Nature vs Nurture
An aged Fiat Strada speeds down a winding mountain pass. Torrential downpour beats on the pavement. It covers the road in a thin veil of water and it looks as though the car is a boat jetting down a river. The wheels screech and the car comes in and out of hydroplaning as it speeds around the turns.
Two bodies shift right and left on each corner – one small and nauseous, the other desperate and fierce. The car lights up a reflective blue hospital sign, two km written below. The mother pushes on the gas pedal and the sick little boy watches the sign fly past the window. The reflectors belonging to a large supply truck become visible as the car comes up behind it.
A shot of adrenaline pulses through the woman's body and her foot flies off the gas, mashing down on the brake pedal. She can feel her body press into the seatbelt and hears her son moan from the back seat. "Hold on Saji, we're almost there!" She cries out, her voice barely audible as the rain drums against the roof of the car.
Her eyes squint as she tries to see through spaces the wipers clear, but it instantly fills with more watermarks. She creeps into the other lane to check for oncoming traffic. However, the mist coming off the wheels of the truck make it impossible to see. She moves back into her lane and she almost rear ends the truck.
The woman's teeth mash together and she presses the brakes again. The stressed mother smacks the steering wheel in frustration. "Can you go any slower!" She growls at her own reaction. "I have to calm down." She consoles herself and takes a deep breath, letting out a sigh. She knows she shouldn't be shouting, it will only create stress for Saji.
Once more she dips into the other lane, but a set of headlights break through the mist leaving a mark on her retinas. She jerks the steering wheel and the car moves back behind the truck. "Why is it that whenever there's an emergency the whole world seems to be against me?" She complains in defeat.
The rumble strip vibrates the car as it slips into the shoulder. The mountain face is only a few feet away from the speeding car. It zips passed them as if it is on a conveyor belt. A vehicle zooms by in the other lane and a wave of water rushes over their car like a waterfall, blurring the windshield even more.
The only thing stopping the cars in the other lane from tumbling to the depths below is a metal traffic barrier, rattling in the wind. The mother waits impatiently for another chance to pass the truck. As she gets too close to it, a slight smell of exhaust enters her car. Two red lights break through the haze and gently light up the cab.
"Oh, what now." She hisses under her breath. Her chest muscles relax as a single flashing yellow light proceeds. She lets out a huge sigh of relief. Her foot presses mildly on the brake this time, as the truck completes its turn. "Come on, come on, come on." She complains as if her words will be heard by the truck driver.
The little boy, a bit older than four, starts choking in his car seat and a jolt of fear rushes over the mother's body. Her head whirls around to the back and she sees Saji straining against the seatbelt. "Don't worry about the car, honey, just let it out." She tries to reassure her nauseous son. It pains her to watch him suffer like this. When the truck finishes its turn, she puts on the gas and their bodies jerk back against their seats as the car accelerates.
"Sorry sweety, we're almost there, don't worry." With her attention on Saji, the car starts to drift into the other lane. She watches helplessly as Saji brings up whatever dinner they had. A set of headlights come into view around the bend in the road. The red truck barrels toward their car. When they don't move out of his way, he has to sound the horn to get their attention.
It is not until the lights from the oncoming truck light up her car that she turns around. The red pickups horn wails in reckless abandon as the distance between them collapses. Desperation engulfs the young mother. Both her hands grab the steering wheel and she flings it to the right. She feels the car smash into the metal siding. "Mama!" Saji cries out.
Her heart races in her chest as the car scrapes up against the barrier and watches helplessly as the truck hurls towards them. Saji's screams emanating from the back seat. The metal shifts against the weight of the car and a sharp pang of fear jabs in her chest like a knife. The four-year-old looks at his mother through the rearview mirror, her twisted, frightful, expression only reassures his own worry.
They watch impotently as the oncoming vehicle slides towards them. She can just make out the face of the stranger as her own headlights light up the front of the pickup. Shock and horror. She might as well have been looking in a mirror...
"We are heading home now, Naida." The mother sitting on a park bench nods and smiles at her friend who starts to help her son gather his things. She turns to Naida one last time before leaving the park. "Good luck," the friend says with compassion in her eyes.
