Word Count 466
Lick the Platter Clean
I was loath to leave my homeland.
Loath to leave my possessions, my kin, the familiarity of all I had known since first memory.
I loathed more my oppressors. Loathed them more than I loved my green hills. Loathed them more than I loved the worn stone steps leading to the village chapel. Loathed them more than I loved life itself. So I was determined to outlive these creatures I will not honor by calling men. And to do this, I was forced to flee.
I am not the first of my kind, nor will I be the last. On foot, by ox-cart, by donkey, have we flown. Swimming sludge-filled streams, crowding onto dangerously overloaded boats, we have sought to escape lives worse than death, searched for lives worth dying for. We have huddled under a sun that wishes to consume our flesh, fly-infested groups of us, our bellies distended by hunger; or stumbled through snow-drifts, numbed to the pain of frostbite-blackened fingers and toes.
If we did not huddle so, swarming by the hundreds into your pristine valleys, would you see us for who we are? We are individuals—sentient beings—not an unthinking mass, a fungus, black mold creeping over your abode; locust swarming, consuming and destroying all you hold dear. We are doctors, lawyers, peasants, grandmothers, teachers, farmers, sons. We are writers, students, criminals, yes, but also fathers, wood workers, priests, musicians. We come from the cities, the countryside, tiny villages, forgotten outposts. We have hopes, goals, hobbies, favorite songs and books and foods. Once we laughed and played games and cried. For some, this exodus is the inevitable option. It comes after gut-wrenching inner debate. Is it worse to stay or to go?
Who will welcome us? Do I have the courage to beg?
You, who disdain to lick the platter clean, would give your leftovers to the dog before you would offer it to us. You who spit out the word ‘refugee’ like a piece of gristle: who are you to judge? You who have never gone hungry a day in your life; never been censured for honest word or arrested for unpopular thoughts; never been treated as less than human. What do you know of us?
None of us wished to become this refuse washed up on your shores. We give up our dollars and our dignity in order to stay alive.
We try not to mourn what we left behind; learn to love a new landscape; give apologies for being ‘huddled masses’. Refugees. Few truly welcome us, but those who do have allowed us to wash the taint of that word from our hair, our skin, discard our thread-bare clothing. Start anew.
We lick our wounds and relish the scraps of prosperity and freedom others scrape into the garbage.