NOTE: This is a work of fiction, not a true incident. It is a part of Blogadda’s WOW (Write Over the Weekend) initiative. I am issuing this clarification since some readers have responded assuming it’s a true incident.
Tring – Tring, the phone rang at 9.00 pm just as my parents and I had started having dinner one Saturday evening. It continued ringing since Dad’s unbreakable rule is no phone call should be allowed to interrupt a meal.
After a gap of a minute, it rang again and continued ringing.
After that, it did not ring.
Twenty minutes later, after we had completed dinner, Dad checked the Caller ID. It was Dad’s colleague’s mobile number. Dad called back.
Dad’s colleague and her husband had been driving to the airport to see off their daughter who was going abroad for post-graduation. Their car had suddenly stopped on the way, and just wouldn’t start again. They had tried calling various call taxi companies, but all numbers were busy. Then, since our house was the nearest to where they were stranded, Dad’s colleague called Dad on our home landline. (She knew Dad’s mobile was always switched off from 7.00 pm on Friday to 7.00 am on Monday!) She wanted Dad to pick them up and drop them at the airport. They had to reach before 10.30 pm, or else the check-in counter would be closed. Dad assured her he would pick them up as soon as possible. After he ended the call, I asked him if I could accompany him so that I could see the new International Terminal, and he agreed.
Dad announced that he would have a cup of hot, strong coffee before leaving since he didn’t want to feel drowsy while driving back. Mom and I told him he could have coffee at the airport, but he said the coffee there was no good. By the time we left, it was 9.40 pm!
As we drove out of our building, Dad remembered that he needed to refuel the car. I told him that if there was enough fuel to reach the airport, he could refuel the car on the way back at the petrol bunk near the airport. He insisted on refuelling at his regular petrol bunk near our house, stating that it was one of the very few bunks in our city that did not cheat on quantity or quality. There was a queue at that bunk. By the time we left after refuelling, we had lost another 13 minutes!
There was almost no traffic at that time, but Dad was driving well within the 50 km/hr. speed limit. I hesitantly suggested that he could drive a bit faster as there was a deadline to meet, but he simply said that traffic rules are meant to be followed. I was getting more and more upset, but I knew it was futile to attempt to change any of Dad’s cast-in-stone ideas!
To cut a long story short, we reached the airport only at 10.40 pm. Dad’s colleague’s daughter missed her flight! Her parents and she burst into tears. I couldn’t control myself. I blurted out, “Dad, we lost at least 10 minutes because we didn’t answer the phone when it rang! We lost at least 10 minutes because we had coffee before leaving! We lost at least 10 minutes at the petrol bunk, which we could easily have saved if we refuelled on the way back from the airport! And we could have saved at least 10 minutes if we had driven slightly over the speed limit like everyone else! Anyway, there’s no point in saying anything now. We cannot get back those crucial 10 minutes!”
Sleep eluded me that night. I was tormented by guilt, shame, helplessness.
Tring – Tring, the phone rang a few seconds after my parents had left for their Sunday morning yoga class. It was Dad’s colleague. She was sobbing and speaking incoherently. The few words I caught were ‘my daughter’, ‘died’, ‘your father’ and ‘guilty’. Oh God! I realised her daughter had committed suicide! I ran down the stairs and managed to reach my parents just as they were about to enter our car. I told them about the phone call from Dad’s colleague. We all decided to go to Dad’s colleague’s house immediately.
Not one word was uttered during the 15 minutes’ drive. As we parked, we saw around 15 people standing outside Dad’s colleague’s ground floor apartment, all looking shell-shocked. As soon as we reached the main door, Dad’s colleague and he husband came out of their house. Both were sobbing uncontrollably. They hugged Dad and Mom and kept saying, “Thank you”, “Sorry” and “Please forgive us”. It looked like their daughter’s death had disturbed their mental balance.
And then their daughter walked out! I was bewildered!! What was going on?? She came up to Dad and said, “Uncle, last night, my parents and I were very upset that I had missed my flight. We felt that you could have helped us reach the airport in time if you had acted faster than you did. After we came back home, we all said a lot of nasty things about you. But, this morning, we saw on TV that my missed flight had ended in a crash landing, killing everybody on board. If I had not missed the flight, I would also be dead! Thank you for saving my life! And we are genuinely sorry for thinking and speaking ill of you!”