Trning Tides

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June 3rd 2016  |  1  |  Category: Fiction , Inspirational , Moral , True Stories  |  Author: Sunanda  |  353 views

“What was that noise?” asked Alka Singh, craning her neck. It was nearly eight o’clock, the late summer sun losing its luster, shrouding Los Angeles in gray and blue. The fragrance of roses wafted in from the flower beds which were planted by her father and her son Sunil, when he was little.

She paused, holding a Tupperware box with potato curry in one hand, the refrigerator door held ajar with the other. Her teenage son Sunil was in his room finishing his summer reading assignment, for school would start tomorrow.
Her father had just returned from the store with bread and eggs for the next day’s breakfast. “I didn’t hear anything.”
“Papa, there was a bang! Just now!”
“Must be Sunil playing his music.”
“No”, She shook her head, a small frown furrowing her brow. She replaced the Tupperware box in the refrigerator and opened the blinds of the window overlooking the backyard. “The security lights came on!”

She tucked in a dislodged strand of slightly graying hair behind her ear, a nervous habit she had picked up in college when she had first cropped off her knee-length hair to shoulder-length, much to her father’s dismay.
Mr. Singh put away the newspaper that he had opened in the hope of reading the editorial before dinner. He walked to the window and stood beside Alka. Dressed in a collared shirt and shorts, his skinny frame contrasted against Alka’s slightly corpulent figure.
They squinted into the backyard, and saw the black sedan right in front of the garage door.
“It’s the car!” he said, hoarsely.
She turned to him. “What do you mean?”
“I think it rolled down the driveway…”
“Where did you park it, Papa?”
“Near the backdoor!”
“Why didn’t you park it in the garage?”
“I wanted to get the groceries out! I forgot to go back out to park it.”
They rushed down the driveway to the detached garage, passing the fruit trees in the backyard, and stared at the crushed hood of the car, which had rolled fifty feet down the sloping driveway and crashed into the garage door, leaving a deep dent.
“My God! What have I done?” said Mr. Singh.
Alka tried to open the driver-side door of the car. “It’s jammed. Lemme try the other door.”
She got into the passenger’s side of the car and squeezed over to the driver’s side. She turned the ignition and placed her hand on the gear. “It’s in neutral! Papa, you didn’t put it in gear. And the parking brake isn’t on!”

Mr. Singh stared at the crumpled heap of black metal that had been Alka’s car for nearly a decade. He swallowed hard. “I’m so sorry!”
“It’s okay! We’ll think of something.”
The car wouldn’t start. She pressed the button on the garage door opener. There was a whirr of the machine turning on and then a creaking noise as the door struggled with its bent metal plates. It went up a few inches and stopped with a shuddering jerk.
“How will Sunil go to school tomorrow if the garage door won’t open?” asked Mr. Singh.
“Papa, I said we’ll think of something. I always do.”

Alka remembered when her father had come to stay with her for the first time, nearly fifteen years ago. She had called him in Delhi, India, where he had bought a flat after retiring from government service. It was midnight. Distraught and desolate, she had not known what to do. So she had dialed the one number she knew would always provide her with answers.
“What happened? Are you alright?” he had asked.
“No, Papa,” she had said, amid tears.
“What’s going on?”
“Bhaskar left me. He’s gone. He moved to Chicago with a Russian woman from his corporate office.”
“What? Did you know about this?”
“I found out last week. We had a big fight… I begged him to forget about her … But he said he loves her.” She broke into a fresh stream of tears.
“What about Sunil?”
“Sunil is with me,” she said, sniffing. “Bhaskar said he won’t fight for custody if I don’t ask for alimony… it’s not fair for the boy, he said.”
“And it’s fair for you?”
“I don’t know what’s fair. At least he left me the house. He also left me some money, but I need to start working to support me and Sunil.”
“Who’ll take care of Sunil while you work?”
“He’ll go to daycare. Papa… I’m thinking… now that you are retired… can you come here to be with me for a few weeks?”
Alka had enrolled Sunil in a daycare not far from the grocery store where she had started work as part-time cashier on minimum wages. Having lived at home with his mother all of his three years of life, Sunil had resisted valiantly and thrown tantrums every morning for the whole week.
Finally she’d asked him, “Why do you do this?”
“I hate to see you drive away, Mommy.”
“What if someone else drops you here?”
Sunil didn’t answer. Alka hoped he’d feel better if his grandpa dropped him instead.
Mr. Singh had arrived in two weeks. Alka and Sunil had gone to the airport to receive her father, who had not seen Sunil since he was a baby.
“You’re going to see a special person,” she had told Sunil. “The most important man in my life, besides you!”
Mr. Singh had walked up the slope of the ‘Arrivals’ at Los Angeles International Airport, pushing a heavy cart loaded with baggage. He had looked up at them and waved. Alka waved back, but Sunil had been sullen.
When Mr. Singh had tried to pick him up, Sunil had said, “Who are you?”
“I’m your grandpa.”
“Why have you come?”
“I’ve come to take you to daycare,” Mr. Singh had said, winking at Alka. Sunil had smiled at him for the first time.

