Thursday, February 28, 2008

Short Cut

Jay took another swig from his cigarette. Quite oblivious of the “No Smoking” board beneath which he was sitting. Being the single soul present there at that unholy hour, there wasn't anyone who was complaining, and even if some one did bother Jay did not give it a damn anyways. He was fully drenched, and every swig he took added to some warmth to his body as the hot smoke filled his lungs and were exhaled through his nostrils.
The white shirt, clung on to his well chiseled upper torso. His black striped tie was loosely dangling from his shirt collar. He was firmly perched on the wooden bench outside the general ward of the hospital. Here he needn't bear the brunt of the terrible weather. And all he needed is some place where he could be all by himself.
Water was dripping from all over his body. He was now shivering as the wind blew as if to torment him more. Jay looked at his watch adorned wrist, it seemed to him as time wasn’t moving at all. He tried not to, but still his mind made him go through the events since this fateful morning.

It began for him like any other day. He was as usual woken up, to the rich aroma of his bed coffee to which he was now accustomed over the four years. Neha as usual reminded him that he better wake up now or would get late for office. He pushed his head under the pillow begging for another five minutes. And she told him that she wont re-heat the coffee, so he had a choice to either return to the lap of mother sleep and forgo his morning coffee, or drink that sinful beverage, and be forced to part with sleep. He chose the former.

When Neha returned after dropping Sanju to school, she found him still sleeping, she looked at the wall clock and shook her head in disbelief. “Jay YOU ARE STILL SLEEPING!”

As it turned out to be, the five minutes had stretched past several multiples of five. Jay woke up, his eyes wide open now. He rushed to the open bathroom, did things as fast as he possibly could yet, couldn’t make up for the lost time. He had an important meeting with a client, which even his Boss was attending, and as time for appraisals was nearing he did not want to mess up on anything. And things were not very rosy in office either. Two of his colleagues had been handed the pink slip in the recent months. And this particular client wasn't exactly helpful either. Clients are never helpful though. They create as much noise as they can and can be quite a pain sometimes, but one couldn’t ignore the fact, that they were the reason why our accounts swelled at the end of every calendar month.

He rushed out, kissing Neha’s forehead as ran past the door, his sandwich in one hand the car keys in the other. It was raining relentlessly. The natures’ fury made sure that the roads resembled streams of muddy water, cleverly hiding the bumpers and puddles. Well given the conditions it was difficult to say whether the roads were punctuated by puddles or was it the other way around. They say India is improving and its growing and shining, but the tax payer never found benefit for the taxes he paid every year, the conditions of the roads, the public transport and other things on which his existence depended never improved enough to justify his incremented taxes every year.

He started the car, and took it out on to the open road. The wipers of his car were furiously removing the water from his front pane. He was hoping that some how either his client or his Boss better both get delayed as well for the meeting. But he himself knew that it was impossible as hoping to see bright sunshine in this weather. It being the office timing, the traffic was no less. He swiveled, cursing every other red signal that came his way. He mumbled choicest abuses at fellow passengers who were either not maintaining their lane or were too slow. The clock was ticking and with each passing minute he was getting late and that was making him more frustrated and irritable.

As he lunged past another of the many turns that he took every day to his apostle of work, he was behind another serpentine traffic blockade. He then did something which he could say was the turning point of events. He decided to take the narrow short cut, which would lead him to his office. The roads were very narrow and even in the best weather avoidable. But given the circumstances Jay turned a blind eye towards those eventualities. He swerved his car towards that narrow lane, only to be greeted by a pool of water being splurged onto his window pane by an on coming vehicle. Nonchalantly he waded through the water logged street. He meandered through the road keeping his foot pressed hard against the accelerator pedal all the time. And then out of no where, he sprang. And before Jay could react, he was thrown away by the enormous impact of the steel.

