After the bombing, everything changed. My parents became different people and any
indulgence once shown to their only daughter evaporated forever.
I tried my mother first. ‘You have to be safe,’ she repeated mechanically with a
vacant gaze, each time I begged her not to send me away.
My father said more. ‘Why are you doing this?’ he snapped. ‘Can’t you see your
mother’s heart is broken? Have some pity.’
‘I just want to stay here, Papa, with what’s left of my family.’
‘It isn’t safe here, Misha. Look what happened to your brothers. You have to be safe.’
‘But if it isn’t safe, then why aren’t we all leaving?’
Papa adjusted his height. ‘I am a doctor. It is my duty to stay here and do what I can.
Your grandmother is too frail to travel, so Mama will stay here to take care of her.
Other family members will take care of you in Tetra.’
I kept silent. Papa would not want to hear that travelling hundreds of miles on my
own to a country I’d never been to, to live with cousins I’d never met did not feel safe
to me. I felt abandoned by my parents, as if my loss was irrelevant.
Papa took me to the station, settled me into the seat he’d reserved, gave me tickets,
some money and paid the guard to ensure that I would be escorted to a seat when I
changed trains at the border. Neither of us waved as I was hauled away from his
presence on the platform. Staring back, I wondered if I would ever see him again.
Around midday we stopped and a strutting border guard appeared to check our
papers. Hostile eyes bored down and for moment, I feared he was going to question
my right to proceed, but he shoved the documents back at me and moved on.
Any sense of relief was short lived. Within a few minutes, the train pulled into a dingy
station and everyone hurried to alight. Other passengers urged me to do the same,
explaining the train terminated here. I sat mortified in my seat. The guard enlisted by
my father was nowhere to be seen. Should I wait, in the hope he would come, or try
to negotiate the next leg myself? The maelstrom of moving bodies on the platform
looked terrifying, but staying put wasn’t an option, so I dragged my case to the open
door. The crowd had thinned, but the noise of engines and unfamiliar languages hit
the stench of garbage in my nose. Nausea gripped my stomach. I felt utterly alone.
This wasn’t the safety I’d been promised.