Thud. Like a punch of a giant's fist, something hits the back of her car and spins it in a full circle. Or two. Three. She doesn't know. She's caught in a whirlwind before the Mercedes comes to a halt.
Apeksha's head and body rest on something soft, or hard, she's not sure which. She's alive, of that she is aware.
The blueberry pound cake. On the backseat. Is it ruined?
Organizing baby showers for anyone in Naperville who she knows is pregnant has been her get-up-and-go for some years now. This afternoon it's for Melanie, her personal trainer's wife. Apeksha longs for all mothers-to-be to understand how precious motherhood is. If only they'd comprehend and remember what she's trying to tell them.
Vikas is getting tired of this, she can tell. "You could’ve used this same energy at your work," he sometimes says. Seven years ago, she quit her job as a finance manager. She couldn't focus. Later, she didn't see any meaning in that work. Vikas knows that, even likes what she does for others. Yet he wants her to stop. He doesn't understand what all this means to her. Just like she doesn't understand what keeps him going as a VP in a multibillion dollar corporate firm, his laser focus on his work as if the rest of the world doesn't matter to him. But she sees his struggle to overcome fatigue. Fatigue does not overpower her. Adrenaline always wins.
It's an eternity or maybe just a few minutes before she becomes aware of the din. Sirens, horns, voices.
Urgent raps on the driver's side window. She doesn't recall leaving the door unlocked; she never does that. But someone has opened it. Arms are reaching for her. People are talking to her, to themselves. She still rests against a huge balloon—it's soft, or maybe hard.
They're pulling her out. Something-airbag, someone says. Then, "Thank God."
If she has injuries, she doesn't know. If she's bleeding, she can't tell. All she senses is the throbbing, tingling pain in her legs.
Someone must've helped her to the curb she's now sitting on, with a blanket thrown around her.
"Other than some bruises, there are no external injuries, ma'am," a paramedic says. "We'll still need to take you to the hospital. For an evaluation."
A man in DuPage County police uniform looks on.
Then she sees it. The other car. The smashed front, that thick blackish-red liquid splashed on the the open door's interior, some of it spilled onto the road. The metallic odor of the liquid mixed with that of gasoline fills her nostrils. She doubles over, thinking she'll throw up. She doesn't.
She straightens up and spots the figure in the driver's seat. A small frame covered with a sheet or blanket.
A paramedic or a policeman says something into his portable radio in a flat tone and a man's voice from the device repeats or responds with the same or different words. The intersection teems with emergency crews. Firefighters, sheriffs, paramedics turn chaos to order; their voices, clinical, merge as they speak. Apeksha catches a term here, a word there.
Another DuPage County sheriff, a taller one, walks over to her. Maybe he asks her questions, maybe he doesn't. But she keeps saying, "The girl in the blue dress."
"The young lady, the other driver?" he says. "A red fleece—."
"Blue," she insists.
"Was there another car, another driver?" the sheriff asks someone behind her.
A witness, a good Samaritan perhaps, replies, "No, sir. Only these two cars."
"That 17-year-old girl," she says.
"Seventeen, 18, 21. Hard to tell. But a very young woman, yes," a bystander behind her says.
Her gaze is fixed on that figure.
They ask her if she can stand up. They help her. They're gentle. They lead her to the ambulance. No one moves the other driver to an ambulance.
I’m okay. Save that girl. Please!
She turns around and takes one last look.
Amid the blur of sounds, flashing red and blue and yellow lights, she drags her feet as if they weigh a thousand pounds. The ambulance drives her away from the scene. All sounds recede.
Then, that shriek in her head. Her own scream, the scream from seven years ago. It still deafens her.
She asks her daughter to wear the new lilac dress. At 17, Riya makes her own choices. They disagree on almost everything, mother and daughter. Maybe Apeksha is not around her daughter enough. Riya's mind is set on what she would wear for her friend's birthday party. She chooses the blue dress.
The blueberry pound cake. Mel's favorite. She could bake it for her again, another day. She might even tell Melanie what she's been telling them all. Enjoy every moment of motherhood.
The ambulance stops at its destination.
Stop. Vikas is right. She'll stop trying to convey what she couldn't, wouldn't ever say to a mother. Be present in every moment of your child's life—until there are no more moments.