My Father, Me and Zena

My Father, Me and Zena

By Shad Hussain

Any reader who grew up in the 90’s would most certainly agree to the fact that the 90’s was by far one of the most diverse and demonstrative decades of the 20th century. The global events in those ten years extensively affected the lives of people all across the planet. Humanity had persevered by pushing forth in to the vast void of outer space, The Hubble Space Telescope followed by “Operation Desert Storm”, one of the most pivoting yet disproportionate wars waged against Iraq, led by The United States of America. The 90’s bore witness to one of the hardest hitting cyclones to have ever rained hell upon the people of Bangladesh after which on the other side of the world, America received her first reality check in regards to the existence of domestic terrorism, with the impeded implosion of The Oklahoma City Bombing.

For me personally though, out of everything that happened in those years, two things stand out as icons of what the decade was truly like. The first has to be the day the world found out about the twenty two year old White House intern who had the proverbial president of the free world in the palm of her hands (quite literally). The second most iconic thing would have to be those glossy posters of a brick red Lamborghini Countach, photographed from ultra-low angles that adorned the bedroom walls of almost every teenage boy of that decade. I was one of those teenage boys and for this article I shall be sharing and focusing on my automotive memories rather than President Clinton’s extracurricular activities!

My father and I have always bonded over the love of cars. Even till date, some Thursday nights, we sit together glued to Youtube, watching and discussing over hours of car videos. He has always been a “hands-on” kind of individual. I have always seen him work on his own car. In fact, one of my earliest memories as a child was huddling next to my father over the engine bay of his Daihatsu Charade, intensely intrigued at the complicated block of metal, cables, nuts and bolts, upon which he gingerly used his tools with the precision of a surgeon.

I can still clearly remember the first time I asked my father to teach me how to drive. I was fourteen or fifteen years of age. Our Daihatsu Charade was long gone and had been replaced by a modest ghost white, ’95 Toyota Sprinter. It was a Friday. We were coming back home from the mosque. He looked at me and said in a low baritone voice, “The ownership of any automobile is one of the greatest lessons a man can learn in life. Observe the road and my feet, while I drive, for the next fourteen days and then we’ll talk.” That was it. That was the end of that conversation. You see my father and his brothers are all tough men. Tough men hardened by the war. Nothing came to them easily. Having lost their father to the war, they were forced to grow up faster than most. In every aspect of my life, my father had taught me the importance of sincerity, dedication and dignity. On the thirteenth day, as we walked out of the mosque and headed towards the car, he asked me what I had learned. My answer was simple. I told him that I had learned the importance of having light footwork so that accelerating and slowing down can be done softly and smoothly.

He then handed the keys over and instructed me to go sit in the driving seat. I was obviously ecstatic. I looked back to see my two younger brothers who smiled back acknowledging the fact that this was awesome! I remember feeling confident as I sank into the seat, reached out and grasped the steering wheel, feeling the polished leather cover under my fingers. Driving was not going to be difficult for me. I had watched enough car chases in the movies and played more than enough “Need for Speed”. Reality I felt was not going to be too different and also the car was an automatic. Unfortunately for me though that day I was only allowed to reverse the car out of the parking spot and face it to the direction of the exit and not move an inch further.

It was on my twenty first birthday that my father handed me the keys to The Sprinter. Somewhere down the line, the ghost white exterior had been replaced with a deep shade of bottle green, mixed with dark green metal flakes. It was declared that from that day forth, she would be my responsibility. I look back now and realize that it was true what my father said. “The ownership of any kind of automobile is one of the greatest life lessons a man can learn.” In order to manage the inevitable expenses that came with the ownership of a vehicle, I sought out and got myself reemployed.

“She was my responsibility”

None of my friends were ever allowed to smoke in my car and obviously that was funny to them (which is absolutely fine) but it was important for me. I was emotionally attached to that “the almost new car smells” and tried my level best to keep it for as long as I could. Regardless of how good of a shape one tries to stay in, like people, cars too begin to show signs of age. The frequency of checkups seems to increase. Empty boxes which used to contain small spare parts begin to pile up in the owner’s home. The owner’s personal budget for repairs begins to stretch and then everyone except for the owner realizes the heavy truth and the truth is that it is time to part ways.

“Sell it. It’s just a car!”

“No. She is not just a car.”

She was my best friend, my therapist. I would take her out for a spin when I felt the need to just leave everything behind. I understood her and she understood me. As I said before, I was emotionally attached to her and naturally it took me a very long time to come into terms with what needed to be done. We tried our best, my father and I, to find her a better home. We rejected plenty of applicants, who wanted her but one fine evening, about two years ago, a young man showed up to our doorstep. In formal clothing and of medium built and height, he had an earnest face. He was a hardworking man. He was polite and displayed good upbringing. We liked him.

Reality is often one of the most difficult aspects of life and facing it head on then walking away with one’s head held high, regardless of the bruises, is truly a feat of great strength. Saying goodbye to that Toyota Sprinter was by no means easy but as they say, “It is far better to have loved and lost than to have not loved at all”. The years I had spent with her, realigned my perspective on the value of money. The time I spent with her allowed me to gain control of patience and temperament. It taught me the importance of prioritizing. I was a better man coming out of that relationship than when I went in. The day my father handed her over to me and I took her out for a short drive, I named her Zena after the fictional, strong yet seductive female character whose male counterpart was supposedly The Great Hercules.