Elise knew the drill.
It all started with the sirens. They shrieked loud and clear from her window. It was almost usually night time when it happened.
Her mother rushed to her bedroom and carried her downstairs.They’ll go to the neighbors. But not straight to their drawing-room. No, the drawing-room was for day visits. They’ll go straight downstairs.
Deep down in their bunker. Where others were also there. All of the people on the street. And the ground shook and there was a terribly loud deafening sound.
In the most peculiar waiting room, Elise had ever seen.
Elise could never get used to the experience. It was her third time there.
When the little girl asked her mother what they were doing there, she said they were waiting.
Waiting for what? For whom? Till when?
Her Mum didn’t tell.
Though still eight years of age, Elise knew how to sense when trouble was around. She could register it in the grown up’s faces. She also came to know when they grew silent. Their eyes wandered as if in a trance of searching for something but never finding it.
And the feeling was always there in the neighbor’s basement.
The first two visits were too early for Elise to familiarize herself with her surroundings. She had spent the visits to the basement just taking her time to register what was happening. When Mom refused to answer her questions, saying that more questions would lead to more time in the basement, she asked the neighbor woman.
She started sobbing.
Elise was worried that she had said something wrong, so she went away from the woman. Little did she know that the woman cried out of pity, of not understanding how to explain the little girl of what was happening in the outside world.
Elise had always started feeling in waiting rooms, like the time when her mum went to the dentist because she always had toothaches, and the community dentist always had lots of patients to attend to. What she hated more than the visits to the dentist, was waiting for the train to arrive, which would lead them to the countryside, where her grandmamma lived. Her mother called her an impatient girl, but her father always took her side and tried to make her see the bright side of things. He would remind her that after a little waiting, she would be able to enjoy a wonderful vacation in the countryside.
Elise wished that her father was here as well, in this peculiar waiting room, where none of the adults can ever make her happy. She was sure that her father would’ve found something to amuse her even in this basement, where every person seemed too scared to even speak.
But her father had gone away and her mother had told her that he went for a bigger purpose, to serve his motherland. But she’d once eavesdropped on some grown-ups speaking to her mum, and they said that they didn’t know when he’ll return, even if he’ll come back.
Elise wanted her mother to be clearer about what she told her, but she was so vague about everything, telling her things in discreet terms, too complicated for her little mind to understand.
And then there was this occasional going to the waiting room in the bunkers of their neighbor. Her mom spoke to her in a hushed voice.
“When the sirens ring, know that it is time. Time to go to Mrs. Lindsey’s. And not to come out till they tell you so,”
“Is there a monster lurking outside at those times,”
“No, not a monster, but something even more dangerous. Humans. But it won’t be different than waiting at the dentist's. Now, the basement will be our waiting room” Her mother said.
“But, waiting for what?”
Elise’s mother had put her fingers to her temple, which was her way of saying that she didn’t want to be interrogated further.
Now they, she and her mother, were waiting in the basement, once again, the third time this month. Elise, having familiarized herself with her waiting companions, knew which of them had children.
She first went to a girl, who was rather taller than her.
“Hello, there. What is your name?”
“Cathy. What’s yours?”
“Elizabeth, but everyone calls me Elise,”
“You enjoy being here?”
“No, I always hate waiting rooms and this one in particular,”
Cathy looked amused by her talk. She was clearly old enough to understand what was really happening around her, but she liked Elise’s perspective of it. So she pretended to agree with her that the basement really was a waiting room
“Why not this one in particular?”
“It’s because, in normal waiting rooms, fewer people are waiting than in here. Plus, this room is more prone to earthquakes than any waiting room in the world. Every time we come here, an earthquake follows. And usually, the adults are only impatient or angry in waiting rooms, especially when it takes a lot of time for the task they’re waiting for. They’re never scared. Look around you. The adults are more scared than children here.”
“Yes, I can see that. But what do you think they’re waiting for?”
“Well, I think this is the waiting room for God’s help from Heaven,”
“That’s a better answer. Maybe better times will come from God’s help from Heaven,”
“Then I think that God’s help shakes the very earth because every time we come here, the waiting room moves and there’s a horrible crushing sound,”
“God is great after all,”
Both the girls smiled at each other.
Elise wasn’t bored the next time they visited the waiting room. She had Cathy to accompany her. They told each other of their favorites; a favorite color, ice-cream flavor, subject, place, etc.
Seeing Elise and Cathy enjoying themselves, the other parents sent their kids to make friends with them too. It would distract the children’s’ minds and also allow the adults to discuss the current situation without the children interfering.
Two boys joined them, Robin was even smaller than Elise, and Hob was older than Elise but smaller than Cathy. Hob was the most short-tempered kid they’d ever seen. But they enjoyed his company because he told them funny stories.
The wait in the waiting room was taking longer than usual. They’d spent a quarter of the night, and the adults told them that they’d have to wait a little longer. Elise guessed that the ground hadn’t shaken yet, and they’d have to wake for the ground to shake, for God’s mercy to be released on land.
When she told this to her friends, Hob scoffed,
“It’s all nonsense, this theory of yours, Elise,” He said.
“Pray, tell me, why?”
“This isn’t a waiting room; for starters, this is a shelter. It was built to keep people safe,”
Cathy interrupted, “Hob, I think you better stop with your theory, I see no reason in it.”
“There’s the best reason for it, and you know it,”
“Pray, go on, Hob, to keep people safe, from what?” Elise said.
“From bombs of course,”
“But who’d drop bombs on us?”
“The Germans, on their airplanes,”
Elise was shocked. Nothing made sense to her.
“But why would they do so?”
“We’re in a war, that’s why. We bomb the German land, and the Germans bomb our land,”
‘So, that’s where my father’s gone to, Germany”
This all was a revelation to Elise. She hadn’t realized why the houses near their neighborhood were destroyed as it said in the evening paper.
And the children all held their hands together, afraid to let go. They were just little beings in this big cruel world, huddled together, waiting for the adults to resolve their issues, their wars. They wished they never had to wait in that waiting room again.
But wishes like that seldom come true