“Miss! We have arrived. Please go in and wait.”
A soft voice speaks, very close to my ear yet so far away.
“Miss!” The man repeats, louder this time. He is close. So close to me that I can even hear his steady breathing.
Have I arrived already? That’s sooner than I thought. Where are the rest of them?
I open my mouth to ask all that and a burning pain grips my neck. I think I like the blackout phase better. Being awake is painful. Crushing and intense. It goes way deep as if someone is reaching inside and pulling the organs out of my body, one by one.
Tentatively, I open my eyes a fraction, giving myself enough time to adjust to the daylight. The bright rays of the sun start to stab at my head with fine, sharp needles. Through my blurry vision, I examine my hands, still sticky with the dark scarlet fluid. The sight doesn’t make me repulsive anymore. Instead, all I feel is a desperate urgency with an undertone of helplessness. I am going to be late. Maybe I already am.
Before I even realise, I am standing in front of a rectangular shaped plain white door. Finally! I turn to thank the man for dropping me, but he was gone. Strange. I study the door closely. No handles. No hinges. How does it work? I try to push it with the right side of my body, ignoring the piercing pain that threatens to rip my body apart. But the door is surprisingly heavy. It doesn’t budge. I am about to give up when I notice the small button at the centre of the door. I press it with my thumb and wait. A few seconds later, the door swings open revealing a large, packed waiting area.
I step my foot inside and the pungent stench of blood and cheap bleach suddenly invades my nostrils. I force the bile down as a wave of nausea sweeps over me. Despite the stench, the waiting room is unusually clean. Sparkling even. This is a typical hospital waiting room scene. Neatly assorted chairs with comfortable padded seats. A table at the centre with health magazines arranged on top of it. Beautiful artwork displayed on the clean walls. A television running on mute.
I scan the numerous faces in the room. Everyone is going through some sort of distress – moaning, whimpering, bleeding. I immediately feel a strange sense of kindredness with them, like we are bonding over the pain and suffering. This is the beauty of hospital waiting rooms – calming but unnerving. Such an oxymoron feeling!
My eyes land on a young man wearing brightly patterned baggy trousers. I know him. And then the woman in neck braces sitting a few chairs away. I know her too. We were together, waiting for the paramedics to arrive. They said they were on the bus. So glad to see some familiar faces.
I continue to glance around until I spot the Reception desk on my right and the middle-aged woman sitting behind it. With slow, measured steps I walk towards her – each step harder than the one before.
She looks up, adjusts her big frames and watches me with a blank face.
“ I need… h...elp.” I say.
She continues to stare, ignoring my plea for help.
I am a bloody mess, literally and figuratively. Why isn’t she saying anything? Or offering help? I am appalled at the rudeness and lack of compassion.
“I was...in a car...accident. A bus collided...with my car. Someone...the paramedic ...dropped me here. He asked me to go inside and wait.”
I slowly lift my t-shirt up revealing the dark purple bruise just below my ribs. I gently touch it and wince at the searing pain passing through my lungs.
“Please help. It hurts so badly. I just want the pain to stop. I…” A sob constricts my throat cutting off the words.
My display of emotions seems to be having some effect on her. She gives a stiff nod, pulls a blank paper out of the stack in front, and starts to write.
I watch her writing down a number and I lean over the desk to have a proper look. 36. She writes 36 before keeping the paper aside and turning her attention back to the ledger.
Just a number? How does that help? I am tired and dizzy. I just want to sit down. And this weird woman’s attitude isn’t helping at all.
“Is that all the information you need? How about a name? An address? Or my blood group?” I ask, feeling slightly offended.
She simply stares at me with a pinched expression on her face.
“My name is Anna. I am 21 years old. And my address is –”
“Look, woman.” She interjects. “ I have zero interest in your name or your family history. I am not doing a population census here.” Pausing to take a deep breath, she continues. “We are having one hell of a crazy day. You were involved in that crash too. So you should know.”
I notice the way she stresses on the last part. Like she is warning me about something.
“What do you mean by ‘ I should know’? Could you clarify please?” I insist.
“You are a crazy woman! “ She throws her hands up in despair. “Why don’t you go and sit with the rest of them and wait for your turn?”
