Three Months Later
The sun shone from the window, its rays causing a warm glow in the hospital room. The sunlight scattered across the covers of the hospital bed.
Seated in the bed, I am mesmerised by the warm glow. I lift my hand, touching the warmth, enjoying the rays nurturing my skin. The sun is a strange thing, I thought. It’s an object without a soul yet it is the source that sustains life.
Nurse Adams makes loud shuffling movements as she enters my room and they interrupt my thoughts. I glance up at her and she smiles, holding a breakfast tray in her hands.
“How’s our Nightingale feeling today?” she asked me, placing the tray in front of me.
I never understood the reason for the pet name – Nightingale. Everyone in the hospital calls me that and I’ve accepted it. Maybe it’s an endearment for patients that have been in the hospital for so long. Nurse Adams is a foreigner like me, she is sixty-years old with grey hair. She has a round bulky frame, a warm plump face that has wrinkles on the sides of her chin which deepen when she smiles.
“I’m feeling fine,” I replied, returning her smile. “How are you, Nurse Adams?”
“I feel like I am getting younger –but not in the good way,” she answered in a sigh. “You would think that the people in Celia would be open and friendly to foreigners –It has already been seventy years of democracy.”
I do not respond, instead I lift my fork and pick at my breakfast. I don’t like to talk about my experience as a foreigner in Celia –it is a difficult and peculiar feeling of belonging but not really belonging. I was adopted into the poor family of Hannah Cassimir –she was an elderly lady that took care of me in my youth but she passed away as soon as I finished high school. After her death, her brother Frank Piper claimed her house and all her assets. He left me with 10 bucks and kicked me out of his house. I was homeless for a few months, scrapping for food in garbage cans and begging for odd jobs. Luckily, a taxi driver – Ralph Peters took me in and introduced me to the taxi industry. He said, I reminded him of his younger self.
“How’s your memory coming along?” Nurse Adams asked. “Do you remember the accident?”
“No…” I murmured, my brain hitting a brick wall as I try to think about the accident. I can remember everything about my past except for two events – the years before I came to Celia and this terrible accident.
“It’s on the news again,” Nurse Adams says, pointing to the television screen. “It’s been three months. You would think these TV news channels would find something else to report.”
I quietly stare at the screen, feeling guilty as images of the accident flash before me. It’s the bus, the collision, the white chalked bodies.
I feel sick.
“Are you okay?” Nurse Adams asked me, noticing my sudden pale face.
“Watching this, hearing about how the accident happened…I know I was there… I should remember it but… I can’t remember anything,” I explained, frustrated with guilt. “I just… would like…”
“You will remember in time,” said Nurse Adams, giving me a comforting pat on my shoulder. “You were the only survivor and it was a massive accident.”
“I know but I would like to remember… the Shelbys had a daughter –Stephanie. I owe it her. I owe it to the Shelbys to give their daughter some sort of closure.”
“Henry,” said Nurse Adams, slightly concerned. “It isn’t your responsibility. You are not at fault. You don’t owe anything to anyone.”
“I know,” I said, annoyed with myself. I’ve known this wasn’t my fault. I’ve repeated it a dozen of times in my head, trying to convince myself that all those deaths weren’t my fault but there is something deep inside me that convinces me otherwise.
It’s the silence, it whispers faint doubts.
“Henry,” Nurse Adams said, snapping me back to reality. “You will remember when you recover from the trauma. Don’t worry too much.”
“I’ll try not to,” I managed a smile. “I would just like to help Stephanie. I’ve known her parents for years. They were always very kind to me.”
Nurse Adams sighed, “you’re too nice for Celia, Nightingale. In this city you have to be tough and rough otherwise you won’t survive. You know, there is a reason why you survived that accident when everyone else died.”
“I wouldn’t know,” I said, clearing my throat while an uncomfortable feeling crept from my stomach.
“You are a miracle,” said Nurse Adams, far too seriously.
“Miracle?” I said as the uncomfortable feeling reached my chest. “Miracles are associated with divine purpose and good. There isn’t anything like that within me,” my voice slightly rose.
“Don’t give me that stupid reasoning,” said Nurse Adams, upset. “Not only did you survive a horrendous accident, you woke up from your coma singing!”
“What?” I said, incredulously. “That’s impossible, I’m not much of a doctor but… surely that isn’t possible. How does someone wake up singing from a coma?”
Nurse Adams smirked. “I already told you. You’re a miracle.”
I shake my head in disbelief and retort, “I’m more of a mistake –not a miracle.”
“Did you ever wonder why we call you Nightingale?” asked Nurse Adams.
“I dunno, patient privilege?”
“It’s cause you sang about a Nightingale. Something about freedom and despair,” said Nurse Adams, using a low tone.
“Why would I do that?” I asked her and myself. “I don’t know any songs about Nightingales! This doesn’t make any sense,” as I lashed out the words, my head began to pound. I shut my eyes, trying to control it but it grew louder and a static buzz penetrated into my hearing.
“Stop!” I screamed, not hearing my voice. I gripped my head as everything swirled around me. It was the pounding, it was the static buzzing then came the sudden silence.
