There was always something going on at Nanny’s house. At Christmas, she would organise a large family gathering with party games, including hitting a piñata. Easter there would be a similar gathering, but with an Easter egg hunt in the garden. Between times there would be barbeques, or friends around. Whenever Amelia and Jake called to see her, she was busy doing something: baking, gardening, packing to go away, you just never knew with her. She lived alone with her two fluffy cats, Tiger and Lily, but it didn’t mean that her house was quiet.
Then ‘lockdown’ happened and for most people life changed. It did for Amelia, no more school, Rainbows, parties or swimming lessons. Because Nanny lived on her own, Amelia’s family became her ‘social bubble’, which meant that they could still see each other. It did change what went on at Nanny’s, but it was still a busy house. Whenever Amelia and Jake visited there would be games of ‘Britain’s Got Talent’, Hide ‘n’ Seek (which involved Nanny hiding in the bath, and Mummy getting in the wardrobe ), or the Queen game, when Nanny would be the queen and they would all ride in her carriage – the sofa. Some things like the gardening and baking continued in the same way, and others developed. For instance, Amelia and Nanny spent a morning making cakes. Then, they dressed up in party frocks and fascinators and invited Mummy and Jake round for a high tea. Or Nanny collected lots of cardboard boxes in the garage, and they used them to make things, or kick around the garden when they felt cross.
Sometimes, Amelia and Jake would stay with her for a sleepover. They slept in Nanny’s spare room, in the big bed with the sparkly duvet on. It was a long, narrow room, which stretched from the front to the back of the house. There were lots of interesting things in the drawers and wardrobe in this bedroom. One drawer held candles and torches, another was filled with Nanny’s old make up, yet another had miniatures of shampoo and shower gel in, which Nanny said that she had bought back from the hotels where she’d stayed over the years. She did have some rules, you were allowed to look at and touch whatever you wanted, but when you had finished you must put it back where you had found it, and you mustn’t break anything.
One of the sleepovers was to be very special. Amelia and Jake’s cousin, Nicholas was going to stay too. Amelia was six years old, Nicholas five, and Jake three, so they played together well, although the boys fought sometimes. Nanny had made a bed from the cushions off the sofa in the spare room for Nicholas. Everyone was excited; they started the evening with Amelia’s favourite dinner, fish fingers and chips, followed by ice cream. Then, they had their baths, one after the other. Nanny let them choose what bubble bath they wanted from her drawer of miniatures. After that the four of them, Nanny included, sat in her big bed watching Sooty and Sweep on her laptop. This was another of Nanny’s rules, she didn’t put the TV on unless you were going to sit and watch it, and you didn’t play on her laptop, ‘phone or iPad, they were all for finding out about things. Tiger and Lily came and sat in the bedroom with them. Finally, Nanny said that it was time for bed, and she took the three of them into the spare bedroom, although she knew they wouldn’t sleep.
The children were delighted; Nanny had laid out dishes with sweets in for them to have a midnight feast. It wasn’t quite midnight yet, but it felt late to the children. There were bowls of marshmallows, Haribous, smarties and chocolate buttons. They had a lovely time, jumping on the beds, looking in all Nanny’s drawers and playing super heroes. Occasionally, she would put her head around the door and say.
‘Calm down. You’re getting too noisy.’ Until eventually, she came in and said.
‘Time to settle down now. Into bed you three.’ She tucked them into their beds, kissed each of them on the head, turned off the light and left. Amelia had other ideas. She liked looking out of the back window in this room. From here, you could look over the neighbour’s back gardens, and more interestingly you could watch the people walking up and down the alley, which ran next to Nanny’s house. In day time, you could see people walking their dogs, children riding bikes and people pushing prams, and all the time they wouldn’t know that you were there. She dragged the dressing table chair to the window, and stood on it. Parting the curtains, she looked out. It looked quite different at night. The gardens were dark and still, she could see the street lights glowing in the nearby streets, and the sparkling stars and moon in the inky black sky. Nicholas wanted to look.
‘In a minute. You can have a turn when I’ve finished.’
Suddenly, she saw movement. It was a girl of about her age walking down the alley. She was dressed in a Minnie Mouse onesie, and had a Bing Bunny under her arm. Amelia told Nicholas what she could see, and quick as a flash, he was up on Amelia and Jake’s bed, parting the front curtains and peering out the front window.
