Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Phone call

She's beautiful. Short hair, coal black eyes and a face straight out of Modigliani. Loose gray sweater, dark blue tights. The kind of legs that have spent long hours at the gym. Dancer's legs. The light from the street lamp outlining her in gold. A downtown Danae. A bus stop Venus.

He reminds himself he mustn't stare. Pretends to go back to his magazine, holding it up high in the air, hoping she'll notice it's the New Yorker and be impressed. Thinking to himself, yes, I really am that shallow.

Feeling strangely elated that it's been fifteen minutes since she got here and the bus still hasn't come.

She doesn't seem too happy about it though. In fact, she seems positively anxious. Keeps looking at her watch, biting her lip. A meeting with her boyfriend? A hot date? Not in those clothes. Besides, it's a school night. She can't be more than 20. Probably off to study with a friend. A female friend. He pictures someone appropriately shapeless and dowdy, wonders if he should ask her if she's at UPenn, tell her he's there too, strike up a conversation. Do girls like her find men with PhDs attractive?

Foolishness. No way he's going to have the nerve to actually talk to her. Any minute now the bus will come along and that'll be the end of that. He peers up the road. No sign of it. It really is taking its time. Another stolen glance at her. She's moved closer. She's walking up to him! Oh God!

"Excuse me". A beautiful voice, warm and mellow. Not one of those annoyingly shrill undergrad voices he's come to hate.

Looks up. Smiles. Tries to act natural. "Yes?"

"Do you have a phone?"

"A what?" A what?

"A phone? You know, like a mobile?" She's miming talking on the phone now. She probably thinks he's some kind of cretin who doesn't understand English. Ye gods.

"A phone! Yes, yes, of course I do."

"Could I borrow it to make a quick call? I just need to let my folks at home know that I'm running late. Please."

"Oh...errrr...I guess. I mean. Yes, yes, of course". That's right. Overwhelm her with your wit, why don't you?

"Thanks. I'll only be a minute". Smile of quick gratitude.

Handing over his phone, he is suddenly gripped by doubt. What is he doing? He just handed over his phone to a complete stranger. What if she's a thief? What if she runs off with his phone? What if 'home' is in some little known East European country and he gets slapped with a hundred dollar bill? What is he thinking? He's like one of those fat, balding rubes in the movies who get suckered out of a million dollars because Catherine Zeta-Jones smiled at them.

"Sorry, but how do you dial out on this thing? I've never used a Nokia before."

"Let me show you". Quick glance at the number. US area code. Phew. "See this little green handset thing here? You just press that. Like so. There, it's dialling now."

Another grateful smile. He's being needlessly paranoid. As usual. As if a girl like this is going to risk a prison sentence for some pathetic two year old phone. Incredible how suspicious he can be sometimes. Got to have more faith in other people. Got to learn to trust one's fellow man. Or woman.

But wait. What if she's a terrorist of some sort? What if right at this minute she's calling to report to her headquarters? What if tomorrow the FBI traces this call back to him and comes at four in the morning and kicks in his door and takes him away? A fine story he'll have to give them. It wasn't me who made the call, officer, honest - there was this beautiful girl at the bus stop and she asked me for my phone so I gave it to her. How was I to know that her call would set off a nuclear detonator, blow up half of Manhattan? No, no, of course I don't know her name. Or where she lives. I'd never seen her before in my life. Or since. No, really, I'm telling you the truth.

They'd never believe him, of course. He could imagine the grim faces of the jury as they condemned him to the electric chair. Actually, come to think of it, there wouldn't even be a jury, would there? They'd probably smuggle him off to Guantanamo or one of those places and torture him till he confessed. Nobody'd ever hear from him again. And all because some cute girl asked him for his phone and he handed it over like a grinning idiot.

He tries listening in on her conversation. "No mom, I'm on my way home, honest. It's just that the bus is late. I can't help that, now, can I? I'll be home in an hour, I promise. Bye." Hmmm. It sounded normal enough. Too normal. It was probably some kind of code. The 'bus' is some kind of secret explosive, 'mom' is the terrorist kingpin, 'home' the intended target. In an hour, she said. God alone knows what they have planned.

She's handing the phone back to him now, smiling. Him and his stupid fantasies. Of course this girl is not a terrorist. I mean, what are the odds? Would a real terrorist be travelling around by bus and relying on a stranger's cellphone to send vital messages? Of course not. Besides, all terrorist are bearded Arab looking men. Everyone knows that.

"The bus service is really pathetic, isn't it?"

"Yes, it is."

Pause.

"What's that you're reading?"

(A-ha!) "It's the New Yorker."

"I thought so. Is that the latest issue? I was reading it just this morning. Are you a subscriber?"

"Absolutely. Read the whole thing cover to cover every week. As Anthony Lane said at this talk he was giving the other day, I'm one of those people who know all about Poke Boats and American Leaf Charm Bracelets."

"You mean you actually went for that Anthony Lane talk? Oh, wow! I so wanted to go for that. What was it like? I adore Anthony Lane."

"Yes, he's great isn't he? Did you read his review of Sofia Coppola's Marie Antoinette this week? He BUTCHERS it."

"Ya, it was brilliant. Though I'll probably still go see the movie."

"Ya, me too."

Pause.

"Meanwhile, the bus service still sucks." (Great. The only thing worse than not having anything to say is letting the other person know that you have nothing to say.)

"Yes."

"You're in a hurry aren't you? I noticed you glancing at your watch earlier."

