Ten years ago.
The nurses in white garb huddled together in hushed whispers behind the mortuary doors while Cassy sat in the harsh darkness of the waiting area, bruised, wounded and confused. It has been several hours beyond her bedtime but neither her mother or grandma has come to tuck her into bed. Annie sat beside the little girl, trying her best to comfort her. Neither of us could gather enough courage to break the terrible news.
“Is there anyone… we can call to take you home?” Annie asked gently. “Your father perhaps?”
Cassy shook her little head, “I have no papa.” Our hearts shattered at the thought that this little angel had just lost her only two guardian that mattered. We were hurt further still, by how unnecessarily they’ve died, and as violently as it was.
Legion. What was their goal? It hurt my head just thinking about it.
“Are you alright?” Annie felt concerned.
The gash in my forearm had been sewn back together and my knuckles were generously lathed with painkilling cream. All of it were wrapped in bandages and hung from a navy blue arm sling. There were too many other minor cuts and abrasions to count, but really, I was just glad to be alive. To have Annie sitting next to me. But, the death of this little girl’s family.
It could have easily been us. Why hadn’t it been us?
Finally, a pair of nurses broke the suffocating silence by sliding the automatic doors open. Respectfully, the senior nurse knelt in front of Cassy, pulled her tiny hands close to her chest and looked deep into her teary eyes.
With such great empathy, possible only from the experience of being the messenger of death to countless families, she began relaying the bad news that neither Annie nor I was brave enough to speak.
However, before the senior nurse could put in a sentence, Cassy broke into a litany of tears, all of her pent up grief, suddenly pouring from her eyes all at once. The other nurse, skillfully directed our attention away, but the echoes of her crying proved too much for Annie, and she broke down as well.
“How are you related to the deceased?” The nurse asked us.
With my uninjured arm wrapped tightly around Annie, I replied in a trembling voice, “We’re not related... We were in the same... crash... so we offered to take care of her until she gets home.” I could barely speak, the sadness within me was pulling down on my soul so hard my mouth felt like it was sewn shut with numbness.
The nurses thanked us profusely for offering our time despite our injuries. However, they had to take Cassy into the mortuary to officially identify the bodies and told us to wait in the hallway. We obliged, and watched as the nurses held Cassy’s hand and led her through the doors from which they came.
Beyond the frosted glass, where only the hospital staff and the relatives of the deceased can enter, I caught a glimpse of a dark figure. I pulled away from Annie but the doors had automatically locked shut.
“What is it?” Annie asked. “I thought I saw something...” I replied, my once sinking heart started pounding. I must have been imagining things, after all we’ve been up all night and the sun was about to rise, I deliberated. And yet an uneasiness ran through my veins.
“What? What did you see?” She pressed but I told her it was nothing. We decided to step out of the cold to get a hot cup of milo from the drink dispenser outside.
The mortuary was grippingly cold but necessary to preserve the bodies as if it were meant to keep the dead asleep and the clutches of life at bay. What I could not understand was why the place had no windows. It was as if the stifling atmosphere was not depressing enough, it was impossible to tell whether it was night or day from within the walls of the waiting area.
Just as I had expected, the sun was already up and clusters of people were streaming into the mortuary. Some, to see the deceased who had passed the previous day and some to replace the nurses who had clocked in the long hours of the night before.
“Sir! Madam!” Without really looking where we were going, Annie and I bumped into a middle-aged reporter with a microphone in hand.
Trailing behind him was a plump cameraman about to cave under the weight of his machine. Both of them had half a dozen lanyards wrapped around their necks, partially damp with sweat and neither of them looked like they have slept for days, continuously driven by the search of a story.
“Were the two of you involved in the accident involving a double-decker bus and a taxi along the ECP last night?” The reporter spoke hastily, rudely pushing the microphone into our faces.
In a daze, we nodded our heads but couldn’t immediately bring to words the details of the night. Without giving us much time to think, he fired on, “Including the bus driver who is now in a coma, the two of you and a girl about the age of six survived the crash, is that correct?”
