|Good Fortune Part 2
The weather would not cooperate. There was not the slightest possibility of flight on a night like tonight. The rain and wind continued to blind the air and make movement in any direction incomprehensible.
She held her limp daughter in her arms as she searched left, then right, hoping in vain to be able to see something. She couldn’t reach out her arms to guide her or she would have struggled as the blind to hurry in some direction. She considered looking for their parked white rental, but realized she could drive less well than walk.
The hotel help had all but deserted them; the few who remained to mop up the rain as it trickled in under the doors were useless in their attempts to mime an answer to a question they could not understand. She waved her daughter under their noses and felt assured that if they had been women, no language would have been necessary. Couldn’t they see the concern on her face or did they think it normal for a woman to be carrying a limp child around in the middle of the night? They smiled politely, but surely they felt she was an insane westerner.
She contemplated going back upstairs to try and rouse her husband once again. Then she just went. Earlier, her pleas were only met with gibberish and slurred cursing as he twisted and turned away. She wanted to scream, but knew her alarm would only waken her son, and as far as she was concerned, one helpless child was enough. Her son had a tendency to be even more demanding when she had less to give and would likely be clinging to her legs as she tried to walk. Better to let him sleep rather than risk a crying child with a freshly slapped face or an exquisitely injured pride. Better to leave her husband alone than have a drunken panicked spouse with which to contend. At least, she could hope for concerned panic. He might just as readily ridicule her for over-reacting. She knew she had no reserve for that.
Feeling an overwhelming sense of helplessness, she looked up and uttered a prayer for the smallest of blessings. Could somebody just tell her what to do? Then she began to cry silent tears of despair. She was sure no one could tell the tears from the lashings of the rain. She could just feel herself spinning in tighter and tighter circles.
She grabbed the car keys, and then almost immediately dropped them back on the bedside table. She couldn’t drive in this weather. The rental agent had said no one rented white cars because they were considered bad luck. Another superstition her husband decided to challenge. They hadn’t seen one other white car since they’d begun their trip. She decided not to tempt fate.
Her mind told her to go outside once again. At least the rain would help to quell her daughter’s fever and the sound of the wind could silence her own rapid heartbeat. She felt a cursed and wretched soul at the mercy of something unknown. “Just walk,” she told herself. “Any movement would be better than standing still; anything better than nothing. A single match is the sun when it’s dark and the stars have abandoned you.”
She fumbled along for hours, actually minutes, before she saw the bright red neon cross appearing to beckon her forth. Now she remembered seeing it before. How could she have forgotten?
She started running, tripped, and almost toppled her daughter into the muddy street. As she was falling, she felt a firm grip on her shoulder as if God, Himself, had rendered her support. She turned to thank the stranger, but the words caught in her throat. It was the old woman from the mountain.
“You have no time for falling and no purpose but to stand and be strong.” She said this as she pointed and beckoned her cross the street. She held her daughter to her buxom and raced forward.
She felt the old woman’s eyes upon her, but when she turned to see, there was no one there. Was she an illusion? She didn’t take the time to answer, but ran inside.
The nurse behind the desk spoke perfect incomprehensible English, though she really didn’t ask any questions. The nurse told her of the child’s illness, her fevers, and that it was lucky she brought her daughter when she did. Then the nurse carried her daughter behind the curtain and left her standing at the desk. Again, she didn’t know where to turn. She leaned on the desk and then remembered, “Stand and be strong.” She took a deep breath and with her shoulders held back, she walked behind the curtain.
They spent hours drawing blood and examining her daughter. The doctor asked her numerous times if her daughter had eaten anything, been bitten by anything, or had any complaints. Was anybody else sick? Did she have any other children? The questions came so fast and so often, she began to doubt if she’d heard them, answered them, or ignored them.
She did hear him say under his breath, “The daughter born to merely suffer to gain attention of the mother; the son is born for the father.” She stared at him, but didn’t offer that she had heard the phrase before. She forgot to breathe or blink. He turned to her. “It’s an old saying my mother used to say before I left for the Americas. It’s taken me all this time and I’m just now beginning to understand it.”
Two hours later, the lab results returned as normal. The doctor suggested other tests needed to be done, but he couldn’t do them at their small hospital. She would need to take her daughter to the capital city two hours south. The hospital was down the long boulevard from the airport. As he told her this, he grabbed her hand and said, “I’m not sure she’ll survive the trip, but I don’t believe either of you will survive if she doesn’t go. At least, she’ll have a chance. I’m sorry, but I don’t know what’s wrong. She should be awake and fine right now.”
She numbly told him to make the arrangements. He told her she would have to pay in cash before he could make the arrangements. Why act surprised? She looked outside as the rain continued to pour as if a bucket heaven overflowed. She pulled out the cash she had taken out of her luggage. She’d also taken the traveler’s checks. She sighed as she recalled that he had told her not to bring her wallet, bank or credit cards. “They’ll only be stolen and nobody uses traveler’s checks,” he’d said. Fortunately, she’d stopped listening to him long ago. Her widowed father had told her to stay independent. Now she remembered why.
