Something changed outside, but she could not say what it was exactly. Perhaps the sum of their collected breathing was producing a low hum that she had learnt to perceive. Maybe there were new shadows on the coarse lawn that she could see through the blinds. Whatever it was, she knew they were definitely here now. They had arrived to greet her.
She had allowed them to speak for her. They said that she could not remember what it had been like before. They said she that she would eventually become this machine, defined by a fame she did not ask for. She had played the role they had written for her, played the machine to perfection. And she would continue to play it for as long as they asked her to, because there was no other way.
She knew that soon she would have to focus, and play the part once again. But for the moment she was inside, away from their glass eyes. She allowed her self to slouch on the chair. She let her eyes flit around the room. The walls were a lime green, pasted with posters and notices in a language she could not understand. The air-conditioning made the room too cold.
They were wrong to say that a machine was all she was. They were wrong to say that she would forget. She could remember exactly what it was like to take that hand in hers, and walk the streets shrouded in anonymity. The memories did not all blur into one, like they said it would. She remembered every single day. The simplicity of motherhood, and the searing pain of separation. She recalled the first time she had been ushered into this clinical room. She even remembered meeting the man now sitting next her, who was now beginning to stand up.
“Time to go, Kate,” he said, in English. He put his hand on her shoulder as she went out to face them.
The clicks flowed towards her, like a wave down on the beach. When she first heard them, the buzz seemed far away, but it would quickly grow louder when they spotted her. In a moment, she knew, she would hear the clicks behind her too, as the swarm enveloped her. It was like this every time, but the certainty of the moment gave her no comfort.
As they came closer, she prepared once again to look each of them in the eye, one-by-one, to show that she was determined, to show that she was still strong. To give each of them the same photograph that they had taken for the past one hundred days.
But something was different. Their gait seemed wrong. Were they closer than normal, or just moving faster? The noise of their shutters sounded different, almost – no, this couldn’t be right, couldn’t be real, but still – the sound was almost aggressive. Only when, finally, she made eye contact with one of them, did she understand. There was no trace of benevolence in his gaze. His look of pity had been replaced by something more startling: A hot, zealous hate.
She lowered her gaze, and quickened her step towards the waiting car.