Sunil didn’t talk about his father, but he relished his grandfather’s company, especially now that his mother was working. He liked to say goodbye to Mommy early in the morning, looking forward to the special breakfast grandpa would always cook for him. French toast on Mondays, waffles on Tuesday, cereal on Wednesday, ready-made stuffed paratha, an Indian stuffed bread, on Thursdays. The cycle would repeat itself from Friday. This way, said grandpa, no two Mondays would he have the same breakfast.
That routine became sacrosanct.

“Let’s plant some roses, Sunil,” his grandpa had said one Sunday morning, when Sunil was five. They had driven to the nursery and bought a dozen rose bushes. Sunil had hovered near grandpa in a baseball cap, while grandpa dug holes for the roses. Alka had been kept out of the whole plan; this was just between grandpa and grandson.
The rose bushes were now mature; Alka had got the “Best Kept Garden” Award twice in a row. Mr. Singh had taught Sunil to ride a bike on the driveway, with colorful roses blooming on both sides of it.

With her father’s encouragement, Alka had taken community college courses and got a Medical Technologist diploma. Within two years, she had started working at the local community hospital laboratory. With her first salary, she bought a black sedan which now lay in a heap by the garage door.

Hearing the commotion outside, Sunil strode into the backyard to investigate. Nearly six feet tall now, he had inherited his father’s swagger. He saw the distorted hood of his mother’s car and the bent garage door. “What happened?”
“As you can see, the car’s crashed into the garage,” said his mother. “We need to get a hammer or something to bang the garage door open.”
“How did that happen?”
“Er…,” said his mother, glancing at his grandpa. “He forgot to put the hand-brake on. And he left it in neutral.”
“How could you do that, Gramps?”
“Sunil… Gramps is getting old. Go easy on him.”
His mother tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. She looked flushed, and he felt a pang of pity for her.
He took a deep breath. “Mom! He’s had two accidents in a year! Remember the time he changed lanes without doing a proper head-check? He nearly got killed! You know he’s not a safe driver anymore. Why do you let him drive?”
Alka said, “If he doesn’t drive, what’ll he do?”
At the same moment, Mr. Singh said, “If I don’t drive, what’ll she do?”
Alka gasped, her hand covering her open mouth, wide eyes staring at her father, who suddenly looked old.
Mr. Singh said, “Is that why you let me drive? So I have something to do?”
“No, Papa, I didn’t mean it that way.”
Sunil said, “I don’t care why you let him drive. He’s not safe anymore. Not for himself, or for others on the road.”
Mr. Singh said, “I’m still here, you know. I may be old, but my hearing is still good.”

“I know you can hear me,” continued Sunil. “I’m not afraid to say it. Mom can’t or won’t do it. It’s up to me.”
“Just get the toolbox out, Sunil,” said Alka.
“Where’s it?” he asked.
Mr. Singh said, “It’s in the cabinet under the kitchen sink, like always. You’d know it if you did any work around the house.”
“My hands are full. School starts tomorrow! How am I supposed to get my car out?”
“Just get the damn tool-box!” Alka shouted.

