A Second Chance
A SECOND CHANCE
The snow-clad Christmas tree was lit up like a shining star in the very center of the city. City folk had gathered around it for celebration. It was Christmas Eve, just a few minuites more before the start of celebrations. The countdown began in an atmosphere of thrill and joy. Ten… Nine… Eight…
… Three… Two… One… And the moment had arrived. Fireworks started all at once, and from all around. What a way to celebrate His birthday. After all, this was the moment that the people had waited for a year. The happiness showed on the people’s faces. The spirit of Christmas was in the air.
Yet, standing a few blocks away in front the renowned International Bank, a young man silently watched at the fireworks in the sky. The air of celebration did not get to him at all. The snow falling gently on his face didn’t lighten up his spirit. For him, nothing in the world seemed right. He wished he could just turn back the time. Even ten hours ago, everything seemed to be fine. He had even thought of partaking in the night’s celebrations. One fact changed everything.
He made his way through the streets downtown towards the bar. There were very few people in the streets at this hour. Most of them were involved in the ongoing celebrations. Not that he did care anymore. There was no point thinking about it.
Burke’s Bar had often been a place of celebrations for him. He often came here with his colleagues after a hard day’s work, and this was the place where he had rejoiced his success, but not today. He entered the bar and threw his overcoat on the stand. It was warm and cozy in here. He looked around a little. There were two or three people there, perhaps in the same situation that he was going through ─ stressed, dejected, disappointed. He turned towards the bartender who was busy cleaning. The bartender looked a happy person, enjoying his daily life, dealing with the customers, giving them what they want, and in return he earned a little every day.
The young man grabbed a stool and sat down at the nearest table. The situation had hit him like a bullet through his heart. It had happened so suddenly, he did not believe it at first. He had gone to the bank, had heard it from the crowd, and then it had struck him.
“Watcha doin’ ’ere sittin’ alone, boy?” an old man with a big cowboy hat joined the young man at the table.
“Nothing,” the young man replied, “Er… do you mind sitting somewhere else, sir? I prefer to be alone.”
“Alone?? Now c’mon boy, ’tis Christmas today. No one wants to be alone on Christmas.”
“I want to” the young man cracked, “Look here, sir, I understand your problem. You need someone to spend time with you. I am sorry sir, but I cannot help you.” The young man said angrily. But then he looked at the cowboy for some time. Maybe the two of them shared something in common. Deep within him somewhere, there was a part of him that did not want to be alone. He decided to let him sit with him.“If you need a drink I can give it to you, and then you can be off.” He turned to the bartender and shouted, “Two mugs of beer over here!”
“Whoa!” the cowboy leaned back a little, “You look like an angry young man. What happened? Something turned bad in life?”
The beer arrived. The man who served it placed the two mugs in front of the young man, who stared at him for a moment with a questioning look on his face before moving away.
“Strange people,” said the young man, pushing one mug towards the cowboy so that he could reach it. “Sorry about that… er, you haven’t told me your name.”
“And you haven’t told me yours, young man” the cowboy smiled.
“Huh! Mr. Allen Ryder, Senior Executive of the International Bank…”he extended his hand for a shake.
“Put it down, boy,” the old man gestured, “I don’t deserve to shake hands with you.”
“… Or I should rather say a used-to-be Senior Executive.” Allen completed his sentence with a disappointed smile. “Still not quite used to the reality of the situation.”
“Hey!” the old man leaned towards him, “You look deeply troubled, young man. What’s up boy?”
The young man smiled a little, “You know? The funny thing about the situation is that I can’t really say what’s up. I mean, I don’t get it. One day, I’m a busy man. And the next day, I’m on the streets, unemployed.”
He paused and looked at the old man, who was looking at him intently. That gave him some relief. At least, there was someone to hear him. So he continued with his story.
“Even yesterday I was at the bank supervising transactions worth millions of dollars. Worked there all night and was very satisfied with it. So I came home late night after a long day. Thought I could get some sound sleep now.
“Three hours later, I get a call from one of my colleagues that our Chief Executive had met with an accident ─ that he was dead. It didn’t quite hit me then. The next few hours I spent running all over the place, checking and cross-checking whether the news was true. It was almost one o’clock in the afternoon when I finally believed the fact. Then it hit me, the CEO was dead, and without him, the International bank had no existence.
