Tired at the end of the day, Natalia walked home, avoiding the smouldering ruins of the buildings hit by shells the night before. Once the firefighters controlled the worst of the fires, rescuers found two people and a cat alive. She approached the men and asked, “Are there any other survivors? I know the cat’s owner.”
A rescuer said, “Most people were sheltering in the nearby metro tunnel. Unfortunately, the old lady who owned the cat was a victim.”
She stared at him as she tucked a strand of red hair behind her ear, bent down and picked up the cat. “I’ll take Tabby home with me.”
Gladly, they nodded and watched her take the cat.
The cat settled on Natalia’s sofa, purring as if this had always been her home. She jumped onto the bed and settled for the night, seemingly without a care. Natalia fell into a deep sleep until the cat roused her. She lay listening, her heart thumping in her chest. What had woken her? Why was the cat anxious? Then she heard it, a soft knocking on the front door. Grabbing her dressing gown, she left the cat on the bed as she negotiated the stairs in the dark. She wanted the element of surprise to be on her side.
She stood as the knocking continued. She whispered, “Who’s there? What do you want?”
A gruff voice answered. “It’s me, Dimitri, your cousin.”
She stood motionless. She had last seen Dimitri when, in their early teens, their parents went together for a holiday by the sea. His parents moved away and had not kept in contact. How would she know him after all these years? How did he know where she lived? Most of all, she was concerned this was a trap. Nevertheless, for family’s sake, she opened the door and gazed at the bedraggled man on the doorstep. She would not have known him if he had passed her in the street.
She asked, “What was the name of the street you used to live on?”
He answered correctly.
“What was the name of your dog when you lived there?”
He smiled and looked wistful. “Beautiful Bella or BB. “
She nodded. “Come in. Have you eaten?” They walked into the kitchen. He sank onto a chair, leaned on the table, and said, “This world has gone mad. Shells hit our house three nights ago. All the family died except me. I didn’t know what to do or where to go after I had buried my parents and brother. Then I remembered you and hoped your family had survived.
She made a snap decision. “They haven’t. Do you have any money with you? Have you got a passport?”
He nodded yes to both.
“Right, we’ll take my car and leave early in the morning. I trust you can drive?”
He appeared stunned, then said, “Yes, I drive. Where do you want to go?”
“We need to get over the border. Away from this hell.”