Nasira isn’t exactly sleeping, but she isn’t exactly awake either. She’s somewhere in between, resting in a peaceful state of non-thinking.
The low hum of the helicopter and the vibrations going through her back and legs are very soothing. Ali is leaning against her, sleeping and breathing deeply. Once in a while, he’ll jerk and lift his head, as though having a bad dream.
Nasira suspects he’ll have a lot of bad dreams in the years to come. Her heart mourns for him and the losses he’s suffered at such a young age. And at the same time, she trusts that he will be okay.
She checks on her finger now and then, examining it closely, bending it carefully. It still only hurts a little bit, but the red color is slowly making its way up her palm. The virus—or whatever it is—is definitely advancing, and it will eventually kill her; Nasira bears no illusions about that fact. She isn’t secretly wishing for it to reverse or for a cure to suddenly come by. Her calmness doesn’t stem from a vain hope of rescue; it stems from complete acceptance. Dying, it turns out, is surprisingly easy once you’re okay with it.
A movement to her left causes her to turn her head. And what she sees doesn’t make sense to her at first.
Eli, who’s been sitting at the far end, slumped over in a deep sleep, has pulled off his improvised safety belt and is crawling ahead on all fours, making his way with clumsy movements, like a toddler.
He’s headed right for her, and when he lifts his head and reveals his face, Nasira sees his eyes and immediately realizes that Eli is dead.
She doesn’t scream out right away, though a sharp bolt of shock shoots through her body. Instead, she reacts by reaching out her arms and grabbing him by the shoulders. She has seen enough of the dead people to know that he’s drawn towards the nearest prey, which happens to be her, and that he will be going straight for her throat or whatever else part of her he can sink his teeth into. Her intention is to push him away, but Eli—to her surprise—doesn’t push back. Instead, he moves sideways a little, getting out of her reach. It’s almost like he tries to get past her instead of attacking her.
Nasira glares at him in stunned wonder for a couple of seconds, as Eli simply crawls past her, meticulously making his way around. Then, with sudden speed, he lunges at Ali.
“No!” Nasira cries out.
She grabs Eli by the shoulders again and tries to force him back, but he’s coming on surprisingly strong, reaching out his arms and clawing and biting at Ali. He still shows no interest whatsoever in Nasira—it’s like her arms are more like branches of a tree to him, mere obstacles, not something to eat.
Ali wakes up and screams at the sight of Eli trying to get at him, Nasira holding him back and just out of reach.
“Someone, help!” she shouts, as Eli twists and almost slips free of her grip. She clutches his shirt and feels the fabric begin to tear. “Wake up!”
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