November 12th – Fresh Air, No Despair.
They had all made it into the shelter. Cramped, pressed up against the sides, they held onto each other for lack of anything more solid to hold on to. Or, perhaps, in spite of, because there were struts around the shelter, concrete pillars in the middle giving the impression of substance, although they all knew that a direct hit would render them worthless.
The bombs were steady: close, then closer. Mothers tried to hush crying children, husbands tried to comfort their wives, old couples clinging to each other, wide eyed in the darkness, like drowning men around a lifebelt. People spoke only in whispers, or not at all; listening, waiting.
They all knew the drill. The sirens had been regular for weeks, but each one was followed by silence, and complacency almost took root, even if the ground was arid. The men, the ones who were left behind, shared knowing smiles, smiles that said we don’t know what the fuss is about, smiles that said not us, not here, smiles that were born out of confidence and trust that they were in the right, that the enemy was on the run, that it would all be over by Christmas.
January was hard.
The shelter, even warmed by so many bodies, breathing in and out when breaths could no longer be held, was cold, still. This was the fourth raid this week. It was only Tuesday.
The shelter shook, violently, then shook again: dust mixed with earth mixed with paint, flaked from where they tried to brighten it up, when it wasn’t serious, fell from the roof, picked out in the gleams of the hurricane lamps and candles they brought with them. The bombs were closer. Ears rang as the shockwaves cannoned off the aluminium, children cried, babies cried harder. Not just the children. Not just the babies.
It took an eternity for the all-clear to sound, for the bombs to have gone away. Even then, the people were slow to move, to leave what had been, again, safety. But they trusted the siren, as they had learned to trust the siren that called them there.
The pale January light had changed when they opened the door. It was greyer, brighter, like snow but not snow. Around them was chaos, all changed. Smoke rose from the rubble and mixed with the dust.
Inspired by prompts from here