Every window on the train had been painted black, blocking any possible view of the passing scenery. Lizzie knew the paint was necessary to hide the train’s lights from German planes, but she wished she could see outside where there might be farmland, mountains, or rivers to watch. Instead, as the train sped along the tracks, all Lizzie saw was her own frizzy-haired reflection in the blank black rectangle of glass.
Children from Lizzie’s school were crammed into the train carriage. Some sat on suitcases in the aisle while others bickered and jostled for room on the crowded seats. Some sat blank-faced with their gas masks slung over their shoulders and their possessions in their laps. A few of the older children played a card game using a suitcase for a table. A tiny girl cried, “Mummy, I want my mummy,” over and over again. Lizzie couldn’t reach the girl to comfort her ?— ?there were too many other children in the way.
In the strange cocoon of the carriage, Lizzie had lost all sense of time. It had been early morning when she’d taken Peter’s hand, said goodbye to their mother, and climbed onto the double-decker bus outside their school in Hull. It had still been morning when the bus had stopped at the railway station and she’d guided Peter to a seat on the packed train. They’d long ago eaten their potted meat sandwiches, but Lizzie’s watch had stopped at eleven o’clock, and she had no idea how many hours had passed since then on the rattling, clattering train.
“Look after Peter, love,” her mother had said after giving Lizzie a final kiss. “Don’t let them send you to different homes. Seven’s too young for him to be on his own.”
Lizzie had turned in a sudden panic on the bus step and said, “Do we have to go?”
Her mother’s eyes had glistened. “Yes, love, you do. We’re at war now. It won’t be safe in Hull ?— ?the Germans will bomb the city.”
“Why can’t you come with us?”
“I have to stay behind, Lizzie. Parents aren’t allowed to go.” Her mother had painted a false smile on her face and said, “You’ll have such an adventure in the country. You’ll be safe there, and I’m sure someone kind will take you in.”
Lizzie had heard this so many times from her parents and her teacher, Mrs. Scruton, that she could recite the speech herself. She knew that city children had to be evacuated to keep them safe from the bombs. She knew that most of their fathers would join the army to fight the Germans. She knew that most of their mothers would take the place of the men in the factories and offices. But knowing the reasons why she had to leave didn’t help ?— ?Lizzie would rather face the bombs than live in a strange place with people she didn’t know. After all, they had a bomb shelter now.
Before he’d left to join the army, her father had removed the roses from their back garden and dug a big hole in the lawn. He’d made walls using half-buried sheets of corrugated metal and a roof from more of the metal sheets before mounding a huge pile of soil over the top. When the bomb shelter was finished, he’d put two camp beds inside for her mother and grandmother to sleep on and a little Primus stove for them to make tea.
“That’ll do nicely,” he’d said. “You’ll be safe in there.”
The shelter was cramped and damp and probably full of spiders. Still, if it would keep Mummy and Nana safe in a bombing raid, wouldn’t it keep Lizzie and Peter safe too?
But Lizzie hadn't been given a choice to stay.
She shifted on her seat and pushed Peter’s lolling head into a more comfortable position on her shoulder. He made little whimpering noises in her ear as he slept and his head was heavy, but she was grateful for the relief from his endless questions.
“Where are we going?” he’d asked as the train pulled out of Hull Station. “Why didn’t Mummy come with us? Who will look after us?”
Lizzie’s stomach flipped a somersault. Who would look after them?
She reached into her school satchel and felt for Nana’s gift. Her fingers gripped the smooth hard box for comfort. Inside the box, nestled on a bed of white satin, was a beautiful new fountain pen.
“That’s not fair,” Peter had complained when Nana gave it to her. “Her birthday’s not for ages.”
But Nana had patted his head and said, “Hush, now. We don’t know if you’ll be home in time for Lizzie’s birthday, so she’d better have it now. Be-sides, she’ll need it to write me lots of lovely letters.”
Nana had given Lizzie a whole sheet of stamps ?— ?so many stamps. Would they really be gone long enough for Lizzie to write that many letters?
She rested her feet on their suitcase, leaned her head against the back of the leather seat, and closed her eyes, but she couldn’t stop the thoughts. What if the people in the country weren’t kind? What if they didn’t like her? What if she couldn’t look after Peter?
What if you stop worrying? Nana would say.
How would Lizzie manage without Nana to reassure her?
We’re two peas in a pod, you and me. Nana said that all the time, which was funny, because Nana was short and stout like a barrel on legs, and Lizzie was as thin as a rake.
Who would make Lizzie laugh now? She twisted a loop of hair back and forth between her fingers as the train swayed and rattled on its relentless way.
She woke to a sudden jerk and the harsh squeal of brakes.
Mrs. Scruton stepped into their carriage. She took the hand of the little girl who’d been crying for her mother and said, “This is our stop, children.”
Lizzie picked up their suitcase and poked Peter when he almost left his gas mask on the seat. Together they clambered down onto the platform. A long line of train carriages stretched through the small station, and Lizzie wondered if there were any children left in Hull.
Billows of steam wafted from the hissing engine. A man wearing a dark uniform and cap waved a green flag and blew his whistle. The train, their last connection with home, pulled out of the station and disappeared into the misty distance.