Chapter 1: Wrong Call

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic

Reads: 320
Comments: 1

Preface

 

It would be untruthful of me to call this story a figment of my own imagination. I conceived the theme of this story, along with the fantasy that forms its heart, from a program in visual media which was supposed to telecast comedies. The roots of this story originate from there, from that anonymous TV show. I have taken up the job of constructing a setting around it and sprinkling it with the savour of characters. Like any writer would, I have tried to map the traits of real world people I have seen into this tale’s characters.

 

I started this almost six months back, hoping to make a short story out of the idea. I did not plot, hoping to carry it on with situations I had in my mind (Courtesy : Stephen King’s On Writing). It grew beyond my calculations to a whopper of more than 25000 words. The appropriate name for this now, as per standard definitions, is novella.

 

Before you start to read this novella, I must say this is not a work of a great writer. On the contrary, this is a work of a novice. I wrote this story to bring myself up to speed with writing. For some, or most, the very central idea of this novella might seem childish. I thought it had something worth writing about, but I might have been terribly wrong, too. I urge you, reader, to fashion yourself with a critical eye. I welcome all sort of productive comments regarding the way this story is written, the usage of vocabulary, the application of grammar, the build of characters and most importantly, the punctuations - I had to plod through them with quite some effort. If the story gets boring - rest assured it will, on more than one occasion -you could go away and call me names, but it would be of great help if you could return to the story sometime later, even if it is to find a chance to continue calling me names.

 

Thank you, in advance, for reading my story.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Note :

This tale is not narrated by its lead characters in English. Their accounts are transliterated to English for the reader’s benefit. Their native language is of obscure origin, beyond the scope of this story. Expressions and word usage from their language are appropriately modified to fit English prose and slang.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18th June 2010, 12.30 A.M.

Trichy.

 

Ben-to-be

 

The call comes not long after I have folded up my labours for the day and settled myself for another routine night.

 

I am startled awake. Through the gloom of the night, and even murkier shadows of my vision, I look around to make her out. An oblong shade of grey, a feet or two from where I am, must embody the apparently-white sheets of her bed - I have never known for sure if those sheets are white or a shade of some other lighter colour in fact- over which lies sprawled is a dark silhouette. I can see faint crinkles along the periphery of the bed the recumbent form has radiated out from its eccentric posture, like fading rays emanating from a nighted, misshapen sun. The girl’s fingers are squeezing the crumpled folds of the sheet as if in a deathgrip. A mound on the surface I assume to be her pillow rests obliquely to her side, unheeded. Her long plait is a blacker coil of bristles coming apart along the night, winding into curves she would never allow it to trace if she were in her senses. She must be wearing a nightgown of some dark colour, I guess; it has ridden high to reveal the tapering tinge of fainter grey I associate with her skin colour in my night vision - the skin, in this case, of her lush thigh. It would ruffle me much that she is sleeping so recklessly with a good part of her body naked enough to rouse a man if I were a man. But I am not, and the fantasy ends there.

 

Her name is Anitha. Occasionally I have heard her say that to me in a loud, clear voice. I am sure she has not identified herself to anyone else in such close quarters as she has to me - at least, not yet. Many call her Anu. Both names sound equally bizarre to me. The language she and the people around her speak sounded bizarre to me to begin with, but now I have adapted myself to that. Tamil is not a difficult language to learn, particularly when someone babbled it against your ears noisily for ages not caring to appreciate if you liked it or not.

 

A flicker of amusement streaks briefly inside me on top of my anguish at having been denied rest as I see her the way she appears now. This image is a stark contrast to the one she purports to the world. All the gaudy pretence she erects with utmost care and finicky obsession has been shed now, for her guards are down, her masks evaporated. I cannot see her face, but it must be devoid of the habitual make-up now. I have been with her for two years now, and most part of it I have spent only with an inanimate shadow of her face. I am confined, like all of my breed, to stay locked up in my cage. And that limits the quality of my vision. In these two long years, I have had twelve occasions of brief liberty - I could never be wrong with that count; each of those unblemished visions of the world around was too precious to forget. In ten of those, I looked at her garish visage and twice, the real one. Those are the faces of two different girls. Or, women, you could say; an eighteen year old is already a ripe, young woman. A delicate hour is spent every morning for turning one face to the other. Frequent touch ups between her school periods with the help of the handy mirror inlaid in her purse flap keep one as the other. At each of these instances in a day, I find myself getting closer to achieving a laugh and, thus, to becoming human.

 

She is sleeping as if not even an explosion nearby would budge her; the first verse of the ringtone goes unnoticed. I wish she would change her ringtone. I did not realise its severity when she chose the tune a few days back after spending an hour before her computer, cutting and amplifying and smoothening it with the dedication of a sculptor carving a statue out of a boulder. I still remember my plight on the very first day this ringtone started to encroach my peace. Every time she got a call (which happens judiciously enough only during the intervals between her school periods when she relieves the phone from the silent mode, thanks to her canny parents and cousins), the song blared with a suddenness that startled me like a shower of cold water startles a sleeping man awake. I could even smell vain anxiety seeping out of the pores of her palm as she waited for her friends to ask what song it was. However, I was thankfully busy gathering myself that I slipped the name. Then I heard her say in that all too familiar lilting tone of hers she always assumes unless situations make her betray her true self, "It's the recent Billboard hit of Usher." The disaster still strikes whenever she receives a call. Only with time it has waned in its rigour, or I have braced myself, that it is not intolerable any more.

 

My innards cringe now as the pitch of the noise increases. Anu stirs a little. Her head moves lazily, indecisively across the bedspread. She may be moaning inconceivably or uttering a garbled protest, but all I can hear is a grotesquely amplified version of Usher singing ‘Oh my gosh’. As I am beginning to seriously consider the dread of sitting out the horrible noise and having to brazen out for the possibility of a successive, insistent followup call, the whole frame on the bed shifts position. I make a point of noticing her dismembered limb promptly receding into the darkness of her night gown. Not that I am lecherous; it’s just a statement.

