THEY LEFT THE restaurant a short while afterwards when Dad said he was feeling a slight headache and needed to catch some sleep.
Mom agreed, said she also needed to get up early for an appointment the next morning. But she took a moment to waltz over to Mr. Thomas’ table to inform him that her family was leaving, as a measure of courtesy. Dad simply waved at bye at Thomas and his wife, with a tight grin before he walked out of the restaurant.
For the first few minutes no one said anything. Dad seemed intent on the darkened road ahead of him, muttering incoherently a couple of times about the vandalized street lights that still lined the road sides like giant, metal trees bereft of life.
Then he grumbled about the blinding headlights of vehicles coming from the opposite direction. He sounded very upset for no logical reason.
Mom, on the other hand, kept staring out the window with her head leaning towards the glass. She seemed withdrawn and sleepy, and Alan thought she must have had a little too much wine.
The little girl, Rachel was already asleep, sprawled out on the backseat, undisturbed. Timothy was awake, his interest fixed upon some abstract object on the road. Alan sat quietly, feeling nervously uncomfortable. He sensed that something ugly was brewing, that the family’s peaceful outing which had progressed well hitherto had been compromised quite unexpectedly, towards the tail end of it.
Because Mr. Thomas and his wife decided to eat at the same restaurant.
Alan sat stiffly. He could see trouble stirring.
Mom, funny enough, didn’t seem to notice whether or not something was wrong, or she just chose to ignore the signs.
They continued to drive home in wary silence. Occasionally, Dad glanced up at the mirror to check what was going on at the back, if the kids were asleep or not.
Then his stiff voice broke through the silence. “Mr. Thomas works with you, honey?” he asked quietly, not turning to look at her.
She looked up uncertainly. “Uh? Yes, yes, of course.”
“So does his wife?”
Mom glanced sideways briefly, snorted. “Of course, not, Jonathan. Why?”
“Oh, well,” said Dad, shrugging indifferently. “You seem quite familiar with her.”
Mom chuckled quietly. “Of course I know her.”
Dad paused. “She your friend?”
Mom looked at him curiously. “Friend? No, we’re not friends. She’s just someone I know,” she said, still staring at him.
Dad pursed his lips. “So how did you come to know her?”
Mom was now getting bored and suspicious of the line of questioning. “Mrs. Eric stops by at the office every other week, dear,” she replied. “Everyone at the office knows her.”
There was a brief silence.
Dad said, after a while, “Why does she come to see her husband every week at work, when they obviously live in the same house?”
Mom sighed, now really worked up. “How in the world would I know why she’s monitoring him, honey?” she retorted. “And why are you asking all these questions about Mrs. Eric?”
He ignored the last question. “Monitoring?” he said quietly. “What makes you think that’s what she’s doing?”
She snorted impatiently. “Because it’s plain to see; everyone knows that, Jonathan. Even Thomas does.”
“Thomas? So it’s down to first names now, uh?”
Mom looked at him, alarmed and taken aback. “Oh, I see! So that’s what this is about?”
He said nothing, kept looking at the road before him.
Mom’s mouth was still hanging open in rude disbelief. “You really think I have something to do with him, don’t you?”
He shrugged, snorted quietly. “I don’t know. Do you?”
“How dare you?” she said with contempt, frowning. “You sneaky bastard!”
Behind them in the middle seat, Alan bowed his head furtively. He couldn’t believe how the evening was eventually wrapping up.
Dad said, “The idiot didn’t even have the common sense to refer to you as Mrs. Prince, a married woman, even though I was there!” he pointed out angrily. “He deliberately set out to slight me.”
“The idiot happens to be my supervisor at work,” yelled Mom, “and can damn well call me by my first name. That’s common sense right there!”
“Not while your husband’s there, no!”
Mom sighed, disgusted. “You know what? I’m not even having this argument with you, Jonathan,” she said with finality, and slumped back in her seat.
Alan looked on, appalled and in shock. An evening intended to bring the family together ends up tearing it apart. Dad looked away, his fist gripping the steering wheel tightly, and muttered a swear word that Mom found very offensive.
“What!” she cried, turning red. “You’re really a piece of work, you know that, Jonathan?”
“Really? Then what are you!”
His wife stared at him, aghast.
“The asshole even had to dine in the same restaurant with us,” Dad went on relentlessly. “Tell me this, Samantha; was that a carefully planned coincidence? You made the booking for us, remember? So is that where the two of you hang out together?”
“You’re so pathetic!”
Dad slammed his right fist hard on the wheel. “I knew it, damn it!” he swore. “I’ve been such a fool!”
Now Mom was shouting at him and Dad was talking back at the same time, and the argument got very vindictive, and Alan was shaking his head in frustration behind his quarreling parents.
The sudden blare of the bull horn was loud and deafening, instantly drowning the noise in the car as everyone turned to look, startled. The next second, there was a loud crashing sound as the 16-wheeler plummeted into the family vehicle at 80 miles per hour.
Dad had not seen it coming, had been engrossed in the heated argument and not realized that they were approaching an intersection and the traffic light had flagged red.
That was the unfortunate thing with having a verbal fight with someone while you were driving. There’s always the rush of adrenaline. And you don’t know it when you begin to over speed. Your feet tend to flatten the pedal without you actually realizing it.
That was what happened.
The impact was explosive, knocking the car into the adjoining concrete corvette from where it rebounded like a ping pong ball back onto the main road as Dad fought to regain control. Everyone was screaming for dear life at this point. There were shouts of panic and horror from around the streets. Several other cars screeched to a halt, some slightly bashing into others.
The family car wobbled precariously and skidded from side to side like a rogue ship that’s been shot down. One of the tires burst, causing the vehicle to flip into the air, landing on its side with a bang and dragged along further for a few meters, before somersaulting sporadically multiple times with the bonnets coming off, broken metals and glasses flying about in all directions.
Eventually, after virtually being ripped apart by the cruel asphalt, the car lost momentum and came to a stop almost a hundred yards from the point of impact. It lay in an upturned position, thoroughly bashed in from all sides. There were broken glasses and blood stains about. The airbags had been activated, but it was no use.
There were no movements inside the disfigured minivan. No signs of life. Only the continuous blaring of many car horns filled the air as the accident scene soon became a beehive gathering of sympathizers and frantic emergency workers.