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The Accident

Updated: Sep 20

By Amrita Chatterjee

Rohan knew he had made a mistake but just hoped it would not end up too bad. The thick heavy drops of rain pelted the windscreen blurring his vision as he frowned and tried to focus on the road ahead. The wipers worked on with diligence but were unable to keep pace with the fury that the heavens were wreaking on the land beneath them. It looked as if the sky would crash down.

A shot of lightning cracked through the dark sky briefly and furiously lighting up the road ahead before plunging them all into an inky blackness with renewed fervour. Rati looked back nervously to check on Vicky. The little one, unaware of all the turmoil around him was sleeping peacefully, safely tucked into his child seat. Rati pushed back the folds of her expensive zardosi kurta sleeves to check on the time tilting her wrist to throw some light on the dial. “Oh My God! It’s 10 o’clock already!” She wailed. “I will miss my favourite show, Rohan! I told you to leave earlier. We wouldn’t have been stuck in this rain then.”

“I know! I know!” muttered Rohan more to himself than to his wife. He did not wish to get distracted by getting into an argument with his wife right now. The road was getting slippery and he just wished he had heeded the mechanic and got his wheel alignment done the last time he took his car to the garage. He had not foreseen a long drive and thought he would get it done during his regular maintenance which was scheduled in a month’s time anyway. Who would have known Rati’s friend would decide to get married in Lonavla right in the middle of the monsoon season?

Rati, of course, just would not miss it. So very like her usual self. The perfect friend always there for everyone. However, for once he wished he had listened to his wife and left early. He swerved slightly to avoid a speeding bike coming from the other side.

“Bastard!” swore Rohan “How can they be allowed on the highway and that too during the monsoons?” he thought conveniently forgetting his younger days when he had been driving as recklessly with Rati clinging on to him seductively. Right now, an accident was all he was hoping to avoid. “ Rohan!” Rati poked him in the rib “Are you listening?”

“Huh?” said Rohan turning slightly to realise that Rati had been telling him something while he was lost in his thoughts.

“I was talking to you!” said Rati scornfully.

“Oh for God’s sake woman! Can’t you see I am driving, and the rain is not making it any easier for me. If you want to catch at least the last part of your favourite show, then please stop your bantering, and let me focus on the road ahead.” said Rohan not moving his eyes from the road.

“Hmmph” said Rati sulking and looking out of the window. The rain was flowing in torrents now. The Mumbai-Pune highway was sheathed in a shroud of darkness. For some unknown reason most of the highway lights were not working. Those that were, blinked weakly throwing a bleak patch of illumination that lit up only a small stretch leaving the rest of the road blacked out. For first time drivers this would pose a dangerous challenge. Rohan, however, was an exceptional driver and could drive down this road with both eyes closed. He was just getting a bit worried because his wheels were starting to skid, and he did not want to take chances with his wife and son on board.

Rati was humming a tune. She had a good voice and that was what had attracted Rohan to her initially. She etched circles on the frosted window-pane as she hummed a note. Rohan felt sorry for his rudeness a few minutes ago.

“Look Rati, I am sorry for being rude to you” he said. “This rain and the fact that Vicky is with us is making me a bit edgy. Please try and understand.”

“It’s not the first time Rohan. I am kind of getting used to it!” she sighed.

“Now Rati, don’t put on that ‘I am the wronged woman’ attitude ” said Rohan irritation creeping into his voice once again.

A large clap of thunder drowned Rati’s response as she pressed her hands to her ears and pushed her head down between her knees. If there was anything that could stop Rati’s banter was a thunder. She was terrified of them. Rohan would often get a sadistic pleasure when he saw his wife, for once go numb with fear.

“See,” he would tease her, “even Mother Nature wants you to shut up.”

Even today he suppressed a smile and was about to console her, when he squinted his eyes as he thought he saw some movement on the road ahead. The incessant rain was making it difficult for him to make out anything clearly. He did not wish to take chances and pulled his feet off the accelerator.

Another shot of lightning brightened the black pitch road making it glisten like the back of a serpent. It was then that he saw that it was a human figure moving towards him. The rains had somehow lessened the traffic and there were very few cars before and after him, so Rohan assumed the figure was waving at him intending to attract his attention. Not sure what to do, he pushed his foot on the brake a bit harder.

“What is it?” asked Rati looking up “Why are you stopping?” Rohan didn’t answer as he was wondering whether he should stop when he suddenly found his engine spluttering to a halt. “Rohan? What’s wrong with the car?” said Rati.

While Rohan pushed on the ignition key to restart his engine, it briefly roared to life before dying out as quickly. “What’s wrong Rohan?” asked Rati again as her voice took on a shrill edge the first signs of panic striking in. “I don’t know. I am trying to find out Rati. Can’t you stop talking for one moment” answered Rohan from between clenched teeth. He was getting nervous too and did not want to show it. Getting stuck in the middle of the highway during the rain was something even he was not looking forward to.

He was still contemplating whether to get out to inspect the problem when a loud thump on their window made them jump out of their skins. Rati nearly shrieked in fright. The thumping continued. Whoever it was, was definitely in a hurry.

Rati recovering from the initial fright, lowered the window-pane. Rohan flashed the torch, he had retrieved from the glovebox, on a pair of eyes soaked in desperation looking hopefully at them. It was a woman. Her face was completely drenched in the rain. Her head was covered with a scarf that she had wrapped around her to unsuccessfully act as a protection against the torrent. She blinked as the light from the torch splashed across her eyes. Though they could not make out her age, she seemed to be the same age as Rati when she spoke.

