There was a squeal of brakes then there was a loud bang! I must have blacked out for a minute. Then I heard crying. Who was that crying? The crying was not in pain but a sobbing and a weak, wet “mummy?” Hayden! My beautiful boy, my son. Was he hurt? Hayden was crying in the backseat of the taxi; I had to get to him.
The passenger’s side of the taxi was pinned shut. Fortunately, I was able to crawl across to the back seat, struggling over the Christmas presents we had bought, to see Hayden sitting safe in the booster seat. I called out for help.
Next thing, I remember being in the ambulance, holding Hayden’s hand, the sirens screaming as we headed to Emergency. My boy, it hurt me to see him so scared. After seeing the doctor in the busy Emergency department we waited and waited, but I got fed up. After ten hours of waiting I took my son’s hand and we walked to a train station.
We disembarked at Kirribilli and made our way up the hill to our apartment. When we got there I realised that I had left my keys in the taxi. Hayden pressed our apartment buzzer on the intercom calling “Oma, it’s me Oma.” But nothing happened. So I announced myself, the door lock clicked open and we went up the stairs tiredly to our apartment.
Oma, otherwise known as Hilda, was my husband’s mother. We don’t get along; I think she resented me for taking Franz, her only son, from Germany. I can’t speak German and she refuses to speak English which doesn’t help our relationship. When Hayden was born, she came out to Australia to help us look after him. She never went back. Franz and I constantly argued about her being there until his death last year.
Fortunately, there was a German family living in the apartment below. Their teenage daughter, Gabby, would translate for me when I needed, but to be honest, Hilda and I avoided speaking to each other.
As we walked through the front door Hilda gabbled at me angrily. She was probably asking where I had been but I was not in the mood to deal with her, so I picked up a sleepy Hayden and carried him to his room. I changed him for bed and sung him to sleep. I was so tired that I fell asleep curled around him.
In the morning, Hilda yelled gibberish at me some more, threw her hands up in disgust then stormed out of the apartment. Hayden was playing quietly with his Lego set in the lounge. I felt very numb and sat listlessly on the couch. Then the phone rang. I let Hayden answer the phone.
“Hello?” asked the voice on the other end.
“Hello” replied my son.
“It’s Gabby from downstairs, are you ok?” She asked in an anxious voice.
“Yes.” said Hayden.
“Hilda said you came home late last night by yourself. Is that right?”
“No. Mummy was with me”
There were some muffled voices. “Stay there, we’re on our way up.” said Gabby.
A few minutes later, Hilda, followed by Gabby and her mother, Dorothea came in. We sat around the kitchen table where Hayden climbed onto my lap.
“What happened?” asked Dorothea.
“We got hit by a car,” I said.
“Oh my god, why didn’t you say anything?” asked Dorothea, whilst Gabby translated to Hilda. Hilda looked shocked, and then she started talking angrily at me. Dorothea said a few words back to Hilda who settled down.
“Start from the beginning,” Dorothea said calmly.
So I told them about the accident, the hospital and the trip home. Dorothea asked questions and Gabby translated for Hilda. After I finished, they talked amongst themselves. They turned to face me with Dorothea asked carefully “Where’s Hayden?”
I looked down at my boy but he was not there; I figured that he must’ve gone to his room.
“I asked you about Hayden.” prompted Dorothea.
“He must be playing in his room, I’ll call him out.” I replied. I yelled his name. There was no reply. I went to the door of his bedroom which was closed. I tapped on it but got no reply. “He must be asleep, I don’t want disturb him.”
“Can I have a quick peek?” asked Gabby. She opened the door quickly then went back to speak with her mother and Hilda in quiet, urgent whispers.
Dorothea stood up as I came back to the kitchen. “You said you were taken to Royal North Shore Hospital? Do you mind if I use your phone? Umm, I need to call a friend.” I’m not stupid; she was going to call the hospital to check up on my story. They didn’t believe me?! I was so tired and couldn’t think straight, so I said “Fine.”
