The man didn’t know then that he had been shot. All he knew at the time was that his body was exploding with the most excruciating pain he had ever experienced. And then a cloying wave of euphoria suddenly washed over him. The shock was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time. The man had felt himself falling. And then…
The man felt nothing.
And all the man could see was white.
The white was intense, like a blinding light. But the man couldn’t close or even shield his eyes; he seemed to have no hand or eyelids with which to do so.
He didn’t seem to have… anything. No limbs. No breath. No body. No mass. Just a sense of… self.
And a sense of sight, though that could have been debatable.
The light seemed to be completely white at first, but now the man could make out slight shimmers of dull colors here and there. The colors seemed to be shifting in all directions, like shapes swimming through a fog, fading in and out of his field of vision.
The man could also hear… something. Lots of somethings. But the noises were very faint... muffled... as if they were distant and underwater.
By all accounts, the man should have been frightened. But all he felt was… serenity.
Suddenly, one sound became much clearer, though not completely sharp. It was a voice, a girl's voice.
A familiar deep voice rich and thick with a British accent.
"It's okay, Xummy. You've just had a bit of a shock."
"Dan?" the man tried to say, except he couldn't hear his voice. He would say it felt caught in his throat... if he had a throat.
The fog of colors seemed to lift somewhat... enough for the man to be happily looking in those sparkling sea-green eyes that he had been longing to see again for over nine years.
"It's me," the voice said to the man, as if she had heard him. While her eyes were very close, her voice seemed to come from very far away.
"But you're..." the man couldn't say. A realization struck him. "Am I...?"
Her unblinking eyes seemed to dart about a bit, as if she were shaking her head. And that's when the man realized that he couldn't make out her head at all, and could barely see the rest of her face. Only those beautiful eyes. "No, not really," the voice said soothingly. "It's usually best to leave endies be, but how often does a chance like this come along?"
The man caught the wicked tone, and saw the matching mischievous flicker in her eyes when she said that. He could almost imagine Dan’s puckish grin; how badly he wished that he could have seen it.
"Listen, Xummy... there is something I need to tell you.” The faraway voice suddenly sounded very soft… and desperate. “Something I should have told you... that night. But I was...” She paused. “Anyway, I want you to know that I--"
The man suddenly felt his heart bump in his chest with a surge of blinding pain. Everything went red again, and then black.
The man opened his eyes, but his vision was fuzzy and confused. Without the aid of his spectacles, he had to turn to his other senses. He felt something light yet firm clamped to his face over his nose and mouth. It smelled like rubbing alcohol on an inflatable mattress. There was a burning itch in his nose and throat, as well as… “down there.” His mouth tasted of cotton. There was a loud recurrent hissing noise that seemed to be all around him, as well as a rhythmic beeping and a strange, unsteady mechanical drone humming and chugging just to his right. He stretched out an aching finger and encountered a thin starched bedsheet, and then a thick blanket. Both were tightly tucked to hold him in a slightly reclined, yet upright position.
It took a few minutes for the man to surmise that he was in a hospital room. His sensory analysis was constantly interrupted. Each breath, forced into a steady rhythm by the ventilator that astonishingly rumbled unrhythmically beside the bed, stabbed deep into the man’s right chest and released an icy river of pain down the length of his torso.
But that may as well have been a dull ache compared to the anguish of losing his first love for a second time.
The man almost wondered if that “white experience” was only a dream, but he knew it couldn’t have been. His dreams always faded into obscurity the instant he awakened. There had been a rare moment when he felt that he is close to recalling a small, murky fragment of detail, but it would always elude his cognitive grasp.
But every sight, every word, of his bizarre reunion with Danielle is fully retained in his mind with crystal clarity. Not like a dream, but a vividly real memory.
A voice caught the man’s ear; a female voice calling out in Cantonese. Through his hazy vision he could make out the shape of a nurse moving from the doorway of his room. He couldn’t help but smile faintly because she sounded annoyed.
The man managed to keep his eyes open, though it took some effort, and eventually he saw a bleary figure in white standing near the foot of his bed. His doctor, he concluded. The figure, a male, began to rattle off a number of statements in Cantonese. His tone was clinical and precise (as the man would expect from a doctor), and yet, surprisingly, it did not resonate any annoyance of even the slightest degree.
But, of course, aside from a few numbers, none of the words made sense. The man tried to hold up a hand, but it hurt too much to do that. Speaking also proved to be a struggle. The man wasn’t sure if it was due to the ventilator, the nasogastric tube, or his own fatigue. “I don’t… understand…” he eventually managed to rasp.
“Oh. My apologies,” the doctor suddenly said, and introduced himself as his surgeon who removed the bullet, among other tasks. He then proceeded to reiterate what he had said earlier in English. Not that the man’s understanding improved much. Fractures in his eighth right posterior rib and right fourth anterior rib. Diaphragmatic rupture. Punctured right lung and pleural lining. Some liver damage. To the man’s tired mind, the surgeon’s explanation of what had to be corrected during the surgery was just additional “white noise,” only a little more soothing than that of the ventilator. The man’s interest began to dim as the surgeon proclaimed how lucky his patient was. Lucky that the damage was minimal as the bullet lodged into that fourth anterior rib instead of ricocheting throughout the man’s chest cavity. And lucky that his operating team managed to resuscitate the man despite him being in the prone position.
That last statement made the man’s dull eyes suddenly snap to attention. The cold chill that gnawed at his right lung with every exhale seemed to creep over his entire body. “Re… resus…?” he tried to say.
The surgeon repeated his last sentence in a steady tone, as if it were an everyday occurrence. He then added a few details regarding a complication with the anesthesia during the surgery that resulted in cardiac arrest. While the medical team had successfully revived him, for about four-and-a-half minutes the man was clinically dead.
This latest piece of information was too much for the man to absorb. It felt like a great weight was pressed against his head. The man groaned as he wearily laid back against the headboard of his hospital bed. He could barely feel any surprise from the surgeon’s next revelation that the operation was conducted three days prior, even though, to the man, it seemed as if he was foolishly confronting the gunman in the convenience store about 15 minutes ago.
The man saw another shape, another nurse, appear in the doorway and say something to the surgeon in Cantonese. “I need to leave,” the surgeon said to the man. “You get some rest.” He followed the nurse into the corridor, slowly closing the door behind him.
The man closed his eyes, exhausted, despite having literally slept for days. He was clinically dead. The man mulled that thought over in his head several times, as well as the memory of his unbelievable experience with Danielle. Had he truly “crossed over” for a brief moment and saw his first love? He wanted to believe that with all of his heart, but his rational mind couldn’t help but wonder if it was all some fantasy his subconscious created in his mind to help him cope with the shock.
Despite his deliberation, the man was certain of three things.
First: real or no, he did experience it.
Second: he was very thankful for that.
“I love you too, Dan,” the man whispered in his head. Tears seeped through closed eyelids for several long minutes as he eventually drifted into a restless sleep.