Friday, January 21, 2011

The Chauffeur: Penitence

My name is Mikhail. I am the chauffeur, and my employer happens to be his late wife Michelle.

I have spent all my life with cars. Assembling cars in the nearby factory -- fixing cars during the day, and racing during the night.

Perhaps that was how I got to know my current employer.

It had started out as a typical night with the boys. Plenty of drink, women, fast cars. But tonight, just two hours earlier, I had hit a car on the highway while going at 150kmph. I was arrested drunk and reportedly racing.

I never thought I would actually hit somebody. Eight years of this life, making the automobiles both my servant and master, and I believed I was good enough for anything on the road.

How wrong I was.

One of the passengers in the car was pregnant. It was said that her husband, shaken as he was, was rushing her to the hospital. Right now? Both of them were unconscious; the wife, critical.

The door swung open. A lady walked in. My breath caught in my chest.

Wasn’t she the lady I just hit?

I could still vividly remember the blood all over her face, how she gasped for every breath, how she gripped my shirt firmly as I pulled her out of the car. Yet, beneath that bloody face, I saw a small smile, a little sparkle in her eyes. For that split second, just looking at her gave me an overwhelming sense of calm, despite the furor and chaos around me.

And that, as I believe till today, gave rise to my remorse. If you were to ask me what remorse was like, I wouldn’t have known it till then. That’s what you get for growing up in a back alley with triads as parents and drug dealers as relatives.

For once, I actually felt sorry.

A spectacled man dressed in a nice suit stepped in behind her. She shook hands with the policemen and introduced the man as her lawyer.

I took my place beside the policemen, still handcuffed, and they sat opposite me at that table you see in the movies, the one that was specifically designed to make all criminals feel as bad as possible. Or at least that was how I felt.

“Mr. Mikhail Adamweich,” the lawyer cleared his throat. “You are to be made aware that for your actions, were you to be charged, you would be sentenced to lifetime imprisonment. Do you understand what I am saying here, Mikhail?”

Yes sir, I do. All that was in my mind then? The end. Lashes of the cane, darkness with a faint of light escaping from the tiny window of my cell. This is it Mikhail, I told myself. You asked for it this time.

“However, due to the forgiving nature of the client, as conveyed by her sister Ms Serena, my client is prepared to drop all charges conditionally.”

That morning I drove my employer and his butler to the church. I turned off the engine, and drew down his window to grant him a clear view of his son. He didn’t even know that his own son was getting baptized. My hands instinctively reached for my pocket, only to remember that I no longer carried cigarettes. Neither was I allowed to drink ever again. It was part of the deal. Instead, my hands headed for the glove compartment, where the sachets of nicotine gum were.

Popping one into my mouth, I looked up, only to see Serena staring down the aisle at me. Was she looking at me, or at my boss, the broken man in the back seat? My heart raced into beats of a galloping horse, and cold sweat trickled down my temple.

Why was she looking at me that way?

And then, I could not help but ask myself, why am I feeling this way?

The policemen unlocked my cuffs. After signing a few documents, I walked out of the police station. At the entrance of the door was a black sedan, and the lawyer I had just met stood beside the passenger door as he motioned for me to get into the car. Serena was already in the car, sobbing. I dared not even bring my head up.

“She’s dead.” It had happened while the proceedings in the police station were going on.

For the first time in my life, I cried like a baby.

“Let’s go.” Alice patted my shoulder, startling me. I got the car started and drove out of the church compound.

Driving along the highway to my employer’s next destination, on the very same highway where that fateful incident occurred, flashes of the conversation in the car resurfaced. I remember asking Serena, why would her sister drop the charges against me? Why would she let me go?

After all, I killed her, didn’t I?

Her reply, muffled and choked with tears, completely shattered me.

“Because you were forgiven.”

I cried even harder, almost yelling. That was unacceptable. How could I be forgiven for such an act? I had just killed her twin sister; I had ruined the child’s life; the husband, if he were to ever wake up, would be without his loved ones. How could I be forgiven for that? It made no sense whatsoever.

She shook her head gently, tears still welling up then flowing down from the corner of those brown eyes. “Mikhail, you don’t get it, do you?

“Because it is difficult, because it is unacceptable, it becomes all the more precious. Because people need a second chance; because you were never given that chance before and that made you what you are right now; because you are so messed up inside that you need someone, something to simply shake you up and turn you around.

“Because, second chances are paid at a price by someone, and given freely to someone else who does not deserve it.”

That is called, simply, grace.

“Just promise me you will never, ever tell anyone what happened,” she added before I stepped out of the car. “We have to protect your master.”

Every moment I’m with my boss, I don a pair of shades, because till this very day I still dare not look him in the eyes.

Even though he never recognized me.

He never knew what really happened. Fragments of the incident, vague lapsing memories of the accident. But never the full picture.

It was Serena’s idea. She had to double cross him by taking on the role of his deceased wife and faked a medical report, deceiving the butler to believe that Michelle died from a cancer. Right now, I am all that is left from him getting to the truth. Yet, that very truth was sealed together with Michelle’s death and with the contract.

Call it penitence, call it barter trade, whatever. The fact remains: I am paying the debt of my deeds. It has to work both ways: I have received a second chance I never deserved, and in return I am enslaved to protecting him with my life and this secret, even though name wise I may just be a chauffeur.

But more than that, the truth is, this price that I am paying pales in comparison to the mere thought of the grace that I have received. For had it not been for this second chance, I would be rotting in a cold, dark and damp cell somewhere out there, in the company of people akin to the ones I had grown up with; yet here I am, with a job, with a responsibility, with some sense of dignity, with a newfound freedom, serving a real master.

A dark past of hurt and anger, one fatal tragedy, an act of undeserved kindness, one lifetime indebted, two souls changed forever. Focus! Move on Mikhail, I shoved the wandering thoughts away together with the tears that blurred my vision, maneuvering the black tinted car down the expressway to my master’s next destination, him soundly asleep, his butler beside, watching him sleep with such longing in her eyes.

The End