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Chapter 1
#1
Asha lay on his back watching the plumes of smoke drift around the small dimly lit room. The children were asleep in the next room. His wife lay next to him cuddling into his side. They'd just finished making love. Feeling safer than he'd felt for a long time, a long time since he'd felt this affectionate, at least since leaving Libya, largely through lack of privacy he thought. He glanced down into her face which was tucked under his arm. All the worries and goings on at the embassy, the leaving, the long journey, then the queuing and the waiting and queuing and waiting. That was what had taken them here, to what now felt like safety, near the German border. But what had led to this, he had felt the rest of the family finally relaxing too. 
The last bus trip had had to be the last; he had started to feel like they could go no further. This had to be the end. They had gone through the processing and been shown an apartment with showers, toilets and a working kitchen with a gas oven, (No-more lighting fires by the side of the road) which Gheeta his wife had immediately put to use and had straight away prepared a meal with what tins she'd been able to get her hands on and used up the last of her spices, (she'd been so careful protecting them the whole way. He assumed it was her hope that had driven her on. The dream of once again cooking for her family. Something normal to cling to). Well, that had been the meal, and after,Khalim and Shama (his son and daughter) started chasing each other round the table and a laugh broke through the quite chill that had been following them the whole way. This sort of felt normal again he thought.
It had been their first meal, just them as a family round a table, perhaps this normalness could continue. In the back of his mind, though, and coming quickly to the front, was that question again, what had led to this. He was brought suddenly back to the present by a gentle tock, tock at the door. He turned and glanced at his watch on the side table next to him. It was nearly 1 o'clock in the morning.
Sliding as gently as he could so as not to wake Gheeta from the bed, he pulled his trousers on. The tock tock repeated itself a bit harder and he noticed the eyes watching from the bed. Leaning over her he kissed her forehead gently, forcing a smile he gently whispered “its ok, I'll see what it is”.
He opened the door to see two fellow Libyans he'd spent the last couple of weeks with. “The imam has called for a meeting now we are here, are you coming?”. Wiping his eyes he stared at them. “What's it about?” he whispered, he saw the two men shrug and turn waving him quietly to follow. “Just a minute”. 
He went back into the bedroom. “Just got to go out for a few minutes, it's nothing, don't worry”. He smiled again though he knew from the look returned it didn't work. He saw the fear returning to her eyes as he turned away. 
Closing the door quietly behind him he slipped out and followed the other two. Up the stairs to the next floor they went and along the corridor. His heart was beating more noticeably as he saw the men in their thawbs hanging around a door. He heard whispers coming from within. As they got there they squeezed into the room, behind them the door was shut with a gentle thud. Inside, he saw the imam sitting crossed legged on the bed. The room was small and now packed. The air was full thick with whispers and the heat heavy. Everyone else had to stand as there was no room. He counted seven faces he recognized and a few others he had never seen before. Staying at the back by the wall he tried to look as inconspicuous as possible. He had been wondering since leaving his family, what could this be about? 
The imam started chanting a prayer and the responses were whispered by the congregation. This was normal prayers, it comforted him a bit. After a few minutes, the prayers came to their end. “Allāhu Akbar”. 
The imam opened his eyes and lifted his head passing his eyes for the first time around the crowd. “Good evening” he started with a bow to the crowd. With hands together, Asha bowed back in unison with the others. Everyone stood watching the imam, waiting for him to speak, he held his silence and waited. Slowly the whispers around Asha started: questions not aimed at anyone in particular, echoed round the room, the same questions he'd been asking himself. “Was this their final destination, what should they do now, questions of food, money, work and looking after their families” spread like a hum around the room. Finally the imam opened his mouth “Did everyone see the shouting, banners and crowds around the buses as they came, the anger on their faces. Did any-one feel safe” he asked. The chatter started again. Listening carefully Asha felt the mood in the room turn from insecurity...to anger. These were people who hadn't had the place to vent their feelings for a while and now there were the first signs of the frustration and anger flowing out in public.
The imam called for quiet with his hands patting the air in front of him. The power of his office showed as the voices dissipated into a murmur, and then to silence. The rhetoric Asha had heard before, started again. Trust in Allah, them (the infidels) and us. Highlighting the differences; it was comforting in a way though deep down he knew this was what he'd been running away from. Nodding where he needed to and bowing with deferential movements he followed along though his stomach was now turning. This continued for a while and Asha didn't want to hear the next bits, he had heard it all before. Squeezing past people he slipped back out of the door. He knew people would notice him leaving but he wanted to get back to the warm bed with his wife and the comfort and security of his family.
