She stood against the sun-baked cement, a dark grey smear against the light-awash wall. Her head was bowed to the light, her body soaking up the warmth that the shadows stole from us. I knew this because I tried to do the same thing every day. The spot was a coveted one. One of the few where the sun hit the ground in a relatively safe area. Where dying memories of happier times could be reflected upon in a stolen moment of mid-day heat.
I chewed at the grit that had collected between my teeth. Water was scarce and sand was plentiful. Even in our high walled prison, where the wind dared not stir, the sand got everywhere. We carried it in on our clothes from the outside, depositing it in our beds to build our graves slowly as we slept. I took a small sip of water from my canteen and swallowed the grit down. It was habit now. Keep each drop of saliva kept in the body. Each swallow another chance to survive.
A group of children ran past, their dusty feet, common tongue, and slapping hands a cacophony in the still street. I wondered what memory had such a hold on the woman that she didn’t shift at their passing. The touch of a loved one? A no-name tune that bounced between the swirls of the ears? Or, was she like me? Were her memories also of the sky slowly shifting from orange to blue as day fell from the sky and the moon lit the world. Was her bowed head a sign of mourning? A silent battle against the fall?
I shifted against the wall, my gun heavy in my hands. A cloud drifted over the sun. The woman startled, her head snapping up. Her hands rose to her heart, grasping at the cloth. Slowly her shoulders eased down. She looked meekly around, briefly meeting my eyes. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as a darker grey bloomed across the bridge of her nose. Embarrassment. I couldn’t really blame her for either reaction. The flying ones were the worst. They swooped in and carried off people in a burst of color. In my first couple of patrols, I had done the same thing though. Every little shadow made me flinch. The fear that I’d be next always at the back of my mind. I had come to trust the sirens though. Waited for their wail before the anxiety stiffened my muscles.
As if my thoughts had summoned that ever present specter of terror the sirens began their lonesome call. The woman, already spooked, shuffled quickly from the sun leaving behind her forlorn memories in exchange for her life. She drew near and I could smell the oil trapped in her skin. The tangy, searing smell that our manufacturers wore as perfume. A nameless cog in the machine.
A roar sounded.
My spine froze.
We both stiffened as color bloomed around us. The red of her dress was striking against the cream of the sand. Her dark hair absorbed the sun, the pink of embarrassment still staining her cheeks. I waved her inside as gunfire erupted, muted by the walls. I watched her disappear into the shadows, the red slowly draining from her dress. I turned back to the wall. Still grey.
My radio crackled. I turned towards the East, my eyes flickered up to the sun, taking in the yellow orb. I swallowed a bit of grit. Another chance of survival. I marched towards the wall, gun held at the ready. Another scoop for the grave. An afternoon in the sun. A chance at resurrecting those stolen memories.