I jumped out of bed after hearing an explosion. I struggled to keep my balance as the hostel trembled causing my clock to fall from the wall and break into pieces. The faint screams I heard in my dream became clearer now. I made to open my window to catch a glimpse of what was happening when I heard a loud knock on my door.
“Kweku, what are you still doing inside? Haven’t you heard what is happening?” Raj, my Indian friend, and next-door neighbor shouted amidst the screams of the other students who were running and bumping into each other with their backpacks hunched behind them.
“What’s happening?” I asked in perplexity and before Raj could answer, there was another explosion. Everyone docked and covered their ears, with deafening screams filling the air.
“Russia has invaded Ukraine! There is a war and everyone is running to safety. You should too,” Raj hurried off before I could even respond to his caution. I shut the door and leaned against it with my body trembling. The chaos outside had infested my mind making me unable to think properly.

I rushed to the bathroom and splashed water on my face. I stared into the mirror and my big eyes had already turned red like they did whenever I was anxious. The Goosebumps on my body increased. I had just turned twenty-five the previous day and was preparing for my final exams. I shut my eyes tightly and waited till I became calm again. I opened my eyes, took a deep breath, and wiggled my long legs. I went back into the room, more alert this time, and grabbed my backpack and threw a few clothes, snacks, and toiletries in it. I opened my window slightly and the chaos I saw made my heart sink and awakened my fears. Gunfire rattled and I could hear the blare of sirens. Before finally leaving, I took one last look at my small room and my eyes raced from the small bed to my study desk and finally to the huge poster of Kwame Nkrumah on the wall, staring at me. I imagined him telling me to run, so I did. I joined the mass of frightened students and exited the hostel without laying eyes on Raj again.

The premises of the hostel were in a state of delirium. Students bumped into one another while running in opposite directions. The main exit of the school was crowded with distraught students who were fighting each other to exit the school. After watching this frenzy for a while, I joined the struggling crowd and forced myself out of the exit after receiving several elbows on my face. My first sight after my successful exit was of the Ukrainian military men, chiding and urging people to run. I saw a group of African students run towards a particular direction and without knowing where they were headed, I impulsively joined them.

Though I was anxious and eager to run to safety, I couldn’t help but notice the transformation that had occurred in Kyiv. Hadn’t it been for the restaurant my friends and I had celebrated my birthday, the previous night, I wouldn’t have recognized Kyiv. The birds that flew across the sky each morning were replaced by flying missiles and the serenity was eluded by deafening gunshots. Shops were closed and others were on the verge of closing. I spotted an old Ukrainian woman, trotting with her dog in her arms. Another gunshot was heard and she dropped the dog and increased her pace while yelping.
For the first time after the chaos began, I remembered I hadn’t seen my other friends aside from Raj. I scanned through the students with the hope of spotting at least one of them, but I found none.

We turned to so many streets and it seemed as though our marathon wasn’t going to end anytime soon. Eventually, our group was diluted with other equally distraught Ukrainians. We finally appeared at a nearly deserted street where we came to a halt. At first, I didn’t know the reason for the halt so I craned my neck and spotted a middle-aged Ukrainian man addressing the crowd. I caught a few words he spoke in Ukrainian and was elated when he explained that there was an underground bunker in which we could temporarily seek refuge. People nervously smiled in elation and nodded at one another. I did a quick headcount and realized we were twenty-one in number. I turned to my right and caught a Ukrainian lady whom I hadn’t noticed, smiling at me. I smiled back at her and nodded. I swiftly turned my attention back to the man speaking, while wondering whether what I saw on the lady’s face was a blush.

The bunker was opened with my help and two other volunteers. I saw a ladder protruding but couldn’t see the end of the bunker. The elderly amongst us were made to go in before the rest of us. As my feet touched the floor, the warmth of the bunker gushed over my body, reminding me of how extremely cold outside was. The bunker was big and I imagined it could accommodate over fifty people. Its walls were stained and cobwebs hung loosely on the roof. The dust in the room made me sneeze uncontrollably, drawing everyone’s attention to me. I bowed my head in embarrassment and hastily went to an empty corner and sat on the floor. My eyes anxiously swept around the room and caught a glimpse of fifteen other people who were already present before we arrived. I immediately recognized a few faces out of which two were my close friends. My heart sank when I realized that they had left earlier into hiding without informing me. What even hurt me more was that I had celebrated my birthday with them the previous night and solely paid all the bills. I remembered how we left the restaurant, bathed in joy, and sang to the hostel.

To be continued…

© Nasreen Zankawah,2024

Written by : Nasreen Zankawah

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