The Passage Page 69

And yet Gloria had prevailed. It was Prudence Jaxon, of all people, who had brought Sanjay's daughter to him where he sat with his head in his hands, his mind wiped clean by the hours of waiting and the terrible sounds from the ward. He had by then given himself over to the idea that the child would die, and Gloria as well, leaving him alone; it was with complete incomprehension that he received the swaddled bundle, believing for a moment that what Prudence had actually handed him was his own dead baby. It's a girl, Prudence was saying, a healthy girl. And even then it had taken a moment for the idea to sink in, for Sanjay to connect these words with this strange new thing he held in his arms. You have a daughter, Sanjay. And when he drew the swaddling aside and saw her face, so startling in its humanness, her tiny mouth and crown of dark hair and tender, bulging eyes, he knew that what he was feeling, for the first and only time in his life, was love.

And then he'd almost lost her. A bitter irony, for her to take up with Theo Jaxon, the son so like the father; Mausami had done her best to hide it from him, and Gloria too, to protect him from this knowledge. But Sanjay could see what was happening. So it had come to him with a feeling of rescue when, just as he was expecting to hear that she had decided to pair with Theo, Gloria had told him the news. After everything, Galen Strauss! It wasn't that Galen was whom he would have chosen for his daughter-far from it. He would have preferred someone sturdier, like Hollis Wilson or Ben Chou. But Galen wasn't Theo Jaxon, that was the important thing; he wasn't any kind of Jaxon, and it was obvious to everyone that he loved Mausami. If this love had, at its core, a quality of weakness, even of desperation, that was something Sanjay could accept in the bargain.

· · ·

All of which was on his mind as he stood in the Infirmary at half-day, gazing upon the girl. This Girl from Nowhere. As if all the strands of Sanjay's life, Mausami and Babcock and Gloria and the guns and all the rest, were braided together in her impossible person, the mystery that she was.

She appeared to be sleeping. Or something like sleeping. Sanjay had banished Sara to the outer room with Jimmy; Ben and Galen were guarding the door outside. Why he'd done this he couldn't quite say, but something in him wanted to examine the girl alone. The wound was obviously serious; everything Sara had told him led Sanjay to believe the girl would not survive. Yet as she lay before him, her eyes closed and her body still, no trace of struggle or distress in her face or the gentle rise and fall of her breathing, Sanjay could not shake off the impression that she was more resilient than she looked. Stuck by a Watcher's cross: such an injury would have killed a grown man, let alone a girl her age, which was what? Sixteen? Thirteen? Was she younger or older? Sara had done her best to clean the girl off and had gotten her a gown to wear, a cotton shift that opened in the front, the not-quite-sheer fabric dulled to a wintry gray by so many years of washing. It was held on her body only by the right sleeve; the left hung with disturbing emptiness, as if holding an invisible limb. The gown had been left open to expose the thick woolen dressing that encased her chest and one slender shoulder, rising to the base of her pale white neck. Her body wasn't a woman's body, her h*ps and chest were as compact as a boy's, her legs, where they appeared below the frayed hem of the gown, possessing a coltish sleekness and an adolescent's knobby knees. It was surprising, on knees such as those, not to see a scar or two, the evidence of some small childhood mishap-a fall from a swing, a game of roughhouse in the yard.

And her skin, Sanjay thought, looking at her knees, then her arms, and finally her face, his eyes traveling upward to take in the whole of her once more. Not white, not pale; neither word seemed to capture its quality of muted radiance. As if the lightness of its tone were not an absence of color but something in its own right. A lightness, Sanjay decided; that's what her skin was, a lightness. But, in fact, he could see some color where the sun had touched her, her hands and arms and face, leaving a saddle of faded freckles across her cheeks and nose. It moved him to a feeling of fatherly tenderness, grounded in memory: Mausami, when she was just a girl, had had freckles like those.

