The Forever Selfie

by Chandra Sundeep

Lana sat on the leather couch, dazed, staring at the yellow and green lines going up and down; scared to look away, even for a fleeting moment. The room was eerily silent except for the slow buzz from the machine, and the steady beep from the monitor. She gripped the arms of the sofa, forcing herself to get up. Wiping her cheeks with the back of her palm, she paced towards the metal bed.

“Wake up baby, how long will you sleep?” she caressed the little one’s forehead. Her hands trembled as she felt the rough fabric. Gingerly, she sat next to Jonah, clasping his soft, cold palm. He was her life, her world, her everything.

“Jonah, baby, is it very painful?” she could barely hear herself. The words were stuck in her throat. Her eyes followed the tubes running all over the child’s body, connecting him to gigantic machines. The lines moving up and down were the only signs of life. The zig-zag pattern comforted her, consoled her like none other.

A cold shudder tingled Lana’s spine. “Why God, why!” She closed her eyes and forcefully transported herself far away. Far from the cold sterile room; to her home, cozy and warm. To a time less than 24 hours ago.

“Jonah, come on, hurry up!” Lana hollered from the kitchen. “I am here!” the cherubic boy bounced into the kitchen. “Good morning mumma, is my sister still sleeping?” he hugged Lana, placing his ears on her bulging belly. “Ouch! There you go, she’s awake now!” Lana smiled as the little one responded to her brother’s presence. “Jess said good morning to you, Jonah!”

Pointing towards the dining counter, Lana said, “Come on, eat quickly!”

“Baby Jess, today after school, I’ll teach you counting! Ms. Susan is going to teach us numbers today.” He informed the unborn baby, in all seriousness. His face lit up, and he looked at Lana, “Mumma, Shaun said he took a selfie… Can I take one too?” he spoke in between mouthfuls. “Sure sweetie, we will take a selfie. But not now, maybe later.”

“Yummy pancake mumma! When will you pick me up?”

“Mm.. around 8 after dinner. Okay?” Lana scribbled in Jonah’s planner, “I’ve marked a note for Ms. Susan, don’t forget to show it to her!”

She looked at the calendar, then at Jonah’s torn shoes, and then at her near empty wallet. I’ve gotta talk to my supervisor today about an advance. Hopefully next week I should be able to buy him new shoes…

“Mumma, I don’t like sleeping without you,” his lips quivered, and tears floated in his big brown eyes. “Jonah, promise, I’ll come before you sleep. Now, now, aren’t you the big brother? What will Jess say if you cry like this, hmm?”

Jumping up from the chair, he hugged and kissed Lana’s belly again. “Mumma, baby Jess has grown bigger, look my fingers are not even touching each other,” he squealed.

Ruffling his soft hair, Lana smiled. “Come on now, let’s hurry. We don’t want to miss the school bus, do we?”

“Two minutes mumma, I haven’t finished my milk,” he pointed towards his cup, half-filled. “It’s alright, drink it later,” she shoved the cup into the fridge. Lugging all the bags in one hand, she locked the door with the other while Jonah waited near the gate. Jumping up and down, he waved to the neighbour “Good morning Mr. Wilkins! Do you want to sing with me? Wheels on the bus go round and round…”

How I wish we had been late. How I wish we had missed the bus. How I wish I had let you complete the rhyme. Lana stifled looking at the monitor. What wouldn’t I do to give you those two minutes now? If only I had let you drink your milk, none of this would have happened.

She gasped, struggling to breathe as the events from the morning threatened to strangle her. Horrid scenes floated in front of her eyes as the beeping machine disappeared into the distance. She tried to block the screams, but they broke through and engulfed her with all their might.

Jonah had just stepped onto the street with Lana a few feet behind, when an out-of-control vehicle drove straight onto the walkway, sending the little boy flying in the air. Tears trickled down her cheeks as she remembered kneeling on the sidewalk next to a bleeding Jonah, screaming for help. The sirens. The paramedics. The panicked wails. Strangers crowding around them. People with their phones – clicking, recording.

The faces and the sounds now blurry and fading in the distance. Except the fear that had gripped her like a snake tightening its coil around its prey. She could still hear her heart thumping; it was booming in the deathly silent room. 

She blinked hard to forget the dreadful scene floating in front of her; Jonah being carried on a stretcher and placed in the ambulance. Every other memory else seemed to fade, except the blood – the colour and the smell. Rivers of wine-red flowed on the street. Her white shirt turned a darker shade of red, and her sky blue skirt merged with the scarlet. A metallic stench enveloped everything around her; the crisp morning smells subdued and beaten.

She couldn’t recollect who called 911, or who attended to her. She didn’t know who picked up Jonah’s school bag and placed it next to her in the ambulance. 

Everything was bleak. Except the young first transponder’s face. The one who held her hand and gave her hope. “Don’t worry, Miss. Your child is in excellent hands, our doctors will do the best possible.”

