Jash waved a quick goodbye to Mira (his wife) and Chaitali (his daughter) after dropping them off at their office and school, respectively. Now it was time for him to focus on his own destination. He had plenty of time to reach on time. However, he kept his fingers crossed and hoped there wouldn’t be a jam up ahead. He didn’t want to give the same excuse everyone else did, “but there was so much traffic” or “the trains are running late”. Every time someone blurted these he just rolled his eyes now and thought to himself, “well, zero marks to you for being creative!”
He wasn’t one of those though, he left early to cut the traffic and make it to work on time. He had a reputation amongst seniors and subordinates alike for always being punctual, irrespective of the weather or the traffic or anything else for that matter. Jash showed up on time if he was working. If he didn’t, you could easily assume he was on leave. This record was about to break through and Jash hadn’t even the slightest inkling of how.
Menka left for her weekly bout of grocery shopping once she had fed and served breakfast to all the family members, packed their lunches and after seeing them off to work and school. This had been her routine since many years now, in fact, it had been so from the time she became a wife and a daughter-in-law and then eventually a mother. She prided herself in being what Indians often referred to as the ‘Adarsh Bahu’.
Akash’s (her husband) family had quickly warmed to her and she had had no issues in accepting them as her new family. Their smiles made her happy and even more so, she loved being the reason behind those smiles. Her mother-in-law had left for her daily temple visit too. So she secured the lock and double checked everything before leaving. As always, she had a list ready for what she needed to buy and for whom. If all went as per plan, she knew she would be back within an hour; before it was time for her mother-in-law’s return and well before lunchtime. Little did she know that lunch that day would never happen.
Rashmi picked up the trash bags from the bins left outside the society’s houses and moved on to the next lane, which would be her last for the day. She would then move on to dump all the collected bags to the dump yard down the road. She didn’t like collecting people’s rubbish, disgusted it even, and sometimes had fallen sick because of it too, but what choice did a poor woman with bills to pay and mouths to feed have.
Sighing she completed her rounds of bag collecting and started making her way towards the dump yard. ‘Beggars are not the choosers’ her 10 years old Sanya had learnt in school recently and she had laughed at that bitterly. She knew not that her choice that day would change a lot of people’s lives, including hers. Instead of taking her usual route through which she could avoid the traffic signals and the vehicles rushing forth to reach wherever they were heading, she took that very route as it was shorter and she wanted to get the work done quickly. She did have other streets to cover too after all.
Jash stopped at the last signal before his office and was just thinking about what to gift Mira for her upcoming birthday when it happened. The signal was still red; a bird flew over the indicator blocking Jash’s vision and the car in front of him started moving, so he assumed the signal had turned green. However, that turned out to be a grave mistake.
Before Jash could hit the brakes or react in any way, out of nowhere something or someone hit the car hard and whatever it was, bounced into the air before landing on the opposite end of the street. For a minute, Jash froze; he didn’t know what to do or how to react. People were crowding around the other end. Who or what was it, Jash didn’t know yet. He swerved the car, parked on the side of the street and quickly rushed out to check the scenario himself. The people gathered around knew it was his car that did what had happened.
Some started pointing fingers, others cursed loudly, few gave him angry looks and there were those who looked like they were about to start punching and hitting him too; but he managed to get through them without much harm and reached the puddle where a small figure lay curled on the ground. A woman was sitting next to the figure, trying to help her up.
He recognized her, it was Menka, his neighbor. He looked closely at the woman Menka was trying to help too and realized it was their garbage collector, Rekha or Rakhi, he couldn’t recall the name. The anger of the people around seemed to cross limits when they realized that the woman wasn’t able to get up. Some of the men turned to Jash with cold and angry looks and swore loudly, one of them even held his collar and asked, “What do you think you were doing driving like that? This is all your fault.” It looked like the others would start hitting and punching him soon too.
