Robustness (part 6)

A woman passing by looked their way and sneered cheerfully. He couldn’t move his arms to shrug or otherwise gesture, as he was pinned in place, but he wanted to respond somehow. He turned his face slightly red. Their asymmetric hug was not of lovers or of relatives, nor was it the reunion of old friends. The way she had him smothered was an imitation of affection. It was the hug of a case worker, rooted as firmly in fear as it was in forced positivity.

When she let him go, he felt like something had been taken from him. He checked his pockets.

“Are you all right?” she asked, but she didn’t care. She hoped he was sick and dying. She wanted him to tell her he had cancer and wasn’t long, or that he was on the run from police or bandits or both. Something like a story, and assurance she wouldn’t have to deal with him very long.

“I’m good,” he said, and watched the muscles in her face atrophy with disappointment. Later he would tell her he was dying, and that he was on the run from police and bandits and working with both. He might discuss the mayoral coup with her if she seemed amenable to it, but she was always bored by politics. To him it made no difference what was happening in his life. He would leave it up to her.

They went back down to the underground. The escalators were narrow, and she led the way, slower than he would like. He felt like she was walking him.

They just missed their train, and had to wait for the next. Aquarium air suspended them, and they shared a silence. He thought it was a comfortable silence, but he waited.

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