The Hammer: A Short Story
Tom had come early, almost at dawn, to be sure he would find the place he wanted to park. He had parked across the street from the bank so that he could see its entrance. It was a quiet suburban street without much traffic anyway, but Tom wanted to be sure. He always wanted to organize everything in a way that would leave nothing to luck, but today he knew that old-lady Luck could be a critical factor in what would happen, what would possibly be the end of this act of despair.
It had been over half an hour now that he had been fighting with himself, trying to find the strength to open the door and get out of the car. Tom opened the sack next to him and searched inside it for the third time, took out the gun and stared at it. As he was putting it back in, his hand touched the hammer. Slowly, he took it out and looked at it again with the same question he had done it a few minutes ago. Thomas still could not understand why he had put the hammer in the bag! It was as if a voice in his head, had told him to put it in the bag when he was preparing the stuff he would take with him, down in his workshop. Maybe it was because it was hanging in its place, there in front of his eyes, a favourite tool --Tom liked to make wooden furniture-- something familiar to give him strength at such a difficult situation, and so subconsciously took it. He shrugged his shoulders as a sign of his acceptance that he had no clear explanation to give, and he put it back into the bag.
Tom looked at the bank and gripped the steering wheel tightly, with all his strength, trying to banish the unbearable tension. Head back and eyes closed, he whispered a few words, something like a prayer, but rather it was more to persuade himself to make the final move he had postponed the last half an hour.
"Oh, my God, I know You disagree with what I'm going to do. I know it's wrong, believe me, but I don't know what to do anymore! I tried so many things, I tried so hard, but nothing went well. All doors are closed. I cannot let my son die because of the lack of some bloody money..."
He remembered the doctors' words:
"If he does not have the surgery directly, his heart will not last! It's a matter of days, maybe not even a week..."
His two-year-old son, Andrew, had a rare heart disease that urgently needed surgery to be healed. This could only be done in a specialized medical centre, where the doctors had assured him that there were excellent chances for total healing, but... there was a big 'but' of fifty thousand dollars. This would be the cost of the surgery, and Tom's health insurance would not cover it, as he was unemployed for over a year after the closure of the furniture company he had been working for years as a chief craftsman. All this time he had managed to find only a few occasional daily wages, without insurance. Now without medical insurance, the medical centre did not accept any negotiations and the surgery couldn't be done.
So he had done anything he could to find the money. He tried to borrow, but everyone said on account of the economy and since he had nothing to mortgage this was impossible. He even tried to sell his kidney, illegally of course, for ten thousand dollars. But eventually, the elderly wealthy "gentleman" who would buy it, died of a heart attack! Luck plays the most strange games!
Tom had run out of choices and time. He could not leave his little angel helpless; he preferred to lose his life instead. So he gave in to this plan of despair. He never imagined that he would think an idea like that, how much more to execute it. He was an honest man with ethics and respect for others throughout his life, so he knew he would never forgive himself.
"I know that You are not to blame for all this...” he continued his strange prayer "...but I asked You for a solution, I begged you with all my heart and soul. I would do anything; You know it. No matter how it pains me to betray You, myself, and all my beliefs, I prefer to make a colossal mistake like this and save Andrew, than to do nothing. You know me, all my life I have been an honest man and I fought for the right without complaining. I have dreamed many good things about this family. But since the boss has cheated us and left abroad with our money, it's like I am swimming in the ocean with wild waves, amongst sharks, and You are nowhere. I ask you for the last time, help me, please! Even now I know you can stop me; You can find another way. Help me or please forgive me, even if I know what I'm going to do!"
He opened his eyes and looked back at the bank, which had just opened its doors. It was a small bank in a suburb of the city, and this was the reason he had chosen it. This bank had a limited amount of money due to the small number of clients, therefore had no guards but only a camera system. At the same time, the nearest police station was far enough, so a police car would need more than fifteen minutes to arrive at the bank. He did not care about the cameras. Anyway, after his son's surgery, he would surrender himself. Neither was he interested in much money. He would only take fifty thousand for the operation, nothing more. He knew from a friend who was an employee in another branch of the same bank that every morning there was about one hundred thousand cash for the day's needs. So he would take in his bag only the money he needed and would leave the rest.