‘She’s crossing the road.’
‘Let’s follow her. She may be in danger.’
Quick as a flash, the trio left the bedroom. A brief glance into Nanny’s room showed them that although her light was on, she was lying in bed, on her back with an open book on her chest, gently snoring. Quietly as they could, they went down the stairs to the front door, and put their shoes on. (Another of Nanny’s rules: take your shoes off as you come into the house. So, there was always a pile of shoes by the front door). Amelia unlocked and opened the door. Jake took one look, and then headed back up the stairs, saying.
‘Dark, no go.’
Amelia and Nicholas left the house, gently shutting the door behind them. There was no sign of the girl who they’d had seen from the bedroom. Across the road, diagonally opposite Nanny’s house, sat Tinkerbell. She was a neighbour’s friendly cat. She beckoned the children over the road.
‘Come on you two. It’s this way.’
Amelia looked at Nicholas, and asked. ‘Did she just speak?’ His eyes wide in astonishment he nodded in answer. The children held hands, looked both ways in case any cars were coming and crossed to Tinkerbell.
‘Go down there.’ She said, pointing with her paw down the footpath, which ran down beside her house. ‘Make for the school, and then go down to the river.’ Amelia knew the way well enough. She used to go to school every day, but that seemed a long time ago. Still holding hands, the children hurried along the path between the houses. It led to a car park by some flats. They were surprised to see other children heading in the same direction. They were all dressed for bed, some walked alone, others in twos or threes. There were also cats and a few dogs, all walking quietly and purposefully towards the river. Past the dark outline of the school they all went, its gates locked and playground empty. Their numbers growing as they got closer to the river. Through the last cul-de-sac of houses, until the path opened out to a grassy slope, and Amelia could see where they were all headed. It was the children’s play area between the school and the river. There was a crowd of children and animals gathered there, and more were heading towards it. It was noisy now too, as children recognised their friends and exclaimed in surprise that they were also be out at night. More surprisingly, the animals were talking too, not in barks and meows, but real understandable words. Suddenly, there was a hush; a large cat had jumped up onto the middle of the climbing frame. Amelia squinted from her place at the back of the crowd. She recognised him, it looked like Nanny’s Tiger. Yes, it definitely was, because at the bottom of the frame, weaving her way, restlessly in and out of the bars was Lily, and the two were rarely apart.
‘Thank you all for coming.’ It was Tiger, he was speaking loudly and confidently. ‘As you all know, we are going through strange times. A disease called coronavirus is making many humans ill.’
‘It wasn’t us, it wasn’t us.’ This was a rustling, whisper, which came from an odd group of animals who were hanging upside down by their feet from the zip wire. They were about the size of mice, but had leathery wings wrapped like cloaks around themselves. Amelia recognised them, they were bats.
‘And it certainly wasn’t us.’ This came from two animals, which were unfamiliar to Amelia. They were sitting side by side on the roundabout, and were the size of small dogs. She could see fur sprouting from their undersides, but most of their bodies were covered in what looked like small tiles. It looked like they were wearing armour. They had long pointed faces and bright beady eyes, and long thick tails. Later, she discovered that they were rare pangolins.
‘We are not here to blame anyone.’ Tiger continued confidently. ‘We are here because we are worried. Humans are dying, everyone is shut in, and no-one can enjoy all the things that they used to do. Tonight, I propose that we go on a fact finding mission, to see what we can find out.’ There were cries of ‘Hear, hear’ from the cats.
‘The birds have kindly agreed to carry some children to other places, to see exactly what is going on in the world, and report back to us. I’d like some volunteers, children who are brave, and not afraid of flying.’ Immediately, Amelia’s hand went up, she had always wanted an adventure. She looked around her, and could see a spattering of hands up around her, including Nicholas’.
‘Thank you. Okay I want everyone, especially us cats, to leave the play area and gather by the school fence. Only the volunteers stay here’ Tiger leapt down from the climbing frame and trotted out off towards the school, leading all of the other animals, and most of the children away. About twenty children were left, Amelia recognised some of them, including Poppy who lived in the same road as Nanny, and her boyfriend from school, Lenny. They waved shyly at each other. Suddenly from above there was a sharp breeze and a loud flapping sound, as the largest bird that Amelia had ever seen landed above the children on the swing’s frame. She thought it was an eagle.
