Today is the last Friday of the quarter and like every year, tonight we have a year-end party organized by our firm to celebrate the end of the financial year. Or say it’s the way to pacify employees who have strived hard the whole year but got peanuts in return. It is also the yearly appraisal day, and I was expecting a promotion which apparently, I didn’t get.
The party invite reminder flashed on the laptop screen. It said to reach the venue by 6:00 PM sharp. I was reluctant yet decided to go, to stay in good books of the management and in the lure that I might get a promotion next year.
The venue was the poshest luxurious hotel in the town. It had a jaw-dropping aesthetic entrance, I handed over my car keys to the valet and waited in the lobby for the keys. I look fixedly at the lobby which displayed decorative furniture, expensive artwork, and fragrant flowers. The fresh scent of candles lit in the lobby refreshed my mood and I was floating in my thoughts which were interrupted by a tap on my shoulder.
I turned around to see who it was. There stood a tall man wearing a black suit sporting a white beard, shining eyes. His attire fit the place but he looked ungroomed for the location. There was a glow on his face and he looked familiar but I could not recall who he was. My chain of thoughts broke as I heard his husky voice.
“Hello Sir, here are your car keys.” He said extending his hand towards me.
“Thank you,” I said, but there was something which kept my gaze on his face.
“Is there anything else, I can help you with, Sir?” He asked again.
“No. No. I am good. Thanks for the keys.” I said and turned to move towards the banquet hall.
“Please take care of yourself, Sir.”
“I will.” It does sound unusual for a valet to ask you to take care, instead of ‘hope you have a good time’. It felt quaint but his words ‘take care’ were soothing.
I entered the banquet hall where everyone from the office was there having fun. They were all divided into small groups chatting and bantering. On another side of the hall, there was a dance floor with disco lights and most of the interns and juniors could be spotted there enjoying a hell of a time.
I joined the crowd and forgot everything about the disappointing appraisal and the valet. The food was appetizing, the service top-notch and the preponderance was the expensive alcohols served for free. I and my office friends gorged on the food and drank to our limits, we jested that this is the only way we can squeeze something out of the firm.
It was 11:00 PM and most of them had left in the office organized cab drops. I decided to leave too and approached my manager just to show my presence at the party.
“Hello Sir, it was a nice party.”
“Good, Good. Did you enjoy it?” He asked.
“Yes, Sir. It was fun. I am planning to call it a night now. I am leaving in my car. Do you want me to drop you somewhere?” I was trying hard to please him.
“No, I have a cab drop scheduled in 10 minutes. I would suggest you take a cab too. Don’t drive now.”
“It’s OK, Sir. I will be fine. Goodbye.”
“Say Bye, Good-byes are final byes and I want you to work on the presentation on Monday.” He said and chortled.
I smirked and said. “Sure Sir.”
As I turned to leave, I again heard “Take care of yourself.” I could not understand if it was my manager’s voice or it was the valet’s voice ringing in my ears.
I reached the lobby gate and another valet guy came and took the keys. I kept looking around to see if I could find the same valet guy who I met at the start of the party but he was nowhere seen. There was something atypical about him which yearned me to talk to him.
The car was handed over and I drove out of the hotel. My house is a fifteen-minute drive from the hotel but I decided to take a detour drive towards the beach road. I lowered the window and enjoyed the airbrushing on my face. The road was deserted and I could speed up as much as I could. I sped and the breeze paced too. I was rejoicing my fast drive but lowered the speed as I saw a person standing on the road waving his hands. Commonly I do not stop for strangers but today I did.
My car neared the waving person and I was surprised to see that it was the same valet guy.
“Hello, Sir. Can you please give me a drop? My bike broke down.”
“Sure, hop in,” I said and he entered my car.
“Thank you, Sir.”
“No problem at all. Always ready to help. By the way, we met at the hotel today.” I reminded him.
“Yes Sir, I remember.” And then there was some small talk between us. There was some preternatural about this guy.
After a few minutes in a strong need to curb my curiosity, I asked. “Have I met you before?”
“Yes, Sir. Today at the party.”
“No, I mean before that. Anytime in the past. You look familiar.”
He smiled at me, “Sir, do you always drink and drive?”
“That’s an irrelevant question.”
“No Sir, just felt like asking. You know drinking diminishes a person’s memory and observation skills.”
“That’s none of your business. Let me know where you want to be dropped.”
“Please take a U-turn.” He said in a requesting tone. I was a bit furious at his direct question.
“Sir, you asked me if we have met before. Yes, we have. The same spot where you picked me up from.”
“Is it? When?” My fury subsided as I was starting to get the scoop I was longing for. It was like unfolding an old secret.
“The same time, last year.” He said.
“I still don’t remember.” I was trying hard to reminisce.
“Sir, that is the reason I asked if you always drink and drive.”
“I am not sure, what you are talking about? Are you going to tell me when we met or lecture me about healthy habits?”
He looked at me and smiled. His eyes were shining and his voice even huskier.
“I know you well, Sir. You love to drink alcohol and speed drive after. When you do that you get lost in your world not looking around. When I asked you to drop me, I said my bike was broken down but did you see any bike parked there?”
I was speechless and I sure could not recall the bike or the spot. He leaned towards me; his voice even huskier.
“Last year, this day, you were unhappy about the breakup with your long-distance girlfriend and decided to go for drinks with your friends. After the meet-up, your friends insisted you take a cab but as always you decided to drive. This was the same road where you were speed driving, enjoying the breeze brushing your face. You were high on speed and alcohol, ultimately losing control of the car and dashed on a bike. Did you stop after the accident? Do you know who was riding the bike? Do you know what happened to the rider?”
I was sweating profusely; I didn’t realize but I was back on the same spot on the beach road where I had picked him from. I turned to look at him, “I am sorry but I don’t know what you are talking about.”
“LOOK IN THE FRONT.” He shouted.
I was startled at his loud voice and leered ahead, I saw a blood-covered man lying on the road and a bike tumbled next to him. I looked again to my left, there was no one on the passenger seat. I looked in the front, the same man was standing on the road, he looked injured and blood oozing out of his head. The car was approaching him in speed. I pressed hard on the brakes but it did not stop the car. The car’s speed was increasing and nearing the man. I pushed on the brakes again but it did not help. As a last resort, I turned the steering wheel sharp right and dashed into the road divider.
The car was hit badly and was in no condition to go anywhere. Luckily, I was fine and did not get even a single scratch. I got down from the car and looked around, there was no bike, no man. It was like a nightmare; I might be hallucinating with all the stress and mix of alcohol. It was past midnight now, and my phone as well was destroyed in the accident. I walked back home and sloshed on the bed.
The next morning, I woke up and switched on the TV, tuning into the news channel. I turned up the volume and head towards the kitchen to make some coffee. While mixing my coffee, I overheard a piece of accident news. ‘One man killed in a car accident on the beach road. That seems like a drink and drive case. There were no other causalities except the driver.’
I peeked into the TV and it flashed my picture with a statement.
“AVOID DRINK AND DRIVE, SAVE YOUR OWN LIFE.”