"No actually, it's fine now. I just needed to let the folks at home know that I was running late. My cell died you see. Anyway, thanks to you I'm not in a rush anymore."

"I see. Good, good."

Pause. He takes a deep breath. Summons up courage he didn't know he had.

"Listen, given that there's no sign of this bus ever showing up, you want to maybe grab a cup of coffee? I mean, well, it's cold, and there's a coffee shop right around the corner. Only if you're really not in a hurry that is."

Holds his breath.

"Ya, sure." She grins.

Somewhere a detonator ticks down to its final second. The explosion takes out half the city.


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25 comments:

Supremus said...

Ahhh! The end spoiled a really romantic encounter LOL :D

"The only thing worse than not having anything to say is letting the other person know that you have nothing to say"

-- Vell said.

Nicely written though- makes me feel this story was inspired by your own self perhaps at the busstop? Just guessin...

S

Supremus said...

Make that "Well" - jeez - I am losing it!

S

Champak!! said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Champak!! said...

One of your best I have to say!!

Though I wonder if the detonation is sybmollic of something else. Maybe not a bomb, but something equally sinister.

And excellent writing - would have been a pleasure to read even without the detonation.

blr bytes said...

Oh, please don't stop writing. Matter of factly, if you could write more often? But then I'm just being greedy.

P.S. Could you switch to Full RSS Site Feeds please?

AB said...

brilliant

chandni said...

nice!

enjoyed reading it :)

Szerelem said...

Really nice!! :)
But seriously, will it kill you to write a happy ending once??

Kronoskraor said...

The kind of writing that makes you smile n laugh inanely looking at the comp screen:D
loved it:)

Kusum Rohra said...

I guessed the end!! Yay!

Tabula Rasa said...

don't tell me her fingerprints weren't all over the phone? (he should have offered her a cereal bar, of course.)

Anonymous said...

["Oh...errrr...I guess. I mean. Yes, yes, of course". That's right. Overwhelm her with your wit, why don't you?]

This reminded me of this:
"I can talk to anybody but when it comes to somebody that I like, then I turn into like this five-year-old kindergarterner in a sandbox."
- Jonathan Bennett


Btw, just thought that this might be of interest:
http://snipurl.com/masterpieces

~N.

Anonymous said...

You haven't been watching "The Departed" have you?

"Dad? I'm just calling to say that I won't be home for supper tonight".

n!

n said...

i loved the way he looks at her in the beginning and guess about her. but i didn't enjoy this as much as some of the others. i'm trying to figger out why so i can give sensible feedback but i can only think of two lil things. one, the end is a lil predictable, a lil bollywood :D and the tone is somehow different.

Anirudh said...

Liked bits of it but didn't like the whole much.

Revealed said...

Nice. Predictable but nice. So normally loopy in the middle when he starts thinking about the girl being a terrorist that it becomes a dead giveaway that she IS a terrorist. Unless of course the whole thing is metaphorical in which case you have the last laugh i suppose :)

Falstaff said...

supremus: Thanks. The end only spoils the romantic encounter if you take it literally.

Oh, and yes, it was inspired by my own experiences at a bus stop. Just replace hot twenty year old woman with hulking 45 year old man, and the first half of the story is practically non-fiction.

z: My idea was to leave the question of whether the detonation was symbolic or literal ambiguous. I don't think it's meant to be a sinister symbol though - what I had in mind was more the explosive happiness of her saying yes. Though I guess if I have to explain it...

bangalore bytes: Thanks. Will look into the RSS feeds thing.

ab: thanks

chandni: Thanks

szerelem: It might. Why take the risk?

kronos: thanks.

kusum: :-)

tr: true, true.

N: thanks. Interesting. Though at this point it's more than a year away.

n!: No, haven't seen it yet. Will go watch this weekend.

n: Thanks. (Bollywood! Bollywood!! sob!)

anirudh: Which bits?

revealed: Thanks. And yes, I did want to leave a more metaphorical interpretation open.

m. said...

this is the third time ive come back to read this one. loaded!

n said...

metaphorical end? falstaff, help. i never see the 'deeper' stuff. oh, pls pls explain. :( i lack insight :((

hedonistic hobo said...

Now is this really fiction because it registers from such honesty. If only I had legs that looked like they'd spent hours in a gym.............

Thought, fleetingly she was a terrorist and then a detonation to start things off.....your allusions confuse me. But thanks for that, enjoyed it muy muchos!

Anonymous said...

falstaff: wait. You were trying to impress a hulking 45 year old man at the bus-stop? And you actually asked him out ot tea?

I hope for your sake that he was beautiful.

n!

Anonymous said...

[I don't think it's meant to be a sinister symbol though - what I had in mind was more the explosive happiness of her saying yes.]


That's how I read it too! In fact, reading the comments here, taking it as a literal explosion, made me go back and read it again - twice. But somehow, it (the literal meaning) still didn't seem to fit in with the flow of the piece.

So glad to know that it was intended the way I'd read it. The positive twist certainly makes it more interesting. :)

~N.

Nishant said...

Nice. Hot & Romantic terrorism. It would surely be a revolution in Terrorism Industry and if you do not patent it, Al-Quaeda will sure do. :D

Anonymous said...

I totally didn't see it coming :(
I spend my bus stop waiting time imagining things about strangers myself...

mithi said...

u r definitely an indian ...
& me too...

the fiction was real untill half city blew up ....