The flames enclosed around me, blocking my exit. I glanced around, terrified not only for my life, but also for my child's. What was I to do if Elle was injured? My grip tightened around her instinctively as threatening thoughts entered my mind. She was the only person I had, the only one I could confide in, even if she couldn't talk back, not yet at least.
I could hear the distant sound of sirens, and I hated the fact that my too attentive neighbours have called the fire brigade. They may be the only ones that could help me, but if I left through the front door, the neighbours would be suspicious and James would hear that I was indeed alive. There was only one thing to do.
There was only one other exit, and I wasn't even sure whether it too wasn't blocked by the fire. I clutched Elle to my chest, marvelling at how she seemed so peaceful as she slept, completely unaware of how close to death we currently were.
I started running up the stairs, side stepping the flames, narrowly missing them. Some of the wood seemed to break just after I had moved from it, and I shuddered to think what would have happened if I were on it.
The window stood untouched by flames, though they hovered dangerously close. I needed to move now, but I was two stories up, to jump was practically suicide! Even so, I tried to refrain myself from looking down, closing my eyes as I jumped.
It was almost odd; one moment there was ground beneath me, the next I was floating. It felt weird, and I opened my eyes to see how far I was, and then immediately wished I hadn't. I screamed – loudly, too – and the people crowded outside heard it. They probably thought I was still inside. It was then I landed. I could feel a jolt of pain in my leg, the crack as my ankle broke and I lay for the grassy surface of my garden. It hurt – badly, almost unbearably so but I had suffered so much more and I needed to go on, to continue.
I tried standing up, and gingerly put some weight onto my left leg. Not a good idea - I fell down again, though this time I withheld my scream. I crawled along, going as fast as I could with Elle in my arms. Perhaps I travelled for hours; it certainly felt like I'd travelled miles. I certainly didn't recognise my surroundings. My legs were caked with blood, soaking through my trousers and the scabs cracked every time I moved on. I could feel my ankle throbbing with pain, and I cursed myself for not taking pain killers with me – I should have known this would happen.
It was weird the fact that Elle seemed to be waking up now, her cries punctuating the silence of the night. I felt the maternal side of my mind screaming at me to help her, to calm her and sooth her into sleep once more. Another part however, felt the pain, the amount of blood that was leaving my body, the weariness, the sleepiness, how cosy the hard tarmac seemed to feel …
We stood in the waiting room, doing exactly what the purpose of it was – waiting. Perhaps the death room would be a better room for it. Constantly doctors were coming out of doors telling families whether their loved ones were going to make it. We didn't even know who this girl was, but we could feel a connection with her. My mom and dad stood on either side of me, each of them with an arm around my shoulders. Normally, I would have told them to stop it, but I just couldn't do it – I didn't have the strength.
I couldn't believe this had all started on a normal Tuesday morning. We were just sitting down to eat breakfast and my dad wanted me to get the paper. And on the doorstep, the paper was there alright, but also a young woman, her legs and part of her head cracked with blood just lay there, a baby in her pale arms. None of us knew what to do. We stayed frozen in shock until my mom ran inside and phoned the ambulance.
Which brought us here. It's funny how such a major event can be summarised in a few words. It's even stranger the fact that we didn't know who they were, or what they were doing, but we were already praying that they would survive.
Another doctor came out, dressed in scrubs and headed towards a young family. There was a young woman with two young boys standing next to her, about six or seven and a small baby girl is her arms. I couldn't see the father, but could already guess where he was – lying in a hospital bed dead, judging by the doctor's grim face. He spoke, and I saw their hopeful expressions change to one of despair. Tears ran down their faces, and the woman glanced desperately at her children, as if wondering how she was going to be able to take care of them on her own.
Another doctor came out, a female this time, slowly walked towards us. I was uncertain about whether it was good or bad news, considering the fact that she seemed to be hiding her emotions. "You're the Brandon's, right?"
"We haven't been able to identify who they are yet. They both seem to be suffering from dehydration and the woman has some burns on her back and arms, as well as a broken ankle. Bruises are covering her body, and she's lost a lot of blood. The woman - she also has a head injury - and the doctor's aren't sure whether she's going to wake up. The baby's fine, we're feeding her on some formula and she should be okay. It's just the woman you would need to be worried about."
"So … would you say this sounds like a case of abuse, perhaps?"
"It's hard to say at the moment, but there are bruises on her arms which resemble fingers. It could be a case of long term abuse, but it might just be abuse on one occasion that caused her to run, or perhaps crawl it seems."
"How likely is it that she'll survive?"
