A Taste of Independence

“The car has become – an article of dress without which we feel uncertain, unclad and incomplete”-Marshall McLuhan.

Aabha wrapped up the office work, and was almost done with the final draft for her class presentation, when the dark grey sky caught her attention. She adjusted her glass and looked through the window. It reminded her that there is a forecast for snow tonight. “O’ no, she said to herself,” The snow will start at any moment, but where is Sohil?” She looked at her watch and it was almost 4.” Ankit needs to be picked up from the school”.  Aabha decided to walk to the school before the weather gets worse. She locked the door and stepped outside. The north wind was blowing real hard, making her face numb. Aabha adjusted her hood, wrapped the scarf a little tighter around her neck and started speed walking. Finally she arrived at the school. As she opened the front door, Ankit came running and hugged Aabha, “Mom you are so late. All my friends were gone, and I had to play alone. Where is dad”? Ankit asked without taking any breath.  Aabha touched his face affectionately and said, “he will be here soon, not to worry.” His teacher Ms. Felinco walked up to her and said,” Good evening Mrs. Aabha! How was your day? Ankit was waiting eagerly for you. Please try to pick him up on time or let us know earlier so that something can be arranged at the child care center until you come.” Aabha apologized and promised to be on time. Then both Aabha and Ankit walked to the front entrance to wait for Sohil. They sat down on one of the bench and watched through the window  the  white, silvery , light snow flakes falling soundlessly from the sky and setting on  the tree branches, swing sets , sea saw.

Aabha and Sohil with their three and half year’s old son Ankit, came from India to Iowa for further studies. It is a small city comparable to any Indian city but to do errands one need a car. They are trying to adjust with one car but for sure it was not that easy. Late that night, after tucking Ankit to bed Aabha walked to the study room to finish her homework.  As she pulled the chair, Aabha noticed that the TV was on, but Sohil was lost in his own thought. She slipped onto the couch close to her husband to know what bothers him. Sohil rubbed his forehead and said, “Yes, I am enjoying my classes and work study is going on fine. But my schedule is so tight that it is hard to squeeze in any other activities. Sometimes I am getting late to work. But it will be a big help if you can get a driver’s license. Then it will be easier. We can take turn in doing the errands as dropping or picking Ankit from school and take him to the library, or to the park.” Aabha knew that Sohil had to juggle a lot, so she looked at Sohil’s concerned look and said “yes I guess it is a right decision and I will go for it”.

It was the second Saturday of May the driving lesson started. Sohil purchased a driver’s license book for Aabha to learn all the basic controls as windshield wiper function, the lights, seatbelts, blinkers, pedals, breaks , how  to adjust the mirrors, how to look and recognize different road signs. As Aabha was going through the manual, she thought for a second that ‘This is a cake, too simple’. But she had no idea about the next step until Sohil asked her to take the driver seat. Aabha slipped into the seat and turned on the engine for the first time, adjusted the mirror, changed the gear and started to push the pedal gently. The car moved but stopped in a jolt then Sohil said ‘Do not break just push the pedal slowly. After too many sudden breaks, they heard a sigh from the back seat, ’Mom will you please drive like dad otherwise my tummy hurts”. Aabha turned her head towards concerned Ankit and said ‘sure son I will try’. Then she headed to a nearby quieter neighborhood, and practiced driving back and forth, in circles for one hour. They did not know that her stop and start driving would generate suspicion among the older people in that street. They must have called the cop. It was getting dark when Aabha was finishing up her final turn for the day, when she noticed the flashing light on her mirror and the clear sight of the cop car. “O’ no it is the cop, I hope I did not do any mistake”, She wiped her forehead and steered the car to the side of the road. The cop approached to her and asked for the license then Sohil said “Officer I was teaching her to drive”. The officer smiled and said “It is fine, but please find out a different place and practice before the sun set and good luck to you!” Then he left. Aabha was thinking that the lessons were not a smooth ride.

