(Sorry, it turned out to be a long post. But couldn't help it. Read it if you are patient enough. No issues otherwise. And it's been a long time. How have you all been, drop in a comment. :) )
I was getting drenched, but for a change I didn’t care. I dragged my foot along the wet mud, got into my grandfather’s old car. Again, for a change, I had the key, so I slid behind the wheel and shut the door after me. The windshield, translucent due to the relentlessly beating rain, showed me a big vehicle parked ahead; a hearse. My grandfather was sleeping in it; it was supposed to be his final journey. The door to my left, made way for my grandmother. She said to me as a tear ran down her cheek- “Follow the hearse to the cemetery.” I put the car onto ignition, clicked the wipers into action and waited to follow the hearse. The wipers danced themselves into wiping the tears off the windshield leaving our eyes craving for company.
Firing ‘hate-beams’ over the slices of bread waiting in his breakfast plate, “How can I miss you if you don’t leave…..” my grandfather managed to sing with his broken voice. My grandmother, who stood against the ‘Dressing table’ applying some kind of cream across her face, retaliated by hurling a comb at him. “Thanks for the song, hero!” he waved at me and shoved some more bread into his witty mouth. My grandmother stared at me, and I could notice that fire-balls had replaced eye-balls. So, in an attempt to please her, I said to him- “You are lucky to have such a nice wife, remember.” His mouth was full of bread, so he grunted and coughed.
A few minutes passed by, and I made a face expression suggesting it was getting late and we must be moving.
“Will you have breakfast, or will you keep painting your face?” he asked grandma.
“We have to get going.”
“Dear, can I bring the breakfast and coffee to you?”
He stood, winked at me and said- “I’m learning. I’m learning.”
I drove along, following the hearse, across the wet streets on a cloudy afternoon. The rain had reduced to a drizzle; the world around seemed to have muted itself from us; the silence slowly pinched us into reality. As the drizzle trickled out, I put the wipers to rest and turned to my grandmother. Those tears were much harder to wipe out.
In a few minutes we were ready to leave. My grandfather sat in behind the wheel and blew the horns wildly. I had to rush grandma to the car as she fed my ears with- “What a crazy man your grandfather is!” We got in, and within two blinks, he hit the accelerator and we were cruising along the main-road.
“Do you want directions?” grandma enquired as she emptied a bottle of water.
“Do you mean, in life?”
She chuckled. “No. To the…the..…… never mind.”
My grandfather drives his car like in the American movies, where the hero is running against time to save the world from mountain sized gorillas. I observed, when in the car, grandma sits very silent. I recollect grandpa once giving me this advice- “That’s how you keep women silent. The faster you go, the silent they would be.” Though I took the advice, in this case though, it was my grandpa who needed the plastering. My grandma, on the other side, wasn’t the one to shy away. I remember her telling me- she felt much closer to God when she was in grandpa’s car than during her morning prayers.
Anyway, as he drove along like a rich, reckless teenager, me and grandma sat quietly. In front of us, a school bus made steady progress. The children in the bus made themselves busy by waving at strangers, and cheering when their bus over-took other vehicles and exchanging high-fives. I saw their expressions change as we proceeded past them; I could hear them boo’ing us. My grandfather disappointed my expectations by not waving out at them. Sometimes I exaggerate his childishness.
Anyway, we had to stop for petrol, so we pulled up at a Petrol pump. “This petrol pump is like this car’s own mother. It’s never been fed anywhere else. Ask your grandfather about this, he’ll have something stupid to say about it” my grandma whispered to me. I got down, and as I saw the petrol being pumped into the car, I had a few silly thoughts running through my head. Anyway, once grandpa completed his joke filled conversation with the petrol-guy, we were set to leave. Just about then, the school bus sailed past us, and the children screamed their lungs out cheerfully.
The road was empty and that meant that there was nothing stopping grandpa. It took less than a minute to overtake the bus. For those children, it was like their ‘Games’ period being replaced with ‘Moral Science’. This time, my grandfather waved at them. If I was in that bus, I would be so pissed off that I would have frowned and skipped my evening glass of milk. Anyway, my exaggerated assumptions about grandpa proved to be right, and I dint know if I should feel good or bad about it. Just when I thought my grandfather emerged Mr. Victorious, the car started losing pace. In a few seconds, the car coughed itself to the side and grandpa got down for the surgery. He opened the bonnet, mulled over it and later kicked the grill in disgust. I didn’t want to see those school children dancing over the aisles at our pathetic defeat. None the less I could hear the cheer as their bus whizzed past us. I got out and asked grandpa- “You said your car never gives a head-ache?” He didn’t reply, rather he just closed the bonnet, asked me to sit as he slid into his seat. He put the car into ignition and it roared without a glitch. “This is my car. I maintain it. It neither gives a headache nor a typhoid.” He released the clutch, steered the car along the road to his left and headed along.
My grandfather is not the greatest person since mankind nor did he intend to be one, but that day he exhibited traces of simple humanity. My grandfather, he gave those children some disappointment, then some thrill but ultimately a little moment of happiness. I thought maybe I was making too much of it, but I just couldn’t resist thinking that way. I began liking him; in fact I liked him a lot. I turned to grandma, and we exchanged a simple smile. That smile, somehow I could never forget. It had a story to tell.
Somewhere along the route, it dawned to me that I was driving my grandfather’s car; the one which never gave a headache; the one which he never let me touch. My grandma, next to me, sat too silent for comfort. As I threaded along, following the hearse, which had my grandfather’s body in it, I was flooded with thoughts aplenty. I craned my neck and saw through the rear view mirror something which was the last thing I wanted to see on that day. It was a school bus approaching from behind, full of children involved in their regular activity of cheering and boo’ing. Call it ‘co-incidence; call it whatever, I hated it. I was worried for my grandma. Even as thoughts ran by and emotions ran high, the school bus steadily moved ahead. The children waved at me and signaled a ‘thumbs-down’. The bus moved ahead, now right parallel to the hearse. I don’t know what went through those young, innocent minds, but I was taken aback. They realized there was a dead body in the van; they lost the smiles on their faces, motioned their hands from head to chest in such a way as to offer a prayer, then turned around and maybe started off another game or so. At that very moment, I turned to my grandmother. Amidst all those tears, she gave me another unforgettable smile. This one had a bigger story to tell.