It was at this point that Menka looked up and said, “Please! Can you help me get her to the hospital instead of getting into a useless fight? I know this man and woman both. I’m sure it was a mistake. Jash, if you could help me here we can get Rashmi to a doctor as soon as possible.”
Menka had been buying fruits from the vendor outside the park near the signal. She was asking the vendor prices when she heard a car honking loudly. She turned and saw that the signal was red. What was the point of honking when there is no way to move ahead she thought to herself? Just minutes before Rashmi, the ragpicker had passed by her side carrying her daily garbage stock. On seeing her, Menka had smiled and asked too, ‘Rashmi, done with your collection for today?” and she had replied, “Yes, Menka madam, I collected the bag from outside your house too. Just carrying it to the dump yard across the street now”, to which Menka has replied, “Okay. By the way, Rashmi, please ring the bell tomorrow, I have some of the children’s old books and clothes which might be useful to your kids.” Rashmi smiled broadly and replied, “You are a true help, madam. My kids are still not over with the happiness of the clothes they got last time. I will see you tomorrow then, madam.” Menka said, “No problem, Rashmi. You should get your daughter to the house someday. I can teach her too, I anyway tutor my children too. They can study and play together.” Rashmi smiled even more broadly this time and said, “It is hard to believe people like you exist in today’s world. Surely I will get her. Thank you, madam.” Menka waved her goodbye after saying “See you tomorrow then Rashmi.”
Now, as she looked on, she saw Rashmi dragging the garbage bag and trying to make it across the street quickly before the signal turned green. A bird flying over the signal blocked her vision for a second and before she knew it, the honking car broke the signal and sped away. The car behind moved ahead too and Rashmi who had her eyes on the signal light was still crossing the street. Menka realizing what was about to happen called out to Rashmi but it was too late. The car hit her hard and Rashmi like a rag doll bounced into the air and landed a few feet away from where Menka stood. Menka rushed to her as around Rashmi, a pool of blood quickly spread. She leaned down first to ensure if Rashmi was still breathing and to her relief, found that she wasn’t injured that gravely and her breath wasn’t shallow either. Menka asked for some water from the fruit vendor and sprinkled it on Rashmi to try and bring her back to consciousness. It worked, but clearly, she was in pain. Menka was trying to help her up when the commotion around her led her to lift up her eyes. It was then that she saw Jash. She quickly realized whose car it was that had hit Rashmi and judging by the actions and expressions of the people around, she knew Jash was in danger. So she quickly turned to him for help and took care of the situation.
Rashmi was still counting her blessings on getting help and guidance to such an extent from Menka when she waited for the signal to turn red. Menka madam had been helping her financially as well as otherwise in many ways ever since she had started working in that particular colony as a rag picker. She considered herself lucky that she had got a job there and had met someone like Menka. Now, it seemed that her daughter’s life would change too. She smiled to herself as she saw the signal turn red.
She knew she only had a few minutes to make it across the street before the light turned green again, so she took big and quick strides. A car in the front middle lane seemed to be in a hurry as it had been constantly honking since the signal turned red. Annoyingly she turned to it and cursed the driver under her breath. It was still a few feet away from her when the driver suddenly decided to break the signal and race it away. Thinking that the signal might have turned on, Rashmi turned to check whether she should wait or cross. A bird flying overhead was blocking her vision as she continued to walk straight but looked sideways at the signal. In a few seconds her world literally turned upside down as something hit her feet hard and before she knew what was happening, she was up in the air, screaming loudly. The last thing she remembered was unbearable pain as everything turned black.
People were shouting, she seemed to be bathing in some warm fluid, someone was trying to lift her. Was it Menka? Is she actually an angel as she had always thought and was welcoming her to heaven? Let the pain stop and take me in your abode madam, she wanted to say but the pain made the effort impossible. Was she dreaming or did someone lift her up? Strong hands seemed to be supporting her from both sides as she was made to lie down on something soft. Was she being moved? She heard two people talking and both the voices seemed familiar somehow. The movement stopped after a while and she felt herself being lifted again. The blackness enveloped again after she felt something being pricked into her arms and legs.