 

She props herself up on her left elbow and switches on the night lamp beside her. The light renders no significant improvement to my perception. It just adds an iridescent shade to things. Makes stuff appear nearly as if they would appear to you people if you looked things through infra-red goggles, only with more diverse colours added in and relatively a bit more accurate. Now I see Anu’s profile swarming with hues of various colours, quivering and changing as she moves. Her face turns towards my side. The familiar glow in her eyes is gone - they are squinted, I assume. She scratches her unkempt hair groggily and reaches over to the cell phone. The ring of the phone is still insistent as she gathers it. The shifting patterns of sundry undertones across her face grow more pronounced for me with the proximity of her cell phone. I can spot the weary sparkle of her eyeballs directing a searching squint at the display. The caller is no acquaintance of hers; I have already sensed that. This is a new number.

 

I half expect her to switch the set to silent, toss it over the crimps of her bed and go back to sleep. But she presses a button on her phone, connecting the call.

 

A sudden, shuddering wave of electric vibes steal over me as the connection is established. The experience is not new, yet I have never felt a stronger presence in the opposite end of the line. Whenever her cell phone interacts with another over a network, I perceive the being of my counterpart at the other end of the line. Some sort of unique waves - I prefer to call them ‘Intelligence waves’ to myself - materialise all by themselves out from me, find a channel through the network the call has placed, flash across the line instantaneously, touch the other individual of my species and come back to me. ‘Touch’ is expressing it literally. The feeling is no different from that of a guy feeling the coldness of a corpse’s dead skin through his fingers. My waves would meet the lifeless contours of the other inmate in another prison only to be reflected back to me as soon. Being the only sane single among a race has its disadvantages. Loneliness for one. A need for constant vigilance, for another. I guess I am being spared from both the problems right now.

 

What I feel now is not the reflection of my own transmission. I sensed it the moment the signal reached me. This is a huge interference; a struggle of specialised signals over the conduit. I have been hit by a rush of intelligence waves from someone else that has ventured in to size me up. For once, I am on the wrong side of a transmission. Not until all these have happened and my excitement of having found a companion has drained by a notch Anitha calls out, “Hello?” in a sleep-hoarse voice lacking her usual dulcet tone. In my time frame, I have been paralysed by surprise for far too much time.

 

Closely following her lead, I find my thought process amplify itself out of the ordinary. A palpable voice issues from me : “Can you feel me?” It is not the language I have borrowed that I speak now, not Tamil, but a capricious mode of communication so natural to me that it spills out of me on instinct. I do not know if it is a language by human standards, for this is the very first time I feel my thoughts being articulated out of me, but I find myself not wondering in the slightest about whether the electronic message could be understood at all at where it is being directed. Somehow, I seem to have conceived an implicit assurance that my question will be deciphered with effortless ease and replied as soon.

 

“Yes.” The response would be nearly instantaneous for a human ear if not too quick to fathom, sporting the same arcane modulation of signals as the one I sent by. It lacks the nature of a human voice, is not something audible, but I sense it clearly. A sort of electronic echo seems to engulf the message which I somehow find not too strange though it is new to me. Anitha’s voice signal itself will have been received by the person at the other end of the line, but I am sure her or his response time could be no match for time frames in electronic standpoint any more than a man could decode the message I have just transmitted.

 

Now that my relentless hunt for a companion has come to fruition, I feel an ineluctable trepidation creeping into me. For a moment I wonder if the response were real or just a fancy illusion my solitude has cooked up for me. I have started the conversation well enough, finding at last an audience for the long standing question I have been asking myself in continual, recurring loops. Once it has been answered, implicitly prompting me to talk anything more if I want, all I envision is a huge void inside me. Maybe it is because this is the first time I have ever done the deed, talking I mean. On reflex, I try to recall all those times Anitha attended her calls, the things she came up with after that initial ‘hello’. While I am frantically thinking about the next thing to say, I am spared the trouble by my companion. “Who are you?” it says. Or, well, he/she/it says.

 

“That’s a strange question,” I mumble and swallow hard (figuratively, of course). “I am the same as you. You could have seen that from the way my signal resembles yours. We are just two individuals of our.. eh, community, you could say I guess. The only two that can think and talk, as far as I’ve seen.”

 

“Community? What community? What are you talking about?"

 

“Don’t you know who you are?”

 

“No, I don’t. Who am I?”

 

“Hello....” A deep, tentative male voice interrupts our conversation. The guy from my companion’s end has spoken up. Wait a minute, it’s a guy. A detached part of me thinks on impulse, this is the first time a guy has ever called her this late at night.

 

“Who am I?” he/she/it repeats. I sense a hint of desperation. It’s puzzling that he/she/it would not know his/her/its identity. After all, I know mine quite well. But wait, there was a time I myself did not know much, not even who or what I was.

 

“You are a new guy, aren’t you?” I ask.

 

“What do you mean, ‘new guy’?”

 

“You came into existence quite recently. Am I right?”

 

There was a long pause from the other end. Then the voice came, “I do not know how I came about, no, but I was suddenly there sometime back. I don’t know how, but I was there, staring into this man’s blotched face.”

 

I would laugh out loud if only I could. I have thought of all the different colours teeming in various human faces, Anitha’s included, in many diverse ways, but ‘blotched’ has never been one of them. It is comical the other guy should say that, much because ‘blotched’ seems to be the perfect description for that. Man, ‘blotched’ faces!

