“It’s still there.”
Wanda’s voice is hoarse and dusty, like Pietro’s own. They haven’t had much to drink, not anything, really, except for sticking out their tongues at the rain that came through the hole in the roof last night.
The bathroom is in the other hole, the one where their parents went, with their bedroom and bits of the hallway. Pietro can see the kitchen, but it’s on the other side of the hole -- the sink is still there, and the front door with the stairs down. If he could run real fast, or jump real far, then maybe he could get there, across the nothing in between, and maybe carry Wanda on his back and have them both be safe.
But he can’t do any of these things, and so Pietro just nods and curls around Wanda a little tighter. It’s what big brothers do, isn’t it? Besides, she’s warm, and … there, and it feels good.
“Yeah. I see it.”
“Do you think anyone will ever come for us?”
She keeps asking that question, even though she must know the answer.
There are noises of people digging through rubble somewhere (bricks, clanking down piles of other bricks; shovels scraping on stone; voices shouting warnings, cursing, or breaking out into sudden wails). But no one has come to the Maximoff place, to the Romani part of the building. Maybe they’re too high up? When the Government takes in Roma whose houses have been burnt, they get put into apartment buildings, Dat had said, but not into the nice ones, or into the nice parts of buildings. And people know where those parts are.
All the digging has been elsewhere. Sometimes, it shakes up everything for a bit, and the bomb wobbles a little. When that happens, Wanda takes a deep breath and sticks out her hand, as if she could stop it from moving by just wanting it to sit still. Pietro isn’t sure whether that’s done anything, but so far it hasn’t gone off.
For two days, no one has come for them, and why should that change? They’ve shouted, and called for help, in Romani and in Sokovian – we’re here, get us out, our parents are gone, please help us! – but no one has come. Someone shouted back once and Wanda cried that there was a bomb and things got real quiet for a while, and then all the digging went elsewhere.
So now all Pietro and Wanda can do is wait, and watch over the bomb that will kill them even if it doesn’t blow up.
Do you think anyone will ever come for us?
“I don’t know,” Pietro says, because he can’t say no, even though it’s the truth. Wanda is his little sister – only by twelve minutes, but she’s so much smaller than Pietro, everyone thinks he’s at least two years older, and so he tries his best to be a big brother.
The bomb is white and sleek, like the kind of thing Pietro would have liked to play with, if Daj and Dat had money for toys. Boom, boom! he’d go, pretending to be aiming at the people that had driven them from their last home, from the nice farm with the chickens, to this grey building in the city -- to die.
Fucking gypsies, the voices in the night had gone. You’re what’s wrong with this country. You’re the reason everything’s going to shit. Lazy, no-good, thieving, gypsy vermin …
The war is supposed to be over stuff in the mountains, and whom it belongs to. But both sides like to hit the Roma. We’re easy targets, Dat had said, because you can’t fight back when you have no guns, no fights with anyone, and just want to be left alone and live life your own way.
But now the war has swallowed them all, Roma and Sokovians alike – the city, the farms. Everyone.
There’s a beam of sunlight coming through the hole in the roof now, dust dancing along its path. Daj would be so upset to see that; she likes things to be clean. But she didn’t know that the walls themselves could turn to dust and cover everything, did she?
The beam moves over to the bomb, and Pietro holds his breath. Will it blow up from the heat? He doesn’t breathe (much) until the beam moves on. Wanda doesn’t seem to have noticed. Girls don’t know much about technical things, do they? Not even his sister, who’s so smart in other ways.
Pietro looks back at the bomb. Stark Industries, it says in nice, clean black letters, like on a street sign. He asks himself, for the umpteenth time: Where does the name go when it blows up? Who is this Stark, who makes such pretty white bombs? And why does he hate children, or Sokovia?
“I’m hungry,” Wanda complains. Yesterday, she’d still cried when she said that, but now she doesn’t. There’s no point. Besides, to make tears, you need to drink more water than some drops of rain that fall in the night.
What else is there to say? Pietro’s stomach agrees loudly, now that he’s thinking about how long it’s been since they last ate: Ćevapčići, that Daj had made for lunch. They were hard to come by in these times, Dat had said, so they had to be sure and eat every last bit and the rice and peppers, too. Pietro hates peppers, but now he’s glad he ate them – he might be even hungrier if he hadn’t.
The bombs had come right after, the day before yesterday. A day has twenty-four hours, it’s morning now, that’s … Pietro counts on his fingers: Over forty hours. At least.
