Refugees discover a place to call home
| There were probably a lot of reasons to be standing on the dock, pulling in a net, but Smiley couldn't think of any, not when his best friend Amile and his sister, Aayeh were at the Seafeast while he was stuck at work. They would be scoffing down shawarma and socializing, definitely under, but not impeded much, by parental supervision. It was just the best opportunity to see Ayaleh ever , thought Smiley with a wry grin, yet here he was, working with that dickhead Roland in the cold sea spray blowing off a unfriendly looking ocean. Decidedly unfriendly, thought Smilely, shooting a quick look up at darkening skies.
He shouldn't have been working today but the Big Boss had called him in, and you didn't say no if you wanted to be crew chief some day. This was still the best option for work on the Seastead, at least until the new construction yards were completed and operational. Smiley tried again to give up stressing about it and settle in to work, might as well accept the inevitable, he thought. A couple hours and he would be done and could get a hot shower in the workhouse before heading over to see if anyone was still at the Wreck. Maybe she would be there, following her brother around like a puppy, a gorgeous, fabulous, wonderful puppy.
Arm over arm he pulled, the nets tightening and working the writhing fish ball closer to the surface of the pond. Where was Roland with the winch?, he thought, just before the loud electrical hum started up and the net caught and lifted. He let go and sat back as tons of milkfish lifted slowly in the air and headed for the processing shed. Roland was leaning out of the control booth grinning at him. “Having fun?”
Smiley ignored the lame sarcasm and ambled over, glancing again at the lowering skies. “Gonna be a long night,” he said, already wondering where he could find to wait out the bad weather. Home was too close to the edge, and there would be no sleeping there tonight. Maybe MacDonalds, he thought, considering the tiny eating place hung between two floats on steel cables, serving up algae burgers and kahwa murrah 24 hours a day. Hopefully they would have their rain tarps out and the radiant heaters on.
Roland, true to form, hawked up a nasty gob and spat near Smiley's feet, “Miss the mainland? Wanna go back and join the army?” Roland was a real charmer, with every bad habit in the book, but in spite of his lack of social skills he had taken care of Smiley, showing him how to do the job here at the pond while he was still green. His parents were friends of Smiley's parents so they had to get along to some degree. “How late we working, Roland,?“
Roland took his time responding, watching the fish bundle trundle in through the shed doors. “Might as well knock off now,” he said with a sour look. Their pay would be small this week. The stormy seas were eroding their working hours.
The workhouse shower still had hot water and Smiley took a few minutes to let the pounding spray warm up his bones. Showers at home were cold water only so he cleaned up at work whenever he could, but there was no handholds in the shower stall and he was getting bounced around by the worsening seas. The fish ponds were located on the outside edge of the “stead, and took the brunt of any bad weather. Sooner than he wanted, he was back out in the cold wind ,pulling on fresh jeans and a old T with printed letters on the chest. As always when wearing that shirt, he wondered what GAP meant.
Wreck, or the Recreation Center as it was formally known, was a big structure, one of the oldest buildings in the 'stead. It was constructed from rusty metal on a big concrete float, but someone had made an effort and it was a good building, probably 'cause it was the virtual center of the ponds, hosting everything from religious meetings to arm wrestling contests.
Smiley rushed through the doors, only slowing when he encountered the crowds of people that still filled the building. Someone was on the stage talking and, curious why the place was still so busy, he listened as he worked his way through the crowds. “and the storm is expected to get worse, reaching level 4 sometime around midnight tonight.” It seemed like there was an emergency meeting going on and instructions being handed out to deal with the storm. People always overreacted to a little wind, he thought, especially newcomers who weren't used to living at sea.
Smiley caught sight of familiar long black hair and headed in Ayaleh's direction, knowing that her ever-present family would be nearby. Her brother was missing but several girls he vaguely recognized clustered around. Coming up from behind, he nudged her gently, making her start with surprise. “Hi Puppy,” he said.
“Puppy?” she asked.” Whats puppy? Where have you been Smiley?,” turning to him and taking his hand. Smiley grinned, embarrassed but delighted by the physical contact
“Working,” he said.
“But we are sinking,” she said excitedly, searching his eyes.
“100 acres of floating city doesn't sink, “ Smiley stated, taking up the role of comforter with a confidence he didn't actually feel, “Maybe a few ponds at the edge will get beat up and lose their fish, but the float construction dampens waves moving inward.” Smiley blushed suddenly at his excess of words, out of character for him and Ayaleh smiled at him. That's why he liked her so much, he thought, she always knew what he was thinking, sometimes before he knew, and she knew he was feeling foolish about talking so much.
Ayaleh and her family had arrived here last year, while refugees could still get out. No one knew why those in charge needed to keep refugees captive in war zones but that was the way of the land people, inexplicable and murderous.
According to his parents the Seastead had been created in a shallow area of the Aegean sea by an unknown Canadian with few resources, only an old barge bought cheap from Turks who were no longer in the business of moving goods. With nowhere else to go, refugees started arriving on their sinking boats. Motivated by starvation, they had taught themselves to farm fish. No government had helped. No country or agency had required them to fill out endless pages of forms with information that could never be verified. No one wanted them or even acknowledged their existence, but the refugees had obstinately thrived in the uncaring freedom of the open ocean. and the floating city had grown beyond anyone's expectations.
Now a community, these people were working and laughing, fighting and loving in international waters, out of the reach of the bureaucrats. There were no police, no hospitals and no schools, but bad men somehow quietly disappeared, people looked after each other when sick, and home schools had sprung up to educate the kids. Free enterprise flourished and even luxuries such as tobacco had turned up in the thriving marketplaces where gold and silver had largely replaced paper currencies. There was one informal law, never written but always enforced – do what you want as long as it doesn't interfere with anyone else.. It had resulted in a very conservative society that somehow managed to accept a wide variety of different cultures with very little conflict, a society that Smiley had no intention of ever leaving. There was too much to do, too many opportunities, and there was Ayaleh.
Ayalehs mom had finally noticed him standing beside her daughter and was giving him the look, so Smiley moved the required distance away and Ayelah reluctantly let go of his hand. She didn't look particularity concerned about sinking now. Smiley looked back at her mom, she was old school, he thought, like most refugees here. Sea Gypsies now, he mentally corrected himself. We are all Sea Gypsies now.