Rani sat on the floor, back stiff against a cold concrete wall. She pressed her hand to her mouth, breathing into her palm, thick wisps trailing out from between her fingers. They’d led her up a narrow flight of stairs, cold air spilling past them in a rush, before hurling her into that dark, empty room. There was no heat on the second floor of the building and the ceilings were low—an attic space refashioned into a prison cell. She wasn’t sure how long she’d been sitting there but she could feel her limbs growing tight.
She stuffed her fingers into the waist of her jeans, trying to warm them, even though the skin there was just as frozen, every inch of her trembling. She faced the door, scanning the wide seams for a flash of light, of shadow. She could hear their steps downstairs, dull and heavy, and she waited for them to draw closer, to manifest just outside her door.
Rani thought about Max, about the three of them huddled in that church doorway while he tried to remember the way back. As long as they don’t come for me, she thought, as long as they stay away, they’ll be safe. She wondered if they’d seen them take her or if they were still out there, searching every street and storefront, empty buildings and alleyways—covering every inch of a city they still didn’t recognize like those first few nights when they realized Nadia was gone.
She hoped that they weren’t—that they were still, that they were safe, that they were warm. Max wouldn’t risk it, she told herself, he’ll find somewhere for them to stay. They’ll be ok. She tried to think about the sky, tried to imagine it—wide and infinite and strung above her head. She tried to hold onto it, to that invisible horizon line flecked with translucent clouds.They’ll be ok. But the words settled there at the back of her throat—raw and ripping her open and for the first time she stopped fighting the cold—growing still, sinking, until it was the only thing she could feel.