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I was leaving. The shore of Limerick was moaning as we stepped into the boat. The waves dashing miserably against the hull. I could hear them whisper that I wasn’t going to make it. That I would be deported. The thought scared me. It just couldn’t happen. America was my only hope, now that the potato crops had failed three years in a row. I had seen pictures of it before. The tall, fiery buildings. An enormous statue called the Statue of Liberty. It was what I had dreamed about. It was the promised land.
The stairs were old and rotten. The same could be said about the rest of the boat, if you could call it “a boat”. The bed was four planks nailed together, full of termite holes and probably a lot of other things I didn’t want to know about. After all, this would be where I would sleep the next couple of weeks. The boat was small, the air was thick and I had to keep gasping for air. I nearly suffocated. We were about thirty persons on the boat; old, young, and occasionally a whole family. Although we looked different, our minds and hearts were longing for the same thing. A new home and fresh start.
After five days, a horrid smell began to develop. I hadn’t had a bath since we left, nor had any of the others. My body started aching. I couldn’t move a finger. We were crammed together like sardines. The faces around me became paler as every day that passed. We all knew that some of us wouldn’t make it. The sparkle in everybody’s eyes were starting to fade. The small children started to cough, and their parents begged them to stop. They knew what was ahead. They did not show any mercy on Ellis Island. They would send a 10-year old back without blinking. There was a reason why it was called “The isle of tears”. You had to be healthy to get into America. Only the fittest ones would be allowed to enter.
Time stood still. I had been travelling for thirteen days, and I could no longer feel my legs. The children started crying. They cried day in and day out. A storm had been rattling us around like a little toy in a casket for several days. Many became seasick, including me. Vomit wandered around on the floor, and I had a temperature.
Then a man came down the stairs. He looked like a sailor, judging from his clothes. He told us to go on deck. I went up the stairs, and a completely new world opened itself to me. I could see the tall buildings waiting to welcome me. What impressed me (the) most was the statue from my old pictures: The Statue of Liberty. It was standing there shiny and proud. Proud to be in America. There were some words engraved in it: “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free.” It was talking to me. I could feel it.
Behind the glory of the statue lay the dark Ellis Island. My future would be decided there. There is a slim line between heaven and hell. After docking and coming ashore, we had to stand in a line. The doctors examining us one by one. I was last. I took of my shirt and stretched out my tongue, just as I was told to. I was going to make it. Paradise was waiting. It didn’t take long, an after a short discussion with the other doctors he looked me straight in the eyes and said: I’m sorry but you have a serious fever. There is a big possibility that you might begin to hallucinate if you don’t get well. I am afraid I have to send you home.
An arrow of devastation shot through my heart. The statue wasn’t greeting me anymore, and the buildings turned their heads away in disgust. I barely noticed the light had changed. And though the news was rather sad, I just had to laugh at the man that had ruined my life. I had been living with my eyes closed the whole time, and I figured that the only reasonable thing to do was to run.
So I ran. I ran as fast I could. I heard a pistol shot from behind, and suddenly my back began to feel warm. I fell to my knees, begging: please God! But God was nowhere to be found….
Bård, Feb 25th 2002
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