They had lost their father at some point and the boy felt a tinge of sadness as he tried to remember the last time he had seen him. There had been darkness, cold and fear, but the memory of any horror was quickly evaporating with every step that they took closer to the man at the gate. He, too, was smiling at the brothers now. There were still many people ahead of them in the line; waiting to be seen and processed, yet the man with the clipboard kept looking past them, at the two little boys stood in a clearing within the crowd.
The boy looked over his shoulder to his mother, who nodded her reassurance that they should go on; her face still set into that strange and peaceful smile.
The boy wasn't frightened, but that didn't mean that he wasn't confused. Their father had explained to him that they were going to live somewhere kinder, and he certainly remembered a few of the children in the crowd from the beginning of the journey, but he couldn't quite recall it ending. He supposed he must have fallen asleep at some point towards the end.
They were almost at the gate now, the man with the clipboard was smiling so broadly that it looked as though his face might split in two, but still the boy faltered. He was worried that his father hadn't made it and he knew that if he walked through that gate, he might never see him again. Suddenly, his mother was behind him and put her hands on his shoulders, urging him forward.
"Be brave," she whispered and her warm voice next to his ear relaxed him. He stepped forward, still clinging to the hand of his little brother.
The boys had watched countless others walk through the gate without fuss and yet, as they approached him, the man with the clipboard stepped forward and embraced them both warmly.
"My boys," he said in a choked voice, "do you see how happy you have made everyone?"
The boy looked around; people were still staring and smiling at them.
"You and your brother have saved so many," the man continued, "your father included. You will see him again; don't worry."
He turned to the boy's younger brother and ruffled his short, dark hair.
"And you, little one, you have played a bigger part in the lives of others than you could possibly imagine. You're on the minds of many this evening and will be for countless years to come. You have changed things."
Nervous, the younger boy tried to step behind his brother, putting his thumb in his mouth and looking down at his feet.
"Be brave," their mother repeated behind them. This time she wasn't whispering, and seemed to be speaking to herself as much as she was her young sons.
"Yes, be brave," agreed the smiling man with the clipboard, "for you have nothing to fear any more."
Galip tightened his grip on his little brother's hand and took a deep breath as he tried to see what lay beyond the gate.
"Come on, Aylan. It's time to go."
Together, they walked.
* * *
Like many parents, the story of Aylan and his brother broke my heart when it hit the headlines this week. I cried a lot of useless tears, as I'm sure many did.
However, it occurred to me that while it was too late to help the brothers, there was something I could do. I could at the very least give them a happier ending.
Sleep well, sweethearts.