Two days had passed since the incident. Jash and Menka had not left the hospital and waited with baited breath for some positive news. The doctors had been kind though reluctant on taking Rashmi in. After Jash and Menka had both narrated their ends of the story, they seemed convinced that Jash was innocent and Rashmi had been a victim of an accident in the truest sense. The physical injuries weren’t as bad but they weren’t as yet sure of the brain damage as the patient hadn’t come out of consciousness after the first dose of injections. However, things would have definitely worsened if the patient had been brought in even a few minutes later. No family members had been seen around but the two people who had brought her in had never been out of sight.
Jash was still not able to digest what had happened. How could he have missed seeing Rashmi? Why couldn’t he just wait for a few seconds to make sure the signal was on? He had taken care of the bills, ensured Rashmi got the best treatment and medication and even stayed by her side to make sure he was there in case she woke up and needed anything. None of his actions though help gets rid of the guilt. Of course, it was his fault! Nobody was to be blamed but him for what the situation he and the woman lying in bed were in. Then, of course, there was Menka too. Thank God she was there!
The mob would have surely crushed him if it weren’t for Menka who took things into her hand. The doctors and nurses too said that they were able to control the injuries, bleeding and any permanent damages in time. If they had only been a few minutes late, Rashmi would have been in grave danger. She hadn’t gained consciousness completely but the nurses had seen her trying to open her eyes and even make somebody movements which the doctors said was a positive sign.
Menka couldn’t believe how Jash could have been behind the wheel of the car that hit Rashmi. If there was one law-abiding and a disciplined person other than her father she had ever met, it was Jash; which is why she had been quick to defend him when the mob had started to lose their temper. She wondered whether if it had been someone else, she would have been able to get Rashmi to the hospital in time. She shuddered to think what would have happened otherwise. Maybe what they said about fate and luck was indeed true. How else were three people who knew each other on the same street at the same time? And she had been right about Jash too, it had indeed been not his fault. Yes, it was the bird that had blocked her view too and she did tell this to the doctors as well. It was only then that they had believed the story, operated on the injured Rashmi.
When Rashmi finally came, she saw her beloved Menka madam next to her bed. She smiled on seeing her. As she moved, the bed creaked a little and Menka turned to see her. The relief she felt was evident in her smile and eyes. Before saying anything to Rashmi, she rushed to the door and shouted to someone, “She’s up. Come in!”
Rashmi saw a man walking towards the door, pull it open and walk in with the same relief and happiness across his smile and eyes too. Oh! But that’s Jash Sahab!! Mira madam’s husband. Theirs was another family who had always been kind to her. How lucky was she that she had been saved by the same people who looked out for her even at work!
When the doctors came in, other than asking her how she felt, they also inquired about what had happened. She told her end of the story and confirmed that the bird had blocked her view as well. It wasn’t until the doctors told her that she came to know who and whose car had hit her. To her surprise though, she wasn’t angry, in fact, she thanked God that it was Jash’s car and not somebody else’s!
Perhaps if it had been someone else, he would have fled instead of trying to help. The doctors even told her how Jash and Menka had rushed her to the hospital in time, taken care of her bills and how it was because of Jash that she was getting the best treatment and healing so quickly. To which she had replied, “I thought I was being carried into heaven by angels.” Her angels had protected her indeed, but not in heaven, here on earth itself.
Rashmi from that day onward wasn’t just a rag picker! She and her family were taken care of, financially as well as otherwise, by Jash, who hired her as a full-time maid. He thought it was the least he could do for the mistake he had made. Of course, Menka too continued to help in any way she could.
Some incidents and stories, though witnessed and narrated by different people, their ends of it, are the same, though with different consequences.
Note: This story was originally published on The Naked Truth.