Annie and I looked at each other unable to answer. “We… think so?” I responded in sort of a half-question.
“There were two bodies found in the crash.” He stated, “However, there is CCTV footage of eight passengers boarding that bus, are you related in anyway to the other three passengers?”
An entangled chill ran down both our spines. We firmly denied any relation to the three. The reporter then rummaged through his leather bag for a brown file and revealed to us several stills captured of the other three passengers boarding the bus at the stop right after us.
“You say you have no relation to them. But, can you confirm that these are the three who had bordered the bus last night?” The reporter’s eyes screamed that he was now desperate for a story.
We stared at the blurry black and white image for a long while. The man in the picture looked foreign to us but the reporter could immediately tell from our expression that we could recognize the women. “You have seen them.” He remarked with a refreshing glow plastered from cheek to cheek.
The both of us were too tired at this point to answer anymore questions and tried to move on but they blocked our way. The reporter’s voice with a notable raise in excitement began to interrogate ”Do you know their whereabouts?”
“W-we.. don’t know.” I replied, reading Annie’s eyes telling me not to reveal what had happened. I wasn’t sure why at first, but in hindsight it was probably because it would have led us into more trouble if the the reporter had prodded us on the subject further.
With a little hesitation, the reporter decided to switch tactics and pulled a zoomed image from the back of the file. It was the black duffle bag the foreign man had been carrying. “What about this? Do you know anything about this?”
“We don’t have a clue.” Annie shot back. “I’m sorry, we can’t help you.” She pulled on my arm and led me in between the reporter and his cameraman, threatening to get her fingerprints on his lense if they did not back away.
“Wait, wait, wait…” The reporter begged, but we did not turn back. As we went around the corner, Annie’s tears began to flow again, mine as well. I held her close, our warmth doing little to quell the sorrow. Why was all this happening to us? Perhaps we wanted answers more desperately than the reporter.
We came up to one of the big red boxes which permeated through the hospital offering cold or hot options that either quenches those who are thirsty or be a warm handheld companion for those who have lost track of time within the sterile walls. “Let’s get one for her.” Annie suggested as she picked the second paper cup from the dispenser.
Annie took a sip off the top of the hot chocolate malt from each cup to prevent spilling, the thin paper cup barely keeping the scorching hot liquid away from the palm of her hands. It felt like many days had gone by since we last consumed something. The vapors lifting off the surface, filled us with a sense of assurance, that perhaps we’ve passed the most trying hour.
As we made our way back, we prayed the reporter and his cameraman had left. Seeing that they’ve gone on to a different family to cover their tragedy, we slid by them and hastily moved on to the waiting room where we had waited with Cassy.
“I thought they would be done by now.” I commented as we sat back down on the hard grey plastic that lined the corridor. Annie placed Cassy’s cup on the seat between us and held hers to her mouth.
“What do you think they were after?” Annie’s question made me feel uneasy. My memories were hazy but I remembered the masked woman, Lisa, mention something about my ignorance and Legion. They had deliberately orchestrated the damn thing and wanted to put on a “show”. A spectacle targeted to a Singaporean audience.
“They want us to be afraid.” Annie replied, “If they can strike a bus, they can strike anywhere.” She took a sip of her milo and continued, “I think, if it weren’t for you... they would have succeeded.”
“But you-” She stopped me. “I’ve no idea how it happened.” Annie wrapped her right hand over her forehead, as if to transfer the warmth of the cup to her mind. She pushed herself to remember the sensation.
In her words she explained that her body felt physically in the bus. She could feel every bump, sway and jerk the bus made. But her mind’s eye were showing something different. It confused and freaked her out so much that she could only stay still and watch. Her bodily experience could not match with what she was seeing, as if it were lagging behind.
“How did you manage to stop it?” I asked as I drank the last of my cup. “I didn’t,” She continued to explain, “It’s like, you know how… when you stand up from sitting down to long and you temporarily blackout and then you try to stay still and wait for it to go away.” I nodded.
Instead of darkness, Annie explained that she was somehow able to see everything that was going to happen as clear as she was staring at me then. “I heard you though.” Bewildered by Annie’s revelation, I added, “In my mind. I looked over and you were clearly unconscious but I heard you call my name.”
