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  • Writer's pictureTony Frobisher

A Sea of Tea

Fingers touching

The source of

Hope and dread

Life and death

I cup the water

Cold and foaming

In my dirt creased palm

A hand that once held

Steaming glasses of tea

In the Al Sadaqa cafe, alive with friends.

What chance of friendship now?

I place my tongue On my empty palm And taste the salt residue Recalling the madjouli string cheese And olives of long ago breakfasts Before the dove coos were Replaced by rocket and bullet I stand and stare At each passing wave Will there be madjouli And šāy ʿarabiyy On the other side?

I taste the salt in the air Mingled with fear I try to imagine that first sip Of sweet black tea Knowing it will taste different Over there, the water will taste of Life, freedom, hope, future Not of bitterness and tears But it is water that remains The most chilling obstacle Will life slip from my grasp As easily as the water Passes through my fingers? Absorbed to nothing in the sand.

Here, drink this, a voice at my side whispers What is it I ask the man, silhouetted in first light Tea. With whiskey. You'll need it, It's cold on the water. I've never tasted alcohol... Al-kuhul, al-kuhl...I smile at the irony Alcohol..a word. Its Arabic origin, but rarely consumed Yet the destination I crave is Awash with alcohol, so they say. I drink to fortify myself, My throat burns, As my city, my country burns. This is not tea.

The silence of the fearful The quiet of those entrusting lives To the shadows. Payments made over tea In a corner of Parc St.Pierre A cup of Calais, but for how much longer? Water. Two molecules of life and one of death? A salvation or a damnation. It's time. The beach is deserted. No dog walkers, no farewell party. No wave goodbye, As the boat pitches in a growing swell.

Is water hope? My hand skims the wave tops, No one talks, but we speak in thoughts Eyes closed, as if it will make time pass more quickly Or eyes open, staring back as the past recedes And staring ahead, willing the future to appear. White Cliff horizons, The solidity of a pebble beach The crunch underfoot, A salt-breeze of hope, Each note lingering In the briny air.

I'm cold. The effects of the whiskeyed-tea worn off I'm thirsty. The desire for that first taste of tea- freedom I'm wet. The sodden clothes stuck to me like knafeh on a plate I'm scared. Each thump of boat on the surface sounding like a rocket shell on Al Masoudi Street I'm sad. Leaving behind my city..yet my city is nothing but dust and death I'm hopeful. New beginnings, new opportunities, new everything I'm weary. War weary, life weary, will I ever wake up? I'm silent. My voice empty, as empty as that final glass of tea, extra sweet. For energy my mother told me I'm distraught. My mother. My father. Aged and alone. Go my boy she said. Find life. We've lived ours I'm ashamed. I left. I left. I left. Others I left behind. I'm innocent. A teacher, that's all. A teacher who protested. Who would not be silenced. I'm ready. To start again.

Voices. Shouting. Drowning out the sounds Of the outboard motor hum We're taking on water! We're sinking. Slow down, slow down, we're sinking We don't want to drown Bail out the water, with hands chilled and numb As voices fall silent, muted, dumb I feel nothing as I scoop the water In senseless hands. Senseless. It's all senseless. Hands across the water.

A grey line in the distance, Seeming to join the grey clouds A welcome of grey. Look, land, England! Someone shouts And the boat smiles a little. Hands work more determinedly, bailing water As if it were made of stone. How far is it now? The faces ask. I don't care anymore. Only how far it is from the Al Sadaqa cafe Saturday tea and baklava Who shall I drink tea with now?

The coast approaches, reluctant. The last miles stretched, interminable. I dip my hand in the inky blackness. My hand disappears instantly. As I have too. Disappeared from the memory Of my country. A non existent life. Known only to those left behind who grieve For a living son they may never see again. And I recall how the sea used to be happiness. Family trips, watching the seagull dance. But now the sea represents fear, though it slowly ebbs As the coastline replaces that aching fear with soothing hope

The English pebbles chime under my sodden feet They chatter in time with our collective shivering Is England always this cold? No one smiles. Just waits, anticipates, hopes, expects Waits. But for whom. We know no one here on this grey beach. A dog walker passes, phone to ear, stops, watches, greets us with Asalaam wa'alaikum. "They'll be here in 10 minutes," the man says to me, Kindness and sympathy in his eyes, As his dog sniffs my leg. Here, drink this, he says. What is it, I ask? Tea, he replies, pouring a cup from a flask. Hot, sweet...milky. Filled with hope. This is not tea I think and smile my thanks.


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