The Ionian sunset over turquoise water had long faded on the horizon, leaving the port of Patras in warm darkness. We sat in a long line of cars and tractor-trailers passing through security to board the midnight ferry to Venice. Bored, we watched the security guys checking each semi truck from top to bottom, scanning the undersides with flashlights.
“Do people really try to hide in these trucks?” we wondered to each other.
Cristian had heard a story of two refugee kids who hid inside a spare tire under a trailer into Spain. Their tiny, lifeless bodies were found days later, suffocated from the heat and gases under the truck.
We had also heard that eight refugees from “The Jungle” (a massive refugee camp near Calais, France,) had died trying to cross from France into the U.K. by hiding under trucks.
Was it worth the risk? Did people still try?
Truck drivers around us got out to check their own trucks for any unaccounted for passengers, kneeling under the axles and shining lights forward and back.
Ahead at the checkpoint, a group of guys in army green uniforms smoked cigarettes. Their belts held batons and holstered guns.
To our right, on the patch of grass separating the security line from the port exit, a young guy stood surveying the trucks. He stroked his stubble and looked at one, then another, then another. He wore a t-shirt and dark, baggy pants. He reminded me of our friends in the refugee camp, but could pass for Greek or Italian just as easily.
After a few minutes, we realized that the truck in front of us wasn’t moving, so we pulled into the left lane just behind a semi-truck pulling three trailers stacked on top of each other.
German plates with a bumper sticker from the ferry line.
Suddenly, just inches from Cristian’s open window, the young guy in the dark pants ran up to the German truck, scrambled up the stacked trailers and disappeared. Just seconds later, the truck driver ran back and looked up into the darkness. He turned and saw us.
In German, he barked a few words at us that could only have meant: “Did you see him? Where’d he go?”
I looked away to the right, feeling sick. There, in the same patch of grass, another young guy was crouched down, motioning with his hand and yelling something to his friend in the trailer.
In that moment, we were motioned forward into the adjacent lane of cars, so we lost sight of what was happening at the German truck.
I couldn’t believe what we had just seen: a migrant trying to smuggle on to the ferry. To our right, we saw the German driver run up to tell one of the guys in army green. One nodded and un-holstered his flashlight to send a signal in that direction, pulling on his cigarette calmly. He didn’t seem fazed.
Through the security, we drove to the ferry. I looked over my shoulder and there, on top of the perimeter fence, were the two young migrants.
Be careful! I pleaded with them silently, from my privileged spot inside the car.
They jumped to the ground and started to sprint towards the ferry, across a wide expanse of parking lot and the line of trucks waiting to board. At that moment, the parking lot seemed a treacherous wasteland.
Oh, please don’t get hurt. I thought. Your mothers are waiting for you to call them.
We will never know who these young guys were, or if they made it on to the ferry that night. We do, however, know many other people like them, people who are so desperate for a new life that they will risk everything.