There was no darkness at the end of it all this time. I was in the car, collapsed in a heap. Crumpled beside me was Aniya. I hadn’t let go of her. As the smile crept up to my face looking at her, so did the tears. The smile was from the memory of how she was. The tears from how she looked now. Broken indescribably. And then came the pain.
I couldn’t fall into the darkness though. Not yet. There was more I had to see. Where was mom?
“Nine, and ten. Here I come,” I announced, loudest my shrill voice would allow.
We were playing hide and seek, and I was the seeker. Mom had stayed home. When she took the day off from work, she tuned off completely. Her laptop lay shutdown on her table. Her team informed that she wouldn’t be available, and they knew better than to question the declaration. It was thus that mom, Aniya and I settled on hide and seek after lunch. It was my terribly bad luck that ended me as the seeker. How terrible I was at rock-paper-scissors. Worse I was at seeking.
It wasn’t that there were many places in the house to hide. But we never were limited to the house. The yard was open too. And so was Aniya’s. That made the seeking impossibly difficult. Aniya would find an inconceivable place to squeeze herself into, the kind of place that left her impossible to find whenever playing. And mom, was the exact opposite. She would never stay in a place for long. Vanishing from her hiding spot, appearing in a place the seeker had just searched. The two of them hiding, against a seeker like me who was terrible, was a hopeless situation.
A whole hour I searched. Before giving up. I started in our living room, where the game started with the counting. Proceeding through the kitchen, the dining room, peeping around the yard from the porch, then heading upstairs. Under the beds in the bedrooms, in the laundry basket, behind the shower curtain and in the bathtub. Then heading up to the roof. Making sure no place was unseen. Then repeating the process in Aniya’s house. They weren’t to be found. And I was bound to give up. Constantly looking behind my back, to see if they were hiding right behind me, just beyond where my eyes could see. They weren’t though.
Walking back to the living room where it began, I was dejected. An easy prey for sleep. I was on the losing side, as I collapsed on the sofa, I fell vanquished. When I woke, it was dark. Quiet. And alone.
“Mom?” I called out. “Aniya?” Soft. So soft my voice wouldn’t carry beyond me. Too afraid to raise my voice too quick, I did it small increments. It was the third time calling out that my voice reached my own ears. Two more time could I get louder. And when I heard my voice crossing over into the darkness, I stopped. Succumbing to the tears of fear.
How long had I been crying? Before mom showed up. I wouldn’t know. My face was stained. It seemed like there would be no end to the tears when I was in mom’s arms.
“Shh baby, did the night frighten you?” she cooed. Wiping away the tears, brushing my hair our of my face. “Let’s beat the bad bad night, shall we?” As she swatted at the night, I smiled. Feeling safe in her arms. There was no teasing. Mom and Aniya would never tease. I was the younger one, and they always felt it their duty to look after me. Strange as it might seem.
Mom would never tease. If Aniya was so terribly hurt, then what about mom? The thought was frightening. I couldn’t find her. Not because she was hidden. Not because she wasn’t in the car. But because I was stuck. Unable to move. Unable to even turn my gaze. If I couldn't see anymore than my unmoving eyes could see, how could I hope to find mom.
There was nothing keeping me from trying but me. The moment I forced myself to move, to see, the pain broke down on me. A gasp burst out, the last thing I could say against the pain. As the darkness fell over me, I found myself looking straight out. Having successfully turned. And I could see my question answered.
“You’ve gotta keep it a secret from mom, can you?”
Dad was looking at me with expectant eyes, waiting for my answer. We had driven out to get the monthly groceries. Mom had given us the list, and me the instructions to keep dad from straying far. She knew the uselessness of the attempts of keeping him strictly to the list. An impossible endeavour. But that didn’t mean we couldn’t try to keep him from straying too far. Since she wasn’t coming along, she had entrusted me with the responsibility.
Dad had put on his playlist of fast rock songs that he put on when he was going to drive like crazy. Mom said when he drove like that he was reminded of the night they had gone to see Mad Max. I had seen the movie and I could understand why they would love the movie, but never could understand why it would inspire such driving. It was a topic I steered the discussion clear of though.
As the riffs of the guitars and the raging vocals filled the car, dad floored the accelerator and we cut through the empty roads in a rage. At the supermarket, I filled the cart with the list while dad rushed through the aisles like a kid looking for the hidden cookies. Reaching for whatever his hands could, and dumping them into the cart. At the billing counter, the items not in the list outnumbered the list by almost double. Mom had entrusted me the task of sticking to the list, but dad had bought me off. It was amazing how easy a man could be corrupted.
“Can you?” dad asked again.
“Yeah dad, come on you know I can,” I answered.
Of course he knew I couldn’t. But that wasn’t going to stop him. Which dad wouldn’t want to teach his son how to drive. I was going to get my first lessons that day.
“Ok then, just remember what I told you, and drive,” he said.
We were on a deserted stretch of wide road. I remembered all he said the last five minutes about the accelerator, the break, the clutch, the gears and the steering. I put my hands around the steering wheel, and my legs on the accelerator and clutch and started the engine. It took five whole attempts to keep the engine running after starting, and to get moving. A rush surged through the two of us. I could feel the engine’s vibrations flowing through me, filling me with an inexplicable sense of achievement. I was driving. Dad next to me was beside himself, screaming with joy and pride, screaming congratulations at me. Pulling down the window, he screamed out to the empty road like a mad man. A wordless howl that I knew meant exactly what. I was driving.
As I changed the gear the first time, the car spat out angrily, and I learned my lesson. The second time was better. It was the sixth time that I found grace. Not comparable to dad or mom, but a grace nonetheless. It would grow with practice. I would get better. Dad let me drive to the end of the stretch before we agreed to switch back.
We were both grinning as we reached home. One look at our faces was all it took mom to figure it all out.
“You completely went beyond the list didn’t you?” she said to dad, stunning the grin off him.
Then turning to me, she said just what would wipe my grin off too. “You were bought off, and you were driving.”
I could see my question answered. The windscreen that I was looking out of as dad taught me to drive was gone. I could smell the steaming road, the smell falling in through the open front of the car. But that wasn’t what had my attention. It was the sight of dad still in his seat, looking nothing like himself that my eyes were frozen on. The steering wheel was pressing into his chest, and even in the darkness I could see the red covering him. I couldn’t see his face, with him turned away, but I knew what he looked like.
That was the moment I lost to the darkness. The pain of the darkness much easier than the pain of being in the car.