Just now I felt something run across my foot. I squealed and Gran shone the torch to see if I was alright. She only puts it on in emergencies because we’re down to our last battery. Anyway, there was my foot sticking out of the blanket looking quite normal, with no sign of any scampering creatures, and at first Gran said it must be my imagination. But as she flashed the weak beam around the cellar we could both see little red points of light, in pairs – one just a metre away from me, the others in the far corner. ‘Damn! We’ve got rats.’ she said. Gran doesn’t usually use words like ‘damn’ so I knew it must be serious.
We have been down here for five days now. Or maybe six. I’m not sure because it is dark all the time. At least we won’t run out of air – it’s draughty and a bit cold, especially at night. We have finished the bread, milk and cheese we brought down to the cellar and now we have only Gran’s bottled fruit and veg to eat. I’m sick of pickled cauliflower – it gives me tummy ache. Gran says Dad will bring proper food when he comes back, but she doesn’t know when that will be. I hope it’s soon!
At least there hasn’t been any more banging and rumbling today. Maybe that means they’re bombing someone else. I know I shouldn’t feel glad about that, but I can’t help it. I don’t want to die before my life has even started. I have so many plans. I want to become a doctor, or at least a nurse. ‘Can’t we go upstairs now?’ I beg, but Gran says to wait for a few more hours just to be sure. We can’t stay down here much longer though. We only brought down one bucket for going to the toilet and it’s nearly full. It really stinks, especially since my diarrhoea started.
One more night, wrapped up in blankets like a pair of Egyptian mummies so the rats can’t get to our fingers and toes, and we wake up to more silence. At last Gran agrees I can climb up the ladder to see what’s going on. Her bad leg makes it hard for her to get up and down, and lying in this underground chill hasn’t helped. ‘Make sure you stay hidden, girl’ she warns me. ‘There might be soldiers on patrol and you know how quick they are to shoot anyone they don’t like the look of, even if you aren’t doing anything wrong.’ I’m up at the top in no time, opening the hatch in the kitchen floor and peering through.
The morning light is dazzling. Everything is covered in thick white powder, and sparkly stuff that I realise must be glass. Yes, the kitchen window has been broken. I listen carefully but can’t hear anyone nearby. I make my way eagerly to the fridge, but it’s dark and smelly inside. The electricity has gone off. I crunch over to the pantry to see what we’ve got left. There is a crock of flour, some dried chickpeas, a box of old apples and a few potatoes – yum, how I would love to eat a hot potato! But I suppose the cooker won’t be working either. Maybe I could make a fire.
I carefully make my way over to the jagged hole that used to be our window and peer out. The street is unrecognisable. My friend Tamara’s house across the road simply isn’t there any more – there is just a crumbling pile of concrete under a huge area of blue sky. I can see a bright flair of colour amongst the grey and my heart lurches – please don’t let that be Tammy’s dress. But no, it’s a bit of curtain material. I remember those curtains from when I’ve sat so many times at her kitchen table, sipping a cup of tea, on the way home after school. Well that won’t be happening any more. I do hope she and her family are OK. I wonder where they are? The attack came so suddenly that Gran and I could only grab a few things and get down to the cellar. We didn’t have time to speak to anyone. And now my phone battery has run out.
It is so nice and warm up here at street level. I breathe in a big lungful of fresh air. It smells a bit dusty, but it’s better than our smelly cellar. A bird sings in the tree down the road, and a butterfly glints in the sunlight, and for a moment I feel jealous that it seems free and happy whilst I am almost like a prisoner.
I gather a few wrinkled apples and a clean bucket, and spot my rechargeable radio which has fallen off the table. It’s still got power. Good - we might be able to get some news. I put everything in the bucket and drop it down for Gran to take, then we twiddle the knob on the radio, both of us leaning forward, trying to hear through the crackles. Eventually there is a foreign voice – I recognise that it’s in English. It must be what
they call the BBC. I summon up all my English lessons from school to try and understand what is being said. They are talking about a war – about children getting killed. About help being given to people escaping what they call ‘the war zone’. I wonder if Gran and I can get help? It sounds as though people in other countries are opening their homes so people that have suffered can escape to somewhere safe. Oh, that would be so wonderful! I feel scared all the time in this horrible cellar, never knowing when the next explosions will come.
But oh no – the radio programme’s not about us after all. They’re discussing a country called Ukraine. I don’t think they care about us here in Palestine.
© Rosie Douglas