That hasn’t ended well. Disappointed, I turn away and walk over to the only empty seat available. Grasping the handles tightly, I drop into the chair, exhausted. How long should I wait before my number gets called? Looking at all those people who came before me but still waiting, my dreams aren’t coming true anytime soon. Needing a distraction from my thoughts, I turn to the old man sitting beside me. Ragged clothes. Pale and drawn face. A broken and bloodied nose. His eyes are shut, but the little mewling sounds he makes indicate that he isn’t sleeping. In deep pain maybe, like the rest of us.
“Hey. You ok?” In a soft, gentle tone I ask.
His eyes open with surprise. But as I watch, the surprise gradually transforms into fury.
“You? What are you doing here? Haven’t you had enough?” He shrieks, his face turning crimson with anger.
At his accusatory tone, I jerk back in surprise. This day just keeps getting worse and worse.
The brief moment of shock passes and I start to speak, trying not to sound too whiny.
“Listen. We don’t even know each other. What gives you the right to accuse me of something I have no idea about?”
“Are you sure about that princess?” He responds in a mocking tone. “ I saw you. I saw you behind the wheel. You were crying. And you crashed the car purposely. Look at what you have done. You have killed all of us!”
Before I even get the time to react to the bomb he just dropped on me, a door creaks open next to me and a young woman wearing scrubs steps out.
She stands there facing us, opens a small notebook and reads out. “Token no. 21. It’s your turn.”
The old man stands up, his face lightening up with a smile. Limping, he follows her, but not before throwing a hateful glare in my direction. I watch them both disappearing behind the closed doors.
After releasing a whoosh of breath, I lean back and rest my head on the wall.
“Hey! I remember you.” A deep masculine voice says.
Startled, I turn to the new occupant in the seat the old man just vacated. The young man from before. He has a kind smile on his face. I sigh in relief. Hopefully, he won’t make me more miserable.
“Was he telling the truth?” He asks, his gaze focussed on my face.
“What truth are you talking about?” I ask back, cautiously.
“The part...where he said he saw you crying.”
“Oh that...that’s nothing,” I say, with a dismissive wave.
“Your eyes say you are lying.”
“Since when have you become an expert in my facial expressions?”
“Look, I am just trying to be a friend. You don’t have to act so prickly.”
A thick cloud of shame swallows me. He shouldn’t face my wrath. He has done nothing to deserve it.
“I am sorry. I don’t know what came over me. I am tired and sleepy. On top of that, I have to deal with angry strangers too.” I say, rubbing my forehead.
“So tell me. Why were you crying?” He is persistent.
“You really don’t give up. Do you?” I ask, with a nervous chuckle.
“I am just curious.” He says with a chuckle, matching mine.
I consider lying again, but this man seems to be nice. And at this moment, an empathetic ear doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
“He was right. I was crying. I overheard my parents talking. They said they were going to divorce. I always thought they loved each other a lot. I just couldn’t take it. I took off in my car. There was this bus. Flashes of light. Screams.”
Numb. I feel numb. Icy cold. Air. I need air.
“What about the other part? Did you...do it purposely?” His eyes are sharp, probing directly into me, needing answers.
“I...didn’t. I mean it wasn’t. I mean...I wasn’t thinking ok? I was upset. I was crying. And I just wanted to die. I was too selfish. I didn’t think about anyone else. The people on the bus. The family they were going to lose. My parents. ” I cover my face with both my hands, hiding away from the rest of the world.
“Hey! It’s absolutely fine. I am not judging you. To be honest, I might have thought about suicide once or twice myself.”
His soothing voice does nothing to calm down my inner turmoil. The old man’s words were hurtful but true. My selfishness indeed is the reason for all this. I was in denial about everything that has happened. It ran its course and now it’s time for me to own up to my mistakes – the mistakes that cost so many lives, including my own. I resign against the wall and let the loud sobs take over me.
“Looks like it’s just the two of us remaining.”
“So what do we do now?”
“Don’t know. Let’s just wait.”
“Are you scared?”
“Not a bit. How about you?”
“Maybe a little.”
“Quite a lot, from the looks of it. Are you going to have a panic attack? Do you need anything? A glass of cold water maybe.”
“Not water. My stomach feels queasy. Do you mind rubbing my back?”
“Of course I don’t mind. Move closer.”
“Here. Does that help?”
“It does. Thanks again.”
“So are you ready?”
Token no. 36. It’s your turn.