Taking the third option

Submitted into Contest #95 in response to: Start your story with someone being presented with a dilemma.... view prompt

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Fiction Drama Suspense

It was all in front of me, every tiny detail – laid bare in front of me. I consider myself to be an analytical guy, always focusing on facts and figures, but even I couldn’t find a way out of this mess. My desk was piled with these papers and I was struggling for a solution that gets me out unscathed, but I don’t think that’s going to happen this time.

Frustrated and flustered, I got up and started pacing around my office. I really loved my office; it’s spacious, decorated tastefully and has an amazing view of the city. I stopped pacing in front of my glass cabinet full of awards and accolades from the past 8 years. ‘Youngest Entrepreneur’, ’Richest 30 under 30’, and many more. But this single mistake of mine is going to cost me my office, my reputation, my whole life. Helplessly, I switched on the television, hoping to distract myself. But as soon as it switched it on, I instantly regretted it.

‘Welcome to Prime Time. Today marks another level of spike in the cases of COVID-27 in the country. The disease which has gripped the whole world, continues to wreak havoc on out nation as the deaths due to this disease continue to mount. The entire nation is in the state of mourning, with no ray of hope on the horizon. Experts have said that the situation is only going to worse in the ….’

I turned it off as I couldn’t take any more bad news today. Well, it wasn’t exactly news to me as the situation has continuously been turning worse for a few months now. I still remember when I had graduated college back when the first outbreak of corona virus had begun. We were able to fight it off, but no one was able to predict that it was going to get so much worse. With each passing year we had seen so many mutations that we were no longer able to keep a track of it.

It was during this time that I had first started my business. The economy was in turmoil then and no one was hiring fresh graduates. While many of my classmates took sub-par jobs, I went out on my own. I started my own delivery business, which boomed because of the nation-wide quarantine, and I have never looked back since. Since today that is.

“Sir, that lady from yesterday is here again”, said my assistant on the intercom. My assistant had been with me since the very beginning, but he was always a sucker for sob stories.

Ugh. Not her again. Since her husband died of this dreadful disease last week, she has been coming daily to my office to seek help for herself and her kids. Her husband was my driver only for a couple of months and she thinks I owe her something. I wanted to be done with her so I could focus on my real problems.

I took my seat, pushed a button on my intercom and said, “Fine, send her in.”

Clad in the very same outfit I had seen her yesterday in, she walked in gingerly. Her legs were barely able to hold her up and she looked gravely malnourished. I gestured for her to take a seat, but she kept standing near the table.

“I am not sure I understand the purpose of your visit, I think I was clear yesterday that I did not owe any pending salary to your husband”, I said, hoping to get this over quickly.

She kept standing, looking at the ground for what seemed like an eternity. She finally looked up after some time and said,” I am not looking for a fortune sir. I am just looking for some means to feed my children.”

Great, another sob story. As if the film industry hadn’t made every bit of it cliched. But before I could say something, she continued, “The situation is worse than you can imagine. No one is hiring any kind of help that can expose them to the risk of an infection. It’s not just me sir, if you come to my locality, there hundreds, if not thousands, of households that share the same fate as me. I am begging you to help me.”

The prime-time news telecast was still fresh in my mind. What this woman was saying could indeed be entirely true. My dilemma from the morning was still lying on my table in the form countless papers and I just couldn’t think straight with all these things in my mind. First things first, I had to get rid off this woman in front me.

“You win ma’am. I will give you 4 months of salary of your late husband as a bonus. That should tide you till this wave of the virus subsides”, I told her while I pushed a button my table to summon my assistant from outside.

Her eyes were immediately filled with tears and with a shaky voice she said, “Thank you”. I consider myself to be a stoic personality but even I was moved a little when I looked at her.

My assistant came in and I instructed him to take out cash and give it to her. He nodded and gestured for the woman to follow him. As they were about to leave my office, another thought struck my mind. “Wait!”, I said loudly. They stopped in their tracks and looked at me.

