The rain starts off light, a fine drizzle making Lily’s hair sparkle as if thousands of diamonds have been weaved through her golden crown of curls. I smile and squeeze her hand.
‘Not far,’ I say.
‘I forgot Teddy.’ She looks up at me. A frown creases her forehead, her eyes wide, pools of fear. A streak of light flashes across the sky, lighting up the entire street. Then comes a thunderclap so loud that, for a moment, I think my eardrums have burst. Then the deluge begins. I can’t tell if tears are running down her cheeks or whether it’s the rain. I grip her hand tightly as we hurry on amongst hundreds of others. I can’t pick her up now. My other hand presses into my belly as if trying to protect the precious cargo it’s carrying as it bursts through my unbuttoned coat. Another flash of lightning. I squeeze her hand tighter as the thunder shakes everything around us once more. We can’t speak to each other through the noise. People are getting more desperate and push past, the river of water bubbling up from the gutters and racing ahead of us on the road.
Lily pulls on my hand, desperate to get away from the arrows of rain as they shoot through our clothes and sting our skin.
‘Almost there,’ I shout, but the storm washes my words away, swirling and roiling, disappearing in the wave of water tearing down the streets.
At last, we arrive, and the rain has eased; the sound of the thunder is distant now. The air-raid warden is ushering people through the open doors, and we join the cascade, racing down the steps as the thrum of plane engines takes over from the usual vibration of underground trains, and now the whistle of bombs raining down. Their thunder so much louder when they find their target.
Voices bounce off the walls as people huddle on the floor. Babies cry, and children hide their faces in their mother’s chests. Buckets line the centre of the underground tunnel to catch the drops of rain collecting along the roof’s curve. Plop! Plop! Plop! I hold Lily close and wait until the soft thud of explosions becomes more distant, signalling the end of the raid in the same way that diminishing thunder heralds the end of a storm. A sharp pain rips through my body. Lily yelps as I grip her more tightly. ‘Sorry, sweetheart.’ The pain subsides, and I relax again.
The All-Clear sounds and everyone shuffles to their feet. Queues of weary bodies make their way back up the steps. The voices of children rise, and their chatter and laughter rains down on us, welcome and comforting as we step out into the night. Then silence pours over everyone as we look around at this strange new world. The rain has stopped. A thick fog of dust and smoke envelops the fires, burning our throats, making us cough and choke as it rises and spreads out in every direction. The rain would be a welcome guest now. Once there were rows and rows of terraced houses, shops and factories; now, there were mountains of rubble and cavernous craters.
We make our way back home, stepping over the rubble and broken glass. Some houses are still half standing, and as we look up at what’s left of number 23 on our street, we can see a bed and its untidy blankets hanging over the precipice of half a bedroom floor—the blankets where, less than an hour ago, Lily and I were curled up and fast asleep.
Lily drops my hand and climbs over the bricks and rubble.
‘No, Lily. It’s dangerous.’ I attempt to follow her, but the sudden pain in my belly stops me in my tracks.
‘I found him,’ she says, holding Teddy up triumphantly as she carefully tiptoes her way back to me.
‘Eeh! I’m sorry, Lass,’ says Mrs Hennessy from number 12, ‘Come and stay at mine tonight. We’ll sort this out tomorrow.’
‘I’m not sure I can wait until tomorrow,’ I say, as the warm stream of water runs down my legs.