The flames that greeted me after I poked my head out of the bunker made me wheeze and cough. Taras began walking as though nothing about the atmosphere had changed. I trotted behind him while gawking at burning cars and buildings.
“We need to hurry. Make sure you dock whenever you spot a soldier,” Taras cautioned and I nodded readily. Every store we went to was locked and I was hoping Taras would make us return but he didn’t. Instead, he kept assuring me that we would find one if we went further.
“You know, I convinced my five-year-old son to become a soldier when he grows up. Now, I have realized it was the dumbest thing I have ever said. I will surely dissuade him from becoming one,” Taras scoffed.
“I watched my mother die when I was ten years old. I couldn’t do anything to save her. She was asthmatic, and I didn’t know until that day. If I had gotten her an inhaler, she would have probably survived,” Taras added as he peeked at his watch as though the story he was telling was someone else’s.
“My father died two years later. He was shot right in front of our door one night after he returned from work. I have since vowed to protect and save lives. That’s why I became a doctor,” Taras concluded with a sigh.
“So where is your son now?” I inquired.
“Oh! Fortunately, he is with my wife in the United States, on vacation. They left a week ago,” he responded heartily and I nodded, to show interest in his story.

After searching for close to an hour, we came across a deserted supermarket in a corner. The attendant shot us a surprised look as though we had arrived there by mistake. Taras immediately walked to the aisle and began taking snacks from the shelves. I headed to the fridge and removed some bottles of water. At the counter, Taras asked the shop attendant why the supermarket was still open.
“I need the money,” he said with a shrug.
“But you could get killed!” Taras pressed.
“I will still get killed by loan sharks anyway. So it makes no difference,” he responded. Taras paid for the items and put some in his bag while I held the rest. We left without uttering another word to the attendant. It was evident he already knew his fate, unlike us. We walked more hastily this time. From afar, we spotted a military vehicle and immediately hid behind a building till it passed. Taras grabbed my hand and we began running. We met another group of soldiers. Fortunately, we docked behind a truck before they could set eyes on us. We waited for twenty minutes and after we were certain they had moved, we began running again.

Three blocks from the bunker, we heard a loud voice behind us.
“Stop and turn around. If you don’t comply, I will shoot,” the voice ordered. Taras and I furtively looked at each other and slowly turned. A tall, stout Russian soldier stared back at us. His gaze fell on my shopping back and I quickly hid it behind me.
“What do you have in there?” he asked.
“It’s-it’s nothing,” Taras stammered. The soldier stared at us skeptically and slowly began moving towards us. Fear gripped us and we were no longer certain we would make it to the bunker alive.
“Take the bag and run, I will cover you,” Taras whispered. Though I wasn’t in support of his suggestion, I reluctantly nodded. He quickly yanked the bag off, threw it at me, and asked me to run. I began running and he followed suit.
“Hey, stop else I will shoot,” the soldier screamed but we paid no heed. A shot was fired and before I turned to the next block, I caught a glimpse of Taras, lying lifeless on the ground, and the soldier, looking terrified.

To be continue…

© Nasreen Zankawah,2024

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah

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