The bank robber was sitting alone in the hall. She could hear the voices of the people she’d taken hostage, but they might as well have been in a diPerent time zone. There were eternities between her and everyone else now, between her and the person she had been that morning. She wasn’t alone in the apartment, but no one in the world shared her prospects, and that’s the greatest loneliness in the world: when no one is walking beside you toward your destination. In a short while, when they all walked out of the apartment, the others would be victims the moment their feet reached the sidewalk. She would be the criminal. If the police didn’t shoot her on sight, she’d end up stuck in prison for… she didn’t even know how long… years? She’d grow old in a cell. She’d never see her daughters learn to swim.
The girls. Oh, the girls. The monkey and the frog who would grow up and have to learn to be good liars. She hoped their dad would have the sense to teach them to do that properly. So that they could lie and say their mom was dead rather than tell the truth. She slowly removed the mask. It no longer served any purpose, she realized that, to think otherwise would be nothing but childish delusion. She was never going to be able to escape the police. Her hair fell around her neck, damp and tangled. She weighed the pistol in her hand, clutching it harder and harder, a little at a time so she barely noticed. Only her whitening knuckles betrayed what was happening, until her fore1nger suddenly felt for the trigger. Without any great drama, she asked herself: “If this had been real, would I have shot myself?”
She didn’t have time to 1nish the thought. Someone’s 1ngers suddenly wrapped around hers. They didn’t tear the pistol from her hand, just lowered it.
Zara stood there looking at the bank robber, neither sympathetic nor concerned, but without taking her hand oP the pistol.
Ever since the start of the hostage drama, Zara had tried not to think about anything in particular, in fact she always did her best not to think about anything at all—when you’re in as much pain as she has been for the past ten years, that’s a vital survival skill. But something slipped through her armor when she saw the bank robber sitting there alone with the pistol. A brief memory of those hours in the office with the picture of the woman on the bridge, the psychologist looking at Zara and saying: “Do you know what, Zara? One of the most human things about anxiety is that we try to cure chaos with chaos. Someone who has got themselves into a catastrophic situation rarely retreats from it, we’re far more inclined to carry on even faster. We’ve created lives where we can watch other people crash into the wall but still hope that somehow we’re going to pass straight through it. The closer we get, the more con1dently we believe that some unlikely solution is miraculously going to save us, while everyone watching us is just waiting for the crash.”
Zara looked around the office then. There were no fancy certi1cates hanging on the walls; for some reason it’s always the people with the most impressive diplomas who keep them in their desk drawers.
So Zara asked, without any sarcasm, “Have you learned any theories about why people behave like that, then?”
“Hundreds,” the psychologist smiled. “Which one do you believe?”
“I believe the one that says that if you do it for long enough, it can become impossible to tell the diPerence between Aying and falling.”
Zara usually fought to keep all thoughts at bay, but that one slipped through. So when she found herself standing in the hall of the apartment, she put her hand around the pistol and said the kindest thing a woman in her position could say to a woman in the bank robber’s position. Four words.
“Don’t do anything silly.”
The bank robber looked at her, her eyes blank, her chest empty. But she didn’t do anything silly. She even gave her a weak smile. It was an unexpected moment for both of them. Zara turned and walked away quickly, almost scared, back to the balcony. She pulled a pair of headphones from her bag, put them on, and closed her eyes.
Shortly after that she ate pizza for the 1rst time in her life. That, too, was unexpected. Capricciosa. She thought it was disgusting.