Postgraduate researcher and part-time lecturer Marco Biceci, from the Faculty of Creative and Cultural Industries at the University of Portsmouth, wrote a monologue for Journeys Festival International, an organisation that hosted events across Portsmouth last month in support of refugee and asylum seekers.
Read his monologue that he read at Journeys Festival International below.
THEY.[Ahmad]: My first night, handed over to the Syrian authorities and incarcerated with murderers, thieves and the like, and for what? For being gay. It was frightening, but not as terrifying as the one-thousand-and-ninety-five to come. Nights spent fighting for dignity, for my right not to be just a vessel. “Come on,” They whisper, laughing like it’s sport, in the silent hours of the night when the guards drink and play cards in their office. I’m a person, not an object. So, I learned to fight back — getting tougher and standing my ground. Eventually, I won the right to sleep on a mattress. My offer to share it with a new arrival declined, because They had been warned about me. They don’t want to catch my sickness — homosexuality.
Midday sunlight stings my eyes. I’m shoved from the prison entrance I was dragged through by my father three-years-ago. A peaceful uprising in 2011, soon became outright war — I knew neither myself or my country anymore — everything had changed.
The sun had barely set, dusting the horizon with a dullish salmon-pink. No words were exchanged. I’d heard stories about these modern-day bogey men — They took men, boys and young girls away, never to be seen again — recognisable only by a black band worn on their upper left arms.
Hands bound and blindfolded, I land onto sharp shards of rubble biting at me. Three dull jabs to my chest with a large boot are the introduction to my new surroundings. My blindfold is cut free with a sharp blade inches from my eye. Fresh blood in my mouth, and searing white-hot pain in my shoulders makes my cry out. Clattering chains, binding my arms and legs, suspended me from the ceiling. Rocks hurled by men to my left and right impacted a relentless ache for almost three hours. “Who are the other infidels? Tell us how to root out deviants and we’ll spare you,”
Dumped by the side of the road, west of Damascus, I peeled away my blindfold. In the back of a produce truck, knees tucked under my chin behind hessian sacks full to the brim with grain, I hid from the border authorities.
They were the same as me — exiles — Teachers, Engineers, Doctors, and an Accountant. In a small three-bedroom apartment in central Beirut, we nine men lived together, pretending to be heterosexual bachelors for fear of the Lebanon morality police. They had control over us. One night They came. I wasn’t home, but three of my friends were. They were thrown into jail.
I had to get away. The seafront was a frightening uncertain place at night. A community of Syrians — men, women and children, shared what little food They had scavenged from the locale. They had fled, carrying only their life savings to pay the transport fee to a better life on the other side of the Mediterranean. I wanted to join them. Problem was, I didn’t have any money to pay for my passage. They, in a few days, would leave me behind. I could only watch when They sailed away.
They came at night, moving amongst us — seeking out new comers. Their faces were always covered “Great opportunities await you in Italy,” They said. All that stood between me and a life of freedom was five-thousand-six-hundred-Euros, They informed me.
At just after 1am when the costal patrol with its blinding searchlight had passed through, looking for people like us — They, with glimmering optimism for the future and a promise of a life often dreamed of, were led away further down the shore.
For six months I went there, They thought They were paying for me —but They weren’t. I was merely a receptacle, existing to earn enough money to free myself. Not always forced to endure that —it was a means to an end.
They towed the craft out into the harbour. I assumed it would be alright — They were going to lead us all the way to Italy. The rope connected to the towing vessel cut free — They sped away — vanishing in a cloud of spray. Screaming and panic echoed all around me. A woman, shrouded in black, clutching two small photographs, grips my arm. It was several hours before the mass panic subsided. As the sun began to peak on the horizon, each approaching wave breached the side — every receptacle employed to bail out water. How could I have been so gullible?
Gasping for breath, lungs burning, eyes tight-shut, I shove bodies away from me, panicking. They kept screaming, begging to be saved. I felt powerless.
They kept asking me what my name is? Bright lights dazzling — I couldn’t get out of bed. “You’re a lucky man,” said a tall doctor in a white coat, flashing a light into my eyes, “not many make it.” They — those others like me — their dreams were washed away by the ocean.
Five-years since being rescued by the Italian coast guard, my existence is altered, but not radicalised. The streets of Europe are not paved in gold. Indifference exists here, too. Referred to as queer—you’re mocked but not punished. Your existence is needed to fill gaps in the social fabric, unless you’re different in the way that I am. Immigrant has become my label. The identity They have given me.