DISCLAIMER: Stephenie Meyer owns Twilight. I’m here having fun.
Chapter 23: The Rescue
Hell on Earth. It’s the best way to describe life beyond the gate at this island migrant camp in Greece. The sheer magnitude of people trying to live and survive is beyond what we should ask of any human beings.
Samos, which we are touring, is built to accommodate six hundred and fifty people, but there are over four thousand people living here, which is seven times over capacity.
Rose is taking photos quietly the entire time as I hear the constant whirl of her camera’s shutter. It’s how she works—never speaking only observing, while my questions bring passion to the worn, tired faces of those who fear they have no way out.
My brain is overflowing with mental notes, but a deep breath keeps my anxious emotions at bay, wanting to make the most of our approved forty-five minutes we have inside the camp. I jam my hands into the pockets of my pants, trying to contain their building nervous energy. I know I’m not only ready to write but also need to write, purging my overwhelming thoughts and feelings upon the blank pages of a tattered notebook as quickly as my hand will allow.
There are many sides to the issues here, as Greece is the main port where all refugees attempt to land their makeshift boats and rafts. Officials continue in their attempts to move many to the mainland while nearby countries agree to settle hundreds, but not more than a thousand at a time. The process of resettlement is just that a process—one that is long and drawn out with no immediate end in sight, as the number of new daily arrivals exceeds the number of departures.
“That’s it. We have to go,” Z prompts, at the direction of camp officials who have been monitoring our every movement.
I nod my agreement, but a large hand wraps around my arm, jerking me backward. “Miss, please—”
“Hands off.” Z shoves the man as K points her gun in his direction.
He releases my arm, putting up his hands in surrender.
“Now. Move.” Z growls at me, even though I have done nothing wrong.
We’ve pushed the limits of our stay here, but her lack of patience is probably somehow my fault as I’m in no rush to leave. There are so many sad stories to tell, and most just want a chance to be heard. They will have to wait for another time, and I softly thank those who granted us access despite their hesitancy.
“Let’s go.” K pushes us toward our car without another word.
As we depart the camp, S directs K to a nearby location where we switch vehicles again with someone K knows, but Z’s phone alert gets my attention during the ride there. I glance at the screen before she pockets her phone, and I see one word, “Kos.”
Z doesn’t give any kind of reaction to the message, as she appears to be contemplating something.
Everyone is surprised and confused when she finally speaks. “Maybe we should head south.”
S turns around in her seat. “The plan is north.”
Z glances my way briefly and shrugs. “There’s another camp—Kos.”
“Kos? We’re going to Lesbos next,” K reminds, as she and S share a worried look.
I listen to their debate and think nothing of her change in direction until she drops another bit of information.
“There are Syrians who have some information that could be useful, but we may be too late. Never mind, let’s stick with Lesbos.”
At the mention of Syrians, I watch her more closely.
“What type of information?” I ask, as K continues driving north to the Chios to Karlovassi ferry.
I want to ask another question, but stop myself, trying to piece together what she isn’t saying, until one word pops into my head, a name that could connect everything: Binyamin. “Have you found…”
“Bella.” Rose warns from beside me not to push, but I can’t hold back and will gladly take a backhand from K if it means I’ll get answers.
“But you know something.”
Z stares straight ahead. “Papers are issued for refugees at the police station on Kos.”
“So, what’s the big deal? If there’s any chance that Binyamin’s mother and sister could be there, then we need to find them—especially if they are trying to get to him through Greece. Maybe we can help.”
S is quick to dash my hopes. “They may not be there. Many Syrians get their papers, then head for Athens before starting their journey to other parts of Europe. It’s doubtful we would learn anything other than what we already know.”
“Then let’s go back to Athens and search there.”
“Have you forgotten there are people searching for you? We can’t walk into a police station with you in tow and make our demands.” Z huffs, mumbling under her breath loud enough to where I hear it. “Americans can be so stupid and arrogant.”
“You must have a contact. Someone inside if you’ve been able to find out this much.”
Z nods. “Access to the list of processed individuals. On the list—Mina and Sarah Aldeen.”
My heart soars at her words and hope fills my every thought at what this could mean. They’re alive and still fighting to be with Binyamin. “Z—”
“We can’t deny the possibility there are people out there looking for you or others who see you as a quick ransom. We need to focus on our task at hand and not become distracted.”
I sigh in frustration. “We’re going to let this opportunity pass us by?”
K’s narrowed eyes meet mine in the rearview mirror as she tells me with a condescending tone, “You don’t have a choice.”
While I haven’t gone crazy, and I know it’s all in my head, I’m sure I’m the only one who heard her evil laugh, but a quick glance at Rose tells me she probably heard it too.
I look out over the brilliant blue, sparkling waters and try not to hold anything against our current location, as the beauty of Greece is a sight to behold. I can understand why people vacation here with families or friends, as it would be easy to get used to the easygoing island life and never want to leave.
