A stranger in her own life

A stranger in her own life

Recovering from an accident, a girl discovers that there are some things she may never get back

The sky was alive with lightning, cracking open to the sound of thunder. Pellets of water soaked an already drenched Stephanie to the core. Shivering, she wrapped her useless raincoat even more tightly around her as she trudged in the direction of the MTR. How on Earth had she forgotten to bring her wallet to school on a day such as this? If she had it with her, right now she could be sitting in a taxi on the way home.

Even Mum wouldn't have minded me getting a taxi, not in this weather, Stephanie told herself - although finding one during a downpour like this would have been a miracle.

Thunder clapped once more, louder and nearer to Stephanie than ever. A sharp pang of fear coursed through her body. It was getting late, and it didn't seem like the storm would calm down soon. It was time to ask for help.

Spotting a classmate sheltering at a bus stop, Stephanie hurried over as fast as she could, trying to ignore the water sloshing into her shoes.

"Hey, Kenny! Do you have a hundred bucks you can lend me for a taxi ride home?" Stephanie pleaded.

Looking up from his iPhone, Kenny took in her sopping wet state. "You're in luck," he sighed, handing over the HK$100 bill resignedly. "I've got some extra cash. But I need that money back tomorrow. I'm pretty broke."

"That's not a problem! Thank you so much!" Stephanie grabbed the money and dashed into the street, waving her arms wildly, in search of a taxi that could take her home.

Out of nowhere, Stephanie heard a long loud "beep". Then events began to happen very quickly.

Stephanie whipped her head round to see a bright pair of lights, followed by a dark shadow, approaching through the rain. Then she heard a blood-curdling scream of her name. The wind was knocked out of her, and she experienced an excruciating pain. Then, all was pitch black.

Through the heavy, suffocating blackness, a dull, throbbing ache pounded within her head.

A peculiar scent tickled her nose, growing stronger by the second. Then Stephanie felt a sensation of warmth in her hand.

"Steph, dear, I brought you your favourite dumplings. The doctor told us that if we kept bringing the food you love and let you listen to your favourite songs, you'd wake up sooner ... Please, Steph ... Darling, please wake up ..."

Stephanie felt her hand squeezed momentarily, while the woman's voice continued, between stifled sobs, "We miss you so much ..."

She was reaching out of the smothering darkness, trying to grasp on to something, anything, a memory, a name ...

It was Stephanie. Stephanie was her name.

A rush of excitement flooded through her veins. If only she could remember some more ... A pair of blinding yellow lights. Thunder cracking. A terrifying scream. A searing pain. The car crash.

Her head was in agony from the effort of remembering. Her fingers twitched, her eyelids flickered. Finally, Stephanie awoke.

The room was white. Everything was white. Her blankets, her pillows, her dressing gown. It was a refreshing change from the choking murkiness that had been her prison only moments before.

"Steph ... Can this be? Wilson! Wilson, come over here ... Stephanie's awake!"

The small, dark-haired woman at the foot of the bed gestured frantically to a tall man with a greying moustache. Both wore teary-eyed looks of relief mixed with another emotion that Stephanie couldn't quite figure out.

"Stephanie, can you hear me? Please, say something!" They had moved to either side of her bed now, and the man was clutching at her arm, while the dark-haired woman was anxiously pushing Stephanie's hair from her face.

"Who are you?" Stephanie croaked, her voice raspy from lack of use. She looked from one face to another, feeling a sense of unease creep over herself. Who were these people? Why were they acting as if they knew her?

Unanswered questions swirled around Stephanie's mind like mist, fogging up her brain.

The man and woman were now looking at each other with despair, as the door opened and a balding middle-aged man wearing a doctor's lab coat stepped inside.

"Wilson, Linda, I came as quickly as I could." The doctor flashed a smile and turned to Stephanie.

Linda burst into fresh tears. "Dr Lee, I don't think she's fine! She doesn't seem to remember ... You have to give me back my daughter. Please!"

