School: Larbert High School, Falkirk
Really I should have been grateful, but the thought of two weeks in a five star, all-inclusive hotel was horrific: my parents would eat their own body weight in food at every meal and spend the rest of the time sleeping it off. Boring.
The hotel itself was “wonderful”. Our two bedroom suite was vast with luxurious furnishings in the blue and white traditional colours of the Greek island of Kos where we were staying. There was also a large balcony with sun loungers and chairs where one could admire the panoramic view of the deep blue Mediterranean Sea, merging with the cloudless sky, becoming the perfect backdrop for the snow-white beach. Perfect - if you were awake to see it.
And so the holiday began. As usual, my parents insisted on un-packing everything, checking out the hotel facilities, then the surrounding area. It was like every Greek holiday resort I had visited before: olive trees in dry clay soil, denser forests behind them, an occasional lemon tree, cicadas chirping and the random barking of a dog somewhere. Soon it was deemed time to go back to the hotel to freshen up before dinner.
Most of the holiday makers had gone inside by the time we arrived back. My parents did too, but I stayed to have a look at the swimming pools and gardens. Along with everything else, they were fabulous: crystal clear water filled the pools, paving stones gleamed in the sunshine and the flower beds dazzled with their fantastic colours. I was just about to leave when something caught my eye. As I got closer, the dark, dreary shape tried to hide, but against the magnificent colours, had no chance.
“You should not be here,” I said haughtily.
“Please, please do not turn me in,” begged the boy. “I’m going now.”
I was surprised he spoke good English. He looked about my age, about the same height, but much thinner - so thin, in fact, that his eyes and teeth looked much too big for his face.
“What were you doing?”
He looked at me un-certainly as if wondering if he could trust me. “I was looking for food,” he said at last.
“You were going to steal it!” I exclaimed.
“NO! I just pick up what has been left lying around; what would be thrown away.”
I looked at his skinny arms and bony fingers. “Where do you come from? You don’t look Greek.”
“I’m here with my brother. We escaped from Syria and now we hide in the trees. Please don’t tell anyone: we did not register with the authorities when we arrived because they would send us on. We are waiting for our mother - she could not afford to pay for us to come together so we are staying here until she comes over. She will have the money soon but if the police catch us, they will move us away.”
I looked at his dishevelled body and knew he was not lying. I could help him in the way I usually looked after stray cats I met abroad - at least it would be something for me to do to pass the time for the next fortnight.
“Meet me here at nine o’clock,” I told him. “I’ll bring you something to eat. My name’s Andrew. What’s yours?”
“Tarek. And thank you.”
At dinner there was everything one could imagine for eating and the buffet tables groaned under the piles of international delicacies. I couldn’t help feeling guilty at this amount of food when I knew there were people starving. On the other hand, picking up a selection of pieces was easy and slipping them into my rucksack was no problem. I left my parents when they went to the bar, telling them I was going to watch a film at the hotel’s “teen club”, and snuck off.
Tarek was waiting and was obviously relieved I was alone. He marvelled at my bounty before thanking me profusely and taking the feast away to share with his brother.
“Wait!” I called after him, “I’ll come with you.”
We made our way out of the hotel grounds and through the forest behind. Ten minutes later, Tarek called out quietly and a shadow appeared in the clearing before us. It was Firas, Tarek’s older brother. He was a poor looking soul, taller but with the same gaunt face. He was surprised to see me but even more shocked when he saw the meal I had brought for him. This evening had been quite exciting - the holiday was turning out to be better than I thought.
I got up before my parents the next morning and went for breakfast alone. I picked up several items and hurried to meet the boys. I had also packed them some of my clothes so they could fit in more easily with the foreign tourists. We had a great day together: we went to the beach and they told me about themselves and their adventure coming to Kos. We went swimming and dozed in the sun. It was a great day. We agreed to meet again later on when I would bring another delicious feast.
And so the holiday carried on. I seldom saw my parents: they ate and slept all day, as usual, and went to the bar at night. I got up before them, went to bed before them and spent all my waking hours with Tarek and Firas. Everyone was happy. If I never had to go home, it would have suited me, but all too soon that time came round. By then we could have all been brothers: I had tanned, they had put on weight, I had lost it. I gave them all I had: my clothes and money. But it was not enough. What was going to happen to my friends?
The taxi arrived early to take us to the airport. We pulled away.
“Good holiday?” my father asked. “Feels like we’ve hardly seen you.”
My head flopped down on my mother’s shoulder.
She put her arm round me. “Don’t be upset,” she said “we can come back next year. You can always look up your new friends on Facebook.”
And with that, I began to cry.