THE VINTAGE RIDE

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…” I wished that time would freeze at that moment forever because imagining the look on his face when he would discover that I was gone again, without giving him a hint about my departure, gave me a feeling of butterflies fluttering in my stomach. There were tears in my eyes. I continued the countdown, “Three, two, one, ze..”

It was an invigorating weather, en route to my hometown. Whilst enjoying the scenic beauty throughout the course of my journey, I also had to be very careful about driving my car as my path comprised of several switchbacks and serpentine curves. Countryside gave me relief from the confinements of city life. The crisp mountain air filled my chest up with the serenity I long awaited for. Finally I was heading back towards my hometown after a very long time. I was eagerly looking forward to getting back to the house where my childhood had been shaped. Where I had lived a life of my own. Whenever someone speaks of happiness, I can’t help but think about those cherished memories which date back to the time when I had lived at this place. It is not that in this place I had had a huge bevy of friends, with whom I enjoyed my life but, Charlie alone was equal to a thousand friends for me. At the school, I always faced bitterness. Nobody seemed to like me. Everyone looked at me with cold eyes and kept from me, as much distance as they could. But Charlie was the only one who happened to really love me. Maybe because he didn’t go to my school. Well, I suppose there are not many schools where they let dogs in. My school was particularly not of that kind! Yes, you guessed it right. Charlie was my pet dog. He and I had a very special bonding. If there was no frontier of species between us, we would be more than brothers. The worst fear I’ve always had is that nobody will ever like me just because I am who I am, a very unpleasant person. I never responded to this odious treatment indignantly. But, simply for the reason that a person is strong enough to face the unfairness, it doesn’t mean that he doesn’t need anyone to love him or care about him. Charlie fulfilled this role in my life. He would play with me in the garden. Oftentimes, I used to throw the Frisbee and he would run and dive into the air, catch it in his mouth and would bring it back to me. He also used to come with me to the marketplace to buy groceries for mom. There have been times when he had gone searching for me when I hadn’t been home on time. Whenever I would come home with a crestfallen face after a gloomy day at school, Charlie would come to me and start licking my face. It’s funny how dogs think that licking the face would make their owners happy but it always worked well. His presence itself would give me strength and I would beam again in joy. I never really understood the reason why they hated me at school but I have always assumed that it was because of the stern Headmaster of the school who punished the students unsympathetically, who incidentally, was also my grandfather. Every time I have thought about it, my belief has come one step closer to reality. Whenever the students were punished for wrongdoings, they would get angry on him. Since they couldn’t burst out their anger on him, they would ill-treat me instead. I never complained about this to grandpa though. Nonetheless, being his grandson, I can assure you that he was not a wicked person but simply a disciplined man. He had worked as a scientist in the Army for almost half of his life and after his retirement he had come back to the hometown and had decided to spend the rest of his life imparting his knowledge to the rural kids. At home he devoted most of his time working on something in the garage that was in our backyard about which he wouldn’t tell anyone, anything. Nobody was allowed to go in there and he used to lock it up as soon as he would come out.

My parents and I had lived with grandpa (and Charlie) for about thirteen years. My dad was a Government assistant and mom took care of the household. Due to some inevitable reasons, dad got transferred to the city and we had to move out. Charlie was not keeping well those days. He had become weak and was losing the shine in his eyes. My parents thought that it would be stupid to take a sick dog with us while moving out. How stupid of them! Even after I cried out loud and persisted on taking him, they didn’t seem to care at all. Within a week all our stuffs were packed and we set off. I still remember that Charlie had refused to stay back and had come running behind our car until he had to stop to find his breath. That was the last ever time I saw Charlie in my life. A year later, I found out from the letter sent by Grandpa that Charlie had bitten the dust. Grandpa had buried him in the backyard itself. That day was the saddest I’ve ever been. But I’ve learnt from it that nothing stays forever and ultimately one has to move on with life. I had been admitted to the Municipality High School. Initially I was an introvert and spent most of my time alone but eventually found out that the people here were not that bad. After all, they didn’t have my Grandpa as their Headmaster to hate me.