Eyes widening, the truth finally dawned on her. The woman, Linda, had called Stephanie her ... daughter. The strange look on their faces - it was love.

These were her parents - but they were strangers.

Wilson lay a comforting arm around Linda's shoulders and waited for her sobs to subside. Then he looked Dr Lee straight in the eye. "We understood that amnesia was a possibility, but is there any way, any way at all ..."

Shaking his head, Dr Lee seemed to collect himself before answering. "Mr and Mrs Chan, I am very sorry. When Stephanie arrived at the hospital all those months ago with severe head injuries, I explained that post-traumatic amnesia was a likely condition if she did wake from her coma. We will have to run tests to know for sure whether this is going to be permanent or ..."

"Mum ... Dad ..." The words spilled out before Stephanie realised what was happening. All heads swivelled towards her in disbelief.

Linda rushed to Stephanie's side, and took her hand. Kneeling down beside her, Wilson scooped her up into a big hug.

Witnessing how delighted she had made them by simply uttering those two simple words, Stephanie offered a weak grin. It was as if sunlight had broken through the rain clouds.

"Well, I'd better leave all of you alone to catch up with one another if Stephanie's feeling up to it," said Dr Lee, heading towards the door.

Linda and Wilson set about gushing over Stephanie's new room extension, her new dog, how much her friends had missed her, the get-well presents they'd sent her, and how she could begin classes as soon as she was discharged from hospital. Then everything would get back to the way it was before the car accident. Stephanie nodded and gave them her best smile.

Everything was perfect except for one little catch.

Linda and Wilson's words spiralled around and around her head, but Stephanie couldn't understand their relevance to her. She couldn't remember her old room or any dog. She didn't know who her friends were, or where she went to school.

They promised that everything would get back to normal, but she had no idea what "normal" was.

Linda and Wilson, who were supposedly her parents, were no more familiar to her now than they were the moment she had woken up. They were describing her life, but to Stephanie, it was the life of a stranger.

Stephanie stood in front of the bedroom mirror, looking at someone who looked just like her, albeit wearing an unfamiliar uniform and a tense expression.

She adjusted the collar of her shirt, and sighed.

"Whom am I kidding? You're Stephanie, not me. I'll never be Stephanie again."

A yelping sound came from behind her, and Stephanie turned around to find the little pomeranian puppy that had been waiting for her in her bedroom the afternoon she returned from hospital. Bonnie lay panting on the bed, wagging her tail at Stephanie.

"Aw, Bon, come over here," Stephanie said, opening her arms to cuddle the ball of fluff, breathing in her warm and comforting dog scent.

For some reason, after an entire weekend with her family, Bonnie was still the only living creature, human or animal, that felt remotely like home.

Stephanie looked at the clock on her bedside table. She knew it was time to go back to her classes, her teachers, her homework.

Most importantly, however terrifying, it was time for her to go back to her friends - even though she had no idea who they were.

Thank goodness for the school bus; otherwise, I'd have taken hours to find the place, Stephanie thought to herself. Amnesia really was no joke.

As she climbed the steps leading to the school's main building, she became aware of the hushed conversations, furtive glances and outright staring around her. Gritting her teeth, Stephanie vowed to plough on. It was no surprise that the other students were surprised at her sudden return.

"Steph? Oh, my God! Is that you? Stephanie!" A tall, gangly, black-haired girl raced towards her, barely giving her a chance to react before wrapping her in an enormous hug.

"Do you have any idea how much we've missed you?"

Stephanie stared at the girl, noting her naturally pale complexion and excited face. Her eyes fell on the people behind her, taking each of them in. The girl standing on the left had hair that was streaked red; another girl was quite short; the boy had weird, spiky, gelled hair ...

Something in her brain seemed to click, but a second later, she was just as confused as ever. Their faces spun around inside her mind, and for a moment, she considered running away.

They all thought she was Stephanie, and physically, maybe she was. But mentally, she might never be again. At this point, there was no way to know.

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