The searing pain in my stomach – or rather, intestines, the doctor told me – doesn’t really leave much room for imagination. I’ve been here for a few hours, and not much has changed. I’m still surrounded by the same bleached white walls, the baby blue plastic bedsheets. I’m connected to some sort of an IV drip. There’s a clock on the opposite wall, and I have to crane my neck to look at it. Not the best design, but, then again, neck pains are probably the least of my problems.
The doctor told me that, if he had to guess, I had about an hour left to live. That was an hour and 15 minutes ago. I’m not sure doctors should be allowed to guess. They’re clearly not very good at it. He came back in 10 minutes ago, to ‘check on me,’ and I thought about telling him that death was better than expected. Maybe a joke about living on borrowed time. I didn’t, though. I think keeping your good humour until the end only works in the movies.
To be clear, I am not happy about dying.
OW. Speak of the devil. A gunshot wound to the abdomen may not kill you in an hour, but it sure does hurt like hell. The doctor told me the bullet’s still stuck inside me. That there wasn’t any use taking it out at this stage. The killer and its victim, together for their last moments. If I were a poet, I’m sure I could make something of that.
But I’m not. A poet, that is. I’m Kala. I’m 37. I’m an accountant. I know, right? A fucking accountant. Accountants don’t die. We’re boring, sure. Unoriginal. But we make money.
And we don’t die.
The doctor’s back.
“You were very brave,” he says. As if it was my choice to get shot.
“Just stay right there,” he says. As if I’m going anywhere.
“You’re not dead yet,” he says. As if I won’t be within minutes.
I look at him, and he smiles at me. It’s a sad smile. After a while, he leaves. I don’t blame him; I’d leave too, if I could.
It’s half an hour into my death before my phone rings (Doctors are really not good at guessing). I look at the name on the phone, and I swear, despite the (literal) red soaking my bandages, it felt like the (metaphorical) butterflies in my stomach had settled, just for a moment. My wife. My hero. Thank God.
I pick it up.
“Kala, I’m so sorry, we don’t get signal at work, I’m getting the kids, and then I’m coming, I’ll be there soon, okay? Just hold on, you’re not going to die, I promise, Kala, I promise.” And before I can say anything, she’s gone. But she’s coming. I look at the clock again. 33 minutes past death.
Just hold on.
The doctor came back. He told me not to fall asleep, and gave me painkillers that don’t seem to be doing much and pills to keep me awake. I’m not sure if he was planning to anyway, or if he decided to when he heard my wife was coming. Maybe he thought I had something to live for now. Either way, they’re in my blood now. Metal in my body and drugs in my blood. Forget poetry, that would make one hell of a rock album. I swear, if I get out of here…
There’s someone here, the doctor says, and suddenly my heart’s racing. No chance of falling asleep now. I breathe out, and taste copper in my mouth. Another 10 minutes have passed. My hand’s shaking. There’s red at the edge of my vision, pulsing with my heartbeat.
Just hold on.
It’s not her. It’s a woman, but she’s all wrong. White instead of black, ginger instead of dark-haired, tall instead of short. She’s holding a child’s backpack – pink – and her hat has flowers on it. I know her, but I can’t quite place her. She makes me feel cold, and I start shivering as she comes in.
“Hi,” she whispers. She has red lipstick. Her hands are white from clutching the backpack.
“I’m sorry.” She has brown eyes. They’re wet. She’s looking at me, and she looks scared. My skin crawls. Whatever she sees, it makes me nervous. Skittish. Like a horse, ready to bolt.
Not that I can bolt.
“Thank you for saving my daughter.” And she’s gone. It clicks, then, finally, too late. Stepping in front of a little girl, with red hair and brown eyes, and a pink backpack. The sound of a gunshot. Black vision and gravel against my cheek and red and blue flashing sirens and white hospital beds and a woman screaming, screaming with that same voice that was here moments ago.
I try and say something, but I’m slipping. The doctor’s still gone.
So I do. The red around the edges of my eyes is growing, and my breath is ragged. There’s something in my throat. I can’t lift my head to look at the clock anymore, so I just lie there. Time passes.
The doctor comes back a few more times. He looks flustered and worried and sad. I want to ask him his name, but when he responds it’s in my head, like I’m dreaming, so I don’t think I do. He leaves again. I try to call out to him again, but nothing comes out. And then I stop thinking of him, stop thinking of my wife, stop thinking of anything except blood, in my stomach – no, intestines – all torn up inside, poisoning my lungs and rising into my lungs, into my mouth, flooding into my brain.
She’s here. Finally. It’s been so long, but it feels like no time’s passed at all. I can see my kids, outside, through the glass. They look at me, almost in unison, and for a moment I can’t quite picture their names, can’t picture anything but their wide eyes and the fear I see in them. They’re scared. They’re scared, because of me.
In that moment, I hate myself.
I think of the doctor, looking sad. That woman, gone as soon as soon as she arrived. My kids, fear on their faces. All of a sudden, I don’t want to see her. I don’t want her to see me like this. I don’t know if I’ll be able to bear it.
She sits down on the edge of my bed. I can feel her looking at me, but I don’t look back. I’m so scared of what I’ll see.
And then, I can’t bear it anymore. I turn my head, and look up at her. She’s smiling at me. She’s crying. And all I see is love.
“Hey.” I try and respond, but I can’t. She doesn’t seem to care. Of course she doesn’t.
“You held on.” For you, I want to say. But she knows already. How could she not?
“You’re so stupid, you know that? You had to go and be a hero.” She bows her head over mine, and a tear falls from her cheek onto the bed next to me.
And I manage, finally, to speak. Three words. The only three words that really matter.
“I know,” she says. God, she’s perfect.
“Me too,” she says. Of course she does.
“You’re my hero, you know? My heroine.”
“My beautiful heroine.”
And we don’t say anything else.