For the next two years, we did not go back to visit Grandpa at all. Probably because he was busy with whatever he was up to in the garage and didn’t like any disturbances. He had even quit the post of the Headmaster (what a relief to the students!) so that he could utilize all of his time to complete his ambitious task. But on that one fateful day, when I woke up from my bed, there was no one at home. I searched everywhere but found no one. And then I found a note on the table in the hall which read, “We had a telegram to start immediately as Grandpa has had a heart attack. We need to rush to the hospital. You take care of yourself. We’ll be back soon”. I always hated how insensitive my parents were. They seemed to not at all fathom the concept of empathy. Even when Charlie had passed away, they had not let me go visit him. Now, Grandpa had had a heart attack and they didn’t think it was important to take me there.
A day later, they brought him to the city and admitted him to the hospital. I paid him a visit. He looked very pale but I noticed that he had a slight curve of complacent satisfaction on his face. He had just retrieved his consciousness and looked at me. He gestured with his eyes for me to get closer and started speaking in a low feeble voice, “Son, all my life I’ve dreamed of achieving something so extraordinary that the whole world will remain stunned. I’ve tried to find the loopholes in the creation and mechanism of nature. With a belief that nothing is impossible if approached rightly, I’ve devoted all my life to invent something that has been considered improbable by humanity. I won’t tell you about it now but Time will tell you about it. There are no secrets that Time cannot reveal. Time knows everything and it is the most powerful resource that humanity has and will ever possess. Promise me that when Time gives you innuendos and divulges my secrets to you, you will do whatever you can do to discover what the allusive information connotes and help me achieve it. I’m sure my Time has come to depart this body. If Time desires, we shall meet again. Promise me that you will go to th…”
He started trembling and lost his voice. He started gasping and before I could call anyone for help, Grandpa had passed away. That last conversation was the longest he had ever spoken with me. I quite didn’t understand what he was saying or why he was stressing so much upon the word ‘Time’. And where was he asking me to go? What was his invention? What did he mean by we shall meet again?

I didn’t have any enthusiasm to think about it as I got carried away by his death. His funeral was attended by only a few people as he hadn’t had connections with the outside world for a long time. I didn’t give much thought about that conversation for a long time after that.

Few years later, on a fine sunny Saturday morning, I woke up at ten O’clock. The stress of the whole week’s work at the office had resulted in extra hours of sleep. Even as I thought of sleeping for some more time, I heard my door bell pealing. I was reluctant about it before I heard it once more. I got up lazily and opened the door. Sun was too bright and I experienced blackout for a few seconds. I rubbed my eyes with my palm and tried to regain my vision. When I got my focus back, there was nobody at the door. I got so mad thinking that somebody was pranking me. I was about to shut the door but my eyes fell upon a small, rectangular package that was lying on the floor. I picked it up and noticed that I was the addressee. There was no information about the sender. I quickly went into my room, leaving the door ajar and opened the package. What was inside of it, gave me a moment of nostalgia.
It was a round, yellow thing. It was a Frisbee. The very same one that I used to play with my Charlie! Charlie’s memories came rushing in the form of tears in my eyes. I wondered who would have found it and why would they have sent this to me. But I found no answer for it in my brain. I took it seriously. If someone was to find the Frisbee, they would have to find it only in the house at the village. It meant that someone had opened the long-locked house! I looked into the package again and found a bunch of keys. It didn’t take me too long to identify them. They were the keys of that house. I checked the address written on the package. The handwriting seemed to be quite familiar. I had a sudden epiphany and remembered Grandpa’s last words. My instincts told me that this was what Grandpa was talking about. It struck me that the handwriting was of none other than Grandpa! I felt that the place he was asking me to go was the same old house where we all had once lived. The next day was Sunday which meant, I could go there and discover the hidden secrets. I took bath and had my breakfast as quickly as I could and took off along with the Frisbee and the keys. It was a journey of about seven hundred miles. So I got my car’s fuel tank filled and headed towards my destination. By evening, I had traveled five hundred miles. I was tired and decided to stop by at the nearest hotel for the night. The next day, before dawn broke, I started again. The further distance I had to cover was through hilly regions. My path was covered with fog and a cold wind kept blowing. As I drove across the hills, the days of my childhood appeared in front of the eyes of my brain like a movie!

