A story about compassion during the biggest humanitarian crisis in history as Kevin and his roommates debate what to do about refugees.
A Story About Compassion
By Dakoda Barker
At first, all I could hear was the rain. Slowly, I started to wake. Used to be that I looked forward to rain while I was sleeping. It was comforting. Listening to the gentle patter as it fell on the roof and bitumen was soothing. Smelling the petrichor used to bring a sense of homeliness, of familiarity, reminding me of the big rains on my family’s old farm.
Now it fills me with dread.
I could hear the squeaking of something scraping against wood coming from the living room. Clumsily, I threw off the sheets and put on pants and an oversized tshirt. It was too humid for clothes or a blanket most nights. But then I wasn’t sleeping outside.
The first thing I noticed was the collection of furniture piled where our door should have been. Two of the bookcases, both couches, and a few dining chairs were all stacked against the door. The TV sat on its own, atop a dodgy wooden table in the middle of the room.
Movement caught my attention and I turned to see one of my roommates, Kevin, carry another of our dining chairs over and place it on top of the couch.
‘Your interior design sucks,’ I said, wiping my eyes. ‘What the hell are you doing?’
When he turned to me, I saw fear. ‘It’s raining harder,’ he said. ‘Don’t you remember last time the rain got worse?’
I remembered. About two months ago, it had rained for almost three solid weeks. The river had risen and then flooded. The shanty town constructed along its bank was washed away, and many of the inhabitants washed away too. It caused widespread panic, and some of the refugees decided to force their way into houses to get out of the wet; there were a lot of injuries and some deaths as a result.
But it wasn’t done with malice. They were simply trying to keep themselves and their families safe. I’d read the newspapers—most of their homes had sunk when half of the Pacific islands sank. Or when the water levels simply rose too high and swallowed them whole. Climate refugees, they called them. The biggest humanitarian crisis of our time.
‘They’re like ants,’ Kevin said. ‘It starts raining and they invade. They don’t care who owns what. They don’t care who lives where. We have to protect ourselves or they’ll try to get us too.’
I stared at him, speechless. Did he really think it was just the refugees attacking people?Sometimes they were attacked, unprovoked, just knocking on the door. Punched and kicked and left in the street for asking if they could stay inside a while. All they wanted was comfort and security, same as everyone else.
He grabbed one of the paintings off the wall and stacked it on top of the pile—a pointless addition. ‘Can you check that the windows are locked?Lucky we live on the second floor, but I don’t want them trying to climb in.’
My neck started to warm and I could feel the tiny hairs prickling. I clenched my shaking hands, and thenI lost it. ‘No, Kevin. No, I won’t check the windows. You called these people ants. You said they were no better than pests. Have you lost your mind? Do you even realise what you’re saying?’
His fear shifted to anger. ‘If we don’t protect ourselves, they’re going to take advantage of us. Don’t blame me if they break in and tr—’
‘No,’ I interjected. ‘Don’t even finish that sentence. Don’t try and justify your bigotry. You think of these people like they aren’t human, but they are. They’re real people, Kevin. They sleep out there in the wet. Their old homes are at the bottom of the ocean, swallowed because humanity refused to acknowledge the changing climate. Their ‘new’ homes are rickety shacks that get washed away whenever the rain gets bad.’
I started pacing back and forth, hands clutching at my aching brain. ‘How can you think…’ I trailed off. I couldn’t even verbalise my disbelief. I headed for the window and threw it open, letting the slight breeze cool me down.
The grey skies were daunting. Rainy days used to look so beautiful. But now that I knew what danger the rain held, even rainbows had lost their appeal. I would rather not see the effects of the downpour, good or bad.
‘These people aren’t setting out to steal from you. Or from me. They don’t want us to suffer. People want to be safe and warm. We should be helping them,’ I said. ‘Not vilifying them.’
Kevin started to protest, but a loud bang startled him. Startled us both. I turned to see our front door slightly ajar, rattling against Kevin’s makeshift barricade. He shot me a smug ‘I told you so’ face, but it was so drenched in fear that I couldn’t take it seriously.
I could only think of one thing to say: ‘I can’t believe you didn’t even lock the door first.’
The couch scraped the floor as it shifted slightly, and there was a muffled grunt from outside. Whoever it was out there was definitely trying to get in.
‘Go away,’ Kevin shouted, ‘or I’ll be forced to use violence.’
The reply came quickly: ‘I live here you idiot,’ our roommate Tan said. ‘I’m drenched, it’s cold, and I’m hungry. Now open the door.’
I sighed. ‘Come on, let me help you.’
Dejected, Kevin started to undo his barricade.