As I suspected, she called the hospital then went out onto the balcony, closing the door. Gabby looked at me as if I was a child. “Are you ok? Hilda said only one person came home last night, you. She hasn’t seen Hayden. Mum wants to find out what happened.”
“Hilda is just being difficult. Why not take my word for it?”
“Umm, because you might still be in shock, you might not remember things clearly. We are worried; you look pale and a little confused.”
Dorothea came back into the kitchen. “The doctor wants to see you back at the hospital. He thinks you might have concussion,” Dorothea said. Before I could protest she said “They are quite worried about you. If you go to the hospital we’ll be able to sort it out. I’ll come with you.” To be honest, I did feel a bit disoriented, so I agreed to go.
The same doctor did all the tests again; every test came back clear. When he asked about why I left early I told him it was because I had a hungry, tired, 5 year old who needed to get home.
“Where is Hayden at the moment?” The doctor asked.
“At home with his grandmother.”
Dorothea said in measured tones, “Hilda is alone by herself.”
“No Dorothea, Hayden is at home, in his bedroom.”
“Gabby said she couldn’t see him.”
“Well I can!”
“I’m sure you can see him but -” commenced the doctor.
“Don’t patronise me, you prick. I waited ten hours to be seen. TEN HOURS. We got hit by a car! Hayden was tired and stressed, he needed to go home. You guys didn’t seem to be interested -“
The doctor looked abashed. “There were two other accidents, one with multiple vehicles. You and your son only had light abrasions; other victims were critical. Look, you seem fine, go home, rest; your friends can keep an eye on you.”
We travelled in silence on the way back home. Dorothea said she would talk to Hilda. The rest of the day was passed in silence. I avoided Hilda by staying in Hayden’s room, playing with him. He had a lot of questions about death and dying. He asked what it was to be a ghost. I said I didn’t know.
I only surfaced from the room to make lunch for Hayden and me. Hilda gave me a strange look when I did. She asked me something, pointing at the two lunches on the tray. I just said, “We’re hungry, it’s lunchtime.” Then she said in stammering English, “We? Only you. Hayden…not here.”
“He’s here, in the bedroom, he’s been with me since I came back,” I said angrily.
Her face went red and yelled “Nein, Hayden ist tot, er starb in der Autounfall! Sie sind in der Ablehnung!” Then she stormed out of the apartment, I took the sandwiches back into the bedroom but Hayden was asleep. So I cuddled up with Hayden on the bed and fell asleep.
For the week after the accident, my days followed the usual pattern. I would make Hayden breakfast, we would play with the Lego, we would watch “Sesame Street”. I would take him to the local playground to play on the swings. One day he got a funny look from another parent. She asked Hayden where his mother or father was. Hayden replied that Daddy was dead and Mummy was a ghost, but didn’t know it. She looked at him strangely, and then asked “Where do you live?”
“Mummy told me not to talk to strangers.” Then he ran off towards the trees. I ran after him, calling stop. Hayden hid behind a shady tree. When I joined him he hugged me tightly. “Mummy, I don’t want you to be a ghost.”
“Hayden, my little man,” I stroked his head and kissed him on his forehead. “I’m not a ghost, I’m right here. Can you see me, feel me?”
“So am I ghost?”
“No.” he said warily.
“I could do with an ice-cream, would you like one?” He cheered up immediately.
A few days later we were invited to Dorothea’s apartment for a small party to watch the New Year’s Eve fireworks on the harbour. A woman named June introduced herself to me and we chatted amiably. At one point she asked “I’d like to see your apartment, do you mind?” Since she and I got on, I thought nothing of it so I escorted her up to my place. Hayden followed us. She asked if we could stand on the balcony.
“I must confess, I was asked to meet you.”
“What?” I asked, not quite sure where she was going with this.
“Your friends and mother-in-law are very worried about you since the accident.”
“Look, I don’t need a counsellor or psychologist or whatever you are.” I was irritated about being pushed to a counsellor with no consultation.
“I am not a counsellor.” she replied.
“What are you then?”
“I’m a medium. I can assist people who are haunted by ghosts.”
“And you think I’m haunted?”
“Yes. Your husband says you should listen to me.”
