For hours she waits outside with her son, pleading. Snow drifts down from the sky and they open their mouths to drink the flakes. Guns are pointed at their heads.
No more beds, the watchmen say.
At dusk, the gates finally open. She clutches her son’s cold hand and together they scurry inside like the hunted animals they are. Behind the walls, they are ordered to strip and surrender themselves to being scrubbed and disinfected. Chemicals burn their skins. It’s a rite of passage, a humiliation. Only naked are they welcome to move along.
The gates lock behind them. Starless, the night is dark.
Who leaves a mother behind the wall alone with her son? the chief asks, grinning.
She smiles in gratitude, even manages to bow, but she knows: the commune is ruthless and only looks after itself. What saves their lives, at least for now, are her cartons of eggs and the old-world cake form her son carries on his back.
published 22 September 2016