Birthday cake and blitzkreig

It was Ronald's big day: he was turning 5.

The celebration seemed rather out of place in the middle of World War 2 London, but Ronald was determined to enjoy it.

All the other kids in the block of flats had come around for the party, bringing gifts carefully wrapped in freshly ironed recycled paper, packages that whispered, ''Open me. Don't you want to see what's inside?''

Ronald couldn't wait, but mum had told him they'd have the cake first.

Everyone had charged into the living room for this rare sugary treat, then Mum walked in balancing the cake with its stout candles burning brightly.

She must have been saving rations for months, Ronald thought.

The children whooped and cheered as he drew in an enormous breath to suffocate the little flames.

''Hooray!'' they roared.

Just as Mum cut the first piece, the siren blared into life.

The children's euphoria melted into fear, their eyes darting wildly as they searched for their parents.

Some began to wail. Others raced out the front door.

Ronald was confused. His Dad had not returned. He had not heard him whistle.

Ronald's Dad always whistled when he came home, just so they knew it wasn't an intruder.

Four of the flats had been raided that year and his Dad did not want theirs to be next.

Ronald started to panic. Where was Dad?

He didn't have time to brew on it.

Mum pulled him out the door into a torrent of people. There was no moving against the flow.

The siren screamed. Darkness stained the sky.

Everyone raced for the bomb shelter in the Underground.

Ronald's heart sank: the shelter was nearly full.

All he could see was the sky, strobed by gargantuan beams of light bouncing off the decoy balloons.

It was a grotesque version of a birthday party.

He was pulled into the shelter. Inside, they found a small corner, and squeezed in.

Ronald's heart thudded in his throat. The silence of anticipation was overwhelming.

Then, from the thick night sky, the Blitzkrieg was upon them.

The steady rumble of aircraft shook the ground. He felt sick.

A hail of explosions rained down.

A thundering crescendo bore down. And Dad was out there.

The first projectile hit home and a fine dust filtered down from above, caking their hair and nearly suffocating them.

The explosions increased to a steady barrage, lights swung helplessly, grit rattled down.

An eternity passed before the assault subsided.

Finally, the siren blazed the all clear. One by one, the refugees emerged.

Dust clouded the street, gradually clearing so that they glimpsed smouldering remains, trashed cars, broken windows, houses sliced in half.

It was as if the city had thrown a tantrum.

Some survivors now had only the clothes on their backs.

Ronald's heart lurched; Dad wouldn't have stood a chance.

A fat tear rolled down his grimy cheek.

Then came a faint whistle.

Not another bomb?

No, a shadowy figure emerged through the gloom, limping and a bloodied arm clutched to its chest.

Ronald raced to hug his father.

But what was this?

Dad reached into his pocket and pulled out something shiny.

''Happy birthday, son!'' he whispered.

Ronald reached out his hand for the silvery yo-yo, wary of its fragility, feeling it grow warm in his hands.

It had been the best and worst birthday ever.

Their flat was destroyed, but they were alive.

And the yo-yo now rests on Ronald's mantelpiece, as perfect as the day he got it, six decades later.

 


• By Oscar German, Year 12, Kavanagh College