It’s cold in here.
What used to be walls and represent safety is now a grey mass of rubble that allows multiple shards of moonlight through to cast shadows on the dusty floor, offering no protection at all against the chill of the evening air, or whatever the night terrors will bring.
He squats in a curled position rocking slowly back and forth on his heels, the thumb of his left hand shriveling away in the depths of his mouth as his right hand draws the same mindless patterns over and over in the dirt beneath his feet.
His once white shoes with the green line around the edge of the sole that he was so proud of are now peppered with shades of grey, the rubber over the toes stained red. The basketball vest has suffered the same fate, and the right leg of his shorts is ripped mid-thigh, revealing a dirt-encrusted cut beneath.
Eyes wide, he stares up through the big gap where the ceiling used to be, and a low mumble plays on repeat: ‘Mama? Papa?’ The murmur is barely more than the movement of his dry, cracked lips, but he has always been a little scared of the monsters in the dark, and there is no one here to soothe or shield him from them now.
Tummy rumbling in protest against the hollowness of the past two days, he doesn’t know where or how to look for food. This morning as he’d wandered around the outside of their home, he had found and eagerly devoured a discarded orange, sucking every last drop of juice from his fingertips. He’d watched the flies fight up a frenzy when he threw the empty skin on the floor, much like they did over the big red hole in Mama’s back where she lay down sleeping near where the front door of the building used to be.
He’d sat with Mama for hours, chattering away and singing her songs, the ones he knew made her smile, but she wouldn’t wake up. Grown ups were strange; they were always busy or always sleeping. He had got tired of waiting and returned back ‘inside’.
Papa had left the day before with a reassuring smile on his face that never seemed to reach his eyes. He did that a lot lately, especially when all the angry people were shouting in the street outside and playing with their guns. Even more when those big bright fireworks lit up the sky. Sometimes it looked like the actual sun was coming down on them, and when the fireworks hit the ground, or buildings, the whole ground shook like a crowd full of people cheering when their favourite team had scored a goal. He’d seen football on their television. He knew what it must feel like.
Sometimes Papa returned with armfuls of food, and if he was lucky, maybe even some sweets. If he closes his eyes now, he can picture his Papa quickly walking down the street with his strong, sure footsteps pounding along the road outside. Any second now, he will hear him swing open the door and call out, calling them to come and get the treats he has brought home for them.
One more minute, he tells himself, one more minute until Papa will be home. Minutes seem like forever when you are young. Minutes are hours and days and seasons when you are waiting for your Papa.
But Papa isn’t coming, no matter how much he screws up his four-year old eyes and wishes.
Behind his closed eyelids he can see it is getting brighter. A little gasp of hope escapes him as he opens his eyes, daring to believe that finally, someone is coming. He won’t be alone in the dark anymore and maybe, just maybe, they will bring him something to eat. Maybe some of that apple juice he likes so much.
The brightness grows, and with it a terrible silence seems to fill the air. He turns his eyes skyward and watches as the roaring firework grows bigger and bigger.
He waits for the crowd to start cheering. He knows what it’s going to feel like.