“You were probably told he was dead, so don’t try it on, lady, it’s none of your business. Please leave.”
“He died in hospital, his last words, whispered to you, were “Please tell Hayden the truth, he deserves to know.”
She was right. I wasn’t going to tell Hayden about Franz’s death, I mean, Hayden was four at the time; how would he understand? I told Hayden the truth and he accepted it. He was a very bright boy.
“Is Franz here right now?” still not believing, but admittedly curious.
“No, Sharon. I cannot see those who have passed over, I only hear them. But I can see people who are haunted by ghosts.”
“So am I haunted?”
“Yes, you have a discoloration around the ears, in your aura.”
“Is it Franz?” I knew the answer before she said it.
“It’s not Franz.” She looked at me, straight in the eyes. My heart sank, it wasn’t possible, Hayden, my little man. He couldn’t be dead; I held his hand in the ambulance. We’ve been playing and….. Was it just his ghost? It can’t be. But maybe… it was. I understood now why everyone thought I was acting strange; they couldn’t see him. Oh my boy, my poor child. It’s not fair, it’s not right; I should have died in that car accident.
I must have said that aloud because June said “He didn’t die in that accident.”
June turned to Hayden. “Hayden, I can see you, can you see me?”
“Where is Mummy?”
Hayden pointed to me. “Is she a ghost?”
“No, she’s not a ghost. Do you think she is?”
“I think she is. She fades in and out of sight, sometimes I can hold her hand and other times I can’t. Do I have dis-co-lation around my ears too?”
June smiled. “Yes, dear, just like your mother. And you both fade in and out of sight too.”
“Are we both ghosts?”
June smiled at both of us. “You weren’t the only people involved in the car accident,” she said.
“Who died then?”
“The other driver, a woman, she had a heart attack which caused the accident.”
“Oh dear. Is she the one haunting us?”
“Is she here? With us right now?” asked Hayden anxiously.
“Yes, darling boy.” June paused. “We need to help her crossover. I believe the time will come during the fireworks. Do you want to help her?” We nodded. We all turned to watch the midnight fireworks. The harbour was dark; there were lots of boats and yachts bobbing on the water, pools of light spreading around them. On the harbour foreshore, crowds had gathered; the sounds of chatter and celebrations rising up to our balcony. The Sydney Opera House was lit in constantly changing coloured lights. The crowd down below started a countdown from 10. When they reached zero the whole crowd yelled “Happy New Year” then the spectacular fireworks started. Halfway through the fireworks, June started speaking softly and I had to lean in to hear her.
“When I was twenty, I was working as a trainee nurse at St Vincent’s hospital. This old woman had come in suffering from a heart attack. She looked at me and said ‘It’s my time, I need to… I have to… give you a gift.’ She held my hand and a wave of peace seemed to flow out of her into me. Then she died. Just like that. That was how I became a medium.”
I looked at her askance. She seemed to be shimmering, and I could see a faint red ring around her hands, and her eyes looked through me. “Watch the fireworks or you might miss the moment,” she said.
The fireworks were spectacular. The best effect came in the last five minutes. Amidst the smoke and lights, the word “Eternity” scrawled itself across the bridge, in beautiful copperplate style. All of a sudden I pointed at the word -“look at that, the underscore is changing colour! Hayden, can you see it.”
“How did they do that?” he asked. The underline shifted from white to gold to green, to red. It was mesmerising.
“It’s time,” June said, “I was the driver in the vehicle that hit you. I’m so sorry. When I saw you two, I tried hard to contact you. I could pull you out of this world, but I couldn’t make you see me. This new millennium is such a significant moment that I am finally able to manifest myself. Now it is my time to go. I pass the gift to you, to both of you.” June held out hands briefly and all at once, I understood everything. “I’m so sorry,” she smiled sadly. She floated gently towards the underscore then vanished.
“Mummy,” asked Hayden, “Was that lady a ghost?”
“Are we ghosts?”
“Not anymore, my little man, not anymore.”
(c) Simon Lenthen February 2014
Photograph from Outernational Blog