I wake up in sweltering heat, the sun beating down on me. The sun chooses now to grace New York with its presence?
“What a great wake-up call,” I mutter. “What time is it,” I ask Paul, my driver.
“Oh, morning Ms. Hale. You’re up,” Paul says checking his rearview mirror.
“Paul, please call me Gia or anything but Ms. Hale, please. Give me a break; I’m only twenty-five.”
He grimaces, but concedes, “It’s nearly seven o’clock, Gia.”
I grin in triumph, but quickly lose my smile as I realize I still have two hours on the road.
Damn it! I was hoping to sleep through the entire car ride, fat chance of me falling back asleep now.
About two hours ago, a major accident occurred on Interstate 87 involving a bus full of students and an 18-wheeler truck. About an hour and fifty-five minutes ago, my iPhone blared its obnoxious ringtone with my boss at the New York Times on the other end dictating a car would pick me up in ten minutes.
I am, therefore, working on a Sunday, again. I’m glad I love my job; otherwise, Gia Hale would not wake up at 5 a.m. on a Sunday, and neither would my best friends, who happen to be my roommates.
But right now, I know exactly what’s going on at the apartment.
Serena Rose, a successful pediatric nurse, is waking up on her only day off from work. She will make her bed until each crease disappears and line her pillows up in the same fashion as always, the two big rectangular pillows in the back, two smaller square-shaped pillows in front of them, and a single long, rectangular pillow in the very front. Then, she will hang her “Sunday” outfit, pre-planned as usual, on the hook behind her bedroom door. Next, Serena will step ever so softly into the kitchen. Undoubtedly, she will stand there, leaning on the island with a cup of tea in one hand, and a pen in the other, writing on her color-coated Post-it notes of what she must do today. Pink notes are for morning activities, yellow ones are for afternoon activities, blue ones are for evening activities, and purple ones are for nightly activities.
At some point during this process, Khaleesi Bain, a foreign correspondent and the party girl among us, will walk in. She will tell Serena details about her exciting night, and when Serena asks her to give her a hand today, Kal will groan and make some excuse about “changing her clothes first” or “washing her face.”
Serena will start the dishes, waiting for someone to wake up and help her, but to no avail. Finally, she will stomp into each of our rooms. I’m sure my room is first. On cue, my phone rings.
“Gia, where are you?”
“I’m in the car right now. I have to go cover a story”
“Seriously, Gia?” Geez, that woman is scary when she’s angry; that’s why I cleaned my room last night when I had a chance.
“I am so sorry I left without telling you, but my boss called early this morning. I literally only had like ten minutes to get dressed and out of the house.”
“I know you have to work, but you’re never home! How am I going to clean up this mess?”
“I cleaned my room, and I can help you clean when I come back this evening. As for right now, just do as much as you can, and ask the others to pitch in. I’ll be back before you know it. Call me if you need anything”
“Okay, fine. But just so you know, you’re not completely off the hook.”
“I’ll talk to you later. Bye.”
Then, she’ll go into Kal’s room. As expected, Kal is asleep, spread out across her bed, without even changing her clothes. Then, Serena will peek into Nisa’s room.
Nisa Bing, a full-time, on-call doctor, is also only off on Sundays and is sprawled across her bed, lightly snoring. Serena knows she’ll get hell if she tries to wake her up before noon.
Exasperated, Serena will retreat to the kitchen and finish the dishes. Then, she will line up each of our shoes according to color and type. Then, she will dust and fluff the pillows in the living room. Next, Serena will pick up each hamper from our rooms, sort our laundry, and start the washing machine. Needless to say, she is beyond pissed.
I sigh. Now, I have to deal with that when I get home.
The car jolts forward, pulling me from my thoughts. Paul parks on the side of the road. Oh, we’re here. There’s a huge crowd of reporters and family members near the barriers around the accident. I switch my phone to “silent.” Weaseling and wrestling my way into the crowd, I finally get to the front. The police have marked off three of the four lanes on the highway with orange cones and barrels and won’t let anyone through. The death count is to 32, including two elementary school students who were accompanying their older siblings on the field trip.
