The jerk from a sudden impact startled Biju from his momentary slumber. In a split second, he applied the brakes as years of driving instincts kicked in, and the Toyota Innova Crysta veered and screeched to a dead halt. As the smell of grazed rubber gently floated into the MUV through its rolled-down windows, beads of perspiration appeared on the forehead of its seasoned driver. Looking back in his rearview mirror, Biju said a silent prayer and drove away as the broken body of an unknown man lay twitching in a pool of blood. Accidents such as these were not uncommon in the dead of a pitch-black moonless night on a remote highway, deep in the rural hinterlands of the Indian state of Bihar. To answer nature’s call in the open, sleepy villagers often crossed paved roads and national highways in the early hours.
Six hundred and thirty kilometres away from that unfortunate and unknown soul lying unconscious in the middle of a desolate highway in Bihar, a mother firmly hugged her son as he miraculously recovered from a deadly fever in a small and obscure rural hamlet in West Bengal. The village doctor had given an ultimatum the previous night, saying that the boy would not live to see the next day’s light. The mother knew that it was a miracle that her son had survived. She knew that the power of her God had triumphed over medical science.
Biju had started his job life as a helper to a lorry driver. Slowly he learned to drive himself and drove private cars for a while before shifting to commercial trucks transporting goods all over India. Two years ago, he finally managed to buy a brand-new Toyota Innova Crysta, making a hefty down payment from his savings, and paying the rest gradually through five-year monthly instalments. Now he was the proud owner of ‘Biju Car Rental Services,’ his very own business. He was happy to drive private customers to any destination and back within the subcontinent. The pay was good, the food and company were better, and it was certainly more comfortable than driving a rattling sixteen-wheeler.
With his nerves still shaking, Biju wondered how he could fall asleep behind the wheel with such a rested mind. The driver had not touched a drop of his favoured hooch in the past week. Neither had he smoked his favourite pot of hash. He had slept well the previous day and started his night drive with a relaxed and focussed mind. He wondered what ill fate or divine intervention had forced him to shut his eyes.
Biju was eager to complete his twelve-hour journey in a single go to meet his wife and child. He was returning home after chauffeuring a client around Bihar for the past week and finally dropping him off in Patna city. “How could I have fallen asleep,” shouted Biju and banged his fists on the steering wheel of his beloved car.
He thought he couldn’t fall asleep that way unless a god or a ghoul had intervened. Perhaps he was just an instrument in the hands of Yama, the deity of death who might have been there to take away the unfortunate man. He silently complained to the Devas for their cruel ways and cursed the Rakshasas for their bloodlust for the innocent. He did not know which force had caused the accident. He wondered whether it was the handiwork of the heavenly angels of the skies or the hellish demons of the depths? He did not know such things; he had always preferred to avoid religious and occult matters. He thought his wife would perhaps know, as she always stayed immersed in rituals and prayers.
“One never goes back. You never go back. I cannot go back,” mumbled Biju, still shaking from the unfortunate encounter a few minutes back. Drivers on Indian roads usually did not stop when they ran over someone. They feared being beaten to death or lynched by the mob in the absence of cops. When a driver could not drive away from the scene of an accident, he usually abandoned his vehicle and ran to hide and save his life. In most cases, their vehicle would be vandalised and burned to the ground by angry men on the streets if the police were not present or failed to arrive in time.
Though Biju had never run over a person, he had killed a dog once. The unfortunate canine had come in front of his truck from nowhere, and he could not apply the brakes in time to save the animal’s life. The episode had left him miserable for days. It had left a permanent scar on his soul that he had not shared with anyone, and now he had perhaps killed a man. How could he live with that?
“The man was still moving; he could be alive. If I take him to a hospital, perhaps he will not die. What if he’s already dead? Should I keep driving, or should I go back,” Biju’s mind filled with a million contradictions? Unable to focus on the road, too disturbed with his thoughts, Biju braked hard and once again brought his vehicle to a screeching halt. After regaining his composure and making up his mind, the seasoned driver turned his car and headed back towards the man he had left for dead on the middle of the highway a few kilometres back.
