Refugees on the Train

There were refugees on the train. They’re coming from everywhere. They looked tired. The air of exhaustion that living on the road for months creates. Towns and villages bombed. No one can remember when the war started or where. Was it British jets bombing farms and factories in Libya or the United States carpet bombing Vietnam? Did the war on Iraq make a difference? Did anyone win or lose the wars in Afghanistan?

The refugees are eating unknown food. It tastes vaguely familiar. Orange juice, coffee, burgers. But it’s from different corporate retail outlets.

Father, brothers, sisters, aunts are on the front lines or have disappeared. Detention without trail, torture without end, prison cells deep underground; there is no sunlight, no birds sing. The Gulag of Saudi Arabia the stench of corruption of the Putin regime. The refugees are glad to get a seat on the train. They are moving further from the danger. Anywhere will do. It might be worth crossing the channel. The barrier of the sea gives a feeling of extra safety.

Sometime earlier – perhaps today, or was it yesterday or last week? Time has fused into one long journey. There are vague recollections of night and day. Railway stations without trains, waste ground with the sound of machine gun fire, a disused building. The whole world has washed up here. People carry their possessions in plastic carrier bags. Here and there a suitcase with a broken wheel. Cheap rucksacks with broken straps. It’s Tuesday; it must be Yemen, or perhaps the scene is Palestine. Just another Tuesday. Nothing much to report.

There is nothing but a constant hunger and endless fear. It seems impossible that this hand which holds this bag is part of the same person that a week or two ago was working in an office creating powerpoint presentations and word documents and spreadsheets.

And now that hand is dirty and bloody and holds on desperately to the side of a lorry which lurches and sways through the night. It shows no lights. There are flashes of rockets to the east. Somewhere in the direction of village where nothing ever happened.

Now the residents hang from lampposts or lie buried in the rubble of the village school. No one can understand how that school has become caught up in global conflict. It was falling to bits. Everyone used to laugh at the cranky head teacher. Now he’s dead, his head cut off by someone who listens to the morbid chanting of the big man.

A purple rucksack tips over in the aisle of the train and bumps against my leg. The refugee looks up, frightened, alarmed.

‘It’s ok’, I say, and smile.

She returns the smile, relief.

Is this really so difficult for humanity to solve?

I move seats so they can all sit together. Just a woman travelling with two young children. On her own. Doesn’t the world have enough resources, enough compassion, enough empathy, to sort this out?

‘No one comes round at night to make sure you’re ok, got enough to eat, somewhere safe to sleep’.

I’ve got some time to sort my notebook out.

I went to the pub with a fascinating woman who had me transfixed with her vibrant ideas and world view.

The conversation was expansive and theoretical and grounded in the history of India, the British Empire, global production, property development and speculation, patterns of global investment, ideas of sacred land, the development of Arts and Crafts, William Morris, Gandhi, Shapurji Saklatvala, Karl Marx and all points in between and scattered around with wide tangents. A feeling of being alive.

I don’t think I have ever heard such a fascinating and brilliant history of India and the British Empire. I was enthralled. This is how political meetings should be, and if such, they have the potential to captivate mass audiences.

Anecdotes were thrown in, ‘we went to an industrial town about five hours drive from Mumbai. With intermittent electricity. Basic services. And when we drove back, we started to see this huge city all lit up and people asked, ‘why have they go so much electricity and we have none?!’

Scribbled notes; ‘the story is more important than the object’; ‘the new Empire of Capital’,

I enjoyed that conversation in the pub a great deal. A conversation to be continued.

The train was in tunnels, the presence of the sea could be felt. I walked through the carriages.

‘Do you know what the next station is?’ a group of women asked.

A young-ish man was on the next seats. He was merry and holding a can of beer. From his accent it might be assumed that he was once a refugee, not so long ago, from some land blown apart by war. And all he really wants is to have a job, somewhere good to call home, to live in peace, visit his grandparents and listen to their unlikely stories, and drink beer with his friends.

It takes a lot of ignorant shouting to make people hate each other. This is why the right must bray so loud. Why the Koch brothers and Trump and others (the Saudi Royal family and the supporters of Putin are in this mix) spend so much money on right wing websites and aggressive trolling of social media.

The small family of refugees get off the train. The woman is putting protective arms around her children. They are holding firmly to their cheap pink and purple rucksacks. They have a room tonight. But what about tomorrow?

It’s a global village. We rise or fall on how we act and think. We can succumb to divisions amplified by money power and rich financial interests. Or we can fight through the stench and gloom for the universal solidarity of those who toil and those who are dependent on the world of toil.

The train slows down and stops at the station. People get off. There’s a lot of separation; alienation, isolation, atomisation. But that won’t get us anywhere. It’s like drinking vinegar in the hope it will cure ulcers.

I’m glad I moved seats for that woman and her children. Small acts of kindness, tiny ideas of communism, a particle of solidarity.

What alchemy is needed to put all this into a pot and boil up a revolution?

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