While I’ve never had the chance, I can picture myself lying on the white sand beaches of the Aegean Sea, soaking up the sunshine without a care in the world. I haven’t decided yet, but in that daydream, I’m not alone. I have no idea who is there with me. Maybe it’s Angela, Rose, Hilda, or all of us together, as we drink cocktails and flirt shamelessly with the wait staff.
These thoughts make me miss Hilda. I worry about her, but probably not as much as she worries about me. It makes me really wonder, at times, what we’re doing together and what she sees in me. Maybe she’s a fixer and drawn to broken things. If Rose and I make it out of this experience, Hilda may decide finally that I’m not worth the investment and move on with someone else. We haven’t really defined our relationship with any type of exclusivity, and Hilda hates labels. But I know deep down that if I can’t maintain a relationship with her, is there really a chance for me with anyone?
There’s always a moment or two when I wonder if Edward has ever been to Greece and how romantic it would be to experience it with him. It isn’t easy, but a part of me knows I may never get over him. When I’m not writing or sleeping, my brain constantly examines and re-examines where it all went wrong like one of those frustrating puzzles that can never be solved. With a slight shake of my head to clear my thoughts, I stop daydreaming; tucking away any fantasies I conjure of Edward and focus on my current realities.
We’ve been spending a lot of time traveling between the islands of Greece, as it can take an entire day to get from one location to the next while needing to board multiple ferries to make what should seem like a normally short trip even longer. Sometimes, I wonder if it is because Z suspects we are being followed, then other times, I decide I just don’t care and do what is asked of me, resigning myself to the reality there is no end to our task in sight.
In a few of the less populated areas, Z rents a room, giving us the opportunity for a shower and time to hand-wash our clothes. It isn’t ideal, but I’m grateful they gave us something other than the clothes we were wearing on the night we were kidnapped—a fact I refuse to forget.
Rose and I aren’t here of our own free will, and with much of our recent travel, I’ve thought about ways we could escape, wondering how far we would get. While I believe K would consider shooting us both dead, I know her well enough to know we wouldn’t get off that easy. Her ruthless plan is to use us then sell us to whoever is willing to pay the most money, but not before inflicting her own brand of torture.
We sleep in our vehicle when necessary and are monitored closely when we interact with anyone. Food is always an afterthought, and I don’t know about Rose, but I’ve lost weight over the past couple of months since my birthday. I wasn’t overweight then, but I can tell my curves are dwindling.
I’ve been storing my notebooks and extra clothes in a backpack that Z keeps, while S thoroughly inspects Rose’s camera bag after every stop. There’s no privacy to be had by either of us.
Rose and I are never allowed a moment alone or together, and I’m relieved to be outside of our vehicle when we arrive at our next destination, which is a thought I doubt anyone inside this camp shares.
Moria refugee camp in Lesbos can accommodate approximately three thousand refugees, but there are over ten thousand people here contained and waiting for their next steps.
It looks more like a prison than a camp. We aren’t allowed inside the main camp, but there is an overflow area full of tents set up outside the high fences where plenty of people are willing but anxious to tell us their stories about life past the gate.
Many refugees attempt to protest and riot against the unsanitary conditions, but they do little good as objectors suffer brutal beatings at the hands of police. The camp overflows with streams of raw sewage, making the availability of clean drinking water nearly impossible. There are lines for everything: insufficient food, stagnant toilets, and ice cold showers, which are welcome in summer, but not in winter.
People wait for two or three hours to receive a meal of meager portions, which includes a small packet of food, like chicken and rice, with a piece of flatbread. Many tell me this is where most of the fighting begins with everyone hungry. It’s baffling to know that despite the wait, the food will run out and many will go unfed until the next meal is distributed. Some have given up eating at the camp after numerous people were poisoned by spoiled food, bringing levels of frustration to new heights.
Sexual violence is prevalent, as unaccompanied minors are housed with unrelated males while many women never stray farther than their shelter for the dangers that exist only steps away. The collective mental health of the camp declines daily with a surge in those who self-harm or attempt suicide. Many of the teenagers wish the sea had claimed them during their trip to Greece rather than continue to be subjected to the horrors of life here in the camp.
With uncertain futures, no one seems to know their next steps, and many are prepared to wait in Moria for years for a transfer to elsewhere. Some struggle with depression, but most don’t see an end in sight as hopelessness is the only constant in their daily life. Everyone understands the risk of deportation and refuses to speak negatively about the camp or demand answers from authorities about the status of their paperwork when we prompt them.
Asylum seekers are desperate and disillusioned for reasons I understand completely. This isn’t living—it’s surviving—not only the inhumane living conditions but also the fear of the unknown.
Volunteers at the camp recall a time when the attitudes of locals were ones of kindness and compassion, which has changed over the years to the disappointing current climate of frustration and anger. Residents have found themselves victims of the desperation of migrants while their government continues the daunting task of processing the overwhelming numbers. They are all ordinary people making some of the greatest sacrifices imaginable while standing up for the rights of the lost and forgotten.
