“We always have boring New Year’s. We never do anything new. Mumma, it's so sad. Just so sad.”
Hrithik was up and on again. Kids have incredible levels of patience. He has been making the same point for the last one hour, framing it in semantically different forms. He would claim his right to have a fun filled New Year's eve, realise that I would not respond, quieten down, and repeat the cycle again. He knew I hated talking while driving. I hated that part about myself. That and the constant worrying.
“Why couldn't you just turn here? We could have gone and sat in the park. The least we could do. It's not like I am asking you for gifts or anything.”
I meandered to the left of the road, switching on the indicator and turned slowly, eyes both on the rear view mirror and the vehicles ahead. I loved driving, especially two wheelers. It gave me this feeling of power, of control. I was a sucker for rules— never over speeding, never raising leftwards while overtaking and never ever jumping the lights-the usual stuff that isn’t followed. My father had taught me to drive, I swear he was watching me from up above. I will never disappoint him.
“You know what? I want gifts for the New Year! I've been a good kid. I know you are lying about Santa. Of course there is Santa. He can't just not appear this year, can he? Why don't you just give me the gifts?”
Deep breaths. Key to surviving an Indian middle class life. Petrol prices are going up. I have to do the math again. The scooter was bought after a meticulous session with a calculator, pencil and paper. My rationale behind buying a vehicle was based on sound economic principles. Considering the time I'd save from the bus rides, and the fuel prices at that time, it was worth it. And the perverts in the bus, their disturbing antics had definite negative costs associated with it.
“... Mumma! Are you even listening to me? I said, we needn't get new notebooks for me. I'll just remember whatever ma'am says in class. I don't like writing anyway. With that money, I can get a totally cool gift. Mumma!”
I stopped right in front of the zebra lines, and breathed a sigh of frustration. The kid was getting on my nerves. To be honest his demands for a great gift were rational. After all, the human mind is designed to seek immediate gratification in place of future benefaction. Sex, adventure sports, fast cars— all designed for that dopamine rush.
“Can I at least get extra cookies for dinner? Mumma! Why don't you talk? I hate you!”
The traffic light had just turned green, when the honking began. Couldn't wait for a second more, these bastards! What's all the hurry?, I wondered. The quicker you leave this light the faster you reach the next one. Maybe the honking gave them an illusion of doing something.
I remember moving forward on to the clear road. No vehicles from either side, thanks to the rule obeying public. A microsecond after I had crossed the centre, I heard a crash and a heart stopping wail of pain. Turning around I saw a bus that had jumped the stop signal, crushing its massive weight on top of a middle aged woman. Blood flowed, colouring the tar in detail. A boy of my son's age was riding pillion on the scooter; he had fallen head first onto the road.
“Mumma! Let's... let's go home”, his horror stricken eyes were moist.
I rode on without looking back. Guilt was eating away at my selfishness for not having stopped to help. It was all washed out when my dear son quipped later that night, “I don't want anything new this New Year's Mumma, but you just promise to be around for the next one, okay?”
Children are so ridiculously blunt.
Photography By: Yash Mistry