A phone call to remember
The sun beats down upon his brow as it shines harshly through the steel window of the train compartment. Dilapidated old buildings offer some shade as the train slowly chugs into Mumbai Central station. Damn! it should have been raining he sighs to himself. Monsoons always a trigger a tsunami of nostalgia in his mind. All the stations are starting to acquire some meaning in his mind. But this time it it is not about the rains or the train stations. It's about the month and the date. Numbers. A year is a long time, not long enough to forget the parts, but long enough to forget the whole the parts make. His fingers play with the buttons on his cellphone and by instinct dial a peculiar number.
It is an unknown number to the cellphone, for, it has been erased from its memory, a vain attempt to erase it from his own long term memory. But he doesn't need LTM for this, it's hard wired into his fingers. By the time, the enormity of the act registers, it is too late. Summoning all the courage he can gather in that span of time, he hears the phone ring on the other side. By that time, the train is is slowly pulling into Grant Road station. The recorded voice announces the next station - Charni Road and he hears the familiar - Hello. He hears keenly without replying, almost gauging the mood from the tone, it sounds cheerful. Strange. He hears another hello? and he replies, in the most casual tone that belies the many emotions churning underneath the seemingly tough exterior.
Too cautious to give his true self away, he controls his breathing and speaks in deep measured tones to hide the racing pulse. It seems like he has made a dash alongside the train, just like Superman, from Grant Road to Charni Road. Beads of sweat run down his forehead, and muscles of his legs twitch. Disoriented, he gets up from his seat, lugging his heavy backpack with him, making his way towards the door. His mind has gone blank, all those imaginary conversations rehearsed on numerous train rides have evaporated in the afternoon heat, leaving behind a bitter-salty aftertaste. He scans his mind for something to say, but his vocabulary has deserted him, he struggles for ordinary words. The sea breeze hits him in the face as the train reaches Marine Lines.
Sea breeze has always had a refreshing-calming effect on him but the voice makes him nervous. He is not sure if he angry or upset at hearing it. He is not sure if he should yell or laugh. He mumbles something and blames the incoherency on the network. The train has now stopped outside Wankhede, the stadium is eerily silent in sharp contrast to what it is on those crazy IPL nights. The voice is losing interest, he can sense it. If he doesn't say something now, the line will die soon. And then there wouldn't be another chance. But then he doesn't know where to begin. There are just too many things to be said, too many confessions to be made, too many questions to be asked, too many to be answered.
He starts with mundane queries, all are answered in monosyllables and interspersed with long bouts of silence. And then, the temperature drops a little, the sun disappears, cacophony of human activity starts to play, as the train snakes its way into platform number 3 of Churchgate station. He jumps even before the train stops, forgetting all about inertia and momentum and loses balance. He falls. Face first and the cellphone goes skidding onto the platform and finally under the train. A few onlookers, true to their collective term, watch him as he tries to stand up and wipe the blood off his nose. He limps towards the train and peers down. The phone is intact but seems to have been switched off. He can't reach down and pick it up so he just sits down by the footboard, trying to evaluate the extent of the self inflicted damage.
After about 10 minutes, the motorman blows the horn and the Virar fast trudges out of the station. He jumps down and fetches his phone. Dials the same number again, he hears it ring and then it is abruptly disconnected. A text arrives saying - I'm busy. He gets up, dusts himself and limps out of the station, rays of the sun don't seem as harsh as before but damn, it should have been raining by now he swears.