I had an unobstructed view of the clock hanging in the office from my cube. There was no seconds’ hand; there was no tick tock sound – so it felt like the time moved slowly. The minute hand crawled to the next number like a window shopper moving to each store without attracting attention. It had been 19 minutes since 3, and I waited for it to be 30 minutes. I had made up my mind to leave early as there was a storm warning that can dump at least 10 inches of snow overnight.
It already started snowing a couple of hours back. I have made a habit of riding the bus at 4.30 and today I was certain to ride earlier one. I haven’t taken this bus in a long, so I wasn’t sure of the crowd or the timeliness of the bus arrival. The minute hand was still taking its sweet time to point at 6. I opened the weather app to check the forecast. Nothing had changed since I had checked. I then opened YouTube. Just like a squirrel running on a squirrel wheel, I clicked links after links. I should have known better and kept track of the time. The minute hand had slowly crawled to 5 and I was late to the bus.
I hurriedly picked all my things and ran towards the elevator. I was fortunate enough to not wait and immediately got into the elevator car. My mind was racing whether I would miss the bus, I was ready to get off the elevator and run to the bus stop. But that didn’t happen. Once I was out of the office, the snow fell like someone was dumping trash and there was ice on the roads. I kept each step cautiously balancing my body on the ice. I reached the stop and saw a couple of familiar faces who rides with me. I gave them a nod of acknowledgment and joined the herd to wait for the bus.
I don’t know about others, but I liked my bus ride. I don’t have to concentrate on the roads – just relax, read a book, and relieve of work stress. Also, living in a hilly place gave the advantage of enjoying the scenic beauty which I cannot do while in the driver seat of the car. There is particularly a stretch, maybe a couple of miles maximum, at the end of the downtown, where the road passes along the edge of the hill. It might not be more than 6 or 7 floors high, but seeing the river that runs below gives me a sense of calmness that I don’t feel anywhere. Another hill starts at the other side of the river which has some of the beautiful trees with vibrant colors during spring and fall. This being winter everything was covered in snow; nevertheless, it was still beautiful and breathtaking.
My thoughts were disturbed when people started making a line. I raised my head to see my bus approaching and I too fell back on the line to board the bus. When I got into the bus, there were hardly any seats left. I found an aisle seat at the back and made my way to it. I got settled in with my book in my hand. The bus moved along at the pace that I could beat the bus in a race to my home if I walked. The roads were packed as everyone was trying to get home before it got worse. I read the book mechanically, reading the words but not forming the meaning on my mind. Something was making me uncomfortable; maybe it was the crowd, maybe it was the cold, maybe it was the traffic, maybe it was sitting in a motionless bus or maybe it was the nothing. I couldn’t put a pin on the reason. I closed the book and looked at other passengers.
Someone sitting at the front caught my attention first. They were wearing a bright yellow coat. They had a huge headphone on their head. I wouldn’t be able to hear what they were listening but could make out they liked the music as they nodded their head up and down, right and left and up and down. I looked over them to see the driver. She was working something on the dashboard while keeping an eye on the road as frequent as possible. I turned my attention to the kid sitting diagonally to the driver. He was keenly noticing what the driver was doing. My eyes wandered to the women sitting in front of me who was writing something on her notepad. The slow traffic movement helped her to write. The man sitting next to me was sleeping. He had his head rested on the window. I thought to myself that his head might be resting on my shoulder in some time.
The bus was slowly inching towards my home. I couldn’t see much of the beautiful sight of the river or the snow-covered trees while sitting on the aisle seat on a crowded bus. The bus picked up speed and I looked at the road through the front window. There could have been at least 3 or 4 cars distance in front of the bus. I opened the book again and repeated to read the parts I read some time back. I didn’t finish the third sentence when a high-pitched shriek again broke my concentration. Before I could see the source, I felt a huge weight falling on my left shoulder. I sensed it was the person sitting on the other side of the aisle.
By the time, I could regain my thoughts, there was another blow on the right side of the body. The sleeping man was woken up and fell on my shoulder right away. I had thought he might rest only his head on me but didn’t expect his entire body resting on me. I could realize something awful happening but wasn’t able to put it together. It was just like the mindless reading I was doing earlier. When I hit my head, either on the roof or the floor of the bus, the stress it produced would have broken my spinal cord. But the adrenaline pumped into the blood stream made the moment pass pain-free. I could not say it was the same for others as I heard wailing, screaming, shouting and metal clanking with each other.
