My head seemed like it was about to burst. Going out for drinks yesterday might have been a bad idea after all. I had known it all along, but then Sam was here only for two days. Clinching this deal was more important than this headache.
He checked the date on his clock. It was the twentieth of August, the day he was going to sign the biggest deal for his company.
“Grace! Could you please bring me some warm water and lemons?”
God! Where is she? She is absolutely hopeless. The most unorganized person I’ve ever met. At this rate, I will be late and miss an important client. It took me months to get to meet him.
Sean had come home late yesterday. He was always late, but yesterday it was exceptionally late. He quickly picked up his jacket and ran downstairs.
“Grace, I’ve been calling you,” he quickly picked a piece of bread from her plate.
“Aaron has been crying since dawn,” quipped Grace looking at their year-old son. “I may have to take him to see the doctor.”
“Maybe you should give the nanny a leave and take care of him yourself. You have been too busy with your work. Maybe it’s time you quit your job. I am earning enough for both of us.”
“We’ve had this discussion before, I am not interested in your company, besides aren’t you late?”
“Oh yes! Is Eric in?”
“No, he’s on leave remember? You will have to drive yourself,” Grace sounded visibly irate.
Sean rushed out. All that crying from Aaron was making his head pound even more.
Sean had started with a children’s designer store on a small-scale basis in New Zealand. His creative mind, fashion sense, and astute business sense soon made his store a success. Slowly he began expanding his business. That’s when he met Grace, at a fashion design institute, where he had gone to hire the best talent in apparel designing. He quickly realized her potential and how it would help his business. Grace was attracted to his passion for designing even though she found him a tad materialistic. Sean proposed and soon they were married.
Sean’s business was growing leaps and bounds. Not only had he opened new stores across the country, but he was also quick to jump into the bandwagon of online retail. He began travelling extensively, even though Grace requested him to slow down.
“I want to be with you, not alone in this big mansion.”
He had bought a big house in Herne Bay, one of the most expensive areas in Auckland, overlooking the harbour, but he hardly ever home to enjoy it. He had tasted success and he craved for more. He had been missing all important events in his personal life, even the birth of his son.
The traffic outside was maddening. Even though the drive to his office was short, it was taking too long, the sun wasn’t helping either. He began feeling thirsty and tried looking for a bottle in the car. Not finding any, he thought of buying one. He looked at the long line of cars in front of him and he could see a shop further down the road. This is going to take long, he mused and his throat was parched.
‘I can quickly buy a bottle and come back, it won’t take long,’ he thought. As he stepped out of his car he got a call from his manager John.
“You are an absolute fool. Make them stay longer. Talk to them. I am stuck in traffic and you know how important these clients are. You have learnt nothing in all these years. I don’t know why I put up with you.” As Sean was shouting into the phone, he took a turn towards the shop and suddenly everything disappeared. He looked around carefully and then rubbed his eyes. Everything had indeed disappeared. The shop, the traffic, the buildings, even the road.
What is happening here? He stood baffled not knowing where to go. Everything appeared white and shiny. Even the ground beneath his feet had disappeared.
“Why would you choose to cross the road amidst such heavy traffic?”
“Who is that? Where are you?”
“Why were you moving in the opposite direction of the traffic?”
He could now see a man walking towards him. He looked dapper in his black suit and bow-tie. Hair neatly combed, his face looked calm and he was walking with long strides. It seemed like he was floating. He came close and stood right in front of him.
“Wow! You are tall!”
“Well yes. Now if you could tell me why you walked right in front of moving traffic.”
“I,” Sean stammered, not sure who he was talking to, but he felt obliged to answer. “I had to buy a bottle of water because my throat was parched and my head was throbbing,” as he said that he realized he felt neither now.
“Look,” the man said, “you walked in the opposite direction of the shop. Right into the traffic in the opposite lane.”
It was like I could see myself on TV. I opened my car door. My phone rings. I am shouting at John and instead of moving towards the shop I cross the road to the opposite lane. I am still shouting into my phone and completely miss the truck approaching me. It hits me, the phone flies from my hand and I am pushed into the air because of the impact. I land hard on the road, with my head hitting the pavement. I am bleeding profusely.
What is happening? Is this some kind of a joke? Sean was trying to comprehend what he had just seen.
