Thursday, February 11, 2010

7 - Family Consciousness: The Flat

We looked up at the façade of the building, and Jinna spoke for all of us.


There wasn’t much else to say. It was grey and cold and concrete, and the idea that we were to live here… I coughed, the infection in my chest a lingering reminder of why we had had no choice.

Momma smiled bravely. She could see exactly how much of a struggle it would be to adjust, but that was not the point – never the point, with Momma. She knew we would manage, and manage with grace, if she had to fight every hour of every day to make it happen.

“Come on, let’s go inside.” There was a slight brittleness to her voice, but otherwise no one who didn’t know her would have known she was sad about this at all.

Jinna, despite her sulk, led the way. It was obvious she planned to swipe the biggest bedroom, but as it turned out she didn’t manage it. None of the bedrooms were big. All the same size, tiny concrete oblongs with cold grey walls and cold grey ceilings and tiny oblong windows with double glazing that was painted shut. If there had been heating, the rooms would have been warm enough to stifle a person. As it was, the glass seemed to shut out the light of the sun as well as its warmth. Jinna looked around and thought about complaining again. There was no point but at thirteen that didn’t usually stop her. Instead she heaved a sigh, and started planning her escape. She ran away with clock regularity, and even if we hadn’t have moved to this hole, she would have been making maps and finding hidey holes anyway. I made a mental note to keep an eye out for her, and saw her making a mental note to keep out of my way as much as possible.

Momma went to work at once, and soon rugs and mats were laid over the tile floors and the chill rising through the soles of our shoes became a little more bearable. Tommy fell and bruised his knee, the role of little brothers one he fell into quite naturally, and the time we spent fixing him up and offering the cheap, too-sweet candy, and cuddling and kissing better made us feel like a family again.

Momma’s face fell when tummies started to rumble. She had seen the kitchen before – we had not. She knew what was coming.

A look passed between us, and without a word I followed her out into the dank hallway. It took a moment to realise that all the bedroom doors had locks, and that we would share the kitchen and the bathroom with others. Momma saw the horror in my face at the idea, but there was no use either of us saying anything.

The kitchen was clean, and there were no cockroaches that we could see. That was the best thing we were able to say about it, and that was said without words. Swiftly we cut the dry rye bread and hard, sour cheese, and found a few mismatched plates. I piled up six, unthinking, and then put two back before Momma saw. I wasn’t quick enough, and the tears pooled in her eyes for a few seconds.

There was no time for sentiment with two hungry children to feed. We strode back down the corridor and plastered smiles on our faces. Jinna saw straight through our insincerity, but she appreciated the effort all the same. Tommy barely even saw the fake smiles. When there was food available he had no eyes for anything else, and we three girls had learned to be grateful for it during this eventful week.

Momma and I took the smallest plates so that our meagre portions would look the same size as Jinna and Tommy’s. I pretended not to see when Momma gave Tommy half her cheese, and she pretended not to see when I gave Jinna an extra slice of bread.

Voices rattled in the corridor, guttural words we didn’t understand and didn’t want to. They made Momma jump, and put a shiver down my spine. Jinna wanted to go out and see, try and speak to the folks who were making such a racket, but she stilled when I glared at her. Momma quietly walked over to the door of the tiny room we had crammed into and turned the key in the lock. My shoulders untensed from their position up by my ears.

Momma swallowed and braced herself to spout the propaganda we all needed to hear to get through the day.

“When Daddy comes back from the front, we’ll find somewhere nicer.”

No one said anything. None of us believed he would ever return. But none of us would ever say it out loud, for then it might be true.


  1. Ooooo this is very cool. Atmospheric is overused, but still true. i really want to know who the sixth person is - an older brother maybe?

  2. Thank you both :)

    I can't decide if the 6th person is an older brother who they don't mention for some reason (maybe he joined the enemy's side) or a younger child who died from the infection that the narrator is still fighting off.

    Or something else entirely that I hadn't considered!

  3. This draws me in and I want to know more and I want to know them better :)