Naida looks down at her own little boy sitting quietly in the sandbox. They both watch the other kids play in the background. Saji has his red pail and yellow plastic shovel resting at his feet, but he is more interested in manipulating the granules with his hands. He grabs fists full of sand and lets it run out when he loosens his grip. A gust of wind blows his golden brown hair back to expose his light blue eyes.
The young mother sighs as she brushes her own reddish bronze curls behind her ear and her eyelids flutter shut. Naida tries to hold back tears as she searches within herself to find the right words. But, there isn't, is there? He will not understand, will he? How do you tell your child that he won't be able to see his father anymore? That he's gone forever...
The cab of the car gets brighter and brighter. Naida's heart grows heavy in her chest and she can feel a lump form in her throat. "I'm so sorry, Naru. I failed our son. I failed him as a mother." Her own thoughts tempt her as she flirts with the idea of closing her eyes and letting death take her. Take them. At least she will be with Naru, they both will. They will be a family again.
The oncoming pickup swerves, smashing into the side of her car. Sparks fly through the air as metal meets metal. The sound of her son wailing in the back seat soaks the car in terror. She can feel the traffic barrier buckle under the pressure. It feels as though the car will fly off the edge at any moment, yet the barrier holds strong.
It is the only thing keeping the car on the road. The back right tire slides off the edge and the undercarriage scrapes on the pavement. The horrible sound overpowers the screaming child and mother as they slide along the edge of the cliff. Chunks of rock and dirt tumble to the depths.
Her hands and feet shoot into position, grabbing the wheel and revving the engine. She turns the wheel to the right as far as it will let her. With the wheel cranked and the engine revved, the back wheel pops up onto the road when it hits a piece of railing. Her teeth clench together so hard she worries she will crack a molar. The car glides across the road on the thin film of water and before she has time to react, her lights light up something in front of the car.
Its shape is indistinguishable from the storm. Is it an animal? She thinks. It's upright shape breaks through the rain when she comes upon it. Alarmed, she jerks the wheel back to the left and the car starts to fishtail. "Get off the road!" She cries out. Adrenaline races through her veins and her feet slam on the brakes as hard as she can muster.
Her muscles flex to their full capacity and she waits for her leg to snap like a stick in a bear trap. Her blood-curdling scream fills the car as she feels the bump and bangs when they roll over whatever it is. As soon as all four wheels make contact with the road again they come to a screeching halt.
Naida stares listlessly out the front window for a short moment. The rain seems to let up a little and gently knocks on the car. Exhausted, she drops her head onto the steering wheel. A slight honk emits from the car as the weight of her head pushes on the horn. All sound seems to vanish, as though the animals, the rain, stop to behold the accident.
The sound of the car horn echoes through the valley. Weak and tired, Naida slowly peels her head off the steering wheel, leaving behind a red mark on her forehead. Her sapphire eyes try to focus on her white-knuckled hands, still flexing around the steering wheel. "Saji?" She whispers. Naida turns around to see her son sitting in his car seat, eyes steely and unblinking.
Bits of glass from his window is sprinkled over his body. She can't even feel the tears as they stick to her pale cheeks. She reaches back and frantically brushes the glass off of him. A small burp leaves Saji's mouth. "Mama…I'm hungry." Naida sighs in relief. The corners of her mouth bend up into a slight smile. She places her hand on his head. It feels cool to the touch.
She looks down at the spew and sees tiny white balls. The remains of a silica packet. Her lids tighten across her eyes and she takes a deep breath, letting it escape slowly from her lips. Naida's hand slips off his forehead and runs down the side of his face. "Hey!" her body flinches at the sudden break in silence. She turns around, but the yellow lights of her car reflect off the rain making it hard to see the person.
Her thumb and forefinger press against her forehead as she tries to figure out what to say to the angry, large frame man approaching her vehicle. What do you say to the man you almost killed. She wonders. "Wait here Saji. I'll be right back." The shakiness in her voice makes her wince. She wants to stay level-headed for Saji's sake but is failing miserably. "Get a grip Naida." She mumbles under her breath.
