“I’m Right Here!”
“At this rate, Mrs. Alghren, we suggest that you consider the alternatives,” said Dr. Hermann. “We have done everything that we could for Leif.”
Mrs. Alghren held in her sobs as she laid her eyes on the frail body that could barely fit on the cot due to his staggering height. The sounds emanating from the heart monitor shook her brain until her vision began to blur the greyness of the hospital. She slowly advanced towards her son with a shaking, outstretched hand that grazed his cheek. She stared at his closed eyelids and longed to look into his deep, blue eyes she had fallen in love with the moment that he was born. She pressed her wrinkled forehead against his, which was was raw with lacerations from the accident, and placed a kiss on his pale cheek.
“I come back later, Leif,” said Mrs. Alghren before briskly walking out the door.
I love you, Mama, Leif thought, but the oxygen mask that covered his face prevented him from saying it out loud.
I should have stayed home. Why did I feel the need to go for a drive? I could have gone for a walk to get some fresh air. I should have moved to the side once I noticed that man’s driving. I should have-
“What’s good, ma frien’?” said a loud voice.
Leif heard his friend shuffle into the room, and a familiar clinking sound followed, coming from what he presumed were cans of beer in a backpack slung over one shoulder. Driss’ smile wavered as he glanced at his friend’s lifeless body; the blue-purple veins on his arms and face were prominent against his translucent skin. The swelling in his face had subsided but there were black bruises on his body. His left arm was bandaged in a cast and lightly placed on his stomach, heavily inked with names and ‘get well soon’ wishes. He was tangled in tubes and needles, as if he was part of a laboratory experiment. Of course, his dirty blonde hair was freshly trimmed and styled by his mother, while his ever-growing beard was being taken care of by his father.
“Yuh know, yuh don’t look so bad if yuh close one eye an’ squint widda othuh,” said Driss while chuckling to himself.
I bet you don’t look as sharp, either.
Leif was right; he distinctly smelled the gasoline that seeped from his friend’s pores as he put down his belongings. Driss gathered his black, corkscrew curls in a short pony tail while a few pieces fell in front of his face. He took an old rag out of the pocket of his mechanic shirt and attempted to wipe the grease from his face to uncover his russet skin tone. He threw the rag into the nearest garbage can and yelped in excitement from getting it in on the first shot.
Driss did not miss a single visitation day; though he was probably the most disruptive visitor that the “Hôpital St. Joséphine” ever had, he came in regardless of what the cold, Québec weather had in store. Trails of empty beer cans would be left behind as he chased the young nurses down the halls, but despite his questionable behaviour, he made sure to cover all of the bases during his visits: inform Leif of what he missed from school, read the newspaper out loud, and screen films (with his explicit explanations).
“By da way, I gotta show yuh someting,’” said Driss as he uncovered a folded piece of paper.
“Dear Mr. Maurais, we a’ pleased to congratulate yuh on yuh success an’ on behalf of da London School of Business, we welcome yuh to our campus dis Fall…”
Driss...You got in. Y-You did it.
“Yuh see dat, Leif? Yuh boy is goin’ to da city a Kings and Queens! Shit man, who knew someone like me could land someting like dis?” asked Driss before crushing an empty can with his foot.
I never doubted you, man.
“See? Now yuh not da only one who will be studyin’ in Europe, Monsieur auteur,”
If only I could accept my offer.
It felt so long since Leif held a pen in his hand and wrote his deepest thoughts onto paper. He was extremely frustrated that since his accident, he hadn’t voiced his words onto paper. It always provided him a sort of solace from reality, which was something that he truly needed at this moment.
“What was blessed wuh those scholarships dey handed out — did ya know dey have a scholarships fuh people wit a Moroccan background? I tank God fuh givin’ me a Moroccan mama.”
Leif attempted to move something, even a finger, to show his friend that he heard everything, but nothing would move.
“I figured since yuh would be studyin’ back home in Sweden, we could always meet in da middle on da weekends, yuh know? Go to Germany? Italy?” asked Driss before glancing at his friend, “’Cause yuh will get bettuh by den, right?”
I don’t know.
Leif had no idea whether he would ever wake up. Three months had passed since he was admitted into the hospital. Leif was trapped in his own mind, a prisoner of the thoughts that crushed every shred of hope that Driss tried to install in him.
Even if I do get better, what if I remain permanently disfigured, paralyzed? How could I live my life the way I always hoped—
A long, shaky exhale emanated from his friend, followed by sniffles. Bewildered, Leif tried to scope out the exact location of the sound as it could never come out of Driss; he did not believe in crying under any circumstances.
“Shit man, how’d dis happen?” asked Driss while blinking away tears, “Seniuh year was supposed to be our year. We wuh supposed to make it da best year yet. Doc said yuh wuh gonna be back by Christmas, an’ it’s already January.”
Driss, I’m right here! I never left!
Leif felt his lungs burn with the words that he longed for his friend to hear. He desperately wanted to let tears freely run down the curves of his cheeks and feel his throat tighten due to his sobs. He just wanted to feel something, anything, in order to prove to himself that he was still alive. He heard Driss rummage through his bag.
“I’ve been avoidin’ dese tings for some time now. At first, it was ‘cause I couldn’t look back at my stupid haircuts, but now...”
Your haircuts still haven’t changed, man.
Driss carefully flipped through the pages of a tattered photo album and stopped at one particular picture of two young boys, their arms draped around each other’s shoulders.
“I remembuh da moment yuh walked intuh da school, dressed in yuh fancy dress shirts and shiny shoes. We all tought dat yuh wuh lost o’ someting’” said Driss.
I remember. That’s when the teasing started.
Leif’s father was a Swedish diplomat and was placed in a consulate in Québec, Canada. Needless to say, his first day started off as a nightmare as soon as he arrived at the school playground.
“Yuh made it worse when yuh started to speak; no one knew a damn ting you said,”
In my defence, I was what you called an ‘immigrant’ from Sweden!
“Now yuh’d probably argue an’ play da ‘immigrant’ card again,” said Driss while letting out a sad laugh.
You know me too well.
He recalled the punches and kicks from the other children. He was not entirely sure if it was due to the way he dressed, his thick accent, or the fact that he preferred writing stories in his notebook to playing roughhouse with other children that made him a desirable target for torture.
“But it wasn’t yuh fault. Dem kids wuh stupid to tink dat yuh didn’t know noting’. If anyting, dey should be makin’ fun a me since yuh wuh able to lose dat accent of yuh’s.”
You always had my back.
Driss thumbed through more pictures as he went through extreme detail of the memories that matched each photograph. Once visitation time was over, he slowly packed up his belongings while ensuring that Leif was left in the proper condition for the nurse on-call. While doing a final floor check of the room, he noticed that one of the photographs fell from the photo album. Two grinning boys stared back at him, oblivious to what was to come. He leaned the picture against a vase that contributed to Leif’s ever-growing shrine.
“Imma come back tomorruh an’ bring a movie to watch,” said Driss before he turned towards Leif, “You bettuh not leave, man.”
I wouldn’t dream of it, Driss.