A sudden explosion of colours.
Then a deafening boom.
The hail of rocks and debris.
The clouds of smoke.
Then the silence.
The painfully stretched seconds of nothing but silence.
And then screams. The terrible sound of voices piercing the quiet.
Then the rubbery smell of burnt grass.
And then the chaos.
My body tenses up as I attempt to dislodge my clumsy body out of the tiny space between the wrecked locker cabinet and the soggy ground. I wriggle my shoulders, accidently snagging my tattered shirt on a loose piece of wood that is sticking out of the cabinet. A high-pitched ringing in my ears makes everything feel woozy and far-off. The air is hot and clammy, but my skin still feels cold. A shiver runs down my curved spine. Still, sweat trickles down my forehead in snake-like movements, hanging on the edge of my chin, before splashing down onto my mud-splattered ballerina shoes. I gulp painfully, squeezing my eyes shut as I try to suppress a scream from escaping my mouth.
I do not know what has happened, why I am stuck behind a smashed locker cabinet, why everyone is screaming and wailing, nor why there is an irrepressible feeling of panic clawing its way up my body. Only a few moments ago, I was sitting on my desk at school, learning about things that now feel distant and blurry in my head. My feet are sore, my back and neck are stiff, my ears are pounding, my face and hands are filthy, my hair is bedraggled, my lips are parched, and a bitter taste of burning sullies my lips. Another loud sound goes off, not too far away. I shield my eyes and cover my ears as a child’s shriek pierces the leaden sky.
Suddenly, something cold touches my neck, grasps me from the scruff of my neck and pulls me up. My knees scrape against the shattered wood of the locker cabinet as I am jerked up onto my feet. A young boy, a few years older than myself – possibly fourteen or fifteen – and a foot or so taller, pulls me close to his face and drinks in my ragged appearance with his light green eyes, a look of angry despair marring his otherwise innocent appearance. His hair is tattered, and his face stained with patches of dirt. I can hear the heavy rasps of his stale breath. His expression drops instantly. He mutters something intelligible and pushes me to the ground before sprinting away, calling out a girl’s name. I stagger to my feet again, but notice that my legs feel wobbly and somewhat lighter than usual. Before I can look down and inspect any potential damage, my knees buckle and I smack against the muddy ground. I look across my splayed body and notice a deep gash running down my left thigh. I wince and bite my dry lips. I am suddenly fully aware of the pain coursing through my leg. I want to scream, but my mother has always told me to be strong. But I can hear other people screaming all around me, and I can hardly suppress the feeling. Screaming does not feel like the worst idea in the world.
Tears stream down my dirty face as I scream loudly. The rise and fall of my chest intensifies and panic grips me. I thrash out wildly, not aware of anything other than the intense feeling of pain in my body. Somebody grabs my hands and lifts me up high. I think it is a woman, because I can hear her make soothing sounds whilst patting me on the back. But I must be too heavy, for she quickly places me back on the mud-strewn ground. I hardly have time to look up and look at her, because she is already running off somewhere else. Thankfully, I have calmed down slightly. Determined to take my mind off the pain in my leg, I look up and scan the area. I must be outside the school, because I cannot see any buildings around me. Or rather, I see lots of buildings; only, they are much lower than usual, as though they were sliced in half in the most rugged fashion ever. I feel as though I am drowning in a sea of wrecked buildings and cars. I notice the road where my mother usually waits for me in the car after school. Only, the road has been cleaved in two, the tarmac rising on both sides like waves of shattered black glass, overlooking a deep dark pit that runs through the centre of the road. I see people running around like headless chickens everywhere. There are people on the ground, some not moving, and others writhing like fish out of the water. Sounds of terror lace the acrid air; I hear people calling for help and the sirens of ambulances wailing all around. And then, amidst all the pandemonium, I hear my name being called out.
I look around sharply, until I spot a woman running headlong towards me, her long black hair bouncing on her back behind her. The woman wraps me in a rib-squashing hug before I have time to react. Her hair gets in my face; it is straggly and smells of sweat, though I cannot figure out why. The woman is sobbing loudly, squeezing me tighter, as though afraid that I will escape. I hug her back, because I love my mother and miss her terribly, but I cannot understand why she is so eager on hugging me like this. I cannot really understand what is going on.
“Oh my child, my child,” she sobs, almost inaudibly, clutching at my hair. Then, she pulls away without warning and holds me at arm’s length, her hands gripping my arms. I look at my mother’s terrified face, and notice that she is trembling. Or is it me who is trembling?
“Are you okay? No, you’re not. Oh, it’s terrible. We need to get you to hospital immediately.” My mother is talking so quickly that I find it hard to keep track of what she is saying. My eyes stray down her body, and notice a dark swelling stain on her jeans.
“Mu–” I try to talk but find that my throat is dry. With a grunt, my mother lifts me up and walks towards one of the ambulances. But she barely moves a few feet before crumpling onto the ground, clutching the area where her jeans are stained and groaning. I crash onto my backside, letting out a loud yelp. Two adults in blue uniforms rush towards my mother, shouting in assertive voices for a stretcher to be brought immediately. Everything feels like a blur; my mother is sprawled on the ground alongside me; blue uniformed people are rushing towards us, bandages and other hospital equipment in their hands. Then, the pain in my thigh returns with such a burning intensity that my vision turns dark.
I open my eyes, but my whole body feels sluggish and fatigued. I lift my head gingerly, but it feels too heavy. I look up at the sky, but find myself looking at a fan-mounted wall instead. I then realise that I am lying on something soft – a bed, I imagine; but I do not have the energy to lift my head again. Then, I hear people chattering in quick voices. I hear the word “Doctor” thrown around a few times. It takes a while for it to register in my head; but, when it does, I realise I must be in a hospital.
“The eleven-year-old girl –”
“Her mother –”
I catch snippets of conversation, unable to stitch them together, but I know that they must be talking about me.
A shadow flits over my face; someone must be walking towards me. But then, a loud voice calls out, “Doctor, we’re needed here – we’re losing her.” The shadow moves away, and I can hear footsteps rushing towards what sounds like the other side of the room. I hear them talking in hushed, panicked voices, but I still cannot understand what is going on.
“It’ll be alright, dear.” A new voice speaks nearby. I muster enough energy to turn my head to the side, and see an elderly woman lying on an adjacent bed. Her forehead is heavily bandaged and her clothes are tattered. From the corner of my eye I observe several blue and white clad people gathering around a bed in the far corner of the room.
“Sweetie, look here,” the old woman says, drawing my attention towards her. “Talk to me about something you like.”
I frown slightly, unsure why this stranger wants me to talk to her, but I obey her and tell her about the daffodils in my garden, and how they make me so happy. I hear people mumbling anxiously in the background. There is a flurry of activity near what must be my mother’s bed. I hear people saying, “she’s gone,” but I am too dazed to understand what they mean. And all this while, the woman continues to smile and tell me to look at her. I do so, and it makes me feel at ease.