Is it really a question? Did it even feel like one? I’m not sure, but I think it did. I can see the subtle change in his expression, as if he is readying to answer. I don’t have to wait long to see if I’m right.
“Mr D,” he repeats. “I have many given names, but this one that I gave myself I like best. It is after all literally the coolest. Sounds like the name of a badass underworld boss. And that is something, considering.”
It doesn’t sound like an answer. Most of what he says is incomprehensible. Is he aiming for it? Deliberately not understandable? Or is he assuming I would understand? Whichever the case, there is an awful lot I don’t know. And for some reason I cannot fathom, I trust him.
“Considering?” I ask.
He frowns at me, his eyes scrunching. As if debating with himself. Did I ask something stupid?
“We’ll get to that,” he says, his face returning to the previous expressionlessness. And then he waits.
I can see that he is waiting, but I cannot figure out what for. Its almost like he is waiting for me to ask him something more important than ‘considering’. A minute of looking into his face has me giving up. I cannot figure out what runs in his mind, not through that face. Instead, I turn to myself. I am in the hospital. After an accident, he told me. What am I missing?
“Mom? Dad? Where are they?”
I see it in his eyes as the words are spoken, this is the question he’s waiting for. He is quiet though, as if waiting for me to go on. I wait him out, and he has to answer. I need to know where they are, more than he needs me to continue.
“You were in an accident,” he repeats. “A terrible, terrible accident. As far as accidents go, this one did its job.”
A puzzle again. Am I to figure everything out by myself? What then is the point of asking him anything? I stare at him, waiting for him to continue. I cannot be as patient as before though, not after the little of the answer he has given me. I lose, and I ask.
“What does that mean?”
“It means, they are gone. I am sorry for your loss. The accident has taken your mom and your dad from you.” He answers without hesitation. He stops at the end, giving time for it to sink in.
Mom and dad are dead. It isn’t something I am prepared to hear. I don’t think I ever can be. I search for doubt in me, on the veracity of what he just announced, but I find none even in the farthest corners. He means what he says, and I believe him. Mom and dad are gone. With the acceptance return the tears, the sobbing, and the surprise. Surprise at the ease with which I accept it as true. At the readiness with which I believe everything the man sitting by me says. For what seems like forever I cry, the silence swallowing all my sobs with an insatiable hunger. When the majority of the sobs are spent, when it seems like the overflowing tears are spent, I look back at him waiting patiently. It is only as I look at him that I realise, I am forgetting something equally important. Someone equally important.
“The others?” I ask, afraid of the answer. “Uncle and Aunt? And, Aniya?”
It is Aniya I want to know most about. My hands feel strange. As I realise I can move them, I lift them to my eyes to see them shivering. I see just how afraid I am. The fear manifesting physically.
“I am sorry again,” he answers. “It is too late for them too.”
As I erupt into a gut wrenching sob, he clarifies, “Your uncle and aunt, I mean. The girl though, is a different matter. Aniya. She’s near the edge. Teetering.”
“Teetering?” I repeat dumbly, getting a hold of myself. “What do you mean?”
I allow myself hope. She’s not gone. I have to assume that means there is hope. She can make it. She has to make it. At least she has to live. Survive.
“Yes teetering,” he repeats. A slight frown disturbs his calm face, as he shifts slightly in the chair. “Let me show you,” he says. “It is so much easier. And answers so much of what you are unable to put in words.”
I am not sure what he means. But before I can ask, he is on his feet. Bending over, he reaches for my hand.
“Come on now, get up. You can’t expect me to carry you.”
His face is a mixture of amusement and exasperation, as if he finds me silly for still being on the bed. I am at a loss, but I find myself listening to him. Lifting myself off the bed, onto my feet, standing by him. I cannot think about it though, because in front of us is Aniya.
She looks terrible. Nothing like the beautiful girl the boys from school are all crazy about. Nothing like the smiling girl I grew up with. She is laid out on the bed, with many more machines connected. In that instant, as I hear the rapid beeping of the machines, as I see the struggling doctors and nurses working on her, I understand what Mr D means.
“How bad is she?” I ask, no doubt about him knowing the answer.
“Very bad,” he answers with unwavering honesty. Always answering my question, to the exact words. Not one bit more, or one bit less.
“Can we get closer?”
“We can get as close as you want. We could be standing right over her. But wouldn’t you want to give the doctors some space, to work their science, their magic?”
I cannot argue, not to that answer. I agree in grudging silence, and stand by him. Staring unblinking at her. Sprawled on the bed. Opened up. The doctors working on her with their blades and tools. Trying to put her together right, bring her back. It is an unbearable wait, but there is little else I can do.
How wrong I am. As if reading my mind, Mr D speaks to me.
“There is something you can do. Something we can do.”
He is pleased with the effect he has on me, with how much each word he speaks means to me. He doesn’t wait for me to ask though, because he knows exactly what I will ask, and he continues with the answer.
“You see, she is still teetering. On the right side. A little nudge, a bit of unfair cheating, and she can be pushed back. But every bit of cheating comes with a price. A price that you must pay, because you want the cheating.”
I have no clue what he means, but by this time I have given up. With so much happening, I cannot hope to have all the understanding. Not when time is as short as I believe it is. He has asked of me if I am willing, and I am. Whatever the price, I am ready to pay, if it meant saving Aniya.
“A price I am fully ready to pay,” I tell him.
He believes me, without question. We turn back to Aniya in silence, as he wallows in pleasure. Long few minutes. Before he speaks again.
“Listen carefully Ani, because this is important. The accident was no accident.”
Once again I realise how wrong I am. I thought I am ready, but his words are a slap across my face. Not an accident? What is he saying?
“What do you mean?” I ask him, controlling the profanity with great effort. For some reason, I feel the same as I do talking with mom. Something in my head telling me to keep the swearing to a minimum, desirably to a zero.
“It was no accident Ani. And I need you to find out what really happened.”