Based on a true story
Traffic on the freeway slowed down to a halt that Friday evening. Everyone was coming from the same direction and going to the same destination. After a long sunny week, clouds were starting to gather, looking down at the streets in sarcasm, and preparing the town for another rainy weekend.
He stops his car few inches away from the one ahead of him. He glances at the infinite line of cars that disappears in the horizon and realizes that the week won’t let go that easily. He turns on the radio in search for some distraction from this moment. The same songs that were playing last week are playing again. He turns it off and glances up at the sky.
“Are you kidding me?”, he groaned. He’s been waiting for this weekend, like every other weekend, with great anticipation. It’s been a long week. Long days with endless meetings where no decisions were made, frequent visits from his manager to inform him about what the next hours of his life should be spent on, and long emails written mostly to people who were sitting at the end of the same hallway.
But today is different. He feels burnt out. He remembers the feeling when he stepped out of that building letting go a long exhale, as if he’s been holding his breath for the past 5 days. He felt like doing what he did back in school when the bell rang after a period of several boring classes in a row. He ran out of the classroom with everyone else and screamed their lungs out. He didn’t know back then why they were all doing this. But it felt good. Now he knows the nature of what he was releasing with those screams. He knows that it was the only way of expressing how they all felt. But he cannot do it anymore. He’s a grown up now. And unlike children, grown ups know how to deal with reality.
A series of honks brings him back to the scene he’s playing a role in. He notices that the car ahead of him moved forward few meters and the ones behind him were urging him to follow. It was as if everyone was trying to get as far as possible from where they are coming from. “Follow the follower”, he thought. He puts his car in gear and starts moving, but a glance at the fast moving exit lane on his right makes him realize that it’s best to take the inroads. He sneaks into the faster moving traffic, takes the exit, misses the yellow light flipping red and stops by the white line. He is often amazed at the amount of lines on the road. Lines separating one direction from another. Lines separating cars going the same direction. And lines dictating when he can turn and when he should just keep going. He;s always felt that as long as he followed the lines, he will reach his destination safely. And he rarely wondered who drew these lines in the first place. Someone who knows what they’re doing, probably… Hopefully.
Light is still red, and the ticking sound of his left turn blinker relaxes him a bit. It reminds him of the sound of that old clock hung on the wall in his grandfather’s house. As a kid, he used to spend long moments mesmerized by the fast moving needle. He once asked his grandfather “why is that red needle moving much faster than the other ones?”. His grandfather chuckled and replied: “because it’s got much more important things to do!”. And he replied back: “I can’t wait till I grow up! I have very important things to do”. The ticking sound of the blinker is different than that of the clock. It ticks twice, instead of once. Two quick ticks, a second of silence, and then two more quick ticks, and so on. One tick in farewell of the second that passed, and another welcoming the one to come. And before one knows it, the next click signals the end of that last second, followed by another for the future one. And between one tick and the other, now happens. His attention shifts from the ticks to the silence between the ticks. And the more he becomes aware of that silence, the longer that silence feels. It was the same silence between the ticks of his old grandfather’s clock. The same silence that mesmerized him as a kid. That eternal moment between the past and the future.
He’s brought back to reality with another series of honks. He sees that his light is now green and he’s holding back a line of cars behind him. He puts his car in gear, presses the gas pedal, and the car starts moving forward. Then the car suddenly stops, urging his body to jolt forward and stop under the pressure of his seatbelt. “What the…?”. The car is still on, no gas or battery lights, it’s in the right gear, and his foot is on…. His foot is now on the brake! He stares for a second at his foot that just made its own mind to release the gas pedal and hit the one next to it. Then with the corner of his eye he feels a slight motion to his left. He lifts his head and sees it coming. The old rugged Honda was cruising at 40 mph, crossing the red light, and approaching in a straight line that ends on his side of the car. He sees the car crossing the white intersection line without slowing down. The license plates reads H7A30.
He read before that during moments of danger, time stretches almost indefinitely. He also read that when one is coming to his final moment, he will see all his life playing back in front of his own eyes.Like a movie. And now, he is experiencing both. The volume of everything around him decreased to a mute. The speed of all things slowed down to a pause. Even his blinkers gasped one more tick and stopped. There were no two ticks this time around. Just one last tick. The past. Then he saw it all. He saw every moment in his life flashing. Everything he said. Everyone he met. Every place he’s been to. They weren’t flashing quickly. Feeling that something was quick requires time. At that moment, there was no time. These moments were just there. He saw his childhood moments. His first day at school. His first kiss. His graduation. His first day on a plane. His new job. He saw how some small things he did made big impact on others, and some big things he did made no impact whatsoever. He saw how simple moments stretched to fill more of his life, and how years of doing the same things he despised were not even there, as if they didn’t count. And he sees a man in the middle of all these moments. He was standing in front of a closed door with his back toward him. As the man slowly turned around to face him, he was still staring at his back. In that place where time didn’t exist, his fear had no face. He’s been the one placing masks on that face all his life. He’s been giving him his voice. The voices of many others. And when he didn’t find a voice to cast, he created new voices for him. This time, he didn’t have a voice at all. He was just standing there. And he knew the things that were behind that closed door. All the things he’s dreamt about doing. All the things he’s always enjoyed doing and ended up gathering dust in his life basement. All the things that he thought he would have time to do later, when he gets more time. Everything he’s imagined himself to be and do when he was a kid. And all the things he’s been always itching to do and has been rationalizing why he should be doing other things instead. He always thought he’d have more time…
He moves forward to open the door. His fear doesn’t stop him this time around. He passes through his fear as if it were a ghost, and as he does, he merges with him. In this moment, as he became fear, he sees it all. He feels how weak and powerful he is, how small and huge he became, and how hated and loved he felt. He grabs the door knob and turns it around. The door is suddenly sucked into the void behind it, and a flood of light came through it.
Light. Lots of light… He closes his eyes to shield them from the bright scene in front of him. And as he does, his ears are suddenly deafened by the sounds around him. It was as if he was coming out of the womb, and everything around him was so bright and loud. Loud screams. Not human screams. They sounded like alien screams. more like loud squeaking. And the feeling of a cold breeze touching his ear.
All at once his senses come back to him. He is sitting in his car looking at the tires of the red Honda as they just crossed the white line and started screeching over the dry asphalt. He glances up at the driver and their eyes met for a second. Then the Honda driver tries to steer his car away from the collision course. The red car is now gliding over the road, still approaching at a deadly speed, but slowly curving away from its previous destination. All this is happening in slow motion, and he is watching it the same way he watches a movie: he is a detached observer. With his hands still on the steering wheel and his foot on the brake, he watches the other car drifting past his front bumper and missing it by an inch. His car shakes for an instant when the air between both cars is strongly disturbed, then the other car spins and stops in the middle of the road.
The next moment feels as if someone just hit the pause button on the playing scene: total stillness and complete silence. None of the cars stopped at the intersection is honking. Everyone seems to be here now. No one is thinking about what happened at work, or what will happen at home. They are all experiencing a moment out of time. And everyone is waiting for someone else to move. As his foot decided to hit the brake few seconds earlier, it now leaves it to gently press the gas pedal. The car starts moving, and he finally takes that left turn and hears the blinker latching off. He glances in his rear view mirror at the scene behind him: no one is moving yet. The red Honda was now stopped in the middle of the intersection, facing the opposite direction it came from after spinning 180 degrees. He glances at the licenses plates in his rear view mirror and smiles. Few drops of rain show up on his windshield. He looks up at the clouds and smiles even wider. Rain never felt so good.