Hayley hopped off the double-decker bus, her red leopard print stilettos clicking on the black, tarred flooring. The smell of rain and grass filled her nostrils as she walked through the uneven, concrete walkway that led up to the giant, white dome. Standing on the steps, her hands on the peeling paint of the railings, she closed her eyes for a moment. A different scene swam into view: she was in a room decorated with balloons, a birthday cake with pink frosting sat in front of her, her family surrounding her and breaking into a chorus of ‘Happy Birthday to you…’ She smiled, closed her eyes to make a wish. Once she was done, she opened her eyes to blow the candles…

The scene was gone. In front of her, the dusty white building stood in fraudulent tranquility. Taxis lined up in front of the patio. The information counter stood between two doorways. Sighing, Hayley took a deep breath and stepped through the doorway on the right.

The atmosphere took Hayley by surprise. It was quiet. Too quiet. How had she expected it to be? It was the corridor of the A&E department after all. Perhaps some shouting different instructions, stretchers being pushed in by medics dressed in white? Maybe that was a misconception that movies gave, but in any case, the corridor was calm and serene. Two women sat on a bench next to a shop in mocking yellow and Christmas decorations. Hayley proceeded to sit down next to them.

As she neared the bench, the A&E sign above a glass door to her right blinked reality into Hayley’s mind, sending her heart into a frenzy. Her hands slipped on the cold, metal railing against the wall. Something was wet. Yet, the last time she looked, the railing was resoundingly dry.

Suddenly a doctor appeared out of nowhere, hurrying down the corridor and through the glass door. Once the glass door slid open, Hayley could hear the battle raging within, exactly like she had imagined.

“Get the stretcher!”

“Take his pressure!”

“Heart rate! What’s his heart rate?!”

Once the door closed, the surroundings went quiet. It was like she was watching an exciting drama with the television muted. Her brows creased with worry, this time not for an idol of hers, but for the man lying on the stretcher in bloodied bandages.

Hayley scrambled into the tiny shop in a hurry. There were sweets, magazines, drinks, slippers… Panadol, I need panadol… There was no Panadol in sight.

“Aunty! I need Panadol!” Hayley breathed as she slapped her hands on the counter in desperation.

The girl behind the counter was far from being an aunty. She was in her late teens, with dark eyeliner and multiple lip piercings. Her claw-like fingernails were painted black and her eyebrows were tense, her huge brown eyes tight, focusing on her customer.

“I need Panadol!” Hayley gasped again.

“There! Ba qiu tak stamp cannot see ah?” the shopkeeper said unkindly, gesturing to the racks right in front of Hayley.

Hayley grabbed a box of the painkiller and threw it on the counter.

“Pay up,” the girl said once more.

“I need a bag.”

“Sorry hor. Plastic bag extra twenty-cents.”

Hayley fished out the money and handed it to the girl, ditching the bag. Scrambling to the washroom, she stood by the sink, looking into the mirror. She was panting hard as she stared at herself in the mirror, her eyeliner smudged, her lips trembling. Slowly, her reflection materialized into the bloodied scene at the A&E. Her headache throbbed and her hands slipped against the smooth, cold, surface of the sink. She did not know how she managed to tip the medicine out of the pink box, for all she could see was blood and wreckage. She popped the tablets into her mouth one by one, swallowing without even a sip of water.

Then she was pulled back into reality. She was back in the washroom at the pretty porcelain sink, staring at herself in the mirror. The safari-themed cubicles unfolded in the mirror behind her. She stared at her sunken face, her eyebags, all being products of weeks of intense worry. She must have stood there for minutes, she did not know. All she knew was that her headache was gone and her vision slowly misted around the edges of the mirror, pushing out the cubicles behind her and blocking the images from the A&E scene from corrupting her mind at the same time. She spasmed but made no struggle to regain consciousness. With a last glance at the small jungle and her guilt-ridden expression in the mirror, she slipped gratefully into the darkness.

In the tiny shop, the girl shook her head as she read aloud the contents of a piece of headline news of the newspaper. “The last victim of Orchard Road hit-and-run accident passed away last night…”

Painkiller © 2011 by AubyStories. All rights reserved.


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