The girl's clothing and pack had gone into the fire, but not before the Household, wearing heavy gloves, had examined the meager, blood-soaked contents. Sanjay didn't know what he'd expected, but it wasn't what he'd found. The pack itself was ordinary green canvas, maybe military, but who could say? A few items, they'd all agreed, seemed genuinely useful-a pocketknife, a can opener, a ball of heavy twine-but most seemed arbitrary, their collective significance impossible to know. A rock of surprisingly rounded smoothness; a hunk of sun-bleached bone; a necklace with an empty locket; a book bearing the mysterious title Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol Illustrated Edition. The bolt had passed straight through it, skewering it like a target; the pages were swollen with the girl's blood. Old Chou recalled that Christmas was a kind of gathering in the Time Before, like First Night. But no one really knew.

Which left only the girl herself to tell her story. This Girl from Nowhere, encased in her bubble of silence. The significance of her appearance was obvious: someone out there was still alive. Whoever and wherever these people were, they had cast off one of their own into the wilderness, a defenseless girl, who had somehow made her way here. A fact that, as Sanjay considered it, should have been good news, a cause for outright celebration, and yet in the hours since her arrival had produced nothing more than anxious silence. Not once had he heard anyone say: We are not alone. That's what this means. The world is not a dead place after all.

Because of Teacher, he thought. And not just the fact that Teacher was dead; it was because of what Teacher told you, the day you came out of the Sanctuary. It was common for people, looking back, to laugh this off, telling the story of their release. I can't believe what a fuss I made! they'd all say. You should have seen how I cried! As if they were speaking not of their childhood selves, innocent creatures to be regarded with compassion and understanding, but of some other being entirely, viewed at a distance and faintly ridiculous. And it was true: once you knew that the world was a place that swarmed with death, the child you'd been no longer seemed like you at all. Seeing the pain in Mausami's face, the day she'd come out, had been one of the worst experiences of Sanjay's life. Some people never managed to get over it-these were the ones who let it go-but most found a way to carry on. You found a way to put hope aside, to bottle it and put it on a shelf somewhere and get on with the duties of your life. As Sanjay himself had done, and Gloria and even Mausami; all of them.

But now there was this girl. Everything about her flew straight into the face of the facts. For a person-a defenseless child-to materialize out of the dark was as fundamentally disturbing as a snowfall in midsummer. Sanjay had seen it in the eyes of the others, Old Chou and Walter Fisher and Soo and Jimmy and all the rest: everyone. It was wrong; it made no sense. Hope was a thing that gave you pain, and that's what this girl was. A painful sort of hope.

He cleared his throat-how long had he been standing there, looking at her?-and spoke.

"Wake up."

No response. Yet he believed he detected, behind her eyelids, an involuntary flicker of awareness. He spoke again, louder this time:

"If you can hear me, wake up now."

His train of thought was broken by movement behind him. Sara entered through the curtain, Jimmy trailing behind.

"Please, Sanjay. Let her rest."

"This woman is a prisoner, Sara. There are things we need to know."

"She's not a prisoner, she's a patient."

He regarded the girl again. "She doesn't look like she's dying."

"I don't know if she is or not. It's a miracle she's still alive, all the blood she lost. Now will you please go? It's a wonder I can keep this place clean with all of you trooping through here."

Sanjay could see how worn down Sara was, her hair sweaty and askew, her eyes bleary with exhaustion. It had been a long night for everyone, leading to an even longer day. And yet her face radiated authority; in here she made the rules.

"And you'll let me know if she wakes up?"

"Yes. I told you."

Sanjay turned to Jimmy where he stood by the curtain. "All right. Let's go."

But the man made no response. He was looking at the girl-staring, really.


He broke his gaze away. "What did you say?"

"I said let's go. Let's let Sara do her work."

Jimmy shook his head vaguely. "Sorry. Guess I went away for a second there."

"You should get some sleep," Sara said. "You too, Sanjay."

They exited onto the porch, where Ben and Galen were standing guard, sweating in the heat. Earlier, there had been a crowd, people eager for some glimpse of the Walker, but Ben and Galen had managed to send them all away. It was past half-day; only a few people were moving about. Across the way, Sanjay saw an HD crew with masks and heavy boots and buckets headed to the Sanctuary, to wash the Big Room down again.

"I don't know what it is," Jimmy said. "But something about that girl.... Did you see her eyes?"