He grabbed the door handle to open it. Before he got out, he checked the gun for the last time. It was fake, but an excellent imitation of the real model. You could not tell the difference. He wanted to be sure that nothing would go wrong. He could not bear even the thought of the smallest chance to hurt someone.
He put it in the bag and saw the hammer again. His mind started anew looking for the reason that he had taken it with him but stopped his mind immediately, determined not to miss more time. There was no time for other thoughts anymore; he had to make his move. He opened the door and got out to the street. As he examined the road, he said quietly:
"I know how absurd it is that I ask You this, but help me, please! I need You now! "
He went across and stayed on the sidewalk for a while to check. He noticed through the bank's window wall that one of the cash desks at that time was serving a woman in late pregnancy. He decided to wait for her until she finished and got out of the bank before he made his move. He did not want to expose her to a stressful situation and scare her by witnessing a robbery.
He put his phone to his ear, pretending that he was talking, being inconspicuous, as he was waiting. He had his back turned to the street in order to watch the inside of the bank. While he was watching the pregnant woman walking to the exit, he put the phone back in his pocket and prepared to get into the bank as soon as she came out. His heart started racing like mad from anguish. He felt the blood pounding in his veins, and he heard a hum in his ears. The next moment this hum was entirely covered by three successive loud sounds.
Initially, he heard an extended honk and almost at the same time, the sound of the tires skidding on the asphalt at high speed after sudden braking. Finally, in a split second, he heard the loud crunching sound of a car's body being smashed!
He turned, shocked, and what he saw took his breath away. A car, an expensive, luxury model, was "wrapped around" a big tree on the other side of the street, with its front twisted and flames starting to spring from under the hood.
Without a second thought, he ran to the flaming car. He noticed that there was a young lady in the driver's seat, which although she did not seem to have been severely injured --apparently because of the open airbag-- was unconscious. Thomas saw that the flames began to flare up. He realized that he had to get the girl out of the car immediately because there was a high risk of the vehicle exploding at any time.
He grabbed the handle and pulled it, but the door was bent and did not open. He used all his strength and tried again, but nothing. It was a sports car, so it had only two doors, and the other one was blocked by the tree. He decided that he had to break the glass to take her out as quickly as possible. He struck it forcefully with his fist but realized that there was no way he could break the thick glass with bare hands, and the flames were getting bigger.
Time was running out, and his mind worked madly, and then he had a "flash". The hammer! He looked around and saw the bag that he had thrown down. He quickly pulled out the hammer and, with a stroke, he shattered the glass. He entered half his body through the window and felt the fire burn. He knew that he might not have the time to make it now and this could be the end for both of them. But there was no way he was going to give up. With great difficulty, he unlocked the girl's seat belt, and as quickly as he could, he pulled her out through the broken window. The flames had grown higher, and he felt his skin burn. He picked up the girl in his arms and turned to get away from hell. As soon as he made a few steps the car exploded. He felt that this hell was surrounding him as he lost the world.
He opened his eyes. At first, everything was blurry. His whole body ached and understood that he was lying in a bed, but he could not remember how he came to it. His vision began to restore slowly. He could now see that nearly his entire body was covered with bandages and he was in a hospital room. He was facing the back of a woman who was looking out of the window. She was his wife. He tried to speak, but only a weak whisper was heard.
She turned in surprise and ran beside him on the bed.
"Oh! Thomas... Thomas... Thank God!"
Tears of joy ran from her eyes that could not believe the miracle.
"What... what... happened? Where am I?" Thomas said weakly.
"Don't you remember anything, my crazy hero?" She asked, smiling.
"No... I remember just something like a fire, but... I don't know..."
"You remember well, my love! You saved the life of a girl! You rescued her literally at the last moment from a terrible explosion, but you risked your own life. All TV news stations are calling you a hero for the self-sacrifice you showed. The people who watched you from a bank across the street thought that you died from the explosion. They described all of your heroic efforts and admitted that no one else dared to approach the car which was in flames. Doctors gave me very little hope because you had been hit by many metal parts on the back, and you were severely burned. You were in a coma for ten days, but God heard my prayers..."
