It is the vibrations that wake you rather than the sound overhead that is like the low grumble of thunder. In the distance, you hear the impact. Three maybe four miles you think. You haven’t the time to wipe the sleep from your eyes. Your father is already standing, grabbing a pre-packed bag from under the table. It is still dark outside. A tinge of orange lines the cityscape, you hope it’s the rising sun; but you know it isn’t. As he stuffs some food in the bag, your father asks you to help your sister. Amena is struggling with her shoes, her chubby hands fumble with the laces. You tie them for her, using double knots. Then, you dress her in more clothes, as many as possible. She tells you she is too hot, you apologise as you put a scarf around her neck. The padding makes her look soft and plump as if she’d bounce right back if you dropped her. She is four years old. Your mother has your toothbrushes clenched in her fist. She is tall and slender, much prettier than any of your friend’s parents. In this light, however, her skin looks grey. Her once graceful movement now seems unnatural, as if invisible strings dictated her movement.
Beneath your feet, you feel a small tremor. The sensation seeps through your shoes and up your legs, like pins and needles. You can barely hear your father over the din. He wants to leave now. Your mother scoops up Amena, who is now crying. Her wails are inaudible through the blare outside. In all the clamour, you are already on the stairwell before you realise you never looked back at your home. The place you spent all your life, the house to your memories, the apartment your parents thought you might one day inherit. There isn’t time now.
The street is empty. All the dust and debris make the wind visible. Even though you have pulled your scarf over your mouth, the dirt has managed to invade and it clogs every crevice. Your father listens carefully, trying to figure out the airspace. It is eerily quiet. He tells you to stay close to the building and you run, half-crouched in a line behind him. You pass the front doors of your neighbours and friends. Some left days ago, some, you think, must still be inside waiting and praying. You can hear your mother and Amena talking softly.
‘What’s happening? I’m thirsty.’
‘I know, dear, but you’ll have to wait for a bit. Okay?’
You reach the end of your street and finally, you see some other people. Much like you, they stay huddled and close to the buildings. You see some children who might be around your age. Under the veil of dust, they might be someone you would have recognised. Now, however, they look like everyone else: dirty and afraid. You see your car parked on the corner but your father continues past it, following the other families. Even though you sat in it last week, the car looks ancient as if it hasn’t been driven in years. You wonder if a vehicle won’t work in that state, and that’s why you aren’t using it but you don’t ask – you trust your father.
Above, you hear that all too familiar growl. Your mother screams, you run for cover. The families scurry like ants, breaking formation. The doorways are already filled with cowering people. It is an important decision and it has to be made quick. Unknowingly, you begin to cry. The tear that rolls down your cheek mixes with the sand and turns to clay. The thunder approaches and your chest burns. At a loss, your father drags you to a nearby abandoned van. Crouching beside it, your father does his best to wrap his arms around all of you. You are unsure whether it is the van that is shaking so violently or your human shield. Time slows. The roar is so deafening that you aren’t certain if it has passed over. Your father is only recognisable by the pair of eyes stark white against the ash and the mud. You look at him and, for some reason, you remember the first time he scolded you. The look in his eyes is familiar yet unknown. You recall when this was something you heard adults speak about in hushed whispers, but now it is a reality. This was a world you never envisioned yourself in, a world you cannot comprehend. You wish for safety and security. You wish for home.