The wind was blowing dust through the streets again today, just as it has done for the last four weeks. The bombs stopped falling six days ago, but we don't believe that there's an end to it yet, just that there's a pause, a hiatus. We're hoping it's not the eye of the storm.
Mother put the washing out to dry anyway. She calls the wind a simoom, harkening back to another city on another world. Bombs were falling then, too. The washing: sheets, sheet-like dresses, long thin sheets that wind around into turbans and wraps hangs on the polythene lines that crisscross the garden like sombre flags and flutter in the wind. Now and then there's a scritching sound that makes my ears itch, which is just the dust and sand being flung against the cloth. If we can leave them out for long enough so that they dry properly the dust and sand will mostly just fall off, but if we have to bring them in early they will stick.
The garden is looking quite nice at the moment; the last bombs that fell near us have rearranged the rocks almost artistically, and mother talks now and then about sitting down when the wind drops and painting a picture of them. There are no plants, and haven't been since the war started. First we ate the plants, then the rain stopped falling, and then the wind started blowing. Looking at the garden reminds me that I'm hungry, and I go in to see what is in the cupboard.
We have lots of cupboards, you understand. We are rich in cupboards and cupboard space. But we have only enough food to warrant using one of those cupboards, and the bombing destroyed all of the plates and cups except for the little plastic ones that we used to use for the baby. Mother says that this is fortunate, as it reminds us that we must ration the food carefully until the war is over and there is more again. She is more optimistic than most.
There is a small sack of rice, there are some dried chili peppers, and there is some jerky. I tell myself it is beef, because I know it's not come from the relief centre, which means that mother has either made it herself, or traded something for it with one of her friends, and then it could be anything. It smells a little beefy, and that helps me pretend. I move the items around in the cupboard, vaguely hoping that they'll be more interesting if I find the right order for them, as all we've eaten for weeks now is rice, unnamed (or unnameable) meat, and the occasional spice. I remind myself that it is food, but in my dreams I remember what I used to eat, and I wake up hungry.
I realise with a start that today is Tuesday, and that we may go to the relief centre and see what the week's food ration looks like. A faint flutter of excitement, that there might be something new and different to eat, wakes in my chest.
"Cheese!" announces mother, appearing in the doorway and seeing me looking in the cupboard. "Maria says that her cheese is ripening and we might be able to have some this week."
Mother shuffles into the kitchen, her hip losing motion and flexibility almost daily now. I close the cupboard door, and smile.
"How is she making cheese then? Are we getting milk at last?" The look on my mother's face tells me that I should unask the question, and so I change the subject, wondering if I'll feel so nauseated when the cheese is in front of me. I know I won't. Food is too important to waste, too valuable to be concerned about its provenance. "Are we going to the relief centre today?"
Mother nods, her hand resting on the back of the unbroken chair, the only survivor of a nearby bomb three months ago. The other chairs were thrown about the kitchen, and mostly reduced to firewood. If we only had a use for a fire.
"We'll go now," she says. We both know that we'll be waiting for hours for the relief centre to open its doors, but that it's better to do that than be near the end of the queue. "Maria says that yesterday they had sage."
It's only a herb, it's barely food at all, but suddenly I'm salivating.
Then the next bomb drops and the hollow booming thunder of its detonation echoes around the house.