Stranger

“Hello”

“umm… who’s it?”

“Please don’t hang up. I just need to talk for…”

“You don’t know me?”

“No, but can we…”

“Look, I don’t have time for this”

“Can you just spare a couple of minutes; I just need to get something off my chest”

“I don’t care, OK? See a therapist, call a helpline. You can’t just dial any number and chat up, first those telemarketers and now…

And before I could hang up, she almost shouted, as if I owed it to her, “God! What a very selfish world. That’s it. I can’t take it anymore.”

“What”

“Umm…this is kinda last few minutes of my life…. And you are the last person I am talking to. I tried few more before, but….”

“What the fuck, yaar. You know what you re doing?”

“It is no use, I am through. If you can…”

“No, you idiot. You will die peacefully or otherwise. And I am the last person you called, who you think the police will come after.”

Call dropped. I just couldn’t believe myself what happened. I threw the phone on bed, and walked few paces away from it.

I had just missed the deadline; my career was going down the toilet if I didn’t put in the thesis next day. And my computer crashed. Then the phone rang. There were many urban legends circling about unsuspecting calls from unknown numbers. ‘If you pick up, the mobile phone screen goes red and some electronic waves will make you hemorrhage to death,” my friend had warned me last Friday. “If you get a call from number XYZ, don’t pick up. It will hack into phone, jam it and, and u will get an unusually fat bill,” was from her the other day.

‘And I will die of heart attack?’

It would usually follow my rational and informative refutations but she had interrupted, ‘that’s not funny. Why do you insist on seeing someone dead to believe people die? Look, do yourself a favor and don’t pick up calls that look strange.”

I grabbed the phone and checked the call again. I wasn’t careful to see that before receiving the call, I would have answered that anyway. There wasn’t anything suspicious about it. Even if there was, how would I know!! In that indecisiveness, I called back.

“Hello”

“You know what, I am screwed anyway. Thanks to your bullshit idea to open up to a stranger. I just had a fucking 2 mins conversation. No one talks 2 minutes on a wrong number.”

“Huh! That was pleasant. For the last time of my life, I wanted to talk to a human being, and I ended up talking to a self-centered cockroach. Go to hell.”

And she hung up. Again I threw my phone on the bed in exasperation and walked upto the wall. It’s a tiny hostel room just enough to house a bed, a study desk and a chair. When the desperation grows like a mushroom cloud from a bombed ground, the walls still close in. I punched the wall; a tiny red mark was planted on the milky white spotless wall. “What did I just do? Why did I call back? It will definitely establish I knew her well enough.” I kept punching a few more times, and I called her again.

“I am not the one going to hell. Even if I am, there is a lot of time. Right now you are going to hell”

A beep and I fell silent. I checked the number; I could not decipher the code. I wanted to call the police, give them her number. I was running out of time, what if she has initiated her suicide. I rushed past people I knew in my head and I stopped at my friend. Suddenly I felt stupid, I called again.

“This is a practical-joke, right? Tell me, it is…”

“No, it is not,” she said and a cold shiver ran down my spine, “Why do you keep calling back? I don’t wanna talk to a you.”

“Why? Are you going to dial another random number? Make someone else’ life miserable? Just because you fucked up your own”

“Look, I should have apologized for my call. I regret it, OK?. Leave me alone now?”

I sat down and sipped some water. So much happening in fast-forward crammed my head. I lied down and closed my eyes. Her melancholy and bitter voice was turning my anger and confusion to a dramatic mix of sympathy and sadness. I thought of the phone record, one from her 2 minutes 50 seconds. Three from me, 10 , 10 and 30 seconds. “How does it appear to the police?” “No, the fact that she is picking up the calls left a ray of hope”. A hope that there must be a sign of life-however thin-lingering in that dejected, dieing soul. I hurriedly pressed redial. The phone kept buzzing. The longer it did, my heart sank farther and farther. Not surprisingly, this time I was more worried about her and her imminent death than my own apparent and sure scuffle with the police.

“What now”

“Okay, let’s talk. I am sorry I acted like a dick earlier”

A hush of breath on the phone suggested, she must have smirked at the idea.

“So you called the police”

The earlier nervousness was missing from her tone. She appeared unusually calm.

“I haven’t. Do you want me to call the police?”

“No, there is no use”

“I didn’t. It took me a moment for me to stop worrying about my problems and realize what important you might had had to say.”

“I left a note saying you were just a random dial”

“Ahaa”

A suicide note, gosh! What she had done, I thought.

“And that you were a self-centered cockroach,” she added.

We both laughed, brief enough, just loud enough for the phone.

“Did you write all the things you wanted to talk about in the note?”

“Like a suicide note?”

“Yah”

“No, I didn’t like the idea”

“The idea?”

“Hmm”

“Do you want to talk about it now?”

There followed an unusual silence. I was scared. I felt like I was going to lose someone close. I screamed.

“Hello. Hello… talk to me dammit….”

“I didn’t like the idea of leaving behind a corpse for someone to shoulder.” she snickered sadly at the metaphor and paused. “I never liked the idea of having the last word. It defeats the purpose. It is better in conversation.”

“Your voice is groggy! Did you already do something? What is it… sleeping pills? Did you …. Please tell me, should I call the police, or… or an ambulance…, where the fuck, are you?”

“You said, you would listen to me?”

“I am listening, tell me where you are. I can get you out from any corner of the city. Tell me where you are. Don’t make it a Bollywood scene, just hold on till someone gets you”

“I wanted to talk to one last person. I wanted to know if there was one good reason to stay alive but it’s too late now.”

She fell silent for a few long minutes. I stepped out to the terrace and gazed into the starless sky which had even lost its nightly darkness to pollution and streetlights. She started to talk again. On the sickly reddish canvass her complaints on life took colors. In the vast sky clouds were insignificant, temporal, but thousands of meters beyond the reach of my stretched hand those could blur any ray of sunshine. I waited too long. I felt like an immortal tree whose leaves were long gone, branches were grey and dried, roots had rotten, its hollow trunk sunk in the termites’ mould, but having some cells with a wish of rain, it stood still years after years, while the arid land slowly turned desert, the birds abandoned its nest on it, the termites walked away, the ants marched out. There wasn’t a life around till the horizon except mine and my hope.

It showered briefly that night. But it’s the wind several minutes after the rain started, that found me sitting on the corner of the terrace leaning against the wall and woke me up. I was drenched and shivering, but there was something still warm inside. I tried to look up at the sky; the darting raindrops blurred it. I got up to get back to my room; I picked up the cell phone from rainwater. It was damaged beyond repair.

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