‘I shouldn’t have driven myself. These roads are so much smaller here in Belgium, compared to Florida. Now where was I supposed to meet the guys.’
He looked over to the passenger seat where the paper with the address lay atop some sheet music.
‘TMF: The Music Factory in Mechelen – how the hell do you pronounce that – North Industrial Estate’
He looked up at the busy traffic. Cars were coming from everywhere and didn’t seem to mind the speed limit. Ahead of him another road crossed the main road he was on. He should be getting closer to the side road if he read the map correctly.
Another day finished at the office and time to go home. She had a great job, enjoyed every day of it. Not a lot of people can say that.
And it was close to home. She just needed to cross this main road. It was a pretty dangerous road. No one seemed to keep to the speed limit.
There were massive trucks coming from both sides with in between a lot of cars. And then when you finally dared to make the crossing, you still had to watch out for the cyclists coming from both side on the opposite side of the road from where you stood.
The car in front of her was a purple pick up truck and she could see the man in front hesitate, needing to cross the main road as well.
Carefully he moved his car a bit forward.
‘Darned, is that the time already. I need to get there in the next 10 minutes’
From the corner of his eye he saw the purple pick up move onto the road.
She edged her car forward ready to follow onto the road as soon as the pick up had crossed completely.
She looked to her right and just caught a glimpse of the car in front of the pick up. Where had that come from?
The man in the pick up must have thought the same thing, as he was unable to stop his car already moving ahead.
The smaller car was hit in the side and she saw it slide on its side, straight towards the oncoming traffic.
It turned further around. The car coming from her left could not avoid the collision.
The small car was hit again, went overtop and landed back on its wheels, now facing the way it had come from. The silence after the crash was deafening.
She grabbed her steering wheel and started shaking. Forcing herself away from the scene in front of her, she grabbed her cell phone and dialled 100.
‘Yes, euh, an accident just happened on the Antwerpse Steenweg, at the crossing to enter the North Industrial Estate.’
It was really hard to concentrate on what she needed to say. Her shaking hands hardly able to hold the phone still long enough.
She looked over to the two crashed cars. Other people were starting to gather around them.
‘I can see one woman crawling out of one car. But no movement in the second car.’
‘Thank you for your call, the emergency services are on their way.’
She moved her car off the road and slowly walked to the little car. The roof was collapsed and she could see blood even from this distance. No one really wanted to get to close to the car in case of fire. But she needed to check on the driver.
Carefully she made her way over. There was a man inside, his face covered in blood from the broken glass. At least he was wearing his seat belt.
She reached in the car and felt for a heartbeat. Yes, he was still alive. She let out the air she had been holding unconsciously.
As she moved her hand away, his eyes opened and he wanted to move.
‘Sshht, niet bewegen. De brandweer is onderweg.’
‘Lady, I haven’t got a clue what you just said’ he whispered.
‘Sorry, I didn’t realise. The fire brigade is on the way. Just stay still.’
‘It hurts. What happened?’
‘Your car was hit and it spun around, went over top and now your back on your feet.
He tried to smile.
‘Don’t hold anything back’
She smiled. She had been concentrating so hard on giving full and correct information, she hadn’t realised what she was saying.
‘You are going to be ok.’
‘I don’t know. I can’t breath to easy.’
‘Just try and stay calm.’
She noticed he was starting to shake, going into shock. She needed to keep him talking.
‘So what are you doing in Mechelen?’
‘Is that how you pronounce it’
He tried to lift his head but nausea threatened to overtake him. He slowly put his head down again, closing his eyes, taking deep breaths of air.
There was a long silence between them. Sirens were coming closer.
A man ran to her.
‘Get away from this car, there is petrol everywhere on the road.’
Hearing this, the young man in the car opened his eyes, panic showing through.
She took his outstretched hand.
‘I’m not going anywhere, don’t worry.’
Carefully he closed his eyes again.
She took a good look at him. He reminded her of someone. He had scratches over his arms, hands and face from the shattered glass that had broken when the car topple on its roof. His right arm lay in an awkward position, obviously broken. She could not see his legs because the steering wheel and collapsed air bag were in the way.
On the seat next to him, she noticed the sheet music.
‘You into music?’ she asked.
‘Yeah. I was supposed to meet my friends at TMF.’
‘If you had rolled a bit further you would have made it. It is just around the corner. I can actually see the flags from here.’
A small smile graced his handsome features.
‘So close! I would have made it.’
Finally the fire brigade and ambulance arrived.
‘Kan U nu uit de weg gaan, juffrouw.’ The man in charge asked her.
‘We moeten de deur verwijderen zodat de verpleegkundigen bij het slachtoffer kunnen.’
‘What’s he saying?’
‘I have to go now. They need to take the door out so the medics can have a look at you.’
‘Don’t leave’ came his pleading whisper.
‘He’s an American and doesn’t speak Flemish. Is it ok I go to the passenger seat?’
‘Just as long as you stay out of the way.’ The fireman now said in English.
She nodded and walked to the other side of the car. The other door had been taken of in the meantime and she crawled in the car.
‘Here I am again.’
It did not take long for the door to come off and the medic to put on a collar so he could not move any more. A drip was attached to his arm and they were now looking at how to get him out of the car.