‘Right, I want you all to space out. The boys are coming in to land.’ Obediently the children moved apart. There was a great commotion above them, as a great flock of birds appeared and flew down, each settling near a child. Amelia noticed that the eagle had moved towards Nicholas, next to her a great, grey goose had landed.
‘Hello, I’m Griselda. What’s your name?’ Amelia answered the goose, who went on to explain to her how to climb up on to her back, and that she need only to grip on tightly as they took off and landed, otherwise the flight would be quite smooth. Around her, other birds were taking off with children on their backs. Once, Amelia was settled, Griselda said.
‘Ready.’ And she could feel the bird’s powerful muscles move beneath her as she began to flap her wings, and used her yellow legs and webbed feet to leap up towards the sky. Up they flew, Griselda pointing her head and stretching her neck upwards, great wings moving backwards and forwards. Amelia leaned forward, lay flat along the birds back and looped her arms around the bird’s long neck. Griselda issued a few load honks and immediately they were surrounded by other geese, all honking in greeting at each other. They fell into a v formation, Griselda and Amelia at the front. When Griselda had reached the level that she wanted, and her wings had settled into a steady, effortless beating, she said.
‘We’re headed to Oxford.’ They flew through the night sky. Far below her Amelia could see rows of twinkling street lights, dark silhouettes of buildings and trees, and areas changing as they flew, sometimes hills or flat fields, other times vast built up areas with streets of houses and high rise flats with the odd square of light in a window. After what seemed no time at all, the geese began to slow, and Amelia could see that they were approaching a great city. It had many spires and towers piercing the sky line, and Griselda skilfully flew between them. The rest of the flock had disappeared. The goose circled around, apparently looking for something. Finally, she found it. It was a modern group of office buildings, and although it was late at night the lights were on. As they approached, Amelia could see people in white coats, hard at work in laboratories. Griselda landed by an entrance, and said ‘In you go.’ Amelia slid off her back, and rather doubtfully pushed open the double doors. Before her there was a long corridor with doors leading off it. Hesitantly, she began walking down the long hallway. She could hear voices. It was two women, one was saying.
‘Yes, we have found a vaccination. If we give people this, it will stop the spread of the virus and protect them.’ She knew that this was what she had been sent to find out. Joyfully, she turned around and headed back to Griselda. Carefully, climbing back onto the bird’s back, she waited until they were airborne and flying steadily before she shared what she had heard. The rest of the flock had re-joined them, and they were heading back to the playground.
‘Good news indeed.’ commented Griselda. It seemed to take even less time to fly back. The great goose landed, and Amelia again slid from her back. This time, she went to the bird’s head, thanked her and kissed her goodbye. She stood sadly watching as Griselda flapped her wings, and took to the sky. When she was high up, Amelia saw the rest of the flock re-appear and the birds fly off together. For a moment she felt lonely, but all around her other birds were landing, and children were jumping off their backs on to the ground. When all the birds had gone, Tiger led the main group back to the playground, and gracefully jumped back up onto his place at the top of the climbing frame. He asked each of the volunteers in turn to tell the gathering what he or she had seen. Some children had seen some terrible things, such as people dying without doctors to help them. Others had visited countries where life appeared to be carrying on as normal. Nicholas had been to Germany where he had seen a scene similar to the one that Amelia had witnessed. Finally, it was Amelia’s turn, and she told the meeting about the scientists finding a vaccination, which would protect humans against coronavirus.
‘Then we must convince all grown- ups to have the injection. After all, I get taken to the vet’s every year to have my jab.’ This was from Tiger, who then said.
‘Now, everyone back to bed. Remember not a word to anyone, but tell all adults to have their vaccination. Amelia took Nicholas’ hand and turned to walk back home. There, on the edge of the crowd, she saw Nanny and Jake. After they had left the house, Jake had run upstairs and woken Nanny. She had followed the animals and children to the play area, where she had watched the whole thing. She was cross, as she led the children back to her house she said.
‘You must never, ever leave the house again without telling Nanny. And as for that cat, you wait till I get my hands on him. Of course, I’ll have my vaccination, does he think that I want to be ill!’
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