Harry has a concussion and sleeps most of the next day. Lauren is grateful for the distraction of looking after him and talking with Zahra, who periodically burst into tears over the loss of her little daughter. Zahra explains that she and Harry hadn’t really known each other before he saved her. Without thinking, Lauren mentions that Richard is dead, which she knows because she saw his body. Zahra breaks down again, and Lauren apologizes, feeling guilty about her bluntness. When Zahra stops crying, she explains to Lauren and Harry that Richard bought her from her mother when she was 15 and homeless. Although Richard’s other wives were cruel to her, Zahra at least had security and enough food to eat in the Moss house.
This passage further emphasizes the difference between Lauren’s method of coping with trauma and that of those around her—especially Zahra. Although Lauren has also just lost her entire family and community, she is unthinkingly blunt about revealing Richard’s death to Zahra, who is far more openly emotional about the tragedy that has befallen them. Lauren, meanwhile, processes her trauma through care and support of a new, smaller “family” she is forming with Harry and Zahra.
Lauren points out that if Harry goes to Olivar the Garfields will take him in, but Harry refuses, saying that there is no future there. Zahra says it would be better than starving. Lauren explains that she is going to head north, and Harry says he will do the same. Lauren then gently mentions that she saw the bodies of some of Harry’s relatives, including the little kids. Harry is in shock, but he does not cry.
None of the three characters can afford to spend much time dwelling in their grief—their only choice is to look to the future and explore possible methods of survival. Promisingly, Harry seems to share many of Lauren’s attitudes, refusing to invest hope in what he perceives to be the false salvation of Olivar. Zahra is more open to handing over her freedom to others in exchange for security, as she once did to Richard Moss.
A little while later, Zahra brings them some peaches, and Lauren gives her the clothes she’d taken for her family to wear. Zahra says she will be able to trade the younger boys’ shoes for some food. Harry and Lauren agree to travel together, and Lauren says she will pretend to be a man. Zahra sneers at this, saying that interracial couples always cause trouble in the outside world, whether they’re gay or straight. Lauren offers that if Zahra comes along, the two of them can pretend to be a couple, and Harry their friend. Zahra agrees and starts to then cry.
It is significant that where Harry and Lauren were born in the relative comfort and safety of the neighborhood, Zahra spent the beginning of her life homeless before being sold to Richard. She is more fearful of life in the outside world because she has direct experience of it.
Harry expresses surprise at Lauren’s indifference over the fact that Zahra stole the peaches she brought them, considering Lauren’s Christian upbringing. This angers Lauren, who replies: “I mean to survive.” Zahra warns Harry and Lauren that they know little about how to survive in the outside world, but Lauren insists that she will learn by observation. The next day, Zahra takes them to a large, secure mall, which is one of the safest places in the area. Each of the three go in separately while the others guard their belongings outside, and a security guard asks to see Lauren’s money before allowing her in. Lauren buys food, water purification tablets, and outdoor necessities such as sunblock. She also gets toilet paper, tampons, a new notebook, pens, ammunition for her gun, sleepsacks, and large, cheap-looking jackets.
This passage continues to explore the question of whether Lauren is truly prepared for life in the outside world, or whether she is simply sheltered and naïve. To a certain extent, Harry and Zahra have a mistaken view of Lauren, assuming that because she is the daughter of a preacher she will be rigidly faithful to Christian morality in the face of the harsh demands of survival. The list of Lauren’s purchases at the mall suggests that she is arguably more prepared and capable of survival than Harry and Zahra might presume.
After leaving the mall they walk up the freeway, eventually getting to the 101, which goes up the coast to Oregon. There are many other people walking alongside them, as well as “swarms” of bikes and the occasional truck or car. Most people carry weapons of some kind, and almost everyone is filthy and smelly. There are a few young men around who remind Lauren of Keith; she watches them warily. She keeps her gun loaded and half-hidden in its holster. Lauren knows she needs to tell Zahra and Harry about her hyperempathy, but wants to wait until they trust each other more.
Lauren may have never spent much time in the outside world, but her experiences within the confines of the neighborhood have prepared her to some extent for the situation she now finds herself in. For example, the fact that there are young men who remind her of Keith alerts her to be wary. Her love for Keith in no way clouds her judgment that these young men are a threat to be avoided at all costs.