The narrow lanes were bordered on both sides by slums and had many an urchins. This guy was apparently enjoying floating some paper made boats in the water logged streets and then apparently for no reason, as kids are supposed to be, ran on to the other side of the road not realizing that one Mr. Jay was getting late to office and was driving at maddening speed. All it took was one split second, and then he was rendered air borne and when he landed he was knocked out cold.

The main road and his office were just in sight, when Jay slammed the brakes hard. The machine quite furious by all the adverse things it were subjected upon chose to protest. The momentum made immediate stop impossible and he lost control and rammed an electric post, mangling the front part of his car. But that was not his immediate worry. He was worried about the little boy. The sound of the impact was loud enough to get the local people sprung into action. The weather wasn’t a deterrent, as very soon a crowd managed to surround a visibly shaken Jay. People had just started manhandling the Executive of the envious MNC when a police van came along.

A tobacco chewing constable, immediately saw an opportunity for added incentive to the meager Government salary he drew every month, and intervened and pulled Jay into the van.

For some minutes Jay did not know what all was happening. He kept telling himself, that this was some terrible nightmare he was having and very soon he would wake up to the sweet voice of Neha and the rich aroma of coffee. But the thick scent of the tobacco chewing policeman shook him back to reality. He was taken to the nearby police station. More than his meeting, his sorry state of affairs, he was more concerned for that little kid, who was the victim of his erroneous driving.

He was made to sit, in the aluminum foldable chair in the police station, where everyone, including the inmates looked at him as if he was some alien. They could be pardoned, for it was some time, since they had last seen a man, well dressed, in a resplendent white shirt, and neatly tied tie, matching trousers and shining shoes sitting in the Police Station for so long.

His mobile phone and his personal belongings were soon taken from him, due to which he couldn’t inform anyone, of his sorry plight. His mind raced back to the split second, when he saw a kid dash out of nowhere only to be sprung high into the air and land with a loud thud some distance from the point of impact. His mind was only occupied thinking about the kid. He was almost of the same age of Sanju. “Oh! God what have I done”, he thought. The mere thought of something like this happening to his own son, moved him to tears. He wasn’t particularly religious, but he hid his face in his palms and summoned all the benevolent powers to bless the young life.

Several police personnel came, jeered at him, abused him, threatened him and finally when they got bored of all this, gave him two options. He could both part with his money and arrange for some more using the Debit card, or have a case registered against him and spend the night in prison. The entire day, he saw the constable making endless calls to his relatives down in his native village and discussing mundane topics. The stingy room in the Police station was stifling him. He wanted to get out at any cost. He promptly agreed to give them money or bribe in better words.

One thing that hadn’t changed since morning was the terrible weather, it continued to pour. The Police Constable was kind enough to give him a lift to the near by ATM. Once he had made sure his greed was met, he let him go. Thanks to all those phone calls and poor network due to bad weather, his mobile battery breathed its last, atleast for the time being. He only asked one favour from the Police constable in return for all the generosity, he asked him, if he had any idea about the little toddler. Call it gratitude or humanity, the constable told him the address of the General Hospital where the kid was admitted. He also advised him not to go there, as if the kid did not make it, and if the relatives recognized Jay, then he would have a torrid time, and the police would have to take action, if a complaint was registered.

In ordinary day to day life, Jay wouldn’t have bribed anyone, or wouldn’t have been subject to all the bull shit he was being handled to, but today wasn’t any other day. First thing he did was to look out for a cab. The rain was getting him fully drenched, but he was determined. He kept walking until he was able to coax a cabbie to take him to that hospital for some extra freebies.

