Once upon a time, there was a young woman living in America. She was born in a small town, and always dreamed of moving to the big city after she finished high-school. After working hard, earning good grades, and saving the money she earned working after school and weekends, she was finally able to realize her dream. She had the blessings of her family, who knew there was no future in their town for a bright young woman. They couldnt afford to give her money to go to college, but they did buy her the bus ticket that would get her to the big city.
She stepped off the bus in wonder. The bus station was filled with more people than the entire population of her hometown. There were old ladies with bags clutched in their hands. And men, with paper bags from which they drank. Everyone else seemed to be on the move - going to a bus, getting off a bus, buying a ticket, checking their ticket, or making their way to the street to hail a cab. It was exciting, but frightening at the same time.
A man saw her hesitate uncertainly. He smiled to himself. Another girl from the country. Couldnt be much more than eighteen. And clearly had no where to go, no one meeting her. It wouldnt be long before he would have her addicted to drugs and turning tricks to pay him for her squalid room and enough drugs to keep her comfortable. But not too comfortable. He started making his way towards her, when a man in a long coat stepped in front of him. Although they barely touched, the other man put out his hand to steady himself, softly gripping his elbow. And then he moved on, the long coat making the slightest noise. And she was gone. He realized something didnt feel right. He checked his back pocket, only to find his wallet was gone, too.
Her struggle began, and in time she found a job filing in an office for minimum wage, and a small apartment she shared with another girl from her office. The apartment had only one bedroom, so she slept on the sofa. She had hoped to take night classes at the university, but she found that they were too expensive on her meager salary. Hoping that she could move up in the office, she did her job well and was diligent. Then she found that no one was ever promoted out of that job without learning more skills at a school or earning a college degree. Salary increases came once a year, and was rarely more than a dime per hour.
She was feeling trapped. All of her money was being spent on her part of the rent, food, and just the smallest purchase here and there of little extras. After a new pair of shoes, she ate nothing but bologna sandwiches for three weeks. She could only go to the movies once a month. And it seemed the men in the city werent interested in a girl from the country. Her first date ended when she resorted in punching him in the nose and taking the bus home.
All her life, she had heard of the "American Dream." The idea that anyone could make it big, could strike out on their own and make a million. From rags to riches was always the claim. And it didnt depend on anything - anyone could do it. It just required hard work. She was working hard, but she certainly didnt seem to be getting rich. The savings she came with was used up quickly during her first search for a job and the deposit for the apartment. She didnt even have enough money left to make her way back home. All of her hopes, all of her plans were silly dreams. Discouraged, she vacantly went through her duties at work. She ate her lunch alone. Heading home on the bus was a blur. It seemed all she was doing was working so she could survive, not live. This was no dream. It was rapidly becoming a nightmare.
It seemed she was doing everything in a daze. She was in a daze when she crossed the street, leaving work in the rain, headed for the bus stop. Somehow she didnt notice the car that was headed right for her, and although the driver applied the brakes, the car hit a patch of oil left by a truck just moments earlier and started to slide. There was no time. The driver couldnt avoid her, and even though she realized her danger, it was too late for her to get out of the way. She felt the car hit her legs, felt her body roll up onto the hood. Then everything was black.
She woke in a hospital room. Her leg was in a cast, there were bandages on her head, and she hurt all over. Looking around, she realized she was in a private room, and she was alone. An IV was attached to her arm, and there seemed to be an awful lot of things attached to her. She heard the monitor beeping with her heart, and there was a gentle hiss of the oxygen going into her nostrils. Immediately she worried about how much this was costing, how she would ever manage to pay the bill - especially for a private room. But before she could worry about it too much more, she fell into the darkness again.
When she woke again, there was a nurse at her side, checking the IV, putting in more medication.
"Ah, awake are you? Ill let the doctor know. How are you feeling?"
"I hurt," was the only thing she could say.
The nurse nodded. "Ive just put more pain medicine in your IV. Youll feel better in just a few minutes. Ill get the doctor now."
The doctor entered, and talked to her gently while he checked the monitors and listened to her chest with a stethoscope.
"You had a nasty accident, you know. Do you remember?"
"Yes, I think so. I was hit by a car."
"Do you remember anything else?"
"Thats to be expected. You have a mild concussion, and a pretty good cut on your scalp, but your hair will cover the scar. You have a few cracked ribs, we had to take your spleen out, and your leg is badly broken, but youll do fine. Hows the pain?"
"Ill tell the nurse to increase your dose a bit. No need for you to hurt if you dont have to. You just sleep, and let yourself heal. Youll be here for at least a few more days."
And he was gone. On his heels, the nurse bustled back in, with more medication to add to the IV. She smiled. "You just sleep. Dinner is in a few hours - Ill bring you a bit and a nice glass of juice."
Before she could do more than smile, the nurse was gone. She tried to think of how to call her parents, how to call work, but before she could even remember the phone numbers, she was asleep again.
It wasnt long before the promised dinner arrived. She wasnt very hungry, but she did drink the tall glass of iced juice. She had a bit of the sorbet - it was lemon and wonderful. And then the nurse came in and took the tray, saying that there was a man there to see her.
He was a tall man. He had a gentle smile and what looked like an expensive suit. And he even spoke gently.
"How are you feeling?" He asked politely.
"Like I was hit by a car," she answered, with what she hoped was a smile.