I got up from my chair and walked towards that woman and said, “You said there were many others like you? Hundreds? What will they do?”. She looked at me for a second and then turned her gaze towards the floor as she replied, “We have been seeking help from every avenue. Our old employers, the government, NGOs, but this wave is so brutal that everyone has started shutting us out. I really don’t know how everyone will manage.”

I saw a tear roll down her cheek and fall on the plush carpet of my office. Instantly making up mind, I said, “I want to come with you to your locality.” I think more than her, my assistant seemed surprised at that. But I gave neither of them any time to protest and I moved past them, out to the hall.

I drove her back home in my car, and she took me to the tour of whole area. What I saw, shocked me to my core. I thought the media was overplaying the direness of the circumstances but that was clearly not the case. The streets were filled with elderly sick people who were abandoned by their own. I could hear faint crying and wailing from all around me. There were children in the streets who lost their parents to this virus and now had no one to look after them.

I looked at my tour guide and said, “This is absolutely gruesome. I… didn’t know situation was this bad. Can you do me a favour? Make a list of all the necessities your entire locality needs, and I will ensure that all of you get it. Include everything – ration, masks, medicines, etc.”

She looked at me like she had seen a ghost. I thought she will call me out to be a liar or question my intentions, but instead she just folded her hands and thanked me profusely. It might be a life changing event for her and others like her, but the amount being spent was just a chunk of change to me. We discussed some more specifics and by the time we were done, I was so beat that I just went home to take some rest.

The next morning, I started early for my office, hoping to get a head start on things. I was greeted at the reception by my harrowed assistant. “Sir, the phone has been ringing off the hook since last night. There are a ton of people who want to talk to you”, he said, adjusting his disheveled clothes from yesterday.

“Which people? What do they want?”, I said, realizing that I hadn’t taken care of those pile of papers from yesterday.

He handed me a newspaper which had the front-page headline of ‘Youngest Entrepreneur turns youngest philanthropist’ and said, “People from all over the country sir. Everyone has heard how you helped that community yesterday and they are hoping for help as well.”

“Make a list. Leave no one out. We will help them all”, I instructed my assistant who looked at me with wide eyes of surprise and exclamation.

“But sir, we can’t help them. You are indeed one of the top businessmen of the country but even you don’t have infinite resources”, replied my assistant, trying his best to talk some sense into me.

“Don’t worry. You know me, I always have a plan”, I told my assistant as I disappeared inside my office, leaving him to collate an impossibly long list of people.

3 days later

“I have spent the last few days assessing the graveness of the situation and I have finally come to a conclusion. I am requesting for funds from all over the country and globe to help us tackle the severity of this virus. These funds will be directly deposited with the government and several reputed NGOs to provide basic necessities to the affected people. I am fully committed to this fight and to prove my commitment, I pledge equal donation from myself and my company for every donation made to this fund. Let’s all come together in these testing times.”

My speech ended with a chorus of claps and whistles from the crowd of reporters sitting at my press meet. After I had seen the compiled list of people who needed help and I realized the resources this endeavor would require, I decided to go all in. So, I had called for a press meet to make my decision public and get my hands dirty in this battle.

I worked tirelessly for the next few days, barely sleeping, skipping a lot of my meals and took meetings with countless influencing personalities all over the country. It was during such a meeting that my vision suddenly started to get blurry and I started feeling light-headed before I ultimately blacked out.

When I came to, I slowly opened my eyes to realize that I was in a hospital as there were several instruments beeping near me. I sat up and removed all the wires form my chest and hand and wobbled out of the room. My assistant was out in the hall and he ran over immediately calling for a doctor, while some media personnel followed him.

My assistant caught up to me and said, “Sir why are you up? Please lie down, you need rest and ….”

“How long was I out for?”, I interrupted him.

“About 16 hours sir. You need to get back….”

“16 HOURS?! I WAS OUT FOR 16 HOURS AND YOU DIDN’T FEEL THE NEED TO WAKE ME UP?! DO YOU EVEN UNDERTSAND THE GRAVITY OF THE SITUATION OUR COUNTRY IS IN?”, I screamed at my assistant who just stood there like a traumatized child.

