Thursday 15 August 2013

Short Story 2013 Longlist, Rashida Arsiwala

Phone Number

I was really glad I had the window seat in the bus.  I was hoping that nobody would sit next to me, but no sooner did I have this thought than I saw a tall man enter the bus and start looking at the overhead carrier, as if trying to locate his seat. I don’t know why, but I instinctively knew he was looking for seat number 9; I had seat number 8.

As I expected, he came and stood next to me. When he was close enough, I noticed that he had day-old stubble, quite sexy in a man. And were his eyes brown? I was wondering along these lines when I snapped to, only to realise he was waiting for me to lift my purse which I had dumped on the empty seat. I quickly snatched it up and he sat down. Since it was quite late anyway, he pushed back his semi-sleeper and I thought he had gone to sleep. I too dozed off.

I woke up not too long after, not quite sure what it was that had awoken me. My neck hurt, and I looked at the time on my illuminated wrist watch. It was 1.30am. I realised I had forgotten to tell my mother I was safely in the bus. She must be worried sick! I rummaged about for my phone in my purse, but couldn’t find it. My fidgeting awoke Mr. Brown Eyes. “Problem?” he asked. What a sexy voice he had! “No, I just lost my phone; trying to locate it,” I explained.

“Here, use my phone,” he said. I refused, but told him to call on my cell. He shrugged, but obligingly dialled my number after I told it to him, and I could hear a faint buzzing in my bag. I finally found my phone, so after thanking Brown Eyes, I called my mom. Since my phone was on silent mode, I hadn’t known it was ringing, but I had 22 missed calls from my mom! She was, as I expected, beyond herself with worry. But when she realised I was fine, she calmed down. I hung up, and wondered what to do. It was only 1.30am and the bus would get to Goa only by noon. I wasn’t too sleepy either, so I flicked on the overhead light. I thought Brown Eyes was asleep, but he looked my way and said, “Not sleeping?” A little taken aback, I answered, “No. I hope the light isn’t bothering you?”
“No, it’s fine. I’ve been up enough nights to not let it bother me. I’m Vikram, by the way,” he said, and extended his hand toward me. As I took it in mine, saying, “Hello, I’m Rewa. Nice to meet you,” I was wondering what kept him awake at nights. Like it was any of my business! As if reading my thoughts, he answered, “I’m a journalist, so even I have erratic work hours sometimes. I wasn’t feeling particularly sleepy either,” he grinned. Cute smile he had. Stop it! I ordered myself. Think of Arjun! “Yeah sure, the fiancĂ© who had me come to Goa alone for our friend’s wedding!” I thought unkindly. But Arjun had work, I tried to reason with myself. That’s no excuse, argued the irrational me. All this internal warring had made me quiet. I realised Vikram had said something. “I’m sorry I missed what you said,” I said to him.

“I asked you what takes you to Goa.”
“Oh, I’m attending a wedding. You?”
“Wedding sounds nice. Me, I’m just taking a break. You know, me time.”
“Sounds good,” I said.

I found it a bit odd that we were conversing like this in the middle of the night on a bus to Goa, but then, since neither of us was sleepy, we got chatting. Slowly though, sleep did beckon, and the conversation grew sparse, until we finally dozed off. But this wasn’t for too long either, since I found myself waking up soon after. When I looked around, the bus had stopped moving and Vikram wasn’t in his seat. Alarmed, I got up and went to the door when I realised we had a puncture! I alighted from the bus, still quite groggy, and wondered where Vikram was. There he was, a little farther from everyone, seated on the high parapet at the edge of the road and sipping something. I walked toward him. When he saw me he smiled and said, “Deep sleeper, huh? Tea?” he asked, holding up his styrofoam cup. When I said I’d like some, he went to a small stall at a little distance. I followed him and when I insisted on paying, Vikram wouldn’t hear of it, so I had to let him pay. We chatted some more while having our tea. We were told it would be an hour before the bus would start, but we were so engrossed in talking, we didn’t even realise how the time flew by. We spoke for a while even after getting into the bus, before falling asleep again.

When I awoke again, Vikram was standing in the aisle smiling down at me, a sight which tugged at my heart and then I immediately felt guilty. Turned out we were stopping for breakfast. So we got off, had breakfast, and this time, I made sure he let me pay for myself. Once everyone’s breakfast was done, we started again on our journey and Vikram and I continued to chat like old friends. We finally reached our destination—Panjim—at 1.30pm; the puncture had caused a delay. Vikram said, “Alright then, have a good time at the wedding. It was great to meet you.” He hesitated before continuing, “Hey, if you have some time while you’re here, maybe we can catch up for lunch or something?”

The thought of Arjun crossed my mind, but I was still upset at him for not coming with me. So I said, “Yes, that would be nice. I have your number, I’ll just save it.” So saying, I took my mobile and saved Vikram’s number. He fiddled with his phone, presumably saving my number as well. Then we shook hands and parted. I turned around once, and found, to my astonishment, Vikram staring at me. He abruptly turned and walked off.

I was just looking for a taxi to get to Arjun’s cousin Sonal’s house, when my phone beeped. “I’m so sorry, honey, I couldn’t call yesterday as I was caught up with work. I’m in a meeting now so I can’t call, but I‘ve made arrangements and someone will come to pick you up. Nothing less than the best for my sweetheart. Love you. Miss you.” Reading Arjun’s SMS brought a smile to my face. So what if he hadn’t come with me? He showed his love for me even when he wasn’t with me! I had one more thing left to do before getting into wedding mode. I went to the ‘contacts’ list of my phone. I had a new entry to delete.

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