But my heart beat frantically. I breathed heavily, feeling the sweat trickle along my neck.
Calm down, I told myself. There isn’t anything to fear.
I opened my eyes, expecting to see Nurse Adams but she wasn’t anywhere in sight and the room had changed. The walls were tattered, the paint peeling reddish and grey paint. The floors had grime between the tiles.
I swallowed and gripped the bedsheets of the hospital bed, trying to make sense of the sudden change. This has to be an illusion. It’s a nightmare, I’ll wake up soon enough, I repeated in my head, feeling something oily touch my neck from behind.
I couldn’t breathe as the oily silhouette came into view and squeezed its skeletal hands around my neck. It faced me and grinned.
“Finally,” it said, scathingly. “We’ve waited so long.”
I noticed it was oily, burnt and missing eyes.
“What are you?” I croaked as it squeezed my throat harder.
“I am you,” it said, using its burnt tongue to lick my face. “I am Nightingale. We are Nightingale –the first, the second, the third, the fourth…” it paused to laugh. “We are you.”
Something started to squirm beneath the skin from where its eyes should have been. They moved around, trying to break through, finally they penetrate through its skin and erupt from its face.
They are miniature heads just like it. They are oily, burnt and have no eyes.
“Stop,” I said, paralysed as more heads erupt from its being and they develop fully. “Stop.”
“Make us, make us, make us, make us,” they chant. “If you can’t make us stop, then join us.”
“Where are the Shelbys?” I croaked, trying to make sense of the blurry images flashing before me. I was being pushed in a blood-soaked stretcher, the nurse above me screamed frantically in the hospital hall but I couldn't hear a word she said.
There was a static buzz in my ear, bright flashing lights all around me and the smell of blood and antiseptic filled the air.
“Where are the Shelbys?” I said, gaining my voice back. “Are they fine?” I sat up oblivious of my bloody wounds while adjusting my eyes to the flashing lights of the hospital.
“Sir!” exclaimed the nurse, her eyes panic stricken. She tried her best to hold me down into the stretcher while her other colleague continued to roll the stretcher along the hospital hallway. “Lie back down! You have broken ribs and internal bleeding.”
“Where are the Shelbys?” I yelled, hearing the static buzzing instead of the frantic words of the nurse. Suddenly, the bright lights of the hospital went off and the nurse and her colleague disappeared into the blackness of the hall.
I searched the hallway, blinking desperately for the light but it was dark and silent. The static buzzing had quietened and the silence had crept into the darkness of hospital hall.
My heart began to pound and my stomach clenched as the stretcher rolled me down the hallway.
“Where is this?” I screamed, swerving my head in a frenzy but only hearing the silence respond. “Stop! Stop this!” I demanded, as my body trembled and my teeth chattered uncontrollably.
But the silence continued for hours as the stretcher steadily strolled into the endless dark hallway.
“Stop, this,” I pleaded, my senses drained and numb to the dark and silence.
The stretcher abruptly stopped.
I blinked, stunned at the sudden stop. I looked around, my eyes peeling through the darkness, noticing a strange movement –it swirled across the darkness. I squinted, trying to make sense of the movement and when I did, my throat went dry.
In front of me stood familiar silhouettes.
It was the Shelbys.
They were pale, like corpses found in a river but their skin dry and rigid. Their eyes were white and lifeless and their clothes stained with blood.
They were dead.
“Mr and Mrs Shelby!” I cried as they both lifted their fingers and pointed at me –blaming me for their deaths.
“No,” I protested, “it wasn't me! You are all alive!”
The Shelbys didn't say a thing –they just pointed accusing fingers at me until the stretcher decided to roll past them and they disappeared on the other end of the hallway.
“No,” I whispered, unsure. “It wasn't me. I didn't kill you.” I turned my face away to hide my shame but found other accusing fingers pointing at me.
There were five people standing over me, pointing their hardened fingers at me. I had never seen them before but they looked as pale as the Shelbys. Their eyes white and lifeless.
They were dead.
“I didn't kill you!” I screamed at them. “I don't even know you! I am just a taxi driver! It was the bus that came crashing into me!”
They ignored my cries, their fingers stretching the blame of their deaths deep into my heart.
“I don't know who you are,” I shook my head, trying to convince them and myself it wasn't my fault. “It was the bus! It went on to my lane!”
The five corpses did not respond, each of them spread their palms and covered my face.
I felt their hands on my skin. Their touches shocked me. Some were cold, some were heavy and some were dark. They seeped into my skin, igniting their presence into my veins and rushed into my soul.
“I never killed you,” I whispered, choking as the five corpses suddenly disappeared before my eyes and the screaming nurse and the hospital flashing lights came back into my view.
People always complain about the noise of the city. They get annoyed about the cars, the flickering lights and loud sounds in the middle of the night.
But I like the city –I like the noise, the lights and the cars. I could not imagine myself living anywhere else except in Lynne York, Celia. Celia is a country of the free. Every person is entitled to their own perspective and choice but although this is the Celian Constitution, there are people in Celia that hate foreigners.
