My childhood can be split into two different categories: when it was full of falling bombs and shattering gunfire and when it was full of music and books and safety.
The sounds were all I remembered of the first one, that and the long silences between them. There were times when it was never-ending, the whistle of the fall and the thud of the collision so closely followed by the life-shattering explosions. Then the quieter but more regular thudding of the bullets. They made a peculiar noise when they hit buildings or cars. A sickening one when it was people.
Sometimes there were lights, flashing inconsistently and, like in a thunderstorm, they only ever came after a noise.
One of the things I really do remember from this time was a lady, she came from another country and she spoke my language clunkily, but she did her best. She always did her best.
She was there to write a book, the truth. Where she came from no one was telling them what it was really like here, they just didn’t know and they didn’t even try to find out. She wanted to write something that would shake them into understanding.
My parents took her in. She slept on the floor and helped where she could. The way she spoke was funny.
One night the bombing was closer, the noise deafening and the lights blinding. The whole world came crashing down. The walls tumbled inward as the ceiling collapsed. Then there was no more light. No more noise.
When I came to, the lady was the only one with me. Her light brown hair stained with red. Scratches on her arms and face. There was red over me, too. My back hurt and my eyes were dry from the smoke.
She should have gone. Only a week of her trip was left but she extended it. Looked after my injuries, made sure I was well, made sure I wasn’t alone. Everything continued as it had before, only it’d taken my family away.
We travelled a lot; never staying anywhere long. She was hurt but she shrugged it off. She was starving but gave me most of what came our way.
Nothing here is very clear. Just a lot of full days and empty nights until we found ourselves travelling out of my country and into the next one. It was dangerous but no more than staying where we were. There was a plane, a stopover and another plane. Lengthy talks and thorough searches. Then there was a city. So bright, so open, so intact.
This is where the first part of my childhood ended and the next began. Where the rest of my life began.
This, I remember.
This, I cherish.
A flat. High up but roomy. Cluttered but not overly so. And books. So many books.
She explained it to me. She brought me back to get me out of there, to keep me safe. She wasn’t sure what was going to happen, but she’d look out for me.
I learned a lot over the next few months. I think she did too.
She taught me her language and I taught her mine. She showed me how to read in both. She introduced me to her city, the people she knew and her ideals. I told her my past, explained my family and let her glimpse my future.
She learned to cook, just for me. I learned with her.
I asked what she believed but found out she didn’t. She wasn’t religious, her life wasn’t governed by a mysterious being. But the day after I told her about mine I came home from school to find she’d bought everything I needed to practice my faith.
I taught her love and she taught me tolerance.
It was never really a surprise when she adopted me. Going somewhere else, growing up with someone else, felt like a betrayal.
As the years went by she shared everything with me; books, music, theatre, film. She gave me everything. All of these things I thought were a luxury, she considered necessities. It wasn’t long before I was thinking the same. They brought joy to me life, so much it almost drowned out the bombings at times.
Every now and then we still had dreams. dark ones that took us back there. But with each other for company we could face it.
I came to understand that she was full of a quiet strength. She never wilted and always stood firm. If I ever needed to, she let me draw on it and never asked for anything in return. That strength proved important over the years and I was terrified of what might happen if it were taken away. Perhaps I would crumble like that house in the war-torn country.
I would find out, one day. And it was a day I dreaded. It fills me with a fear I’ve never known.
But I trust her. I trust she’s enabled me to cope. Infused me with her strength so that one day, when she’s gone, a part of her remains.
Everything that I am I owe to her. She raised me, a lonely child from a broken country. Took me away, showed me kindness and made my life better. Fortune favoured me and now it’s a fortune I share.
She didn’t just save my life, she shaped it.