Do you know what it feels like?
To have life taken away from you in an instant.
To have life given back to you in an instant.
The past month…
I chanced upon many deaths.
Well, not to myself.
I witnessed many accidents on the road.
First, along East Coast Park. A seemingly innocuous stretch of small road. A car upside down four wheels facing the sky stretched across the one-way lane blocking the whole lane. I was car number two in the queue. I didn’t know how to react. For some strange reason, it didn’t occur to me that there would be someone in the car. I think I was caught by surprise. A little shocked. So I reversed. “Hey, stop the car. Let me go down and have a look.” I woke up. “Why didn’t it occur to me that there might be somebody in the car?” “Yes, go down and see what help I can offer.” I went down too. There was a young or middle-aged Malay or Chinese man sitting by the side of the road leaning against the stone seat beside the upside-down car. Lost and dazed but apparently alright. No or slight injury and unscathed. There was no one else in the car. Fortunately. “Are you ok?” “Yes, I dropped my phone in the car.” I tried to search for his phone in the upside-down car. Later I found out, he was searching for his phone while he was driving that resulted in the accident. He looked to the side and lost focus on the front that his car went off-lane, hit the kerb, overcompensated on the steering wheel and landed upside down. This was not death, but a near-death situation.
It reminded me of my own one major car accident two years back. Also escaped unscathed, also near-death, looking death in the face. But not looking for my phone though. Though I did take out my phone from my pocket after the accident happened. When I was still in the car which had landed sideways and thought about who to call to come and save me. Just for a few seconds before I saw smoke coming out from the engine and realised I would have died before anyone could come and save me from my phone call. Either from an explosion or oncoming vehicles crashing into me, I thought. Looking back, it was strange that the first thing I did was unbuckle my seat belt. The second, take out my phone to call for help. Then the third was to kick the windscreen but it failed to break. No, actually the third was to notice that oncoming vehicles which would have crashed into me along the highway had stopped safely, for me. Fourth was to try to open the door from the driver’s side upwards because the car was on its side, but it refused to budge. Fifth was to really be in a state of panic before I saw four uncles outside my car trying to get me out. Sixth was to try to open the door again and it opened this time, maybe because I was calmer after seeing some help. I climbed out of the car safely. Actually, I was glad I didn’t make a phone call to my mum. Because if by the time she would have arrived, I would have been on my way to the hospital in the ambulance for a check-up; and seeing the state of the car which was beyond any sort of shape, airbags all out and only probably due for scrapping, my mum would have fainted on the spot. No one would have thought the driver had any chance of being alive upon seeing the car, not to say totally uninjured with only a small rope burn mark from the seatbelt on the underside of the left arm to show for it.
Second, near Jurong East Central after buying pens from the bookshop. This was a fatal accident, death in the face, death in an instant. Turning out from the side road into the three-lane main road. Approaching it, many Bangladeshi, I assume workers, were crossing the road haphazardly and jaywalking. I thought to myself, “It’s dangerous. Late in the evening. And visibility is poor.” Before I knew it, I saw a Bangladeshi, I assume worker, lying in the middle of the three lanes, motionless, lifeless, fresh blood flowing out from his head forming a puddle around him. A car was stopped further ahead and a lone figure of a man was urgently trying to call for help on his handphone. Probably the driver who had knocked him down, it seemed. There was a commotion. Many of his compatriots gathered around him along the side pavements and walkways. It was supposed to be their offday, his offday, I thought. In a foreign, faraway land, working hard. It was a beautiful Sunday evening, and everything seemed quiet, and back to another week of work the next day. How quickly can life be taken away from one? How in an instant it’s all gone? How is it like to have life taken away from you in an instant? From a loved one in an instant? I couldn’t bear to look. Fortunately, there was no car behind me. I was stuck on the side road for I think ten minutes before I managed to bring myself to drive out to the main road and drive past the dead body, on the first lane right beside it lying in the middle lane. I didn’t look.
