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the lay-by

Cars and lorries were flashing by, a constant roar of noise, and never-ending streams of lights, but I didn't hear or see any of it.

Slumped in the car, tears dripping on to my jacket, my head full of a million messy things, the same words mumbling repeatedly .. I can’t do this any more...... I can’t do this any more.........

It had been another shitty year – more and more work but less and less income as the debt repayments and expenses consumed it like ravenous dogs tearing and gulping it down.

The pub now a second home, with double vodkas and tonic served instantly - no need to be asked.

It had been like this for years .... it was time to give up.

My phone rang, and Michelle asked if there was anything I needed her to do before she left the office, and I mumbled no, thanks for helping so much, see you tomorrow.

After a short silence, she said ...gently, but firmly ... if you’re feeling sorry for yourself then get over it – there are plenty of people in far worse situations than yours – people with terrible troubles, incurable illnesses, terrifying circumstances – and they still stay positive and try to deal with it ....... your business is a mess, and you’re a mess, but these can be fixed ......... if you work at it ... not feel sorry for yourself ..... we’ll talk about it in the morning ........ and don't get drunk tonight .... you’ll need a clear head tomorrow ... I’ve got some suggestions for you to consider ...

It was the words ... terrifying circumstances ... that made me remember.

The last time I’d sat in a car, not alone, but in pitch black darkness, frightened, was twenty-five years earlier, on the side of the road outside Jizan. The police were driving away, reluctantly after the phone call to Jeddah had confirmed our story, but not before they’d trashed the car trying to find gat, or something worse we’d smuggled in or were smuggling out, and reminded us, with marks to remember them by, that we were infidel scum that were bleeding their country dry....

... and taking all our documents with them, which we knew meant weeks, maybe months, of pleading, arguing, cajoling, explaining at road blocks why we only had temporary documents, and handing over ryals, before getting them replaced.

But it wasn’t my circumstances that I was remembering, it was those that Tenagne and Hakim had left behind ... beatings, rape, degradation, humiliation ...

not by strangers but by the incredibly wealthy, highly regarded family that had bought them in as housemaid and houseboy, and by the head of the servants .. one of their own even.

And then there was what lay ahead of them  ... safely crossing southern Yemen would be a miracle in itself, finding a boat to take them wouldn’t be easy and the money might not be enough ... other types of payment would almost certainly be asked for, and would have to be given ... and then once back in their own country, what then ...

no money, no certainty that their families would take them back even if they could find them, even if they were still alive .......

and, despite the hassle with the documents, we were driving back to a pampered life ... a massive apartment, cleaners, tax free salaries, company cars, huge desks in huge offices, handshakes every morning, strolls along the esplanade, dinner with friends, squash twice a week, in the pool every morning, on the beach every weekend ...

They made it ... but never found their families ... they found work in Egypt but it couldn’t have been much better than what they’d escaped from .. they didn't say what the work was, and the last words in their letter were ... but we have each other.

I rang Michelle back, and said ... thank you, I’ll see you tomorrow ...