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     Volume 5 Issue 107 | August 11, 2006 |

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Tryst with Fate

Najmul Halim Chowdhury

Prologue :
At mercy of fate are the unwary who are preyed upon by the unknown lurking behind our daily lives.

Toronto, Canada :
That lovely bright morning, once on the acceleration lane, I pushed the gas pedal hard and as the car picked up speed, turning my head towards left, checked out the blind spot. Having ensured it was clear I merged with the rush hour highway traffic and felt complacent. Most of my daily commute to work was through that highway and a good part of which had thick vegetation on either side. So a pleasant drive as I would call it.

Upon reaching cruising speed I tuned into an FM band that played classical music. The channel was playing Beethoven, one of my favorites 'Fate' (Ludwig van Beethoven's Symphony No.5). Sunny morning, pleasant drive, my favorite music, what more could I have asked for?

The first signs of a traffic jam appeared as cars ahead closed ranks and gradually reduced to a snail's pace. On the dashboard, hand of my car's speedometer slowly fell on zero as the vehicle came to a complete halt right beside a tree a tall slender one. Upon an inadvertent inspection much to my surprise the tree happened to be the one that had always fascinated me. So a blessing in disguise is what I would have attributed that traffic jam as it gave me an opportunity to observe the tree at close quarters. More precisely a single branch that protruded from the tree probably declared the advent of fall rather early. In fact my confidence was so great after having observed it year after year that I was willing to bet all my fortune to the effect that this tree was the first one to usher in fall all over North America. The foliage of this particular branch displayed just about every colour in the fall vocabulary. Green, bronze, orange, red, yellow, gold, you name it. As I rolled down my window the fresh morning air felt like mint on my face. I looked up at the tree and greeted it with a 'Hi Cindy'. Just for the heck of it, Cindy was the name I used to call the tree by after Cindy Crawford the super model. 'Final icing on the cake' I added on being parked right beside one of those long slender legs. Served on a platter for my eyes to feast on were those brilliant splash of colors on the foliage of the branch. A light breeze swayed the branch from side to side in tune with Beethoven's classic.

Brief yet quite appetizing was my tryst with nature as the traffic jam soon dispersed. Once again as the car picked up speed, Cindy gradually shrank in my rear view mirror and melted away. Soul re-energized, relishing the music, I cruised along whilst the rhythmic tappings of my fingers on the steering wheel became inaudible as I increased the volume.

What passed by my left at lightening speed was actually a red Porsche. Just as it overtook me it's rear wheels kicked up what was probably a small stone. The object raced like a bullet and collided with the windshield of my car. On impact though, instead of shattering to pieces the windshield sustained a hairline crack only. Caught off-guard I lost control for a second or two and the vehicle swerved from lane to lane. Fortunately there were no cars nearby. Perhaps divine intervention curtailed the aspirations of a frustrated Satan. As for the driver behind the wheels of the Porsche he or she never knew what happened as it disappeared within seconds. Rather quickly, I was able to gain back control and pressed on the hazard button. Slowing down with hazard lights flashing I stopped by the shoulder of the highway to take a breather and retrieve my nerves. A police cruiser passing by noticed and stopped to check on me. Listening to my tale the officer had this to say: 'I must say under the circumstances that you have been lucky. Things could have been much worse, anyway good luck'. I managed a smile and returned the good officer a nod together with a thumbs up. Twice with his fist, he gently knocked the hood of my car, walked back to his waiting cruiser and drove away. Feeling entitled to breathe a sigh of relief I did just that and prepared myself for what I would have liked to call the uneventful last leg of my trip to work that lovely September morning. As I pressed on the ignition, the green bright display of the digital clock on the dash board came alive and announced 9:11.

343 miles or so South-East of Toronto :
Through a window on the 96th floor, a pair of hazel green eyes looked out into what was an equally beautiful and sunny morning. Pity to spend indoors on such a lovely day she thought as she envied those outdoors. Her vision's random sweep of the view outside suddenly locked onto an object far out moving rather low above the sea. Without contact lenses though the object appeared as nothing more than a smudge against the horizon. Driven by curiosity to--explore further, she probed through the contents of her handbag for the contact lenses. Once retrieve, she put them on right away. Her eyes scanned the horizon again and picked up the smudge which gradually discerned itself as an aircraft. Turning towards her co-worker sitting beside, she patted his shoulder and tried to draw his attention. 'Never seen one of them fly so low', she said.

That she was of English descent her accent revealed. The co-worker was preoccupied with thoughts of his own and his indifference to her remark was obvious as he waited for his rather hot coffee to reach ideal conditions before the first sip.

The day was going to be a great one for him. Lovely morning, hassle free commute, punctual arrival at workplace. Everything was plain smooth sailing without even so much as a ripple. Anytime then his immediate superior was going to summon him and offer him the fruits of his labor. The promotion he had worked so hard for was inevitable. That was precisely the reason he came to office that day despite the fact that he had already taken the day off. Never mind though as he would be there for just a while once the meeting with his boss was over. From mundane notes his mind shifted to certain intimate and personal thoughts. Recalling her lovely innocent face he gently stroked one of his cuff-links and still wondered why the '25'. Earlier on in the morning as he left their nice cozy apartment she was still fast asleep. While getting dressed, though before leaving he noticed a new pair of silver cuff-links on the table. Beyond his knowledge she must have got them sometime recently and put them deliberately on the table last night for him to wear them that morning. He couldn't quite figure out though why she had '25' engraved in italics on each. Resisting a sudden urge to cry, somewhat embarrassed he hastily wiped off with his cuff a solitary tear droplet that was rolling down his cheek. The prospect of seeing her in a short while lifted his spirits. Of course he would then also ask her to shed light on the mystery behind the italicized '25'.