I’m exhausted, as we’ve been driving all night, and nod off for what seems like only a moment when I’m jarred awake by the sound of loud pops—gunshots and the yelling begins. I realize our vehicle is no longer cutting a path through the darkness toward our next destination, as we are stopped on a dirt road.
We scream when the glass window behind our seat shatters, and I hear K yelling in the front seat while it sounds like S is returning fire.
“Z—” I attempt to nudge her awake, feeling around for her gun.
I consider the possibilities and conclude we’re probably being ambushed and robbed. I have no idea where we are or even have the ability to protect Rose or myself without a weapon. Z still isn’t moving next to me. As a matter of fact, she’s slumped against the door. How can she sleep through this?
“Get down!” Rose pushes me until my head is between my knees, and we huddle together as the yelling continues.
“But I think Z’s shot.”
“Shut up, Bella,” Rose hisses. “Do you want to die here?”
“Drop your weapon! Now!” Someone orders from outside our car.
More shots are fired, and I do my best to muffle my ears from the loud noise.
Whoever it is can speak English and continues to yell, “Out of the vehicle. Hands where I can see them!”
I hold up my hands, squinting at the bright searchlights, which move about the inside of our vehicle, then remain trained on our faces. I’m blinded and can’t see anything when Rose’s door is ripped open and we’re pulled abruptly from the back seat.
I can’t get a good look at anyone’s face, but everyone is wearing a similar military uniform as others swarm our car.
“On your knees. Hands on your heads,” another voice commands. “Check the other one in the back seat.”
I sneak a glance in Z’s direction, then at Rose who has her hands on her head and eyes trained on the ground, and do the same before I upset anyone for not following orders.
“Cuff them. Not those two.” The one giving orders taps the bottom of my shoes. “Stand up. Take Swan and Hale and put them in the front seat of the truck.”
My heart sinks—they know who we are.
When I turn around, I’m met with the steely gaze of a tall, muscular man who is clearly in charge. While he’s intimidating physically and could crush me without a second thought, this may be my only chance, depending on where we are headed, so I push for answers.
“How do you know who we are?” I huff, jutting out my chin. “And what makes you think we’re going anywhere with you?”
Dad always told me in a situation like this to let no one take me to a secondary location if I can help it. I think we’re still in Greece, and we could probably get help at a border crossing station, unless we’ve already passed through one while I was asleep, then we would need to go back.
Maybe my talking will buy me time while I put together a plan for Rose and I to run for it or at least put up a fight. I’m looking around and counting how many men there are—three? No, there are two more over there. I count five men and another in the driver’s seat of their truck. Six. Shit. We’re outnumbered and one knee to the groin won’t get us very far with those odds.
For the tiniest second, I consider if I can free K and S, adding them to the plan, as I’m not sure if the devil I know or the one I don’t is a better choice.
He chuckles, as if he knows what I’m thinking. “You’re going with us. Orders are orders and these come from the top.”
“I want to speak with your boss.”
“I’m sure you do.” He waves toward K and S who are cuffed and kneeling beside the road. “Let’s load the others in the back. Is the car drivable?”
“Yes, sir, only superficial damage.”
“Follow us back.”
I panic, not trusting whoever this group is, and play the only cards I have left. “I know people and have connections. We can get you money, if that’s what you need.”
He gives no response only waiting for Rose and me to follow orders.
“I heard you. Let’s move out!” With his words, everyone takes their places while I hold onto Rose’s arm, preventing her from moving. I’m adamant about knowing who we are dealing with and where we are headed at least.
“Who are you?” I press once more.
“Lieutenant Clapp, United States Navy SEAL, ma’am. Now, get in the truck.” He points toward the cab, then turns toward the back of our vehicle.
My body sags in relief as I let his words sink in.
K’s abuse, S’s drugs, and Z’s grand plans for vigilante justice are over.
“Where are we going, Lieutenant?”
“We have a base and airstrip nearby.”
“And from there?”
The thought of being back in Berlin or nearby fills me with a hope I haven’t felt for the past couple of months.
“Okay.” I agree happy to have some answers finally, then remember something—my notebooks and Rose’s camera bag and want to grab them before they get lost in the shuffle. “Wait. Our stuff—”
“Is it in the vehicle?”
“Then it will be returned once we go through everything.”
I follow Rose into the cab of the truck, and she laces our hands together.
“It’s over,” she confirms my thoughts, her eyes filling with tears.
I nod, watching her wipe away the few that fall. “I know, but we still have a story to tell—a lot of them. We’ll come back. Maybe I’ll volunteer in some way. People in the camps need everything, but especially to be heard.”
“I like that idea, but it will be on our terms.”
“And with Binyamin. We’re close to finding his answers.”
A/N: Huge thank yous to LizziePaige, Honeymoon Edward, purpleC305, and Midnight Cougar for their help with this story. xx