The “almosts” that haunt us
A year ago, as i was about to take a U-turn at a service road, a bike knocked me into the fast-running highway.
The damage wasn’t extreme. The impact had broken the front and sides of my scooter. In the moment, I couldn’t help but think- what if a car, or a maniac bus driver had run me over? I cannot assume what awaited me that day. A second too soon, a second too late, and I wouldn’t be writing this piece. Perhaps, I was being paranoid. Or, my instincts were right.
Nevertheless, I hadn’t felt more alone my entire life, as i did that afternoon.
One moment i was alive, and the next- I wouldn’t have mattered.
Later on, i asked a few people- how did they feel, when they had a brush off with death? The answers were of elation. gratitude. Newfound-perspective on life. I wanted to sucker punch them. (But not really!)
I felt empty. dark. The hands of oblivion and nothingness choked me slowly, for days. I shut the world out. I shut myself in. Nothing mattered. No one mattered. Neither did I.
Three years ago- one morning, i was in a hurry to get to office (Now that i think of it, I wonder why? I never really much cared for authority figures. Their disappointment in me didn’t pressurize me to do better, or different)
In my over-zealousness to overtake slow paced cars, I hadn’t noticed the reason why there was an almost standstill on the road. A bus had blocked my view to the left, and a police jeep trying to make its way to the other side of the road, knocked me right onto the moving traffic. (again! duh? This is an unbroken pattern of my life)
This time, the speed of the jeep wasn’t really the problem; mine was.
The front and sides of my scooter were totaled (again!). I walked away with minor bruising on my thigh, (As I had my biking gear on) where the bike had fallen on me.
The realization of a probable oblivion didn’t escape my mind.
When I was 19, my family and I were visiting a family member in a different town. My brother was at the steering of our hatchback, with me riding shotgun. Mum was at the center-back, eyeing the road cautiously, as she never trusted his driving skills. ( Almost a decade later, nothing has changed, really. To my great fortune, she gets worse when I drive)
It was a pleasant cloudy afternoon in August. One moment it was breezy and calm, and the next- it was pouring cats and dogs. Where I come from, the summer heat makes you want to kill yourself, but when it rains- it rains heavily. As though the heavens decide to throw rocks over your head.
Quickly, we rolled up our windows. The wipers swung left and right with what can be considered as their best capacity. The heater was on, to clear off the fog forming on the glass.
At a four-way intersection, we slowed down to ride the bump. Just as we were about to cross the intersection, an Indica came out of nowhere and smashed us on the left. By the time I had spotted it, it was too close. Everything that followed, happened in a flash. Instinctively, my brother pulled the handbrake in the hopes to slow down the car. But instead, our car swirled a 180 degrees and landed on the other side of the road.
The Indica, on the other hand was smashed standstill at the center of the intersection. Its engine busted to a pulp. I can’t recall if we were speeding. But considering that we were merely a feet away from the speed bump, I’d hardly doubt that that was the case.
We build upon what we already think we know, which may never really be true.
The Indica had hit our car, inches behind my door. The back door was rammed all the way in. Anyone sitting closer to the backseat window would have been injured. Thankfully, since mum was in the center, she only had minor sprains around her neck, due to the whirlwind spin that the car took.
My brother and I, had bumped our heads against the window at some point, which we didn’t notice until the next day. It was as though we were in a toy car- a kid had picked up, bounced it around wildly and then placed it back on the side of the road.
To this day, I hate to think- what if we were a second too late, and the Indica had hit the side of my seat?
When I was 11, I had fallen out of a moving van. It was after school, when we were returning home from the second pickup, as our van would pick up kids from two different schools. (In the rural towns of India, finding a seat isn’t the concern. Finding an inch to stand in, is.)
I was in the front seat, riding shotgun along with two other kids. (It was one of those hippie vans; a minibus, if you will) I was seated close to the door, sorta half seated-half leaning on the door, to compensate for the fact that two other kids had to sit in the same seat. (Sitting anywhere else was awful compared to this. We had dibs on it, and at any point-any other kid would jump to take the chance to sit in it.)
At a turn heading out of the school campus, the van swerved to the right. Somehow, the door clicked open on its own. Perhaps, the door wasn’t locked properly in the first place; or, the lock was faulty. Either way, there i was- rolling on the half worn concrete road, unable to stop myself from the centrifugal force. I should have cracked a bone from the impact, but all i got were cuts and bruises. (It took almost a month to heal, and I did cry a lot in the initial few days- every time the antiseptic solution touched my skin. Yet, I consider it a win!)
One night, when i was 15 or 16, an overloaded truck carrying timber was attempting to park itself in the empty lot, next to our compound. The lot was considerably large. The road on the other hand, wasn’t. Whether it was terrible driving skills, or just the lack of proper light- the guy knocked down a part of our compound.
This triggered us, and my folks went outside in a flying rage to have a word with the driver.
[Let me give you cultural background in the mean time. This was a rural setting in India(elephants, and what not. Am i right?!). The houses were stretched far apart. But most importantly, we were the only Hindu family in the middle of a Muslim area. (I’m not trying to be a Racist. This had never bothered me on any other occasion, on the exception of a certain communal outburst where our safety was seriously compromised. For all the non-Indians, imagine being the only black family in a white neighborhood; or vice-versa!)
Why does the background matter, you ask? Help is uncertain, or may I dare say-denied, when you are an obvious outsider. Unless you have a good bond with your neighbors, a cry for help is usually ignored.]
While my folks were having a verbal standoff with the obnoxious driver (who refused to take responsibility. What a surprise!) a good 50ft away from the house, I was outside in the sit-out, watching it all unravel. Amidst all this, the cleaner decided to pay me a visit.
It was dark outside. So,until he was at the gate, I didn’t really spot him. Or, he was sneaky to start with. Our sit-out was clad with an iron-grill on all sides. (Mum had originally installed it out of paranoia- considering we were in a Muslim neighborhood. But never had I been more grateful for it.)
Just as the sneaky cleaner entered through the main gate, my instincts kicked in. I jumped to the wide-open iron door on my right, latched it close and hooked the giant lock sitting on the window sill next to me. (I couldn’t spot the keys to the lock in the moment, but he didn’t have to know that it was a ruse)
In a flash, I pulled myself-away from the door, to the center of the room. He inched closer to the bars, but perhaps realized that I had the home field advantage. Trying to sweet talk me to step out and calm my folks down, it seemed as though he was biding his time. I knew his intentions weren’t right. But I couldn’t tell if he wanted to rob the house, or just hurt me. Either way, I didn’t budge. Obvious or not, i was scared shitless- waiting for my parents to return. When they did make their way back into the compound, he snuck out.
The argument was futile. The driver refused to compensate for the damage.
a) probably because his measly paycheck would take a hit.
b) because why should he? He would be gone the next morning. (See what I wrote earlier about outsiders in community neighborhoods? Ultimately, you are on own your own)
c) The justice system in rural areas (or anywhere else in this country) is a goddamn joke. They can’t catch murderers or rapists. What’s the point of suing someone over minor property damages?
Anyways, i never told my folks about what had (almost) happened that night. Why add to their misery?
(to be continued)