I awoke with a start to the sound of the third chime of the clock signalling it was 3 o’clock. I shook my head to get a hold on myself after the rare extended siesta session. Usually, I would get up by 2 o’clock after my afternoon nap and start my evening chores and prepare for dinner. But today being my birthday, my husband and I were planning to dine out. I opened the curtains and noticed that the sky had a brownish hue. I could sense a dust storm brewing up. I proceeded to the kitchen to make myself a cup of tea.
I plonked myself on the sofa, switched on the TV while relishing my cup of mint tea. I almost missed the call on my mobile. I took the mobile to see “Unknown Number ” flashing. I was sure someone long forgotten was calling to wish me on my birthday. With my curiosity piqued, I said”Hello?”. The voice on the other side said, “Happy Birthday!. Looks like you have forgotten me after you got married”. There was a complaining tone in the voice. I knew the voice but couldnt put a face to it. The voice continued” I am sure you dont recognize me, Didi”. I replied, “Thanks Prema, of course how would I not remember you?. Where did you get my number from? How are you and how is married life?” I shot out all the questions at one go. “Bas, Didi!! You enjoy your birthday today. I will call you again and answer your questions. Bye and Take care, Didi” And before I could even reply, I could hear the disconnected tone on the other side.
The call put me in flashback mode. Prema was my colleague in my ex-workplace. I quit after getting married. She was very hardworking but timid. If I give any job to her, I can rest assured that it will be completed before the deadline and with minimal review. One late night we were the two left in the office cab and it was a long way to her place. We got talking and surprisingly she opened up. She was the only one to be this qualified( she is a CA) in her community and now that her parents were looking out for alliance there seems to be a problem. Last heard she was happily married. I never quite got around to be in touch with her after I flew out of India subsequent to my marriage. But her words when I left office on my last working day were forever etched in my heart. Just we were going down the lift, she said.” You have been my mentor in my workplace and you have also helped me sort out my personal issues. I never discuss my personal issues with anyone but I felt very secure telling you and knew that you will guide me right. You have done so on many occasions. You are more like a sister to me, Didi. I knew I can come to you whenever I need help”. The lift came to a halt and I gave her a hug and said” Call me anytime, Prema”. That was my last conversation with her prior to this call.
The mobile rang again but this time it was my husband and he said he would be leaving work in another hour or so and asked me to be ready. Brushing Prema aside , I got down to getting myself ready for the evening. Things like make-up, accessories occupied my mind. That evening was one of the best birthday evenings I had ever had.
Two months later, I flew to India for a vacation. I was in my mom’s place and was meeting my ex-colleague Priya that evening for coffee at our favourite coffeeshop. After the customary “Hieeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” and the “Muaaaah ” hugs we ordered a favourite items in the menu. It was like reliving my pre-wedding days. The conversation meandered over a gamut of topics from the in-laws, updates on common friends, bitching about the bosses etc. Finally, just as we were waiting for the bill to come, I asked Priya, “Do you have Prema’s number. I dont think I will be able meet her but I will atleast call her”. Priya gave me an odd look and said, “Dont you know”?. “What?” I asked. “Prema is no more with us. She committed suicide because of continuous harassment at her in-laws’ place. Didnt you know this? It happened 6 months ago”. The look on my face must have worried Priya. “Are you alright? Should I drop you home?”, she asked. I quickly got up and said,” I am fine, yaar. I guess we ought to go. I will take an auto”. We hugged each other and parted company.
I flagged down an auto. I got inside and said without my usual bargaining,”T.Nagar, Ponga ( Go to T.Nagar). ” The news about Prema had made me numb. Her face was constantly hovering in my brain. Then it hit me with full force that if she had died 6 months back then who was that who had called me to wish me on my birthday which was 2 months ago?. I was oblivious to the traffic to my right and left. The consistent horns were sounding as if they were somewhere deep down. The mobile in my hand rung . I mechanically pressed the answer button and said,”Hello”. The voice on the other end said, ” Hello Didi, how are you doing”?. I stared at my display instantly and it flashed” Unknown Number”.