He smiled. "I would imagine. Has anyone called your family? Your work?"
She was shaking her head. "No. I just woke up a few hours ago. How long was I asleep?"
"Three days. Not too long. But if you give me the phone numbers of your family and your work, I can make those phone calls for you."
He looked at her expectantly, as he pulled out a small notepad. She found herself answering in spite of her feelings of hesitation. After giving him the phone numbers of her parents, her job, and her roommate, she finally found the courage to ask his identity.
"Im sorry," he replied. "I thought the nurse told you. My name is Peter Walker. I am an attorney for Mr. Wilson, the owner of the car that hit you."
"I was crossing with the light," she said.
"You misunderstand. We know you were crossing with the light. The police discovered a patch of oil on the street that caused the car to slide. Otherwise, you would have never been hit. Mr. Wilson wanted me to express his regrets that you were so badly injured, and wanted me to assure you that your needs will be taken care of during your recovery."
"But if there was oil on the road, it wasnt his fault."
"Thats not an issue. Mr. Wilson wants to make sure that you are taken care of. Youll be out of here in a few days - do you have anyone here who can look after you?"
"No. If I need to be looked after, Ill have to go home."
"That can certainly be arranged. Perhaps I should let your roommate you wont be coming back? I could send a lady over to pack your things."
His every suggestion seemed so reasonable that before she knew it, she was seated in his car, her broken leg on the full length of the back seat, her apartment deposit money in her purse, and her belongings packed carefully in new suitcases and boxes. Her doctor at home had already been called, a visiting nurse scheduled, and a physical therapist arranged for as soon as she could get out of the cast.
Her parents greeted her with relief and many thanks to Mr. Walker. She was helped into the house, and settled onto the couch, with her leg up on a stool with a cushion. And suddenly her parents had disappeared into the kitchen, and Mr. Walker was sitting in Daddys favorite chair.
"I was told to let you know that you do have some options when you finish your rehabilitation. Mr. Wilson has asked me to tell you that if you wish to attend the university in Emmerson, he would be happy to assist you. And its close enough you could even live at home if you wish."
The university in Emmerson was a private school, with a tuition that would cost more than her father make in a year.
"He also asked me to give you this."
He handed her an envelope, which she opened with slightly shaking hands. Inside was a brief note, hand written by Mr. Wilson himself. He expressed his regret at her injuries, and his desire to help her find a better place in the world. But that wasnt all. There was a check. Not a small, regular check that you would write at the grocery store, but a big, long check that you get from a company. She looked at the amount and froze.
"But," she started. "It wasnt his fault ... "
He stopped her with a wave of her hand. "It doesnt matter," he assured her. "You never asked for anything. That impressed him. He wants to help you get the best of this world. You can go to college, and take your time and find a good job. You can have all the things you could have had if life was fair."
"Please tell him I said thank you."
Mr. Walker smiled. "Ill do that. Youve already been accepted for the fall semester. If you can manage to recover, perhaps you could have a bit of a vacation before you start school."
"Maybe Ill do that. Thank you."
She healed quickly. Her parents were happy to have her at home, and she opened an account at the bank with the check from Mr. Wilson. She spent very little, wanting to be able to take care of her school bills. The days passed as she thumbed through the college catalog, and then through the schedule of classes, deciding where to start. She felt like a child in a candy shop. So many classes, so many subjects, and just four years.
And then she turned her attention to the idea of a vacation. Her leg was healed. She could walk with no difficulty, and all her other injuries were memories. And a few scars. But only that. She called travel companies and had brochures all over the kitchen table. In time, she had them sorted into piles, then she had it narrowed down to just two. Not too long after that-she chose one.
The passport and visas were applied for, tickets bought, and one of the suitcases Mr. Wilson provided was packed carefully. Tearful goodbyes were repeated, but everyone knew that in just two weeks she would be home, and getting ready to start classes.
She was going to the Middle East, to the Holy Land. After reading travel advisories and the information provided, she supplied herself with a long scarf to cover her hair with, and her mother sewed her a light, long coat to wear over her clothes, with long sleeves and buttons up to her neck. She didnt want to upset or offend anyone. This was a land of many beliefs and it just seemed best to - well, when in Rome, right?
Her trip started in Israel. She prayed in famous churches, and knelt in temples and mosques. She touched the Wailing Wall, feeling so very much part of the community of those at the Wall with her.
It was while traveling through the disputed area that it happened. The bus she was on was unlucky enough to run afoul of a terrorist faction. Because the bus came from Israel, there undoubtably were enemies of the cause aboard. They almost passed by her, until she was asked a question. Her accent made her origin obvious and she was taken from the bus. While making her way down the steps of the bus, she was pushed from behind, causing her to stumble. She fell, badly straining her previously broken leg. Rough hands pulled her to her feet, and when she put her foot to the ground a jolt of pain exploded up her leg. It folded under her and she found herself falling again.
There were voices yelling, men arguing, and hands pulling at her. She just kept shaking her head and saying, "No. I cant walk."
She didnt even see the gun. She heard the shot almost as an afterthought. She could hear the breath move through the hole in her chest as she tried to keep breathing. But -she lost that fight. As the men pushed and pulled their other prisoners towards their vehicle, she drew her last breath at the side of that dirt road, in the dust and sand of the desert. Frightened faces stared out from the bus windows at her motionless body. And her scarf fluttered in a sudden breeze to cover her face.