Saturday, August 13, 2011
THE EERIE ECHO OF DEATH
Maa had lately been complaining about my forgetfulness, “You’ve become very absent minded these days,” she said a little testily. I did not argue the point. There was nothing to say, in fact, which could prove otherwise. The discordant note surfaced when I cribbed about a telephone number which I had written down safely somewhere but now could not remember where. I had already spent half of my hard earned Sunday looking for it. The number was very important, belonged to one of my colleagues, whom I had to pass on an urgent, official message, since I intended to take two more days off and would not be seeing her before the next Wednesday. I tried to locate my Office Telephone Directory, a copy of which I kept handy at home, but in vain. The General Telephone Directory had been borrowed by my neighbour and never returned. I was stumped. What to do?
I tried to recall the number from my memory bank which seemed in want of a strong tonic. I vaguely recollected the number ended with the digits 7353. I knew the area code of the locality where my colleague stayed. My friend resided there too with whom I was in the habit of chatting over phone quite often. Putting two and two together I dialled the number hoping fervently that I would be lucky to get hold of the right person on the other end. A gruff voice answered the call. No, it was a wrong number. I tried another permutation combination. A woman’s voice replied a little suspiciously, “Who is it?” I repeated the number. “Yes, that’s it.” She answered. I asked for my colleague. No such person was available on that number. I sighed and kept down the receiver.
But not for long. Another attempt was called for. This time I changed the last digit to the next consecutive number and continued with my experiment. Oddly the same female voice replied who had attended my last call. The same cautious way of saying hullo. Without speaking I kept back the phone and drew an end to the hit and trial method I had adopted to catch hold of my colleague on the phone. It would have been much wiser to store her land line as well as mobile number in my mobile. Instead I had just scribbled down her residential number on a piece of paper thinking I would note it down in my diary later. But as luck would have it, neither could I find that valuable piece of paper nor her number. In Bengali there is a saying which if roughly translated would read as the householder gets a brainwave after the thief has left the premise. I chastised myself for being so careless and promised not to repeat the same mistake again. Tired of dialling wrong numbers, I decided to end this never ending number chasing game. But God had something else in store for me.
As I was about to retire to bed with a racy book in hand the phone rang. Somehow the resonance of the bell had an eerie note to it. I picked up. The same female voice who had answered my last call spoke up, “I have received a call from this number on my land line.” Obviously, her instrument had a caller ID facility. For a moment I was confused and tried to figure out what went wrong during the last telecom. Then I realized I had kept down the phone without answering. I apologized now. Yes, I did call up but realizing it to be a wrong number I did not waste time.
The voice did not relent, “Are you sure?” The question took me by surprise, “I ...I don’t understand...What do you mean?”
“Don’t I know?” The voice came strong now, “Aren’t you keeping a tab on me. You....S*...” A string of unprintable words followed. I was stunned. “Excuse me, what are you talking about?” I summoned my dignity as she gasped for breath in between the free flowing foul language that she seemed quite accustomed to mouthing. “Since the day he has left, it’s the same story. Blank calls. Repeated blank calls. When you do not have the courage to speak up why do you ring, you...”Her voice sounded slightly shaky.
Curiosity had the better of me now, “Who has left you?” I asked without thinking, “Oh! Don’t you know? Acting innocent after robbing him from me! What do you think I'll dish out the divorce easily?” Whoa! It did not take two seconds for the whole story to sink in. Her husband had left her for another woman and she thought it was me. Aghast, I shrieked, “Whattt?”Before she could breathe out a whole new series of carefully chosen expletives I hung up. There was no point in arguing or explaining to her. She seemed quite out of her mind. Enough for the day. Served me right for being so inquisitive.
If I had thought that slamming down the phone was the end of it all I was sadly mistaken. The phone rang again, I picked up instantly, If it was her I was ready to lash out my piece of mind to her. But there was a spooky silence on the other end. “Hullo”, I repeated, “Hullo!” There was a soft whirring noise on the line which I at first mistook as the raspy breath of the caller. But then to my horror I realized it was the whirl of a voice recorder. Somebody was trying to record my voice. This was serious business. I rammed down the receiver. My mobile rang. It was my sister. Before she could speak a word I screamed the morning’s mishap into her ears. “If she calls again, inform the police,” came her sane advice.
I was a bit soothed. But the word police had such an uncanny association of harassment with it. Nevertheless I waited with bated breath. The morning wore on. It was already wasted. A restless afternoon gave way to a panic ridden evening. Maa did try to find out what was the cause of this uncalled for tension. But I purposely kept her in the dark. One stressful specimen in the household was enough for the weekend. I could not allow her to worry with me over such bizarre issue.
The phone occasionally rang and was cut short midway. Neither did I pick nor call the police. I just sat there staring at its age old model and wondered what I had gotten into. After a while, when my eyes strained and I could feel the beginning of a headache I placed the receiver off the hook and went to sleep.
Why do we always get brainwaves in the middle of the night? As I woke up in the midst of a bout of fitful sleep the thought of getting my colleague’s number from ‘Just Dial’ occurred to me. But of course I remembered soon that the facility did not enlist private numbers. But then I was startled wide awake. Oh what an idiot I was. Why didn’t I ask 197, (the telephone exchange)? I cursed myself for being such a muddle headed, turned to my side and dozed off.
Two days later I had my eyes glued to a small piece of news in the Daily. A middle aged lady strangled to death in her bedroom by some unknown assailant. The woman was married but her husband had left her because she was mentally unstable and suspected that he was having an affair with another woman. No valuables were missing from the house. The police was on the look out for more clues to book the culprit. A Rajouri Garden address was mentioned below where the victim resided. My colleague whom I was frantically trying to locate on telephone last Sunday resided in Rajouri. I had dialled a Rajouri number the other day when the call had boomeranged. Did this have some connection with the odd incident of the weekend? I wondered. I seriously wondered.
During the day, as I recounted the exciting piece of news to my sister, she came up with another of her sane advices, “Keep your mouth shut.”