Tale of Ahmed



“Rings true to my own terrifying experience of escape.” —Atiqullah Khan, former asylum seeker

“An astonishing and inflammatory work.” —Jane Gardam, Booker Prize finalist

“[Evokes] the ordeal that millions today endure unseen – the hope and horror
of the refugee experience.” —Anthony Summers, Pulitzer Prize finalist

“Vivid, haunting and a call to conscience.” —Fergal Keane, foreign correspondent and author

"A tremendous feat of imagination and empathy." —Derek Sellen, poet

Buy This Book


add to cart

add to cart
Print + E-book:

add to cart

FAQs and shipping information

About the Book

Tale of Ahmed is a gripping fictional account of the dangerous journey of a teenage boy, Ahmed, who travels from Afghanistan, across the Middle East and Europe, to seek refuge in England.

Author Henry Cockburn lives at one end of a long trail stretching from Afghanistan to the southeast coast of England. His home in Kent is close to where small, frail boats arrive bringing refugees on the last lap of their 6,000-mile journey from Kabul and the Hindu Kush. Meeting and talking with refugees, Henry became aware that even they themselves rarely understand the heroic nature of their odyssey. The journey’s never-ending risks have become second nature to them. For most other people, they are simply unknown. Correcting such misperceptions is one of the objectives of this powerful story.

Written in the form of an epic poem and richly illustrated by the author, Tale of Ahmed describes how its eponymous hero gets help from fellow travelers and finds unexpected friends along the way. But Ahmed is also exploited for money by crooks and cheats, as well as targeted as a pariah. This unusual and unputdownable fable recounts with great sensitivity the Afghans’ sufferings and their courage and resilience in making a grueling passage.

238 pages • Paperback ISBN 978-1-68219-427-0 • E-book ISBN 978-1-68219-428-7

About the Author

Henry Cockburn author photo

Photo © Pete Edlin
space after caption

Henry Cockburn is an artist and writer who grew up in Moscow and Washington DC, where his father Patrick Cockburn worked as a journalist. He now lives in Canterbury, Kent. His life changed dramatically when he had a breakdown in 2002, after which he spent several years in mental hospitals. With his father, he wrote Henry’s Demons, which was shortlisted for the 2011 Costa prize.

Nelofer Pazira-Fisk was born in Kabul and was 6 years old when the Russians invaded Afghanistan. After a decade of war, Nelofer and her family escaped to Pakistan, and from there to Canada. She is an internationally acclaimed film producer and the author of A Bed of Red Flowers, which is a compelling portrait of the life of Afghan under occupation, and their resilience in the face of war.

Read an Excerpt

In his native tongue Pashto Ahmed greeted them.
He noticed that there were no boys, just men.
As they sat on the cabin floor – halfway up in the sky,
The man who had beckoned them stared at Ahmed,
And Ahmed looked deep into the man’s dark eyes,
Wondering whether he meant harm or good?
What Ahmed’s first impressions were, he could not decide.
Then the man nodded before saying in a voice parched and dry
‘My name is Shaheed young friend,
And those you see around you are all my men.
We own this sky, although we’d prefer the land down below.
They say that this is where you come
When you have nowhere left to go.’

‘Now tell me, what is your name? Why are you here?
You are from Afghanistan, that much is clear.’
‘We are refugees,’ said Ahmed. ‘No more and no less,
Our aim is to get to England – that is the purpose of our quest.’
‘Look down there!’ said Shaheed, with a menacing smile.
‘That is the police who bother us once in a while,
But they don’t come here because they fear heights.
They usually stay during the days,
But they get bored of waiting in the cold of night.
That is when we go to our Sanctuary –
You saw it as you ran upstairs,
And you can stay in it, for a small fee.
And that is a generous offer, not a guarantee,
For on your account they’ll have smashed up the place,
Broken all our equipment and laid it to waste.
That is because they saw all of you come here.
When newcomers arrive, the police appear.’
‘We are sorry,’ said Ahmed. ‘So, we were being watched?
We had no clue nor the faintest idea.’

Hnery sketch


‘Young friend, the walls have ears, and the street has eyes.
This is where you come if there is
Nowhere left to run, and nowhere left to hide.
As far as the land ends and the ocean is wide,
There is no man out there who can run from the tide.
For those who dream of foreign lands
Die before they can reach those sands.
But some try, and some may die –
They know not how; they know not why.
But I promise you on the setting sun,
That I can get you wherever it is you want to run.’

Ahmed looked at the man and paused –
The man had a gash on his lower jaw.
He smiled between a set of broken gold teeth
As Ahmed surveyed the land sprawled out beneath.
And as he looked down a strong wind blew.
Ahmed was considering just what to do
As the men spoke to each other in Pashto.
What had he to say, half a mile above the ground?
‘Tell me my friend – to England you are bound?
I can get you to the shores you seek for a small price,
But to have a sanctuary in Europe, to have an easy life,
Such a fee would be a small sacrifice.
I see in front of me three ragged boys.
The benefit of riches is a privilege you do not enjoy,
But I am guessing there is somewhere you wish to go –
If that is not true, tell me? I can get you there.
For a small fortune I can get you anywhere.’

‘For the shores of England was always the purpose of our quest,
But through the course of our accursed journey,’
Said Ahmed, ‘I am afraid that we have little money left.
For we have met anguish and disaster on the road –
The time when we started our journey feels like long ago.
We have already paid our agent a substantial sum.
We did not guess at the start the hardship we would meet on the way,
Or that we would be incarcerated, beaten and betrayed.
Many many moons have passed since our journey began.
Our purpose was to escape the war and terror in Afghanistan.’

‘Who is this agent of yours?’ said the man.
‘Who has sent you this far away from your homeland
And left you stranded on the shores of Greece?’
Said the man, grimacing, displaying broken gold teeth.
‘You must tell me what I seek – this agent’s name –
And maybe you can continue your journey in what we call the Game.
Look down, far down,’ said the man, pointing towards the port,
And the consignments of freight on the harbour down below.
‘The Game demands that you hide among the cargo.
The rules are simple. You must pay us before you play –
And we will teach you the art of disguising yourselves as stowaways.
I control some of this port – although not everything that goes on in it,
I can show you the Game, but you yourselves must win it.
We will look after you and give you room and board –
But all that depends on what you can afford.’

In the Media

Verified by MonsterInsights