With fear is no way to live for a child. But in Spero’s world, survival is the only way he has ever known. This is what war does. It moulds tired soldiers out of the innocent, heedless of age. Every corner he turns, his ears prickle at the scamper of rats by the drains. Not a second passes without his eyes darting towards shadows of patrolling soldiers.
It is his third night on the road. Not once has he rested, fearing that he may not make it to the city centre in time. His mother had told – no, begged – him to stay home. It will destroy her to lose another child, she had cried, and cried. Her whimpers were pitiful. But so were the groaning of his sick father. Spero knew that if he did not get medicine soon, Father would never make it through the week.
Spero understands the risks of being out here, perhaps more than Mother. But the 13-year-old boy also knows that he has no choice. Father will never survive the trip to the hospital. Besides, if anyone knows about the man laying immobile while the world is at war? Never mind his chronic illness. Father will be a traitor in their books.
Spero is now nearing his destination, his legs trembling from fatigue. There are no soldiers about, not one he can see. He exhales a breath that he did not know he has been holding. With every bit of energy he can gather, he scales the barbed wire fence that surrounds the city.
All the time, he has been planning his way towards the medicine cabinet from memory. This is not his maiden theft from the heavily guarded fortress that had once sworn to do no harm. But the rumours still make him shiver. How they have murdered any men who had proven unfit for duty, as soon as the war had begun. They must not learn of his ill Father.
From where he stands, Spero can see the familiar hospital. Armed men circle the entrance and exit in ceaseless turns. He tries to time their rounds, but three days without sleep have made it hard to think. Exhaustion takes over and slams his knees onto the ground.
No time for this, Spero, he reminds himself. He remembers the last time he has let his guard down. That youthful face of his sister comes back to him, vivid as yesterday. As does the forceful impact of the attack as the café collapsed inwards that night.
That was supposed to be the one night they might be happy. They had snuck out to celebrate her eighth birthday, when they had the first slice of cake in years. Then, without warning, the blast hit.
“Vita!” he shouted his sister’s name amidst the chaos of sirens and screams.
It took him what seemed like hours, before he spotted her under the rubble. She looked so small. There was no blood Spero could see on her serene face. Yet, she would not wake.
The rescuers were drilling through the blocked exits and making entrances out of walls. Spero could not wait any longer. He tried to lift Vita, so they could get back home together after this terrible nightmare. That was when he saw the viscous blood behind the back of her head, or what was left of it. He crashed to the floor with numbness.
The burning scrape on his knees brings him back to the present. No point dwelling on a past left behind. Vita is dead, but he can still help his Father. For Vita. With his eyes set on the hospital, Spero pushes himself up, and gets ready to run.
Daily Prompt: Knackered