...” She paused a moment.
“I think you may be one of those boys?”
Firas threw his arms around her neck and buried his head in her chest, still sobbing. “Oh lady,” he said between his uncontrollable emotions. “Is it true?”
Amelie stroked his hair gently as tears escaped her own eyes – this was unbelievable!
“Yes. It is true.”
Halil returned to find his cousin and Firas both hugging a nice looking lady and everyone crying.
He coughed, “Ah what's happened? Is everyone okay?”
Amelie took in the young man standing in front of her. He was roughly her age she guessed, tall, tanned, black hair. Actually he was quite good looking.
“The boys have had a bit of a shock,” she looked up into his eyes.
“You are?” Halil looked at her.
“Amelie Richter,” she smiled. “I'm covering the refugee crisis here in Greece, for the Toronto Globe. I'm from Canada.”
Firas released his hold on Amelie and recovering his emotions a little, he simply sat still beside her. Rifat spoke up, “She knows the American... the friend of Firas, Amar and Samir.”
Halil was trying to process all the information, what had happened, who Amelie was, and perhaps most importantly, what was she doing, what did she want?
“Rifat, can you make some tea please?”
He wanted to find out what was going on, but he didn't want to appear to eager for information.
This was the typical Arab mentality, turn the event into a casual social affair so as to find out what was happening without it being obvious.
“So you are from Canada?” He smiled at Amelie. “That's a long way.”
“Yes it is,” she answered, but feeling an urgent need to get back to the topic at hand, the revelation, or the confirmation, that these were the boys Jordan had told her about, the boys he had rescued.
“Firas,” she turned to the young boy next to her. “I am right then. You are the boys that Jordan brought out of Turkey on a yacht?”
Firas nodded, but didn't speak because Halil was looking at him very strongly, and immediately interrupted her question.
“What is all this to you? Why do you want to know about us? Are you really a journalist from Canada?”
“Of course I am. Why would I lie?”
“I don't know, but people lie all the time.”
Rifat had lit the little gas ring and the water was boiling. Firas was resting his chin on his hands with his elbows on his knees. There was a strange mix of emotions floating between the group. Amelie thought that it was very understandable that they would be suspicious of a stranger.
She searched in her bag a moment, and found her journalist card, which she withdrew and handed to Halil. He took it, glanced at it, sat down and handed it back to her. He wasn't sure what the card said.
“Joram brought me here,” she told him.
Rifat arrived with the teapot and glasses on a tray, which he carefully put down on the table between them, taking a seat next to his cousin.
There was silence as Halil made no reply to her statement that Joram brought her here. He waited, watched, then when he thought the tea might have brewed long enough, he flipped open the lid of the teapot to inspect it. Then he lifted the pot and poured a little into one of the glasses. Satisfied it was ready, he lifted the pot into the air as he filled the glass with a tall stream of hot tea.
Carefully he repeated this rather theatrical display until all four glasses were full. Then he handed one glass to Amelie, and one each to the boys.
“It's hot,” he warned her.
The sounds of the port and the sea drifted around them caressing their bodies just like the heat from the blazing hot sun. It was an odd oasis in the midst of a concrete desert.
“I expect you are looking for a story for your... newspaper,” Halil emphasised the final word as if he was spitting something distasteful from his mouth.
“If I can help you, I will,” she looked him straight in the eyes.
Halil picked up his glass and sipped the hot sweet tea.
He formed his judgement. He might not trust her completely. He didn't care for her being a journalist. She may or may not be able to help in some way. But most importantly, she seemed genuine.
Time passed as they drank the tea, with little being said, just occasional glances. It was obvious to Amelie that everything rested with Halil, and whatever he decided.
Finally he spoke. “Well I doubt Joram told you too much.”
Amelie looked across at him, placing her glass back down on the table.
“He wouldn't want to tell you about his involvement in everything. You need to be careful here. You can't trust people too much. Everyone is not necessarily how they appear.”
Amelie did not interrupt as Halil slowly told the story of what had happened with Stefan, and then that horrific final stormy night when everything had fallen apart. Occasionally, Firas added a few words, after all Halil only knew the story from him.
When he finished there was another silence between the four of them. A silence that allowed Amelie to take in what she just heard. The worst was that as a result of what happened that night, one boy was in a coma in intensive care, and another had suffered some sort of mental breakdown. He too was in hospital somewhere.
Only Firas was here, and it was apparent to Amelie that the boy was also very emotionally disturbed. She didn't know what she could do, but one thing was certain in her mind, she had to follow the story through.
“I really don't know what I can do,” she told them honestly. “But I have a meeting with a lady at the hospital tomorrow, and I will see what I can find out. It may take awhile, but I will see you again to tell you what's happened. It is terrible that you know nothing about your friends, how they are.”
Halil accompanied Amelie back to the main gates. He wanted to see her safely on her way, but he also wanted a word in private, away from his cousin and Firas.
“It is not exactly true that I know nothing,” he looked at her as they walked together. “I just haven't told the boys. You saw how Firas is.”
They stopped at the gates and Amelie turned to face Halil. She liked him, it was obvious that he was doing his best to look after his young cousin and Firas. He was being strong for them.
“I saw the police. Not too long ago. They told me what happened. They are looking for Rushid and Stefan, but are fairly certain they have left the country. It isn't a big priority. You understand?”
He looked her in the eyes to make sure that she did.
“Samir is in a mental hospital. Locked away. Amar is dead.”
Amelie was physically shaken by the news. The news that one of the three boys Jordan knew and had rescued. A boy that made it out of Syria, through Turkey, and finally to Europe. He had given his life to save his friend.
Tears were in her eyes as they said their goodbyes and parted – It’s a terribly cruel world, she thought, how will I tell Jordan.
In the taxi back to the hotel she also wondered about the boys, Firas and Samir. How ill was Samir? And Firas would have to be told about Amar, it is not something you could just leave. What if he found out by accident? Amelie understood that Halil wanted to protect him, but sooner or later he had to be told, and she thought the sooner the better.