David’s head was full of thoughts that were intertwined, and he wasn’t sure which of them was unhappy and which excited him with hope in the future. It was a gorgeous September afternoon. They’d devoted the entire weekend to sorting items into two groups. Salvagable and destroyed. Originally David wanted to buy the flight ticket already for Monday the tenth, but in the end, he was glad he couldn’t find one and could therefore spend the whole day unpacking.
What made him anxious was the news of his mom’s admittance into the hospital. He was puzzled as to why she’d been admitted to the internal medicine unit instead of surgery as he’d anticipated. The hospital called yesterday; it seemed she’d arrived in the middle of the night. David was trying to piece together the mosaic of incomplete information. She’d given them his telephone number and asked them to call. That’s not normal. They wouldn’t say much over the phone, however, because on the twelfth he was going to speak with her attending physician in person. That made sense; even David never liked giving too much diagnostic detail over the phone. It could lead to misunderstandings.
David also couldn’t figure out why nobody was responding to his job applications. He had a diploma as an electrocardiological technician and the demand was there. But Dr. David Říha didn’t realize that by specifying dates of his diplomas and other specializations, he was indirectly revealing his age. Nobody would openly tell him he was too old. Still, it was a silent and unspoken rule for many employers. A fifty-year old, similarly to a soon-to-be mom, often stands at a crosswalk with no green light. But surely he wouldn’t be working in the warehouse and at the airport forever. The residency isn’t in sight despite his successful exams and now, after he’d taken a different path, it seems there aren’t enough opportunities there either. He will probably have to change his job search strategy.
But why wasn’t mom calling herself? Maybe she couldn’t get to the phone? How long is she going to be at the hospital? Will they transfer her to surgery?
Where are they going to throw out all those things? The house is nice, but small. They can’t keep tripping over soaked stuff. It’s mostly garbage that’s left, though. He will fly only for a week. Then he will do everything else. Look for work and set up the house. He has to go see what’s wrong with his mom.
In an hour his plane is supposed to take off. David couldn’t wait.
The airport terminal suddenly stirred with activity from airport security and other personnel. They must be looking for somebody, thought David. What is that? On the ‘Departures’ monitors everything was rapidly changing. What’s going on? Some flights were re-routed while others, evidently destined for another airport, were now landing here. Maybe some tornado?
Something is going on. The behavior of all airport staff and passengers has changed. Doors closing all around and people calling from their cells.
David himself worked at the airport, but such a behavior was evidently more urgent than he’d ever experienced. He got up from his chair and headed to the check-in desk where he’d dropped his bags. After a few steps an armed man stopped him. What happened? Is the airport under attack? David had to show his passport, boarding pass and tell the guard where he was going. The man didn’t explain anything. He accompanied David to the customer care assistant and after a short chat he determined the next steps.
“You will wait here, your luggage will be returned to you and then you’ll take the shortest way home.” The check-in assistant, who only recently took his luggage and who obviously liked her job, was now crying. Maybe she was fired? Maybe because of him or something? Maybe he could go ask in the back, everyone knows him there, but maybe that would make matters even worse. From the speakers echoed an announcement. David didn’t catch the beginning, and didn’t make out too much of the rest, either. All flights? Something must have happened.
David’s cellphone rang.
“Where are you, David, did your plane take off?” Alice’s voice was urgent and distressed.
“No, I can’t, something’s happening here at the airport. I think they’re looking for something. I don’t know what’s going on,” David was describing quickly, “everyone’s phoning somewhere, some people are crying….”
“…and you’re alright?”
“Yes, but all flights are…”
“…please, just take a cab and come home. Something terrible has happened. Now. This morning. I don’t know too much about it. In New York someone shot into those tall…, wait a minute…it’s on TV now…, David, David…that’s terrible…on my God…on my God….”
“…what, what happened?”
“…an airplane crashed. A passenger airplane into one of the two sky-scrapers in New York…it’s on fire…David, a plane flew into it….”
“Why? What happened? What do you mean ‘flew into it’? One of the World Trade Centre buildings?” David was confused and couldn’t wrap his head around what was really happening.
“…I see it now…that’s…that’s…another plane it looks like…David! Another one…a second one…, that can’t…that can’t…on my God, David! Come home, please, come home. When you’re there, call me here. I’m at work….go home.”
“…yes, yes…I’ll call you.” He folded the phone and only now began to grasp the entire picture. On top of one of the check-in counters was a monitor, people gathered around it. Some passengers were screaming and sobbing, others were sitting on the floor and holding around their shoulders, elsewhere the police and security were organizing groups of travelers as employees were putting up stanchions to block passage.
David waited for his luggage with the rest of the crowd, listened to the contradictory information about events in New York and Washington DC, and, disoriented, eventually walked outside the hall to hail a taxi.
He let the cab take him in front of their new home; he had to check the notes for their address, since he hasn’t memorized it yet.
David couldn’t turn on the TV; they still had to buy one. But he wanted to and had to know what awful events were transpiring; he only had a rough idea, it was too huge, unbelievable and fresh. As soon as the taxi drove away and David diffidently took a short walk around the house where nothing had its place yet, he walked back outside. He didn’t know where to go, but in the air he could feel that people already knew about the shattering events, and so he too started to believe that it was true. He began randomly walking down the street; he still didn’t know the neighborhood. Soon he arrived at a strip-mall with several businesses, the first one a hair-dresser. In front of the window a small crowd had gathered, watching a quickly-installed TV screen placed on a chair in the front.
