The Start


From my ninth-floor bedroom window, the street looked as far away as the stars. I looked up, adjusting and readjusting the Libyan Army binoculars. There was the starry plough, vibrating and pulsating. I put the binoculars down and looked again. Seeing it with my own eyes.

I wanted to talk to Dad, but he wasn’t back from work. I had sat there, waiting for him while the sun went down. He was in the City, doing the groundwork on a hotel that was being redeveloped. It wasn’t far from Peckham; he was usually home by now. Some days he was late with the concrete.

A maroon van pulled onto the estate. I aimed the binoculars at it. Sweeney Groundwork Contractor was written on it in big white letters. It looked like the van that Dad drove but I knew from where it parked that it wasn’t him. A police car parked up alongside. A man got out of the van and a policewoman got out of the car. They walked towards Kilimanjaro.

I put down the binoculars.

They had to wait for the lift. I counted in my head as they went through the nine floors. The knock on the front door was right on time. Mum went past my closed bedroom door.

‘What’s happened?’ she asked.

I had my ear next to the door.

The policewoman spoke. I heard the words ‘Bertie Walsh’. Dad’s name.

‘What is it?’ Mum asked.

I heard 'trench collapse' and 'buried alive’. I didn't know who was speaking.

The sound of someone falling against the front door. Vomit landing on the balcony. I held on tight to the handle, unable to open it.

The front door was slammed shut. 

Mum came down the hallway and stopped outside my door. Her breathing was fast and loud. I didn’t want the door to open. I knew the expression on her face would stay with me for the rest of my life.