Saji watches his mom unbuckle her seatbelt and open the car door. She steps out into the rain and her feet disturb a puddle on the road. It makes a splashing sound and the water ripples to the edges of the pavement. Naida braves the storm and wraps her jacket around herself. The rain chills her warm body and her breath becomes visible in the cool mountain air.
"Just who the hell do you think you are, huh?!" She is at a loss for words as the man barrels towards her "I-I'm so sorry. I, my son, he was…sick and I-I." She thought of what she wanted to say, but when she tries to express herself, her words get crumpled up into a ball, leaving her with partial sentences. "You nearly got us all killed. How much good would that have done you, or your son for that matter!"
What can she really say, he is right, she has been irrational all night. She doesn't even know what silica is. All she knows is it had a "do not swallow" on the packet with a "call poison control". "I know. I did the best I could...but it wasn't good enough...I lost control." Naida brings her hand up to her mouth as the shock subsides and the reality of the situation starts to sink in.
The rain disguises the tears that stream down her face, but before any of them can say any more, the man's eyes focus on something odd on the road. "What the hell is that." Her hand slides off her face and she looks up at the stranger who has a certain amount of confusion and disgust written on his. "Excuse me?" She asks feeling confused and irritated by his tone. Is it something she said? Didn't say? What?
His hand rises up from his side, slowly, listlessly, directing her attention behind her. "I think you hit something." Her body tenses and she hesitates to turn around. Of course, how could she have forgotten?! She thinks to herself, as the memory returns to her. The screeching tires, the headlights focusing on a wayward figure, and the bang as its body met the bumper.
It's a memory she prefers to remain forgotten. A memory that feels more like a dream, a hazy conjuring of her imagination. With her eyes still fixed on the man, she slowly turns around to observe the thing he is pointing at. Her muscles lock up when she sees a small dark mass splayed out on the road.
A cocktail of emotions erupts in her psyche as she stares despondently at the indistinguishable figure. "Did I run over a person?" She worries. One emotion, in particular, is plaguing her and overpowering the frequency of the others. Fear, she wants to run. As much as it pains her to admit it, she wants to run. And it took every ounce of her will to defy instinct.
This can't be real? Has she gone unconscious, perhaps she has slipped into a coma. This is unlike anything she has ever seen before. The main feature she can make out through the haze is what appears to be black plates sticking out of its back. "Is it an animal?" she whispers. Her legs hesitate with each step she takes towards it. The shroud of rain and darkness evaporate as she gets close enough to inspect it.
Blue armor like flesh with dark spots. Her body trembles more, it almost looks alien. All of Naida's muscles tense when she sees it. Her breath becomes shallow and quick as a tight, hot sensation fills her chest. Bending down she reaches out a shaky hand, unsure whether from the fear of the unknown or the accident.
"That's one of those monsters from the cell games!" The man yells out, causing Naida to jump and stumble away from it. "...monster?" She turns around to see him rush towards her, grabbing her away. "Don't touch it, it's dangerous." The Cell Games, that's right. Naida watches as rain pours down on the jumbled creature splayed out on the pavement. Its appearance brings back a fear she wishes she would not re-live, yet she feels immense pity for it.
purple liquid runs off its body and it forms in puddles.
A little voice breaks the silence "Is he a little boy like me?" She looks to her left, surprised by her son's comment. She did not notice him leave the car and approach them. She hurries over to Saji standing uncomfortably close to its body. If this man is worried about it perhaps she should be too. She did not watch the tournament. Not after what happened, but she knows all too well what that monster is capable of.
She wants nothing to do with it after what that terrible being did to their family. Her face and chest burn hot with anger at the thought. She scrambles forward to pull Saji away only to catch a glimpse of its face. Naida's hand jerks to her chest in surprise as she examines its familiar facial features. It did look like a child. "Saji, come away." She says in distress as she brings him away from it.
