’38 Missed Calls,’ the screen read. All in a span of ten minutes. He wondered what was going on. A look at the phone time and a small mental calculation told it was afternoon in India. Surely she knew it was just over midnight for him. She always kept tab of his timings, and timed her calls accordingly. That is, when they were still together, but that was more than three years ago. Why was she calling now? And in such a frantic manner?
Ratan sat up in his bed and reached for the water jug on the head board. A gap in the curtains revealed a thick sheet of white outside. His heating system was keeping him warm and comfortable though. Looking at the way his sheets had spread out he realized he had been lying across the bed. Not that it mattered to anyone, for he was the only one who slept on it. In fact, he had wondered many times, why did he need a king sized bed at all. Did he fancy that one day she would come and sleep in it? Well, that was out of question, and he had no intention on someone else occupying that position yet. Maybe he thought buying a king size bed will make him feel like a king. Duh! Whatever! He had bought it in a moment of inspiration, and it was helping him to freely sprawl whichever way he liked, so no worries.
He took up the phone again and looked at the missed calls, wondering what he should do. Should he call back? Maybe she was in an emergency and his was the first number she could think of. If that were true, Ratan thought with a mixture of joy and worry, she still thought about him, despite being married. Or had she accidentally revealed some dark secret about them to her husband? He knew she was quite capable of making such a slip, and then go all frantic about it. His greatest fear had been, what if during the intimate moments with her husband, she ended up moaning, “Ratan,” instead of the husband’s name. That would spell disaster to her married life. Sweat broke on his forehead as he sent up a silent prayer wishing nothing like that had happened. He could almost hear a smirk from his Puja room. “You should have thought of that before breaking up with her.”
Well, what choice did he have? She was elder than him, and his parents would never agree. In retrospect, maybe they would have after some persuasion, but he didn’t want to go through all the struggle. He just didn’t feel like it. So after making her wait for nearly two years, one day, he told her in the plainest words possible – I cannot marry you. There is nothing in this relationship.
He knew it had shattered her in the worst way possible, but was glad that in some way, it also toughened her up. Still, he also realized that there would always be a part of her that would think about him. As would be a part of him. But she cannot know that. She should not know that. He had maintained as tough a stance as possible during the breakup, almost heartless. And then he had put in as much distance as possible between them.
So now, across all that distance, all those years, why were there so many calls? He fingers were itching to hit ‘call back’, but his mind held him back. He understood then how Hamlet felt when he said, “To be or not to be…”. What if his call gives her the hint that he still cares for her? Would she want to get back again? That would open up a whole new Pandora’s box, and he was not ready for that. Still, 38 missed calls in ten minutes?
He unlocked his phone once more and hit ‘call back.’ His tongue feverishly wet the lips as the rings went through. After more than ten rings, when he was just about to end the call, she answered it. “Ratan! Is that you? What a surprise!”
Surprise? Who in her right mind thinks a call back after 38 missed calls is a surprise? “Err.. Hi Leela. I had a lot of missed calls from you… so thought of checking if everything was fine. Is everything OK?”
“What? Wait let me check…” There was a long pause at her end, while he waited, thoroughly confused and wondering what this was all about.
“Hey Ratan! Sorry man! It was my kid. He is not even two but happily goes about clicking all possible buttons on my phone. He must have dialed your number by accident and played with it. So sorry again. I hope he didn’t disturb you.”
If he had been searching, rather hoping for a sign of the former spark, he could sight none. All he could hear in her tone was a completely harrowed but a happy mother of a two year old. And she seemed to be in a hurry to end the conversation.
“Err… no… no problem. I was just sleeping….” he said, feeling foolish.
“Oh! Is it night there?” She seemed distracted. “Look, sorry again Ratan. Can I talk to you later? The little tyke has moved on to the TV now, and is trying to pull out the wires.. gotta run!” And the call ended.