I was hit next by the window. I could hear the glass breaking, but I didn’t fall as I was thrown to the roof of the bus again. My eyes widened and saw the empty seats above me. I stretched my hand to reach the pole to get a grip, but I couldn’t move my hand as someone’s entire body weight was on it. There was a continuous wary quietness before the cry for help started to rise. I could hear the feeble sound of sirens also in the distant. I thought whether I should force myself out when I am conscious and help others or just lay until help arrives. My body made the decision as I was too broken and smashed down to even help myself. There was a sudden gush of cold air that hit my face which made the hair follicles become erect. The metal clanking was dying down and I hoped the worst was over, alas I was wrong.
The bus started to roll again, and this time it was faster. There was a sharp pain on my thigh; it was the pen piercing through my skin. I tried to hold a seat tightly, but the people and their stuffs falling on my hand made it impossible to hold a grip. While moving my hand to the thighs to remove the pen, a glass stuck me. The glasses should have torn my coat as I could feel the cold air on my ribs. I felt bad when I stuck someone’s face with my boots. I experienced another wave of cold air brushing through my entire body. I heard a huge splash of water and the bus came to a halt on the river bed. The bus landed on its floor this time. I was little relieved that this will all be over soon as the sirens were growing stronger. I tried to adjust my jacket so that I don’t feel the sharp cold. My legs were stuck between two seats and my upper body on the floor. My eyes wandered inside the bus to look for the kid. I saw a yellow jacket covered in the blood on the bus floor. I shivered when another breeze of cold air passed through my skin and the below-freezing temperature exposed water creeping through my body. I was still conscious and constrained to my thoughts about the beautiful bus ride.
I don’t change my routine that often. I have had a haircut on the same day of each month for the last 2 years. I have had the hair cut on the same day of each month for the last 2 years done by the same person. He is not the one that engages in small talk during haircut and that is the main reason I go to him again and again. On one such visit, I saw a note on the wall that he was looking for someone who can help with setting up an online reservation system. That would be the first time I spoke to him something not relevant for which I was there.
I asked to speak with him on the project after I paid. He didn’t ask many questions. He was his usual self. He heard my idea for the website with online booking and then calmly said “OK”. It didn’t seem he had lots of takers; he asked to start the work and even gave some money up front. His aloofness made me think whether he was really interested in his business to be successful. Nevertheless, I had become a regular visitor to his store from that day to work on his website.
He was one of those guys that I would want to be best friends with, not because he was very outgoing, but for his anti-social skills. After working for a couple of months, the website was ready. I even added an additional feature to accept advance payment because I liked him. He looked at everything and said it was good and it will help him to boost his business. He started using the new website right away. The website attracted more clients and he became a busy man. He was still quiet around his customers and didn’t seem fazed by the increased attention. I was back on my routine to go once a month to get a haircut and check on the website. Time flew and it had been 6 months since I had completed the work.
I remember distinctly, he called me on a Tuesday and informed he didn’t need my service anymore as he had learned the website and can do the maintenance himself. This surprised me. I tried to argue that IT is not his primary job and he should leave it to me. I even offered a discount in the price, but he was persistent and I had to let it go.
I don’t change my routine that often. I have had a haircut on the same day for the last 3 years. I have had the hair cut on the same day for the last 3 years done by the person. One thing I didn’t like was he took away his website from me. It was an irrational thought, but it occupied me all the time. I don’t know why, but I had some evil plans brewing on my mind. I could log in and shut down his servers or I could post lewd photos on his website or I could make fake reservations or I could redesign his website. There were so many possibilities. All these would have given me satisfaction, but I didn’t want to disrupt his livelihood.
I devised a simple plan. I created a bot that creates an email address without anything specific, but a random number every 30 minutes. The email was scheduled to be sent precisely every 30 minutes. This way he received mail constantly and the email address will not be reused. I was sure this cannot be traced back to me as well. After a week of the bot being live, I received the call from him. When I saw his name flashing on the screen, I was not able to control my excitement and was little louder than usual while talking to him. He straight went to the point after pleasantries. He asked me to come take a look at his system as he received some unwanted emails clogging his website bandwidth. I was happy that my plan delivered more than I had hoped. I confirmed to him the date and time before hanging up the call.
On the day I promised, I went in a couple of hours earlier than he expected. Even though I knew what I had to do, I opened some applications and tabs, making the appearance that I was busy troubleshooting. He tried to make some small talk, which was unlike him. I felt something was making him anxious, I disregarded it. My lack of response made him retreat; he went to his usual spot and started to stare at me. After working for an hour, I disabled my bot and proudly proclaimed that there will no more junk emails from wherever it was.
I told him it was nice to see him again and made my way out. He asked me to wait for another 30 minutes just to be sure there will be no more mails. I wasn’t prepared to spend any more time than needed, but also didn’t prepare for any excuses to leave. I hesitantly agreed to stay and started looking at the slowly moving clock. As it was a known outcome, my brain started to shut down. Both of us were staring at the monitor. Meanwhile, there were mails that he replied promptly.