I walk over to a family of three huddled in an Eskimo hug. My face is solemn and sympathetic with their situation.
“Hi,” I whisper softly.
“Hello, who are you?” The little girl, no more than five years of age, asks me.
“I’m a reporter with the New York Times. Can you tell me what happened?” I ask with as much tenderness as I have in me. The parents are looking at their daughter, who has two cute pigtails with a red, tear-stained complexion.
“My older brother was on the bus. He left this morning with the hugest smile ever. He said he was finally gonna get a window seat. But I don’t see him over there with his friends. Mommy and Daddy said he’s an angel now, my angel. One day, I’m gonna be an angel too! Then, I’m gonna sit on the bus with my brother, and I’m gonna have the window seat!” How is she so strong? Sweetheart, you already are an angel. God bless your family, and keep them strong.
Tears pool in my eyes. I can’t cry in front of this girl. I can’t cry. I can’t cry. As I look around at the families, I realize that accidents are just that, accidents. I can’t seem to wrap my head around the idea that these children would never see their siblings again. These parents would never see their sons and daughters again. My heart sinks lower when I think of how many car accidents happen every day, all around the world. How many people in this world don’t get a chance to say goodbye to their loved ones? Meanwhile, the people in traffic are concerned about getting home or going to work. How many times I’ve cursed while driving in traffic because of an accident? I didn’t even think of the lives that were lost or the lives that were affected by each tragedy.
I pull out my phone to check the time. Shit. Seven missed calls from Kal, nine missed calls from Nisa, as well as numerous texts urging me to call them back. Just then my phone vibrates once more. Without checking the caller ID, I answer.
“Gia! Where have you been?” Nisa practically screams in my ear.
“I’m covering an accident, so I put my phone on silent. What’s going on? Is everything okay?”
“Hello? Nisa! What happened?”
“It’s Serena…she was in a car accident.” No, no, no. This can’t be happening.
“Where’s Serena? How is she? What happened?”
“She’s in the emergency room right now. Serena was driving, a car swerved, broke the divider, and collided head-on.” Oh my god. Why is this happening today?
“Is she okay? Please tell me she’s okay!”
“I don’t know, but Serena needs us.”
“Keep everything together. I’m on my way.”
I don’t feel the tears running down my face until I hang up. Hurriedly, I run to the car and tell Paul we need to go to the hospital. Immediately after, I update my boss. She gives me the next week off, as long as I turn in my story, however much I have.
I practically jump into the car. As soon as I get in, I call Serena’s parents to see what they need. I call the hospital and squeeze out some details from them. Thankfully, Serena’s admitted in the same hospital that Nisa works at, so she can get more information from the other doctors. Nisa also has a bit of pull, so she ensures Serena gets only the best doctors. Paul drives 85, pushing 90 mph, and I get to hospital in three hours instead of four. When I walk through the hospital door, I run straight to Nisa and Kal and give them a hug.
“It’s gonna be okay,” I say quietly as we all cry.
“I can’t believe I chose sleep over her!” Kal chides herself.
“She was probably so angry with us that she didn’t pay attention to where she was going.” Nisa bows her head in shame.
“I was working, again. She wanted me home, but I chose work over her.” I squeeze my eyes closed, in hopes of stopping the tears and the guilt. It doesn’t work.
After we spend half an hour pacing, drinking water, and demanding updates from the nurses, the doctor finally comes out. His face is stoic; I hear three sharp intakes of breath.
“Serena suffered severe head trauma and immediately lost consciousness; she’s currently in a coma. She also has a broken arm and two broken ribs. Your friend is in critical condition.”
“So what does this mean?” I ask, my voice cracking.
“It means we’re doing the best we can to help, but I can’t make any promises. We have to wait through the night to see if she wakes up. If she doesn’t wake up, there could be severe complications.”
I wait for my alarm to go off and for all of this to be a dream. But after ten minutes of staring at him, I realize that this is real, and there was an accident.