At that very moment in the obscure little hamlet in West Bengal, the mother of the recovering boy quietly went under the sacred peepal tree outside her house. Incanting in an ancient and forgotten dialect, she performed the last part of the ritual she had started twelve hours back. She thanked her Lord for bringing back her son from the jaws of death. She promised to be forever indebted.
When the guilty driver returned to the accident spot, the first tinge of dawn barely filled the atmosphere. No one had still come out on the road. Stopping right in front of the broken man lying in the middle of the highway, keeping the engine running, he stepped out of his vehicle and saw in the beam of his car’s headlight that it was just a boy of the same age as his son, still breathing faintly and holding on to his ebbing life.
Taking a few steps, he knelt and picked up the broken boy in his arms, wrapping his woollen shawl around him. “Do not die, my son. I will take you to the hospital,” saying these words, Biju laid the unconscious boy on the middle seat of his car and drove away towards the nearest town in search of a hospital.
“I have never prayed to you in my life, oh Lord. It is usually my wife who prays to you, and I have seen that you have always answered her prayers. I do not even know what my wife calls you. She never told me, for I have always been so sceptical about religion and prayer. I do not even know whether you are a power of light or a force of darkness. I only know that you are miraculous and have always answered my wife’s prayers. So today, I come before you with folded hands and promise to serve you till eternity if you save this boy’s life. I will be indebted to you forever,” said the agnostic driver, clasping his palms in a prayerful stance and driving like a madman to save the life of an unknown boy.
Sixteen hours after being assured by the resident doctor at a government hospital where he had dropped the little boy that the child would live, Biju reached his village in West Bengal. Throwing open his car door, he ran to meet his wife, who was standing outside their house. He tightly hugged his wife and kissed her on the forehead shedding tears of joy.
“You would not believe what happened to me. Last night I accidentally ran over a boy in Bihar. Initially, though I ran, I ultimately summoned the courage to return and take the boy to a hospital. I was certain that he would die. Then for the first time in my life, I prayed to your God. As I drove and prayed, miraculously, the boy held on to his life. Your God answered my prayer. The child did not die. After reaching him at the hospital, I kept on praying, and four hours later, the doctor pronounced that the boy would survive. Where is my son? Call him out. I need to hug and kiss him too,” said Biju with great joy and clasped his hands to continue giving thanks to the God of his wife, who had answered his prayers and saved the unknown boy’s life.
“Two days back, after playing in the river for the whole day, a terrible fever befell our son, and the village doctor said that he would not survive to see the next day’s light. I went and consulted with my God under the peepal tree and performed the sacred blood ritual in the night. The Lord spoke to me and said that the father had to take a life to save the son’s life. When our son miraculously recovered and sat up at dawn, I knew that a child was dying somewhere, and my son would live to see the morning’s light,” said Biju’s wife while tears streamed from her eyes.
“Then, as miraculously as he had healed, the fever came back. I ran to my Lord under the peepal tree, prayed to him with all my heart, performed all the rituals that I knew pleased him, and chanted all the mantras, but alas, he would not answer back. After suffering for four hours, our son took his last breath and left this world. His body is lying inside. Now I know why my Lord would not listen to my petitions, for he was answering your prayers. You choose the wrong day to accept and pray to my God,” said Biju’s wife and fell to the ground beating her chest with her fists and crying for her lost son.
Copyright © 2022 TRISHIKH DASGUPTA
This work of fiction, written by Trishikh Dasgupta is the author’s sole intellectual property. Some characters, incidents, places, and facts may be real while some fictitious. All rights are reserved. No part of this story may be reproduced, distributed, or transmitted in any form or by any means, including printing, photocopying, recording, or other electronic or mechanical methods, without the prior written permission of the author, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical reviews and certain other noncommercial uses permitted by copyright law. For permission requests, send an email to the author at firstname.lastname@example.org or get in touch with Trishikh on the CONTACT page of this website.
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