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     Volume 9 Issue 37| September 17, 2010|

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 A Roman Column

It Could Have Been Worse

Neeman Sobhan

The car is losing power, I can feel it. Please don't die, please don't die, not here, at least. But my Mitsubishi is a hundred years old, almost, and should have been retired years ago. It shudders, sputters and with a final rattle, gives up its spirit in the middle of a major, arterial road of Rome: the Via Cristoforo Colombo.

Behind me are the ancient Roman aqueducts that brought water into the city, and that also functioned as the walls of the city. In my rear view mirror I can see not only the arches of the aqueducts in the distance but also the hordes of cars waiting at the traffic light there. I myself am close to the traffic lights further along this road. At any moment the sluice gates will open and the cars will come rushing behind me. I have no choice but to turn on the blinkers and stay put.

In the back seat are my two pre-teen visiting nieces. "Well girls, we are in for it. Let's keep cool in every sense of the word, and we shall be home in no time." My troops smile bravely, putting their trust in their aunt. I have left their parents in town and was taking them home to relax before the TV after a long morning of sightseeing.

I call our insurance company's free towing service. They promise to contact someone, who would call me to get my coordinates.

"We need to wait, my dears. Sorry!" I smile sheepishly at my passengers. The elder girl gives me a reassuring smile. "Oh! Please don't worry about us. This is exciting!"

I could hug this sunny girl with her wonderful attitude. I am absolutely sure she has taken after Moi, her ever optimistic aunt. I blossom in a crisis and become calm. This niece, I predict, will have no problem in life. My philosophy in a crisis is to never first waste energy in ranting, raving, complaining, regretting, blaming or worrying. I believe in solving the problem first and then ranting-raving-screaming-complaining-blaming-crying and whatever. Most of the time, I have found that what seems like an adverse situation can as well be read as a lucky event. I mean, it could have been worse!

This breakdown could have happened earlier this morning on the way to dropping my husband to the airport for a flight he couldn't afford to miss. It could have happened when on arriving at the airport we discovered that a crucial piece of luggage had been left at home by mistake, and so with no time to lose, we had dashed home and back again to the airport in time. It could have happened when later I took my cousin, his wife and two girls all over Roma, showing them some of my favourite sights. It could have happened up on the Piazza of San Anselmo, or Garibaldi Park with the panorama of the city below us. It could have happened after our lovely leisurely lunch under the dappled shade of the vine covered inner courtyard of one of my favourite restaurants in what was supposedly the home of the painter Raphael's lady love – the Baker's daughter, la Fornarina. It could have happened, oh! God, while walking back to the car across the cobbled stone alleys of Trastevere when my sprightly neice opened her arms and declared, "Okay, from now, officially, Rome is my favourite city!" It could have happened anywhere, spoiling our day or causing us grief.

But no, my faithful jalopy, did not allow this. It did not give up the ghost so easily. It did its duty by us, took its master to the airport, helped me and my guests have a wonderful day, allowed me to deposit my cousin and his wife to have a last Roman walk in town, while I whisked away my happily tired nieces home. Or, halfway home.

Would I call this an unfortunate state of affairs that we were now sitting here stranded in the middle of a busy road being honked at? No way. It could have been much worse. I could have been in an accident or could have caused one.

I watched with a smile my soldiers from their back windows energetically waving away cars piling up behind us. I admit guilty to not having the emergency triangle, but really, if some people didn't have the intelligence to guess why a lady with two little girls would 'park' herself in the middle of a busy three lane highway, it was their problem. Still, it was heartening to see that among the hundreds of irate drivers, there were at least two cars, one with a woman driver and the other a man that actually slowed down to ask if they could be of help. Angels walk among us!


Meantime, an hour had passed and I had only just spoken to the towing service driver giving him our exact location. To wile away time I asked the girls to help me count how many green, yellow and pink cars passed us. The report was dismal: 12 yellow, 19 green cars and NO pinks.

By the time the tow truck arrived, it had been two hours. But it could have been worse. My car could have broken down in a traffic infested street in Dhaka, where people spend two hours on a normal basis anyway just sitting in a functioning car.

While my poor helpless car was pulled up, we scrambled onto the seat next to the driver. The air conditioning was working and the seat was just ample enough for the three of us. The girls and I exchanged looks: what if there had been another passenger? It could have been worse.

As we drove away towering powerfully over the traffic, I was filled with affection and admiration for my spirited companions, whose presence had lightened my vigil. The brave little girls had not wilted in the heat, did not complain, and were cheerful throughout. As we sailed away on the tow truck, I pressed their hands in silent gratitude.

The city from the elevated perspective of the truck looked altered, mysterious, new. I could see beyond the trees of the EUR lake, a vista I had never seen. The obelisk near the Museo di civilta did not seem so high anymore; and below it, Seward Johnson's supine sculpture of a giant awakening from the earth seemed, from above, about the struggle of a normal human being trying to keep his head above the ground.

When we arrived at the auto repair garage of my piazza, I felt jubilant, as if we had come back successfully from some exploit. Once home, I hugged my nieces and thanked them for having been so good.

They said, "But it was an adventure!"

Ah! This is the gift and natural wisdom of youth. Bless the young for possessing the spirit of adventure and for reinforcing it in those who are old, jaded and dispirited. It is not easy being an adult in a world of problems. Sometimes it is not easy being young in an adult's world either. But for the old and young to share this world with positivism and humour is to be able to touch it with some grace, to redeem it.

"You must be stressed out." My cousins said to me when they returned.

"Why?" I said. "It was not a problem without a solution. Everything worked out. It could have been worse. And after all, it was an adventure!"





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