Chapter 1: Flotsam
Lena is six months old when her parents flee the country of her birth, refugees of the Omnic Crisis like so many others across the globe. Her grandparents stay, too many years spent in the country to abandon it in its darkest moment. But Lena’s parents just can’t. They have too much to lose. In the dead of night, they pack up and make for the nearest port. They finally wash up like so much detritus on the shores of the United Kingdom a week later, barely keeping their heads above water in the rising tide of refugees flooding the country.
Lena is five when she realizes she is different from the other children.
“Todd, get away from that dirty immigrant!”
Lena is in the sandbox with a sandy-haired young boy, singing quietly in Dutch as she plays, when she hears it. Her head stays down, the words not registering in the innocent mind of a child. It’s not until she sees the boy pulled away by his fuming mother that she finally realizes.
She is an outsider.
And she is hated.
Lena’s very presence is despised. Her people are spat upon in the streets, and still new ways are found to express the distaste incited by her mere existence. Lena tries desperately to understand, to rationalize the hate.
Maybe it’s the way she speaks, she reasons, thick Dutch clattering its way across her tongue just as easily as the English of her new home, her accent marking her “foreigner” in a way the color of her skin doesn’t.
“Hey, weirdo, talk a normal human being!”
Perhaps it’s the way she talks about the homeland her family left behind, voice echoing the joy and sadness of her parents’ stories in equal measure.
“Go back to your own country!”
And still, the irrationality of the hate confounds.
As refugees, they are hated.
Too weak to fight off the omnics invading their home.
Too cowardly to stay in their own country and accept their fate.
Too lazy to work to better the country they take advantage of simply by stepping foot on its soil.
Nevermind that no honest business will hire the trash that lines the doorways and street corners.
The cacophony of hatred continues.
Ever on and on, the chorus goes round.
Useless, they are called. Like they are merely tools to be used, and not human beings with their own hopes and dreams and fears. It is this final indignity that truly tears at their hearts as they grieve the only home they have ever known. The tears of a nation are united in loss as across the water fires rage and the blood of their countrymen soaks the blackened soil of their dying homeland.
Chapter 2: Adapt
Oma = Grandma
Opa = Grandpa
“Refugee trash like you doesn’t belong here.”
Lena is terrified. The hand that grinds her face into the dirt shakes as its owner laughs at her misery. Her tears mingle in the dirt as it’s slowly churned into mud by the tiny movements. And Lena, tiny little refugee Lena, can’t do a thing to stop him.
Who would help refugee trash like her?
She gets better at hiding just who, what, she is.
It starts out small. She covers the rich Dutch accent of her childhood. She teaches herself how to sew, patching the many holes that mark her worn clothing. She keeps the treasured memories and deep sadness of her homeland right next to the foreign tongue she buries beneath her skin. And slowly, Lena teaches herself to be English.
Lena’s parents are right there the whole time. It’s a mixed blessing. They see the xenophobia that runs rampant through the country and say nothing. But Lena still sees the hurt in their eyes when their daughter starts to divorce herself from her heritage. Lena pretends she doesn’t see a tear roll down her mother’s face or her father harden and turn away the first time she says something in an English accent, but the specter of it still hangs over the shadow of her childhood.
Lena’s grandparents keep in contact, even through the war that rattles their country. Lena can tell they are trying to stay strong, their tired eyes alighting with joy the moment Lena comes onscreen. Her Oma asks how she’s been doing in school, and her Opa persists in telling awful little jokes that make her giggle and groan alike. But the war still shows in their faces. Her Oma grows pale and drawn, and shadows nest under her Opa’s eyes.
Lena knows something is very wrong when the messages from her grandparents grow fewer and farther between. Lena’s parents don’t mention it, but she can still hear the hushed Dutch that darts between them when they think she can’t hear.
“Omnics are marching on The Hague,” her parents whisper.
They don’t have to mention where her grandparents are.
Chapter 3: Overcome
It’s a few days later when they receive the news that her Oma’s been killed.
They know what’s happened as soon as they answer the video call, dark grief lining her grandfather’s face in shadow. And though he tries to stay strong, when Lena greets him, he wavers. Grief hangs in his eyes as he looks upon his only grandchild.
And on Lena’s face, the eyes of his wife stare innocently back.
Lena’s six when she first hears about Overwatch, a new organization that’s taking the fight to the Omnics.
Or at least, that’s what her parents say.
They’re worn and battered by the war that shatters apart their home. Bad news buffets in from every avenue.
It gives them hope.
When Lena hears Overwatch is sending troops and aid to the Netherlands, she starts to hope, too.
The fact that Overwatch manages to make her Opa smile for the first time in months has nothing to do with it.
The Netherlands holds a special place in Lena’s heart.
Lena’s never known the country she was born. But she knows the country she lives in. The stories her parents tell shed light where her own memories fail. And her own experiences color in the lines.
To Lena, England is hatred for something you can’t control. England is having to wear worn, patchy clothing because no one will hire your parents no matter how well educated they are. England is the loneliness that stays, even after the bully leaves.
But the Netherlands?
The Netherlands is the stories her parents tell her at bedtime, and the warmth and love that stays even after they leave. The Netherlands is her Opa’s voice as he makes awful little puns over the phone, and the way his face shines when Lena comes on camera during a video call.
The Netherlands is her Oma’s laugh, and smile, and sad, tired, eyes that still manage to shine with love even in Lena's memories.
Lena and her parents live in England.
And yet, despite everything, they’re still Dutch.
Why does that have to be such a bad thing?