On the way back to his room, he turned quietly to the two who had knocked on his door and had also followed him. “This is ridiculous; we are here and whether we like it or not, we all made the decision when we left: we were heading for a new life....”. The two others nodded: they each had a wife and children and he guessed they each felt the same as him. They wanted to spend time with their families. Stopping at his door he looked the two men in the eyes he said “In England they have a saying, it is very simple and I think this occurs to all of us now, “don't shit on your own doorstep, this is now our doorstep!!” with a slight smile to lighten the mood a bit (though he didn't feel light in his soul).   “As-Salamu alaykum”, “Wa-Alaykum salaam” He opened the door and sneaked back in.
Asha had been a good student at school, and lucky. His grandfather had got to know a German writer/reporter when working at the restaurant at the ex-patriates golf club. He had asked him to teach his grandson and Asha had been happy to help his grandfather at work and obeyed him. He had accepted to learn German for this reason though he really didn't know why. “Just trust your Grandfather” his grandfather had said. “One day it might come in useful”. Through helping out there, listening intently, watching new things, his eyes had been opened wide by these strange infidels with their clothes, cars and the cultural mixes they brought with them; he saw Italians, English and the odd German. He had learned English quite well and having been taken under the wing of the German he had also learned some German . He was clever and soaked up everything he could. His grandfather had always encouraged him. His grandfather had been right, these two things, English and German had helped him get his job working at the embassy.
As he stepped in through his door he saw Gheeta standing by the stove, “tea?” she whispered trying to smile. He glanced at his watch, 2.30. He nodded glumly; he couldn't keep up the pretense. 
As he sat heavily at the table, a picture was fixed in his head. As he sat, the picture took shape and he started to relive that painful day in his head........
The letter that had passed his desk as a secretary at the embassy... it started coming back to him... that moment not of decision but panic that had started this all. That moment, as if from God, the explosion shattered the glass in the office, bombs exploding....whether from ISIS or another breakaway group from Al-Qaeda or France or England or was it the Americans or even from the Russians, he didn't know;  it didn't really matter, the thing was, the destruction was all around. Almost unconsciously he took  the letter that he had just opened and had started to read just as the bangs started, it was open and instinctively he folded it and put it into his pocket as he rushed for the door with the other office workers in a panic to get outside...
(he now saw how ridiculous it was; why had he taken it? Allah only knew)
...out of the walls that would crush them, into the hell outside, where others were rushing around in panic like ants running in every direction to get away from the dust and rubble 
choking the air, ducking and guessing where the next explosion would come from, running in a zigzag he headed roughly for his home, where his family was; would it still be there, their little home? Eventually, he got there and found Gheeta holding the childrens’ heads, protecting them under her hijab; all kneeling under the table. He heard the sobs emanating from under her cloth and the look of sheer horror on her face. He joined them holding the mound, his family, in his shaking arms under the table knowing the complete futility of it. They had stayed like this for what seemed like an eternity till the silence started echoing after the barrage of explosions. Through her tears she looked up at him, “take us away from this pleeasse, for the children” she begged, the sounds coming through blocked lungs as the dust was now swirling through the open door. “OK, OK” he promised, as he had tried to get hold of himself. 
Sitting at the table now that rush of panic started coming back to him. Gheeta came over, distracting him as he felt the hairs on his back, the nightmare going on in his head, tears were trickling down his face. Gheeta came behind him and put the cup of tea on the table and put her arm round his shoulder; he looked up through his tears and saw her softening look at him. It almost made him feel worse. “What’s the problem” she said. “We are safe now, there are no bombs and our children are safe, as you promised me, you have done” as if she read his mind, Her smile warmed him. It was what he loved her for, she always made him feel like everything was OK, he felt the comfort and the tears slow, his stomach relaxed a little, still once again. Then like an electric shock, deep in his gut he felt the stab of panic again. It had suddenly become tight inside him once again. He slipped a hand behind his pocket into the lining, with a useless hope that perhaps this was unreal; he felt the rough folded piece of paper in his pocket instantly, feeling it burning and his face fell again. 
