The Last Selfie
The Last Selfie8 mins 9.7K 8 mins 9.7K
It was getting late enough to be worried. I once again stepped into the balcony and looked down but the street was deserted except for a stray dog howling giving me goose bumps. A breeze ruffled the leaves of Peepal tree in the courtyard. Thinking I heard a soft knock at the door, I turned back.
I opened the door hurriedly, only to find my relief short lived. It was the neighbourhood cat, a black one that I hated the sight of. I could feel it in my bones, something was not right. At that very moment, the cat began mewling ominously adding to my apprehension. Beads of sweat poured down my forehead and a sinking feeling began to assail me. Where was Maya? If she was stuck somewhere, why had she not called? Why was her phone not reachable? Horrifying images began running riot in my mind.
I had told her not to drive in this rainy weather but in her usual “Maya style” brushing off my concern she rushed out of the house tut-tutting, “Papa, It’s only for a few hours, an urgent, urgent meeting. STOP WORRYING. OK!”. The whirlwind had disappeared before I could say bye! My phone beeped. With trembling hands, I picked it up only to see a stupid whatsapp message on my friends group. These oldies have really gone senile I thought, sending goodnight messages at 12 o clock in the night!
I scrolled through the contacts list on my phone and stopped at a name- Karan Vohra. I hated the thought of having to call him, but he was the only other person who could help me locate where my daughter was. After five rings that seemed like eternity an inebriated voice at the other end picked up. “Who is this? Why are you calling me at this hour?”
“Son, this is Maya’s father. Is she with you? She hasn’t come home yet”, I said.
"Maya, who Maya? I’m with Sandhya okay. Do not call me again!"
I stood still for a few seconds still holding the phone to my ear and listening to the disconnected tone. At another time I would have been delighted to learn that my daughter had broken up with that scumbag I had never approved of, but then, where was she? The cuckoo clock chimed once, signalling that another hour had passed. For the hundredth time, I tried her phone only to be told that her phone was out of coverage area. There was no option, but to go and search for her myself now. I grabbed the car keys from the coffee table and stopped near the picture of my wife. For a brief moment, I touched her face lovingly and sent up a prayer. “Watch over your silly munchkin my love. She needs your protection”, I sighed locking the house behind me.
Manoeuvring the car in the dead of the night, with the road so slippery thanks to the incessant rain was proving to be a difficult task. I adjusted my glasses again, and honked loudly to wake the sleeping guard to open the society gate. Where should I head to? For a meeting Maya would normally go to the shared office space she had rented near one of the metro stations at the Delhi- Gurgaon border. So maybe it was best to head in that direction and hope. At this time, I could not allow myself to think of anything else.
The roads that are normally choked with bumper to bumper traffic were eerily empty with the lone vehicle jumping the blinking traffic lights. It seemed a fruitless pursuit. Another few kilometres and I would reach the vicinity of her office. What would I do next? Go to the nearest police station? “Oh Maya, my baby girl, where are you?”, I cried out loudly.
Just then I spotted two cars on the opposite side of the road right under the metro station. The model and make were unrecognizable, both burnt to a cinder with just the black metal body the only evidence of their earlier form. I couldn’t fathom how despite the moisture in the air, the cars had burnt. The force of the collision and the fact that it happened under the covered length of the metro station could be the reason there was such a big blaze despite the rain.
I took a u turn and stopped my car a few meters behind, the smell of acrid metal hitting my nostrils as I walked outside on the deserted road. A wave of heat still emerged from the cars, and it seemed one of them had collided into the other. I scanned the footpath underneath the metro station. A lone mendicant with matted hair slept clutching a pink bag.
Pink… “Maya, Maya”, I shrieked on the top of my voice, waking the beggar. He clutched the bag tighter glaring at me. “Ye tumhey kahan sey mila? (Where did you get this from) aur kya hua (and what happened)?”, I said pointing to the accident scene. “Who aag lag gayi. Do log mar gaye (It caught fire and two people died)”, said the tramp confirming my worst fears. I sunk to my knees on the pavement holding my head, tears streaming down my hollowed cheeks. I felt a light tap on my shoulder, and as I turned, I came face to face with the desolate eyes of the vagabond that seemed to mirror my own helplessness.
“Sabko hospital ley gaye, bag ek madam ka tha (They took them to the hospital, the bag belonged to a lady)”, he said handing me the bag. I held it for a few seconds and remembered the day Maya had come home after having bought it in a sale. “See Papa, pink and what a bargain”, she had proudly strutted around the house delighted with her new purchase. “Hospital pass wala hai, sab wahi jatey hai (The hospital is the one close by, all are taken there)”, whispered the beggar disappearing into the dead of the night.
With great effort, I carried myself back to the car, placing the bag gingerly on the passenger seat. With breakneck speed and tears streaming down my face I drove to the nearest hospital. I remember going there once with Maya to see one of our relatives. I still could not believe what was happening, surely life could not be so cruel! Maya’s mom had left the world a few years ago in a road accident when her car was hit from behind by a speeding truck. No this could not be happening!
At the hospital, I rushed into the emergency section. Even at this hour it was buzzing with activity. Spotting a doctor, I grabbed him and asked, “There was an accident, two cars burning under the metro station. Where are the victims?”. He scanned me from top to bottom with an apologetic face. “They did not survive Sir”, he said. An excruciating pain gripped my chest and it became difficult to breathe. Everything began to swim in front of my eyes. The doctor ushered me into a nearby chair and made me drink some water. “Maya, Maya, Maya”, I continued to sob loudly holding my head in my hands.
“Papa, Papa”, a voice suddenly called from somewhere. I lifted up my head and closed my ears. I had now begun to hear things. “Papa, Papa”, the voice called louder but I was frozen to the spot unable to digest what the doctor had just confirmed. “Papa, it’s me Maya. Come here Papa”, shouted the voice louder.
With trembling legs and hands, I walked a few steps ahead to one of the beds where the white curtain surrounding the bed had been left open. There in the bed, with one leg strapped into a harness was my darling daughter Maya. “Oh, my precious, I thought I had lost you”, I sobbed as I hugged her tiny frame. “I’m so sorry Papa, I should have listened to you and not gone out today, but you are here and I am fine”, she apologised.
“What happened?”, I asked tearfully caressing her blackened face. “Papa, I was driving back home after the meeting when I noticed the couple in the car next to me take a selfie and pose with funny faces as they were driving. They overtook me and suddenly their car lost control and hit the divider and burst into flames. I applied the brakes but still touched the car ahead. I jumped out of my car and tried to help the couple in the car get out.
A big crowd gathered around the cars burning and instead of helping the couple burning in the car, they began taking videos with the burning cars. I called the police and they arranged for an ambulance and a fire tender. Soon my car also caught fire and there was an explosion and I was thrown from where I was standing near the cars onto the pavement. After that I just have a vague memory of being taken to the hospital in an ambulance. In fact, I just woke up some time back and heard you calling my name.”
The doctor who had spoken to me earlier said, “Your daughter was lucky and got off only with a broken leg. She could have gotten burnt badly being so close to the explosion but has only sustained minor injuries apart from this broken leg. She will be fine soon”, he walked away with a reassuring smile. As I hugged my daughter tightly she said, “Papa, I don’t ever think I’ll be able to take a selfie again. If that couple had been focusing on driving none of this would have happened. That selfie turned out to be their last.”, she said sadly falling asleep again. I hugged her closely to myself grateful that my daughter was restored to me but tears spilled from my eyes for the couple who had not been so lucky.