Naman was waiting for Paudwal to join him. The ambience had the familiar noise of the vehicles passing by. His mind was drawn to the smell of freshly-fried pakoras that were stimulating his taste buds in addition to salivating his mouth. He moved away from the restaurant towards the bench outside the park.
He could still hear them talking.
Kirti was busy getting her dolls married. She was calling out to the priest to chant the mantras. Drishti was giggling, looking at her daughter’s games. She was telling him something about it but he couldn’t quite make out what it was.
A biker went past, honking wildly. Naman kept looking at him till he crossed the bridge and disappeared around the corner.
It had been raining since midnight. The kitchen roof was leaking and water was trickling down the side of the wall, having long damped the entire room. Drishti was again complaining about the lack of amenities they had. How could he prioritize something else over his family? Kirti was wailing. The doctor had told them things were going to be difficult and they must plan accordingly. He knew as much.
A car slowly climbed the hill and came to rest on the pavement. Paudwal opened the car door and waved at him. He smiled meekly. Another day!
His colleagues had asked him to join them that night for the party. He swore that he didn’t want to go but the boss had almost ordered him to be there. It was important for his job that he go. With the hard times the company had fallen on, being in the boss’ bad books wouldn’t help their cause.
Paudwal and Naman ordered coffee and some fried snacks. The TV was showing a news report about the recent hooch tragedy in the city. The customers at the restaurant were all looking at it. Naman though, looked away after a cursory glance. He didn’t need that negativity around his life. Not that it mattered anymore.
He was half-asleep when he was awakened by his boss violently shaking him. Kirti had suffered another attack and Drishti had called on his mobile to tell him that they needed to get her to the hospital. Slurring and swaying, he took his boss’ rickety Renault and drove away to his house, fast as he could.He was shaking from the adrenaline and the tension but thought himself to be in reasonable amount of control. He honked once as Drishti came out, holding Kirti in her lap. By the time she sat on the front seat, Naman had put his foot on the accelerator.
As the car pulled into the parking lot, Naman reached on to the back seat to take out his bag that contained the files for the presentation. He closed the door and started off for the building. Paudwal was a couple steps behind him.
The rain was showing no signs of slowing down. The roads had poor vision and Naman was straining his eyes to keep the car in the right lane. They car meter told him that they were going faster than what was safe. He had no time to wonder whether slowing down would be prudent behaviour. Suddenly, as he crossed the bridge and swung that corner, there was a car speeding up the other side, in the wrong lane. Naman jammed his foot on the brake and tried to turn the wheel to the right to avoid collision. The cars knocked each other around the sides of their bonnets. As Naman struggled for control, the car flipped in the air. Drishti was screaming as they plunged headlong into the ditch. His head jerked forward just as Drishti’s head slammed on the dashboard. That was the last thing he saw before his mind went blank.
Naman prepared to deliver his part of the lecture. The rehab centre inmates were looking relaxed as usual. He told them that the slides he was going to show them contained graphic images. When he saw no concern being raised, he proceeded. It was time to finally show them what his own experience had taught him.
The doctors later told him that his survival was a miracle in itself. The insurance company had refused to pay him anything despite the accident having occurred for no apparent fault of his.
As he was winding down his lecture, Naman looked into the eyes of the attendants. After a pause, he dropped the cloth covering his lower body and moved the wheelchair forward, to be met with a collective gasp.
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