Sunil brought the toolbox and entered the garage from the side door. His second hand Toyota Corolla had not been damaged. He and Mr. Singh hammered the metal panes of the garage door back into shape, and Sunil tried the remote.
“It still won’t work!” said Sunil.
“Use the Allen-wrench to tighten the bolts on the panes,” said Mr. Singh.
“How do I use this thing?” asked Sunil.
“Here, let me show you,” said Mr. Singh.
In the darkening sky, Sunil held a flashlight as Mr. Singh showed him how to use the Allen wrench. In an hour, while Alka left a message at work that she’d be late, and called her insurance company to report the accident, the garage door was functional, and Alka’s car had been moved out of the driveway.
“What next?” said Sunil, washing his hands in the kitchen sink.
“Papa,” said Alka, “I’ll go to work by bus tomorrow. You need to call the towing company to take it to the body-shop and coordinate with the insurance people… can you do that?”
“Yes,” Mr. Singh said softly. “I can’t believe how much damage the car had just by rolling down the driveway!”
Exasperated, Sunil said, “It weighs 2000 pounds. It picked up a huge momentum. It’s simple physics.”
His mother snapped at him. “We know that, Einstein. At least no one’s hurt!”

The next afternoon, Mr. Singh called Alka at work and said, “The insurance company won’t fix the car. They’ll pay us $1100; it’s totalled.”
Since the arthritis in his knees had worsened in the last few years, Mr. Singh had gone for his morning walks. His routine the last two years had been to drop Alka off to work and Sunil off to school, and then drive to the library, where he read magazines until lunch-time. He would then drive back home, have his lunch, and take a nap. Then he would pick Sunil up from school after buying groceries if needed, watch TV for an hour or so before he went to pick Alka up from work.
Sunil had begged to let him drive the car sometimes, and Mr. Singh had given him ‘private’ lessons. When Sunil had got his driver’s license during the summer, Alka had bought him a used Toyota Corolla to drive to school.
Mr. Singh knew that $1100 would not get them even a used car. Now that Sunil would drive to school, and Alka had said she would carpool with a friend, Mr. Singh wondered what he was to do with himself all day. He hoped that Alka would let him use Sunil’s car for the same routine, but he also knew that Sunil needed to grow up and be independent.
And so it came to be that Mr. Singh stayed home all day. He tried to go for walks in the neighborhood, but his knees hurt too much. Alka asked him to take the city senior transit to go to the library, but the bus always came too late. After a month of utter boredom, Mr. Singh decided to give the city transit a try again.
In a few months, he made friends with all the drivers of the city transit and even got invited to a retirement party for one.
Alka was promoted to Supervisor, and bought a new car, which she herself drove to work. The insurance company had apparently asked to exclude Mr. Singh from coverage.

In December, Sunil was invited to a birthday party dinner at the mall followed by a movie which would finish at midnight. Because Sunil had got his license less than a year ago, he was not allowed to drive alone after 11 PM.
Alka was working the night-shift that month. Seeing that Sunil was very keen to go to the party, she asked him, “Can’t you get a ride back with someone?”
“No, Mom. They all live on the other side of the mall.”
“Okay, then. Papa can take you.”
“He can’t drive, because of the insurance, but he’ll come with you.”
“What’s he going to do the whole time?”
“I can watch a movie too,” said Mr. Singh, hastily adding, “some other movie.”
Reluctantly, Sunil let grandpa sit in the passenger side of his car. This was going to be so embarrassing. All his other friends were older, and could drive at night by themselves. And he was stuck with his grandpa. “Er, gramps, you can eat in the food court, okay?”
“Sure,” said grandpa, beaming. He hadn’t enjoyed a night out in years.
Sunil pulled his car out of the garage and eased into the road. As he took the ramp on the freeway, he picked up speed. He looked over his shoulder and turned into the right-most lane, merging with the traffic.
The driver of the car speeding from behind him flashed his headlights. They heard the sound of screeching brakes. The driver honked at him angrily.
“Sunil,” said Mr. Singh, “You didn’t have to move into the lane so fast. See how much more of the ramp was still left? You could have driven a bit longer until you had an idea of how fast the car was coming up from behind.”
Sunil said nothing. He gripped the steering wheel, visibly shaken.
Grandpa continued with annoying persistence. “Don’t be nervous. How many hours of night driving have you done?”
“I’ve done enough,” Sunil mumbled.
“But night-driving on the freeway?”
Sunil was quiet. Then he said, “Don’t tell Mom, please?”
“Okay,” said Mr. Singh. “Now concentrate on the road. Forget that it ever happened.”

