Wednesday, December 07, 2011

I don't know yet...

Geeta starts from home having gone through a rushed morning routine of packing lunch for her 10 year old and for her husband. She also stops by to check on her in-laws who stay a couple of blocks away. All done, she ticks off in her head. And then heads out to her workplace. She debates between being extravagant and taking an auto or getting pushed around in the Metro. She’s hoping that an auto will show up first and she will be able to take that as an excuse for spending more on herself. 10 mins, no luck! Geeta decides to walk towards the Metro station.

As she is about to cross the road, a bike zooms past and a shining new BlackBerry falls to the road with a thud. Her instant reaction is to pick it up. And then, a minute later, start the doubts and the questions. Geeta starts cursing herself for having picked it up and not minding her own business. She thinks if she should just wait for the biker to return to claim it, if yes, for how long should she wait? She looks around furtively half hoping that nobody saw her pick the phone up and at the same time hoping that someone did, someone who can take the responsibility away from her. She looked at her watch and knew she would never make it to office on time. It was already 5 mins past.

Geeta decided to check the phone and see if she could reach someone who could inform the biker. But then, she thought if she should call up Rajiv and ask him what to do. She instantly decided that that was not a great idea. He would just give her a long lecture on how she should take her own decisions. Phew! She looked out in the direction to where the biker had disappeared hoping and calling upon Ganapati to make the biker come back and take his phone back.

It was already 10:45; Geeta quickly decided to keep the phone in her bag and get on to her office. She thought she would work it out once she was there; no point wasting more time standing in the sun anymore.

As soon as Geeta stepped into her office, she could make out that there was too much tension in the air. She glanced at her manager’s cubicle; it was empty but the room looked as if it had witnessed a meeting already. She was done for now! She walked over to her workstation and switched on her machine. The BlackBerry in her bag was forgotten as she got engrossed in reading up her office mails and going through the minutes of the meeting. Her absence had been noted! Well, now Geeta had that to worry about too…phew!

She got on with her work of collating the invoices into an excel sheet and hoped that she wouldn’t make any silly mistake. Before she knew it, there was Sudha asking her to come for lunch already. She got up and saw that it was 2:00 pm already. As she picked up her bag to get her lunch, the morning’s events came back to her. She quickly picked up the BlackBerry too and thought that she would check on some names and maybe call them. In the cafeteria, she waited for Sudha to buy her food. And started fiddling with the BlackBerry hoping she could find out something about the owner and return it. She noticed that in the Call Log, no names showed up; there were just a couple of ‘unidentified’ numbers. She went on to look at the Contacts. As she scrolled down to check the names, she felt weak in her knees. She was tempted to look at the Gallery and saw a couple of pictures and her fear was confirmed. She looked up to see if anybody had noticed her. And then quickly kept the phone back in her bag without making that call that she had intended to… Suddenly, she had lost all interest in her lunch and didn’t even want to talk to Sudha. She started fidgeting about and thought of a number of excuses to go back to her workstation and think out the problem clearly. Problem? Could she hear herself think? What was she calling a problem? Why was this a problem? She should do what was right! Call up someone in the list of contacts and inform them that the phone was with her and how she had waited for the biker to return etc. etc. Yes, this was clearly the thing to do. So, why the hesitation?

She looked up and saw that Sudha was taking her time, chatting away with the new joiners. She silently picked up her lunch box and her bag and walked back to her workstation. Once at her seat, she took out the phone again and saw that there was a reminder blinking on the BlackBerry. It said – “This is it! Sharp at 5:18 today!” and had a smiley next to it. Geeta shivered involuntarily. She dismissed herself for such thoughts.

It was almost good; she had finished her backlog and was just thinking if it was a good idea to leave early, but decided against it. Suddenly, the strange phone came back in her thoughts. And she quickly checked the time on her desktop. It showed up as 4:30 already. For no apparent reason, a shiver ran down her spine as she remembered the ominous 5:18. What should she do? What would her mother have done? Why was she thinking of her mother??! What would Gandhi have done? But she was NO Gandhi. She was she… Geeta, a simple girl brought up to do simple tasks and not ask too much…Really? Was that all she was? Couldn’t she be more than that? Did she have to conform to those ideas about herself all her life? Geeta snapped out of this reverie and scoffed at herself for not focusing on the ‘problem’ at hand. She decided she would leave early, go to her favorite café and then call up on one of the numbers on the phone that she had found and well, that would be that.