“It’s all true,” said the man, as if he could hear his thoughts. “Why would you walk into the traffic like that and make my job difficult?”
“I was talking on the phone. How was I to know this was the wrong turn? It’s clearly the fault of the truck guy. He hit me. Also, John’s fault since he was annoying me so much over the phone. And Grace, she had been annoying all morning making my headache worse. Also, I do not understand any of this.”
“So, everyone is at fault, other than you.”
“Me? I did nothing wrong. Who are you and why are we having this conversation? Have you kidnapped me? You need to let me go. You are messing with the wrong guy. I have enough money to make sure that my lawyers put you in jail.”
“Sean, you clearly haven’t understood the situation. You are at the gate of heaven. It is from here that we will decide your fate.”
“Am I dead?”
“No, you are not dead. Not yet, anyway.”
“Look, I can give you as much money as you want. Just let me go.”
“No, no. Try and understand the situation. You met with an accident and as of now are grievously injured. They are going to take you to the hospital. Now the catch here is that you were not supposed to die today. The other guy who works with me, let’s say, he messed up. So now I have been sent to set things straight. It has hence been decided to give you another chance.”
Sean couldn’t believe what he had just heard.
“You are the first case of this kind ever. This never happens, but you had to walk into the traffic. Now to make it up to you, you will be given a chance to live, but only on one condition.”
The man spoke after a considerable pause. “Now if you want to live, you have to collect a tear from someone who truly loves you. Someone who is genuinely sad at your leaving. You can go back, no one will be able to see you or hear you, but you can. You can visit your family, friend anyone you have ever been associated with. There are however two conditions. First, you cannot collect the tears of your parents or siblings; second, you have only eight hours to collect the tear.” The man took out a weird looking cistern a rather tiny one and handed it to Sean. “This is where you need to collect the tear.”
“Who are you?”
“Call me a messenger of God or an Angel if you wish.”
Sean was perplexed. The angel disappeared and suddenly he was back on the street. Is this for real?
Suddenly he heard an ambulance. His body was being wheeled into it. The paramedics seemed tense. He went in and sat next to his body. No one could see him. This is going to be over soon. As soon as Grace sees me I know there will be more tears than I can collect.
He was lying in the ICU strapped with numerous tubes when Grace walked in. The doctor was explaining the situation to her, “I frankly don’t see much hope. We can try surgery if you allow.”
“Yes,” Grace nodded. “Please perform the surgery.”
Grace was looking at him through the mirror. Sean was sure she would cry, but she just stared. Her phone rang. It was her friend.
“Sean doesn’t look very good,” Grace continued into the phone, “doctors are not very hopeful. It is sad. I wish he gets alright. I need to tell him that I had already filed for divorce. The love between us seemed one sided. Only from my end. I think he married me only because I could design clothes for him. That is why I left his business too. He only breathes money. He doesn’t even notice me. He thinks I am incompetent, when in fact I am just tired of being alone. I hope he gets better so I can tell him this in person.”
But I bought the most expensive house for you, most expensive cars. You have an entire retinue of servants to help you. What more do you want?
“Love. I guess she wants you to love her.”
“Letting her live in luxury is love.”
“No, holding her hand is. Bringing up your son together is love. Telling her she is doing a good job is love. Money isn’t love.”
The news of his accident had spread. He could see news channels replaying the scene over and over again. All of them were talking of his meteoric rise, his wealth. They were even speculating who would be taking over his company.
“Why not try and visit your colleagues? You are running out of time fast.”
“Yes! John! I’m sure John will be sad. We have known each other for a decade.”
He couldn’t remember where John lived. He had never visited his home in all these years. He had to first visit his office to find John’s address.
John, a happy go lucky guy, was a little older than Sean. He was stoutly built and balding a little. He was always around running errands for him. When Sean reached his home he was listening to the news, beer in hand.
“Serves him right,” his wife said bitterly. “Remember last year he made you work even during Christmas. Daniel was in the hospital and you begged him to let you go, but all he thought of was making money.”
John was watching stoically, not moving, not saying a word.
“Come on man,” Sean was screaming, “we’ve earned so much money together. How are you going to carry on if I die?”