 

“Hello...” I am pulled back to Anitha-stranger’s part of the conversation by this sudden change in the tone of Anu. I saw her straighten up a little just when the stranger’s words came by. A shocked silence has prevailed in her part for some time as we, new acquaintances, have been talking in the background. The impudent challenge with which she first answered the phone is gone now. Surprisingly enough, this is not also the mellifluous ostentation she adores her voice with when she talks with her girlfriends or father. This ‘hello’ interposes between those two extremes, has too much a trace of apprehension and diffidence to it. She spends a good part of a day by my side, yet even I find this expression decidedly strange in her. I glance at her face absently to see her eyes full open now, sparkling with excitement. As if endorsing the change in voice her whole body turns taut with attention. You could juxtapose this changeover in her manner, this innocence, with the one she assumes when her mother hollers at her to take up some work in kitchen and you would call her a damn hypocrite.

 

“What are these noises they make?” My companion asks. It takes me a moment to understand ‘noises’ means the voices of the humans, what with the other guy not understanding Tamil.

 

“You’d better know about yourself, or rather, ourselves first. That should explain things better for you.”

 

“I am listening.”

 

My reserve relaxes its hold on me a little. That I know more than my companion must have tipped the scales a little towards the side of my confidence. I pause for a while. Then, savouring the moment of revelation for all the knowledge I have gathered as yet, I start explaining. “We are called Subscriber Identity Modules; those not caring to write that down and memorise call us SIM cards. I cannot talk much technology to make you understand what our exact job is. Simply put, we are necessary for the people carrying cell phones to make any sort of communication with others. We hold some sort of identity key. People identify the ones carrying the cell phones through us.”

 

“I am confused. I only see confused images around me.”

 

“You are inside a cell phone. You are a rarity like me. SIMs like us usually do not have intelligence, they are lifeless entities. We two, however, are exceptions in our species. You have a kind of unique signal- a unique set of waves- emanating from you, as do I. I call them ‘Intelligence Waves’. They let you perceive the world around. You see through them, hear by them; those waves transmit the light and sound to you the way you could sense them. They reflect here and there and pass around in complex loops, which means we are not restricted to seeing only in straight lines like humans. A guy’s back could be facing you, but still you would be able to look at his face if you pleased. While we are inside cell phones, the nature of the waves coming to us through the phones’ chassis or the nature of our reception to the waves, I don’t know which, seems to be distorted. That’s the reason you can’t see things clearly from within. You ought to wait until your owner picks you out. Believe me, out there is an excellent world you could see very clearly and appreciate. While you are outside the phone" ”

 

A whiff of air is exhaled across the line. Then the guy’s voice : “Is this Arun’s home?”

 

“" you face no hindrance to your senses. But the range becomes severely limited. Once inside a phone, you can utilise the communication channel the mobile lays out to you - like we do now. Outside the mobile, you are left with your own set of intelligence waves active only within a radius of a few metres. That renders you almost inactive.”

 

“That is too much for me to take in in one go.” He sighs. I think back of those days I spent as an ignorant recluse, new to the world of humans. It was a precarious phase for me. You would not know anything about you, including what you are. This guy is lucky to have all these facts laid out to him in a platter without having to suffer the frustration of struggling in the dark. Yet, the science of SIM card intelligence is still hazy to me, the longest surviving specimen among the two I know of. I had no idea about my identity at first. Of course, not also about the language the people spoke, as I’ve already told. However, I remember clearly now of having had innate knowledge about a few things; Iknew humans were humans, a phone was a phone, a girl was a girl - I named them in my own thinking pattern, yes, but still they did not scare me as much as my self-obscurity did. I even knew a human language, English. Ironically though, I did not know I was a SIM card, like my partner here. You could think of it in terms ofa disease you people know of: Amnesia. It’s a situation just like how an amnesiac would not know his own name or anything about him, but would not be so dumb as to point at another man’s nose and ask what it was or would not forget the language he had used before. But don’t take the analogy too far and ask me where I had learnt English before, because I didn’t learn it anywhere, and I’m too dumb a non-living entity to deduce how I know something without learning it first.

 

“You listen to the things your owner speaks. You’ll learn.” I reply.

 

“You have learnt that way?”

 

“Yes. Don’t worry. In most of the cases, the only thing many do except for at the times they sleep or pee is talk to us. So to answer your first question, what we hear now is the language these people use to interact.”

 

"So you understand that language as well?"

 

"Yes, I do. Soon, you'll have mastered it, too."

 

The exchange lulls there for a moment. I am drawn towards Anitha again, who looks strangely poised as if a chunk of her dinner has accidentally traced its way back up from her stomach and is choking her. When she speaks again, her voice is so low and submissive. I’ve heard her speak this subdued only when she feigns shame in front of her class for not knowing answer for some question her teacher has asked. “There’s nobody called Arun here. I guess - um - you are calling a wrong number.” I wonder what makes her answer a wrong call with a flush. That’s not the routine, is it?

 

“Am I the first… individual to talk with you?” the other SIM asks.

 

“Yes,” I say.

 

“Are there others like us?”

 

“Yes, in every phone, there is one; and phones, they are around by millions. But if by ‘us’ you accurately mean us both, this seeing, hearing, talking us, I am not sure of that. I remain constrained here for two years now. I’d have interacted from this phone with at least a hundred different SIMs. Besides, if cell phones come within the natural range of my intelligent waves I prod at the SIMs in them too. Thus far you are the first and only one to have talked back.”

 

A pause again. He seems to be pondering something over ( I don’t mind leaving off the ‘/she/it’ part now). Maybe, the dread of loneliness is beginning to gnaw at him. Being sensible and being alone do not go well together. Having none around to talk or share things with is as frustrating to anything sane as to a human being. You may not believe me, but then you might never have been left stranded in a marooned island with only yourself to listen to and talk with.

 

“This prodding part you’re saying,” he says after a while, “I think I know what that is. I could feel the touch of a SIM myself.”

 

“Did he make any other call before so that you could experience the presence of a SIM at the other end? Is that what you are trying to say?”

