Thursday, March 06, 2008

The phone call

The sharp afternoon sunlight stung her eyes, reflecting off the tar covered roof of the building and made them water. Yet she couldn’t resist looking at the pigeons in the alcove above the terrace door. Two male ones trying to woo a female. One of them won and the other flew away after the long battle, then, one false move, and Swooosh! Away flew the female, leaving the 'winner' alone on the ledge.

She gripped her cell phone tighter in her hand and carefully made her way back towards the other door. She would now have to weave her way carefully back to her department, making it look like just another trip for work matters. One false move, she thought to herself. The building corridors felt cold and dark after the searing sunshine outside.

Had it been a false move, or the perfect one? The one that won the heart and hand of the she-pigeon or the one that lost favor with her? The answers could wait for now. She would think later.
For now all she had to do was act busy and important. And go back to her seat before people started missing her presence.

She jerked back to reality at the sound of her colleague’s voice. "Sure!" she replied, picking up the cue.
"Where were you?" He whispered on the way out. "Boss was looking for you but I said you had gone to the legal department for the final agreement. OK?"
"Thanks! Arrey yaar, it was unavoidable, got a sudden call and had to go away." Luckily the agreement is in place - all she needed to do was take a printout. Her colleague was amazing.
"Call? Didn’t see you around. Where were you? I thought you had left office, so covered for you. Bata to deti yaar. By the way, did you hear..."
Relieved, she let the conversation wander. But she knew he will not forget the 'curious incident of the hush-hush phone call' so soon. It would come up during dinner later. But for now, she would let things be.

On the way back home she let her mind wander towards the conversation on the phone. To look for loopholes, mistakes. But somehow she found herself thinking about the roof. The searing heat of the sun coupled with the coolness of the November air. The Green trees in the vicinity which she had never noticed before. And the Huge, monstrous coolers and water heaters atop the roof - the pipes criss-crossing the way roof top - the pile of construction rubble in the corner. It was surprising how she had never gone there in her long tenure here. Would all this be there in Chennai? What would it be like over there? When will she have to move, if at all…

Wait. She was jumping the gun. It was important that the person on the other end of the line found her suitable too. What had she said? She could not remember details of the conversation. This was ridiculous! The conversation had lasted a little less than an hour, a long time. Yet she could not remember a single sentence. She remembered it spanned a lot of topics, including the move to Chennai. Would she be alright with it? Would she be able to adjust?

She would need to tell him (her colleague). Yet she was hesitant. He was a dear friend, but a colleague too. Infact, a colleague first and friend later. But another such call and he will not leave her alone - haunting her about her mysterious phone calls. Telling him was an important decision - after all it had major career implications for her. Not to mention location implications. How would he take it?

She flipped open her cell phone and dialed his number. "Hey. When do we meet for dinner? And where? Lets go someplace quiet."
"Sure. What’s wrong with you today? You seem rather pensive since afternoon. All morning you were jittery and glued to your comp. You OK? Want to postpone the dinner and rest tonight?"
"Uh... no. I’m fine. Something's come up, so wanted to tell you about it."
"Okay... how does 9 pm sound? Ill pick you up. You choose the place."

"So, madam what is this news? But first tell me, how are you feeling now?"
"Oh, much better!" :) Shall we order first? I’m starving.
"Yeah, I didn't have much lunch either. Neither did you, or did you? Neha was mentioning..."

It was difficult to stick to one topic with him. He was vivacious and full of tidbits. But once he remembered something, he would not let go. She waited patiently through his useless small talk and gave him her usual piece of mind wherever required. The food was served. Delicious Parathas roasted with stuffed vegetables.

That’s when she told him. She knew he would not like it. How much, she didn’t know.
"You will move away?! But you never mentioned it!"
"um... yeah, it never came up. Was a little sudden."
"Sudden? How can a decision to move away be 'sudden'? How come you never told me or discussed with me?"

The Parathas were not as delicious suddenly. They were late for the movie, but it was a relief of sorts to part ways that night.

The days were difficult to pass. She could not determine how much importance to give her mundane everyday work anymore. He was a little upset initially but was surprisingly supportive. It was her decision he said. "Just let me know when you need my help." He seemed almost aloof. Or was she imagining it? She didn’t know whether it was because she had told him late, or because of the news itself. It did not seem to help if she told him that no one else knew. Not yet, anyway. But then, they had promised to go ahead together, helping each other.

She still had not told him where she had answered the call. The roof was imprinted in her mind, and she did not want unwanted visitors there. He, however, was sure to tell others about the sanctum for phone calls. And then her chance of a private word and moment was destroyed. Instead she would tell him when it was confirmed that she was leaving.

Often she would remember the private moment on the roof. The moment when she calmed her nerves after the long conversation, after the day-long wait for the call. And watched the pigeons. Had she said something wrong? Would the answer be a ‘no’ after so many days of trial? She herself was not too sure that she wanted to move to Chennai. But then everything else was right in place. It wouldn’t be too bad, she told herself. In fact, the only problem really, would be people in this company. Her boss and of course, him.

The phone call had been the final step. She checked her mails for updates. Checked her phone for messages. Called home. And waited, hopelessly. She toyed with the idea of sending a mail first. Of making the call herself. But she was not sure of her own answer.

She gave up hope. They did not like her. It was wrong of her to harp on the moving to Chennai bit. Her false move. The pigeon had flown away. On the way to bed she decided to try one more time and opened her private mail.

There it was - a new mail! Finally, some response!
Breathlessly she waited for the page to open, willing it to open in milliseconds. Waiting to read the first two lines. Would it be positive? She wished it to be positive.

"Dear Ms…,
We are pleased to..."


"Hi! Got the mail last night. I’m selected! And not for Chennai. I will be located in the Mumbai office itself, then if I'm ready to move..."

"Wow! Wonderful news! I'm so happy for you. And that you are not going!"

"Thanks! I can barely believe it, its great isn’t it?"

"Yeah. You don’t have to worry about Chennai anymore. And now, you can at least give me lessons on Interviews. Dont back out this time. Like you did while applying here."

"I told you, it was an unexpected referral and I’m sorrrry. But I can refer you here now!"

"How is your guy taking it? Happy I hope!"

"Of Course! He is delighted. More so because I stay here."

"And we can still meet often enough for our dinners."

"Yes. And listen."


"Tomorrow, remind me to take you to the Roof. That’s where I gave the interview. But don’t look at the pigeons. One false move can spoil everything, but that one thought can make you very, very worried."