This story is by Godelieve Vandersloten and was part of our 2020 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
A loud ringing made her jump out of bed.
“Damn it! Who can be calling in the middle of the night?” She pressed her lips tightly.
The phone rang again, she stifled.
“We want you back in England for surgery…the results of the biopsy…” A crackling sound travelled through the phone, as the connection faded in and out, she could barely hear what was being said.
”I am in Mexico on holiday. What did you say?”
There was only silence.
Her face turned pale, as small beads of sweat formed on her forehead. She was shaking, feeling hot and cold, and her heartbeat started racing.
“Oh, no! This cannot be happening. I was cleared of all cancer before I departed from London!”
Lost in her thoughts, Sophie burst into tears.
“This is just a bad dream,” she whispered as she looked at her reflection in the mirror, feeling powerless.
She left her room and went onto the roof terrace, her preferred spot to meditate.
Dogs barked in the distance.
The sky looked incredible, filled with brightly lit stars and a moon full of magic light against the deepest darkness.
Tears were running down her cheeks as a veil of silence enveloped Sophie, her heartbeat still fast and loud.
“Why do I feel so alone? Being in a foreign country, in the middle of the night, not speaking the language, the phone call? Did I hear the message correctly?”
In a quick prayer, Sophie asked God for help. After a few more breaths, she felt peace, a sense of balance and calm had returned.
“I Best start packing my belongings, and contact the airline,” she murmured.
“Hello?”…finally a distant voice said, “How can I help you?” the agent spoke English.
“I need to fly home to London immediately.”
With her ticket now confirmed, she picked up her backpack and walked to the Barra bus stop.
The local bus would get her to the main depot.
“How great it is to be back on the road, this is my way to travel. I meet people of different cultures and I delight in being a nomad. As a solo-traveller, I create the life I love,” she thought.
“Carpe Diem! Too bad that I am forced to put all my plans on hold!” she said in a barely audible voice.
Upon arrival in Melaque there was chaos.
A lot of confusion, children screaming, luggage everywhere, buses blocking the road, people shouting at the staff and porter.
It was a complete mayhem.
“Que pasa?” Sophie asked.
A police officer answered, “El autobus llega tarde.”
He explained in broken English that two gangs had stopped all traffic on the road to Puerto Vallarta. Passengers on the bus had been forced to hand over all their valuables. Several shots had been fired and some people had been killed.
His words sent a chill down her spine.
She had heard stories about these gangs threatening people in the small villages.
“My flight departs early in the morning, is there a taxi?”she asked
Glad to hear someone speak English, Sophie asked a Canadian tourist to join her in the taxi to Puerto Vallarta.
“We must go now; our priority is to get there in daylight safely.”
Sophie’s heart was racing again. Beads of sweat running down her spine, feelings of pins and needles followed.
The taxi driver stopped to get petrol.
He was told that two gangs had set fire to a bus killing several people.
“The gangs come out at night, it would not be safe for me to drive back to Barra. I will transfer you to a local taxi. That would improve my chances to get home before night time.”
His lights were not working and the potholes were plenty.
“Hay un taxi!” the driver shouted as he called us over to the next car.
A quick transfer.
Sophie took the front seat, she threw the luggage on the back seat, and the doors locked automatically.
Cramped in the back, the Canadian tourist said: “Where are we going to stay?”
“I will drop you off at a small hotel in the old town,” the new driver muttered while Sophie thanked God that he understood English.
He stopped at a little old house near the ocean.
You could hear the rolling of the waves, the new moon rose and shone onto the water.
“Can you pick us up early in the morning, to drive us to the airport?” Sophie asked.
News of the coronavirus had reached Mexico.
No one in Puerto Vallarta cared too much, busy markets and massive gatherings were the norm.
Waiting for her flight to London to announce boarding, Sophie decided to buy a mask, gloves, antiseptic wipes and hand gel to protect herself during her journey.
Exhausted, Sophie managed to sleep a few hours on the flight home.
She called Uber, and organized for a car to pick her up from the airport.
Upon arrival in London, feeling groggy and jetlagged, she phoned her doctor.
He confirmed the operation would happen today. Sophie needed her blood tests taken, prior to checking in at the surgery department.
Alone in the waiting room, she observed nurses and doctors. They all wore eye and face protection, gloves and protective blue gowns.
Everyone kept at a distance.
They confirmed her worst fears.
Sophie’s tears were flowing uncontrollably, she had nobody to talk to.
She was desperate. “What is happening to me?”
She had survived a second breast cancer last year.
“Will I be facing more radiotherapy after surgery?” she sobbed.
“What are my chances?” No one could say more, no one here could comfort her.
The NHS staff was overwhelmed due to the coronavirus, it was spreading fast in England.
The last place Sophie wanted to be was in a hospital. She could not feel more isolated and desperate for a hug.
She started reliving the events of the last days.
Every evening Sophie would walk to the beach, sit in silence, meditate, and watch the reflection of the sun going down onto the ocean. The pink colours and nature’s beauty were divine.
A team of doctors and nurses took her into the operating theatre, finalising all paperwork, asking Sophie’s date of birth, and proceeding with surgery.
She closed her eyes, entering another world.
“She is awake, the operation was successful.”
Wondering where she was, Sophie questioned who was talking as she was still in a daze.
“You can return home, it is paramount you isolate during recovery. A nurse will visit you weekly. Keep on washing your hands and disinfecting your immediate environment,” she was told.
The taxi brought her to her front door, people were clapping and cheering, thanking the NHS for their dedicated care during this pandemic.
The phone kept on ringing.
Anxious, she searched for her painkillers, looking around her home, she felt like a guest in her own house.
“There they are,” she had difficulty swallowing the pills. She wanted to numb her body and mind.
Her tears were running down her cheeks. Depressed and solo, she saw her reflection in the mirror as she talked to herself.
The phone kept ringing.
The Volunteers had been calling. They assisted vulnerable people who needed shielding at home during this crisis.
Sophie had travelled all the way from Mexico to find herself after surgery in isolation at home.
She had switched on the news and heard the Prime Minister’s briefing.
He was infected and would be self-isolating at Downing Street. The virus that killed people in Wuhan had spread all over the world. The country had gone into lockdown. More and more people died of COVID-19.
Praying for the people who lost their lives, Sophie realized that even after surgery, she was one of the lucky ones.
The cancer diagnosis had saved her.
She was home alone, recovering from cancer and fortunate to have a garden.
She could sit in meditation listening to the birdsong, appreciating the buds slowly opening, new blossoms were seen each day.
The colours in nature were so unique, a gift of creation.
Sophie’s world had changed.
Except for ambulance sirens, she heard no sounds; no planes in the sky, no cars on the road.
She loved watching her friends the birds feeding the young. She observed the squirrels digging up her garden for the treasures they had hidden. It was cold when the virus hit Europe, ice and snow had covered the garden.
She felt alone in this ghost town, she wandered out of the house through the lanes and avenues nearby. Nobody to be seen. Rainbows everywhere.
Her daughter was in lockdown in London, expecting her first child.
The silence she kept, tears she wept, she felt lost in this unknown world.
She was going to be a grandma for the first time in her life. A welcoming gift to look forward to, a newborn.
Is it a boy or a girl?
All in God’s hands.
The phone rang. No one answered.