This story is by Sachin Saxena and was part of our 2017 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The clock struck twelve…..New Year 2017 had arrived. Fireworks erupted all over the dream city of Dubai. The magnificent Burj Khalifa, the tallest building man has known, started roaring and lightening up from each floor in a wonderful display of fireworks. The whole city started glowing adding even more sparkle to already brightly lit man made wonders and streets.
2230 hours, 31st December 2016, Rashid Hospital
Beep…Beep….. Beep !! In the midst of unfamiliar sounds of complex medical gadgets, Joe struggled to open his eyes. After a few unsuccessful attempts, he managed to make out that there was a police officer talking to his mother. He dazed once again under the influence of heavy sedation. A somber silence engulfed the whole environment.
2345 hours, 31st December 2016, Rashid Hospital
Joe came to a sense of existence, and reality started sinking in. “You had a miraculous escape”, said Joe’s mother. Her eyes welled with tears at the same time, she was angry. She wanted to hug Joe but didn’t.
A police officer entered the room and turned towards him. He gave an angry and disappointed look to Joe, handed over an envelope and left the room hastily. Joe could not make out anything. Then, he looked at the envelope and a deep sense of repentance engulfed him. He knew for sure that it must be an order to report to the police station and a reprimand for impounding his car and license. He looked at his mother and broke down.
While Joe tried to gather enough courage to see the letter of notice, memories of previous night flashed in his mind. Those last few moments that would change a few lives forever.
31st December 2016, 2030 hours, Joe’s residence
Joe, a 24 year old Berkeley graduate, was a young budding entrepreneur still struggling to establish himself. He, along with his friend Tony from same university and their girlfriends Mary and Linda were getting ready to join the New Year’s party at Burj Khalifa. The party was going to be graced by the who’s who of not only Dubai but also by many celebrities from across the world. Getting tickets for that much wanted event was like a dream come true for all of them. They quickly got ready for the bash, looking their best. “We need to rush as the New Year’s bash starts at 10PM”, said Linda. “Yeah ! Burj is a good 25 miles from Arabian Ranches”, Tony commented.
31st December 2016, 2100 hours
Joe was at the wheel of his dad’s custom edition Land Cruiser with a powerful 6.8 liter engine. Mary sat beside him in the front seat while Linda and Tony made themselves comfortable at the back seat. To the surprise of Joe, Linda and Tony took out some beers and shouted, “Anybody for a beer”. Mary grabbed one. “Jesus!! I am driving, man” said Joe. “I can’t”. “ Ah! Come on” Mary interrupted Joe. “Today is different, today is New Year eve”, said Linda. “No, I promised my mom to never to drink and drive” Joe said. “Yeah!! Still a mama’s boy? Grow up man!” the three teased him as Tony opened a beer for him. Joe took the beer and they all started drinking and having fun. Joe also quickly gulped couple of beers. He has always been a rule following person. Joe’s father had died after getting hit by a speeding car. While leaving for Berkeley, he had promised his mother never to drink and drive. He felt uneasy and afraid as well. More afraid of hurting his mom’s feelings than anything else.
Traffic was moving dead slow. “We are getting late”, Mary reminded all. “Don’t worry we will be there shortly”, said Joe. He took a detour and sped to Dubai bypass road. With speed limit of 120 km and relatively less traffic they expected to make it faster using that road.
31st December 2016, 30 minutes to New Year Bash
Linda looked at her watch. “Holy shit!! It’s already 9:30 pm!” “Let’s make it before the show begins at 10, dude!” shouted Mary. Joe hit the accelerator and pressed it harder ….and harder.
31st December 2016, 15 minutes to 2200 hours
In bright moon light the bypass road was shining, mostly free with very few cars. They could see the magnificent, Burj Khalifa now. They realized that they cannot make it to the party in time. Unlimited span of road kept inviting Joe to keep pressing on his accelerator. He didn’t even notice that he was already at 160 km/hour. They were still good 10 miles away from Burj. At the back seat Linda and Tony started celebrations with a romantic song together. Mary joined in with a different song. Joe put the car on cruise control and joined the gang. Sitting and dancing getting into their dream party mood they all felt on top of the world. All four were merrily singing different songs together creating a cacophony. They were laughing to glory and having fun….lots of fun while mighty Land Cruiser zoomed at an exhilarating speed of 160 km/hr.
31st December 2016, 8 minutes to 2200 hours
Suddenly two bright lights at full beam appeared at the horizon from the front. This confused Joe and he felt as if some vehicle was coming head on to them. His reactions had slowed due to beer. He tried to move to the right without noticing another car on that lane and then immediately came back with a jerk to the left. At 160 km/hr the mighty Land Cruiser swung sharply to the left. Somehow he managed to get it off cruise control and ….
31st December 2016, 7 minutes to 2200 hours
Bam! The impact was heard as well as felt. Sparks came off from the impact and rubbing of car with divider. The adrenaline levels went up fueled by surprise and fear kicked in. Joe’s body reacted sharply to this surprise impact and his leg pressed hard, as the car sped up more and swung to the right and at the same time banged with a small Mini toppling it over and then itself crashing to the right on to a lamp post. The Mini was thrown out in to the vast desert by the impact. All 6 air bags in opened and Joe and his friends blanked out….
31st December 2016, 5 minutes to midnight, New Year bell!!
Joe’s eyes welled up with tears. His mom stood there dumbfounded. Soon Joe came to his senses and reality started sinking in. “Where is Mary? What happened to Tony and Linda”, he enquired. “They all are OK with minor injuries”, replied his mother. …. “And how are they?” shouted Joe. “Who?” nurse asked. “The people who were in that mini”, said Joe. “A small family, a boy of 6 years and his parents. The boy is seriously injured and is in ICU. His parents have major injuries but are out of danger. We are praying and hoping that the boy survives” nurse replied. Joe was completely shattered hearing this. “Can I see them?” he asked sobbing and gasping. “No, nobody can meet them now”. There was deafening silence after that.
Joe looked at the envelop given by Police officer. He was scared. He knew he had to go through this. There was no escape. Trembling with repentance, he opened the envelop.
As he glanced through it, he burst in to tears. Tears of repentance and obligation. Tears of absolute gratefulness. He felt so little, so humbled.
Dear Young man,
Once upon a time I had a daughter. She was 4, when killed by a car on a New Year eve. A speeding driver, probably drunk. A fine and three months in Jail, that’s all he got. That’s all. After three months he was free. Free to hug his daughters, both of them. I had only one, and I’m going to have to wait until Heaven before I can ever hug her again.
A hundred times I’ve tried to forgive that man. A hundred times .…I thought I had. Maybe I did, but I need to do it again today. Pray for me. And be careful, my son is all I have left….Please don’t kill him.
Joe was speechless. He sat there in absolute silence, shattered and shocked.
The clock struck twelve. New Year had arrived. He came in to consciousness of the things and lifted his gaze. He could see the fireworks over the creek from his hospital window. New Year had no charm. He had no reason to celebrate. No one has any reason to celebrate…. if any parent anywhere on this earth was still mourning.
Today, Linda and Tony are teetotaler. Joe and Mary are married now and devote a lot of time serving and working with families who lost their loved ones in car accidents. Joe is a changed man now.