"If I was to be honest with you, I would say it's a fifty, fifty chance. The surgeons are still working on her, but you can come and see the baby if you want."
… 3 weeks later …
It had been three weeks, and no sign of recovery had been made. Whoever the woman was, she was in a coma and none of us knew whether she was going to survive. The doctor's were pestering us about taking her off life support – they were sure she was brain dead. My dad had made a deal and if she didn't wake up in the next week, they would take her off life support whether we liked it or not.
I was so scared! I just could leave the hospital! I knew that I had missed so much school, that it would take forever to catch up, but I needed to be there for the woman even if she didn't know I was. Constantly, I prayed for her to wake up, and I slept in the chair next to her bed. I wasn't sure what to do but if she didn't make it, I knew I would feel like it was my fault for not seeing her soon enough.
Days past, and my worries grew more intense. If she didn't make it, her child would have no mother and I knew how it was like growing up without parents and I didn't want it to happen to a child as sweet as her.
It was the second last day and I was sitting by her bedside, stroking her hair as if that would convince her to wake up. Beside me, the monitor was beeping and I wondered how she was able to sleep through the noise. I held her hand hoping that she could feel that someone was there for her.
It was freaky what happened next. All of a sudden, her hand seemed to tighten around mine. Her grip was weak, but I felt it, her eye lids started to flutter as if she was having an internal battle to wake up. And then, she opened her eyes, looked around and … screamed.
I know, I was hoping for a better reaction. I didn't know that I looked that bad. I mean, I knew I hadn't exactly had any deodorant or a change of clothes or a good nights sleep, or really anything but still! But I couldn't be angry at her – when she was awake, she just looked even more angelic. The way her confused chocolate brown eyes stared at me, made it impossible to be angry.
Her scream alerted the staff, and they came rushing in. The moment they entered, they looked both shocked and relieved. I couldn't believe she was awake! Now I could find out about her, her age, her name, perhaps we could be sisters! But she probably had a family who was waiting worried sick about her …
Doctor Norman stood in front of her, and held a torch in front of her eyes. "Look here," she said, shining the torch in her left eye. "And here," she said, shining it in her right. "Now, can you follow the length of my finger with your eyes?" The girl did. "Good, good! Now, do you think you can tell me your name?"
"I'm Isa … I'm Bella … Cadbury. Yeah, Bella Cadbury."
"Okay, and how old are you, Bella?"
"There was a child found with you, a young girl only a couple of months old. Is she your child?"
Bella's eyes closed for a couple of seconds before she opened them again, whispering, "Yes."
"Don't worry, dear. We're not here to criticize you. Can you remember what the child's name was?"
"Elle Sw … Elle Cadbury."
"Okay, thank you dear. Would you like anything?"
"Can I … Can I see Elle? Please?" Her voice was almost pleading, begging. She seemed to care so much about her child, and we glanced at each other, warmed by this sign of love.
"Of course, dear. Nurse Roberts, could you bring Elle in for us?" Nurse Roberts stepped out of the room, quickly bringing back the baby.
"Thanks." Bella grinned down at the baby, looking as if she was a blind man seeing the sun for the first time. "Can I – do you mind if I go to the toilet? I think she might need her nappy changed." She grinned up at us, and we nodded.
I had known these people for all of sixty seconds, and yet they were being so nice to me, it was almost shocking. They were nicer in that one conversation than anyone I had ever met. The doctor handed me my bag and some clothes, because I said that was where Elle's nappies where and I smiled. This was going to be too easy.
It wasn't that I didn't want to stay, but I needed to sort out my life. The hospital had to have noticed the bruises on my body, and if I stayed questions would soon be asked. Though most of my bruises had healed, they still had a memory of what they were. I shuddered, thinking of it, and knew that I had to leave. I felt awful – these people had clearly cared for me, and I was just going to leave without even saying how grateful I was. Perhaps in the future, I could come back but not now.
I quickly went into the bathroom the nurse had given me directions for and changed as fast as I could. If I was too long, people would come looking for me but if I wondered out of here in my hospital gown it would be too easy recognised. As soon as I was changed, I practically ran out of the door and managed to flag down a cab.
"Thank you." I whispered to the hospital, before turning my back on it and sitting down in the cab. I pulled my purse from my bag and handed him a one hundred dollar bill. I had been careful to transfer all of my money on my credit cards into cash gradually, so as not to arouse suspicion from James.
"Just take me anywhere," I said, holding Elle tightly in my arms. "Anywhere far, far away from here." I instructed and though the driver gave me a questioning look he drove away from the hospital, and I mentally said goodbye to my old life.