Thursday, 25 June 2009

Short Story: The Telephone Preference Service

‘I wish I could take a day off and take you somewhere, but ……….’ Adwait gave Nimisha a rueful grin.’

‘No, that’s fine. I’m absolutely alright. There are so many things to do here.’

‘It’s because I took two days off for the house hunting, then I was in India for 3 weeks…’

‘Two weeks and three days. You rejoined work on a Thursday, didn’t you?’

‘I did. But Ralph manages to make it sound as if I’ve been away for four weeks.’

‘I’m telling you, I really don’t like the sound of him.’

‘No, he isn’t nasty. Almost all audit partners are like him. They are workhorses. They work hard and they want their assistants to work just as hard. If not harder.’

‘You will kill yourself at this rate. You’ve worked on all weekends ever since we came back.’

‘Just a few hours each day. That’s nothing. There have been times when I’ve had to work ten or twelve hours each on Saturdays and Sundays.’ Adwait couldn’t help but sound like a martyr.

Nimisha glanced at the clock and said, ‘You’ll miss your Tube.’

Adwait drew Nimisha close to him and said, ‘so what? There’ll be another.’

Nimisha giggled.

Later that afternoon, Adwait called Nimisha from office and said, ‘I don’t know when I will get to leave this evening. It could be pretty late.’

‘That’s okay. I went for a walk after lunch.’

‘How was it?’

‘Did you know there’s a park just ten minutes away?’

‘No, I didn’t. Actually wait. I think the letting agent did mention something like that.’

‘And you didn’t bother to verify it.’ Adwait could see Nimisha’s smile at the other end of the line. Thank God she was not one of those typical Indian women who couldn’t take care of themselves when in a foreign land.

‘Listen, I’ve got to go.’ Someone was standing behind him. Was it Ralph? Adwait hung up without waiting for Nimisha’s response.

No, it was not Ralph. It was Darren, a fellow flunkey like him.

‘Checking if your missus is okay, are you?’

‘Just a quick call.’

‘I just can’t believe you married a girl you met only three times before.’

‘It isn’t as bad as it sounds.’ Wearily Adwait launched into a hesitant explanation of how ‘modern’ arranged marriages were these days.

‘There is no pressure to get married. My elder brother saw fifteen different girls before he agreed to marry one. And the one he married, they sort of went out four or five times before they decided to tie the knot.’

‘But you didn’t get to take out your wife before you married her, did you?’

‘That’s because I am here and she’s …’ Adwait knew that his response sounded very un-English, which made him angry. No one had the right to judge him.

‘It’s worked out well for me. Touchwood.’ Tap, tap, his knuckles rapped his desk.

‘That’s all that matters mate.’ Darren tried to sound sincere.

‘Aren’t we going for that seminar tomorrow?’

‘Yes, at four. It should get over by six. Six thirty, if a few idiots decide to ask questions at the end to show everyone how smart they are.’

‘There’ll always be at least one person who will have a question. Then someone else who was planning to be quiet until then will ask the second question, then a timid, balding man in the front row will overcome his inhibitions and ….’

Darren laughed at Adwait’s joke. ‘Ralph’s balding,’ he reminded Adwait. They both turned around guiltily to make sure Ralph wasn’t around.

‘Listen, the lads are planning to go out for a drink after that seminar. You game for it?’

‘Yes of course,’ Adwait replied with a sinking heart.

It was almost nine thirty as he got off the Tube and started to walk home. Wearily he dialled the home number. As soon as Nimisha said hello, he said, ‘I hope you’ve had dinner.’

‘No, I didn’t. But if you were late by another ten minutes, I would have.’

‘Atta girl, that’s the way to go!’ Adwait’s spirits rose. It would have been dreadful if Nimisha had turned out to be some one who couldn’t cope and sat around moping.

Later that night, he confessed to Nimisha. ‘I’m going to be very late tomorrow.’

‘Didn’t you say you would be home early because you were going to a seminar and you would come home straight after that?’

‘Yes, but we are supposed to go out for drinks after that. I just can’t get out of that. Most probably we’ll end up at Rhimjhim. That’s the curry house we always go to.’

‘So, you’ll have fun.’ Adwait anxiously searched Nimisha’s face for any signs of anger or sadness. There was none, thankfully.

‘I thought that everyone went out only on Fridays.’

‘These days they prefer to have office evenings on Thursdays. On Fridays, people tend to go home straight after work.’

‘So, will you come home straight after work on Friday?’

‘Yes, I will.’ The earnestness in Adwait’s voice made Nimisha smile.

‘By what time?’

‘Ahhhh! I just don’t know.’

The next evening, after the seminar, the reception after a seminar and a visit to a pub, they did end up eating dinner at Rhimjhim, as Adwait had predicted.

‘Ad-Wait Chop-Raa! How are you?’ Adwait couldn’t place the middle-aged man sitting opposite him, who addressed him by his full name, as he took the Metropolitan Line home.

