My Accident, Your Incident
Five years ago…
Fatima remembered that day so clearly. One minute she was lying unconscious on the bathroom floor, the next she was being swarmed by a team of doctors on the hospital bed. As she drifted in and out of consciousness, she caught bits and pieces of what they said.
“The back of her throat is badly bruised.”
“I saw some lacerations on her larynx.”
“She lost a lot of her hair during the altercation.”
“Poor girl…No one found her for hours.”
The voices faded into the background as Fatima stared at the ceiling lights which flickered on and off on occasion. If Fatima could begin to describe what she felt in that moment, it would be gratitude. She was grateful for the total numbness that consumed her from within, for the painkillers that made her fly higher than a kite. It masked the pain that would come after––after the memories sewed themselves in her mind, after her father cried at her bedside, after she stood in front of the mirror day after day to see if her hair grew back.
But for now, she was grateful to feel nothing at all.
Fatima rolled off her bed to get the door. At the Said household, it was normal for guests to come and go. People visited often. It was usually family, and when it wasn’t family it was a friend, and when it was neither of the two, it was a nervous suitor.
Luckily for Fatima, it was Grace.
A lovely smile fought to make itself known on Fatima’s face, but the ugly glare of Mr. O’Broder eliminated any chance of that happening. He had his burly hands tightly wrapped on Grace’s wheelchair handles. With his white knuckles tightly pushing against his meaty flesh, it was obvious that he was fighting every instinct not to let go.
Mr. O’Broder was a rather large man with a severe countenance and a receding hairline that reminded Fatima of Homer Simpson. He resembled the fictional character in almost all likeness (his jiggly belly, his love of sprinkled donuts, and the occasional cartoonish sounds that came from his mouth) except for his lack of humor. His visage was always frozen in a glowering stare. It made it almost impossible for Fatima to detest the man more than she already did.
“Alright, Dad! Thanks for dropping me off!”
Mr. O’Broder grunted in response.
When her father refused to budge, Grace craned her head to look at him. “You can leave now!”
Mr. O’Broder stared hard at Fatima who reflected an equally malicious stare back.
“Daddy…” Grace pouted. She hated being doted on. There wasn’t a single day that went by where she didn’t have to remind her parents that she wasn’t a helpless child. She was a parapalegic that could take care of herself.
“Take care of my daughter,” Mr. O’Broder grunted.
“Of course I will, Sir.” Fatima respectfully retorted back, but even she could not stop her savage thoughts from coming through.
Mr. O’Broder sensed the insult and was ready to charge headfirst at Fatima, and she quickly let Grace into the house, shutting the door in front of his face. As hot-tempered as Mr. O’Broder was, he knew when to call it quits and tossed on last glare at the Said house before hopping into his car.
Inside the house, Grace wheeled herself to the living room and greeted Mrs. Said who was sitting on the sofa. She was watching the Discovery channel as usual. A set of bongos played at a lively tempo while the camera zoomed in on a family of indigenous Indonesians and followed them as they prepared for a hunt. Mrs. Said’s eyes widened at the spectacle with an innocent fascination.
“Hi Mrs. Said!”
Mrs. Said slowly turned towards Grace. A hint of a smile lifted her crooked lips. “Hmmm meh.”
“How are you today?” Grace asked.
“Hmmm…” Mrs. Said cocked her head to the side, her eyes flitting back and forth in search of an answer. “Hmph,” she said definitively.
“Well that’s good.” In a louder voice, she addressed Fatima who was preparing a bag of popcorn in the microwave. A series of bursts and crackling could be heard from the living room. “Hey Fatima! I’ve been meaning to ask you something!”
“What is it?”
“My family talking shit about you the other day!”
“They’re always talking shit about me!”
“I know! But it had me thinking! How do you know how to read people so well?”
“I already told you!” The timer counted down to zero, and Fatima opened the microwave. Wisps of buttery steam wafted out, coating the air with a salty rich scent that was reminiscent of movie theatres and sticky reclining seats. Fatima would choose Netflix and Hulu over overpriced AMCs any day. “It’s about body language. Sometimes there’s a feeling.”
