She was sitting up in bed when I entered. Her eyes, holes in her pale face, turned briefly in my direction.
Her lips moved, bloodless lines of flesh. “Go away.”
“I’ll go in a minute,” I said. “I came to see how you were. That’s all.”
“So you’ve seen me. Now go away.”
I looked at her. One arm lay on the sheet, looking as thin as a pencil. The other bulked in a thick white cast, from which steel rods poked out. Something held up the sheet over her legs as well, angular and looking like a cage.
“I was terrified when I heard you’d been in the crash,” I said. “I thought you’d die.”
“Really?” Her mouth twisted. “You thought I’d die? You?”
It wasn’t what I’d expected to hear. “Did I say something wrong?”
“Did you ever say anything right?” Her eyes blazed. “Why do you think we ever broke up?”
“We didn’t break up,” I couldn’t help repeating something I’d said before. “You broke up with me. I didn’t break up with you.”
She silently turned her head away towards the window. The shadow of a branch moved back and forth across the frosted glass. I wondered again why a hospital would want to put frosted glass on its windows, blocking out the sights of the outside that might cheer a patient up. The second hand on the clock above her head moved all the way round the dial, and she still looked at the shadow.
“Don’t you have other visitors?” I asked eventually. I was still standing, and it was getting awkward. “Your sister – isn’t she here?”
“She came. I told her to go away. I don’t want to see anyone.”
“I’d have thought a lot of people would want to see you. You’re quite a heroine in the media. They’re all talking about your will to survive.”
“Will to survive.” She snorted. “When I think of...” She broke off. “Why haven’t you gone yet?”
“I don’t want to. I want to spend as much time as I can with you, even if it’s in a hospital room and I hate hospitals. Besides, there’s still an hour of visiting time left.”
She indicated the chair with a thin finger. She’d lost an amazing amount of weight, which wasn’t surprising considering what she’d been through. “What do you want to talk about, then?”
“Us,” I said. “The way you left me and...”
“Us? There’s no more us. That’s over, whether you admit it to yourself or not.”
“All right,” I said. “Tell me what happened. How did you end up...” I indicated her bed and didn’t finish.
Her thin lips curled in scorn. “You mean you didn’t get it all from the media?”
“They can’t tell the truth to save their lives, as we both know. Anyway, all I heard was that you accidentally drove off the road and crashed into a canyon, and then crawled up all the way in two days with a broken arm, two broken legs and multiple other injuries. I’d rather hear it from you.”
“If I’m going to tell you,” she said then, “I’m going to tell you everything. I’ll tell you the stuff I haven’t told anyone. And when I do, you’d better not say I was lying or seeing things.”
“All right,” I said. “Tell me.”
“And I’ll tell only you.” There seemed to be some special significance to her words, the way she said them. “Remember that I’ll tell only you.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I think.”
“Give me some water from the bottle,” she said. “I’ll need it.”
I don’t remember fully how it all started [she said]. I’d been down to my sister’s, and there was a row. One hell of a row. I don’t recall now what it was about, mostly because it seems so unimportant now. So utterly pointless. But at the time I was blind with fury.
I stormed out of her house, got into my car and drove away so quickly that I almost struck two or three other vehicles. I couldn’t give a damn. If I’d hit them, I’d have thought they deserved it. I was that angry.
Then, before I quite realised it, I was out of town and driving up into the hills, and though I knew I was going much too fast, I didn’t care. It was already past sunset, and my headlights were two dull yellow tunnels carving their way through the night. Normally, I like driving at night, when it’s cool and the stars are out, but this time I scarcely noticed. And then it began to rain, water rushing down the road, making my tyres slip and slide.
I remember when the thought first came to me that I’d be better off dead. The only thing I remembered of the fight with my sister was her saying I was utterly useless, a burden to the world. Very well, if I was a burden to the world, there was no point in continuing to be a burden. That was what I thought. And it wasn’t as though I had anything to live for, anyway.
I drove on for a while, my foot pressing harder on the accelerator, until the pedal was almost down on the floor. I was wrestling the steering wheel, and around each corner I felt as though I’d run off the road. But I wouldn’t, not yet. I wouldn’t go off the road until there were canyons to go into.
I still don’t know if I did it deliberately in the end or whether it was, after all, an accident. I recall taking one corner a little bit too fast – too fast even for the wild speed at which I’d been going – and the left front wheel going off the road. There was a moment’s bumping, and then suddenly I was floating in the air. I had an instant of euphoria when I knew there was nothing more I could do now, and then I struck.
I regained consciousness inside the car, hanging upside down, the seatbelt taut between my breasts. Something warm was trickling down my face, from my chin over my lips, to become sticky as it accumulated on my eyes, gathering sticky on my eyelashes. I thought about it for a while before I realised it was blood.
I’d no idea where I was or what had happened. For a while I didn’t even know my own name. It was as though I was a newborn baby, having appeared into the world just then.