The softness in Gheeta’s face hardened a bit as he felt the anxiousness taking hold of him again. “Is there something your not telling me, what was that meeting about?. What is it that is scaring you....”.  Asha looked deep into her eyes and felt the panic and tears whelling in his eyes again. He couldn't hold it to himself anymore..... “I guess its just the stress, we are OK now”  he could feel it coming out as a question though he didn't want it to. She crouched now, looking up into his deep eyes, “what is it......talk to me......something isn't right....tell me” she pleaded. He felt the panic now, could he tell her? His whole body slumped as he pulled the paper from his pocket and placed it on the table. “Its a secret communication between Daesh, through my boss, I was reading it when the bombing started, I don't know why, I put it in my pocket in panic when I left the office that last time”. He looked at her, she was staring at it. He saw her hand was starting to shake as it hesitantly approached the folded piece of paper on the table. It stopped suddenly and she pulled back her hand and placed them both firmly back in her pockets. She turned her back and she went back to the sink. “This is men's stuff, talk to the men. I don't want to know. We are safe and I don't want to know.” She left and walked out back to the bedroom without another word. Asha sat still for a while longer before following her back to the room. He hesitated in the doorway, drawn back to the paper on the table; he turned back and re-pocketed the letter.
A short while later when they'd finished washing up together in silence, him drying, they went back to their room. Climbing back onto the bed, with the comforting warmth of her body he touched her gently, she turned to him, his hand glided through her  shalwar kameez towards her breast, following the round contours, they kissed and made love again though this time it wasn't like before. There was now a tension between them. He tried hard to block the other thoughts out and it felt quite mechanical till he slid off her and lay in silence staring at the ceiling.
The next morning it all seemed more distant, sitting in the courtyard behind the building he watched the mists clear over the mountains and pine trees that stretched in an ordered fashion into the distance. So unlike home he thought. Here there wasn't the dry dusty feeling. Humid and cold, he shivered and let his eyes cross the courtyard. All the men hanging together, smoking and children running, playing. He felt claustrophobic. He had to get out of here. He went back to their apartment.
“Gheeta, where is my office suit” he shouted, “We did bring it didn't we”. A few minutes later she came out of the bedroom with the suit over her arm. “Its not quite as smart as when you bought it” she smiled remembering the look of pride on his face when they had bought it. It had been just before starting his job at the embassy. How long ago that seemed now, her smile cracked a little, “I have had to repair it a bit” she held out the arm and he could see the repair she'd made. She had used a thread that was as close to the original colour she'd been able to find though it was still easily visible. “I need to get out of here for a bit,” he said. Putting on the suit he felt a flash of pride as he saw himself In the mirror. It gave him a feeling of being important again. Going down the back stairwell he hoped not to be seen by those inside. He opened the door at the bottom, stuck his head out and looked around. There were two small children playing on heir own with a partly deflated football. “Pssst” he  called to the two kids. He beckoned them over. “I am looking for a hole in the fence here at the back; any idea where I might find it?” he said in childish tones, trying not to scare them but make it more of a game. The children looked up, “The fence is broken over there, we use it when the ball goes over”; “thank you little ones. Does anyone see you when you collect your ball?”, they both turned and shook their heads, “go on back to your game and if I see your ball go over when I am the other side, I will collect it for you, ok?” “ok” They ran back to where they were playing. Taking one last look around, he walked fast towards where the children had pointed. Slipping out carefully trying not to be seen, he left the building behind. It was nice to be alone again, walking; he didn't know where he was going, just followed the road.
Eventually, he found himself on the outskirts of the town. He was quickly aware of the glances in his direction and hoped his disguise made him fit in better or at least confuse the townsfolk. He didn't want any trouble and was glad he had thought to get out of his normal garb. It seemed to be working, he got glances but generally people walked on past.
How he ended up in the church he didn't really know. Perhaps it was  the bells sounding the hour that had drawn him. He came across it as he got to the center of the town, standing majestically with its spires reaching upwards towards the heavens. Being the tallest building, apart from the new modern office blocks, with the obvious age difference, he knew it to be a place of worship. He went in through the big arched doorway, similar but less curvy than the doorway to the mosques he'd been in, less colourful he thought. 