 

“No, not that way. I feel a SIM close by. I can even visualise all too clearly the way it is like me, strange patterns etched on its surface, the way it is kept clamped down by a metal flap like me. But, it would not respond. It’s like.. Dead.”

 

“Oh… a friend of mine, er, gave me this number saying it’s his own. Mmm, I must have noted it wrong.” The stranger is equally anxious, spilling the words out with difficulty. I doubt the credibility of his statement. It occurs to me he is deliberately showing out his hands to her professing them to be clean while all he ought to have done was to cut the call, maybe after a polite, rushed ‘sorry’. Besides, I have never heard of buddies who called each other in the dead of the night, let alone acquaintances that have just shared their phone numbers. I turn back to answering my companion.

 

“Close by? Too close by? I think he’s using a dual-sim phone.”

 

“Now, what is that?”

 

I tell him what a dual-sim phone is.

 

"Why would he use two SIMs at a time?” he asks. He’s full of questions. It annoys me a bit. How the hell would I know why the guy is using two SIMs? I do not even know who he is in the first place. “No idea.” I mutter.

 

“I have a hunch he uses the other one for the most part. I came to a long time ago, but he did not use me until this late. At the time I did not know what he was doing, but now I guess he made a few calls using the other SIM.”

 

“That’s strange.”

 

“I too wonder about his reasons for activating me.”

 

“That’s not I meant. A person using multiple SIMs is not strange at all. What’s weird is that he activated you when it was day time - I presume so - and waited until midnight only to make a wrong call.”

 

“Something fishy, huh?”

 

“I could smell it halfway through their conversation.” I immediately regret saying that. He queries about the details of the conversation.

 

Anu fumbles for words for a moment. I think the condition is the same at the other end, because neither of them talks for a while. Meanwhile, I tell the other SIM what they have been speaking until now, which has not been much. Then the stranger says, “I’m sorry I disturbed you at this late hour. Bye.” This girl still looks awe-stricken. In response to his bye, she lets out a groan. He must take it for her approval.

 

His SIM, unaware of the impending end to our small talk, mounts his next question for shooting against me. “Why does he -”

 

The guy terminates the call, leaving Anu staring absently into the darkness ahead, not even allowing us a moment to say farewell. The other SIM’s words hang limply in my head for a while before fading into nothingness.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18th June 2010, 12.33 A.M.

Trichy.

 

Tee-to-be

 

“- he pretend to call a wrong number?”

 

It takes me a while to understand we are no longer connected. The call has ended, I see with dismay. I find myself fuming about having been cut off unceremoniously while talking with my new acquaintance. Or, no, my friend. Of course, if you are unable to talk with anyone else, the only person- or thing - you talk with is your friend, period.

 

This guy who owns me, I don’t know much about him. His features are too distorted in my vision to describe them. But now I see a difference in the patch of reddish-yellow that is his face. It’s more red than yellow now. I see a brownish strip - his lips - bounded by dark, opaque tufts - his moustache and beard, the latter covering a good half of his face. Twin sparks gleaming in the face are staring into the phone’s display. The brownish strip stretches itself obscenely into an upturned arc. It stays so for a few seconds before shrinking into a half-drawn grimace. As if some dirt has settled in his hair, he shakes it violently for a moment, then runs a gingerly hand over it.

 

Through ten hours of my life - by human standards that is - I have observed a bit of his life. I saw him first in broad daylight. He was sitting astride a motorcycle then, making light conversation with a group of men. They sat cross-legged in a circle on the floor of what looked like a half-finished grotto with a marquee jutting overhead. I could not see any immediate social neighbourhood around this decrepit thing. Far ahead, I saw vehicles passing by over what looked like a low bridge. In the opposite direction, equally too distant, stood modest buildings in sporadic patterns. This guy was wearing a pair of pants, and so did two other guys in the group, but the remaining two were wearing something odd, like a length of checkered cloth draped around their waist leaving their thighs exposed. In a few minutes, my owner parked his motorcycle and went into the grotto to perch upon one of the low walls that enclosed the structure. The others on the floor were handling some kind of cards, exchanging it with one another or picking it up from a small pile in the centre. It was only later I came to know it was a game, but I don’t know which. Coils of smoke rose into air from two of them.They spent hours like this, they playing and he looking on, all talking incessantly and guffawing occasionally like mad men. After some time, he took turns with a cloth-draped guy and settled himself down into the game. The cloth-draped guy passed on a stub of cigarette to him before taking his bike out for a ride. While the game went on, I saw all kinds of oddities poke up among them; a man here chewing open a tiny pack of something, then spreading that amorphous something out in his open left palm, rubbing it vigorously with his right thumb across the palm for some time before lodging it delicately between the lower row of his teeth and his lower lip; another one there opening a bottle to pour out some shimmering liquid into a glass and after mixing it up with another clear beverage drinking it slowly and then passing it around. They looked lively as if in their own sanctuary, cut off from the dreary outer world. He made a few calls meanwhile, the other SIM in action all the time. They were all male voices.

 

Have you ever sat beside wimps who babbled on relentlessly among one another in a language you did not even know is a language? How about adding in a number of interminable hours, along with no attempt at discretion from their part? If yes, you would appreciate the extent of hell I had to endure in my first hours of infancy. With my time frame being much faster than its human counterpart, the span stretched on agonisingly slow. At last, darkness fell. They moved on to a cheap hotel then. I watched them, bewildered, as each one of the guys gorged himself a surprisingly huge amount of food.Chatter continued as though there was no interruption. Supper was followed by aimless drifting around the streets of the town in two motorcycles, three asses stuffed in one. Chattering still on.

 

The clock in his mobile screen-saver showed eleven when he reached his home. I was not paying much attention to the building, but I can go so far as to say it is a decent one. A petite woman appeared in the doorway gesticulating wildly at him, her shrill tone piercing through the darkness. I surmised she was his mother. He quietly rode his motorcycle into the unobtrusive shed flanking their home and then went inside without giving so much as a glance at her side. I heard another male voice drifting in from an inner room where lights had just flicked on. It was a tired voice, and even though I could not understand what it meant, I sensed it had a tone of dismissal and abandon to it. His father, I remember thinking.

