The young girl skipped about, her black curls bouncing around her shoulders. She turned around, her face alight with a bright smile that brought a glow to her cheeks and a sparkle to her eyes. “Come on, grandpa! Don’t be so slow!” she said to the old man hobbling a few metres behind her.
“I’m coming, Raja,” said the old man. “You’re too quick for me.”
The market was bustling with people, and the noise of people haggling and children shouting filled the air. Nearby, a young man pushed a cart laden with watermelons, his forehead gleaming with sweat. Jewellery and trinkets lay stacked upon crooked tables, an array of bronze and copper and garish gemstones.
It was an unusually warm day; heat cloaked the town in a hazy film. Clouds hung low, and storm clouds brewed in the distance.
Raja swivelled around and pouted, tapping her foot impatiently against the cobbled ground. “Quickly, grandpa! I want to- “
Something in the air had changed. For a moment, there was an ominous, brooding silence. Everything seemed to stop. No one moved. The sound of voices had died away. It was as if every single person had drawn their breath, waiting for some inexplicable event to happen.
That was when the bomb exploded.
There was an earth-shattering BOOM, followed by a colossal wave of force that knocked everyone to the ground. Several buildings collapsed, tumbling silently before hitting the earth with a jarring crash. Glass shattered and wood splintered, an unrelenting shower of mortal rain. Agonised screams; full of hurt and shock, punctured the air, merging to become a symphony of devastation and despair.
The old man had collapsed heavily onto the ground. His shoulders and back seared with pain. He clambered unsteadily to his feet; surveying the damage dazedly. Bodies were strewn about the ground, surrounded by splatters and pools of blood. Market stalls lay crumpled and squashed. Dust choked the air, making it difficult to breathe.
Raja! Where was Raja? Fear shot through the old man. He scanned the surroundings frantically. Where was she?
A head of curly black hair and a small hand peeking out from under a fallen market stall caught his attention. He staggered towards it, breathing heavily. He lifted the heavy framework of the stall, pushing with all his might, his arms shrieking in anguish.
Raja lay on the ground, covered in blood and dirt. Her arms were badly lacerated, and one side of her head had caved in; giving her an odd, misshapen look. A strangled cry of sorrow escaped from the old man’s mouth. He fell beside her, cradling her head in his hands; smoothing back the matted hair with trembling hands.
Rain began to fall; heavy and hard, and with it came a barrage of hail. The old man stayed prostrate beside his fallen granddaughter, embracing the pain of the hail so that it might extinguish the horrible stab of loss in his heart.