It was empty as he walked in. Seeing the ordered rows of benches stretching out facing the front he was drawn down the central aisle. Eyes up, he took in the grandeur, feeling the strain on his neck halfway down, in awe as the pillars merged high above. He slid as quietly as possible (sensing the slightest rustle echoing round through the loud silence) into one of the rows and sat down. He bathed in the light filtering through in the many colours of the stained glass and onto the altar at the front.
There was a familiar glow of calm now radiating inside him. He sat lost in his thoughts.
He was unaware of a few people that had started gathering in and near the doorway behind him.
There was a tapping on his shoulder and a gentle face with a voice to match brought him back from his thoughts. Noticing the white collar and black robe, the words floating in his direction starting to take form, he noticed the man’s concerned look and, following his glance behind him, he picked up the crowd growing behind at the entrance to the church. 
“Please,” the reverend spoke in an accented English, waving with his hand towards a side door. (the entrance to the vestry). Not hesitating, though unsure, Asha led the way. The smile had been friendly. Opening the door, the priest again said “please” with a gentle smile now. Asha timidly entered, he felt slightly uncomfortable in a church. 
Once inside, holding out his hand, Johan introduced himself. Asha took his hand and shook it.  “As- salaam alaykum”.  Johan said. A bit taken aback Asha replied, ““WaAlaykum salaam , Johan”. Asha smiled. “Please” Johan waved his hand to the table in front of him, “would you like a cup of tea”. Asha put his hands together as in prayer and bowed. “Thank you.....Johan”. Pulling out a chair “please sit” Johan continued on to the little stove in the corner of the vestry. Taking the kettle off the stove he went to the deep porcelain sink. There was a large old kettle with a long spout and there was a dull clunk as he lifted off the lid. "I am sorry, they are good people, its just they have never seen a Muslim, you are Muslim?" Asha nodded, " they have never seen a Muslim in here; you are the first to my knowledge". He turned the tap on and water rushed out. He only let it run a couple of seconds. Putting back the lid he turned back to the stove. Asha was sitting down, gazing up at the ceiling. “This is the first church I've been in, it is very dark, though impressive”. he added
Johan placed the kettle on the oven. “I have to confess, I have never been into a mosque”. He reached for a box of matches. Turning the gas handle on he then opened the box of matches and pulled one out. “In the mosques I've been to, there is a lot of light and they are very open to the air. Here it is very different” noted Asha. “the feeling is very different. I guess it has to do with the different climate” he felt he had tactfully replied. Having stuck the match there was a whoosh that made Asha jump as Johan held it to the gas burner. “Different building material I guess as well” with a smile. Johan went back to the table and sat next to Asha while waiting for the water to boil. Asha turned to Johan “I have seen many churches from the outside on my journey here through Europe and even in Tripoli. They seem to be all the same grey stone”. Johan nodded with a serious look on his face, “Please describe to me a mosque; between us, you are the only one to have seen both”. Asha's face lit up, “Back home the mosque we went to for prayers was open to the light and the air, the stone was marble all around, big open arches. As I walked in, there was a water fountain with a pool glittering with the marble pattern below, it was in front of the main archway, the entrance. The main hall doesn't  have seats like here. There are a few shelves as you walk in for your shoes and nearby there is a sink for washing your hands from the dirt outside, part of the practice for prayer, you see. There is a lot of light that comes in from all sides. In the four corners are stairs leading to the towers from where people are called to prayer, I assume like your bells used to be for. I notice that people don't come any more to the call, why??”. Johan sat back with a smile on his face, “the modern world I guess. The pings of computer games seem more appealing nowadays than the ring of church bells”. “I have to admit I have seen the way communications have changed and everyone, even the old have phones, it can't be a bad thing the facility with which people can now communicate, keep in contact with family” Asha drifted away “things are changing but, too fast for......I understand why there is a big push in Islam to go back to the original ways” he looked up at Johan. Johan sat looking at him with a relaxed but serious face on him: “Faith is thought to be less needed nowadays here as well: I think I understand what you mean; our church too is fighting for ways to recapture the heart of communities". He hesitated "When I say fighting, we have had many truths come out about our church that gives the wrong image of Christianity and as you say, people have less need or time for religion with computers and phones, Christianity isn't cool any more, Christianity is dying according to the media here and there is a bit of truth in that, though I think it is not only Christianity. Having talked to other religious leaders here I hear the same thing from Jewish and Muslims. The young are going less and less to church. There is less need for faith, as you said, with communications and ” he grinned “google, there are answers available to everyone on the internet”. Asha too grinned, “Google, I know” his face became more serene. “I think there is the same fear in Islam; there is still hunger, pain and war so I believe that keeps the need of faith going. There is also I think, with us, more connection in the family to pass on the ideas, Here I get the impression that there is less connection through generations to the wisdoms of the old. Religion is still carried on from father to son back home”. Johan added in, “Respect for the wisdom of the old, “ he smiled ironically, “here family stays together less. Money I guess has given a freedom for the young; the old are not 