“Oh Thank God!” she spoke a little breathlessly as if she had been running. “Thank God you stopped! I have been trying to stop every car on this road for the last half an hour. I need your help. It’s urgent!” she said almost in one breath. “What’s wrong?” asked Rohan.

“Accident!” she gasped “I was driving and met with an accident. Can you please help me, my son is inside the car, and I can’t seem to get him out. Please I need your help. There is nobody else around and I am running out of time. I tried calling the hospital emergency, but my phone battery is out of charge. Please help me!” the woman blurted in one breath. Rohan could see she was almost on the verge of breaking down. Her voice was cracking as she screamed to make herself be heard above the pelting rain.

“How far is your car?” said Rohan.

“Not very far away, I can guide you there. Please help me. My son is inside and I don’t know whom to turn to.” The woman was beginning to get hysterical as the look of desperation in her eyes became pronounced.

“I wish I could but my car is giving me some problems too” said Rohan apologetically.

“I can push it, if you want. I am used to all this. I did it with my car several times” offered the woman urgently.

“No that will not be necessary….I mean it would be good… but do you think…” said Rohan unsure of whether he should allow a woman to do the hard work he should be doing.

“Oh please this is no time to bother about chivalry” said the woman as if she understood what Rohan must be thinking.

“My son needs help…Please !!!” she looked at them pleadingly joining her hands together.

Rohan nodded and reluctantly allowed her to push as he turned the key once again. The engine roared furiously, spluttered and came to life. The woman looked relieved. Wiping her face with the wet scarf she said “Please follow me. I will show you the place”

“No” said Rati finding her voice suddenly. “Get into the car. We can’t let you walk all the way in this rain”

“Are you sure?” asked the woman hesitatingly. “I mean you don’t even know me and …”

“Never mind all that!” said Rati as the mother in her surfaced “this is an emergency.”

The woman got in hurriedly into the back seat. She stopped as she noticed Vicky who was stirring slightly in his sleep. “Is that your little one?” she asked softly.

“Yes” said Rati looking at Vicky indulgently.

“Looks the same age as mine,” she said sadly. “So which way do we go, Maam,” said Rohan.

“Straight from here and then after you cross the tunnel, you need to take a slight right turn” said the woman hurriedly.

Rohan pushed on the accelerator and the car sped on as Rati started chatting with the woman. In a few moments she was referring to her as if she was a close friend. She found out that her name was Kamini and like them she was returning from a party with her son. She worked as a PR consultant in Pune.

Soon Rohan reached the end of the tunnel and took the right turn as Kamini had mentioned. As the car moved on, the road began to get narrower.

“Wonder why she took this road in the first place?” thought Rohan.

“I was driving down this way that’s when the accident occurred. The truck hit me from behind and pushed me down this road. I skidded and hit the tree straight down there.” Rohan jumped as he heard Kamini speak from the rear seat.

“My god!” thought Rohan, “Does this woman read minds?”

“But it seems to be a long way for you to walk back.” said Rati surprised “Must have been a rough walk specially after the accident.”

“You would have done the same too, if your little one was in danger. Wouldn’t you?” said Kamini haltingly.

“Are you okay?” asked Rati wondering at her change in tone “The accident must have shaken you up. Hope you were not hurt badly?” “Yes, I am fine now” said Kamini softly.

Rati noticed the slight emphasis on the “now” and wondered whatever could that mean. She was surprised to notice a change in the urgency in Kamini’s behavior. She no longer looked as agitated as she did when she had knocked on their window. She was lying slumped against the rear seat back rest with her eyes half closed. In a strange way she noticed she had placed her right hand protectively across Vicky’s car seat as if to protect him from falling off. Though innocuous she found it quite strange. For the first time, since they had met her, Rati began to wondered if they had done the right thing by offering to help. She surreptitiously nudged Rohan to find out if he shared her thoughts. Rohan however, gave her a blank look and kept on driving.

They soon reached the spot. “There, right over there”, said Kamini fully awake and the same urgency returning to her voice as she pointed to something in the distance excitedly. “My Manan is there. Can you not hear him crying? My poor baby. I am coming sonny. Mamma is coming. Hold on!” She cried ardently, bringing tears to Rati’s eyes too though she could hardly hear anything other than the sound of the rain on their car roof.

“You wait here Maam”, said Rohan politely “let me see what I can do? I promise I will do my best”.

“Are you sure?” said Kamini weakly from the dark interiors of the car.

Rohan nodded encouragingly. Kamini relaxed and sunk deeper into the seat.

As Rohan and Rati got down, they could make out the blurred outline of a car smashed against a tree. Its headlights were in full glow helping to act as spotlight. It was still pouring heavily making it difficult for them to reach the car. As they approached the vehicle, they could indeed hear muffled sounds of a child crying. They walked around to the front of the car to see if they could find any opening. The windscreen was completely shattered with the impact. The child was secured to the front seat of the car safe and unhurt but howling miserably. Rati’s heart went out to him immediately.

“Rohan do something fast” she said shaking Rohan’s arm urgently. When she found no answer she looked up to see Rohan staring intently at something else. His face had gone ashen with fear. Rati traced his vision and froze immediately.

The body of a woman lay slumped across the steering wheel. Her head was turned to face them. Her eyes were half closed as if she was in a deep sleep. Her left hand still lay limply across the child with an apparent intent to protect.

It was, however, her face that kept Rohan and Rati rooted to the spot. It was the same face that they had been speaking to for the last half an hour.

Only this time it was covered in blood and not water!

By Amrita Chatterjee

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