Mr. Singh ate a slice of pizza at the food court and bought himself a new pair of shoes. Then he watched a late night film. The only one with suitable timing was a horror movie. As a rule, he didn’t like horror movies, but the mall would close soon, and he had to do something.
When he came out of the movie hall after two hours of listening to the screams and dramatic scores, he saw Sunil waiting with a group of friends. The parents of Bob Hadley, the birthday-boy were standing beside them.
Sunil caught Mr. Singh’s eye and beckoned to him.
“This is my gramps, Mr. Hadley,” he said. “Mr. Singh.”
“How do you do, Mr. Singh?” said Mr. Hadley, a large-boned man with a wide chest wearing shorts and a T-shirt, tufts of brown hairs sticking up at the neckline.
“I’m well, thanks.”
“Did you enjoy your movie?” asked Mrs. Hadley, a slim, deeply tanned middle-aged woman.
“Not very much.”
“You should have come with us!” she said.
“That’s quite alright, thanks,” said Mr. Singh. “At my age, watching a late night show is a sure sleep-aid. So I chose the one with the most noise and screaming. Now I’m too frazzled to sleep. Just didn’t pay off as I expected.”
Bob Hadley laughed. “Your gramps is cool, Sunil.”
“Thanks,” said Sunil. “He taught me how to ride a bike….do gardening….drive a car!”
The next morning, Sunil came out of his room for breakfast. Usually grandpa had the food laid out on the table, but today, there was silence in the house. Was grandpa still asleep? He knocked on his door. Hearing no reply, he opened it.
Sunil found Mr. Singh in bed staring at the ceiling with a vacant expression.
“Where’s breakfast, gramps?”
Mr. Singh drooled from the corner of his mouth.
Sunil called 911, and accompanied his grandpa in the ambulance to his mother’s hospital. He drove back in his mother’s car and went to school.

They told Alka the worst was over. Mr. Singh had had a stroke. With time, he would regain some movement of his right arm and leg. He could still speak, although not very coherently. He might even get some memory back.
Mr. Singh recognized his daughter, but could not recognize Sunil anymore.
Alka took time off from work to care for her father. Sunil had been accepted at the University of Southern California, where he would major in History on a full scholarship. He decided to live at home and commute if they would allow it, based on his family circumstance.
In late April, Alka had to go back to work. Her friends told her she should put her father in a nursing home, but that didn’t seem right. He had been there for her when she needed him most. She would be there for him now. She found an Adult Daycare Center that would take care of her father in the mornings.
She took the 4 AM to noon shift at work. Sunil could drop his grandpa off to the center at 8 AM, right before school, and she would pick him up after work.
The arrangement worked out for a few days, but Mr. Singh’s memory worsened.

Sunil got up early on Monday morning. He opened a box of frozen French toast for himself and after breakfast, took a shower. Fully dressed for school, he went to his grandpa’s room.
Mr. Singh mumbled, “Who are you?”
Sunil tried to lift his grandpa. “I’m your grandson.”
“Why have you come? What do you want?” asked Mr. Singh.
“I’ve come to take you to daycare.”



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One Response to Trning Tides

  1. Shruti says:

    Really well written..I was emotional by the end of it..I didn’t get to spend much time with my grandparents..but I know my parents will be the most affectionate ones for my kids..
    And I really hope that turning tides turn out to be pleasant for them

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