I was back to that night, five years ago. I was like a spirit hovering over the scene and I was back at my old flat. It was about midnight and my fifteen year old self had sleepwalked out of the house. Back then I shared a room with my brother and he was, like the rest of my family, a heavy sleeper. My mother came back to the house, half an hour later, and you could see that something was off about her, more so than her usual self. She didn't even notice that the front gate was left open. She just entered the house, shut the front door behind her, make sure all the windows were sealed shut. She then took out a bottle of sleeping pills from her handbag and went to turn on the gas. She did everything mechanically, like it has been rehearsed in her mind a million times. My mother then sat down by the dining table and swallowed the whole jar of sleeping pills. She soon lay unconscious on the dinner table with one hand outstretched. The smell of gas slowly but steadily filled the whole house. No one was waking up, nor were they ever going to.
I just looked on as the series of events unfolded before me. There was nothing I could do. If was something that has already happened and I was just looking back, five years later. There was no use in me asking why. Why did my mother decide to kill all of us? Why was I the only one left behind?
In the next scene of my dream, I was at a beach. It was in the wee hours of the morning and the sea was quiet, save for a few gentle waves. There was no one else at the shore, and it was still dark. I stared at the sea in front of me, my feet dug itself in the sand. Slowly, I walked towards the ocean. I could feel the water lapping at my feet. It was cold. This whole place was chilly, nothing like what sunny Singapore is usually like. And then, I heard her voice, “Ethan...Ethan...come join us...” She sounded far away, her voice was like an echo that came from the other side.
She was my mother and she wanted me to join the family at the other world. A world that lay beyond the sea. I stepped closer to the water. With each step, her voice sounded a little louder, a little clearer. She continued to call, “Ethan...Ethan...” My body was already partially submerged in the cold water. If I was to move any further, my feet will no longer be able to touch the sandy ground. “Ethan...Ethan...” my mother called. If I were to just shut my eyes and let the waves take me away, I know I will wake up to see her.
And then, I woke up. I saw a bright ball of light in front of me and there was a steady beeping sound nearby. I was lying on a hospital bed and my whole torso was covered in bandages. I turned and someone was resting her head by my bed.
“Lara...” I whispered. She stirred in her sleep and looked at me. Her eyes were swollen and I knew she had been crying. I wonder why was I always making women cry.
“Bunny, you're awake. I'm so happy,” she said. Her eyes became watery again but she managed to smile.
“I'm sorry for making you worry. What happened to me?” My whole body was starting to ache now and there was a sharp stinging pain at my side. My hands could still move though, and I reached out to hold her hand.
“You were in an accident and the doctor said you broke some of your ribs. He also said, you were lucky to be alive,” she said, squeezing my hand.
“I see.” I didn't think I would make it either. Maybe my mother didn't want me to join her before I paid off her debts fully. I didn't know why I'm still alive now. Lara was starting to bawl her eyes out beside me. “What's wrong?” I asked. I tried to sit up and immediately, a sharp pain pieced through my side.
“I really thought you died. When I received the news from Ming about you being in the hospital, I couldn't help but think the worst.”
“The hospital contacted Ming?”
“Yes, he had a few messages in your phone and was the only one who answered their calls. You have been unconscious for about three days!” she cried. Her tears would not stop.
“Hey, don't cry, I am alright,” I said. Lara took out a tissue and blew her nose in it. “You have been here for three days? How is your manuscript coming along?”
“It is halfway done. I mostly slept here, I was just so worried you would suddenly disappear in front of me I couldn't bear to leave.”
“Have you eaten at all?”
“Sometimes, when Ming comes by to pass me some packed food,” she said, wiping her tears with the tissue paper. I felt sorry for making her worry.
The doctor came by the ward and walked over to my bed. He told me about my condition. “You have broken four of your ribs. If there are no major complications, you can be discharged within three days, but you need bed rest at home for one to two months. You were very fortunate that you landed in the bushes after the impact, if you fell on a hard surface, the accident could have been fatal.”
“Thank you doctor,” I said.
“Get some rest,” he said. I turned to Lara and said, “Lara, get some rest too. You have been here for three days. I'm fine.”
“No, I'm not leaving you,” she declared firmly.
“You need to work on your manuscript too. There isn't much time till the dateline right? I'm not going anywhere. Remember, I promised you that I will never leave you.”
She looked at me forlornly but she finally gave it. “Alright, but I will come back tomorrow. Rest well.”
I tried to give her a reassuring smile. “I will see you soon,” I said, as she reluctantly left my side. I glanced at the clock and saw that it was already 9 pm. I hope Lara was able to get home safely. There were five other beds in my ward and they all seemed to have been involved in some sort of accident. It was a non-air-conditioned ward and the ceiling fans made a low humming sound.
I lay on my bed, looking up at the ceiling and tried to recall the moments before the accident. I remembered a black car was tailing me. Through my side view mirror, I was able to see the face of the driver and it was someone I have seen before. It was the same private investigator Annabelle had asked to stalk me during the early stages of our relationship. And assuming that Annabelle had asked him to follow me around again, wasn't the only reason she did so was to see how my current project looked like? That would be the only reason, wouldn't it?
I sighed. If that really was the case, and she did eventually find out who my current project is, would be affect Lara's chances in winning the writing competition? I really did not know how deep her wrath was. Women are really such complicated creatures.
And what was I supposed to do now. Even though I insisted that Lara returned home, I had nothing to do in the hospital but sleep, and I didn't want to sleep. I tried to keep my mind busy with random thoughts. I wondered why the doctor contacted Ming. Maybe they saw the countless messages he left me some months back. I mean, the person I contacted most recently would be Annabelle. But I knew she would never accept phone calls from strange numbers. It would have been awkward if the hospital did call her after all, but then her private investigator friend would have told her about my accident. Not that it was really any of her concern.
