I remember the first thing I had said when I woke up, and it was the same first thing I had said as a child. Mam. But the voice that spoke back to me wasn’t my mother’s, and then I remembered that I had watched my mother die. I had watched my father die too, whilst he held her lifeless body in his arms.
I thought I had died along with them, that the blinding white my eyes opened to was a heaven. But once they adjusted, and I saw the whitewashed walls of the hospital ward and the wires attached to my body, I knew I had made it out alive.
The voice belonged to the boy lying down on the bed next to mine. He introduced himself as Adam. My voice was hoarse, probably because I had been screaming as I watched the masked gunmen shoot dead dozens of shoppers, including my parents. When I tried to say my own name, the two syllables made my throat feel sore. An-na.
The boy waved at me, and I waved back. No, I couldn’t wave back. It was then that I realised I couldn’t feel the rest of my body. The hospital air suddenly became thick and heavy and I struggled to draw in a breath. I tried controlling my breathing, by inhaling-exhaling-inhaling-exhaling and trying not to panic. But my body wouldn’t move and I couldn’t feel the needles poking into my arms and there was this sharp pain banging against my skull and even though there was this boy next to me I was all alone and the words came out raspy as I tried to breathe.
I. Can’t. Feel. Any. Thing.
The boy, Adam I think he had said, shuffled over from his bed into a wheelchair and veered his way towards me. He held my hand and, squeezing, he told me, Hey, it’s okay. But it wasn’t okay at all. I wanted to ask why he didn’t understand that it wasn’t okay because he was holding my hand and I couldn’t feel it and at some point I had started crying but I couldn’t wipe the tears away because I couldn’t move.
Then, the nurse came in and the first thing she asked was, Are you okay? Truthfully, I said, No. She introduced herself to me, My name is Stephanie but you can call me Steph, before she added, It’s going to be okay, Anna. I wanted to scream but my voice had disappeared and I sounded like a strangled cat when I tried and all I wanted was for people to stop telling me it’s going to be okay because I couldn’t feel my body and my parents were dead so no it wasn’t going to be okay at all.
Stephanie, who said I could call her Steph, explained that I had been shot, which didn’t sound that bad, until she told me that the bullet had hit my spine which meant I was now permanently paralysed from the waist down. That was when it all started to make sense. Permanent lower body paralysis would explain why I couldn’t feel anything and I started to cry more and the boy who I didn’t even know moved closer to me and wiped my tears away with his thumb. This time I felt his touch, and he was so soft and gentle. Steph had said that I am paralysed from the waist down, which meant that I should be able to move my arms. But seeing the panic in my facial expression, she added it’ll be a few hours before you can feel the rest of your body. I didn’t know if that was a good thing but I just smiled and said, Thank you.
The boy, Adam, was still there when Steph had left and he stayed by my side all day and told me what had happened to him, that he was shot twice, one bullet in each leg. He went on to explain that he has to use a wheelchair for a while, and I felt like he was rubbing it in my face because I’d have to use a wheelchair for the rest of my life. Still, he was really nice and we just ignored our injuries and spoke about things we liked, and it turned out we had a lot in common. Also, he had no other family around here, and neither did I, so we were the only ones who had no visitors. But that was okay because we could keep each other company.
I like the name Anna, he said, because Anna backwards is Anna. I told him, I like Anna because it rhymes with banana, and he said, I don’t actually like bananas, and I said, Neither do I. We laughed about that even though it wasn’t really funny. Then he said, But I like you, Anna, and I didn’t know how to reply without sounding foolish so I just said, Thank you. He squeezed my hand then and I swore that I could feel it, so I said, Do that again, and he did, and I made a squealing noise that made me sound stupid and childish in front of this boy that I actually really liked, but it didn’t matter because I could now feel my hand.
At night, when visiting time was over, the most beautiful thing happened. The ward fell silent and then a voice spoke from the other end. It was a girl’s voice and she stated her name, age and what had happened to her that day. Every other person did the same thing, one by one, sharing a part of their story. I listened carefully as the boy beside me spoke. My name is Adam. I’m 19. I lost my mother and sister, and I was shot in both legs. I’m not the last person to speak today. He looked at me then, and I understood what he was saying from the small curve of his lips. My name. My voice was a whisper and I was unsure if anyone else could hear me. Is Anna. I cleared my throat. I’m 18. I wasn’t sure what to say next. I lost my parents and feeling in the bottom half of my body. I looked at Adam and his smile had taken up half of his face, and I liked the way his eyes crinkled because of it. I went to sleep that night dreaming of my parents and the boy beside me.
That’s how I met Adam.