They accuse us of stealing their jobs, criticize our accents, insult us for being born but I don't care. I can't remember where I was born or who my parents were but I know Celia is my home. I might not look like the rest of the people here – I have dark skin, freckles and strange mud like hair and eyes but Celia is my home.
My name is Henry. Henry Cassimir, I've lived in Celia for over twenty years and the only job I could qualify for was a taxi driver. It isn't as bad as some people think. The money is good, especially the tips and you are always surrounded by noise – people chattering in the back of your seat, the neon lights as you drive.
I enjoy noise, it is the one thing that erases what I hate and that is silence.
Silence annoys me, although I may be surrounded by large crowds, conversations and loud music – it subtly creeps in. It finds a way to worm through the noise and eat at my skin, peeling off the surface until I am left alone with my thoughts.
It won't let me be free in a country of freedom.
Even now, it is midnight and I am driving my regular customers –the Shelbys to their home. I've known them for five years, they are nice people compared to the rest of the people in Lynne York. They are discussing their teenage daughter, Stephanie in the backseat and complaining to me about her clothes, her grades and her new boyfriend but I feel the silence tug at my heart as I smile and nod at their complaints.
“Henry! If Stephanie had been brought up by our grandparents, she would have been a top A student but she barely gets an F,” complained Mrs Shelby, pink faced from too much champagne.
“Maybe we should drop her at your mothers’” suggested Mr Shelby, turning from his wife to look at me. “What do you think Henry? What is the cure for a rebellious fifteen year old?”
I laugh, pushing the silent feeling away. Thanking God for the loud Shelbys. “The cure for any rebellious person is freedom,” I responded with a chuckle.
“How is that possible?” remarked Mrs Shelby, frowning whilst trying to keep her eyes open.
“Mrs Shelby,” I said, politely, “freedom teaches that we are allowed everything but we choose not to gain everything because we know everything is not good for us.”
“Always the philosopher, Henry,” said Mr Shelby with a smile as he placed his wife’s head on his shoulder. “Everything would be good for me if I could control my daughter, she is giving my wife whiter hairs than either of us can afford.”
I laughed, “that's what children are for.”
“Children are to obey –never forget that Henry. Once you have your own, you will understand,” said Mr Shelby, caressing his wife’s cheek as she slept. “I've never seen a more beautiful woman like my wife. She might be forty-two but she is still as beautiful as the day I met her. Have I told you of how we met?”
I nodded. “You’ve only told me every time I take you both home –every weekend for the last five years.”
“And that's still not enough,” retorted Mr Shelby with a smirk. “Her parents hated me. I used to be exactly like my daughter Stephanie –wild, rebellious, stubborn but I had more charm than her.”
“It isn't wise for a father to be competing with his daughter about stubbornness and rebelliousness,” I said, smiling warmly.
Mr Shelby laughed. “But what isn't wise and could be deadly is for my wife to hear me competing with daughter. I might end up living with her mother –and that would definitely end deadly.”
I chuckled. I enjoyed Mr Shelby’s sense of humour. It was fun to joke lightly, knowing it would not offend. “Mother-in-laws like gifts,” I said. “If you buy her a gift three times a day, I am pretty sure it will lower the chance of ending deadly.”
Mr Shelby grinned. “You my friend are a wise friend,” said Mr Shelby. “I expect you to marry soon –what is holding you back? There are a lot of lovely ladies in Celia.”
“Yes, they are,” I admitted. Mr Shelby wanted the best for me and that included married with at least one child but I never thought of marriage. It was hard enough living and providing for myself –I could never provide and take responsibility for another person’s life, food and expenses. This was something Mr Shelby did not understand. “These ladies are far too charming, Mr Shelby. I get nervous as soon as I see them,” I lied, humorously.
“I could teach you to be charming, Henry,” said Mr Shelby, yawning. “My daughter and I would make a fascinating team teaching you. You will end up being the most charming, rebellious man aliv-“
“Stop trying to tempt Henry,” interrupted Mrs Shelby, not opening her eyes. “Henry is a fine gentleman I won't have my charming husband and wild teenage daughter teach him anything. I like Henry as he is.”
Before I could respond with gratitude, bright heavy lights appeared in front of my windscreen.
It looked like a bus.
This was a one way –why would a bus be in this lane?
The thought rushed to my mind as the bus continued to charge forward. I hooted, I applied my brakes and swerved to the left but it was too late the bus collided into my vehicle.
I blinked as I heard sirens and felt blood and pain on my head and my entire body. I couldn't make sense of what just happened. I tried to turn to the back seat and call out for Mr and Mrs Shelby but nothing came out of my mouth. I was dizzy, I could see flames, I could see Mr and Mrs Shelby huddled close together motionless and bleeding.
I tried to frantically call out again but my voice was barely a whisper. I tried to move my limbs but I couldn't, the seatbelt trapped me in. The flames grew fierce and cracking sounds were heard, I couldn't breathe as the smoke from fire entered my lungs.
I am going to die.
I repeated the thought in my head until the silence penetrated through. It was cold, it was lonely, and it lingered threateningly in the smoky air, waiting to latch into me and drain my soul.
“Silence, just have me,” I prayed and pleaded. “Just let them survive and let me die.”