Nonna

The girl stood outside the telephone box.

It was raining; one of those English nights where the light turns everything blue.

The girl was small. She could just about reach the handle of the red door behind her, but it was too heavy for her to pull open. She’d tried. It had earned her a stern look from inside the box.

The girl was tired. She felt like she had been standing there for a long time. She’d been told not to wander off, and the girl knew the consequences of disobeying her instructions. She wanted to sit on the ground, but it was wet and smelt funny.

The girl watched the drops of water flying through the lamplight. Turned her head and looked at the puddles forming on the ground. After a while, she felt the door behind her start to push into her back. She stepped aside.

The woman looked exhausted. She ran one hand down her face. Looked up at the sky as if trying to find an answer there.

The girl knew better than to start asking questions, but the woman began to speak.

“Well, it’s done,” she said in Romani. “We’re going to live with Nonna.”
“Who’s Nonna?” asked the girl.
“She’s your phuri daje.”
“My grandmother? Then why is she called Nonna?”
“Your grandmother prefers to speak in Italian. You will call her Nonna.”
“Where does she live? Is it very far away?”
“Yes. Five hundred and sixty miles.”
Five hundred and sixty miles. The girl couldn’t contemplate such a distance.
“How will we get there? Will we walk?”
A laugh – short, sharp – a bark.
“No. Colin will drive us in his van.”

The girl wanted to ask more questions, but she could see that the woman was becoming exasperated. She fell silent as they walked home down the dark alleyway.

The block of flats was not very tall, but it towered over the girl and she believed it to be the biggest building in the world. They stepped inside.

Upstairs, they tried to ignore the gaping hole in the roof. The rain had slowed down now, and was dripping softly – plip, plip, plip – onto the floor. The woman skirted around the pile of rubble below the hole and the girl followed her.

In the other room, the woman picked up a blanket and gestured to the girl to follow. They curled up on the floor together next to a stack of suitcases, as far away as possible from the hole that had ripped into their world, and tried to sleep.

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