You can never tell whether bad luck may not

after all turn out to be good luck.

Winston Churchill



42 Hampstead High Street, London

September 1940

Sophie woke to the banshee B flat wail of the air raid siren. Panic and fear flooded her body. She dragged herself off the rug where she had been sleeping, and prodded her four-year old Pavel. Her mouth was dry, she felt her pulse racing. “We get dressed, Pavelko.”
          Rubbing sleep from his eyes, he gave her his reproachful where-am-I, what’s-going-on look.
          Judit Kohut, Sophie’s diminutive fifty-five year old mother-in-law, a light sleeper and already in her overcoat and slippers, was banging a metal dustpan. “Schnell! Schnell, meine kinder! Get ready.” 

          Proboha … for God’s sake! Wasn’t a siren enough noise without also thumping a dustpan? Sophie suppressed a yell. Better to be diplomatic and silent. She and Pavel, recent arrivals off the refugee boat, were grateful for a roof over their heads. 

          Sophie knew it would be another twenty-five minutes or so before the German bomber squadrons reached London. She put on her shoes, a coat over her nightdress, and placed two empty chamber pots within easy reach of the kitchen table. She slipped a coat over Pavel’s pajamas, and on hands and knees they followed Judit under the kitchen table where they positioned walls of cushions and pillows … protection against flying glass, wood splinters and shrapnel.

          Huddled under the table, Sophie knew exactly what her stout and bald-headed, father-in-law Emil would be doing: checking that the black-out curtain was closed tight, and stashing his precious family documents inside the cooking stove. As soon as he was done, he put on two pairs of trousers and a jacket and joined them under the table, clutching a paper bag filled with of bread slices, hard-boiled eggs, apple quarters, a glass jar of cold tea, and a flashlight. 

          “Be patient, my dears,” he said before offering them cotton wool to stuff in their ears. “An hour or two and it will be over, and we can go back to sleep.” 
His calm deliberate words always reassured Sophie, helping her prepare for the barrage of sound that would sweep over them. 

          By the time the drone of the German squadrons had swollen to a full-throated roar, the nearby Ack-Ack batteries were firing continuously. Explosions of bombs and artillery fire, closer than usual, merged into an ear-splitting cacophony. Sophie held Pavel close, cupping her hands over his ears. 
The old building shook violently, and there was a crash … inside the flat. 

          Emil peered out between the cushions. “Mein Gott. The drying rack … from the ceiling. Someone did not fasten it properly.”

          “Aie, aie, “Judit wailed. “The clean clothes and linens.”

          Pavel huddled and shivered against Sophie’s breast. He cried tears into her nightdress. Strangely enough, having his curly head nestled in the crook of her neck was a great comfort, even when she was most afraid. 

          This raid seemed never-ending, and she did her best to show a brave face. Being cooped up in her in-laws’ flat was bad enough, but stuck under the kitchen table with them every night made her want to scream. 

          When dawn came, Sophie was the first one up and brewed the tea. She wrapped a blanket around her flimsy nightdress, unclipped the black-out drapes, and pulled up a chair. She liked to sit at the window overlooking the street, her teacup perched on a ledge, peering down at the English housewives, pushing and shoving as they waited for the shops to open. 

          Lucky women. They have homes and a country.
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    Original content © Peter Curtis
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