Anaïs woke up to the sounds of cheering outside her tent. Through the thin canvas she could see shadows moving in groups of three and four, all heading in the same direction. She sat up on her mat and allowed her eyes a moment to adjust to the darkness. The sun had set completely now, she had been sleeping for almost four hours.
"I was beginning to think you were going to sleep through the festivities."
The voice was deep and gravelly, hardly more than a murmur, yet the kind of voice that made its listeners sit up and pay attention. Anaïs smiled in the darkness and reached instinctively for the mat to her left, finding it empty. Her eyes scanned the tent and eventually landed on his crouched figure in the corner. Andres sat with his hands dangling between his ankles; his hair had fallen forward, framing his face.
"What are you doing over there?"
"Watching you sleep."
Confusion flashed over his face for a moment before he realized she was only teasing. The cultural differences between them were great and framed every conversation. She confused and startled him often with her brashness, her sarcasm and her dry wit. He made her laugh, often unintentionally, with his earnestness. It was their bravery that drew them to each other and when they touched, as they did now, there was no miscommunication between them.
They walked hand in hand, him slightly ahead of her, weaving through the tents. She could not believe how many tents there were. The camp had tripled in size in the last forty-eight hours. Anaïs squinted but could not see an end to the rows and rows of coloured canvas. The tents were as varied as their occupants. Some were modern, made of waterproof materials, easily packed up and carried away. Others were little more than tarpaulin and sticks.
A small crowd gathered around them as they walked. A few people ventured over to shake Andres’ hand. Some shared words of gratitude, others of encouragement. Some were bold, others seemed scared. A middle aged woman approached tugging a small, brown-skinned boy behind her. She had long, unwashed hair that fell midway down her back and she was wearing what seemed to be a housedress and slippers. Anaïs wondered if she had fled in the middle of the night. The boy was shirtless and he looked up at them with eyes so black she could see the camp reflected in them. The woman grasped Andres’ forearm, her dirty fingernails pinching his skin. She whispered something in his ear to which he listened intently. He then gently removed her fingers from his arm and whispered something back to her. She moved away briskly then, stopping to cast a hard stare at Anaïs.
"What was that all about?"
"She wanted food for her and the boy. She was offering herself to me in exchange"
Anaïs was not surprised. He received many advances. She had noticed with growing frequency the stares and whispers that followed them whenever they were together. Andres feigned ignorance but she knew him to be too observant to be unaware of the attention they were receiving. It did not bother her much. Life at the camp was too busy for her to be concerned with petty insecurities. Easing tensions was a full time job at which she was surprisingly good. Andres’ relied on her to resolve daily disputes among the protestors. She also spent many hours each day mentoring some of the older children. Any extra time she had was spent training. She was still poor at hand to hand combat; Andres’ defeated her easily. But she was fast, flexible and, most importantly, hungry to improve. She had been at the camp for three weeks now and was eager to move on. The meetings of the leadership council had been fruitless so far in determining a next move. Anaïs feared the revolution would stall if they did not act quickly and capitalize on their momentum.
A large crowd gathered around a makeshift stage at the centre of the clearing. All around the protestors drank and danced and laughed. There was a bonfire around which children toasted sausages and bread. Andres kissed her hand and then climbed the stage.
His speech was short. It served to stir the crowd, to boost morale without getting everyone too worked up. As she expected, the speech made no mention of any specific plans and she sensed from some of the rumblings in the crowd that she was not alone in her restlessness.
He made his way back through the crowd towards her, stopping to shake hands and pat backs. He remembered names, looked people in the eye. He was a natural leader and in a different time, a different place, a different life, he could have run a country. Anaïs pictured him then in a suit, kissing babies, and the image made her giggle. He looked at her quizzically as he approached her.
"I was imagining you as a politician. Working the crowd. They love you"
He frowned and ran a callous thumb over her bottom lip.
"They love the idea I represent. They want to believe that one person can hold all the answers. I make them feel safe."
"I don’t think that’s such a bad thing. After the last year we could all use some safety." She motioned her arms towards the expanse of tents. "This place, it’s home for these people."
He smiled a small, tight smile that she knew to be strained because it didn’t reach his brow, which remained furrowed, three identical creases lining the bridge of his nose. She noticed things like this more and more now. Even her moods had become woven with his. He was not a temperamental man but he was prone to long periods of withdrawal. His depression was almost tidal in its ebbs and flows. Anaïs was more manic and prone to caprice. Her bad humours were more like flash floods. It had taken a long time but they had found symbiosis. They had learned how to love each other in absence, in space and in understanding.
"A false sense of security can be more dangerous than outright war."
"You think something is going to happen, don’t you?"
He looked at her again, making no attempt to smile this time.
"Something always does."