"Should we call somebody?" Naida asks the stranger, her voice cracking. He looks at her credulously. "Do what you want, lady, but I'm getting the hell out of here, even if you aren't." He stares at her desperately, hoping she will set his mind at ease and leave with him. Otherwise, he will have to be ungentlemanly and leave her here if she doesn't.
Even though he doesn't know this woman, it is the last thing he wants to do. He contemplates this as he stares at Naida's son and back at her. "Mama, we have to help the little boy!" Saji presses as he tugs on her shirt. She looks down at his pleading eyes and back at the stranger's worried face.
She brings her gaze to the body on the road again and the man sighs in frustration. "Are you coming or not!?" She can hear the desperation in his voice. She looks into Saji's pleading eyes and runs her hand through his hair. Then, she reaches into her pocket for her phone. "I'm sorry, but I can't. We should do something, shouldn't we?" She asks hoping for validation.
The man waves her off with both hands and jogs back to his vehicle. All she can do is watch helplessly as he gets into his car and starts to drive away, bumper scraping on the pavement. "That thing is dangerous!" He yells out his window, as he revs the engine and speeds down the highway. How rude, Naida thinks to herself. It's just a child, right? How dangerous can a child be? She wonders.
She watches the pick up disappear around the bend in the distance. She didn't notice Saji sneak off. "He doesn't look bad." He is crouching next to the blue creature, his small hand reaching for it, bristling with curiosity. "Saji no!" She runs back over and picks her son up into her arms. "It might be, we don't know." She fumbles with the boy in her arms and her phone slips from her fingers and smashes on the road. "Shit! I mean poop!"
She rushes Saji back to the vehicle and places him in the car seat. She makes sure he is fastened in."Did he die like daddy?" She looks into her son's eyes. Naida feels anxiety sweep over her body and her sanity slipping. "...I don't know." She says softly. He still seems in shock, so she fails to get a read on his expression. Her eyes glance at the small mound through the rear window and she gathers up some courage "Stay here okay."
She kisses Saji on the forehead and grabs his favorite baseball bat from the trunk. Naida looks at the bat. The words scribbled on the side read "swing fast!" Signed by Rocky Rivers. Saji's favorite baseball player for the Rockets. Her brow furrows and she grips the handle as she creeps towards the creature. She no longer has back up, no more safety in numbers. It is just her and the little monster.
The phone lays next to its head, screen smashed. Naida hesitates as the man's words echo in her mind. "That thing is dangerous!" She squats down gingerly and winces as her left knee cracks. "Okay, Naida, deep breath..." with that she reaches her hand out to it. "How can something this young cause so much fear in that man?" She thinks out loud.
Placing a hand on its small shoulder plate, she slowly and gently rolls it over onto it's back, her face distorts with emotions she is not sure she has felt before. She flinches as it's arm flops onto her burgundy runner. Purple liquid ran down its chest and the corners of its mouth.
Naida's hand flies up to her face as she feels overwhelming grief. Did her car do this much damage? It felt like she ran over a small tank, yet it looks like it has been beaten to death. It looks so much like a child to Naida, it grieves her. Even though it is the same thing as that monster she can feel her shoulders trembling with compassion for it. She gasps and air rushes into her lungs as her eyes close. A few tears squeeze out as she grips the pavement.
"I'm so sorry." She cries. Naida woefully reaches for her phone. She did not even notice the rain stop. A garbled inhuman like groan comes from the creature and it weakly grabs her hand. Every hair on Naida's body stands on end. "Ahhh!" She grips the baseball bat, and like a professional baseball player, she smokes the creature in the head as if she is hitting a home run.
The creature lay flat out, face down on the road with its arm hanging over the drop-off. Her scream continues to echo across the valley. She drops the bat in shock and the metal makes a clanking sound on the wet pavement. "What the hell am I doing!" She scolds herself. It needs help and she clobbers it in the skull. Her thoughts race. When it spoke it freaks the ever living daylights out of her. This night is turning into a nightmare.
Naida grasps her hair in distress, instantly hating herself. "You should have just left, like that man!" Naida looks back at the car worried Saji has seen her commit this unspeakable act. She starts looking around to see if anyone else is coming, but there is no one around in either direction. She briskly walks over to its side. It lay face down in the mud and rocks.
