The bomb’s timer was turned on by a remote device. Things were suddenly in action. Arnora knew that she had very little time – half an hour – 30 minutes – just 1800 seconds. Today, her appearance, didn’t matter to her. She ran out the door without peeking a look into a mirror; without looking through her wardrobe. She rushed out in her pajamas and buckled herself in the driver’s seat before drifting down the street. She drove like a mad woman. The rules of the world had become mere words to her; hindrances blocking her from her goal.
She always hated boring days. Like most people, she lived a routine. As a homemaker, she constantly felt the lack of excitement. This morning, she expected another normal day. A phone call was all it took, to make it otherwise.
1685 seconds. She took a sharp turn into the main road, nearly killing a motorcyclist. The man was having a lucky day, unlike her. She peered into the rearview mirror as she sped ahead. She did not have time to feel glad for the man. Her mind was consumed by faces – some she knew, most she did not. She had known that the call could have been a possible hoax. But what if it wasn’t? Could she take a chance?
When time was infinite, undefined, she did not know what to do. There was so much and so less. But limited time, gave her a goal, an ambition to strive for. There was no time for distractions, no time to lose her way. She had to reach in thirty minutes or it would be a disaster; one she would have to live with.
1371 seconds. She pressed hard on her car’s horn, hoping it would clear the path and get rid of the congestion of vehicles ahead of her. Every second she spent helplessly, her heart raced even faster. She had to make it before it was too late, and she knew her options. She could continue on the current path she was on, hoping that the traffic would get better, or diverge at the intersection ahead – and take a longer route, thought it meant she would have to drive way over the speed limit.
Timothy, would disapprove. He had always felt the need to follow rules, when most others tried to break them. He was an odd fellow; one who spoke about the greater good.
“I know it kind of sucks that they’ve stopped commercial planes, but think of all the fuel that we are saving and the pollution we are stopping. Also, it will promote domestic trade. So what if we can’t go to Antarctica? We can try to improve life right here.”
“But I want to take a picture with the penguins!” Tyler protested.
1247 seconds. She deviated at the intersection, her foot pressing down hard on the accelerator. She steered through vehicles like a fly. As she zoomed past a garbage truck, her eyes caught a red signal blinking on her instrument panel. She was running low on fuel. At the speed she was travelling, she wasn’t sure if it would last. She could either risk it and try to make it with the remaining fuel, or she could refuel, losing some seconds. Her watchful eye caught a tall post of a fueling station; she was approaching it quickly. To fuel or not to fuel, that was the question. In a quick move, she pulled her steering to the left, entering the fuel station in a rush. The next instant, she hit the brakes, to prevent herself from crashing into the queued cars ahead of her. The number of cars made it an evidently long wait. She honked as she pulled out of the queue and drove straight to one of the stations. She could hear others shout and honk, protesting against her, one of them an old lady.
“Fuck off!” she shouted as she threw all the money she had in her glove compartment into the hands of a startled fuel man. “Make it quick!”
Another face beamed past her mind. Matthew – the courteous one. He was born into a convoluted world, where everyone watched out for themselves and their own. He was anything but. When his mates pilfered chocolates from busy stores, he would pay for it from his allowance.
“Your empathy is going to get you killed someday,” Tyler often said.
“That’s alright,” he would reply.
903 seconds. She began to lose hope at 100 kmph. She wanted to stop her car, turn around and go back home, pretending this was all just a dream; that she knew nothing about the bomb. It was easier to accept fate and its outcomes than trying to fight it. That way, she wouldn’t have to make the decision – the sole thing that she tried to ignore throughout her drive. As she slowly released her foot off the accelerator, her eyes fell on her visor. Amidst her chaotic drive, she hadn’t realized it was pulled down. She stared at it for a moment. Suddenly, she pressed down hard on a pedal, leading to a train of panic on the road.
Paul was a hopeful child. He possessed an undying spirit. One could never catch him complain about anything. Not about the mother who abandoned him. Not about his demonizing neighbourhood. Not about the accidental fire that destroyed his home.
“Today can be the worst day of your life,” Paul said. “If you let it be.”
“And what if the worst thing was a meteorite falling on a helpless friend’s head?” Tyler would question.
“You would still be one among few to possess a meteorite fragment. Not everyone gets that lucky.”
“You are crazy dude.”
461, 460, 459. Arnora hurriedly pulled her car over to the side, not bothering to park it. She rushed into a building with a huge board which read ‘Jonathon Middle School’. She hurriedly made her way to the fifth graders’ class, knowing very well what was at stake. A security guard noticed the odd woman in her pajamas run across the hallway. It was an unfamiliar sight which called for caution. He radioed the situation for assistance before apprehending her.
“Let me go! I need to see my son! He studies here!” she shouted as she tried hard to pry herself out of his hands. The guard’s partners arrived soon after and she was escorted to the principal’s office. Although it was redundant, she tried hard to escape. But she was careful, not blurting out anything. She made sure she didn’t break the rule.
The principal seemed like he was expecting her as she was led to his office.
“Thank you, gentlemen. You may leave,” he said to the security staff, gesturing them to leave.
“What seems to be the problem, ma’am?” he asked.
“Yes, who is this?”
“All you need to know is that your son is right now passing notes amongst his friends in class. He studies in Jonathon Middle School. Several bombs have been planted across the building, precisely with the aim to destroy it.”
She squeaked in disbelief.
“You can try saving your son. There’s a simple rule, though. You can only save him. Break this rule and your son will be murdered. No one will keep you safe forever. Not the cops, not the people you save. There’s no place in the world you can escape to, where I won’t find you. I will strike when you turn your back. When you think I am gone. When you believe that you can live in peace. I hope you make the right decision.”
“The bomb is rigged with a timer. You have half an hour. And remember, I will be watching.”
349, 348, 347. She knew she would have to convince him. That she was not crazy. She could yell it all out, and begin the evacuation. People would love her and she would save the lives of many kids; putting her son’s life and her own at risk, never knowing when this madman would strike. Or she could leave with her son, as he had asked and never turn back again.
“My husband met with an accident and it seems to be bad!” she exclaimed. “His father needs to see him once!”
The principal was taken aback by her sudden revelation. Without contemplation, he sent word for her son.
“What’s your child’s name madam?” he asked ignorantly.
“Tyler.” she responded.
After a brief period of silence, the door opened from behind her and she saw her son. She rushed to him and hugged him tight. She then realized that she was running out of time. She lifted him, throwing his bag aside and ran. She didn’t hear the principal’s apologies. She ran like a cheetah was behind her, clutching onto Tyler. She rushed with him into her car, turned the ignition on and revved away. She was afraid of herself.
“What’s wrong, ma? Where are we going?” Tyler asked.
She didn’t reply. Tears rolled down her cheeks. Tyler stared at her without a clue. She knew what she had done. She had known it all along. She gave up on hope, on courtesy, on the greater good, and a lot more. She could’ve saved them all but she chose not to. A choice she could not change.
Once again her eyes fell on the visor. She looked at the photograph taped to it – the reminder. It was a picture of Tyler, Matthew, Timothy and Paul after a victorious game of lacrosse. The picture was no longer a sight of relief or motivation to her. It had become the terrible reminder of her decision. She tore the photograph from the visor and hurled it out of the window.
She rubbed her teary eyes and looked into the rearview mirror. They were far away from the school. Far enough. As she kept driving, she hoped to hear the sound of an explosion.