I’ve been crying today. I’m a long way from home, but that is not why I’m crying.

I’ve been walking along a beach, a long way from home… and yet so near for someone with a passport. I’ve been walking along the beach at the edge of the English Channel, or should I say La Manche, given that I’m in Calais?

It’s a beautiful, luminous Sunday, sunny and cold. Many Calaisiens (and an odd Beestonian) are out for a stroll along the beach, with children and dogs, kites and balls. I even saw someone swimming and thought how brave they were. But bravery is so situation-dependent, isn’t it? Some allow us to make personally brave choices, like swimming in a wintery Northern sea; others push us to take our courage in both hands and through desperation, make choices and take journeys and actions that most of us can’t readily contemplate.

I’ve been walking and thinking about someone who was also a long way from any kind of home.

Someone whose name I don’t know, nor where had been home for him before he had to flee and chance his luck and his life to reach a new safer place to call home. Certainly somewhere other than here, in a strife-riven part of the world. Someone who, in the middle of the night took a chance and got inside a lorry in a cargo zone, just 10km from the port.

Someone who almost made it.

Someone who died last night.

I‘m thinking about his family back home who might not know for a long time that he didn’t make it, that he will no longer be calling to let them know that he’s ok. When they haven’t heard from him for some time, I imagine the gradual dawning of despair and grief.

This person, if mentioned at all in the news, will be just one more number of people who died trying to seek safety. But for his people, he was son, brother, grandson, neighbour, in whom so much hope would have been invested. He would have let them know that he reached Calais, that he had found a place to camp in a donated tent on some waste ground, with people from his country or region, people who spoke the same language; that he had food to eat, cooked by strangers and eaten standing on a grubby roadside, or sat around a fire at night in freezing temperatures on that same waste ground far from home.

Maybe he let them know that last night would be the night… maybe any night is the night if you see an opportunity. Chance your luck, run and jump, catch an unlocked door to a truck, keeping your wits about you, hoping the  journey will be quick, hoping not to be found by the driver or border police. Desperation pushes people to make desperate choices, take desperate chances.

I’m a long way from home… with a safe, comfortable home to return to; with a passport and my own transport; with the freedom to cross borders and walk along a beach with the sun on my face and my dog at my side, playing ball; with the ease of life to entertain thoughts of bravery when I see someone bathing in the sea.

This is not written to induce feelings of guilt in any readers, nor even to make a political statement or call to action. That can be done elsewhere. I just needed to write out my distant grief for a life, a person I never met and could never know.

I intended to write a very different piece, about a local group I visited before coming away, but that will wait for the summer issue. Obviously though, The Beestonian is a local-focus magazine, so I have been wondering how this might link to Beeston, other than it’s where I call home; wondering whether it’s even appropriate for the magazine. However, not only am I a descendent of refugees, as maybe many of us are, but also within our community are people who came as refugees; who have made Beeston home and contribute to our thriving, diverse town. Maybe the only difference is chance…?

JB