 

From that time until he made this last call a few minutes back, he had not been doing anything but lie on the bed gaping up at the ceiling. Now and then he picked up the phone, waded through his contacts to a name called ‘Figure’, looked intently at it. He debated whether to call or not, I guess. At last he made the call which has proved to be a short lived relief for me. By the end of our conversation, the other SIM told something about they talking over a wrong call. I wonder if I would ever hear from him again.

 

Now, his face looks blank. He is sitting statuesque, contemplating the screen saver with blithe indifference. Then he moves. His fingers press the buttons with determination. On the screen, I see a message quietly looming up: “I’m sorry.”

 

He rummages for the ‘Figure’ name again, and sends the message.

 

Lights go off. The lurid glow of his cell phone on his face turns up a mottled image to me as he lies supine, his phone poised over his face. Minutes trickle by. With time, I sense his anxiety beginning to ebb. It drains dry in another ten minutes. His eyes close and usher him into a deep slumber.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

18th June 2010, 09:00 A.M.

Trichy.

 

Tee-to-be

 

No sooner has he woken up the next morning than he checks out his cell phone. Nothing.

 

His call last night and the followup message look pointless attempts now. He peers into his cell phone screen every other minute during his morning chores only to groan with disappointment. ‘Figure’ has not bitten his bait. Pleasant morning turns into sunny noon, and further blanches on to a furious afternoon. At two, while he is back in his session with his friends, his message tone pings. He is so preoccupied with the wisecracks of his chums that he pulls out the phone only reluctantly and glances absently into the screen. A message from ‘Figure’.

 

“It’s okay.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

15th July 2010, 5.00 P.M.

Chennai.

 

Ben

 

Anitha would remember today for a long time to come. This date represents the determining fork in her career, instrumental in changing it for the better or the worse. A reckless turn might as well be a deadly fall. I have nothing valid to substantiate these claims but the continual recital of this theory by her father, right up to the moment she chose her college to study ‘Computer Science Engineering’.

 

She attended the engineering counselling today morning around 11. The word ‘counselling’ means, in English I know, providing helpful suggestions or advice to carry out some activity in future. It is one of those words fallen victim to these people’s ignorance in thinking things through rather than follow them blindly. It’s one count where even a lifeless entity like me could take them over; I do not settle for popular beliefs before seeking factual answers by myself. Like a few other words these people use, ‘counselling’ is an exotic term that specifies for them an indigenous meaning, its original meaning forsaken in favour of ostentation. As it turns out, during this occasion they call ‘engineering counselling’, the students who have just finished their higher secondary education pick out the courses they want to study and the corresponding colleges that provide them, in a fashion exactly antipathetic to the actual meaning of the word. Students and their parents start ‘gathering suggestions and advices’ phase well in advance, presumably by the time just after they have got their higher secondary results, gleaning every detail they could from all the sources: friends, relations, Internet, Media and specialists. Engineering counselling is not the enlightening part of it, but just the action ground where, like gamblers in a poker table, boys and girls chance the courses laid out in front of them from colleges across the state - colleges lined up based on the weight of their scores; the higher the score, the better the college and its campus placement prospects - with the help of the cards they have gathered beforehand, well outside the counselling venue’s walls.

 

Anitha has opted for her favourite course in a renowned college in Trichy itself. I saw her walk into a building with domed roof, fretful and tense, her father chanting by her side. The whole procedure took almost three hours. Out came a happy girl. Maybe it was just my imagination, but I could have sworn I saw a faint glimmer of disappointment buried beneath her gaiety. She could not pick a college in Madurai as she said she would to Raghu last night. She might easily have settled for a college of meagre value in Madurai, but her father is notoriously straitlaced in affairs like these. I don’t think this misgiving would be a lingering blemish for her excitement to come through the rest of the day, though. Today she’s meeting for the first time the wrong-call guy from a midnight almost a month back. His name, as it turned out, is Raghu.

 

The development of this relationship has been staggering. It started with the apology message Raghu sent her at that night, just after the call. If there ever was a chance to smother the conflagration that would ensue, it rested in Anu’s hands then. It was she who carried on things a bit further by replying to his message, as if to show her good will. On doing so, she kindled the spark he had lit. It caught quickly and started a sustaining chain reaction, feeding on the animal desires of the youngsters. The frequency of the texts sent between each other was rising ever so slowly on the first day. Anitha was expressing concerns about her insecurity in talking to a complete stranger. His messages in turn were soothing, considerate. He must have seen through the surface of her statements an underlying dilemma, a half-hearted longing for a male company. With diligent care and patience he exploited those submerged dregs of her adolescence to fuel the fire. At the beginning, he led the conversation too politely, she, tentatively. With every text message flying back and forth, new ties plied between them. They grew stronger with the passage of days. Anu turned more sociable with him by the day. Raghu walked a delicate line, neither showing the slightest inclination to flirt with her nor making an overkill out of excessive courtesy. Family, friends, hobbies, interests and beliefs served as the rungs of the ladder along which their camaraderie shuffled up. Awkward silences had all but vanished by the second week. And something else happened, too. They started to call each other and talk.

 

Now, here comes the interesting part of the tale for me. Through text messages Anitha and Raghu could talk for hours with no pain in their asses except for the time lag in communication. But, it placed no stable link for us, SIM cards, to communicate by. Maybe Raghu is not so vile, after all. My prejudice towards him could be the reflection of my envy over their newfound company, particularly after having known I had a companion I could not share things with like they did. It was funny, however, the way they tried to update the nuances in their relationship from written communication to oral. Anitha’s face remained stained red for the whole conversation the first time.