She put her head in his hand and burst into tears, "Oh! my God, thank you, thank you! How terrified I was when I thought that I lost you my darling!"
Suddenly everything came to his mind, the plan of the robbery, the accident, his attempt to save the girl, the hammer - which by mistake, became a rescue tool -, his little Andrew. His mind froze! If he was in a coma for ten days as his wife told him, what had happened to Andrew? He turned to his wife with anxiety:
"What happened to our boy? Does his heart still beat? Tell me please that our son is still alive..."
"Calm down my love..." Elena appeased him "... Andrew had the operation two days after your accident. Everything went well, and the doctors say that in a week he will be able to return to our home as a perfectly normal and healthy kid."
Listening to these words, Thomas felt every pain departing from his body and his heart fluttering with joy. His little angel would now be healthy, his prayers had been heard! But then in his happiness, a question appeared. How did this miracle happen?
"But how? And the money?" He asked puzzled.
"Ha! The money!...", his wife laughed, "... the money, my hero! Everything was paid by Mr Marley, the father of the girl you saved. He is a very wealthy gentleman who said that the minimum he could do when he learned about Andrew was to pay the cost of the surgery and of course the expense of your therapy at this expensive hospital until you are entirely well."
Elena made a pause to kiss Tom who was looking like he couldn't believe his ears and continued:
"And it's not just that! When he learned that you're unemployed, he said there would be a job for you when you're ready to work again. You'll be able to work at any of his companies in whatever position you like. Until then, and for as long as you will be out of work, he offers our family anything we need. He has opened an account in both of our names at the bank which is across the street from where the accident happened - he says that he has chosen this bank for symbolic reasons - and there will always be a significant amount of money available to us. He does not stop thanking me for your heroic action to save the life of his only daughter. And the girl you saved does the same! She was here just a minute ago; she came to see if your situation had been changed."
Thomas could not believe what he was hearing. For a moment he thought he was still in a coma and he was dreaming of all this. He could not understand how God could be so generous to him after what he was going to do.
He turned to his wife and said:
"Am I dreaming all of this? Am I still in a coma?"
Elena laughed out loud. "No my love, this miracle is happening, and you are living it. Here, smell these wonderful flowers to be convinced."
She brought near to his face a flower vase with a bouquet of lovely flowers, which had an incredible scent. Thomas thought he probably had not smelled something so beautiful before.
"Who brought them?" He asked baffled.
"A curious young man who said he was your friend, but the truth is I had never seen him before. His name is Gabriel, and the most peculiar thing was that he was dressed absolutely in white! Shirt, tie, jacket, shoes, all dazzling white and spotless. He came earlier this morning, but he didn't stay long. He gave me the flowers, and he told me that if you read the card, you would understand. Ah! Now that I think about it again, he told me that today you would wake up! At that moment I did not pay much attention because I thought he was saying it just by kindness, but now it seems strange to me. How did he know?"
Thomas was confused by what he had heard before, but after that, his mind began to surrender! He couldn't remember knowing any guy named Gabriel!
"Can you read to me what the card says, please?" He asked Elena.
"Of course my love, maybe you will understand because it did not make any sense to me."
Elena took the card and read aloud:
"My dear friend Thomas,
I was never away from you. I have never forsaken you. I've always prepared lots of choices for you, and I always will, but you had to believe in them. I could never, and I will never force you to choose something. So when you, with all the power of your Soul, believed that I could help you at the last moment, I put the choice there, and you chose the hammer instead of the gun. Everything else is your own miracle because of your choice. I wish you a quick recovery because you have a lot to offer and enjoy.
the Friend you called at the last moment."
I would like to thank my friend and brother, Chris Mills, for the invaluable help he gave me to improve this story! He is an example of the unconditional offer, and I am so blessed to learn from him! God bless your Golden Heart Chris!
I also want to thank my other friend and brother, John Hansen, for his helpful remarks! God bless your Muse, John!
I am much obliged to both!
© 2018 Ioannis Arvanitis