Dusk, the start of the night shift that no one wants to do. Bálint watches the sun dip down across the river, it’s reflection glinting off the water. A week of this to come before he returns to the lazy day shift, relaxing in the warmth of the summer days.
In most places, the darkness brings stillness and peace, but not here. Here, dusk marks the beginning of rush hour.
He picks up the night vision binoculars and scans the horizon. Nothing so far. They will wait until the light has gone completely. Clouds in the sky overhead will block out the moonlight. They will certainly try tonight.
He shouldn’t complain. He is lucky to still have a job to come to. The fence along the land border has removed the need for the Border Guards. Only here, where the middle of the river marks the border, is there still a need for a permanent watch.
Does he have sympathy for those that come? It is not his job to think about such things. He is paid to stop people entering the country, his country, illegally. Some may be innocent, some may be persecuted, some may be victims. He didn’t believe, like his government told them, that most of them were criminals, but there may be terrorists, or rapists, or thieves among them. From those he would protect his people as he was paid to do. He was diligent and proud of his service.
He raises the binoculars again. There they are. The shadows on the far bank, crouched by the edge of the water. How many tonight? Maybe twenty, thirty, it’s hard to make them out. Until they step into the river they have committed no crime, so he waits and watches.
He points out what he has seen to the other members of the guard. After an hour the shadows move. There is no sound. A few more steps and then he signals to Lieutenant Halász. Halász flicks the switch and the bright floodlights send powerful beams across the night sky.
The shadows freeze, unsure what to do. Blinded by the light they cannot see if anyone is there. They have come so far. They collectively decide to push on, they are so close.
Bálint sees them press forward. He raises his rifle. Two warning shots fire into the night sky. A warning message booms from loudspeakers. ‘Turn back now. It is illegal to attempt to cross the border here.’
Again they freeze. Bálint can see a woman, carrying a child above her head as the water rises to her mid-drift. Is she looking straight at him? The look of pleading in her face tells of terror and hardship and despair.
He fires two more shots, the loudspeaker plays the message again. This time the group turn and retreat. He watches them reach the far bank and melt away into the black landscape beyond. The border is secure again. He may have to repeat the same routine two or three times again that night.
What will become of the woman with her child? It is not his job to think about such things.