When the clock struck 2, there was no email in his mailbox. I picked my bags and extended my hands for a shake, the same moment when a new mail was delivered to his mailbox. The new mail sound echoed within the store and got the attention of my eyes towards the monitor. It wasn’t a customer email, but an odd email – a strange subject and an empty body. The subject read “Do you think you can disable me”? It would be a huge understatement if I said I didn’t raise my eyebrows. My little brain was not able to comprehend the situation. I looked flustered and raised to see his face. I couldn’t decode his facial reaction. It seemed like he had little smirk.
He walked to his study like a zombie. His eyes were puffy and he had dark circles. He had not combed his hair for at least couple of days now. It might be because it was a Sunday afternoon. He had followed fairly the same kind of routine for the past few years – wake up around 7 in the morning, have a quick run and get ready for the 9 am mass, go to brunch with either family or friends, do some work around the yard, have a head start for Monday and go to bed after an early dinner. It would be the third time he had missed his routine, but no one had complained – maybe yet. He walked to his study to get away from all the work and close his eyes shut for some time. The soft white light made his study bright. He could sleep even if there was a thunder struck next to him, but he wanted to be surrounded by darkness for some time. He switched off the lights and walked to the close the blinds and curtains. He peeked through the window to see the neighborhood kids playing baseball. He laid on his recliner and thought about his childhood playing baseball while falling asleep.
He had always been a sprinter. He ran towards the base for the home run. It was the 7th inning and his team was already leading by a wide margin. He could hear the catcher shouting to the outfielder to throw the ball to him. He was in no mood to get out. He picked up his pace a little. The catcher was moving around and made it difficult for him to see the base. He didn’t pay attention to the direction of the ball, his entire attention was to get to the base. When he slid near the base to touch it, the catcher was in his path. He thought the catcher was trying to interfere with him, but little did he know that the ball was coming at him. His nose intercepted the ball at its full speed before giving a chance to the catcher. He could sense his legs touching the base and his white jersey getting covered in blood. He felt nauseous, funny and dizzy. He jerked a bit and woke up at the sound of the shattering glass.
He wanted to get up to check the source, but was too tired to even care what happened. He could hear his wife’s frustration with the kids for making too much noise. He peeked through the curtain again. There weren’t any kids around. He was sure everyone should have run away. He knows which kids were playing and knows that he need to talk to their parents. He couldn’t care less about that. He was too tired and exhausted that he started to accept whatever happened around him without questioning. He made sure the curtains are closed again to make the room darker. He came back to the recliner and when he was about to close his eyes, the phone started to ring. He had restrained from installing an extension at his study so that he needs to walk outside his study when the phone rang. He sighed at his stupidity and wanted the phone at his arm’s reach. The call going to voicemail is the last thing he remembered before falling asleep again. His fear of blood had been increasing from the day at the baseball game. He had more and more difficulties having to find ways to avoid blood and hospital. He tried to avoid doing activities that might cause him to see blood. He had stopped playing that might cause injury. All his doctor’s visit was difficult due to the hospital odor. His distinct memory of hemophobia was when he visited his friend admitted to the hospital for the motorcycle accident. It had been a couple of weeks since the accident. All his friends were planning to visit. Even though they were aware of his situation, they had convinced him to accompany them by saying there will be no visible blood and he could wear masks while in the hospital. What surprised them was the scratches in the face and hand still had dried up blood. He could sense his heart beat a little faster and him feeling dizzy while talking. What he didn’t know was he had passed out while talking and laid down in the adjacent bed for a couple of hours until his friends woke him. He was ashamed he has become a laughing stock. His sleep was disturbed again when his wife started calling his name.
She said that the phone had been ringing continuously and asked him to attend. He reluctantly got up. The phone stopped ringing, but the display flashed there were 3 new voicemails. He wasn’t interested to hear the voicemail or give a call back. He just took the receiver off the handle and placed it next to the phone. This looked a lot simpler than talking. He didn’t go to his study, but went upstairs to his wife. He felt he should hug her tight and plant a deep kiss. When she was admitted to the hospital, he didn’t want to be in the same room as her. He was afraid that he might pass out again and cause more frustration to her. He climbed the stairs slowly, but he had paced outside the hospital room when she was there. It had been close to 9 hours and he knew it took all her strength to ask him not to be in the room. He didn’t want to miss that moment. He wanted to be beside her, holding her hand and supporting her. When he saw his wife rocking the baby’s crib, he was really happy that he went into the delivery room before his daughter was born. He planted a huge kiss on his wife’s cheeks and started rocking the crib gently. He was sure he could sacrifice sleep any day over this feeling.