Annie cautioned me to keep my voice down. Whatever we were experiencing was not normal and she was evidently not comfortable speaking about it in a public place. “I don’t know how that happened. What about you?”
“Super strength?” I threw up for consideration, however I recalled that I did not feel particularly stronger than my usual self. At the time, we imagined it could have just been the adrenaline that was kicking in and whatever we thought we had was just an illusion our minds created to help us psychologically deal with the situation we were in.
“How much longer do you think it’ll take?” Annie asked. I shrugged and looked up at the clock which hung just above the automatic doors. A little more than half an hour had passed since Cassy left with the two nurses. “Not sure, maybe she’s already out and wandering about.” I got up and stretched. My vision slightly tunneling from standing up too fast and having not slept for almost a full day.
I went up to a grieving married couple a number of seats away from us. “We don’t want to speak to you!” The wife shouted at me angrily in Mandarin. “I apologize, I’m not a reporter.” I tried explain the best I could in the little command of the language I had. “Did you see a little girl, about six years old coming out from those doors?” Barely able to comprehend my question, they shook their heads vigorously and shooed me away.
“No luck.” I said to Annie as I returned to my seat. “What about her?” She pointed to a nurse who had just wrapped up her discussion with the family that had been targeted by the reporter earlier.
“Hi.” I alerted the nurse before she could step through the automatic doors. The frigid air pouring out into the already cold waiting area. “Good morning. How may I help you?” The nurse replied.
“Um, we came with a little six year old girl. The three of us were involved in a bus accident.” Annie explained. “She went in to identify the bodies of her… mother and grandma, about half an hour ago. Do you know where she is?”
“A little girl?” The nurse looked confused. She flipped through her clipboard. “Can I have the name of the deceased, please?” A strong filipino accent rung through.
“Oh, we don’t… we don’t actually know...” Annie and I looked at each other for answers, “We’re not related, you see and-”
“Maybe, if we could speak to the nurses who were here earlier?” I suggested, however the nurse explained that the previous shift had unfortunately left for home. Besides, she had not seen a girl as we had described in the mortuary since she took over. There had only been adults visiting.
The warm milo that we had consumed a few moments ago, drained from our guts as our hearts sank to the ground. The chill from the mortuary gripped us. “Can we just, go in and have a quick look?” Annie became desperate but the nurse stopped us. The mortuary was strictly for staff, and relatives of the dead only.
“What is her name?” The nurse compromised, “I can go in and check.”
Our jaws dropped and our faces became so pale we might as well have been dead. The cold stole the last ounce of warmth from us. We didn’t get to know her name. We didn’t know her mother’s name or her grandmothers either. Every moment since we got on to the bus flashed through our minds repeatedly as we fervently searched our memories for her name but came up with none.
The nurse, stepped through the automated doors. “I’m sorry, I cannot help you if you cannot give me a name.” She said keeping one hand on the door to stop it from closing on us. Clearly, it seemed, she had other work to do.
“Wait, wait, wait…” Annie pleaded, desperately trying to access her ability, but she could not get it to work.
“I’m sorry, I need a name, if not I cannot help you.” She repeated.
“We don’t know her name, John. We don’t know her name!” Annie turned to me, tears were streaming down profusely, her entire body trembling. A deep unsettling sensation had overcome the three of us. The dark figure that I had spotted earlier. What was it? Guilt lodged itself in my throat as I wrecked my mind over why I did nothing, even when I noticed something.
Just then, the automatic doors began to close on us, the nurse’s expression on her face switched from genuine empathy to a psychotic grin in an instant. And before the doors shut us out, we saw her mouth the word she was trying to tease out of Annie and I.
Mitch Advent is a lifelong experiment. It is about throwing caution into the wind and delving deep into different passions to discover similarities and celebrate the differences between them. The project stems from the belief that at its core, all things creative are the same. Mitch, because that is my name. Advent, because I do not consider myself the best at anything I do. My objective is to lead by example and invite others to walk the same path.