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The Impossible Choice

Peter opened his eyes slowly, and let the cool morning light flow in. As he looked out the window, he saw the blue autumn sky, providing the background for leaves drifting down to the earth after having lived out their lifetimes in the heights of the trees. This thought jolted him back to reality, a reality that was as ugly as the morning was beautiful.

He quickly showered and grabbed some breakfast before running off to the hospital. His wife, Sara, was to have an operation today to remove the cancerous tumours that were corroding her from within. Sara was such a sweet little woman, that it was hard to imagine why she should suffer so. "Life is not just", thought Peter as he entered the hospital. Just a fraction of a second before he entered Sara's room, all signs of worry vanished from his face, and he greeted Sara with a great smile. Peter had done this so many times, that it came to him with clockwork precision. Unfortunately, this time to practice his change of expression came at a huge cost, and all of the money that they had been saving for that dream vacation, for their home in the suburbs, for their children's college education, every last penny was gone. But Peter couldn't think of these now. As he saw Sara, he thought that she was still so beautiful. He knew how much he loved her, and how much he wanted her to be happy.

Sara was very happy to see Peter, but the heavy medication that she was on permitted her to only manage a feeble smile. They sat there together for a while, talking about each other, holding hands. The moment that Peter dreaded the most had arrived. He had to tell her now. Sara knew that Peter had lost his last job two months ago. Instead of joining another low paying job as a restaurant help, Peter decided to take a chance, and entered an internship that paid him nothing for first two months. However, if he was selected at the end of this period, he would start earning five times as much as he could earn in any of the jobs he could get easily. Both of them had decided that it was worth the gamble. Peter had done very well at the academy, and was confident of gaining the position. He had worked very hard for the last two months, had foreseen everything that a client would want, and had pleased customers on every deal he closed. What Peter did not, and could never foresee, was that the final selection interview would be scheduled on the same day as Sara's operation. He had to leave, and when he told Sara about it, she was surprisingly strong. Sara told Peter not to worry, and convinced him that there was nothing he could do during the operation, it was the doctors' show all the way. Hence, it was perfectly alright for Peter to go for the interview. So, reluctant as he was, Peter decided to leave Sara until the afternoon.

As Peter was leaving, the matron called him to her table, as she had some forms for him to fill out. That took quite a lot of time, and Peter was afraid he'd be late for the interview. He rushed out into the street and hailed a taxi, an extravagance, considering his present financial condition, but a necessity, considering the hour. As the taxi rolled out onto the main road, and subsequently sped over the flyovers, Peter  began to relax. He was confident that he'd reach the office in a few minutes, and ten minutes remained before the scheduled starting time. Peter closed his eyes, and recalled all the work he'd done in the past two months. The first deal he'd got after making thirty-odd calls, the first time a client had been delighted at his handling of the deal, the first time a client called back and expressly asked for Peter's services. All this helped Peter calm his nerves, and he was sure he'd get the job.

The taxi suddenly started decelerating, and in less than twenty seconds, it came to a standstill at the end of a huge line of bumper-to bumper traffic. "Merde!!", said the French taxi driver, and jolted Peter out of his réverie. As he looked out over the flyover, he saw that the traffic jam extended from the top of the flyover till the road down below, up to a very long distance. He could see his destination from here, but estimated a ten-minute walk down to the building. He would be late, but not too late perhaps. "Why must it happen now?", thought Peter as he stepped out of the cab, paid the driver, and started walking. He was walking quite briskly, and the closer he got to the building, the faster he walked. As he left the flyover, Peter could see the famous fountain in front of the museum. Tourists were a regular feature there. Peter thought how fortunate some people were, who had enough money and not enough worries, so that they could visit some place that they'd read about somewhere, and throw coins into a fountain which was supposed to return favours for the coins. How could anyone believe something like that?

Peter's train of thought was interrupted by a loud screech, followed by a blow to his shin. He was thrown off balance. He had run into the middle of the street as he was looking the other way at the fountain, and had been hit by a car. He was unhurt, thanks to the driver's excellent reaction time, but his portfolio file, which contained all his hard work through the internship training period, was ruined. It had fallen to the side of the street, and was soggy by the time Peter could pick it up. Peter's jacket's right hand sleeve was also torn, but Peter couldn't wait any more. He quickly got up, collected his things, and rushed off towards the office, leaving the traffic disrupted and eighty-three surprised pedestrians and twenty- four equally surprised motorists following his progress with their eyes.

Peter reached the building looking like a mess, and he left his dripping portfolio in the waiting room. The interview was a disaster for Peter. He had apologized for his appearance, giving an honest account of what happened, but he did not believe it would melt the hearts of the boardroom sharks that made up the jury. There was an hour-long wait before the results would be declared, and all Peter could think of now was something that would help him get the position. He had already lost all hope, but was still trying to think of something, hoping against hope, that would help him get the job. Suddenly, he saw the famous fountain through the window, and he knew what he had to do. He ran out to the fountain, but this time he was more careful about the traffic, and reached there safely. He fished out a coin from his pocket, and
prayed hard for the job before he dropped the metal disc into the sparkling water. He couldn't believe what he was doing. All his life, he had laughed at the fools who willingly dropped coins into a pool of water, and today, he had become one of them.

When Peter returned to the building, the results had already been declared. They were on the board. He saw the candidates crowded around the single piece of paper. From a distance, Peter could see that only two had been chosen from a pool of thirty applicants. As he came closer, all the world became silent, and nothing existed except the paper and himself. He read the names, and could not believe his eyes.  The fountain had done what it was fabled to do! Peter had been chosen!! He was overjoyed, and after meeting the jury members, and congratulating the only other successful candidate, he rushed out, and back to see Sara.

Peter was ecstatic. By the end of the week he would have enough cash and all his problems would be over. He would have a steady job, and Sara and he could start saving for their future again. He could start paying off his debts, and would be a free man before the year was over. Soon, through the net of a hundred of different things he could think of to do with the money, Peter could see the hospital. He would see Sara soon.

Entering the hall before the operation theater, Peter sensed that something was wrong. Why was the doctor outside? Shoudn't he be still operating on Sara? Maybe he had finished, and Sara was back in her room, recovering. Peter ran to the room. The doctor had seen him by this time, and followed him in. Sara wasn't in her room, and Peter was about to go back to the doctor to ask where she was, when the doctor entered, and closed the door behind him. One look at the doctor's face told Peter what had happened. The doctor explained everything. Sara was gone, she had not survived the operation. He tried his best to comfort Peter, but Peter just sat there silently, staring blankly. All he could think about was the fountain, where he had prayed for the wrong thing. He could never forgive himself for making the wrong choice.

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Adhish Majumdar,
Mar 11, 2011, 2:22 AM
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