Now he saw it. Channel CNN was just repeating the footage. David only now witnessed the entire horror, which had surpassed any awful vision he could’ve imagined. So many people must have been inside. Hundreds, maybe thousands. What happened? Why? An accident? Failed navigation? The commentaries offered more explanations, but the images were horrifying. David felt physically ill as he pictured the deadly fear inside the offices and corridors of both sky-scrapers. Slowly he separated from the group and pale, with a feeling of emptiness, he was returning back home.
Without a thought – only to maintain some activity – David began sorting objects from the damaged boxes; without any specific goal he was laying down books. He felt as though his consciousness had left him.
Now, suddenly, David had a week off ahead of him, which he didn’t need. Not like this. He was supposed to be over the ocean by now and on his way to talk to the physicians. Is it all true? It has to be. It was so surreal, to see the atmosphere of fear and pain already in the airport terminal, then Alice called, then he saw it on TV.
David unpacked his suitcase, clothes, cosmetic gift-box and tooth-paste with a tooth-brush, after-shave and some small souvenirs. He was sitting around, sorting things, the TV footage from the hair-dresser’s still returning in his mind. His thoughts were in a whirlwind; he wasn’t able to make sense of them, understand them, and determine priorities.
For tomorrow, the twelfth, he had made an appointment with the director of the Internal Medicine unit. Do they know what’s happened? Of course they must know. Surely, the entire world knows. What now? He should call the hospital and apologize that he wouldn’t be able to fly in. He has to know his mom’s condition. They have to tell him now, even if they normally don’t offer information over the phone.
For the first time he’ll try an international call. Do they even have a phone line set up? They were told that the phone would be hooked up to their new number on the first of September. Did they do it? With his cell, David dialed their new home number written on a piece of paper, and walked into the kitchen to the phone on the floor. He waited and for a moment he thought the ring wouldn’t come. The phone rang. Once more and then for the third time. David picked up the receiver, the phone buzzed and he was glad that they had a functioning phone connection.
“Internal medicine, third unit, Králová speaking, how may I help you?” So easy? That can’t be! They could hear each other as though she was standing next to him.
“Good morning, this is Dr. Říha. I would like to know the condition of Mrs. Leopolda Říhová. She was brought to your unit after her condition had worsened.”
“But we don’t give that kind of information over the phone; besides, only the physician can give information and…, you are…you are her son?”
“Yes, yes. I was supposed to fly in, but there was a terrible airline accident and all flights…”
“Yes, I know, doctor. We are all shaken here, it affected us all. It is incredibly, incredibly sad.”
“I’m very sorry that we can’t help in any way, even though we are healthcare workers. We can only hope there were as few casualties as possible. It’s also the reason why I can’t arrive as I had hoped. I’m begging you, tell me some information. Even if it’s not the norm.”
“Yes. I think this is a very unusual situation. Mrs. Říhová was transported here from her apartment because of internal bleeding. Actually, she was lucky, her neighbor was visiting and your mother didn’t lock the door, in case something happened to her. The neighbor found her collapsed on the bathroom floor with blood around.”
“What? Was she unconscious? She was bleeding from her intestines?”
“On the brink of consciousness. Yes, it was a strong hemorrhage from the SLIZNICE. You probably know that it’s an advanced stage of colorectal can…colorectal process.”
“Yes, I know. And how is she now?” David sat on the floor next to the phone. He was alone in the house. In his fingers he was twisting the phone cord and was gazing into the receiver as though he wanted to see all the way into the hospital room.
“She received transfusion; we adjusted her acido-basic balance, and is on a parenteral nutrition. Now she’s sleeping.”
“Please, nurse, can I speak to her?” It was quiet for a moment on the other end.
“Doctor… you know, I…”
“Wait a moment then.” In the phone David could hear the nurse manipulating the phone and then her footsteps as she walked away. Another few moments later he heard new sounds and voices. He didn’t know that she’d stretched the cord as far as she could and positioned the entire apparatus on a small chair in the hallway. Then, together with another nurse, she rolled out the entire bed from room number two. While it was morning for David, the evening shift had started over at the hospital and the physician was in his on-call room. More voices and then, in the receiver, he could hear a weak voice: “Říhová, who’s calling?” David burst into tears and couldn’t say a word. “Hello, is anybody there? Nurse, I don’t think anyone’s there.” Nurse Králová took the phone, “are you there? Hello, did we lose the connection?” David bit his lip, swallowed and managed to say with full composure:
“Yes, I’m here, I’m here.”
“Davídek, is that you? Where are you calling from? Did you arrive? Where are you? I’m in number two. Room number two. Davídek, where are you?”
“I…,” he had trouble speaking the way he would like to, “I couldn’t come. But it’s only postponed. I will fly in as soon as it is possible again. How are you doing, mom?” He was pressing his thumb and index finger into the corners of his eyes. He would need to blow his nose, at least wipe it with his sleeve.
“They are really good to me here, Davídek. Don’t you worry. I’m just a little weak. So they’re giving me medicine. How about you? How are you doing? How is Kačenka? Davídek, how are you all?”
“Good, mom, we are fine. We bought an older house; we will get it ready here for you so that you can come and visit and stay here with us. You will like it here.”
“Oh, I would like that, but I don’t know if I have the courage to fly just yet. I don’t feel strong enough.”
“Of course. And when is the operation going to be?”
“I’m not going, Davídek. They studied the test results and then decided they wouldn’t operate. They thought about it and then said they would spare me the surgery.” David felt his heart beating with anxiety and hot blood gushing into his cheeks. So it is inoperable. They can’t operate. Metastases are probably everywhere and the mesentery is overgrown with cancerous matter. Doctor Říha was always an excellent physician and he wasn’t wrong this time either.
“Mom, as soon as it is possible, I’ll come. I’m almost sitting on that plane.”
They spoke for a few more minutes, then David thanked the nurse, hung up and for a long while longer kept his palm on the receiver.