After passing the written test Aabha was ready for the road test. Sohil dropped her in the Permit office in the morning and said “Not to worry it is just a driving test so just relax, and I am going to wait here until you are done”. Aabha tried to stay calm and went inside. After waiting for ten minutes Aabha heard her name to go to the front desk. As she was approaching the desk, a tall inspector in a neat uniform leaped out from his office  and extended his hand towards her and said,” Hello, you must be miss Aabha.” ” Yes sir”, Aabha replied with a smile. Then the officer asked her to lead him toward the car. He slid into the seat beside her, adjusted the seat belt. “Have you driven before?” “No sir, this is my first time”. He looked at Aabha from the corner of his eyes and must have sensed the nervousness in her, so he smiled and said” you will be fine, not to worry. Start the car then and go straight, then turn right at the corner”.

Aabha tried her best to stay cool, calm and collected. She turned on the engine, and drove the car smoothly, up to the street. Both were quiet, Aabha was trying her best to drive perfectly and the officer was watching her driving skill. Now ’left here ‘, he said and park between that SUV and the Blue van. Aabha looked at the closely parked vehicle but with caution squeezed the car in between them without too much maneuvering. ’O excellent’ he said, now turn into the main street here, and let’s see your driving in the heavy traffic’. Aabha looked at all the lanes and noticed only a handful of cars, then thought, ’May be this is heavy traffic for here, but nothing like the traffic we have in India’. It went smoothly until the officer asked her to take a right on the traffic light. As Aabha was taking the right turn, the traffic light turned red, and with a sudden break she stopped on the middle of the road.  The instruction in bold letter” Stop at the red light” flashed in her mind. Then she heard one or two honks from the concerned drivers and realized the blunder. Aabha looked sheepishly at the officer’s face and said “Sorry officer”, and pulled her leg slowly from the break. The officer was not that happy either. He said, “Go on take a turn here, and take the car back to the parking lot”. As soon as they reached in the parking lot the officer went inside the room and asked her to wait.  That was a very long fifteen minutes wait for Aabha. She had butterflies in her stomach. She was trying her best to stay calm but her heart was pounding faster and hands and feet were getting sweatier. The officer asked her to come in to his office. “Please have a seat. You were almost perfect in every area of the road test, except that one. So make sure not to stop suddenly on the middle of the road while taking the right turn. You will be given the permit, so just relax.”Aabha flushed with delight. She jumped from the chair and almost hugged the officer, but the big table in the middle reminded her not do any more blunder.  Instead, she thanked him politely, and assured that it will not happen again.  Aabha skipped cheerfully to convey this news to Sohil.

“Life becomes precious and more special to us when we look for the little everyday miracles and get excited about the privilege of simply being human.”- Tim Hansel

As soon as she got the license, Aabha drove her son to the school, then to the library, to the university, to the cafeteria, to the park and it was lots of fun. The feeling was priceless. And the real adventure started. One weekend there was very heavy snow and the warning was about ‘black ice on the road’. Aabha had no idea about the black ice. She was driving Ankit to a friend’s birthday party and did not notice that the speed limit which was only 5 miles. She had to drop her son and from there to meet her Prof. so she started driving in 15 miles per hour. Suddenly the car started sliding and Aabha forgot again that ‘No sudden break on the ice’, so as she started breaking hard the car slide more to the right and slowly down to the ditch. Nothing serious happened because the cops came to rescue her. Driving in Iowa was not that hard, although a few times Aabha forgot to change to the right gear as for example, one day she was in a hurry for her class and bumped the car into the tree by going forward instead of reversing the gear. Another time during the winter, just after the snow fall, she had to pick up a birthday cake from the nearby store. The road was slippery and so also the parking lot .But after she parked the car, Aabha forgot to change the gear, so as she stepped out Aabha noticed that the car was moving forward. “O’ my” and that is the only words that came out.  In front of her eye the car bumped into another car.

After nine years in Iowa they moved to Houston, Texas where the driving skill took a different form. One day she was in a hurry to reach home to prepare for the ‘Halloween’ and forgot the speed limit. The car was almost flying and suddenly, she noticed that there were no cars next to her lanes, but only one car that was speeding with her. “Hmm’, then she looked closer. That was a cop’s car. “O ’no, she said, then slammed the break and drove as if nothing happened. Those are some strange and fun memories of her new skill which Aabha has treasured, but tries her best to be a good driver.


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