Third, I saw two dead cats, squashed along the road. Two separate occasions, two different places, two different days. The first I can’t remember where, the second along Jurong Road. Fourth, I saw a dead bird near my carpark one morning, the same day I saw the second cat. Fifth, I saw a motorcyclist lying face-down on the road and people wrongly trying to drag him up by force, waking him out of his unconsciousness. I was driving past. Only a passer-by. Don’t know what happened to him.
Too many accidents I have witnessed in a matter of days. Too many deaths. Too many coincidences. Too close for comfort. If the first accident I witnessed only reminded me of my own one major accident, the rest that were to follow brought me back to the exact same time and place, and exact same feeling I felt during my own accident:
It was five days after my first Star Awards. High-spirited. Heading for work at 6.20am in the early morning. Still dark. Everything quiet. Still asleep. Going to film in my first period image as “Cowherd” in the drama “Happily Ever After”, going to film with a real cow, so I was very excited. For some unknown reason, I didn’t drive my usual sedan car and decided to drive my “family car”, a huge SUV. Not used to it I suppose. Much higher centre of gravity I suppose. Brake system was different I suppose, from my usual. The road looked dry but deceptively; it was after rain. Then it happened. I stepped on the brake before the curve on the road, which is deceptively steeper than it appears. Braked a little too hard for that car’s liking, I think. Along the PIE towards Changi Airport on the Bukit Timah flyover, my car and me skidded, wheels locked and steering wheel out of control, headed towards the wall railing, luckily didn’t flip over the railing and plunge headlong down the side of the flyover nor hit the railing head-on in one high-impact collision that would have certainly seen the end of us, hit the wall on the front corner of the car, then hit on all the different corners of the car many more times, which caused us to spin many many rounds, before we landed on the passenger side of the car, “Thud!”
I remember when my car and me headed furiously and uncontrollably towards the railing what I said. Four-letter word, followed by another four-letter word. “xoxo, I’m dead!” The first I can’t say, the second is “dead”. And no, there was no sudden recollection of memories of my life flashing by in my mind; probably because it was not about to end yet. Then, a series of loud knocks, and then quiet, because we had landed safely. Throughout the ordeal, I thought to myself, why it was so “peaceful” other than the loud “bangs” and “thuds” going on outside, until later that day when I paid my car a final visit at the scrap garage that I realised all the airbags had come out and contrived to save me. No wonder I saw all-white in front of my eyes throughout the process, and not that I was in an all-white place called heaven. It’s also strange that only the day before, my family members were driving on the same stretch of road without me and commenting on the number of scratch marks on the walls left by motorists.
That day, after I went home, after a long day, finally, when I was in my bathroom showering, I asked myself, “What am I still doing here?” I couldn’t believe it. That I was still alive. I have never felt more grateful to be alive, not merely anymore. I have never felt more glad or safe in haven, that moment in my own bathroom, when I finally settled down a little, and the day’s events and everything that happened sank in. A new lease of life. People who mattered most to me came to mind. A new perspective. New drive. New vigour. New impetus. New motivation. “There had to be a reason why I am still alive, still living.” With this in mind, I have continued to live my life. Until today, when I pass that stretch of road, chills still involuntarily go up my spine, reminding me how fortunate I am to be still alive. That this life is precious. To make my presence count. That I still have time with and for my loved ones and everyone and everything that matter to me. Do you know how it feels like… to have life given back to you in an instant?
“What good can come out from let’s say, someone gets crippled or paralysed from an event or accident that was not his or her fault, or maybe someone just so happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time, say wartime or some terrorist suicide bombing taking place, or maybe someone who is diagnosed with a terminal illness and has only so much time to live?”
An innocent and random question that I asked some day.
“That you’re still alive.” Came the answer, with a shrug of the shoulders, as if to say, “Isn’t that right?”
First there was chaos and then there was peace…
First there was darkness and then there was light…
First there was Death and then there was Life…
First there was Death and then there was Life…