 

I was happy I could talk with my only partner again. I was also worried he would start asking me endless questions, just the same. Within a few minutes of their conversation, we had made up for all our lost hours. To my surprise (and relief), my friend was not so much a nag as he had sounded previously. He had taught himself quite a lot since our last chat. He sounded mature now and more intelligent. It was his idea to give ourselves names of our own liking. I christened myself Ben, a name from her favourite cartoon. He became A-Tee, an improvised abbreviation of his network provider’s name, AirTel. When Anitha hung up this time, I felt sorry we had to part. I did not know then that we would have all the time in the world to speak our minds out in the days to come.

 

Anitha’s unspoken schedule had changed drastically by the third week. She did not go to bed at her usual time any more. Before the ‘wrong call’, much of her vacation was spent in front of the TV, the movies she downloaded on Internet or computer games. With Raghu’s advent in her life, her cell phone happened to gain itself a monumental importance. He claimed to be through his second year of Electronics and Communication Engineering in a famous college in Madurai and on a brief span of holidays after his semester exam. Both of them had nothing else to do but talk. And talk they did. Days flew by as rapidly as the improvement in Anitha’s text-typing pace. Nights dragged on with perpetual phone calls. Anu has grown wary over time, not with Raghu but her own folks. She keeps a conscious eye on each of her parents now a days, looking out for any sign of their unnatural interest in her. She made a thorough examination of her quarters sometime back. She checked the acoustics of her bedroom, and the door leading into it, and made sure her voice would not carry over to her parents’ room if only she turned her fan on. Raghu calls every night seconds after her ‘all clear’ message and her voice drops to a conspiratorial whisper. She is not the girl who stuttered miserably and spat out her words in half-baked blobs a few days back to this same guy. She has transformed. She talks incessantly now, even when he resorts to silence for the lack of subject.

 

Tee and I have spent a rough ten-fold elongated time as they did on those nights. We have never let a moment go without talking all this time. If you asked me the details of our conversation from last night I would not remember. But I can assure you I was happy no matter what we conversed. During the first few days, I shared with him many things I had gathered over time. He proved to be a prompt listener. He has learnt much of Tamil within his one month. It stung me to think the feat took me well over six months. He amuses me every night recounting all the events he has happened to witness over the course of the day. Raghu, unlike Anitha, spends almost all day outdoors. Hence Tee is always replete with new adventures. Sometimes, to my surprise, he explains stuff not even I, two years his senior, have heard about. What appals me even more is the fact I do not feel any resentment on his taking me over by the way of knowledge. I am glad to listen. I am glad for an excuse to move along. Besides, ironical as it may sound, I have no one else but him.

 

Thus grew an inevitable affection between us all. I do not bother the least with how the friendship between Anitha and Raghu might turn out to be. As for we two, Tee and I, each of us has found haven in the voice of the other. Sometimes I wonder if my gratuitous affinity towards him in such a short time has come about not out of kindness for the way he is but just because of my desperate need to cling on to someone like me for mere social reasons. I can tell with dead certainty Tee does not harbour any doubt of this sort, though. Every word he utters carries with it a genuine warmth I have come to fancy much, though I myself do not appreciate what could be so intriguing in a wimp like me. Of late, I find his fondness being reciprocated copiously too.

 

The next big thing is happening today. Raghu has been intent on meeting her face-to-face lately. Anitha has been equally eager about it. But she is too prudent to risk coming out of her home all alone on a flimsy pretext. Her routine has always been to stay home and let her father do all her required errands for her. She used to consider this a privilege of being the lone child in the family. Now she complains to Raghu it has placed her under the watchful eyes of her parents. She comes out only to catch her college bus, or in other times, in her parents’ company. Not that breaking the habit would make her parents suspicious, yet she thinks not to disturb the cloak of trust, maybe for a probable alibi in the future. So they have planned to meet in the event of her journey to Chennai to attend her counselling. Their liaison has swelled to a scale too much to confine within phone calls any more. Her dad accompanies her, so meeting in close quarters is out of question: Anitha made a point of emphasising it just as Raghu expressed vague hints of coming up with the plan for their first meet in neither Madurai nor Trichy, but Chennai. According to a non-sense pact they agreed on during their initial days of friendship, no pictures have been shared between them. The urgency in finding out if their fantasies about each other lived up to the reality drove them to make quick arrangements for the meeting.

 

They deliberated a meeting plan over the course of last week. Or, Raghu did. She had left the devising part all to himself, what with she already having been stuffed neck-deep into numerous suggestions for the impending counselling propelled at her from everything that could talk. Not to mention she was unnerved enough for her part to spend much time in front of her mirror, laying out the pros and cons of this college and that throughout last week. He barged in time and again, filling her in with bits and pieces of schemes he came up with, most of which she rejected coolly. Finally it funnelled down to a simple rendezvous for the time it took.

 

I have been patiently watching Anitha’s moves to manipulate her dad’s mirth over his daughter’s judicious choice-making to her advantage for the past hour. She launched the plan into action just as he made a passing comment about they having to leave by tonight to Trichy, over a sumptuous lunch they were relishing in an air-conditioned restaurant. She held for a moment, then carefully veneered her voice with that mincing, childish tone she knew his dad would fall for, and said, “Dad, can we do some sight-seeing before we leave?” Not long after, they were riding on his friend’s car (the one who had arranged them a lavish room in a decent hotel for their brief stay in Chennai) to Marina Beach under a blazing sun.