I trembled with fear. My heart raced faster than a train and at the same time tried to go slower than a snail. It was a mixed emotion. I felt inebriated. I tried to open my eyes to see clearly what happened around me. I was not able to understand what I experienced. I was not able to perceive the surroundings except vehicle’s screeching sound beside me. It was chaos and I didn’t like it a bit. I didn’t know whether I had my eyes open, whether it was day or night, whether I was in my home or office, whether I was thirsty or hungry, whether I was dressed or not. I wasn’t aware whether I was conscious or not either. It was utter mess.
It was hard for me to recollect what had happened for me to end up like this. It could be a dream too, but I was able to feel my body reacting, to be honest I have had this feeling in dreams too. I struggled a bit to remember what had happened. I had gone to the office in the morning, then Starbucks in the afternoon to get a hot chocolate to escape the cold winter winds and feel warmth in my hands. I had woken up as usual when the alarm played my favorite song. Before leaving for work, I had dropped my kids at the day care and kissed them good bye. I had a salad for lunch. All these things were my daily routine. I had called my wife around 4 to give her a heads up that I would be late and she had to pick up the kids, which was new. I was perplexed as why I wasn’t able to remember where I ended up.
Remembering the call to my wife helped me to regain my memory that I had stayed late for a meeting. I heard sirens at the same moment. There was a cold stream breeze that stuck my face, slowing down the blood dripping from my forehead. I could taste the fresh blood in mouth. I remembered all the time I used to suck my fingers to halt the blood flow. I tried to move my hands to check the origin of the blood, but all my efforts were futile. My entire body weight was on my left arm, body stuck under the seatbelt and my right hand falling off the shoulder socket. It was either the break or accelerator pedal that I felt near my thighs. I could hear my heart slowing down. Lot of questions were going through my brain. How did I end up like this? Did I hit someone? Did someone else hit me? Is it a multi vehicle collision? Are the other passengers safe? Was there children in any of the car? The mere thought of multi vehicle collision game me the chills. I didn’t know whether it was the questions that caused my brain to ache or the accident.
My concentration was diverted when I heard people around me made noise. I could sense someone’s hand feeling my body to reach under my arms. I tried to assist them by moving a little, but the hand retrieved instantly as I moved. I thought I scared them by my action. Damn, I should have stayed still, I thought. I did hear broken words like ice, slippery, bad, accident, blood and fire. I didn’t try to remember what had happened anymore, I was able to relive those moments. My car skid on the ice and I had hit the side railing. I hit my head on the steering wheel before the air bag had deployed. At the same time my car was coming to a stop, there was another car skid at the same patch of ice and t-boned me.
My thoughts weren’t streamlined anymore. I wanted to make sure my wife knew that I was okay, but didn’t know whether I would be able to. I was really concerned that she could be worried that something bad happened to me. I was ready to be rescued, treated and sent back to my loving home. I wasn’t willed to leave my wife and kids behind or say goodbye to my parents. I didn’t wish to give up on my dream of setting up my own wine yard. I had lot of things to achieve. I had lot of things to complete. I felt I haven’t showed my wife the love she deserved. I realized I haven’t shown appreciation to my parents for the sacrifice they have made. I haven’t told my kids how much I adore them. There were so many things I had procrastinated daily which I regretted now. I haven’t created a legacy for myself. Nobody would remember me except for my family and friends, and even they will eventually will move on with their life. I didn’t want to leave this world like this. Not many people get a second chance in life and I don’t wish to be one among them. I wasn’t prepared to die, but didn’t know whether I had a choice.
Lot of obscure questions popped up on my mind. How does one know that they are ready to leave everything behind? I wasn’t ready, and I was sure that I will not be ready even I was given next fifty years. Do I have to be ready any moment? I don’t know. Was I given a choice to be ready to be born? I don’t know. So I guessed it’s not a factor of being ready or given a choice, but to accept what’s ahead. The feeling that I would not see my kids again made my heart feel light and my eyes started watering. I didn’t know what would happen to me, but I prayed for a chance to see my wife and kids once again.
I felt something stung on my chest, someone tried to cut the seat belt. The pain of not seeing my family was more prominent than the knife poking my chest. Though I didn’t know who yelled, that time I clearly heard “Back off! Back off NOW!” I could really feel the stress on the words now cutting through the cold air. Not just the space around me got warmer each second, but my body too. I felt like I stood between the sprinklers on my front yard when water sprayed over me. I had overcome many hardships in my life, however I didn’t know whether this was one amongst them. I wasn’t able to open my eyes anymore due to the bright light. I closed my eyes for the moment to pass.