As soon as he reached there, he ran into the reception area. He was met with a sleepy receptionist. She looked at him visibly irritated to have been woken up, from her deep slumber. Anyways she did tell him, about the kid. He managed to rush to the Ward, and saw the kid through the peep hole of ICU. He spoke to the Doctor in charge, who told him, that his condition was critical and his parents had just left in search of O negative blood. The blood bank did not have it. And the kid urgently needed blood.
For the first time in the day, he felt God had finally listened to his prayers. He was glad when he heard O negative. What a coincidence, the guy lying mangled on the ICU shared his rare blood group. He immediately, told the doctor who quickly made arrangements for the blood transfusion.
Once the blood was taken, the doctor informed him, that an immediate operation was imminent. And since no one else was there, the doctor taking Jay to be a relative, asked to sign against the needed documentation. Jay was in two minds, how could he take such a big decision on some one else’s behalf. But then, time wasn't some thing he had. The innocent kid was lying in the ICU due to him. He had unknowingly made a decision about the kid’s fate, this time he had to make decision knowingly. He signed against all the documents required for the emergency operation.

Emotionally and physically exhausted, Jay retraced his steps to the entrance, where he collapsed on the wooden bench. Instinctively he reached out for his cigarette packet and lighted one.

Suddenly he remembered, that Neha might be getting worried, since it has been quite late and his cell phone is switched off. He went to the receptionist, and requested her if she would allow him to make a call. She pointed him out to the twenty four hour PCO, in the adjoining Medical Shop. He went there, and called Neha. It wasn’t the time to explain over to her, everything. But at the same time, he had to tell her that everything was fine.

He waited with bated breath as the phone kept on ringing. Just when he thought the phone would go unanswered he heard the sweet voice of his loving wife. Before she could say anything, he told her that he was stuck in office due to some important work and wont be returning home tonight. He told her, “You take care and good night” and hung up.

For a moment she was shocked, because she had called his office, when she couldn’t reach his cell phone and his secretary had informed her Jay hadn’t come to office at all. She rang all his colleagues she knew and none of them had any information regarding the whereabouts of Jay. She was quite worried, and given the weather and the circumstances anyone would be worried. She had just locked the flat, to talk to their neighbours and seek their help, when she heard the first ring. The clattering of the rain drops against the roof, muffled the voice, so she made herself sure that it was indeed her phone that was ringing. Then she opened the door, and was reassured to hear his voice.

She knew he was lying, but she did not know why? Was he having an affair with some one else? Was he in some trouble? All these things raced in her turbulent mind. Then she saw the number displayed, in caller id. She called back to the number and when the medical shop owner answered the phone, she got a jolt.

Jay was lighting his third cigarette in a row, when a nurse told him that the doctor was summoning him. He threw the half lit cigarette and ran through the steps, two at a time. He was met, by the doctor’s reassuring smile. He informed Jay that the worst was over; the kid was out of danger. But he needed to be kept under observation for another forty eight hours. He did not know what came to him; he bear hugged the doctor and started crying inconsolably. The doctor patted him and told him that there was nothing to worry now.

The parents of the kid arrived and before they could ask anything, the doctor told them that this man, pointing towards Jay, had given their son the much needed bottle of blood and that the operation was successful and the apple of their eye was out of danger.. The parents of the kid, who hadn’t seen Jay, when their son was hit, looked at him with eyes full of gratitude.

He felt even guiltier, with folded hands he told them, he was the errant rash driver who had caused them so much harm and that they were free to do what they wanted to him. The parents emotional themselves, chose to forgive the man in tears appealing to them, begging them to punish him. They were moved to tears themselves.
Jay paid all the bills and volunteered to shift him to a better hospital, but the parents, did not want all that. They were happy that Jay had taken so much pain, to come and ensure that the kid was safe. And all said and done, he had given their son the much needed bottle of blood.

Jay was fully exhausted by then, he took their leave and sprinting through the steps down, to rush back home, he saw Neha, enquring about him to the receptionist.

As Jay sat in the car, he knew the next few days he would have lot of explaining to do. But then he wasn’t complaining. All the time since the accident the only one thing he had prayed was that the kid should be safe. Someone else shouldn’t be paying for his mistakes, and he was happy that his prayer was listened to.

But as Neha spurred the engine to life, he knew night had just begun………