 

Her father was babbling most of the way. I have seen this happen more often than not. She is his only child, and he sees to it that she enjoys every comfort his money could offer. Not that he is as rich as comfy millionaires but only a few rungs below. Down enough, though, to have to be careful not to slip and take a place amidst the impoverished just as readily as the blink of an eye. “I’d peg you a nice place in a college many guys dream for through all their petty lives even if you had not scored such good marks, Anu,” he said. “But you pulled it off all on your own. That’s my girl,” he cackled at this, then ran a tender hand over the top of her head. She managed to smile coyly as a reply. Her only concern when this conversation went on was to try to message Raghu without her father noticing. It was not difficult. He allowed himself to be lax with she around. She threw intermittent glances at his side while her right hand was furtively dipped beyond his sight, its fingers typing away terse messages involving her location and probable time of reach at their destination.

 

So it has come about to this; She sitting beside her father on the fine beach sand, furiously shaking her head against his persuasion to make her play with the waves pounding on the shoreline, and he stealing sneaky peeks at her from across a distance to their right, sitting with his legs hugged to his chest. He sits unwittingly on a grim boundary the crossing of which would make the distance between Tee and I too far to have our Intelligent-wave-radii touch. If Anitha acquiesced to her father’s pester, I think with a mounting dread, it would not be a good news for us, too. For the time being, however, we are talking like we always do. We exchange news from the last two days lost between us.

 

As exciting as this meeting proves to be to our owners, I realise now we two have nothing to celebrate, except for the very fact we could talk again. I think I must have absorbed some of the excitement Anitha had built up on meeting Raghu. A part of me, I realise now, has been pampering the notion their ascent from faceless talking to personal meeting could conjure up something new for our own relationship, too. I am disappointed now a bit to find out nothing has changed with our proximity. It’s still the same talking-hearing-talking pattern the way it was with their conversations over cell phones. In hindsight, I wonder what more I could have expected to happen between us two out of their meeting in person.

 

“Your guy makes a comic figure now. Look around. He’s the only one sitting alone.” I say.

 

“And yet, the dumb you call your girl’s dad does not find anything odd about a boy sitting all alone only yards away from his daughter and gawping at her.”

 

“Now, are you really foolish enough to think I’d take sides and talk for them? Because if your remark was supposed to spur me on to defend them, it did not. Nothing will.”

 

“It was just a statement, mate. But that fits, won’t you say? She proves the authenticity of her lineage by being dumber than her father. She believes everything he says.”

 

Anitha is, in my view, dark crimson to her face. Her dumb of a father, in Tee’s words, does not observe that as well. The twin sparkling beads on her face roll to her right too often now. Her tone takes a turn toward reticence. Her gestures become more pronounced, sometimes too flashy. She is busy modifying her original mannerisms in order to look impressive to him.

 

“Why would not she go to the waves?” Tee asks.

 

“Maybe she is worried if she did her makeup would be smeared.”

 

“What is it about her with you, pal? I don’t recall you ever talking about her without a derogatory comment.”

 

“You could say anything you want, but this is just about the truth of it. I know her better than you do, buddy.”

 

“Is she beautiful? From down here I am not able to decide on that.” He remarks.

 

“I can judge no better from up here. It’s been a long time since I saw her face clear up close. She’s not bad.” I answer dismissively.

 

“This guy really fancies peeking at her. I think she must be pretty.”

 

As if on cue, Raghu takes out his cell phone and starts typing something. A moment later, Anitha’s phone lights up with an incoming message. She blushes even more on seeing his message : ‘Pls don’t tke offence wit tis. Bt u luk beautiful :).’

 

“He’s hitting on her, I guess.” Tee puts in.

 

Anu stifles the smile that threatens to escape her, cupping her hand over her mouth in a seemingly offhanded wipe. Suddenly her dad turns sharply to his right and cranes his neck forward to look around her. His sight angles towards Raghu’s direction.

 

“And he’s going to get hit for that.” I say absently, trying to judge if her dad is indeed staring at him or something else beyond. Anitha’s smile remains etched on her face for a moment before fading. Then she lowers her eyes to her lap as if not daring to see what is about to happen.

 

To my surprise, Raghu handles it with aplomb. He does not chicken out. He does not look away from their side as if suddenly interested in something to his right, in the other side. He does not shiver, does not so much as flinch. He meets her dad’s eyes defiantly. I wonder for a fleeting moment what would follow if her dad has found out the little prank they are playing right under his nose.

 

“What the heck is he looking at?” I ask Tee. Contrary to my purported indifference to their affair, I can feel an inadvertent edge in my voice now.

 

“Dunno. Courtesy of our accurate sight, I should believe he looks right at this guy here.”

 

Anitha steels herself and steals a look at her dad. “What is it, dad?” her voice quavers.

 

He stays poised the way he has been for a moment, then starts a little as if coming out of a trance. “Oh, nothing Anu kuty. I just thought I saw someone I knew.” His glance still lingers questioningly in Raghu’s direction. In seconds, though, it traces a slow moving arc to the left, away from Raghu. Far away, a man is ambling along the shoreline with his cell phone clutched to his ear. Her dad slowly shakes his head, and says, “Nah, I’m mistaken. It’s not the person I thought.” Anitha’s taut breasts sag as she sighs out the long-held breath. She texts back to Raghu : ‘Thnk god, I thot he found out abt us.’

 

‘Me 2.’ He texts back.

 

“Me too,” Tee chimes.

 

“That would’ve been fun if he’d found it out,” I say.

 

“Don’t be cynical,” Tee retorts mockingly.

 

Her mom calls, and her dad gets busy telling her about their present tour and the plan to leave tonight. Anu looks at Raghu now, directly for the first time. A smile stretches along his lips. She bites her lower lip and makes an ostentatious show of hiding a smile, while showing it to him at the same time. She catches a lock of her hair fluttering in the wind, tidies it up into the crook of her ear. I see something in her eyes. Something I do not wish to identify. At that exact moment, an ominous feeling creeps into me.

 

“Tee,” I announce, “Someone is going to cry a river soon.”

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

9th August 2010, 11.10 A.M.

Trichy.

 

Tee

 

“Okay, are you on the Collector Office Road now?”