John finally rose from his couch and walked to the TV, “I wish you were more of a friend than just a boss. You never appreciated me, never visited my family, never even shook my hand.”
Sean could not believe what he had just heard, “but I gave you a raise every time I earned profit.”
“And yet you never became his friend. You only saw him as someone who would assist you in spreading your business.”
Four hours had already passed. Time was running out fast. Sean began thinking who to visit next. His friends from the club, of course. The guys he played golf and snooker with. His gang. I am sure they must have heard the news by now. He decided to go check the club first.
They were all there gathered around the snooker table watching news, but not about him, they were watching business news. He went near hoping one of them would cry.
“Did you hear about Sean?”
“Oh yes, he met with a terrible accident. I bet the shares of his company will fall by tomorrow.”
“Finally he will lose his money. That should put him in his place.”
“He had begun to believe he was one of us. How can we ever forget where he came from.”
Sean couldn’t even speak. He just stared. I thought they were my friends.
“No, you always knew they weren’t your friends. You wanted them to like you. You wanted to be seen in their company to satisfy your ego, so everyone saw you as a rich man.”
Sean was now getting desperate. Time was running out fast. He decided to visit all his employees hoping someone would have sympathy for him.
None, not even one person he found who would shed tears for him. He had never felt so dejected in his life. He began to reflect. That’s not how I started. Growing up I loved and enjoyed simple things in life. When did I lose touch with myself?”
Last half hour was left. He decided to go back to the hospital. I can see my parents at least one last time.
As he entered the hospital he could not pick up the courage to go where Grace and his parents had gathered. He just slumped on a bench near the reception holding the tiny cistern in his hand. I lost. Not one tear, not a single tear I could collect.
Suddenly he looked up and saw John arrive, followed by Eric. They were both rushing inside. There was a lot of commotion going on near the surgical unit.
Eric! How could he forget Eric? But he began reflecting his behaviour and thought he had not really done anything for him.
Involuntarily he followed them too. His surgery was over and was being put in critical care. He saw his parents sitting with Grace. Both his parents were weeping and Grace sat next to them with Aaron in her lap. He was sleeping peacefully oblivious of the turn of events around him. Sean looked at him longingly. How much he wished to hold him in his arms. He loved his son a lot.
As John and Eric arrived, Grace rose.
“The doctors say the next one hour is very crucial,” she was informing them.
Only Sean knew he had about fifteen minutes left.
“All shall be well madam,” Eric said.
All three of them were in the room, staring at him.
Suddenly Sean felt the cistern was full. He couldn’t believe it. He wanted to see who was crying?
First he saw John wipe a tear. “Man! you can’t leave me stranded here. You are a terrible boss, but I can’t survive without you. Get up man, we have a meeting tomorrow.”
Then he saw Grace. “Get well soon you fool,” she was whispering. “I hate you, but I need you to listen that from me. Get up!”
Eric was frozen, not saying a word, just tears in his eyes. “I am sorry madam. Had I come for work this would not have happened. He insisted I take leave for my daughter’s graduation,” he was murmuring to himself.
His cistern was overflowing.
“You are very well-loved Sean. Do you want me to show you whose tear filled the cistern that saved your life?”
“No. I do not want to know. I have understood so many things in these eight hours. Thank you for giving me a second chance.”
As Sean looked around he found that the angel had vanished and with him the cistern that was in his hands a few moments back.
He woke up with a jolt. He was sitting in his bed. Everything seemed normal. Have I just come back from the hospital? How long was I there?
He checked the date on the wall clock. Twentieth August it said. How is this possible? Was it possibly a dream?
He quickly went downstairs where Grace was trying to feed Aaron.
“Aaron has been crying since dawn,” quipped Grace looking at their year-old son. “I may have to take him to see the doctor.”
“I will take you there,” he said calmly.
“Don’t you have an important meeting today?”
“That can wait. Also I was thinking of calling John and his family over, if you are free this weekend. I have a surprise planned for him. I am sending him along with his family for a vacation.”
Grace looked at him confused but Sean continued.
“I am thinking of taking a few days off so we can go visit your parents. They haven’t seen Aaron in a long time.
“Are you sure?”
“Absolutely sure! Haven’t been surer of anything,” he said with a wide grin.
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