“This bank, this institution, it was a dream for me. Working here was an honour. I must have done something very wrong in life. Or else why did the Lord take this opportunity away from me.” He paused again to look at the old man.
“So,” said the old man, “what did you do next?”
“What was left to do?” Allen said with a raised voice, “Took some time on my own trying to absorb the fact. In the end, I realized there was nothing to absorb, so I started off towards the tracks…”
“What!” the old man crackled all of a sudden, “you mean tracks as in trains?”
“Had you gone crazy or something? Lost one job because of an accident and Mr. Faithless sets off for a suicide! Funny thing,” the old man clapped mockingly.
“But that job was my dream, it was my whole world. I spent three years of my life chasing it.”
“All right, laddie, all right,” the old man threw up his hands in surrender. “So what made you come and sit here?”
Allen looked at the old man. This was the climax. He leaned closer to the old man. “Ever tried suicide?”
The old man looked at him in a matter-of-fact way. “No, but my father tried once. So how did it go?”
“Your suicide mission, how did it go?”
Allen moved away from the old man. “You know? I can’t even die in peace. Lay on the tracks in the freezing cold for almost two hours, thinking every minuite now could be my last. Only they kept coming one after the other.
“After what seemed like eternity, I decided to go to the station and see for myself what the matter was. And guess what I found out – the tracks had been covered with snow because of the storm and all trains had been delayed. What luck!” Allen looked frustrated now.
The old man smiled at him. “In fact you’re in luck, my boy. Just how many people do you think get a second chance?”
“You’re a crazy old man. What the hell do you think I should do with this ‘second chance’, eh?” Allen jumped up from his stool. “You don’t understand. I got nothing left to do.”
“Patience, my dear boy, patience,” the old man calmed him down, “You think you got nothing left to do. But look around laddie, there are so many options around you. Just take your pick. Your job has been taken away from you, but not your talent. No one can take that away from you.”
The old man paused a little. Allen gave his words some thought. It was sort of true. There were other options. All this time he had been hit with so much shock, he could see nothing else but doom. Now, listening to the old man, he began to think. He was only 27. A whole life lay open in front of him. Yet, a few minuites ago, he was about to close that door forever. Now he saw it. There were too many banks all over. One of them would surely give him a job, wouldn’t they?
“Let me tell you what my father did,” the old man continued, “He was a military man, my father. Sworn to protect the country. Yet, something went wrong in his career. A case was filed against him on grounds of criminal offence. He was framed, and he appealed in court. Did not help him though, for the case went on and on. Poor father was criticized badly. One day, he sent a note my mom saying that he was going to commit suicide. When mom got the note, she rushed into his room to see him lying on the floor. “
“He was down there crying. When he saw mom he handed over the gun to her saying, ‘Jammed! For the second time in my entire life. The first time it did like this, I was at the academy. My commander took the gun from me and said, ‘Son, a jammed gun in battlefield, and you might as well call it suicide.’’”
Allen couldn’t help but laugh a little at the irony of the situation. “So what happened after that?”
The old man stood up, getting ready to leave. “What else? Father fought the case for five long years and got the justice he deserved,” he smiled.
“Really?” Allen now saw what a second chance could mean, and the beauty of it. He pulled the overcoat from the rack, “Thank you for your time. Hope I see you around.”
The old man smiled, “I hope not!” With that he was gone.
Allen paid the bartender and went out through the door. His spirits had indeed lifted up from the conversation. Seeing the fireworks made him happy. This was a new life that he would be starting. The celebrations were still on in the city center. For the first time since he had heard about the fate of the bank, it felt like Christmas to him. He sprinted up the road towards the city center, but something made him stop dead on his tracks.
It was a newspaper, the present day’s Daily Chronicle. The news of the Bank’s CEO being dead flashed upon his face again. But this time, it wasn’t the article that had made him stop. It was the inset picture next to the article. ‘THE CEO OF INTERNATIONAL BANK DEAD’ ran the headlines. He had gone through all that for more than a hundred times. But there was one thing he had overlooked – the CEO’s face. He didn’t know how the CEO looked like. Now that he was looking at his photo, Allen’s blood began to run cold.
It was the same old man with the cowboy hat!