My name is Jeremy, I am 18 years old and I am from Gambia. I left my country because I want a better life. I have two sisters and two brothers but I am the only one who fled home. My father died in the countryside after a motorbike accident. After he passed away, we were even poorer than before.
I find Jeremy on my doorstep; it’s an afternoon in May. He is standing by the gate, alone, observing the houses around. I find it weird that he is here; they usually all go to the centre or by the sea. Instead, he is on my doorstep looking at the surrounding buildings.
Hi, are you ok? Yes, I’m ok. What are you doing here? Are you lost? No, I was looking at the buildings. These are beautiful buildings. Fancy coming to my house? I have a super tasty pudding, it’s a local dessert. I don’t want to disturb. You don’t, really! Let’s go.
My mum, unaware of our conversation, smiles at him and caresses his shoulders. My dad opens the door and after the initial surprise, he stumbles to let our guest in and shakes his hand.
When Jeremy leaves, I see a dark shadow on my mum’s face and I know that she is thinking what I am thinking. The way he put his trust in us is disorientating. I offered him a pudding but I could have hurt him. I could have kidnapped him and nobody would have known.
Who knows their names? Their faces are anonymous. They are numbers that indicate the day they disembarked and when they were registered. They are bodies whose stories do not interest us because we are too scared to get out of our bogus righteousness and comfort. We absolve ourselves so easily and we build walls of excuses because we don’t want to see it. We don’t want to do anything about it. We don’t want to say anything.
He came from far away and he’s not scared. Men and life betrayed him yet he still trusts us. We, on the other hand, lock ourselves in our houses, jealous of our peaceful life, unaware of its price paid by others.
The day after, Jeremy waits for me to finish preparing breakfast and tells me that he needs to talk to me about something important. We go food shopping together when gazing at the floor and embarrassed he says: I’ll never forget what you did for me yesterday. I have never eaten such a tasty dessert.
It’s Sunday today: it’s when the family gathers and has lunch together and it’s something that I still miss, even after almost 13 years away from home.
We’ll both give ourselves a break today and go and have lunch at home where there are no queues nor lunch tickets to present for a meal cooked without love. At home, my aunt is waiting for us, she is the one who doesn’t give you, Jeremy, time to breath because she keeps filling your plate. And my dad who looks at you and maybe he thinks that you are the child he never had. He’s certainly hopeful again. He hopes that, one day, the West will pay for its arrogance and that Africa will be able to breathe in deeply, free from oppressors exporting unlikely democracies based on bombs. Jeremy’s mother who – like mine- carried her baby for 9 months and gave birth with pain and hope just to see her child taken away without the consolation of his return. My mother wondering how that other mother faces the dawn of a new day without knowing if her son is still alive. And we do call his mum. And his brother. And on the other side of the phone – after the sea that divides and unites- someone is blessing me. A man thanks me for taking care of Jeremy, because he is still a baby. I tell him not to worry and I see Jeremy covering his face with his hands and laughing. He can’t believe it. And tears come down while he blesses and thanks us in every single language he knows.
*Photo copyright Francesco Faraci
Jeremy and I met on my doorstep in May 2014 while he was observing the surrounding buildings. However, he had arrived on 24th April: on my birthday, fate probably.
I went back home a week later but he had been relocated and we lost contact. Nevertheless, at Christmas I found him on my doorstep, a volunteer who had taken him to heart had invited him back for the holidays. We hugged in disbelief and decided we would not lose each other ever again. Since then, he has been- emotionally speaking- adopted by the whole family and throughout last year many good things happened….good and bad. He finished school with excellent marks, he was selected for a bartender course and we organised a surprise party for his birthday. I don’t think I have ever given a present that was so much appreciated. He went back to Augusta for Easter and almost every afternoon he would go to my parents’ for after-school activities and I saw a new light in their eyes as they spoke about his advances. Things where good in the summer too when he even learnt how to swim without fearing the sea. He’ll be relocated again now. For the umpteenth time. Without a reason, without justice or concern for these tormented creatures’ sensitivity. They are taken and moved like packages, fed and treated approximatively and inadequately. We are waiting for the final response on the asylum request in Italy and, in the meantime, we think about Christmas. When – I hope – we’ll finally gather in the same house where everything started.
Too often, those who speak about migrations seem to forget their profoundly and tragically human side. We do nothing but look at the figures and we lose sight of what really matters. No new life – not even the best possible life – can erase the horror they experienced nor relieve the pain for the absence of their families. Try to imagine for a moment to leave without knowing if you will ever be able to go back where you were born and raised. Think that you’ll never see any of your friends and family again. Think about repeating the word “mum” without anyone answering. Try and recreate that sense of disorientation when you are not able to connect and call home after that the charitable white man of the day remembered to top up your phone. But most of all, imagine the atrocious feeling when speaking to your sick mum over the phone knowing that you can’t be there and feeling helpless. Perhaps you’ll get an idea-although vague and inaccurate – of how those who are insultingly labelled “illegal immigrants” live their life every day.
Translation by Francesca Colantuoni
Original text by Maria Grazia Patania