Sanjay startled. "Her eyes were closed, Jimmy."

Jimmy was squinting down at the floor of the porch, as if he'd dropped something and couldn't find it. "Come to think of it, I guess maybe they were closed," he said. "So why would I think she was looking at me?"

Sanjay said nothing. The question made no sense. And yet something about Jimmy's words hit a nerve. Watching the girl, he'd had the distinct feeling of being observed.

He looked toward the other two men. "Do either of you know what he's talking about?"

Ben shrugged. "Beats me. Maybe she's got a thing for you, Jimmy."

Jimmy turned sharply. His face, glowing with sweat, was actually panicked. "Will you be serious? You go in there and see what I mean. It's weird, I'm telling you."

Ben flicked his eyes quickly to Galen, who offered only a helpless shrug. "Flyers," said Ben, "it was just a joke. What are you getting so riled up for?"

"It wasn't funny, goddamnit. And what are you smirking at, Galen?"

"Me? I didn't say anything."

Sanjay felt his impatience boiling over. "The three of you, enough. Jimmy, no one gets in here. Is that understood?"

Jimmy gave a chastened nod. "Sure. Like you say."

"I mean it. I don't care who it is."

Sanjay focused his eyes on Jimmy's face, holding them there an extra moment. The man was no Soo Ramirez, that was obvious; he was no Alicia, either. Sanjay wondered if that was why, in the end, he'd chosen him for the job.

"What do you want us to do about Hightop?" Jimmy asked. "I mean, we're not really putting him out, are we?"

The boy, Sanjay thought wearily. The last thing he wanted to think about, suddenly, was Caleb Jones. Caleb had given the first hours of the crisis a kind of clarity it demanded; people needed something to focus their anger on. But in the light of day, putting the boy out had begun to seem simply cruel, a pointless gesture that everyone would regret later. And the boy had real courage. When the charges were read, he'd stood before the Household and taken full blame without hesitation. Sometimes you found courage in the strangest places, and Sanjay had seen it in the wrench named Caleb Jones.

"Just keep a guard on him."

"What about Sam Chou?"

"What about him?"

Jimmy hesitated. "There's talk, Sanjay. Sam and Milo and some others. About putting him out."

"Where did you hear this?"

"I didn't. Galen did."

"That's what I heard," Galen volunteered. "It was actually Kip who told me. He was at his folks' place and heard a bunch of them talking."

Kip was a runner, Milo's oldest boy. "Well? What did he say?"

Galen shrugged uncertainly, as if to distance himself from his own story. "That Sam says if we don't put him out, he will."

He should have seen this coming, Sanjay thought. It was the last thing he needed, people taking the situation into their own hands. But Sam Chou-it seemed completely out of character for the man, as mild a fellow as Sanjay had ever known, to go off half-cocked like that. Sam ran the greenhouses, a Chou always had; it was said that he fussed over the banks of peas and carrots and lettuce like pets. He supposed all those Littles had something to do with it. Every time Sanjay turned around, it seemed, Sam was passing out the celebratory shine and Other Sandy was pregnant again.

"Ben, he's your cousin. You hear anything about this?"

"When would I? I've been here all morning."

Sanjay told them to double the guard at the lockup and stepped down onto the path. It really was awfully damn quiet, he thought. Not even the birds were singing. It made him think again of looking at the girl, the feeling he'd had of being seen. As if, behind her sweetly sleeping face-and there was something sweet about it, he thought, a babyish kind of sweetness; it reminded him of Mausami when she was just a Little, climbing into her cot in the Big Room and waiting for Sanjay to bend toward her to kiss her good night-as if her mind, the girl's mind, behind her eyelids, that veil of soft flesh, was seeking his out in the room. Jimmy wasn't wrong; there was something about her. Something about her eyes.


He realized his thoughts were drifting, carrying him away on a current. He swiveled to find Jimmy standing on the top step, his eyes pulled into a squint and his body leaning forward expectantly, the words of some unspoken declaration stalled on his lips.

"Well?" Sanjay's mouth was suddenly dry. "What is it?"

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