Recap: It’s the middle of the Blitz and eight-year-old Aliza is going home with Bayla and Sophie. Her father was killed by the Germans when his plane was shot down and her great-grandmother is finding it too difficult to handle her. Aliza’s great-grandmother walked them to the bus stop and now they are waiting for the bus to take them back to the home where Sophie’s family is staying.
Suddenly an air raid siren blared. People piled off the bus and headed towards the Underground. I grabbed Aliza’s hand. She was trembling. I stayed near Sophie and we followed the crowd. There was a sign that said “This Station Open During Air Raid.” We hurried down the steps. Sophie fell behind. I tried to move back to her but the crowd pulsed forward like a surging ocean wave. “Sophie, are you okay?” I called.
“No screaming,” a man admonished me.
Somehow, with Aliza squeezing my hand so tight I couldn’t feel my fingers, we made it into the Underground station. There were light bulbs hanging from the ceiling. I looked frantically for Sophie.
There were so many people rushing.
Thankfully, a few minutes later I saw Sophie hobbling towards us. I found a spot to sit on the stone floor and she plopped down next to us. Aliza had jumped into my arms and was shaking and crying. “It’s going to be okay,” I soothed. She was sobbing hysterically. A woman next to me glared. “Tell your sister to quiet down. She’s scaring my children.”
I whispered in Aliza’s ear. “Please don’t scream. It’s going to be okay.”
She continued crying but more softly. The siren had stopped. Everyone was hushed, waiting for an explosion. I tried not to think of Cousin Chanah. Hopefully she was in a shelter near her building. I glanced at a sign on the wall that had a photograph of a woman in uniform, and it said, “Women wanted as ambulance drivers.” Another poster said, “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” It had a photo of some RAF soldiers. Next to that was a sign that said, “Beat ‘Firebomb Blitz’ – Britain Shall Not Burn.”
Just then, there was a loud whistle. We waited for the terrible boom but it didn’t come.
A young man ran to the doorway. “There’s a bomb near here. It didn’t explode! It crashed through a roof. I can see it. It’s hanging from its parachute.”
Everyone started murmuring excitedly. “We should leave here!” An older gentleman sprang up.”
His wife was crying softly. “No, Edgar. We can’t go back out there. It’s too dangerous.”
“We’re safe down here.” A man in an army uniform stood by the doorway and tried to reassure everyone. “This place can’t be destroyed with a bomb.”
“I’m scared.” Aliza’s face was streaked with tears.
“Hashem is with us,” I said. I tried to calm my pounding heart.
Sophie joined a few people who had gathered near the doorway to see what was happening outside.
“Sophie, come back,” I called.
“It’s safe from here,” she called over her shoulder.
“I can hear it ticking,” the man, who had first informed everyone about the bomb, yelled.
I started reciting T’hilim by heart. Aliza was still in my arms.
“Look at that. It’s Bennett Southwell from the Royal Navy team,” the man exclaimed. “The thing is swaying. I heard the other man who went with him say it’s six inches from the floor.”
“That’s Easton. I know him,” the man was giving running commentary. I wanted to know, but it was frightening Aliza, so I wished he would stop.
“Easton is trying to dismantle the bomb. Boy, I wouldn’t want that job. No siree.”
A few people started praying for these two brave men who were risking their lives for all of us.
“Oh, no,” the man yelled. “The bomb slipped. Easton told Southwell to run.”
Everyone moved away from the opening.
Sophie hobbled back to us and plopped down just as a whistle followed by a ratatata huge thundering boom.
Sophie and I huddled with Aliza. I put my hands over Aliza’s ears.
“Oh, no!” The man’s voice broke. “Southwell’s killed.” He burst into sobs.
Time moved in a strange way while we were down there. At some point, someone said the siren we heard meant it was safe to go out again.
“Should we go to the bus stop?” I asked.
“I’m scared,” Aliza said.
“Let’s ask other people to see what they are doing.”
We found a Jewish family and we asked them what they were going to do.
The mother was holding two babies and looked totally spent. “We need to take the bus to downtown London. We’re going to go now. We can’t spend the night here. We want to get back to my mum’s house.”
Sophie and I whispered. Aliza still had her head buried in my lap. “I think we should go to the bus stop,” Sophie said. “I don’t want to sleep here tonight.”
“No, me neither. But what if they throw more bombs?”
“So, we run back here.”
I didn’t add the follow-up question. What if we’re on the bus?
So, somehow, we convinced Aliza to stand up. She squeezed my hand, clinging tightly as we made our way out of the Underground and headed back to the bus stop. Debris and ruins of homes and buildings were everywhere. The acrid smell of burning wood and metal filled our nostrils.
We stood at the bus stop with a growing crowd of people and we waited. “I’m hungry,” Aliza said. I rummaged in the bag for some apples and handed her one. It seemed like days had passed since we left Cousin Chanah this morning.
Eventually a red double-decker bus rumbled over the debris in the road and screeched to a stop in front of us. We were the first ones to board. The driver motioned us to hurry. Sophie tried but her crutch fell. “Just get on, missy. I don’t want to hang around here longer than necessary.” The crutch was on the ground.
I pushed past a woman who was entering. “Excuse me,” I said. “I’m sorry. My friend dropped her crutch.”
A man bent down, picked it up, and handed it to me.”
“Thank you, sir,” I responded.
Once we were out of Shoreditch, the bus sped down the highway. “I’m so hungry,” Aliza complained.
My stomach was starting to growl, too. “We’ll be home soon,” Sophie said.
A family with a small boy and two toddler twins was seated in front of us. “Jessie, we have to send them away. We can’t keep doing this. The bombs.”
“I know. It’s breaking my heart but you’re right,” the husband said. You’ve that cousin in Devon. We must send the children there. There’s a farm. They’ll be safe.”
I felt so bad for the mother. I shuddered thinking that I hope Tante Aimee isn’t planning to send us away.
To be continued…
Susie Garber is the author of Secrets in Disguise (Menucha Publishers 2020), Denver Dreams (a novel, Jerusalem Publications, 2009), Memorable Characters…Magnificent Stories (Scholastic, 2002), Befriend (Menucha Publishers, 2013), The Road Less Traveled (Feldheim, 2015), fiction serials, and features in various magazines, including A Bridge in Time, historical fiction serial (Binyan Magazine, 2017). Fiction serial in The Jewish Press – Falling Star (2019), article in the Winter 2019 Jewish Action Magazine. She contributes to the community column for the Queens Jewish Link and writes freelance for Hamodia. She works as a writing consultant in many yeshivos and teaches creative writing to students of all ages.