They’re in a car. She can’t keep her eyes open. Hey it’s ok, just rest your head, and they gently tug her until she’s slumped against someone’s shoulder.
The next couple of days go by in a haze.
They change safe houses a couple of times. The first night they all just crash on the floor on sleeping bags in a big pile. Nile makes sure that Andy’s within arms reach before she gives in to sleep.
She remembers getting up the next morning and eating something, but her memory is dim. Shit, she’s got glass shards in her hair. Gentle fingers stroke her scalp. Nile, Nile, habibti, lean your head forward. She leans her head forward.
Gentle fingers unwind her braids, and she takes a deep breath as she feels her scalp loosen and fingers card through her hair. Her mom had put in her braids right before she’d shipped out. She can’t remember what they had talked about. She wants to protest and tell them to not take this last bit of home away from her. Alone alone alone.
She breathes and breathes and tries to hold it all in. She made a choice in that moment, the second she realized the gun chamber was empty, that Andy was in trouble. Efficient hands strip her of her bloody clothes, she feels like she’s back in the hospital. Hey, is this ok? Nile manages to nod. She barely feels the water sluicing over her body. She is tired, so bone tired. More soft hands and soft voices, the smell of shampoo and soap. They wash her. A scratchy towel smelling of bleach dries her with economical movement. She shrugs on the clothes she’s handed and sits down.
The consequences of that decision are just sinking in. She’s alone alone alone so alone. She won’t ever see her mom again. Her mom and brother are going to lose her just like they lost dad but they won’t ever know the truth. They’re going to think she’s a deserter, FUCK. She can never go home again. Is this what Dorothy felt like when she realized she wasn’t in Kansas anymore? Nile wants to laugh hysterically. Oh god, she killed the Wicked Witch of the West by landing on him.
Voices murmuring around her, they ask her questions. She answers when she can. She’s sitting at a table with food in front of her, someone’s nudging her shoulder. Eat, she hears. She eats. She’s in a bed, it’s too soft. Sleep, they say. She closes her eyes and dreams of her dad.
This time they’re on a boat? Someone places a bag in her hand and gives her a gun, she holds onto it and moves forward.
Alone alone alone, she’s never going to see them again. How long will it be before she can’t remember their voices? She can’t remember how old she was when she realized she couldn’t remember the timbre of her dad’s voice. Fuck. She feels like she’s losing her dad all over again, but in triplicate.
She opens her eyes. It’s bright in this room. So much fucking sun, she thinks she’s back in the desert for a moment. She swings her legs over the side of the bed as she sits up. Fuck, what has she done? Alone alone alone her family will die and she’ll be alone and they won’t even know.
Nile thinks now would be the time to cry, but the tears are just out of reach. Her grief, it’s sharp and dull, throbbing and never ending, and she feels it all the way down to the tips of her fingers. She wills her shaky hands to clench into tight fists to try to ease the ache.
Nile? Nile? Her name sounds like it’s coming from underwater. There’s somebody sitting next to her, careful not to touch. She turns her head and looks up, blue how the fuck are eyes that blue. She closes her eyes, retreats into the darkness for a moment and takes a deep breath.
Nile? That sounded sharper like dialing into the right frequency on the radio.
She opens her eyes. “Hey, Andy.”
“You back with us, kid?”
“Yeah I think so.”
“Good. Joe’s been waiting on feeding you, let’s eat.”
“What the fuck did you do to my hair?”