Now, as she sat in the room filled with strange machines, watching the maze of pipes running criss-cross over her baby’s body, she cried for the first time. She took Jonah’s hand and placed it on her belly, “Jess, honey, your big brother sends his love to you. He was, no… Is a brave boy. And he loves you. A lot.”

I’m sorry, Jonah. If only I had let you finish your milk. If only we had been a few minutes late. If only the driver had not…

Leaning on the hard plastic chair, she let her shoulders droop. I’m not sure if I can… Dr. Brady’s impassioned voice sent a shudder up to her nape. Startled, she opened her eyes and heaved a sigh of relief on realising the three of them were still in the room – together. It was a fuzzy memory paying a fleeting visit.

The chief had visited her in the morning. Accompanied by a team of doctors in white coats and dead-pan faces. They had peered into the machines, checked the vitals, and discussed in hushed whispers while she waited patiently. Her clammy hands trembled in his warm grip as he sat next to her.

She failed to recall what the chief had said to his team of doctors before they left the room, leaving them alone. They had refused to meet her eyes and shuffled out noiselessly. Though the room had become less crowded, it still sank heavily under despair.

The sequence of events was turning hazy, yet she remembered the doctor’s words and shivered as they rang in her ears. “Ma’am. I know it will not be easy for you. But I hope you find the strength to hear what I have to say. When Jonathan hit the side-walk, his skull fractured because of the impact. It has led to a severe Traumatic Brain Injury, in simple terms an internal haemorrhage. I’m afraid we’ve done our best, and there’s nothing more we can do. I’m sorry… Jonathan is brain dead.”

The little one’s kick brought her back to the present. Lana looked at the small clock on the corner wall. The doctor had given her two hours. The hands of the clock were delightfully running towards the end line, with no consideration of her pain. Every passing second, a reminder of how little time remained. The present, soon to become past.

A faint smile formed on her lips. With trembling hands, she touched Jonah’s plastered head. It brought memories of his last Halloween costume – an Egyptian mummy. Tired after a hectic week of work, Lana had no energy or money to spend on an expensive costume. She had covered the unsuspecting kid in toilet rolls. And thankfully, much to her relief, he had enjoyed being a mummy! Scaring other kids, walking around the neighbourhood, collecting treats; it had been a fun evening. Later in the night, cuddling up to Lana, he had whispered, “I have the best mummy in the world. I love you!”

“I love you too, baby…” Her voice echoed in the room. There was hardly any time left. “I’m so sorry, Jonah. I’m not the best mumma. If I was, none of this would have happened. I would have held your hand and not let you run on the walkway. I would have known how to protect you. And now you are leaving us, how will we live without you?”

Why do I lose the people I love? Mum, dad, Ben, and now you. Why does everybody leave me? Instinctively, she placed her hand over her belly. Never leave me, baby. I can’t take it anymore.

Time was slipping, and she had to decide soon. The bright paper lying on the floor caught her attention.

“Ma’am you may wish to consider this.” A few hours ago she had been in the counsellor’s room, her eyes fixed on the bright posters covering the walls. The young doctor handed her a pamphlet. “I understand it’s a difficult situation for you, but please remember, even though it’s too late to save your son, your decision can help save other children. Please go through this and let me know if you need any further information.”

Lana had stormed out of the room, walking as fast as her belly permitted. In the room filled with machines and tubes, her thoughts wavered back to the posters. Cheerful, smiling children. “Ma’am, these children are living because of parents like you, and children like Jonah.” The doctor’s words came back to her, “I know what you are going through. But time is of essence here. If you wish to see Jonah living on through others, this is the best gift you can give to celebrate his life. Even when he is gone, he will continue to live through others. In case you decide to proceed, please remember, time is slipping.”

As she looked at the clock, she realised she had been sitting with Jonah for almost two hours. She had hoped talking to him would help her decide. And yet, she was at the same crossroads as she’d been before.

“What should I do, Jonah? Help me, baby, I am so confused,” Lana pleaded, not noticing the stream of tears dripping on the sheets. “What would you do, Ben?” she looked towards the heavens, searching for answers.

The little one kicked again, more forcefully than ever. “Are you trying to tell me something?” Another sharp kick brought a sad smile to her face. “Jonah… looks like your sister is helping me find the answer.” Tears ran down her eyes, as she remembered the doctor’s words, “Ma’am you are a mother who is watching her child in pain. There are many mothers out there just like you. Watching their children suffer, waiting for an organ donation to make their loved ones’ life better.”

Punching the numbers on her phone, she said, “Doctor, I’ve decided. Jonah will live on through others. I’ll sign the consent form…”

Squeezing under the blanket with Jonah, she hugged him one last time. Tears rolled down freely, and she did not try to stop them. “This isn’t bye, my love. You’ll be here forever. Even if I cannot see you, I know that even in your death, you have brought magic to many lives. Your sister and I love you a lot. We will miss you, darling.” Letting out a deep breath, she smiled through her tears and took the selfie Jonah wanted.

(Story was first published on Penmancy and garnered a special mention)

(Image credit @bruno_nascimento)

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