‘So what kind of music?’
She tried to distract him from the rest of the proceedings.
‘I’m in a group called The Backstreet Boys’
She startled. She was a big fan of them but she had never dreamed she would meet any of them. Then she recognised him.
She didn’t know what to say. Her thoughts were interrupted when the fireman explained they had to cut of the roof.
‘We’ll put a blanket over your friend and try and work as fast as possible. You’ll have to get out.’
‘No, please. Don’t leave me alone.’
She could hear he was scared.
‘I’ll stay. But you do realise I don’t just share a blanket with every Dick, Tom or Harry!’
He relaxed a bit. But the pain was obvious on his face.
Carefully the blanket was put over them. She held on to the drip, holding it as high as possible.
The noise was terrible. Howie opened his eyes worried the car would collapse before they got him out.
But soon the blanket was pulled away and the sun shone on them both. At least the weather was nice.
With the roof removed, the medics brought the backboard to lift him out of the car.
‘Howie, they are going to take you out now. Try to relax.’
He nodded to her.
While the medics and fire brigade carefully lifted him out, she walked around to the ambulance. It didn’t take long for the trolley with Howie to roll to the ambulance.
‘Wait!’ he whispered before they put him inside.
He reached for something in his pocket.
‘Please give this to Kevin.’
She took the rosary beads from his hand and nodded.
‘Which hospital are you taking him?’ she remembered to ask one of the medics.
‘Onze-Lieve-Vrouw / Our-Sweet-Lady’
Soon Howie was secured in the ambulance and with a lot of noise it left the area.
Suddenly she felt very much alone, just standing in the middle of all this mess. A policeman came to her.
‘Were you a witness to the accident?’
She just nodded.
‘I need to take your statement please.’
He took her to the police car and carefully, not to forget any details, she told him what she had seen.
After signing the statement, she was free to go.
In her hand she was still holding the beads. She looked at them and then her gaze went to the flags of TMF. She had to find Kevin.
She walked into the reception area and people stared at her.
‘I need to see Kevin Richardson’ she asked.
‘Miss, if the Backstreet Boys were in the studio, don’t you think a load of screaming girls would be out there?’
She couldn’t quite follow.
‘I don’t care. I know he’s here. I have a message from Howie Dorough.’
That did get some reaction.
‘Please wait over there’
She walked over to the waiting area and saw a glimpse of herself in one of the reflecting walls. She was covered in dust, dirt and blood. She didn’t really care.
A man walked to her.
‘You have a message from Mr. Dorough?’
As she did not volunteer anything else, he asked irritated:
‘And that is?’
He let out a sigh.
‘You girls will do anything to get close to these guys’ he whispered annoyed.
‘I warn you, if this is just a ruse to get to them, you wish you hadn’t. They are here under strictest secrecy!’
He walked away, signalling she had to follow him. After a few minutes, she was led to a lounge area and told to wait.
She looked around but turned back when she heard someone enter the room. Kevin Richardson stood in front of her.
He looked her up and down, wondering why she looked the way she did.
‘Miss, you say you have news from Howie.’ He said calmly.
Carefully she pulled her hand out of her pocket and showed him the rosary.
Kevin’s face changed completely. He knew Howie never parted with his rosary.
‘He was in an accident just 100 meters from here.’ She said.
‘Accident!!!!!!!’ he nearly shouted.
‘Where is he? What happened?’
‘He’s been taken to the hospital’
‘Which one? Where?’ Kevin asked anxiously. He was already leaving the room to get the others.
‘Our Sweet Lady’ she called after him. And then she was alone again.
Having delivered the message she slowly walked out of the building and back to her car. Sitting down, she finally had a moment to realise what had happened. She needed to get home but tears filled her eyes.
She felt so lost and alone. After a while she composed herself and was able to drive herself back home. The road had nearly been cleaned by the time she passed by. She did not cross the main road as she usually did but took the long way home.
All through the night she kept seeing the accident again when she closed her eyes. She couldn’t sleep until she saw the rosary she had put on the table. She held it and finally fell asleep in her settee.
The next morning she called the hospital to see how Howie was doing but they would not give any news over the phone. So she drove there in the hope to find out any news.
She was in the reception area buying some flowers when the man from TMF passed her.
‘Hey, you helped Howie yesterday.’ He recognised her.
‘I did. Can you please tell me how he is doing? They won’t tell me anything seeing I’m not family. But I just wanted to make sure he was ok and give him his rosary.’
‘Why don’t you come with me?’
He took her to the 5th floor, to one of the private rooms there. Walking in he said:
‘Look who I found downstairs.’
5 men looked at her as she walked in with the flowers. She handed the flowers to Nick and then walked to Howie.
‘I thought you might like these back’ and she put the rosary in Howie’s hand.
He smiled at the familiar feeling of the beads.
‘Thank you. But you never told me your name.’
They all started laughing.
‘She did it again, D’ AJ said still smiling.
Caroline looked confused.
‘Sit down, Caroline. Let us tell you all about Howie’s Guardian Angel’ Brian offered her the chair and she made herself comfortable.
While the others told her all about Howie’s sister, Caroline, her eyes met Howie’s and quietly he whispered to her: ‘Thank you!’