The call couldn’t have come at a worse time. It was my colleague Ranjan asking for the keys to the office door. How stupid of me to have carried them with me when I left office, I thought to myself.
Exasperated, I smacked my forehead letting out an expletive, alarming my wife who was sitting right across me. “What happened?!”
“I have carried the keys with me when I was supposed to have left them with the security guard at the gate. Now Ranjan is at the office and he has to work the night shift.”
Abhik and Rimi were seated at a swanky Café enjoying a cup of coffee. It was her birthday today and he had just ordered a small cake to celebrate her special day. “Now what?”, she asked with an incredulous expression on her face.
I already knew the answer. I dreaded saying it aloud. I would have to go back all the way to office. There was no other option. For security reasons, few files which could be accessed only while in office, were part of this project and the deadline to submit it was tomorrow.
In fact, Ranjan and me had discussed this already in the morning today. The understanding was since I would be the last to leave work (as was my wont everyday) I would drop the keys with the Security Desk at the entrance to the Office Block. Ranjan after completing his client visit would come, collect it and access work at his convenience.
The office was at least 30-35 minutes away in evening traffic. It would take almost an hour to complete the return trip! With a morose look on my face I started getting up from my chair. I genuinely wanted to spend time with my wife tonight even if it was just the 2 of us celebrating her birthday as an exclusive private affair.
“Wait, I have an idea” interjected Rimi. “Why don’t you call Ranjan and ask him to come half-way? Then at least you could save some time.” Trust women to come up with practical solutions to everyday problems. My mind muddled up due to the long day at work, lit up with this suggestion. “Yes of course. That will indeed help save time!”
I immediately called up Ranjan who picked it up on the 3rd ring. “Dude listen I will drive up to Jaydev Vihar. Can you please come over to the traffic signal there? I can hand over the keys to you.” Jaydev Vihar was only 20 odd minutes from the Café where we were presently sitting. Luckily, Ranjan who was a good sport did not make any fuss about this additional work he would have to undertake. He had his bike handy and agreed to meet me at the designated signal.
2 hours earlier
I was getting late in office. I had promised Rimi that I would be meeting her in The Café to celebrate her birthday with a coffee, cake and dinner before we both head home. It was a newly opened outlet and was located close to her office.
Rimi was always keen to try out new joints which kept popping up in different corners of the city. Be it a fashion store or a dining joint or even a mundane supermarket opening, Rimi had to be there. This exasperated me a few times, but I loved my wife a lot and to please her I would accompany her on most of these ‘LTIO’ (Let’s Try It Out) trips.
On most of these LTIO visits we would rarely purchase anything. Household budgets every month would normally be tight. Yet the fact that she visited a store, explored it and saw what all they had to offer delighted her. It was in this happiness that I found my own.
Rimi’s mood would considerably lighten up and when we reached home the discussions on the various stuff we had seen or purchased could very well carry over onto the next day. We normally had a LTIO trip practically every week.
We had been married 9 years now and next year we would be celebrating a decade of togetherness. How time flies! Like most couples we have had our share of ups and downs but somehow we had stuck together. Our only regret was that we had been unable to start a family.
As a couple we suffered from what the doctor diagnosed as unexplained infertility. Both of us had undergone various tests and declared to be medically fit yet somehow those damned eggs would not get fertilized. We did weigh other options but had not acted on any of those yet, aware that time was running out. It had moved from the middle rungs in our resolution list of previous years, to the top this year.
Children or not, I was genuinely fond of my wife and took extra care to meet her expectations on few of her idiosyncrasies. Celebrating birthdays was also one of them.
Not only was Rimi obsessed with her own birthday but also that of everyone else around her. Even if it was a small get together with a gift or pleasantries exchanged and an evening well spent, it was enough. It need not be a grand affair.
So, when I proposed that just the 2 of us do a LTIO at this new joint and celebrate her birthday, she was more than happy to do it!
Anyways I finally managed to wrap up my work and quickly shut down my system. Rimi had pinged me a couple of times saying she was already seated in the café. I hated to keep anyone waiting. Period.
It gave rise to feelings of anxiety in me. Whether it was a client, my colleague and even more importantly my wife, I simply disliked making another person wait. I valued time and sometimes despite making a best effort I could not stick to my schedule. That really was one of my biggest drawbacks and irritated me no end.
So, it was in this frame of mind that I hurriedly switched off the office AC, lights and closed the door behind me. I took long quick strides, practically cantering to where my bike was and impatiently pulled it out of the parking lot. I almost hit a stationary Scooty parked next to my 2-wheeler and drove off with a sense of urgency gripping my thought process.
Handing over the office key at the Security desk was the last thing on my mind.
Within a couple of hours, I found myself again in a similar position and in a similar state of mind as I raced on my bike towards the meeting point with Ranjan. Traffic had worsened compared to an hour earlier as an unseasonal drizzle had bought chaos on the roads.
