A BETTER GOOD
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due…”
But for the bus’ intermittent screeches like a rusty grinder, the driver hitting bumps and potholes as though the brakes were missing, and the smoke from the exhaust hurting my eyes as painfully as tear gas, I really could use a nap. My night had been sleepless, doing extensive literature review for some lingering research. I was about catching forty winks at 6:15 a.m. when I remembered I hadn’t packed for the journey. I spent the remaining forty-five minutes stuffing my luggage.
We pull out of the dirt road and onto the expressway. The engine’s revving eases into a relaxed sound. I spy the road ahead. A 75 km stretch of black, bump-less asphalt. That’s some one hour of sleep at least. I smile. And slam my eyelids shut, the smoke already trapped in my eyes stinging badly. But I manage.
It’s been barely eight minutes, sleep already gaining control of me, when I hear sniffles. I needn’t be bothered if it stops, only that it doesn’t. The intervals are shorter, each sniff louder. And distracting- well, for me, especially sleep-depriving. I open my eyes reluctantly to see all other passengers had slept except for the woman besides me, fluid streaming out of her incarnadined eyes.
“Aw, sorry about the smoke, Ma’am.”
“Thanks, my sister,” she replied, dabbing her eyes.
“That’s the thing with these drivers; they never fix their vehicles until some major fault develops.”
“Sad thing is it’s hard to know their vehicles’ roadworthiness until the journey is underway and you can’t switch buses. Psst.”
“Don’t mind them.”
I offer to trade my position for her window seat. She is grateful, although not heartily. Or maybe it’s just me. Settling down in my new position and trying to find a comfortable posture to nap in, I notice she’s still tearful. I doubt I know how to extend a conversation that has self-concluded. So I wade into sleep again.
The vehicle starts to hiccup, the jerks stirring up most of the passengers. We pull over at a layby. The driver-side passengers alight for the driver to check what the fault is. He then gives status updates, none good news,—engine overheating, low fuel, something else about a broken rod somewhere. Long and short, he needs some time to fix things and we need to be patient. Amid protest and a flurry of expletives from passengers, I pick my handbag and walk towards a shade metres away. I find my next-seat neighbor sitting by herself, back turned at my direction. She gives a curt “hi” to my “hello”, barely turning to me.
“It must feel hard,” I say after about five minutes of awkward silence. I’m never intrusive, so why I am doing this is odd to me.
“W-what?” turning to me, quickly wiping off her face the tears and rheum that had blended into each other.
“The thing you are going through.””
“But why do you care?”
“How about ‘that’s my livelihood’ for an explanation? I say, smiling.
My phone buzzes. I unlock the screen to see what.
“Oh, a doctor.” she says, pointing at the image in the background—me in my ward coat, stethoscope hanging on my neck.
“So you cure people.”
“Care for, actually. Only Someone does that.” And off I go into a quarter-of-an-hour sharing of the Good News. She is receptive to the message of redemption, and after the last ‘Amen’ of the prayer, I find her loosening up, the communication much freer. She begins to pour herself and troubles out to me, the details as uninhibited as the accompanying tears. I hold her hand. Poor woman, out of job and stuck with a wayward, domineering, never-stay-at-home husband, life has been hell these past eight years. With wobbly hands, she emerges with a sheet from her handbag, folded in half.
“That’s the latest atrocity he’s done to me.” My sympathy peaks at the sight.
The other passengers are calling us to hop in; the driver’s done fixing. Interaction interrupted, we walk hand-in-hand to the vehicle.
It’s barely four kilometres into the journey and less than one to our destination.
Be assured that there is no storm, nor turbulence that Christ cannot calm. Even when our patience seems overstretched and about to burst.
A bang, rips through the air. The driver shrieks that the back tire just burst! Slammed brakes. Screeches. Screams. Swerves. Supplications. Somersaults. Shattered glass. Silence.
Amidst shards, smoke and engine steam, I crawl out of the wreck of an upturned bus, my newfound friend the first thing that comes to memory. While folks are snaking out of the wreck, rescuing who and whatever they can, I keep looking all over. Then I see her sprawled on the tarmac. She had been flung out the vehicle window.
Feeble and bleeding, yet I find myself limping toward her. She sees me, calls for me, weakly, raising her hand—the one that has not been crushed to irreparable bits. An eye is gone too; her cream gown now crimson. I see the longing despite helplessness. But I cannot touch her, sorely as I want to. I wish I can reach out, and bind up the deep fountain on her forehead, while we await the ambulance. I cannot even call any co-passenger to help- everyone’s tending one or more injuries. Plus, if I can’t, then my conscience wouldn’t permit risking anybody else into this. Not that I don’t know what to do- yes, bleeding all over, my injuries are not severe, but what I can do cannot be done. Still, I wish I can do something. Anything.
“Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due…”
But is good any good if when done to others would bring you a world of harm?
“…when it is in your power to act,” I recall the rest.
No, this isn’t in my power. Yet, I feel like a discriminator, an antithesis to the sympathetic listener under the shade hours ago. Here is human life—salvageable human life—slipping away while I stand, transfixed. But what irony this is, that she is not the handicap here; I am. I only pray with her, she moving her lips in soundless, pain-laden “amens”. I just hope she understands. That it’s all because of that sheet. I’m as good as infected, should I come in contact with her HIV-carrying blood.
I am tearing up as the emergency services arrive, and declare Mary expired. As the body bag is zipped up gradually, grief over not having saved her life fades out to some joy: That if I could not help save her life, at least I did help save her soul by leading her to the One who can.