looked after by the young here, there are ways society now looks after the old. I think it is less personal and definitely less respectful, the curses of modernity” he laughed, continuing ” I can't blame the young for spreading their wings, I too, when I was young and hadn't joined the church, I travelled a bit...I suppose also that with less hunger and pain, the need for faith seems to be being replaced by spirituality. Modern spirituality seems to be lightly based around Buddism. Once, when travelling, I found myself in Nepal, the home of Buddhism, I was interested in 'spirituality' back then and found myself drawn to Buddhism. I studied while I was there, Meditation , Yoga, and a few other things, compassion being a main draw that eventually led me to the church” Asha looked on intently. “Buddism is not really a religion and I find I am unsure exactly what to call it but it is more like a Philosophy.” “Asha butted in “Like your religion!” Johan laughed out loud. “It can be seen that way. I like to think that because Islam and Christianity believe in one God or Allah, as you call him, they are religions, Buddism doesn't really have a God....well that part is actually a bit confusing there are many gods but they are also all the same god”. Asha looked confused. “In Nepal I found Buddhism was about learning to be good in oneself, leading to being able to pass that on to help others be good in themselves too. I have found this has warped a bit here in the West; there are many practices that have been converted for modern life: the result I feel has been diluted. The part of being good in oneself has led to Egoism, selfishness and the part that passes it on is lacking,......“ he smiled to himself, “like politics, money is what it is about, there are two parties here: one believes in putting government help, money, to help businesses; the belief there is that it will filter through to the poor. Make their lives better. In a way it works but on the whole, it seems to be separating the rich from the poor. I think the same with Buddhism: it doesn't filter past the self, that seems to be the most important thing in real Buddhism as I saw it. What I think seems to be missing is the realization that happiness comes largely from giving not taking, though the modern world pushes that it is what you have or want that makes you happy. It is, unfortunately, a never-ending series of disappointments”  he said with a smile on his face, Asha looked puzzled. Johan stopped and looked at Asha, “please forgive me, I can preach a bit to much, I am sorry, I am being rude, can I help you with anything”. Asha felt embarrassed “I....;I guess I am seeking some guidance; I don't know why I came here” after a second of thought he lowered his voice, “perhaps Allah led me to your door, it is the only explanation I can give“. “what is your.....quandry,” he asked. Asha was feeling a bit lost at this: “Errh, if you are asking, I am wondering, I am with the new arrivals at the hostel, I am from Libya, there are many others with us from home and Syria and a few other places, I think others like me have come to get away from the war, it is no place to bring up children, most are good people that just want to give the best they can to their children. I was with the men in a meeting with our religious leader, our.....priest. There is a lot of discomfort and I feel....the priest is not guiding us correctly to integrate with our new neighbors, your people, I agree there are a few of your people that don't want us here. Most of us have seen similar problems back home and that is a disappointment to many of us but we understand. I don't really know why I am here but now that I am,......perhaps one day you could pass by at the hostel and show the others that, sorry I don't know really how to say it but , show the others that the infidels are not monsters really, I just thought of it and perhaps it will help balance the people. I know we 
are new here and perhaps we need some help from people like you?, I am sorry to ask but perhaps...”, "It is a bit different(??) but you are right, I would be happy to help and yes, it is my job to welcome new people into the community. I am grateful” he nodded “thank you for showing me the error of my ways. It should not be for you to ask but I should have thought of it sooner”, the water started whistling in the kettle. “Would you like a cup of tea and I will drive you back after and perhaps you can introduce me to some of the people”. They stayed a while together and eventually Johan drove Asha back to the Hostel
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