His mobile lock screen said 4:48 pm in a larger than regular digital font size. He was, just like any other day blankly staring at his phone’s lock screen, a solid black wallpaper with a clock displaying time in colour white, when suddenly came a notification about a text message from an unknown number.
A text message from an unknown number was not common anymore, his mind hit him back. But he didn’t have to think twice about the sender after reading the only one word text, that message contained. It must have hardly taken him quarter of a second to know that the message came from her. The message said ‘GOODBYE’, just ‘GOODBYE’. All in caps lock and a period thereafter it. He kept staring at it, for as long as he could. His heart wanted him to dial that number immediately back and keep her from going away but his mind kept him from doing that. All he did was to stare at that message and wonder from how far had she sent it from. Had she already left the city? Was she boarding a bus? Or was she catching a train? Did she already start from the house? Could there be time? Could there be time for me to reach out to her? Could there still be time for me to say what she’s been waiting to hear for all this while? Could it still be done?
His mind kept telling him to do the assignment that was due in the next forty minutes as his boss, anyway didn’t seem very happy. It kept shouting at him to let her go, to concentrate on the pending excel sheet and to switch the phone off and get back to work. But instead he suddenly found himself dialing (back) the unknown number, the one that text had come from. Two rings and nobody picked up. Four, and still no answer. His brain was still negotiating. Hang up after the sixth ring. You don’t have to do this. Let her go, kept saying the mind. Ring number eight, no answer and he could clearly hear his heart pounding. There was silence all around. He felt like his brain was running its own noise cancellation program to keep everyone at bay. The count had progressed to 12. It was the in the middle of the 12th and the 13th ring that someone picked the phone up and answered back with a ‘Hello’. It was not the voice he wanted to hear.
Deep within he already knew that she wouldn’t answer because the message came from an unknown number. He knew her phone hadn’t been working and therefore it could have come from anyone. It could have come a fellow lady passenger in the metro. It could be from her roommate’s phone. It could be from a man, though she initially would have hesitated, but then knowing she was approaching the edge, would have gone ahead and asked help from. In a strange set of way he felt comfortable with her courage of approaching people whenever in need. She was such, present in the moment, certain about her needs, comprehendible, believable. He remembered that she joked about always meeting the right kind of people. People who do not shy away from helping strangers like her.
He had almost begun to picture her smile after the joke, when a second ‘Hello’ from that strange voice brought him back. He amidst his own thoughts about her had forgotten about the one word message that had had just arrived. A sudden stare at his own reflection on the computer’s screen, which had died out reminded him of the ‘GOODBYE’ he had just received. Almost in panic he asked,
“Is number se message aaya abhi…”
(I had just received a message from this num…”
Before he could complete his question, the voice from the other side cheeringly said, “Vo to madam thi aik, unhone kiya tha. Keh rahi thi phone band hai mera, aik message karne denge? Maine de diya…”
(There was a madam, who did it. She said her phone wasn’t working and she wanted to send a message. Seeing no harm, I gave her my phone…)
Inadvertently he knew that she must have had used the adverb ‘please’ before making the request, that she did. There was something about her, about her ways of making requests. Nobody could say no to her. He himself knew how difficult it had been avoiding her persistent requests for meeting her. Helpless about saying ‘No’ to her, he always ended up lying to her. Whenever she had ask him to meet, he would tell her that he will come but never turned up, because he could just not say ‘no’ to her.
He had started counting the number of times when he had wanted to say ‘no’ but didn’t. The count was still ongoing in his head when the voice added, ‘Chali gayi par vo ab, bht ro rahi thi bechari, aapne aisa kya kiya tha …?’
‘But she is gone now…she kept weeping for a long time. What did you do…?’
‘Aapne aisa kya kiya tha’…(What did you do…)
These five words hit him like a blow. His mind refused to take them in. Hurriedly he hung up the phone, without even asking the ‘voice’ about his whereabouts and details. With that numb mind he sat back in his chair, staring at his phone, whose screen was dark again, with the same white-colour-clock saying 4:58 pm.