I was driving the car along the Karak Highway Genting Sempah tunnel with my mother in the passenger seat when a Chinese school van carrying six students headed towards us from the opposite direction.
In attempt to swerve out of the way, I went left and hit directly into the hard concrete walls that swallowed my whole bumper. My entire body thrusted forward, doubled over like a prawn.
I struck my throat on the steering wheel from the impact, which led to vocal paralysis and fractured both my bleeding knees as they came into harsh contact with the hard steel.
My mother, on the other hand, had her head almost hanging out of the broken windscreen. I could tell just by a quick glance that her left shoulder was severely dislocated. I could also tell that she was already dead.
Later on, I found out that the driver had been navigating the vehicle in a drunken state and crashed into another oncoming car. He, as well as three of the kids, died while the rest survived with minor injuries.
I couldn’t forgive myself despite knowing that I had acted out of fear and sheer panic.
After I was discharged from the hospital, I stayed with a friend, not ready to walk back into an empty home.
Struggling to walk and forever unable to speak, my silent cries, canned beers and heavy medication kept me company while she was out working during the day.
That was, until one night when I woke up fuzzy and confused in a room I didn’t recognise. To my right stood my father, who I had not seen in five years, opening the mustard curtains.
He peered at me and said that I was in his guest room, explaining how I had blacked out and my friend looked him up to contact him as she feared that I would harm myself in her absence. She knew he was retired, meaning that he’d have more than enough time to look after me.
Even in my sorry state, my pride and ego did not fully dissolve. This was the man my mother absolutely despised after she caught him cheating when I was fifteen years old. He moved out and that was the last I saw of him despite his attempts to get in touch.
He passed me a notebook where I wrote, in pencil, “I will only stay two weeks.”
He nodded. “Get some sleep,” he said, and walked out of the room, leaving the curtains open, television on with the volume at a faint level, and sandwiches on the nightstand.
I was about to doze off, maybe an hour in, when I noticed some activity at the window. Two young boys were looking into the room, and as they spotted me, immediately smiled and said, “Hi, aunty.”
I couldn’t respond, at least not without having to write hello on paper, so I just grinned and waved. They waved back and giggled.
“Don’t be sad aunty. Sometimes, we get lonely here too,” one of them said, and they both ran off before I could react.
I thought I saw them again early the next morning, maybe around six, clad in school uniforms but I wasn’t so sure. We had the same exchange at first, a smile and a wave.
While minimal, their innocent smiling faces were somehow refreshing to look at, especially now that I had to stay sober and decide whether or not to make amends with my dad.
At least I knew he had friendly neighbours.
They whispered this time, saying what sounded a lot like “Aunty… Malar aunty said it’s not your fault. She loves you.”
Malar is my mother’s name.
Once again, before I could reply, they ran off. I convinced myself that I must have been dreaming or still hungover somehow.
I contemplated telling my father when he walked into my room a few hours later, but decided against it in case he would think me insane.
Despite me saying that I’ll only stay a fortnight, he hired a maid to start the next day so I could get some help with daily tasks like showering, scheduled home appointments with a physiotherapist for me, and even tried explaining why he did what he did while we had lunch together in the same room a few hours later.
I almost felt sorry for him, but remained silent, only picking up my notebook to reply when he pointed to the curtains and asked me, “Open or shut?”
“Open,” I wrote. He nodded and told me to text him if I needed anything.
I scrolled through TikTok and replied to frantic, well-wishing texts saying they were sorry for my loss for the rest of the day. Dad and I had dinner together, I took all my meds and settled into bed.
The kids didn’t come to the window on the second night. Instead, I was awaken by clouds of smoke puncturing my lungs.
My father rushed into the room and scooped me up in record time, bursting through the door and grabbing all the valuables as if on instinct.
He carried me bridal style out of the guest room and through the living room where I held my breath past the torched sofas and wall hangings.
When we got out the front door, I expected to be greeted by a residential area, a road, other houses, maybe even other neighbours in the same race to safety.
But all I saw was a corridor, and the fire exit door. Still holding me in his arms, he took a deep breath in and told me to remain calm.
“We’ll do this slowly. One step at a time. Hold on to me tight maa,” he said.
I looked at the number on the wall, and realised we’d been on the twelfth floor all this time.
* All illustrations AI-generated by DALL-E, nightcafe.studio & hotpot.ai
* Malaysian Mystery Memoirs is a series of fictional horror tales by JUICE, for entertainment purposes only. Any similarities to actual persons or situations are purely coincidental.