She was anxious as they loaded her daughter into the ambulance. If it hadn’t been for the blinding downpour she would have seriously considered going back and trying to rouse her husband again. “Some of the booze should have worn off by now,” she thought. “Maybe he’ll have morphed back into a decent human being.” As the back door closed on the ambulance, she considered closing that door on her life. As the ambulance edged slowly away, it seemed to echo her developing decision.
She didn’t have much time to consider it as her daughter coughed in her sleep. It was a raucous cough, and since she was playing ambulance attendant, it was her job to clean and comfort. She put on the clinical face of a nurse and the calm demeanor of a mother and set to her tasks of sponging and soothing. None of this was easy to do as the ambulance swayed back and forth from the wind and skidded to and fro from the rain. She tried to imagine floating at sea to calm her nerves, but quickly changed locals to a desert island when she became queasy.
They seemed to be inching along at a snail’s pace and were clearly still within city limits since she continued to vaguely recognize landmarks. One of the few gifts she’d been given was a photographic memory and the postcards of this area were few, and awfully close together.
It seemed they’d been traveling for hours, but a quick glance at her watch showed less than forty-five minutes had passed. She hoped her mind was overreacting, but she could sense her daughter’s condition had changed. When her daughter began to shake and vomit, it seemed to coincide with more fishtailing and swerving. She could barely keep herself from slamming into the walls of the ambulance, and on more than one occasion, ended up in the gurney with her daughter. She wanted to protest, but figured the ambulance driver had decided to speed up as he overheard the increasing noise from behind. Maybe she should just thank him, she thought. She did look up to say a few prayers, but predictably was cut short as her daughter began to shake again.
Suddenly, she heard the ambulance driver yell, the brakes squeal, a silence, and then a loud crash of breaking glass as they impacted something. She didn’t have to time wonder what, as the ambulance spun around and then began a slow roll. Even in her panic, she desperately tried to keep from falling on her daughter, who thankfully was strapped in and the gurney secured to the floor.
When she awoke, she didn’t know where she was. It took her a few seconds to remember she was in an ambulance, but where was her daughter. Then she realized she was sitting on the roof of the ambulance with the ceiling light between her legs. The light was off, but even in the dark, she knew her daughter was overhead.
“Damn it to hell!” she yelled, trying to figure out what to do. She reached up to her daughter, feeling around in the dark for some sign she was still alive. She was relieved when she felt her little chest rising and falling. She bent over and looked through the glass. She saw the driver unconscious; she hoped unconscious, hanging upside down in his seat belt. Knowing he wasn’t likely to be of much assistance, she realized she’d have to do whatever needed to be done; herself. What else was new?
Pulling on the door handle, she realized it was stuck. One side of her wanted to sit down and cry, but instead the other side gave the door the most horrendous kick. “Stand and be strong.” It opened and the warm moist air rushed in. But with the rush of air, she also smelled fuel.
Without thinking very much, she reached up and unsnapped her daughter from the gurney, letting her fall into her arms, still asleep. She considered a panicked, but awakened child compared to the limp one she held in her arms. Then, she ran across the road and put her down on the wet grass.
She wanted to just rest there on the grass and wait for help, but knew she had to try and help the driver. Maybe he was still alive. She sprinted back and pulled the door handle, half-expecting it to be jammed. It opened easily tumbling her to the asphalt, but the seat belt was another story. She tugged for a few seconds before she remembered the scissors in the back of the ambulance. She rushed around to get them, again expecting the worse, but the scissors were lying in the doorway, as if a present.
The worn seat belt easily relinquished itself and she was sure the driver had broken his neck as he plummeted to the street with a barely broken fall. Actually, the fall woke him up, dazed, but clearly thankful of being pulled from the wreckage. He nodded to her as he clasped his hands in prayer before accepting her aid to cross the street.
They’d barely cleared the ambulance when it burst into flames. The bright flames illuminated the entire area. Surely, now help would arrive.
She’d gone back to her daughter and noted that it appeared her fever had broken. There was a gift to a dousing rain. Relieved, she sat back on her haunches and relaxed before she remembered they had hit, or been hit, by something.
She looked for the other vehicle in the brightness of the flames and the rain. The dazed driver watched her eyes for a while before he pointed to the destroyed white rental car parked alongside the road. It was fairly clear someone had almost been ejected on the driver’s side. The windshield was shattered. She saw a motionless body draped across the steering wheel. Surely, no one would be walking away from that car.
She was amazed she felt no remorse or concern. Surely, her husband, being imminently predictable, had rushed to the airport to try and prevent her from leaving him again. Why he would think she would take her daughter and not her son was an entertaining absurdity, probably because he was the emotionally detached type of man who would leave his son at a hotel while he went to drag his estranged wife back. Poor fool!
“You’d risk our lives for a stranger,” he had said. “You’d risk our lives for speed.” She began to cry as she cradled her now comfortably sleeping child.