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The light bulb flickers and goes out, plunging Mokthar and his cousins into the longest night of their lives. Tonight they leave for Lampedusa. They are from Tataouine, the largest city in the Tunisian desert. Seated around a shared plate of couscous, curled up on themselves, they are five in all, from the same neighbourhood, and the same family.
Five leaving tonight, Inshallah. In the darkness of the dining room, he puts together his things — a bottle of water, some dry biscuits — and goes out into the street. They follow the road from Djerba to Zarzis, stopping at the third mosque on the right. Under the arcades, the smuggler waits, a cup of filter coffee steaming on the table. The atmosphere is warm; the men shake hands.
Before, the smuggler was an octopus fisherman. His hair is bleached with sea salt, and his features seem carved into the surface of his face. From this point on, phones are switched off.
The group is led quietly to a half-finished house on the seaside. The entrance is littered with concrete blocks and cement, rats crawling between the tiles. Huddled against each other on two orange banquettes, the men wait. Two, three, four hours. It was a beautiful ceremony, she is making her way in life… I still have some of mine to make. At midnight, he lights his fifth cigarette of the evening.
A breath of air rushes into the house beside the sea. There are no patrols, no police or army to stand in the way of the departure. The military is currently too busy monitoring the Ras Jedir border crossing between Tunisia and Libya, embroiled in civil war.