The group decides to skip their usual rest day. Lauren listens to the radio, which advises people to stay away from the Bay Area. The whole region was badly damaged by the earthquake, and is now being further destroyed by scavengers, police, and pyro addicts. Lauren adds that “the rich are flying out in helicopters.”
This passage serves as a reminder that the United States is not simply in a constant state of chaos; rather, the social and political situation is in a continual process of change. This is also one of the first times that Lauren explicitly mentions the fact that rich people have the ability to evacuate certain parts of the country if need be. The notion of escaping in a helicopter is, of course, very far from the reality facing Lauren and her group.
The group get out their maps and plan a new route. Lauren warns some women traveling alone with children to avoid the Bay Area, but they simply back away from her, looking frightened. The group are all exhausted, but they know that they cannot take a rest day yet. Early the next morning, Lauren awakes to the sound of gunfire. She hisses at the people sleeping next to her to be still and wait for it to pass. In the distance, they can see two groups of people shooting at one another and a large structure on fire, which Lauren realizes must be a truck. She concludes that they are witnessing a hijacking that went wrong.
Lauren and the others do not have the privilege of simply being able to fly away from the destruction around them. Instead, they find themselves trapped between pyro addicts, hijackers, scavengers, and other desperate, destructive people, all of whom are forced to make their way through the country on foot.
Lauren reaches for Bankole, but he is not there. She can’t see him, but lies still while the shooting continues. Suddenly the truck explodes, which ends the gunfire and scatters the two groups of people. Lauren checks on everyone; they are all fine, but there is no sign of Bankole. Lauren sets out to look for him, and Harry joins her. They are frightened by sounds in the darkness, when suddenly Bankole emerges, leaving Lauren “almost limp with relief.” Bankole is carrying a child who, he explains, has just been orphaned. The child is a boy of about three; he cries loudly for his dead mother, which makes Lauren nervous. Natividad takes the boy and nurses him at one breast, with Dominic at the other.
Both Lauren and Bankole exhibit the same sense of kindness and connection to others. Although this unites them and brings them closer as couple, it also endangers them within the harsh and unpredictable environment in which they have found themselves. Families and young children also play a large role in this narrative, unlike in many post-apocalyptic tales, and the scene of Natividad nursing two babies at once offers an image of fertility and hope in an otherwise bleak landscape.
Lauren begins her watch along with Allie, telling the rest of the group that she will wake them at dawn. Bankole joins Lauren and they kiss. Lauren would like to have sex with him, but knows she must focus on keeping watch. Bankole thanks her for going to look for him earlier. They agree to talk soon, and Bankole goes to sleep.
Lauren has become notably more sensitive since meeting Bankole, no longer exuding the tough persona she once did. She is also tempted by the distraction of having sex with him during her watch, a mistake for which she already harshly scolded Harry. While Lauren remains the same fierce, pragmatic person, her relationship with Bankole has provided a wholly new and different element to her life on the road. The relationship may bring them pleasure, but it could also spell danger.
The little boy Bankole rescued is named Justin. Justin’s mother had been carrying his birth certificate, along with other important documents and several thousand dollars. Justin warms to Allie, who is at first hostile toward him. Jill explains that Allie previously had a baby called Adam, but that their father killed him when he was only a few months old. It was at this point that Allie and Jill decided to burn down their father’s house and run away. Jill confesses that she is haunted by the thought that her father didn’t die in the fire and will one day find her. Lauren observes that taking care of other people can be a cure for “nightmares.” Later that day, the group stops to purchase more supplies at a town called Hollister. Lauren is surprised to see that rather than wreaking havoc in the aftermath of the earthquake, the residents of Hollister are helping one another.
This passage further explores the idea that in an apocalyptic environment, care for others can be both a curse and a salvation. Looking after children in particular gives a sense of purpose and meaning to the chaotic, traumatic lives of the adults. On the other hand, the loss of a child—which is, tragically, not an unlikely occurrence in this world—is a nightmare from which many cannot recover. Indeed, the pain and difficulty inherent within caring for other people means that many characters in the novel choose only to look out for themselves and perhaps only one or two select others. At the same time, the sight of people in Hollister helping one another provides a sense of hope for the future.