We could hear the planes overhead and we ran ducking for cover at every opportunity. It felt as if we could almost reach out and touch them when, with a frightening high pitched sound from a hot, blue August sky, they dropped the bombs that plummeted to earth.
They sent us screaming, but we couldn’t even hear our screams. There was a short period of deafening silence followed by bedlam. Rescue vehicles whistled past us, and we made a desperate attempt to stop one, hoping to catch a ride, with no success. We kept running, choking from the dust. We were cut by flying debris but Virginia and I hung to each other’s hand with only one purpose in life: to run and rescue our babies.
A number of times we were blocked by well-meaning citizens telling us not to go where we were heading. We found ourselves barefooted, having lost the heels on our shoes dodging twisted metal and smouldering bricks and with our ears muffled by the sound of the explosions. We kept on running for what felt like hours, unaware that the warning sirens had stopped. The planes had done their job well, and now they were flying back to their home base, leaving us to deal
with our heartbreak.
Virginia and I arrived at a place we hardly recognised as our suburb, where the road was blocked by buildings on fire. A fireman tried to stop us but we forged ahead, disregarding their warnings and pushing past dozens of people standing silently in desperation, watching their world collapse before their eyes. When we got to where my apartment was all we could see was a cloud of dust. In despair we held on to each other thinking the worst. There was no need for tears, the cries of others filled our ears. People was scrambling from the rubble covered in blood, walking in a daze, as if they had died and were rising like zombies. A woman with blood running down her eyes grabbed on to my arm and I felt death touching me. Virginia pulled me away from her and in a stern voice told me, ‘Stay strong it’s not the end.’
I could hear more fire brigade vehicles arriving and the sound of the sirens seemed to go on forever. They were stopping and starting again and again when it was clear enough for the trucks to continue, screeching and coming to a halt with the sound of wounded animals. We prayed for our babies. My blood had gone cold and my legs were paralysed. I couldn’t talk or cry. Looking at Virginia, I knew she felt the same. Then, something wonderful happened while we held on to each other – like the bolt from an electric cord, our hearts picked up the same rhythm, we both felt energised, and suddenly our blood started running again warm and new. Eternity could not be longer than what we experienced at that moment, we looked at each other without talking, fear was all we felt, but also hope … hope that when the dust would settle we would hold our babies in our arms and never again leave them alone.
The dust had settled a little to reveal the extent of the damage done by the bombs. The once elegant five story building from the previous century had been sliced in two. The side left standing
resembled Swiss cheese exposing shattered furniture dangling from each floor. Both frozen on the spot, we looked up to what had been the fifth floor, and to our amazement my apartment was on the side of the building that stood up to the bombing. But we had no way of telling if you, Giorgio, and Nunzia were inside. The confusion was unbearable, with people and the fire brigade hurling orders at each other, when I felt a hand rest on my shoulder and a man’s voice say, ‘Ladies, are these yours?’ Virginia and I looked at the fireman holding a bundled blanket in his arms. Not knowing what to expect we parted the blanket carefully, and there you were, with Giorgio, both naked, giggling … just giggling.
We started crying like two young girls, and when we composed ourselves we couldn’t stop thanking the fireman who saved you, only to be told that it wasn’t him we had to be grateful to, but the young terrified woman they found in the basement with the bundle in her arms. After handing him the wriggling bundle she had run away without saying a word. I immediately knew he was talking about Nunzia. The girl had used her survival skills, she must have been in the middle of bathing you because you were both clean and smelling sweet, and no doubt at the first sound of the sirens she would have fled with the two of you to the basement by first wrapping you and tying you both inside the blanket, just like country people wrap up bundles.
“The fireman told us the young woman had nothing with her when she disappeared,” Mum concluded sadly.
“What happened to your possessions? Was there anything left, were you able to retrieve anything from the apartment?” I asked, hoping to make light of the moment.
“Yes Livia, the most amazing thing was that the bomb had exploded on the building across the street and the blast resonated by demolishing only the front of my apartment block.”
My fifth floor apartment and my part of the basement were on the other side, and, incredibly, my apartment was not badly damaged, but I was not able to get to it because the stairway had been destroyed. The fire brigade assured me that once they were able to inspect any of the undamaged apartments they would retrieve whatever they could and store things at their station. The owners could pick up their belongings at a later date, but they would only salvage and store personal things, not furniture or chattels, and that included anything that was in the basement. All would be lost and eventually the rest of the building would be demolished.
The beautiful Alfa Romeo parked in front of the building was now only twisted burned metal. I had no home, no clothes, no money, and nothing left to sell. All I had in the world was you. In my selfish state of mind I was oblivious of anything around me. I even forgot that Virginia was there with Giorgio. I had not given a thought to look for Nunzia, and when the fireman had said the girl just disappeared in thin air I was not surprised – after all, I was convinced Nunzia was the guardian angel sent by your father to protect us, and her work on this earth was done. We never saw Nunzia again….
Excerpt from “RISE, The Abused Child of the Phoenix” by Livia York
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