I looked at the cameras surrounding us who must have captured my outburst and looked back at my assistant and said, “Don’t let me rest from now on. Our country cannot afford it.”

He nodded and with a sudden burst of enthusiasm said, “Well in that case sir, you have meeting in 15 mins with….”

4 months later

“Try to understand my words son. You have the capability and talent, and I am giving you the opportunity. If you follow my guidance and we work hard, you will become the youngest Prime Minister in the history of this country”, said the leader of the largest opposition political party at the time.

“I understand quite well sir. But I am not a politician, I am businessman. I know I went bankrupt because I donated everything in my name, but now that situation of outbreak is under control, I will rebuild my business”, I replied with all the respect I could muster.

“Business and politics are not that far apart son. One runs after profit and the other, power. But both require talented and creative people like you to flourish. I have seen your natural tendency to help people and in this way you could help people on a whole different level. Your campaign to help the needy in this war against an unseen enemy has garnered you so much gratitude and respect from the whole country, that your win is practically guaranteed.”

“All right sir, if you really think I have what it takes, I will give it a shot.”

16 years later

“Sir, one last question. This is the end of your third successful term as the Prime Minster, would you be running for another one?”, asked the reported from one of the biggest media outlets.

“Ma’am, I wish I could take my decisions single handedly. But neither my success nor my decisions are of my own. The leader of our party and my mentor is the one who has always guided me. And there is also my beautiful wife and son, who have always been at my side these years and I would never do anything that affects them without their counsel. Speaking of which, my son is waiting for me, so you will have to please excuse me.”

I got up from the meeting room and went to my office, where my son was waiting for me. He had called me earlier saying that he had something to show me. I walked into my office where my son was waiting for me. He smiled and hugged me, then started talking about his football match next week.

“All of that is well and good”, I said laughing, “but isn’t there something you wanted to show me?”

“Oh yes! I almost forgot”, he said, as he grabbed some papers from his bag and handed them to me.

“I found them in an old box inside the safe at home. I was keeping some of ma’s jewelry inside when I spotted the name of your old company on these. Didn’t that company go under years ago? Then why have you kept these papers?”, queried my son inquisitively.

“Ah yes, it did go bankrupt”, I said as I reminisced the old memory, “but not in the way you think. I kept these papers because I wanted to tell this story to you, which I told your mother a few years ago.”

“What story? Everyone knows you donated everything, and the company could no longer be kept running.”

“That is true, but not whole story son. I wanted to preach you about a lesson, about having knife in a gun fight. You see, almost 16 years ago I had invested a huge amount of money in a foreign company which was into procuring crude oil. But unfortunately, even after thorough vetting, that company turned out to be a fraud and there was no oil coming in. One fine day I received these papers from a source of mine, informing me of this dire situation. Now, I had taken huge loans from various banks against the assets of the company and my own, all of which were to be repaid the following year. So, I had only two options, declare the mishap and face the consequences or flee the country with whatever I had. Only thing common of those two options was that I came out as a loser.”

My son was aghast with this knowledge. “Oh my God! I never heard about this part, what did you do?”

“Well”, I said grinning, “you never heard about this part because I did neither of those things. Instead, I took the third option. The country was in shambles at that time and I realized that even the tiniest bit of help would earn you eternal gratitude from someone. So, I decided to earn the gratitude of every person of this country. I donated all my money, which was not really mine anymore, to all. I decided to exchange wealth for power, which I received without even asking for it. The opportunity came to me and I seized it, and hence you see the successful political leader in front of you today.”

My son looked at me like I had discovered fire. He was filled with admiration and respect as he said, “You handled it beautifully dad! So you are saying that you decided to exchange the knife for a gun in the fight, you have got teach me this someday.”

I took the papers and threw them in a shredder as I said, “Of course son. This lesson is my only legacy to you. And for the record, I did not bring a gun to the fight, I brought a whole damn cannon.”

May 23, 2021 17:05

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