Vehicles slowed down considerably and yet everyone seemed to be in a hurry to reach their destinations.
I negotiated the traffic with a mix of impatience and hurling the choicest of expletives under my breath, at my fellow commuters. Whenever you are in a hurry to reach somewhere, time seems to stretch interminably. So, after what seemed to be an unending drive (when in fact it was just 20 minutes since I started from the café) I managed to reach the Jaydev Vihar crossing. I quickly scanned the area hoping to see Ranjan parked somewhere.
But he was not to be seen.
For a moment I was tempted to dial him but knew my friend would be driving in this same dense traffic as well. I had no choice but to show restraint and wait.
After what seemed to be an eternity, I could finally see a rain-soaked figure driving over cautiously to where I stood. The rain had increased in intensity and under the cover of the raincoat and with a helmet on, it took a few seconds for me to recognise him.
“Man, you owe me a drink for making me come out in this rain. I should have been seated snugly now, sipping a hot cup of tea at my desk. You on a special date with Rimi?”.
If that smirk was accompanied with a wink, I would not have been able to see it in the darkness. “Sorry dude. But thanks a million for coming over half-way. I have to rush back as she is waiting at the café.”
“Ok carry on,” saying this Ranjan took the keys and headed back to office.
Chapter 2– Conclusion
Now that the key was handed over, I felt a bit relieved. At least the part of my responsibility towards work was over. Now it was the turn of my personal life. I had to go back to where my dear wife was waiting with her birthday cake.
I knew I had to hurry.
A sense of regret had started creeping in my mind, that if only I had remembered to stop briefly and dropped the keys while leaving office, things would not have come to this urgency.
Though Rimi was a good sport and showed patience unlike some other women I knew, I could not test her any further. I drove a bit recklessly realizing I may have to break a couple of rules in order to cut time short.
Just one more traffic junction to go before the Café and I would soon re-join her!
That thought galvanised me and I was now just 50 meters away from the signal. I saw it was already green and maybe it had been so since the past few seconds. I revved up the accelerator and hoped it stayed open for some more time. It was a busy square shaped junction and If I could beat this, I could easily save at least 2-3 minutes until the signal would complete its clockwise round and come back to green again.
Just before I reached the crossing, the signal turned amber and I knew I would have to take a risk and break it. It was red as I crossed it realizing other commuters on my left, where the signal had turned green had already begun to move.
At first, I did not pay attention to the big, dark object driving towards me from my left. Frankly I did not even see it, as I was only focussed on surging ahead. It was only when it was just a couple of feet away, that a feeling of surprise and shock gripped my heart. The vehicle was moving towards me and moving fast.
When I was almost half-way through the junction, I felt the first impact of the collision.
It sent my bike skidding on the wet, slippery road dragging me underneath it. The front tyres of the SUV made a loud, sickening sound as metal crashed against metal. It ran over my upper torso and for a split second I could feel the air being squeezed out of my body as if a giant beast had sat upon me. The rear tyres of the vehicle crushed my legs and I could feel excruciating pain shoot up throughout my body.
As flowing blood met flowing rainwater, all the noises around me went eerily hollow. It was as if I was being carried away to a faraway land. The final image that crossed my mind was that of my beloved wife sitting alone at the café with her birthday cake waiting for me to arrive.
Then blackness enveloped me completely.
The man walked with a slight limp as he made his way into the café, skirting around the tables filled with raucous laughter and the gay evening mood.
Rimi saw him only when he was a few feet away from her table, busy as she was fiddling with her mobile phone.
He seemed to have moved in silently almost invisible to others.
His face looked pale and he seemed to be walking, as if in a trance.
“Oh, so you are back finally! I have been waiting to cut this cake,” said Rimi.
He merely nodded and smiled. He clapped both his hands softly as she blew the single candle and sliced the knife deep into her birthday cake.
She offered him a bite to eat and then had rest of the slice herself. She noticed he was standing quietly, still holding his piece of the cake.
By now, the family seated next to their table, were looking curiously in her direction.
Somehow a strange feeling of unease gripped her heart and she was not sure why.
It was only when she hugged him in a loving embrace, did she realize that she was wrapping herself around thin air.
She swooned once before she crashed onto the floor unconscious.
This story is not complete without the mention of Ritwicka Banerjee, an awesomely, talented artist! Her painting done in acrylic and oil has been created specifically for my story and gives it a visual imagery.
phantasmicart (her Insta Id) -your creativity is amazing! Thank you so much 🙂
Dear Reader, When we are on the roads, we must remember to be careful and drive safe. For there is always someone, somewhere waiting for us, looking forward to our return. Do share your thoughts and comments below on the story. I look forward to hearing from you!