The comforting sounds of city noise surround me. The blaring horns, the squeal of rusted bus breaks coming to a stop, and the loud chatter of passersby.
A smile touches my lips as I stuff my frigid fingers deeper into my coat pocket, dipping my head slightly so the wind doesn’t slap me in the face. I hurry down the sidewalk with the motion of people traffic, knowing when to twist and turn to avoid being bumped by the non-city person.
Finally, I reach my destination; a small mom-and-pop café on the corner of 5th and 23rd.
A bell jingles as I enter the warmth and the scent of confectionary sugar and mocha assaults my senses and I love it. I inhale deeply and step behind the last person in line, tugging my hands out of my coat and pulling my knit cap off.
I stuff everything into my purse while simultaneously pulling my wallet free. The line moves slowly, but I am in no rush; plus I know the wait is well worth it.
Finally, when it’s my turn to order, a pretty young woman turns to me, eyes bright with the start of a new day and unburdened by the typical customer.
“What can I get ya hun?” She asks with a hint of a southern accent.
I always get the same thing when I come here, as it’s out of my way and often just to treat myself. I return her smile and am already pulling out a twenty dollar bill when I order, “A small caramel macchiato with whip cream and a chocolate deep fried croissant.” I slide the twenty across the counter as she taps away at her screen.
“Great choice. They should be out in about ten minutes. If you take a seat, I’ll have someone bring it to you, okay?” She hands me back my change and I nod.
“Thanks,” I give her another smile and move to sit against the wall near the back of the shop, so I can look over the room and outside.
A light drizzle is now coming down, creating an array of reflection pools of quickly passing cars and flashing neon signs from across the street. A few come in off the street, shaking their coats or umbrellas before stepping into line to order and then quickly leave.
A woman no more than thirty comes in with a stroller, a doll-like toddler sitting upright, legs swinging and singing a nonverbal tune. Big blue eyes take in the café and a giggle slips past her lips, hands clapping together. Mom presses a kiss to her daughter’s forehead just before she steps up to the counter to order a milk, hot chocolate, and a muffin.
They move to take a seat near the windows, stroller facing the café and I. The young girl lets out an endearing, “Oooo” as mom places a chunk of chocolate muffin on her small tray. She immediately begins to tear it apart with tiny little fingers, stuffing crumbs in her mouth when she remembers its food.
It’s been about ten minutes, and as I glance up and away from the mother and daughter, I note a young man, no older than twenty, coming toward me with a small brown bag in one hand and a bright yellow cup in another and I feel my mouth water with anticipation.
As he nears my table, chaos erupts.
One moment the entire café is a serene, cozy and inviting and in the next second, it’s a scene out of a war zone. Screams deafen me instantly before I realize they’re coming from my own lungs.
Something is pinning me, keeping me from moving, but I am too numb to make out what the hulking metal above me is.
I hear muffled yelling, someone crying and in the far distance the sound of sirens. My mind is too dazed to compute what is going on, and as my vision blurs the man that comes to stand over me blurs with it.
“Are…okay… feel… legs?” He is clearly trying to ask me something, but I cannot make the out the disjointed question.
“Croissant,” slips past my lips and a flash of memory comes to the forefront. A young man, brown hair and startling autumn irises. The man above me is not this boy. I look around, trying to see around this man, but the hunk of metal and his shoulders are blocking my view.
I try to shift my weight and a cry of pain tears past my throat as a searing spasm burns from my toes up along my spine to my brain, and I know I’m going to be sick. I turn my head away from the man quickly enough to dry heave to my left.
The blaze of pain has revived my synapses and my eyes widen with a clarity I never thought I possessed.
That’s when my brain can properly process that a car is resting on top of me, trapping my legs between its bumper and the remnants of the front of the café all around me, keeping me pinned.
“Just hold on,” the male voice is back, clearer this time. “The paramedics are almost here.” He takes my free hand and gives it a squeeze.
I turn away from the black sedan and catch his gaze. He’s older, perhaps in his fifties. Graying eyebrows are pinched in concern and I read what he’s not saying; I am not going to make it.
The news settles over me with a calm I never expected to have on my last day of life. Is this what shock feels like? Complete numbness of all extremities and emotional thought. I feel my grip on his fingers weakening as he grips them tighter.
“Hold on,” this perfect stranger practically begs. I see the moisture pooling in his eyes, and I find it curious that a complete stranger would cry for me.
I find the strength to squeeze his hand, comforting him, before my entire body goes lax.
Images flash before me so quickly, I cannot make sense of any of it until the last one snaps into the panel and it’s of me glancing down at myself through a murky lake. I watch as the older man lowers his head and quietly cries, gently shutting my eyelids.
There’s a blinding flash of light before I am whipped away from the imagery of my last moments.