Car Crash: Epilogue and Reflections

The car crash which I survived this past December 5, was a day after which my father passed away 11 years ago. Though I don’t usually look into such coincidences with much fanfare, I do today with a certain reverie.

As I was on my way to work today, my transport for whatever reason decided to take the same route Ed, Lito, and I used to take during the several months I’ve been here. It was the first time I had revisited that route since the crash.

Today is my dad’s birthday.

The intersection was as I remember it before the accident. How strange it now seems that a common work of concrete and asphalt is now personally imbued with such grim significance. My mother, a devout Catholic (not a religious nut) is a true spiritual follower, focusing on the goodness that thoughtful, soulful reflection can bring to oneself and to others. She’d probably remind me how an intersection is a cross (let’s not go there), but it’s just a measure of how much she loves and thinks about me I’m sure.

Dad passed away in pain. He suffered an aneurysm just as he was leaving work. Remembering him today surrounded by the memories of my recent accident, I can somehow imagine what he might have been thinking at the time. My sister and I were still finishing college while he was the sole breadwinner. I now have a child and my wife and I work to put food on the table.

It’s a horrible thing to worry about how your family will survive without you, so near to the precipice. To feel that you might never see them again. I know that dad must have thought those thoughts. HIs driver and family friend Jun was with him as he rushed him to the nearest hospital. As he was taken into the ICU, Jun told us that his last words were, “Study hard. Study hard.”

They could just have easily been my own.

Besides the bus driver who hit us, I was the only one who remembered the entire thing. Ed suffered head injuries, and though thank heavens they weren’t really serious, he couldn’t remember what happened when it did. Both of us were admitted for 3 days, and in that time, I was the one recounting the entire incident to officemates, friends and family (both Ed’s and mine). We both were released the same day, suffering the same aches and pains, receiving the same kind of medication. Ed of course has the worse scars, but if you seem him today (of course with a baseball cap), you wouldn’t know anything had happened to him.

It took about two weeks to really get over the pain from my contusion, bruises and neck pains. I’ve pretty much completely recovered. The only thing I have left is a very small mass (blood clot) around my right pelvis area caused by the seatbelt that is fading by the day. On the day I was released, it was about the size of a small banana. The nurses might have thought I was happy to see them.

I commented to several friends that none of the bystanders seemed to be willing to help. Most of them were gawking at the scene if not getting on their phones. But they along with other expats have told me that there are local considerations to be made. Many of the onlookers were maintenance crew, engineers, and other expats working in surrounding industries. And at the scene of an accident, the local police have free rein in rounding up nearby ‘suspects.’ Locals are usually spared, but if you’re a foreigner, you’ll usually be singled out and be brought in for questioning. So there are risks that you could even be accused of causing the accident if you happen to help. Compare that to Good Samaritan laws in France where you are required to help victims at the scene of a serious accident.

Speaking of culpability, the guy who caused our misfortune was a Pakistani driver working his usual bus route rushing to bring a few workers to their office. Many bus services here work several companies on tight schedules, so it’s not uncommon to see their vehicles rushing here and there at the expense of ‘minor’ traffic infractions. Their training here is rushed by their employers, so basic signs, like the one that said STOP on his lane, was most likely an afterthought.

When I exited the smashed car, I noticed three fellows exit their bus. I had no idea which of them was the driver. Now I don’t think I want to know. I don’t know his name, what he looks like, or how long he’ll be in jail, as he already is. The investigation was quick as I was informed there there’s a law where if the front of your vehicle is damaged, the accident is ruled automatically against you, regardless of the circumstances. Though I am satisfied that he is behind bars, there is a part of me that pities him. He is most likely from an impoverished background as most drivers here I know are, slaving away to save money for his family, not being able to go home often due to travel costs. Part of me wanted to know if he was given a just sentence; if he’ll be treated fairly.

That of course must be of little concern to Lito’s family. His full name was Angelito Asperec, and he worked as an administrative assistant in my uncle’s procurement division. He is survived by his wife Liezel and his two children. My heart goes out to them. I was told that she learned of accident while at a party. As she was told to go home, her relatives were contacted as well to proceed to her place to help her through what she would be told next.

My mom got that same sort of news when my dad passed away. I cannot describe to you how a mother has to prepare her children for the loss of their father. It’s something you wish on no one.

There was small solace that my great friend and uncle Samir, Lito’s boss, had been meeting with the company’s chairman that same day of the accident. The chairman rarely gets to visit the company, as he last visited several months before. When someone mentioned to him that Samir had lost a valued friend and employee, the chairman offered a year’s worth of Lito’s salary as compensation (the usual is 3 months). It was a generous heartfelt gesture considering that the company we work for is going through a tough time.

Lito was a short, quiet kind of guy, but whenever I saw him he was always smiling. All of us Pinoys in the office would get together for lunch (all the nationalities have their own table groups, like cliques at a high school canteen). During Ramadan, where non-Muslims have to scurry away from the majority just to have lunch, we would all gather in the drivers’ quarters and, for lack of a better phrase, “shoot the shit,” talking about current events and politics, but never anything really personal.

My last memories of Lito are of us sharing emails and chats over Pacquiao’s success over Miguel Cotto. Greeting him every morning when Ed picked us up, and wishing him well as left at the same spot. I once walked with him as he went to a nearby remittance center, preparing to send support to his family no doubt. I didn’t know him long, but he was a decent man.

When Samir arrived at our accident, he said, “Thank God nothing happened to you.” If you were there you would see why. Death was pretty much outside the driver’s door. But oddly enough, I can’t really say I’ve been traumatized by the event. Or perhaps I am and don’t know it (subconscious denial?). I was lucid when it was all happening, systematically going through what needed to be done (as far as I knew) without giving a seconds notice. I can’t say that I’ve been preparing for this all my life, I can’t describe what my thought process was like. It was automatic.

Perhaps it’s because from time to time, I intentionally go through my worst fears and think through them. Not as a form of masochism, but just to understand. I consider myself a very empathetic person, trying to comprehend thoroughly what other people go through. There are times where I have gone through what a loved one’s loss, what disastrous experience, or even my own demise, would ensue. It can be quite painful at times, but you’ll be surprised at what realizations you’d come to. Some consider it morbid, I consider it strangely necessary.

I am grateful that I am still breathing, experiencing pain as it tells me that I am still alive. I definitely thank seat belts. But I am especially thankful for those people (associates, strangers, nurses, doctors, friends and family) who have contacted with genuine concern and care for my safety and well-being. Especially mom and Claire whose feelings for me need not be explained. It is true what they say here in Saudi that relationships are very important. Once you really get to know someone here, they really do care for you, as my circle here has shown.

And dad, Happy Birthday. I hear you loud and clear.

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