The darkness frightened him. Bombs dropping all over the streets behind his house always made him think that the next whistler was going to land on his chimney and tumble all the bricks on top of his head. Only last week he had saw the dead body of Mr Wilson next door. The old man who used to shout at him for no reason lay broken and twisted, wrapped bizarrely around a stripy ironing board. It was odd to see his bald head opened and weeping dark blood beside the pale cotton-covered household goods. The whole wall had fallen away and revealed the inside of the old man’s house, pictures of children hanging on his flowery wallpaper; it all looked so intimate, like he should not be looking at it, like seeing some strange woman standing in her pants. He looked away from the wall and stared at the bloodied head.
The Germans had battered his home town twice in three weeks. Being eleven was not too good during these hard times: he was old enough to know that death comes quickly and violently, yet too young to worry too much about the whole situation.
His main worry was for the animals in the zoo behind his home. They had not been moved in time and he could often hear them moan and growl in fear at the terrifying noises from the skies. The tigers and lions already had a hard time trying to understand whey they no longer lived in the open African plains, never mind trying to make sense of flames and bombs.
John climbed the wall during the howling noises from the sky; shouts were going up all over the streets, screams as people stumbled over yet another dead neighbour.
Daylight broke over the crushed streets. Ambulances rushed around frantically as they tried to save yet another victim of German bombs.
John could hear the MP man banging on his door; his mum had been out all night again, maybe this time she was dead? Who knew? She usually stayed out late at the bar and often never came home, but the bar had been flattened last time he looked from the top of the zoo wall. He hated the thought of her being alone or lost. He did love his mum, but she was hardly home since dad had died.
“You in there Johnny?” He could hear the man shout through the letter box.
“Yeah I am OK. Mum is still out” he answered back “Can you bring round some food?”
There was no answer. He knew he would have to open the door and talk to the MP man.
“Hello, Johnny,” the man smiled down at him. He knew the man. It was William’s dad from down the street. “What do you want to eat, me son?” the kindly man smiled.
“Sausages and stew please,” Johnny answered quickly.
“Sandwiches is all we have son.” The tall MP man walked off back down the path.
Johnny went upstairs and gingerly opened his bedroom door; he popped his head around and quickly stepped in, shutting the door behind him.
“Johnny, get down here!” he heard his mum’s voice from the downstairs hallway.
He ran down the stairs, taking them two at a time and jumped into her arms. She stood there smiling and hugged him “I thought you were dead, Mum. The bar is gone”
She hugged him tight and he could smell the whisky on her breath as she kissed his face.
“I was over at Aunty Celia’s and was bloody drunk but worried sick about you; they wouldn’t let me back into the street all night until four in the bloody morning; we need to move as the houses are all unsafe, they told me.”
Johnny looked worried: “No, mum, I want to stay here. It’s OK here, mum.”
She ignored him and started to open drawers to take out some documents and she thew them into her big brown hand bag. Johnny stood watching her.
“The zoo has been damaged and they can’t find the tiger. God knows where it’s roaming, I am terrified of the bloody tiger not the bombs Johnny, so be careful out there till they find him eh?” She ran her fingers through his sticky-up hair.
“Here, darling, I brought you some cake from Aunty Celia’s.” She held out her hand and passed him a white sponge cake with pink icing wrapped in a white napkin. Johnny grabbed it and ran from the room.
He bolted upstairs and slowly opened his bedroom door. He was hoping that his new friend liked cake to share.
He breathed quietly as he unwrapped the cake and watched as the beast drew itself up to its full height, it stretched its two front paws out and eyed Johnny carefully. Johnny could hear his mum pulling open drawers and packing up stuff down stairs, he watched as the animal reacted to every single noise that shuddered through the small house.
© Janey Godley, May 2005