How mysterious can a cloud look? How often do we stare at it wondering what it really is? Is it a ship sailing away in the vast blue ocean or is it a mighty elephant roaring its trunk out? And how often do we get the answer? But everybody knows it’s just a cloud and nothing else. So at some point of time we stop looking for the answer. But, what if it is really something more than that? What if it is another whole world just showing its glimpse from behind the misty veil?
And I got answered one day, in fact, one night – one very fine night.
It was stormy, with thunders and typical winds that spoke of incoming rains. It was expected, known to anyone, with such thunderous storms, rains follow. My hands were dead set on the steering, waiting for raindrops to fall on the screen, so I could turn the wiper on and get the windshield cleared. It hadn’t been cleaned for a week. Not to blame anyone for that because my schedule is such that I never stay home at usual hours.
So, I was driving through the winds and was halfway through to home from the hospital, and twelve kilometers still to go. I stay thirty kilometers away from the city and I love it. I love the nature, I love the drive and I love the time I get to spend with myself and it helps me keep sane.
So I am driving and I see a man standing on the left side of the extended highway, staring at me. It was creepy, for one, he was still at few meters away and I could make out from the distance he was looking right at me. And I could make it out. Unwittingly, I started to stare at this figure looming in the dark, probably a psycho killer on the lookout for his prey. I was yelling to myself from inside, run away, drive faster, don’t look at him. But the driver in me couldn’t help but stare back at him. When he waved, I stopped.
I turned the wheel to the left from the last lane and broke all the rules, just so I could stop right in front of him. What had gotten into me that night? Now when I come to think of it, I guess I know.
I rolled down the windshield and stretched my body through the seatbelt, trying to sneak out a look at him through the passenger window.
It was a man in his thirties, early may be. My guess would be thirty two. Not very handsome but he looked intellectual. Like the look Samuel Jackson holds. He looked a bit calm but with slight creases on his forehead.
“Are you okay?” I asked.
“I need a ride to the town. Are you heading there?” he asked.
I laughed in my mind. Is he crazy? I am driving in the direction opposite to the city, how come he’s asking a ride back there? And shouldn’t he be standing on the other side of the highway, where he’d find people driving to the city, instead of from. He must be nuts.
“Actually, I am heading back home. I’ve had a pretty hectic schedule and I need to take rest. I would have dropped you but you see I have kids waiting for me and I really need a break. You can wait some more time, I’m sure you’ll find someone.”
He stared at me nervously. Oh come on! He was giving me the sympathetic look, the one people give when they need you to sympathize at them.
“Fine,” I said. “Get in.”
I’ll have to drive another fifteen kilometers to help an utter stranger, who might probably not need it that much. I had lost it that day. Why was I even doing it?
He sat inside, without saying a word.
But gratitude was clear on his face. Moreover, he seemed relieved.
“So what do you want in the city?” I asked, hoping to strike a conversation. I didn’t want to be rude and the air was getting awkward enough.
“I left something back there,” he said.
What the hell! He left something back in city and that’s why I am driving him. Wasting all the precious time so I could get him his hat back or whatever it was that he left it back in the city? I didn’t say anything though. I had offered to help and he was in the seat next to me anyway. What was I going to do? Kick him out?
So we drove silently for the next few minutes.
Suddenly he looked in the back seat and asked, “What’s your specialty?”
“Excuse me?” I replied back.
“Specialty?” he said and stared at me, “You are a doctor aren’t you?” he said.
“Yes, I am a neurosurgeon,” I replied.
He was getting creepier by the minute. How did he know I was a doctor?
“That red plus sign that doctors have was a dead giveaway.”
Damn! I was being such a fool. Poor guy, I was naming him for a freak for no reason at all. Phew! I gave out a sigh of relief and hoped he hadn’t noticed it.
He smiled back for some reason.
Was a he a mind reader? Here we go again. I was on a ride that day and I didn’t like it. My mind was riding up and down like a crazy game of pinball. I needed a serious break from everything.
I looked at the signboard that read 7 KM to city. Just ten minutes more to go.
“Can you drive faster?” he said. “I am kind of in a hurry.”
What the hell did he leave back there? I didn’t wanna ask though.
I stepped on the gas and sped up. The highway was clear and the time was odd enough to make sure the streets were vacant barring just us.
As I drove towards the city, his face seemed more and more bright. As if he regained something, something he had lost. Was he talking about this?
Damn! I was losing it again. Trapping myself in my own riddles. What did it even mean? I dumped all the obtuse ideas I was bearing and started to think about my kids.
They’d be in deep sleep.
He turned around and looked at me. I could see from the corner of my eyes that he smiled. Why did he smile? I looked around. We were in the city.
“Where did you say you wanted to go?” I asked.
His words shook me. That is where I was coming from. Was he joking? Who was he?
“What did you say?” I asked, just to make sure the fatigue wasn’t taking over my senses.
“Your hospital,” he said.
He wanted to go back to my hospital? Why? What did he want from me?
I wanted to pull the brakes and stop right we were, but I turned on the indicator and merged on to the left lane. Within moments we were there.
I pulled the brakes and looked at him.
“Thanks,” he said and smiled. “You might wanna come with me.” He opened up the passenger door and got down.
It was getting dead crazy but we were in the middle of the city, at the lobby of my hospital. What the hell could he do?
So I decided to follow. Besides, I was getting curious. It was definitely something that’d kill me if I left it there.
I followed him.
The lobby seemed normal. Then suddenly it happened. Sara, the receptionist, jumped out of her seat as she looked at me.
“Thank God you came. We have been trying to reach you for the past hour. There’s a critical patient who needs surgery and your phone wasn’t ringing…”
I turned around to look at him. He wasn’t there.
Sara started to walk with me and lead me towards the lift. I only heard the word,”OT3”.
What was happening? The lift stopped and as the door opened, Dr. Das was at the doorstep, waiting for me to emerge. Sara must have informed her.
“An accident case, female, 28, expectant, lost lot of blood, in coma, injury to the head, possible swelling and bleeding.”
I rushed after her to go do my work on the female.
“Was she alone?” I asked.
“No. She was with a male, 32, severe head injuries.”
My ears were buzzing and there was no other sound. My head started to spin. And I knew. “He is dead, isn’t he?” I asked.
“How do you know?” were her surprised words that weren’t so for me.
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