There was a screech. Yeah, that word’s onomatopoeia; sounds like the sound it means. First the screech, then a dull thud, a moment of muted stillness and a slow rise of strained human chatter, in that order. The elderly man who was seated beside our young protagonist till a moment ago, was run over by a speeding car driven by a concerned husband who wanted to get his pregnant wife to the hospital. Her water had broken and it was to be their first. Little did they know of the elderly man before that moment. He was a common man, taught English at the City College, and was survived by his dog. Don’t worry, the dog, a brown brawny spaniel, was later adopted by their understanding neighbor. This little story is about the hour before the accident, as the bus rode out the city into the suburbs while the spirited youth was trying to have a conversation with the elderly man on that ill-fated though pleasant-weathered evening. You must pardon the incongruous upbeat weather, it just happened to be restful, retiring, with the sky smeared in shades of orange and yellow, with the variegated variety of clouds sailing over the pleasingly scented breeze. There was a touch of cold. Just enough to make you button the collar of the shirt as the elderly man, lets say, Mr. Jim had.
The youth, a bumbling bundle of optimism, Sam suites him right, found the seat by Mr. Jim vacant and sat beside. Mr. Jim did not bother to turn and look. He was lost in thought. He had been thinking of carrots. For some inexplicable reason, while reading out Antony’s stirring rhetoric from Julius Caesar to his class earlier in the day, he found his mind’s eye sizing up a carrot in its vivid detail with its orange-red grainy tapering surface, topped by a bunch of green juicy stalks. For the life of him, he couldn’t fathom what led to that thought. Here Antony was craftily inciting the Roman crowd, appealing to their hearts with why Caesar had been wronged, and he was thinking carrots! As scenes by the road flit by, his eyes saw not. It seemed important to know why carrots. The intrigue was compelling. Just then, he felt a nudge. He turned to behold the apologetic Sam’s beaming foolish smile. ‘Hello there’, Jim greeted, holding on to his etiquettes. Sam waved in return. ‘Nice weather, ain’t it sir!’, he added. Jim wanted to correct him, but he let the colloquial slide. He just gave a silent nod and was about to turn around to look out the bus window when a thought occurred. He asked him, ‘So son, what do you want to become when you grow up?’
Sam was surprised a bit, but he liked the invitation for a more serious conversation than the weather. ‘I want to be a politician and change this country for the better’, he said. Jim didn’t say anything. He let his sight linger on him for a while longer, then his lips broke into a good-natured smile. He liked energetic idealists. He was one once. And with time he got tired, and he had made himself inconspicuous in this grand scheme of life. It isn’t that circumstances defeated him, nor that he was strained long enough to weaken his will. He just grew tired. With days, his will gradually ebbed. It could instead be reasoned that he didn’t fuel it enough and again to keep going. One day, he found self convinced with the rhetoric ‘why bother’ and had decided to fit in. He stopped making noise. He gave up his job as attorney. No more litigation in public interest. No more serving writ petitions to factories for breaching environment protection norms. No more of that fight, while meaningful and important, yet which for some reason had now come to feel a bother. A burden. He had energy; ample skill and wits as well. Man he was good with rhetoric. But he just did not want to go on. Took a job as lecturer, and decided to spend time reading and teach what he read. Feeling the weight of the silence heavy, Sam asked him if he liked books.
Yes, Jim liked books. But Jim was no more interested in this conversation. Sam, with his energy and enthusiasm, and with that agenda for social crusade was disturbing his peace. Jim had achieved a tranquil state of stillness in his mind, and he liked no ripples in that pool. He smiled at Sam, wished him luck with politics and got up. It wasn’t his stop yet, but he had a growing desire to get out the bus. He decided to walk the way back. Anyway the weather was pleasant. He requested the driver to let him out. The grim respectful poise Jim posed was compelling. The driver slowed, stopped the bus, and opened the door. Jim’s last thought was of carrots, and the moment he stepped out and the car hit him throwing his mortal coil 5 ft up in the air, his mind blinked the image of Caesar crunching a carrot, the next second, the entire Roman mob was crunching carrots, and there was a vague sense of weightlessness, and then Jim ceased to exist. He now lay as a mass of bleeding flesh, huddled in the road, with the husband out the car, kneeling by his side.
Sam sat glued to his seat. It was not that he didn’t care. He just felt locked in that moment, as if the transient nature of life, with the absolute certainty of death lay unfurled before him. He felt a knot in his throat while his eyes welled up. He thought about his sister home. He wanted to go home. While the husband, mortified, felt the pulse of the body lying before; this though only seemed a formality given the crack in Jim’s skull that was pouring blood. Certain there was nothing to be done, he got back into the car and drove slowly away. He had placed his visiting card by Jim’s corpse for police to contact him when they arrive to the scene. They would in a while. Someone would call them. He had something else he first needed to take care. His wife’s on-going labor. As the car was pulling away, Sam’s mind involuntarily registered the number-plate. He would remember those digits for the rest of his life. He also noticed the staff of Asclepius with the sacred snake coiled around, the Doctor’s symbol, stuck to the top right corner of the rear windshield. And for some reason Sam felt it a tad incongruous. The bus pulled away too. And the doctor’s wife gave birth to a son an hour and a half later, who was not named Jim.