My name is Olivia. I am sixteen years old. If I had any real friends, they would call me Liv.
When I was seven years old, I died. At least that’s what they said. Not to my face, mind you. But I heard them talking to my mom while I was in the hospital. They talked in whispers. She was crying nonstop. When I recovered, I understood why.
My dad died the night I died. Although I was revived, he wasn’t. I miss him so much.
It was a car crash. Some drunken creep drove on the wrong side of the road and hit our car head-on. Our car turned turtle and crashed. I still remember screaming for Daddy to wake up while I fumbled with the catch of my seatbelt, smelling the car burning. Daddy was able to get us out of the car before it exploded. Apparently they found us at the side of the road, alive but near death, with my dad’s back a mass of burns.
I wouldn’t let go of my dad and he wouldn’t let go of me. We were brought to the hospital in one stretcher. When they were able to separate us, we individually died. They were able to get me back after one minute. My father never came back.
That was the official version.
My version? After the explosion, which happened just in time after my dad was able to get us out of the car and onto a safer area, my dad grew weaker. I hurt all over and I was very hungry and he laughed when I told him. The fried chicken takeout, the reason for the trip in the first place, was burned with the car.
We heard sirens. I felt dizzy and then I nearly passed out. But I felt my eyes tearing up because of the smoke.
“Daddy, my eyes hurt bad!” I said, tears running down my dirty cheeks.
“Let’s get out of here, Livie,” he said weakly.
We walked slowly to get away from the smoke and the smell of burning. We found a narrow path which was pretty, and we followed it. After a while, we no longer heard the sound of the cars on the road. We came upon a wooden gate, with a small wooden sign that said, “Welcome to Barrio Malaya.”
I read it and knew at once that malaya meant “free.” The gate was slightly ajar.
Daddy pushed it open and we entered.
“Wow, Livie, look! A quaint small town!” he exclaimed.
“What’s ‘quaint’?” I asked. I breathed in the clean, crisp air. I felt a light breeze cooling me down.
“Quaint means sweet, nice, and old-fashioned,” Daddy explained.
“What’s old-fashioned?” I asked again. I was seven, sue me.
“Not new. Not modern, something classic. This is like we are no longer in the city,” Daddy patiently explained, as he always did when I pestered him with questions.
“Like the province?”
The town looked like it came straight out of a picture book. Put in a castle in the distance and it could have been a fairy-tale scene.
We walked around for a bit. The air smelled of salt, meaning the sea was near, and I could have sworn I could hear the surf. I was feeling better, my eyes no longer hurt, and I wasn’t dizzy anymore.
“Daddy, I’m hungry,” I said, still longing for fried chicken.
“Oh . . . let’s see if we can find a place to eat.” Daddy took my hand and we walked on.
We found a diner. The sign on the door said “Kantina.” Daddy ordered us two milkshakes and a big plate of fries.
Kantina was also very pretty, nothing like any of the places we had been as a family. But then we’ve mostly been in fast-food joints in the mall, and mostly Chinese restaurants for formal affairs. The place was made entirely of wood, which reminded me of the houses in the province. The waitress was very cheerful and friendly, and she had on a nice waitress uniform. She had short hair and a cute face like a fairy. She looked like she was the same age as my mom, and her nameplate said “Cherry.” She said I was very pretty with my long hair.
I realized then that I should not have appeared very pretty because I was so dirty from the accident and I’m sure my hair was ratty, but I looked at my Daddy and I was surprised because I’d never seen him so handsome. His wounds and bruises and the dirt on his face and clothes were gone. He was clean and neat and very nice to look at. I turned to a mirror on the wall and saw that I was clean as well, and my long curly hair newly combed and shining.
I wanted to say something to Daddy but my hunger got the better of me. I ate the fries and drank the milkshake. We finished eating in a short while.
Cherry approached our table. “Hello there, your train will be arriving in a few minutes. I suggest you guys get started in walking to the station.”
“Train?” Daddy asked.
The waitress looked at him and smiled and said, “Yes, your train.”
I was looking at Daddy’s face just then and saw that at first he was confused, but then something seemed to make sense to him and he nodded in understanding. He looked at me and smiled; at first it was a sad smile, but then it became the kind of smile that lit up his handsome face. He looked back at Cherry.
“Oh, then we best get going then,” he said, his voice filled with excitement.
“We’re riding a train to go home, Daddy?”
Daddy looked at me and smiled. “Yes, Livie, we are.”
“Cool!” I remembered the train we rode to Disneyland in Hong Kong and I was excited.
Daddy and I walked past other pretty wooden houses and well-maintained gardens and even parks with playgrounds. The roads were wide and there were no cars in sight. Most everyone else was walking. There were a few on bikes.
We reached the train station, and when we reached the platform, there were a couple of people waiting with us. On the platform was one row of benches, one bench after every few feet interval, as many as the eye could see. I looked beyond the platform and saw there were more platforms at intervals and in between several train tracks.
A train stopped in front of us and a conductor ushered us in. She was tall, quite pretty, with an easy smile. She looked like a movie star. Her nameplate said “Ms. Tupaz.”
Daddy and I settled into a seat and I felt sleepy. I felt my dad’s arms around me as I leaned toward him. I must have slept.
When I woke up, my Dad was talking to Ms. Tupaz. They were arguing. I held on tighter to my dad. The train was moving fast. It reminded me again of the train we rode to go to Disneyland in Hong Kong a few months before the accident, a seventh birthday present from Daddy.
I looked up at my dad and I felt this overwhelming love well up inside me.
“I need to go to the bathroom. Ms. Tupaz will look after you.”
I nodded. Ms. Tupaz was really pretty. She had nice light caramel skin that I loved. I didn’t mind being left with her. Dad hugged me tight and kissed me on my forehead.
“You love your daddy?”
“Very much!” I said with a wide smile. This was a usual exchange we had between us.
“This much!” I stretched my arms as far apart as I could.
“And he loves you more!”
I smiled. He went to the bathroom.
After a few minutes, the train slowed and stopped.
Ms. Tupaz stood up and extended her hand to me.
“Come, you need to get off this stop. Your dad will follow . . .”
I took her hand and she led me to the platform to a bench.
We sat and waited. I saw my dad walking toward the door and I smiled wide.
He smiled back. But he stopped as he reached the door.
“Livie! I love you! We’ll see each other again one day! Take care of your mom!”
Before I could react, the door slid shut and the train sped away.
I started running after the train, and my dad, but Ms. Tupaz held me tight.
“Let me go! Daddy! Daddy!”
I saw the train disappear in the distance and my heart sank. I panicked. I cried. I was seven, after all.
Then I did what I did without thinking. I kicked and screamed at Ms. Tupaz and pummeled her with my small and insignificant fists.
“I’m sorry. I’m just doing my job,” she whispered.
She embraced me and I blacked out.
When I woke up, I was in the hospital. I hurt all over. I badly needed an embrace but my mom was a wreck. I discovered I had been in a coma for close to a week and Daddy had already been buried. Mom managed to stop crying after a few months but she was never the same.
Me neither. For one thing, I never ate fried chicken ever again.