He raised his coffee mug to his lips and at the end of the first sip, observed: 'excellent coffee, man this is gettin better and better. What else could go wrong this auspicious day?' He was wrong. Raising the mug again this time round though he took a longer sip and while relishing the coffee, through haze of the steam that rose from his mug he could scarcely read the green display of the digital clock on his work station. It showed 8:43. 'Moment of truth is imminent' he said to himself and added 'icing on the cake, any second now'. Resting the mug on the table, he somewhat perfunctorily raised his chin up and started adjusting his tie.

The pair of hazel green eyes meanwhile was trained on the laptop screen in front of her. Everyday before work she played a round of hearts on her personal laptop computer. It was her ritual so to speak. That lovely morning having just won the game she clenched both her fists and blurted out a big loud 'Yes'. Realizing that barely few minutes were available before work, she proceeded with shutting down her laptop. After navigating through the screen and a few clicks of the mouse, the shut down screen popped up. Just as she was about to press the enter button her senses picked up a faint shrill. In an instant the noise grew louder and everything around shook. She hit the enter button and rose from her chair and so did her co-worker. Hearts pounding fast both exchanged looks of sheer bewilderment. The next couple of seconds were the last of their lives as they instinctively turned around and looked towards the window. With utter horror they watched the huge black nose of a Boeing 767 approach very very fast towards them. Upon impact, the windows blew to smithereens and amidst a deafening sound and intense heat the pair passed out and died instantly. On the very heels of impact the violent frenzy of a monstrous strong orange ball of flame pulverized everything around it. Including the co-worker's boss who had just stepped out of the elevator every other mortal on that floor never knew what had hit. It transpired later on that American Airlines Flight 11 penetrated the first of the Twin Towers at exactly 8:46 AM. The ill-fated plane's final approach coincided with the concluding notes of Beethoven's 'Fate'.

Elsewhere in Manhattan :
Inside the nice cozy apartment the lovely innocent face stepped out of the bathroom, walked up to the bed and sat on it. A rather pensive mood she was in. After having carried out a 'do it yourself' pregnancy test she had just found out the result to be positive. Reaching out she picked up his photograph from the bedside table and put it on her lap. Tears, perhaps of joy welled up in her eyes and cascaded down her cheeks as she fondly ran her forefinger over his face on the photo. Just as the time on the antique clock mounted on the wall above the bed showed 8:46 a sudden jolt caused her entire body to shake momentarily. She found herself in a trance for a good while until the phone rang. Snapping out as she picked up the receiver her attention though was on the empty spot of the table where she had put the pair of silver cuff-links. Words through the speaker drifted into her ears "have you heard the news…….........?"

Long Island, New York :
Nice cozy house surrounded by lush green lawns and well manicured trees. Perfect setting that lovely bright morning for a bout of sheer bliss. Each holding a cup in hand, a middle aged couple approached the round table on the wooden patio in the garden. 'Given the choice tea is what we always prefer' they chanted in chorus. That they were of English descent their accents revealed. That fine morning, precisely tea is what they decided to have on the patio outside. As they pulled their chairs to sit down the sun's reflection from a shiny bracelet on the table attracted their focus. From the conversation that ensued between them it appeared that it belonged to their daughter who must have left it on the table while they had dinner there the evening before. The bracelet was her good luck charm and she hardly ever parted without it. Basking under the sun the parents enjoyed their tea. Their moments of bliss were cut short.

Just as the time display on daddy's cellular turned 8:46 mum experienced a sudden jolt and her entire body trembled momentarily. She instinctively grasped the bracelet and clenched her fist around it, as though she was protecting it from harm's way. He noticed the reaction and quickly walked up to her. Gently putting his hand on her shoulder he asked "Everything all right dear? Are you OK?" Upon getting back her nerves she managed a smile and nodded. "Why don't you give her a call dear and tell her that we have found your bracelet?" she said. Intent on doing just that he walked up to the edge of the patio and tried to raise his daughter on her cell phone again and again. His attempts were futile. They said that she had her father's eyes. Standing on the patio through those hazel green eyes he looked out towards the horizon above Manhattan. What appeared to be an ominous dark crack gradually extending over the horizon was in reality smoke billowing from the fatal wounds of the North tower. He picked up his cell phone the very moment it rang. Whilst listening attentively he gulped the lump that formed in his throat. He uttered "Oh! Good lord…..gracious me………"

Manhattan again - several months later :
Yet another bright sunny day. A rather noisy clean up operation continues in and around what has come to be popularly known as "Ground Zero". Buried under the rubble lies a certain coffee mug, still pretty much intact. In the aftermath of the hell that was unleashed, having miraculously escaped unscathed, it had found refuge inside a hollow cozy spot beneath the rubble. The big powerful arm of a crane scoops up the debris where the mug is entombed. A slow but firm squeeze of the crane's hand shatters the mug to pieces. As the long steel arm rises into the air a trail of dust and debris trickle out from the contents of the scoop. Among them is a piece of the mug too, that falls on the ground kicking a cloud of dust around it. A faint reflection of the sun from the fallen fragment attracts the attention of a fireman working nearby. He inquisitively walks up to the object for a closer inspection and carefully picks it up. The broken piece remarkably resembles a cross. He blows away the dust atop it and at the end of a steady intent look a sudden chill runs through him. Virgo - his Zodiac sign imprinted in bright gold quite distinctly appears on the middle. Letting out a huge sigh he considers the discovery to be a good omen. He looks up towards the heavens, crosses his heart and slides down the newly found good luck charm into his breast pocket. He goes back to what he was doing.

A Virgo too was the owner of the coffee mug the co-worker and September 11, 2001 was his birthday. Actually 25th b'day or rather as they say that a Silver Jubilee is a celebration held to mark a 25th anniversary.

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