Lavra clutched my arm, with her eyes tightly shut. Everyone else held onto each other and the Ukrainian who led us to the bunker kept on calming everyone. He introduced himself as Taras and assured us nothing bad would happen. I took out my phone to read what was trending in the news but realized my battery was dead. I had forgotten to charge it the previous night.
“You can use mine,” Lavra offered. I logged onto the internet and read from the news that Russian missiles rained down on Ukrainian cities. It was also reported that columns of troops invaded Ukrainian borders into Chernihiv, Kharkiv, and Luhansk. Some troops had also landed by sea in the cities of Odesa and Mariupol. I didn’t know I was trembling until Lavra touched my hand. I handed the phone back to her and searched my bag for water. I was devastated when I found an empty bottle. We had been in the bunker for six hours already and I noticed almost everyone had equally finished their water as there were empty bottles littered on the floor.

An old man whom I sat opposite, opened his mouth. At first, I thought he was yawning but staring at him for a while made me realise he was gasping for air. He clutched his chest and slowly slid to the floor. A middle-aged woman, who sat beside him, yelped and held onto him. A sudden frenzy swept over the room as the murmuring heightened.
“He’s having a heart attack! We need a doctor!” the woman shrilled.
“I’m one,” Taras offered as he meandered his way through the crowd that had already surrounded the man. I hopped on my feet and politely asked everyone to take their seat, explaining to them that the old man needed ventilation. Taras raised the man, helped him lean against the wall, and loosened the buttons of his shirt. Taras asked if he had any chest pain medicine and the man feebly pointed to his bag. Taras administered the nitroglycerin he found to him and after a while, the man began breathing slowly, with his eyes, blinking to the rhythm of his breath. Everyone sighed in relief and two men patted Taras on the back. He turned to me and smiled with a slight nod. I smiled back and sat down.

“Listen, everyone, after everywhere is calm, I will go out and get us some water and snacks,” Taras announced and everyone nodded while thanking him. He was like a guardian angel who appeared in our moment of distress. Three hours later, he announced that he was ready to leave the bunker and needed someone to accompany him. We all stared at one another and turned our gazes away from him. Nobody wanted to step foot outside because we all knew the chances of returning alive were meager. The room soon exuded cowardice and fear. I spotted Osei and Hanan, closing the zip to their jackets and burying their faces in their hoodies. It surprised me how it took a war for me to discover who they truly were. I wondered why I never cut ties with them even after they snitched on me when I snuck into the science laboratory to pick up my phone, which I had forgotten, and ended up breaking a couple of glassware.

“You, come with me,” I heard Taras say, and only knew he was referring to me after everyone’s gaze fell on me. At that moment, I felt as if my buttocks were stuck to the floor by invisible glue. I couldn’t stand up immediately as the abruptness of his decision sent shockwaves through my body, even though being the first choice to always do dangerous and strenuous jobs wasn’t novel to me. Back in junior and senior high school, I was always among the boys who were called to carry heavy desks and other weighty items in school because of my tall and muscular physique. I eventually stood up and Lavra stared at me pleadingly, like a wife begging her husband not to heed a call to fight at the war front. Taras emptied his bag and shrugged it over his right shoulder. He climbed the ladder and I followed suit.

To be continued…

© Nasreen Zankawah,2024

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah

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