I watched the children run and play on the playground, thankful for the break. It was hard to find time to play during war and most days were spent inside listening for the air raid sirens. This morning’s advisement had said it was safe to venture out, so the children were allowed to have recess outside.
It was the first time many of them had been in the sun for nearly a month, as most took the subway tunnels to get to class. The subway trains were long since lost, but the tunnels had turned into pedestrian thoroughfares. The tunnel had been extended to reach the school basement once it became clear the war would not be ending anytime soon.
The school was severely understaffed, as most people, teachers included, fled the cities. I was the only first grade teacher that remained. It would normally be difficult for one teacher to teach an entire grade by herself, but there were only fifteen kids in my class. Some were the children of military officials and the diplomats who were required to stay in the city; others were the children of poor families that couldn’t afford to live anywhere else.
I stayed because I could. I didn’t have extended family that needed me and my parents were lost in the first years of the air raids. I could’ve moved to the country, but I was needed here and so I stayed. The few teachers that were left were allowed to stay at the school, safely hidden away in the basement. I had abandoned my apartment after the raids became so frequent that I would have to get up almost every night to seek shelter.
As if called by my thoughts, the shrill shriek of the air raid sirens pierced the air. We all froze momentarily in disbelief; today was supposed to be safe.
“Come on children, everyone inside!” I shouted as I moved to make sure no one was left behind. The distant boom of bombs hitting hastened my steps. I looked to the other teacher who was counting the children as they entered. All were accounted for.
I ran for the door as the bombs neared. I flew inside and barred the door behind me as feeble protection. The children knew the drill well and moved obediently towards the basement. The teachers brought up the rear and checked the upstairs rooms as we passed. All were locked as they should be since class was no longer held where the children would be at risk.
The rumble of bombs shook the building as we finally herded the children into the shelter below. The children were allowed to play to keep their minds off of what was happening above. If the raid didn’t end soon, classes would resume as much as we were able, though leaving the shelter for the classrooms would not be possible.
So far the school had been lucky and had not been directly hit. All of the teachers prayed our luck would hold as the bombs neared. We found the emergency flashlights and rations that we always stored here. We also had an emergency beacon and radio that could be used if we were hit.
We had power from the main lines running through the subway tunnels and a backup generator hidden deep in the basement, but if both failed, the flashlights would be our only light until we were found. Each child also carried two glow sticks at all times.
The first stick was a traditional glow stick that needed to be snapped to start the reaction. These would glow brightly and would provide enough light to see by. These were checked daily but some children just couldn’t resist the urge to snap them as soon as possible. That is why the second stick was used. It always emitted a dim glow and didn’t need to be snapped for the reaction to occur. This allowed us to find the children even if their first glow stick failed or had already been used.
The building shook enough to make me stumble and I looked up at the dust drifting down on us. I met the other teachers’ eyes. Too close.
“Class, why don’t you play over here?” I asked, keeping my voice calm. I was trying to get them to move closer to the wall and the other teachers were doing the same.
Writing prompts: play, teach, war