by Robyn Bourne


(Post-atomic bomb – set in the future)

We curl up together in a corner because we have become cats, and this makes me feel better. We are both silent, which is strange for Rosie, even when she is a cat. I wish it would stop.

A lady with grey hair and a pointy nose stands above us and asks what my name is. Her wrinkles look like folds I get in my school skirt when I forget to hang it up.

“Where are your parents? Are they in here?” She looks at my clothing and bare feet. She glares at my face hard, and I wonder if I’ve still got dirt on it from playing hide and seek with Rosie. I don’t think she likes me.

“Up there.” I point to the ceiling and for the first time notice the dirty brown patches. I wrinkle my nose up and wiggle it, like a bunny. Rosie giggles. The lady doesn’t. She walks off without saying anything.

“That was rude!” I tell Rosie. I think the old lady heard, because she turns around and looks me up and down, like a see-saw.

“Oopsies!” Says Rosie, smiling. I can see the gap where her tooth fell out, and instead is her pink shiny gum. My teeth haven’t started falling out yet, but Rosie is older than me. She is seven, and I am only five and eleven days. I want to be seven, because sometimes Rosie can be bossy and tells me what to do.

There is thunder in our bellies, and we are very hot. This room is full of people, and somebody even has a hamster in a cage. We are like sardines in a tin, sitting squashed together in rows. That is why I and Rosie moved to the floor, even though it is dirty. My bum hurts because the floor is uncomfortable and knobbly.

A man towers above us like a sky-scraper, and tells us to stand up. He is smiling, but his eyes are frowny and sad. Rosie and I try to stand up holding hands, and I fall over again, laughing. The man is no longer smiling but telling me to get up quickly without making a fuss. I’m not sure I like him anymore.

Everyone is standing. I try to count how many heads there are, but people keep on moving. Rosie informs me there are twenty-two, including the hamster. We make our own hamster, who is brown and white and fluffy with sticky-outy hair and likes to sit on our shoulders. His name is Scruffy.

Everyone is crowded around the door, and I feel scared because I don’t know what is going on and what to do.

“Don’t cry,” Rosie tells me sharply, “You’re not a baby.” She can be mean sometimes. I turn my back on her and fold my arms, but then they are unfolded again by someone with a purple coat and spotty tights. She is wearing a bright orange hat, and it reminds me of those round flashy orange lights that are sometimes on top of ambulances and taxis. She takes my hand and leads me to the door. I like her blue nails, but am too shy to say it. I look at my own, and see they are bitten so there are no white bits. I think I won’t ever bite them again, even though I only started when we went in this shelter, so I can have nails like hers when I’m a big girl.

I imagine the hat lighting up and spinning around, and people moving out the way to let us through. Everyone is looking at us in wonder, and I have blue nail varnish on.

Once everyone is filtered through the door and no one is blocking it, the light hurts my eyes for a few seconds because it was quite dark underground. When my eyes have got used to it, everything is covered in black stuff. Ash.

We climb up the concrete steps and she takes me away from the people and brings herself down to my height of one metre and five centimetres. That is a difficult word to say, centimetres.

The purple lady has green eyes and she smells nice, like strawberry and chocolate.

“Things will be different around here to how they used to be, Maddie.” I have never been called Maddie by a grown-up before – they call me Madison. Only Rosie calls me Maddie. I will allow her to say it, though, because I like her.

Then I remember; Rosie! Where is she?

It’s okay, she’s by my side now. I wonder where she’s been. She cups her hands over my ear and whispers about a big bomb. One has gone off near us, and it has knocked down a lot of places. The woman starts talking over Rosie, so we shush her. When Rosie finishes, I introduce her. The lady smiles and asks how Rosie is. I tell her she is fine.

Then her face becomes serious, like a cloud going over the sun. “Some very horrible people have dropped a very nasty bomb, and it has knocked down lots of buildings and, sadly, lots of people have passed away. We are very lucky to be where we are and to survive. This bomb is a special type of bomb which spreads something very dangerous as well as just going off, which is why we had to stay in the shelter for so long.” her face is happy again, but her smile is hiding something very sad. “But now we are safe and food is being shared out, and we will find you a place to stay.”

“Why would someone make a bomb like that, and then send it somewhere to blow up?” I ask. She takes my hand and squeezes it.

“Who knows?” she sighs and for a second her smile slips, but then she is back to being smiley. “I just need to go and check something, so you stay right here and I’ll be back in a minute.” she hurries away and goes behind a wall, which once was the town hall.

Me and Rosie count to sixty together, but when she doesn’t appear, we sneak past all the tall people and make our way home. I can’t see my mummy; she must be at home. We walk along the pavement, trying not to step on the cracks, and I win because Rosie fell.

I have this sicky feeling in the bottom of my tummy, and no one is about. The closer we get to mummy, the less I recognise, but we must be going the right way. I find the sign which says our street name on it in the middle of our road once I’ve brushed off the ash, although this doesn’t look like our street sign or our road. I drag it behind me, because I don’t want to leave it.

I can see the Fletcher’s house from here, only it isn’t a house anymore. It is now only a wall. Opposite their wall across the road is Mr. Paxton’s two walls, and his neat garden is gone. He used to cut his grass every day and feed it, but that’s just silly. Plants don’t need feeding, and they don’t have mouths to eat with anyway. Rosie and I did try telling him this, but he said some very rude words which wasn’t very nice, but he didn’t care.

My hands are sweaty, which happens when I’m scared. My heart is beating very fast like a mouse’s, and the sicky feeling is now very, very big. I start running to get to mummy quicker, but our house isn’t there anymore. A pile of rubble is there instead, and I can see our big sofa. I have to be careful because of the bits of brick and glass, although I’m used to the ground being hot as my water bottle. I wish I had taken my shoes into the shelter with me.

Rosie and I walk around the pile because we can’t see over the top, even though Rosie is seven. We are both shouting for mummy, but she doesn’t answer. Rosie suggests she is sleeping, but I know this isn’t true. She isn’t here.

My eyes are wet. I lie down and press my face to the ground, so bits of gravel stick to my cheeks, and tears runs sideways down my nose. Rosie puts her arm around me, but I push her off. I don’t want her, I want mummy. She disappears.

I hug my knees and close my eyes. I’m imagining mummy coming towards me and picking me up, but she doesn’t come. Why can I imagine Rosie coming and she will, but I can’t with mum? I cry louder, hoping she will find me. But nobody comes.

I feel very, very alone.