Naida places a delicate soft hand on its back with unease and shakes it gently. When it doesn't respond she attempts to move it away from the ledge. She groans as she heaves its dense body. How can something this small have the density of a dying star? The glow from the town below catches her attention. "It's not too far away..."
She moves her hand around to its neck, just under the jaw and pushes hard. A weak, rhythmic pulsing pushes against her fingers. She can feel the tension in her muscles relax. She struggles to her feet and runs back to the car to grab a blanket from the trunk. She then shakes the fibrous material out and hurries back to the creature.
"Don't worry, everything is going to be okay...I hope." The last part is but a whisper, in fact, she isn't even sure if the words made it out at all, probably for the best. She is careful as she places the blanket on top of it and tucks it under its body. She struggles to pick it up, her knee cracks again and she flinches. Holding the creature like a crocodile, Naida rushes back to the car and places it in the back seat with Saji.
Not her first plan mind you, but she doesn't have the heart to stick it in the trunk of her car. However, she already through sanity out the window when she decided to help it, and smokes it in the head with her son's baseball bat. His birthday gift. Signed by his favorite baseball player. She shutters at the thought. "Is he going to be okay?" Naida hurries around the car forgetting her son just asked her a question. An important question, at that.
Realizing her neglectfulness, she answers him haphazardly. "I don't know sweetheart, we have to take him to the hospital." The hospital? Or the vet? She froze for a minute as she tries to answer her own question. Fear envelops her when she remembers the man's reaction. What will the hospital staff think? Will they even help him? She starts lightly banging her head against the steering wheel.
Small honking sounds emit from the car as her head makes repeated contact with the horn. Stupid, stupid, stupid, she screams inwardly. Naida straightens her back and takes three deep breaths. Whenever she finds herself in a tough situation it always helps. She has to get the car started first anyways, baby steps she reminds herself. They can figure out the rest later. She isn't even sure if the damn thing will start.
Naida pats her pockets for her keys and she can feel the burning in her chest again as a mini panic attack ensues. "Where are the keys? Oh my god, I lost the keys!" She shrieks. Saji watches perplexed as his normally level-headed mother starts to have a mental breakdown. "They're already in the iniss-igissin." The last word is barely coherent as the little four-year-old struggles with it.
Naida looks up from her emotionally drunken stupor. The keys dangling behind the wheel. She didn't notice the car still running, the headlights are even lighting up the road. Wow, she thinks as shame seeps over her. She slides her hand down her face in embarrassment. She really needs to get her head on straight if she is going to drive them safely into town.
Naida's hands tremble slightly as she grips the steering wheel and adjusts the rearview mirror. As she did so, she observes Saji buckling over the car seat, lifting the blanket. "Saji no, what did I tell you!" her hand grabs him away. When her eyes met her sons she can see the concern in his eyes. "I'm sorry mama..." his tone sounds sunken, depressed.
She can feel a lump form in her throat again. It pains her to see her son subjected to all this, and it's all her fault. "We will help him. I promise." The moment the words I promise leave her mouth she wishes she can take them back. She doesn't know what will happen when she goes into town with a creature from the Cell Games. A creature that looks almost identical to that monster.
Yet, she is driven by the desire to set a good moral example for her son. The fact is he doesn't know what Cell looks like. What he has done. She sees a monster, but her son just sees a little boy like him. She is not even entirely sure she will be able to help it. Or even if she wants to. Does that make her a bad person? She wonders. She envies the stranger that drove away. It would be so much easier to have left it there and gone home.
Home. The thought of it warms her.
It angers her when she thinks about the monster that destroyed her family. Now a smaller version is in her car and she is about to help it. She listlessly cranks the shift into drive and turns the car around. The right-back wheel wobbles slightly on the axis as she heads to the next exit.
This is a work of fiction using some characters from the Dragon Ball Z world, which I do not own, of course. This story is merely a work of my imagination and I do not attribute the events in it to official story canon. Nor do I profit from it. Hope you enjoy and thanks for stopping by!