Good Reading : August 2011
good reading august 2011 49 the water level rising as they approach. He can’t hear the river but he can smell it before they reach it, the odour of mud and decomposition and the chill breath of water layering the damp night air. He rolls up his saturated trousers. In the dimness, the boy slips out of sight and then suddenly reappears, deft as a heron, shoving an inflatable skiff with a long pole. From inside it he produces a heap of sagging rubber and an air pump that the men take turns to use. The Evros is wider here but the current is still strong. Aryan has never seen so daunting a r iver – nothing like the waterways at home that dried out in the summer but turned into ravenous tor rents in the spring. He tries to gauge the distance, wonders if they shouldn’t find a nar rower place upstream. Suddenly he starts; something catches his eye. Kabir sees it too. A cadaver drifts towards them, revolving slowly in the black water, stiff arms scratching at the sky; the tightness in his chest stays with him even after it morphs into a tree-trunk that has been dislodged far upriver by the rains. He tries not to think of it as an omen, or that others may be following behind to capsize their flimsy craft. ‘It’s just a funny old log, Kabir,’ he says. His brother grips his hand. His face is a pale disk in the crepuscular light. Now, at least, they are out of sight of the bridge. High up on the far embankment the trees judder in the sweep of headlights as the semi-trailers take the curve. Aryan wonders if their truck is already waiting on the other side. ‘This is where I leave you,’ the boy says. He wears a Turkish evil eye symbol on a leather cord around his neck and rarely meets their gaze. With his one dextrous hand he lights a cigarette and the molten tip of it burns a hole in the icy air. ‘Make for that tall tree – can you see it? – just before the river bends,’ the boy says in halting English. Aryan thinks they must be almost the same age. He follows the boy’s finger; he can just make out the skeleton of an oak in the residue of light. ‘When you get there, cut the boat like this.’ He makes slashing movements with a pocket-knife in the air. ‘Tur n it over and sink it. Then if they find you, they can’t send you back. ‘After that, you climb the embankment to the road.When you get to the wall, keep low. Wait till you hear the truck stop.You must not speak. Come out only when the driver gives the word.’ With his good hand, the boy undoes the rope that ties the first to the second boat and ushers them aboard. ‘How long till the truck comes by?’ somebody asks. The boy shrugs. ‘Just wait till it comes,’ he says. His features are gaunt in the darkness that settles on their skin like ash. ‘I go now. Remember, if you get caught, you’ve never seen me. If you get sent back, we’ll take you across again.’ He turns and walks away, a thin crescent that quickly merges with the treeline, leaving only the faint smell of tobacco tracing arabesques over the sodden land. They push off, skimming across shallows that shiver and pucker in the breeze. There is a hush over the world. Aryan can see Kabir’s profile in the darkness, unruly hair flattened for once by the rain. Opposite, his friend Hamid sits in silence, knees pulled up to his chest. No one speaks, knowledgeable of how the open water can betray them. They have come too far now to jeopardise a crossing as dangerous as their separate odysseys through the deserts and mountain passes of Afghanistan, Kurdistan and Iran. As the r iver deepens they feel the current accelerate, the pole sinking into the velvety silt. One of the stronger men works it with both hands; the skiff wobbles as he heaves and pulls. Aryan doubts any of them can swim. He looks back without nostalgia at the land they are leaving behind, and watches the second boat push off from shore. The current lifts them and takes them rapidly now. Through his feet Aryan can feel its power, like something immense and alive, pushing upwards beneath the boat’s rubbery floor. Already it is taking water and losing air. Soon the man raises the pole; he can no longer feel the bottom, and stands helpless as they glide rudderless downstream. Landfall is slipping away from them; they are going to overshoot. With frightened eyes the men watch the boatman try to keep his balance, str iving to find a purchase as the current snatches at his pole. Finally it meets resistance, and with one mighty shove he propels them towards the shallows. The embankment casts a black shadow over the water as they come aground, well below the tree the boy has indicated, on a stony lip of beach. Hinterland by Caroline Brothers is published by Bloomsbury, rrp $29.99. Suddenly he starts; something catches his eye. Kabir sees it too. A cadaver drifts towards them, revolving slowly in the black water, stiff arms scratching at the sky ... he tries not to think of it as an omen ... book bite 2 Caroline Brothers was born in australia. she has a PhD in history from university College London and has worked as a foreign correspondent in Europe and Latin america. she currently lives in Paris where she writes for the International Herald tribune and the New York times. she has published a book, War and Photography, and also writes short stories. Hinterland is her first novel.