I wasn’t in pain. It was uncomfortable, mostly because my head was pressed against the roof of the car and the seat belt was chafing me, but I wasn’t in pain. Finally, though, I decided to do something about it, mostly to get rid of the thing that was so tight across my chest. Mostly by instinct, I fumbled at the clasp of the seat belt until it gave, and I fell on the roof of the car. The near side door had burst open, and I felt rain and earth on my face.
It was then that I began to remember, and it was then, too, that the pain came. At first it wasn’t too bad, and as long as I lay in one place it didn’t hurt at all. But as soon as I tried to move, it began. It was like a wave building far out to sea, and you could see it racing towards you, but try as you might you couldn’t do a thing as it reared over you and crashed down and bore you away.
For a long time I just lay there, while the pain throbbed and flowed over and into me, until I thought it was all that I would ever feel again. And then it suddenly went away, and so was the darkness.
I was no longer in the car. I was lying in bed, in a room with high windows through which I could see blue skies. Warm sunshine spilled through the nearest window and fell across my hands. I felt wonderfully content.
In a little while I realised that I wasn’t alone. Someone was sitting on the bed next to me. At first I could only see a hand, and a sleeve of dark material. Slowly, I looked up.
I still can’t describe the face I saw. I can’t even tell whether it was a man or a woman. All I can say is that I saw it, and instantly and completely fell in love.
“Well,” the person said. “Are you feeling better now?”
Until this moment I couldn’t have imagined I could ever speak again, but the words came easily. “Very much,” I said, and sat up. “I’m feeling perfectly fine.”
“That’s good.” He, or she, took my hand. “You’ve been looking for this rest for a long time, haven’t you? All your life, in fact.”
“Yes,” I said, suddenly realising that this was just the truth. I got out of bed. The floor was smooth and cool. “Where are we?”
“In the antechamber,” the person replied. He or she didn’t explain what antechamber, and I didn’t ask. There was a door in the wall at the foot of the bed. It was ajar, and through it I could see sunshine, green grass, and the flicker of a butterfly’s wings. He, or she, stepped to the door and looked back at me. “Come along.”
“No,” a voice said behind me. “She is not going anywhere.”
I turned as quickly as I could. A man was standing behind us, at the head of the bed. “You aren’t going anywhere,” he repeated.
He was the cruellest-looking man I ever saw. His face was like a hawk’s, his eyes like two glittering black stones. And yet there was something extremely familiar about him – I could swear that I knew him as well as I knew myself. And I was terribly afraid of him. Just being in the same room almost drove me wild with terror.
“You will go out of that door,” he said to me, pointing. And I saw another door, set in the wall near the head of the bed, and this one gave on to darkness and freezing, gusting wind.
I tried to take a step towards the door with the garden and the sunshine, but he strode forward and was suddenly between me and that door. His eyes, that frightened me so much, were within centimetres of my face.
I tried to speak, but my tongue wouldn’t move.
“Out,” he said, pointing to the door opening on the darkness. And, turning, I rushed out.
The next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, outside the car. Rain was crashing down on me, as hard as the pain that was now rushing through every part of my body. I clutched at the earth, trying to burrow into it, to bury the pain in it, and never move again.
All I heard was the same voice. Without even opening my eyes, or turning my head, I knew he was there. “Keep going.”
I began to crawl. I barely know, even now, how I did it. Every few minutes, I had to stop to rest, and I lay there hoping I could be back in that bed, in that room, and this time I could go through the door with the sunshine. But each time I’d hear that voice again. “Move. Keep moving.” And I would, because I was so terrified of it that I couldn’t bear to lie there a moment longer.
At some point during the crawl, night turned to day, and I could see a little where I was going. By this time I was pulling myself up the slope, and it was fortunate that I could see. The rain was still falling, and I licked it off my arms and the leaves of plants that brushed my face. But I couldn’t stop to rest. As I grew more exhausted and the pain more severe, his voice became more insistent. And then, out of the corner of my eye, I could see him, too, standing on the slop looking down at me with his cruel, cruel eyes.
“Keep moving,” he ordered. “Go on.”
And I went on.
All through that day, and the night, I crawled, beyond the point of pain and exhaustion, beyond the point where I could even feel my body. I was like a machine, fuelled by fear, controlled by his voice. And morning came again, and I found I was lying on the road.
I don’t remember much after that until I woke up here, in this hospital.
“Even now, I want to be back in that bed. Each time the sleeping medicines they give me wear off and I wake up, I’m bitterly disappointed I’m not there.” She took another sip of water and looked at me. “I’ve told you,” she said. “Now please leave, and never let me see you again.”
I got up. It was almost the end of visiting hours anyway. “I won’t come anymore if you don’t want me to,” I said.
“That’s not what I meant,” she said. “Don’t let me ever see you again. No matter what happens. Ever.”
I nodded. “Bye, then,” I said. “I’m glad you’re alive. That’s what I wanted to tell you.”
She stared at me, biting her lip. She waited until I was at the door before she spoke.
“I didn’t know you hated me that much,” she said.
I turned. “What?”
“You said you were glad I was alive.”
“I am. How’s that hating?”
She looked as though she’d have loved to spit in my face. “You certainly made sure of that down in that canyon, didn’t you?”
Copyright B Purkayastha 2016