he crowds at the market were very heavy as people prepared for Christmas. Elizabeth clasped the hem of Olivia's coat as she navigated through the stalls of the Portobello. The child's senses reveled in the marketplace. The din of commerce mingled with the smell of food and the voices of the barkers to create an irresistible intoxicant. She loved coming to the market with Olivia.

The most recent bombings had left the city jittery and off-balance. This morning everyone was talking about the war. Elizabeth overheard many things which she did not understand. Her head felt funny and her chest was tight.

As Olivia haggled over the price and quality of a goose, Elizabeth, who clutched her skirt, looked down the street and saw a startling sight. A handsome young man, dressed in uniform, limped down the street on a pair of crutches. His right leg was completely gone.

Elizabeth had never seen anything like this before. Where had his leg gone? He was dressed the way her father had been when he was home on leave the year before. Was he a hero? As he approached, she could see that his handsome features were lined and creased and his eyes were yellow. He looked both old and young at the same time. She didn't understand. Why did this beautiful young man, who under other circumstances would have warranted a wonderful crush from Elizabeth, look so old and sad?

He stopped at a stall a few feet from her and her eyes were drawn to the space where his leg should have been. What happened to it? It took three tugs to get Olivia's attention.

"What is it, child? I'm shopping."

"What happened to that man's leg?"

"Oh, Elizabeth..." she whispered, bending close, "...that's not polite. You mustn't stare. He lost it in the war, poor man."

A thousand bees droned in Elizabeth's head, a hot band of metal tightened around her chest, and the girl fainted dead away, falling to the dirty cobblestones of Portobello Road.

1995 Hyperbole Studios Inc.