I slapped the steering wheel in anger.
Could my luck get any worse?
Rain was pouring like cats and dogs, an incessant thrum over the car’s roof. My visibility was limited to headlights and occasional red flashes of the brake-light of the car in front of me. The constant swish of the windshield wipers made me nod off to an uneasy doze at times, only to be woken up the blaring horn of the gigantic bus behind me.
This had to be biggest, ugliest traffic jam in the history of transportation, I grumbled to myself as I fiddled with the radio knobs. The downpour interfered with the signal, making static noises in the middle of the latest Bollywood hits.
The great Almighty was seriously pissed at me.
But why today, of all days?
It was past eight-thirty now, the minute hand slowly inching towards twelve. Christmas would be over after three hours.
I cursed out loud.
I shouldn’t have scampered across the city to attend the stupid seminar, I realized, remembering what mother had told me earlier.
“Who on earth organizes a seminar on Christmas anyway?” she had reasoned.
A damn good reason. Wish I had paid a little bit of attention to it.
I had been stuck in the traffic jam for almost two hours now…technically, I should have been home by six-thirty.
And the rain further worsened the things.
The headlights around slowly dimmed down as drivers switched them off…why burnt out battery and fuel uselessly? Especially when the fuel prices are aiming to reach the sky these days.
Silence began to envelope me now, only punctuated by the regular pitter-patter of the rain drops. I switched off the radio, the static noises making my head ache. I thought of plugging my mobile phone into the music player, only to see that the battery was on the red-zone.
Great. Simply amazing.
I must have dozed off because when I opened my eyes next, I saw the time of gleaming on my mobile phone screensaver and yelped.
It was ten pm.
The scenario outside remained unchanged.
A sudden drumming on my windowpane made me jump. A little girl stood outside, soaked to her bones.
I lowered my window.
“Hey? What are you doing here?” I asked, rain wetting the side of my jacket.
“Miss…I need to go home but the autorickshaw uncle ditched me…can you drop me home?” she said, shivering like a leaf.
“Come in…over the other side…man, parents these days…” I muttered, opening the door on the shot-gun side.
The girl scrambled in, clutching her sides. Her waist length hair was plastered to her soaked clothes as the water dripped and formed a small puddle on the car floor. I turned up the heater on to full blast, aiming all the vents towards her. She looked no older than ten, her large grey eyes looking with wonder towards me. Her nose was tipped with pink, her cheeks blanched of colour.
I racked my head…maybe I had a t-shirt and an extra jacket on the backseat.
I inclined my seat, rummaging through the junk which had made its permanent home over there. Thankfully, I found a comfy t-shirt, an old jacket and a hand-towel. Mentally thanking mom for forcing me to keep some extra clothing in the car, I made the girl strip off every soaking garment and made her wear the dry ones.
She curled up under the jacket, colour finally returning to her cheeks.
“Why didn’t you call your parents?” I reprimanded, lowering the heat a trifle…I was feeling cooked.
“I don’t have a phone…besides, I thought I could make it home on my own,” she said a bit sheepishly.
“Use my phone and call them up…they would be worried sick,” I said, handing her my phone.
To my surprise, she shook her head.
“Mom and Dad are out for some charity event…I am on my own today,” she said smiling.
“On your own? Leaving a ten year old all alone?” I said, astonished.
“My parents own a delivery company…and lately, it’s been going downhill. So they had to let go of the nanny…and also attend sudden calls. Even if its Christmas.”
I felt sorry for the little girl.
“Where did you go…like from where are you returning home?”
“I went to the super-market to get cake…I wanted to surprise Mom and Dad,” she said, grinning.
The grin was so infectious that it made my lips curve up too.
“Alright, I get it,” I said, smiling.
“But this traffic thing is uncertain…I don’t know when it will clear up,” I added, looking ahead at the gloom through the sheet of water.
“Miss, what do you do?” she asked, curiously.
“Me? I am a dentist,” I replied.
To my surprise, she looked completely awestruck.
“You are a doctor??!! That’s amazing!” she said, looking as if I was the Prime Minister of the country.
“Why? You want to be one too?” I asked, slightly pleased.