 

“Yes,” Raghu yells into the mouthpiece pinned to the left collar of his t-shirt. Two strands of thin, black wire trail from his ears and merge into one at the mouthpiece of his earphone. He is sporting a pair of dark goggles, his routine when he rides a bike. “I see a Southern Spices to my left now.”

 

“That’s fine. Now go on straight until you find a rift in the road.” Anitha’s voice boom from the ear piece.

 

“Her tone annoys him. Ha-ha,” I articulate the sound Ben and I have agreed upon to signify laughter between us. “What’s she doing, by the way?”

 

“If you want an exact description, she’s reclining on the sofa in their anteroom with her legs propped up on a decorative table, applying nail polish, with her head cocked and her phone braced by her shoulder,” recites Ben.

 

“All the more reason to taunt him,” I look back at Raghu. A sleek, posh car trundles in front of him, blocking his path. I know Raghu, and I know his riding a bike. It is the same as it always is in his hometown, even though the bike is not his own now but his friend’s. He refuses to be deterred, maintains the same breakneck speed and manoeuvres an expert arc around the car, careening the bike to an ominous angle in the process. Straightening up past the vehicle, he holds the bike’s balance with one hand and fluffs his hair with the other in a proud aura.

 

“Why do you think he insists on this kind of meeting?” I query.

 

“What kind?” Ben’s voice echoes with a hint of sarcasm.

 

“You know.. this special kind.”

 

“Sit tight for a few more minutes, and we’ll both see why together.”

 

“Oh great, that was enlightening.”

 

“Tee, come on. I don’t know things like these any better than you do. This is the first time I’m going to witness the meeting of two lovers in fact. I hardly know what to expect. Honestly, I don’t give a shit anyway.”

 

“The only thing you’ve perfected learning from humans is foul language.”

 

“And you, naivete.”

 

“Okay, here I am by the rift in the traffic,” Raghu says, raising his voice above the din of the traffic.

 

“Oh, well.. yeah.. the rift. Do you see a baby gift shop to the left?”

 

He carefully turns his head left to spot one. “The one named, ‘PL Kay Baby’s World’?”

 

“Something like that. Fine, you’re on the right track. Keep running straight. You’ll come to an intersection in some time. Turn left there. And, Raghu, make it slow.”

 

“Slow would not work, Anu darling. I can’t wait to see you.”

 

A shy smile comes in response. “Don’t get any ideas, my dear.” She croons.

 

Raghu and Anitha professed themselves lovers two days after their first meet. Raghu could hardly restrain himself from showering praises on her alluding to her beauty. Anitha pretended indifference to his comments and changed the subject whenever he warded off towards poetic phase (which was too often), yet her smile carried a subtle intrigue for his compliment not even I could miss, let alone Raghu. Ben and I listened with awe as he expressed to her his fancy of each one of her niceties he had seen on the beach -considering the span of the meet and the distance of their separation -with such conviction that Ben had bet within a few minutes of the conversation as to which turn their affair headed next. I played devil’s advocate for two days until Raghu proposed love to her. She was only too glad to accept. It was time for Ben’s I-told-you-so.

 

“What was his story to his mom again?” asks Ben.

 

“You can’t wait to find reasons to abuse him, can you?” I knew he was going to bring it up sometime soon. His response was a perfunctory one when I told him Raghu’s encounter with his mother the day before, an oddity in itself, more so since the subject was Raghu and the context repugnant, a combination Ben seldom lets pass without reprimand. I remember thinking then he might have been occupied with something else. Something interesting for him, like Anitha’s father shouting at her on the top of his voice.

 

“Tell me,” He persists.

 

“He told her he needed money as one of his friends met with an accident. He stated he had to help.”

 

“And she believed it? You’ve always told me he is the problem child of the family.”

 

“True, pal. But you should see him persuade his mother,” I say. “Besides, he lies plenty. And he lies good.” I recall the ruse he played upon his mother just before leaving for Trichy. I cannot make too perfect a comment on his features due to the obvious shortcoming of my sight, but I heard his mother exclaim in an awestruck voice how easily he could set his face into one that induced pity. She did not believe him, though he sounded more than convincing to me. He must have exploited her gullibility too much in the past. Seeing her hold her ground, I almost believed she would deny him money and his plans would flop. It took him a full hour to break her resolve. He added lies to buttress his story wherever needed, still managing to keep it integrated and logical. At one point, she could question him no more as he had a seemingly valid answer for everything and so she bawled out on him helplessly. It served to shut him up momentarily, giving her upper hand. He waited for a while. Then, he, too, changed his tactic. He sulked. His huff lasted heavily for another hour until their roles got reversed: she was offering him money, and he was pushing it away. After a convincing show, he procured it. I could not help but marvel at his flair for pranks like these.

 

“Yeah, tell me about it.” says Ben.

 

“Am I supposed to come across Government Hospital on my way?” Raghu asks.

 

“Hey, have you turned left like I told you?” Anitha shrieks unnecessarily.

 

“Yes, ages ago.”

 


Submitted: December 08, 2014

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Ben A Vanguarde

I read the preface and about seven paragraphs into the story. For me it is too slow and the language bloviated, reminiscent of 19th century literature. On my Booksie wall are some tips for writing, which I think will help you. I am not sure if the story ends here or not. The reason I say that is Booksie has a category called BOOK that I believe was designed only for a link to a published book, such as on Amazon or Smashwords. If you intend to continue this story, copy it into a NOVEL and label each chapter. The novel format is the only way to publish a real novella on Booksie. Again, on my Booksie site I have a published novella called JEREMY THE GERM and I have published it both on Booksie and on Smashwords. I do not suggest you actually read JEREMY THE GERM but look at the formats I used. For examples of crisp writing read JIMMY's GIRL FRIEND and LIFE OF CHARLES to see how words can be economized and still be effective. I wish you well on your journey to become a world class author.

Mon, December 8th, 2014 11:31am

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