It was finally 5:00 before she could walk out of office and that too after the giggly new girl gave her a dirty look and muttered “half day”. Phew! Geeta turned the corner and started reading the café’s menu in her mind; she knew what she wanted – a nice grande café mocha with maybe a cream bun…What was she thinking? How frivolous could she get? She had to make that call first and that would decide the rest of the evening, wouldn’t it? As she walked on, she stopped for a second in front of the police station and then walked on. She found her café to be quite quiet. It was already 5:15 and she fished out the strange phone from her bag. Her eyes found the TV and the headlines displayed at the bottom of the screen caught her attention. And just then, the phone rang! Not her phone, the strange phone! It actually rang!  It took Geeta two minutes before she could respond. And when she did, the voice – the male voice – on the other end said – “Hey Kabir! What’s up? Are we still on?” Geeta fumbled and then uttered a meek hello…

Geeta: This is not…Kabir!
Voice: Oh…but I dialed the right number. Who’s this?
Geeta (emboldened): Who are you?
Voice (laughingly): Is this some kind of joke? Meher, is that you? Where’s Kabir? We have this whole thing planned to the T and now this joke. Seriously! We’ve got just about 10 minutes for the big bang. Get Kabir on line.
Geeta froze at the names and the “big bang”. She didn’t know what to say or how to go on…
Voice (agitated): Hello…didn’t Rehman tell you the same too? We’ve been planning for months now. It is NOW, Meher! Snap out of it. Now get Kabir on line.
Geeta furtively looked at the TV screen. What was she thinking? Could this be true? Had she been a fool?
Voice: Hello…Meher…hello…hello…
And then the phone got disconnected.
Geeta looked at her watch. It was 5:20 already. And then she looked up at the TV, her coffee and cream bun dream forgotten, she could sense fear well up inside her. She could smell the stench. She could feel the goosebumps on her arms and her face.
The phone rang again…
Voice: Hey – am sorry. But who is this? This is Kabir’s phone and you are not Meher…Who is this?
Geeta’s eyes were glued to the BREAKING NEWS on the TV. There had been a blast in the middle of JN Market…exactly at 5:18 pm, said the streamer.
Geeta felt her world collapse. She opened her mouth but could not say anything. Her throat was dry. The voice on the phone kept saying something…the words were not making any sense. She looked at people around her. The couple in the corner was busy in each other’s eyes. The bearded man in the corner was also staring at the TV and then he looked at her. She looked away – without knowing why. Why was she feeling guilty? She stared at the phone.
Voice: Hello...hello...are you there? AM really sorry about the last time but well, you see, we had plans and this is Kabir’s number and he’s the grand master of the big bang…and I need to reach him.
Geeta: What is the big bang?
Voice: Well…umm…could you just tell me who you are and where is Kabir?
Geeta (with steel in her voice): What is the big bang? It has already happened, right? You did it, right?
Voice: Excuse me, Ma’am and am sorry for the last time but could you please tell me how you have this phone. It’s Kabir’s…and …what did you say? The big bang has already happened? But how could it? I mean…what do you know…Ma’am – hello…
Ambulances and police vans zipped past her café – on the way to JN Market… Geeta was numb and now determined to keep talking to the “voice” – to get clues.
Geeta: I’m at the Wood Café… Please come and collect this phone. I found it on the road.
Voice: Oh fish! Am so sorry…for being such a bother. Kabir is such a loser… (laughed at his joke and then seriously) I’ll be there in 15 mins, Ma’am.
And the phone disconnected…

The minutes passed by, her coffee remained untouched, Geeta kept looking at the door. Will the people show up? Did she do the right thing? Why hadn’t she called them up earlier? Why had she been such a fool, such a coward? She refused to look at the TV now though wafts of the news report about the JN Market blast kept reaching her.

In walked three men; they were young boys to be precise, must have been in college. Immediately, Geeta felt relief and fear inside her. These looked like people from good families and what if they turned violent…what was she planning to do anyway? Give them the phone back and then leave? Would they let her go? Or how about this? She would play the detective and ask them to come with her to the police station and own up to the “big blast” at the JN Market? Splendid idea! Geeta started shaking in her knees.

The men walked to her and then the “voice” said: “Ma’am, I had called. I’m Ali. Sorry for being such a bother. This here is Kabir and this is Rehman.”

Geeta looked at them and didn’t react…she couldn’t react. She looked at the TV. The boys followed her gaze feeling awkward and then suddenly, their expressions changed. They looked from the TV to her and started talking all at the same time...

Voice 1: No, no..oh no, its not what you think. That’s not us…That could never be us!!
Voice 2: Oh my God! Meher was somewhere near JN Market….
Voice 3: AGAIN!!

Anguish, fear, incredulity – all came up in the four people standing there and staring at the TV screen.
Geeta was alone in her ashamed world… she was not the person she had become… How could she have even thought that just because the phone had certain names and pictures, these young men were responsible…

Voice 1: Ma’am…I know…you thought big bang…right?! Big bang…Big bang was to be the anniversary celebrations for Kabir’s parents…it was to be a surprise…

And the voice trailed off…