I reached the village by ten O’clock. It didn’t seem to have changed a lot over the years. The same old unpaved road was damp and sticky due to the previous night’s rain. The trees looked fresh as the dust deposited on them was washed away and were shining green. I didn’t require much time to locate my house. I drove and parked my car right in front of the house. I was very anxious as I went to the front door and unlocked it. As I opened it, several bats came flying out and I was shaken for about a moment. Then I sidled in and closed the door. I slid the curtains and let the sunlight touch the inside walls after so many years. There was a photograph on the wall, where I was hugging Charlie! I became a little emotional but controlled my feelings. I was not sure what I actually was supposed to do. I thought of sitting at the table and went to dust it first. To my surprise, there was a note lying there which read, “Go to the garage”. I checked the key bunch and made sure that the key belonging to the garage was also there. I was about to witness something extraordinary! I went to the backyard and unlocked the garage. My heart was beating rapidly. When I opened the door, there were lots of spider webs blocking the entrance. I cleared all of them and went in. It took me a while to find the switch for light. When I turned it on, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I was taken aback to see what I was seeing. There was a very strange thing placed there which looked to me like a peculiar vehicle. It had a seat and a number of controlling handles. It had a huge dish attached at the rear and there were quite a few antennas connected to it. I had never seen anything like that before. There was a nameplate attached at the front which read in block letters, ‘THE VINTAGE’. I moved forward and sat on the seat. There was a note placed beside the handles, reading, “All the handles have been set for the required traveling. Press the red button to proceed.” I was half a mind to press it. But my instincts made me do so. There was a flash of blazing light and before I realized what was happening, I felt like I was floating and moving at a very high speed. When The Vintage finally stopped, I was in the same room again but it appeared clean. I turned to the right and what I saw gave me such a shock that I was about to lose  my consciousness. Grandpa was standing right next to the vehicle. He gave a loud cheer and couldn’t stop smiling. I couldn’t believe my eyes and couldn’t speak a word even after trying. Grandpa spoke in a flamboyant voice, “Son, we’ve done it! We’ve made possible the impossible! My time machine has worked! I’ve found the answer to the question of humanity!
It took me some time to understand what really had happened. Grandpa explained to me the whole story. He had been working all those years on building a potential time machine, which he had name ‘The Vintage’. But as every great thing has great obstacles in it’s path of success, there was a very complex problem in operating this machine. For it to work for the first time, it had to be switched on from the future (which I had done just a while ago). When it would turn on, it would trigger the ability to travel in an illimitable fashion and change anything in the past or the future. But Grandpa was very strict about the fact that we had no right to manipulate the course of nature. All he really wanted to do was prove that nothing is impossible.

He had set the handles of the machine such that it would take the person to that point in time which was five minutes after he had completed his work on the machine. Which meant that even though he died several years before it worked for the first time, he had now technically waited only for five minutes. He had also used the time machine to send me the Frisbee, the keys and also to place the notes for me, now that the time machine’s functionality had been enabled even in the infinite pasts, i.e, when I turned it on from the future, it enabled Grandpa to use the machine already in the past and do things which technically speaking, he did after I reached the past. But, sticking to time as a frame of reference, he had done it before I reached the past. (This might blow your mind, I’m sorry!)
Grandpa told me that the duration for which one could stay in the past was only for two hours at a stretch. It would take another three months’ time for it to be able to time-travel once again. Suddenly I remembered Charlie! I had just one hour left before I had to return. I took permission from Grandpa and went out. I searched for Charlie, all over the place but couldn’t find him. I shouted his name, “Charlie..” Not a minute later, I heard a barking noise from the front door. Charlie was running towards me. Even though I was quite older than he was accustomed to, his instincts did not fail him. He sniffed my legs and was sure that it was me. He seemed to be happy and sad at the same time. Happy, for I was back with him and sad because I had left him alone for a long time. His eyes welled up. I sat down to fade the tears off his face. He started licking my face vigorously and fell over me. I was so happy to be with my Charlie again. I took him to the backyard and played with him. I remembered that I couldn’t stay here for long. For the last time I embraced him tightly and threw the Frisbee toward the back door of the house and he ran to fetch it for me.

I observed him carefully as he walked to the door. I knew that time was running out but suppressed the urge to check my watch. I took a deep breath and started counting in reverse under my breath. “Ten, nine, eight, seven…” I wished that time would freeze at that moment forever because imagining the look on his face when he would discover that I was gone again, without giving him a hint about my departure, gave me a feeling of butterflies fluttering in my stomach. There were tears in my eyes. I continued the countdown, “Three, two, one, zero”
Now here I am, just now arriving from the past to the present. I’m still sitting in this time machine and writing my story so that I won’t forget any of these incidents. It already feels like a dream. I would like to visit the past and relive my life again. Would you like to go on The Vintage ride with me?

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Penned down by Pranav Hegde

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