The Great Setback
By Sobia Younis
(Based on a True Story)
To describe my friend, Salama, people always used words like “determined” and “strong-willed”. Today, as I sit reflecting upon everything that happened last month, I realise that those people had been right. Salama was like a warrior. She worked towards her goals diligently and never gave in to setbacks crossing her path. Salama was an in-training ballet dancer. She been learning ballet dancing since she was ten. Both of us had been fast friends since kindergarten. Over the years, I had seen Salama participate in a dozen local ballet dance competitions. Salama had never returned from these empty handed; she was either among the winners or the first three runner-ups.
Salama’s favourite life quote was, “Man is the architect of his own fate”. Salama was so fond of it that she had gotten the words imprinted on a huge poster; the poster hung in her room over her bed. I always thought that the exotic-looking poster, with a purple backdrop and an overlay of square-looking orange letters, was a perfect reflection of Salama’s self-assured personality.
“But there is destiny too, you know. Some people try hard to get something, but they don’t achieve it.” I often tried to argue with Salama.
“Then those people did not try hard enough,” she would retort with a defiant flick of her head.
How wrong she had been! Fate intervened and barred our destinies with setbacks which were undefeatable and final.
That day, Salama was brimming with excitement. Another competition had been announced, a big one being held in the neighbouring city. Salama had started preparing for it weeks ago. She was as sure of her victory as the day. I was sitting in the audience when Salama started performing. The entire audience was spellbound. The semi-dark stage was alive with rising and falling notes of music floating in from an invisible piano; Salama was gracefully twirling in the middle. A hushed silence filled the room. In an instant, the spell broke. One moment Salama was twirling, her arms and legs moving towards and away from her body in rhythmic motions; and the next, she was on the floor, a sprawl of limbs and ballet costume. I sat there stunned while a collective gasp rose from the audience.
A few hours later, we were headed home. Salama had not said a word to anyone since the judges had announced that she was disqualified from the competition. I wanted to console her, but words failed me. Salama’s face was expressionless and her limb movement was robotic as she marched out of the competition venue with me. She appeared to be in shock; in this mental state, I did not want her to drive.
“Salama I think we should call a cab,” I said to her as we made our way to the parking lot.
“No, I will drive. You go ahead in a cab if you want to,” she said icily.
I wanted to argue with her, but I did not dare say anything else. Both of us got into the car. The moment Salama put on her seatbelt; I started wishing I had not let her drive. She hit the accelerator and our car jumped backwards with a loud screech. As we backed out of our parking slot, Salama slammed her foot on the brakes. The car came to a momentary halt, and we were thrown forwards against our seatbelts. We were facing the brick pathway that led to exit of the parking lot. Salama pressed the accelerator again and our car jumped forwards with a lurch, its wheels grating against the asphalt underneath. Salama was doing 50 km/ hour, while the sign boards in the parking lot clearly indicated the speed limit to be 20. As we raced towards the exit, other cars in the parking spaces whizzed by in a flash of colour.
“Hey Salama, Slow down! We will hit something and get ourselves killed,” I yelled.
“We won’t. I always win, remember,” Salama yelled back. I turned to look at her. She had her eyes fixated on the road, and her face was grim. The exit loomed into view. It was to our right; the path leading up to the exit a small curve. We flew down the curve, our bodies pushed to the left. Two big sign boards reading STOP and CAUTION stood at the head of the exit indicating that drivers needed to stop, wait for the incoming cars to pass, then get on the highway. Our car bolted towards the exit without doing any of that. Salama was doing 60kim/hr. now. As we were moving through the exit opening, I looked out from my window. An eighteen-wheeler with a blue cargo hold and a white front cabin was thundering towards us at full speed. Unconsciously, I closed my eyes and opened my mouth to warn Salama, but all that came out of my mouth was a muted scream.
Then several things happened in the split of a second. I heard a loud honking noise, the rumbling of the truck’s huge body, and then a big BOOOM as the truck rammed into our car. A thousand shards of glass flew everywhere and hit our faces and upper bodies like daggers. I remember hearing my own terrified scream, and momentarily, feeling weightless as our car flipped through the air. After that, there was darkness.
When I came back to my senses, I could hear police sirens in the distance. Without opening my eyes, the first thing I noticed was that my whole face and arms were burning in pain. Glass shards must have cut me in several places. I could also feel a warm thick sticky fluid covering my whole face. My nostrils were filled with the smell of blood - rancid and metallic. The stench was punctuated with more familiar whiffs of gasoline. We were still strapped in our seatbelts. Slowly, everything came back to me, and I snapped my eyes open.
“Salama, where are you. Salama, are you okay?” My cries were high-pitched and shaky. Salama remained motionless.
My left leg was numb, and I could feel waves of pain building up in my right one. With great difficulty, I lifted my head a little to look over at Salama and gasped. Streams of thick red blood covered Salama’s face. Her head hung to one side. Salama was still unconscious. Her upper body – arms, shoulders, chest - everything was covered in a sticky glistening layer of blood. My gaze travelled down. Her left hand – also lathered with blood – was no longer fully attached to her arm. It dangled to her side at an odd angle. Her wrist had been cut open and a pinkish mesh of tissue and muscle lined with thick streaks of crimson peeked through.
Seeing the grotesque scene made my head swim, and I was hit by a wave of nausea. Once again everything went blank.
I woke up in the hospital three weeks later. Tubes were stuck into my arms, and my neck and legs were covered in plaster. My whole body hurt. Everyone had a thousand questions for me – my parents, the doctors, and the police. But every time I tried to talk, words failed me. This morning after breakfast, my Mom handed me a notebook.
When I look at her with a puzzled expression, she whispered, “Honey, just tell us what happened.”
She patted my shoulder and left the room, leaving me alone with my pen and paper and memories of my best friend, Salama!
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