“What kind of feeling?”
Fatima dumped the bag of popcorn into a giant bowl and some into a tiny one. The tiny one was for her mother who preferred her popcorn with sugar. The treat went against her current dietary plan but Fatima figured that a small indulgence now and then couldn’t hurt. It also made her mother really happy.
“It’s really hard to describe. Once I get that feeling, I would try to get the person to talk and then I’d get an idea of what they’re hiding.”
“So you have a built in lie detector,” Grace said and wheeled herself to face Mrs. Said. She propped one of Mrs. Said’s legs on her lap and began to massage her feet. As a result, Mrs. Said leaned back on the sofa and breathed a blissful sigh. “Have you always been able to do that?”
In the kitchen, Fatima froze upon hearing the question. She hadn’t felt this cold since a couple of weeks ago when she had overheard her father’s distress over Fatima’s possible grim future. She had been trying hard to overlook what had happened to relieve her own guilt and humiliation. She had lost all control. In that moment, pure emotion filled her bones and blinded her senses. She had allowed her own trauma to control her and allowed Samir to see a side to her that no one should have seen. If Samir did not know fear then, he certainly knew it now.
“No,” Fatima said, shaken at the recollection. “Not since the incident.”
As if her nervousness became contagious, Grace found herself squeezing Mrs. Said’s foot with a greater force, sending a wave of pain radiating up her ankle. Mrs. Said yanked back her foot.
The apology was split between both Mrs. Said and Fatima for their pain. It was not enough.
“You weren’t the one that called for help that day, right?” Fatima stared down at the mountain of popcorn piled in her bowl. When her question went unanswered, it added another sting. She was now left with two choices: 1) wallow in the pain or 2) block it out completely with cholesterol inducing amounts of movie theater popcorn.
She chose the latter.
Fatima entered the living room with two hilariously disproportionately-sized bowls and a serene look on her face.
“For you, Maman.”
Fatima gave her mother the small bowl first. She then placed a giant bowl on Grace’s lap. Her heart clenched as Grace looked up at her with runny mascara smearing her freckled cheeks with streaks of black.
“For my best friend in the entire world.”
“Shut up and call me a bitch already.” Grace took the bowl and wiped her eyes.
“I can’t do that…” Fatima teased and sat down between her mother and Grace. “To a parapalegic? I’m not a monster.”
“Just because I can’t walk doesn’t mean you have to be nice to me all the time. Whatever you’re thinking in that twisted little head of yours, I deserve it.”
“I think you’ve been punished enough.”
Fatima handed the t.v. remote to Grace who was still fighting back tears. She dropped the remote and stooped down to Grace’s level. “Hey,” Fatima whispered and took her hand. She studied it. The skin that covered Grace’s hand was milky white. Fine lines decorated her palms, each mark uniquely her own. It was at this moment that Fatima wished she knew how to read palms. But in order to do that, she had to believe that fate was set in stone and the only insight to our future was embedded in the wrinkles of our hands. It was something Fatima could not bring herself to do.
She turned Grace’s hand over and traced each blue vein. Despite looking like separate thin branches, each led to the same destination: the heart. Fatima could sense the guilt coursing within.
“Your friendship has made up for a lifetime’s worth of pain.”
Grace’s voice broke. Her head was too heavy to lift. “No, it’s not okay. W–We wouldn’t be friends if it weren’t for my accident. I would still be the evil bitch that left you there and you would still be the girl that got beat up in the school restroom.”
Grace had wounded Fatima for the second time of the day.
“I’m sorry,” Grace sobbed with such a force that the house shook. “I’m so sorry!”
Shaking, Fatima rose to her feet and looked down at her friend who continued to sob violently in her chair. The same feeling which she felt when she woke up in the hospital bed returned to her. It was a disorienting numbness that suffocated her ears of sound and her body from pain.