“Yeah! I want to be a surgeon when I grow up,” she said excitedly, bouncing on the seat.
My eyes slightly clouded over at this.
“I too wanted to be a surgeon when I was young…but apparently couldn’t…” I sighed, leaning back.
“Why?” she asked.
“It’s kind of a long story…just the fact that childhood dreams and the reality of adults vary a lot,” I answered slowly, more to myself than to her.
I could almost remember the day when I had to choose my electives.
“Surgeon? Girls cannot do surgery…there’s blood…flesh…can you look at that stuff?”
“Patients do not trust female surgeons, you know…why don’t you take up gynaecology? Or pediatrics? Girls are best suited for that…”
“Take up dentistry…it’s glam, there’s money and it’s pretty safe and easy.”
The voices of my professors and my friends echoed in my ears, which led to me picking up dental sciences.
“I don’t know…you wanted to be a surgeon…why should there be a long story?” she asked innocently, her voice bringing me back to the present.
I ruffled her hair…it had dried quite a bit.
“You are young, kid. It’s okay for you to dream,” I said.
“You are boring,” she huffed, curling back under my jacket.
“Dreams are not just for the young…you don’t live unless you dream, you know,” she said, her voice muffled.
“But its too late for me…you remember to follow yours through the end, okay?” I asked, patting her shoulder.
“Its never too late,” she said leaping back up.
God, did her mother feed her glucose tablets for lunch?
“My mom says there’s no end to studying…why not begin again?”
I laughed at her naivety.
“Do you know how many years it takes to complete a medical degree…then there’s rural training and you need to get a master’s degree to be actually considered as someone who has completed her medical studies…Almost seven years, give or take.”
“Isn’t seven years better than a lifetime of thinking ‘what would have happened’ ?” she said quietly
Those words shut me up.
“It’s…it’s just not possible,” I said stubbornly.
“It’s Christmas…everything’s possible today,” she said evenly.
“Come on…I cannot become a surgeon in a day…besides, Christmas will be over in an hour,” I said, while marveling at her pig-headedness in making me understand.
The rain, as it seemed, had no intention of stopping. Deluge was certain around New Year this time.
“At least, wish to Santa Claus..if you wish from the bottom of your heart, it will come true,” she said softly.
I opened my mouth to tell her that Santa Claus is just a figment of imagination before clamping it shut—breaking a kid’s Santa dreams is never good.
“Okay…I will do that,” I said, reassuring her. She calmed down a little, though the petulant pout didn’t leave her lips.
She leaned back on the seat, muttering unintelligibly before dozing off.
I smiled a little, before lowering the heat to a comfortable temperature.
I tried to keep my eyes open, but soon, I nodded off.
I jumped up, banging my head on to the roof. The rain had lessened to almost a drizzle.
The bus behind me was honking to its heart’s content…the traffic had started moving at last.
I turned in the ignition, jamming my foot over the accelarator.
“Hey…looks like you will be home by midn—” I began, turning to the occupant on the shot gun seat.
The only minor fact—it was empty.
Where did she go?
She had disappeared, along with both her clothes and mine.
The time on the dashboard…it showed the time as ten p.m.
How was that possible? That girl…dammit, I didn’t even ask her name…she came into my car at ten a.m…
I shook my head, trying to bring in some logic into my brain.
Must have dreamed the entire thing, I mused as I egged on the road.
As I stopped car in front of my house, the light reflected off the puddle beneath the shotgun seat.
Hang on a second, when did water gather there?
As I checked the rearview mirror on kicking my car into reverse, I saw my grey eyes slowly turning bloodshot. I sure was tired.
Waistlength black hair?
I remembered having waistlength hair when I was young.
And I remembered my mom and dad running a delivery service when I was ten years old.
When I was ten years old…
I did believe in Santa and his gifts when I was ten…so did I dream a lot.
I stared at the shotgun seat.
Seriously, I had forgotten to dream.
Grinning to myself, I leapt off the car with renewed vigour, thanking Santa for helping me come home when it was still Christmas.
And making me realize that it was never too late.
It was a long way home today…but I was glad.