Audrey Harry

A new beginning

Bill was angry; someone had reported him to the police as an incompetent older driver, and now his license had been revoked.

He had a pretty good idea who that someone was. His son Jim had been in the car when Bill went through the red light. He picked up the phone and dialed his son’s number. His hands were shaking as he blurted out, “You betrayed me! You went behind my back and reported me to the Traffic Police.”

“Dad” Jim said calmly, “I told you —.”

Bill slammed the phone down. He had heard enough about his unsafe driving skills from Jim and he wasn’t about to listen to any more of that stuff. Here he was, still living independently; he cooked his own food and managed remarkably well on the whole. His greatest fear was losing his independence and now it looked as if he was on the slippery slope. He wanted nothing more than to die in his own home in his own bed when his time came. He now feared his family might try and control that too.
He picked up his coffee, muttering to himself, and marched off to his den. The den was his retreat and always had been. He flopped into his big recliner chair and looked despondently round the room. It was a comfortable room, with a few books, photos and various odds and ends lying haphazardly about. He and his wife had bought most of the furniture when they first married, so it was getting a little shabby, but every piece and picture held memories for him. Somehow his haven didn’t feel so friendly today, and he didn’t feel very friendly towards any of the family whose pictures lined the walls.

He had not spoken to his son since that phone call. Jim had phoned and invited him for supper, but Bill maintained an offended silence. He was sad, a heavy cloud hung over him. His old car had been a faithful and loyal friend and now it had been taken away from him. How thoughtless and unkind his son had been. He had been able to drive to so many of the places where he and his dear wife had joyful times. Now she was gone, and so was the old car. He felt as if all life’s pleasures had abandoned him.

Since the day when the fateful letter had arrived from the Traffic Department, Bill had learned to ride the buses and occasionally he took a taxi. At first he resented every trip he took. In fact he avoided going out if at all possible, but time seemed to hang heavily on his hands and he began to feel cocooned in his house. When the weather warmed up he started walking, just to get out. After a few weeks he secretly admitted to himself that he rather enjoyed walking. He was feeling much fitter and furthermore he had been chatting to quite a few of the neighbours he had never met before. He enjoyed the sunshine and even walked in the rain occasionally. On his way back from his daily visit to the store he usually stopped for a rest in the park. He enjoyed watching the children on the swings. There were two little girls who liked to come and say hello to him, he looked forward to their chatter.

He rode the bus to the library regularly. He had befriended an elderly woman, Francis Hatley, who, like him, used the bus to get around. They frequently stopped for a cup of coffee at the café before they caught the bus home. He enjoyed her company, and on one occasion he asked her if she would like to go to the movies with him. Imagine that! An old man of eighty-seven on a date! He might be eighty-seven but he didn’t feel any different from the young swain he used to be back in the 40s. Francis thought he was a pretty handsome date too. He smiled to himself, and wondered what Jim would think if he knew his old Dad had a date! “Maybe, Bill chuckled to himself, “if Francis agrees I‘ll invite the family to meet her.”

And so, as he walked the streets and chatted to his neighbours, and as he sat next to Francis on the bus, Bill missed his car less and less. One morning as he scanned the headlines he saw the picture of one of the little girls from the park. She had been hit by an elderly driver and was in critical condition. The story made his blood run cold. He sat down suddenly in his chair, as the cold hands of reality grasped him. Tears filled his eyes. That driver could have been him running a red light, hurting a pedestrian, possibly even killing someone. He had resented his son but now he believed he might have been spared from causing a terrible accident.

Now he felt a gentle hand, steadily pushing him towards something. He picked up the phone slowly and tentatively, and dialled Jim’s number. Jim answered. Bill struggled to get the words out, his voice seemed to crack, and all he could find to say was, “Thank you for caring.”