Once I step into the intersection, I get a good look at what has been hidden behind the buildings until now. The people milling around the parking lot are just one half of the camp, if you want to call it that—and I do, when I see the three tents that have been erected in the middle of the street, with soldiers moving around them. The only part civilians seem to be allowed in is a medical “facility” where I can see three people—nurses? Doctors? Who knows?—moving around between patients. The crowd of people is cordoned off to one side but there are a few soldiers standing guard, protecting them.
I really, sincerely hope that’s what they do.
People notice me as soon as I step out of the maze of the city, toward them. I’m hard to miss since I’m the only one moving at a deliberate pace and trajectory. A couple of weirdos are around but fewer than in the street I’ve followed for the last thirty minutes. Someone must have chased them away, considering how much sunlight comes streaming down on the camp.
Nobody’s pointing a weapon at me. In fact, nobody even looks at me with suspicion.
In quick succession, I’m being welcomed by a kind-faced older woman, handed coffee and some chocolate bars, and herded away from the intersection, deeper into the crowd. She does stop shy of swathing me in a blanket like the others I watched before; apparently, my bathrobe needs to be comfort enough.
I’m bewildered enough to let it happen.
Who’d say no to coffee?
It’s a strong, surprisingly good brew. Sipping on it in silence is a great opportunity to listen to people around me without having to directly engage with them.
Within minutes, I hear tales that put my own experience to shame, although not by much. One thing is for sure: nobody has a damn clue what the fuck is going on.
“Nobody has a damn clue what the fuck is going on,” a gruff, male voice says, coming from behind me.
Did I just say that out loud? I’m sure I didn’t, particularly since there’s sweet ambrosia swishing around in my mouth. Also, I’d like to say, neither my interior nor exterior narrator sounds like an asshole.
I’m not even surprised to find out it’s him—my very own personal nemesis—who’s standing there, his own styrofoam cup in hand, scrutinizing my getup. He’s still wearing that leather jacket. Too bad.
I don’t know why but I’m kind of glad to see him here. Also because it comes with a certain smugness, seeing as I warned him, and that must have made a difference. It did for me. I’m not actually expecting him to thank me, though. It would be nice but very much against our track record.
“There’s coffee,” I offer wisely. “Can’t be that bad, right?”
I don’t know why I say that. It makes me sound like an imbecile.
The asshole cracks a smile and reaches toward me. For a stupid second, I hold my breath, not knowing what I’ll do if he touches me.
He doesn’t. But he picks up the end of the bathrobe tie and holds it up to my face.
It’s crusted with dried blood.
Because that’s not bad enough in and of itself, he mutters, “Not bad at all, right.”
I open my mouth to snark back at him—because that went so well the last, ugh, every single time—but the loud squeal of someone abusing a megaphone cuts me right off.
Well. Maybe we’ll find out now that someone does, indeed, know more.