That’s a long time without food. Daj would never … He swallows the thought down with something that comes dangerously close to a sob.
“I wish I could make the people down there see us,” Wanda starts up again. “They don’t seem to hear us, but maybe if they could see us, they would remember us and come?”
She squirms in Pietro’s arms and sits up. She scrunches her face a little, frowning in concentration and reaching out towards the hole with one hand. She even makes a little sound at the back of her throat, as if that would help send her message to the people digging below.
Puri Daj had the Sight-- she could look into people’s minds, and did so for money at the fairs until she got too old and bent to sit at the table for long. Daj had it too, but Dat wouldn’t let her use it; he always said they should be more like normal Sokovians, stay on a farm and let the Old Ways go.
But even Daj and Puri Daj with their Sight couldn’t make anyone else see things, or think things. Wanda’s attempts are a bit silly, but Pietro doesn’t say that, because he knows that she means well. Like he does, with his dreams of running across the hole like the wind. If you run like the wind, you can run on air, right?
But there’s no point in dreaming silly dreams.
Pietro lies back and closes his eyes, so he doesn’t have to see Wanda try and be disappointed when she fails. He’s not tired, but he doesn’t want to see the hole anymore either and there’s nothing else to look at, just sky.
Of course, the problem with closed eyes is that everything else becomes … more. The sounds of the people working in the rubble in some other part of the big apartment building; the smell of burning and dust, of something else (rotting food?) coming up from the hole, now that it’s getting warmer.
Suddenly there’s a sound, like a rumble, and the bit of wall beside the bed gives way and then a bunch of bricks fall down in a cloud of dust. One of them bounces a bit, and gets really close to the bomb, and Pietro jumps – jumps like a jack-in-the-box– off the bed as fast as he can to grab it before it can touch the bomb. He throws it away as fast and as far as he can, out through the hole, into the sky.
Of course the brick has to come down somewhere. There’s a dull thud, followed by a scream and a string of curses in a language Pietro doesn’t understand. (The Ouch! he gets, of course.)
And then the shouting starts, first in that strange language, but then in Sokovian, and it’s someone asking, “Is someone up there?”
Pietro grabs Wanda by the arm, and for a moment they just stare at each other and Wanda smiles triumphantly (“See? It worked! I made them notice us!”) and then they both start shouting:
Yes, we’re here.
Yes, we’re alive.
Yes, we’re alone
Because Dat and Daj are gone. They’re down in the hole somewhere, the hole that Stark’s other bomb made, and they won’t ever come out, because no one is going to clear away the rubble just to dig out a pair of dead gypsies, in the middle of a war.
So now there’s just Pietro and Wanda, forever and ever.
Someone shouts back, “Hold on, children!” and then there’s an argument, which the first voice seems to win, and a while later there’s a scrabbling sound and the beginnings (or the end) of a ladder pokes up through the hole, followed by a pair of hands and a head.
The man at the top of the ladder is wearing a white thing over his shirt (or it used to be white, it’s all dusty and grey from the rubble) with a big red cross on it. Is he a knight, maybe? He must be, because knights rescue everyone, even Roma children, and even in the middle of a war. They’re not allowed to make a difference between people just because of who they are, or what they believe in. Why aren’t there more people like that, who help anyone?
The man looks at them, and at the bomb, says something in that strange language that sounds like a swear, and climbs back down. But he comes back a while later, with another ladder that he moves carefully over to the bed so that Pietro and Wanda can climb over it, over the bomb, without touching it.
The Knight of the Red Cross motions for them to come over to the ladder, and they do. Wanda is first – she’s always the first to do things. Pietro’s legs are a little bit wobbly from sitting on that bed for so long, and he figures Wanda’s must be too.
“Careful,” he hisses in Romani. “Don’t fall off and step on the bomb!”
Wanda looks back from where she is on the ladder and gives him the stink eye – she’s tired and sick and hungry but she’s still his sister, and Pietro feels just a little glad.
As Pietro follows her into the arms of the man with the Red Cross, he thinks that maybe that’s how it is: You can ask people for help, you can shout and you can beg, and they won’t come. But they will notice you when you hit them with something hard.
He looks back at the white, shiny bomb with the neat black letters, whose sister or brother had taken their parents, and everything else. You can’t hit a bomb, of course, because it’ll just blow you up. So maybe someone should hit this man, Stark, instead.
Someday, maybe they will.
They are the Maximoff twins. They can wait.