‘Don’t you remember me Ad-Wait? Don’t you work for Stetson?’

‘Yes, I do,’ Adwait conceded. Was this one of their clients? Some one he had met during one of the audits.

‘All well with you?’

‘Yes. And how are you?’ Adwait was forced to ask.

‘Pretty good. Out with the guys?’

‘Well yes.’

‘How’s Chris doing?’

‘Chris?’ Adwait thought for a few seconds before he asked, ‘Which Chris?’

‘Chris Lambert of course.’

Adwait pursed his lips and thought hard. Finally he conceded, ‘I’m really sorry. I don’t know any Chris.’

‘Neither do I,’ his companion said gently as Adwait tried to shake off the effects of the two bottles of Cobra beer he had during dinner, the two pints of Carlings he had at the pub and the small glass of red wine he had at the reception after the seminar.

Adwait started at the man.

‘You know me, don’t you?’ he was asked.

‘Yes, I do.’ Adwait wanted to put his head between his legs and sleep.

The Tube pulled into Finchley Road Station. Another ten minutes and he would be home.

‘I’m getting off here Ad-Wait,’ the man said as he got up. ‘If I were you, I’d take that badge off.’ He gave the nametag pinned to Adwait’s suit a tap with his forefinger and walked off.

Adwait almost ripped off the plastic in his shame. After a furious minute, he started to laugh. He was just overwrought. Nimisha was coping well, much better than he had ever expected she would. They would soon settle into a routine. He would get used to life as a married man with a hectic workload.

He put the tag which said ‘Adwait Chopra, Audit Services, Stetson,’ into a pocket.

It was almost eleven thirty when he got home. Feeling very tired, he walked in on tiptoe and took off his shoes before peeping into the bedroom. Thankfully Nimisha had gone to sleep.

‘Please wake me up when you see this,’ the yellow post-it on the fridge said. Like hell, he would. Adwait quietly brushed his teeth and stealthily crept into bed. He must have been a bit clumsy after all that liquor since Nimisha woke up almost immediately. Adwait touched her face, more to reassure him, and said, ‘I’m back.’

The next day he was really busy in a series of meetings and didn’t have the time to even call Nimisha until eight that evening, when he was ready to leave for home.

‘I’ll see you in an hour. And I am not going to do any work over the weekend!’

After they finished dinner, Nimisha told Adwait, ‘I got a phone call today. Two calls actually.’

Adwait’s eyes furrowed in concentration. ‘Someone called you on this number?’

‘Guess?’ Nimisha teased him.

‘I don’t know.’ Adwait picked up the plates and took them to the kitchen to wash up.

‘You don’t have to,’ Nimisha said, but didn’t really stop Adwait from washing the plates.

As he rinsed the bone china, he said, ‘Was it Papa?’

‘No, it wasn’t him.’ Nimisha’s father had called them once so far, just to make sure Nimisha was doing okay. It couldn’t be Daddy and Mummy, no, his parents would never call.

‘Was it that woman? The one met at that Indian shop last Sunday. We gave her our number, didn’t we?’

‘And she gave us hers. I think she wants us to call her. No, it was not her. The calls were for you actually. The first call was a ‘He’. I told him that you weren’t here and later his colleague, a ‘She’, called back at seven hoping you’d be back. I had a long chat with the second caller.’

‘Shit! They were marketing calls!’

‘Yes. They wanted to sell us an insurance policy. They were very persistent. Wouldn’t take no for an answer.’

‘You ought to have slammed the phone down.’

‘I was irritated a bit. Especially with the woman who called second. She seemed to think I was a fool who would believe everything she said.’

‘Why didn’t you cut her off?

‘I should have,’ Nimisha said ruefully, but I just couldn’t be rude.’

‘For God’s sake, why can’t you be rude? I’m going to place our number on the TPS right away.’ Adwait went to the laptop and pulled up a chair.

‘Do you know what the TPS is?’ he asked Nimisha

‘No. What’s it?’

‘The Telephone Preference Service. You go to the TPS website, enter your telephone number, email and house address and they will send you an email.’ Adwait’s stocky fingers quickly keyed the information in.

‘I had done this when I was at my Ealing studio flat. Not a single bastard could trouble me then.’

Adwait went to his Yahoo mailbox and a new email had arrived. ‘It’s pretty simple. I just need to click on this link and……Done! But it’ll take twenty eight days before it becomes effective.’

‘What happens now?’ Nimisha asked. ‘What’s it for?’

‘Those marketing bastards can’t make any unsolicited calls to this number once this becomes effective. They won’t pester you at all.’ Adwait took a deep satisfied breath and he turned around to look at Nimisha.

Nimisha’s face had turned red. Her eyes were welling up.

‘Hey! What’s the matter?’

Nimisha burst into tears. ‘Oh! You shouldn’t have blocked those calls. They are the only ones I spoke with all day today,’ she sobbed.

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