Time moved so slowly here. I would look at the clock and realised that only ten minutes had passed. Being trapped in a place like this reminded me of my days in the orphanage. I heard my mother's voice the most when I was there. That was when her memory and presence was at its strongest. She kept calling me to join her, my brother and my father at the other side. Maybe that was why I didn't want to speak, back then. I was afraid of answering her.
I still hear her voice occasionally when I'm awake, but I hear it most when I sleep. I figured for some time now that the only reason I was left alive was to pay off my mother's debts. At least, that was the only reason I could conjure up.
After an hour or so, of trying to think of anything under the sun, I finally gave in to sleep, although it would mean me seeing my past demons again.
The next morning, I was thankful for the sun's ray to stream into the ward. The whole hospital floor was bustling with activity and the nurse came by with breakfast (fishball noodle soup). I had to press a button that allowed me to sit up with the bed in order to eat the meal. The meal was nothing spectacular, although it was comforting.
I was halfway through my breakfast when I noticed a familiar figure walking towards me. The Boss greeted me with a wave. “Good to see you alive,” he said.
I snorted in disgust. “Were you checking because you knew you wouldn't get your money if I died?”
He pulled up a chair and sat next to my bed. “Of course not. I'm just checking to see you are okay. Was it really an accident?” he asked.
“Yes, it really was an accident. I wasn't careful on the roads,” I said, trying to ignore his presence and continued eating my meal.
“How disappointing. I thought it could be some crime of passion or something.”
“Anyway, tell me again how much I owe you?” I asked.
“You are left with $500,000, which is no small sum. But if you are able to get it from your current project, then you are free to go.”
“Don't worry, you'll get it.”
The Boss looked at me intently and folded his arms. “You're a good kid, Ethan. You know you didn't have to really pay back your mother's debt. I mean, sure, I would have threatened to cut off your fingers or crush your bones, but if you were to run away to Malaysia or something, I couldn't have done much to stop you.”
He was right. I knew he was right. “I guess, paying the debt became a reason for me to live on, something like a goal to work towards.”
“And what happens after you accomplished this goal? You will be left with $500, 000, plus your other earnings you made with your previous projects.”
“I'm going to leave everything behind.”
“Sounds vague,” he said, shrugging his shoulders. He got up from his seat and added, “Whatever it is, I wish you nothing but the best.”
I looked at his retreating back and noticed how much smaller he looked lately. Every time I see him, I noticed a few more wrinkles on his face and how increasingly tired he looked. There really was no reason for me to hate him. He was, like everyone else, just trying to survive. Sure the debts my mother accumulated became too big for her to handle, but she had many other issues that caused her to wipe out her entire family.
Later in the afternoon, Ming came by to visit. I was glad to see him, actually, I think I would be glad to see anyone, the boredom was killing me. “Lara wanted to come, but she was sleeping when I dropped by her place in the morning,” Ming said sheepishly. He probably thinks we were a couple or something.
“It's okay, I am happy you are here. Would you happen to have some paper and a pencil? I think I will die from boredom too and drawing could help pass the time away.”
“I think so,” he said. Ming rummaged his backpack and took out his sketchbook. He tore away some sheets of paper from the back of the book and handed them to me, together with some pencils.
“Thank you,” I said, brightening up. “Ming, can I ask you something? Answer me truthfully.”
“What is it?”
“Do you still like Lara?” I asked.
“Lara? I don't know,” he replied. It was the same answer Lara gave when I asked her about Ming too. “Why do you ask?”
“Nothing, I mean, if you really liked her, I won't get in the way.”
“But both of you seem to have something special,” he said.
“Well...” I did not know how to answer to that. As far as I was concerned, this relationship we have was not meant to last. After I finish paying my debt, I was going to leave. At this moment, my eyes caught sight of Lara at the entrance of the ward.
“How are you feeling?” she asked, pulling another chair and sitting down next to Ming.
“I'm okay, really. You look tired, you should rest more,” I said.
“Ming, why didn't you wake me up?” she asked, poking him on his shoulder.
“He's right, you should rest more,” he replied before getting up. “I'll leave the two of you alone for a while. I will be back.” He smiled at Lara before leaving the ward. I wasn't fooled, even though he said he was not sure about his feelings towards her, the way he looks at her seem to say otherwise. Lara didn't seem to notice though, she was holding on to my hand, while observing my face.
“You know Bunny, these past few days made me think that I have grown too dependent on you. When I woke up and I did not see you around the house, it honestly made me a little depressed. Even the instant noodles I cooked did not taste as good as yours. But don't worry Bunny, I promise to take good care of you, until your ribs are fully healed!”
“Thank you,” I replied. I couldn't help but feel a little sad.
“How was your aunt? Did she like the painting?” she asked.
“She loved it,” I replied. Although I wasn't sure if Annabelle hasn't since smashed it to bits after our break-up.
“I sort of missed it, although not as much as seeing you,” she said. “Oh and I asked the nurse earlier and she said you can be discharged tomorrow evening! Isn't that wonderful?”
“It is, indeed.”
I was glad for these visitors. However it meant that, although I tried hard to avoid it, I have ended up making bonds in my life. I wonder if these were the same people who would attend my funeral, if I ended up having one. Lara would probably be the one crying the most, or maybe she won't be, after she found out that I had deceived her and was only interested in her money. Maybe before that ultimate end happened, I should try to make our every moment a memory that she could keep forever.