The Unknown Number


The story began with tea. It wasn’t ready yet. The door bell rang .The kitchen window enables me to see who rings the bell. I asked, “You want tea?” The face looking back at me had a smile , “You’re making tea? Then I must have a cup.” “Then wait there.”

Whenever I go back to my home in vacation I get the  duty of preparing evening tea. I always try to avoid it. It’s not that I hate making tea. But I don’t love it either. My mom says I make the best tea. But I know I’m not the best. At least not as good as my brother. He’s really a nice cook and I don’t know why he decided to be an engineer when he could be a good chef. Well then, even I don’t know why I was studying engineering. On that particular evening- around 4:30 my mom asked me for tea. I said I didn’t want to make tea. She said, “Yeah, I’m your mother. That’s why you could say that. If it was your wife asking for tea, you’d have made it without any complaint.” I had to make tea. It was routine. She always asks for tea, I always deny and then my wife finishes the argument. I don’t know why my mother talks to me so much on the topic of the woman about whom we have no idea. (At least my mother has no idea about her.) According to the law, I can’t marry for another one and a half year and still my wife is troubling me.

I went to the kitchen and fetched a small utensil and poured one cup of milk in it. The flame under it was boiling the milk. I added two spoons of sugar and tea powder and then the door bell rang. Akshay was glad to have tea but I wasn’t glad to make it. I yelled, “Mom, I’ll open the door.” I poured another cup of milk in the already boiling milk. I ran to open the door and asked him to come inside. I ran back to the kitchen and didn’t care to tell him where to sit. I added the same amount of sugar and tea powder. Then I gave it my special touch- the secret of my tea recipe. Once the tea was ready I served it to both my mother and Akshay who were talking.

After having the tea my mom went to the kitchen. We- I and Akshay- didn’t have any specific topic for discussion. We jumped from one topic to another. Then he asked me if I was interested in some internship at Mumbai. I said I didn’t know. He provided me with the details. Still I wasn’t sure. It was for a week. I didn’t want to waste a single day of my vacation. But I said I’d think about it. Now let’s get rid of this topic. It’d already troubled me a lot in the past few days.

After a while, he told me about our other friends who had returned from their colleges for vacation. It’d been two years since we all had parted and the idea of a get-together seemed interesting to me. We took out our cell phone to find everyone’s contact number. Akshay found three or four. Some were not reachable and others were busy. He texted them all and we hoped to get quick replies. From their replies we were going to decide the date and the place for get-together. I had few contacts. I felt bad about it. How to reach our other friends was still mystery to us. Just as a tube light- which takes some time and then turns on abruptly- an idea popped up in my mind. Whatsapp. Our class has a whatsapp group which I’d used once or twice. But still, I was in the group. Within a moment I was holding two cell phones in my hands.

I use two cell phones. One is android with all the features except calling. The other has nothing but the feature for calling- the actual purpose of phone. I don’t know why but my sim-card never loved my android phone and it always denies working in that phone. I hoped to threaten that sim-card just as my mom threatens me with my wife. I checked my whatsapp. As I’d hardly ever used that phone for calling purpose, no contact was saved in it. My whatsapp is nothing but the display pictures (dp) followed by a plus sign and twelve digits. Generally, from the dp I guess whom I’m chatting to. Soon I became perfect in guessing the people from what they text.

A few days before this incident I’d changed my whatsapp status to ‘I got an opportunity for experiencing the pain’. A guy- whom I could guess from his dp- asked me in the class group, ‘Parag, What pain?’ I didn’t want to explain this to that guy. So I did what most of the people do to me- seen but no reply.

The very next day I got the text from a new number saying, ‘What pain?’ Oh God! I didn’t answer him in the group. So now he’s asking me personally. Seen but no reply really hurts. So I decided to text him. But before that I checked his dp. A small kid. From the face it was difficult to guess if it was a boy or a girl. People post their childhood photos on Facebook and I guess this guy had put his childhood photo as dp. I couldn’t identify him from the photo. The number was of course unknown. If your number is saved in my android phone then either it’s an accident or you’re really special for me. This guy was definitely not-very-special. This was the first time I was chatting with him and I didn’t want to explain my status. I texted him saying ‘Why are you so interested in my status?’

He replied, ‘Just curious.’

Now I’d nothing to say but explain. ‘It’s from a short story. I loved the sentence. So I put it as my status.’

Lying and hiding the truth are two different things. I didn’t lie. I just hid the truth. I didn’t tell him that I’d written that short story and I had my own reasons for that particular sentence.

That was the end of our chat and still I’d no idea who he was. I was sure he was someone from the class but giving exact name to that number was not possible unless he changes his dp to some recent photo.

When I and Akshay were struggling to find contacts of our old classmates this chat suddenly came to my mind. I asked him if he knew the number. He didn’t. None of the the guys we’d texted had replied yet. Now there was only one way to find the man behind this contact number. Call him and ask. But asking who he was wasn’t the right option for me. I’d chatted with this guy for a while. Which means he thinks that I know him. Akshay refused to call that guy from his cell phone. He said he’d already wasted his money in texting other guys. I copied that number in my other phone and before pressing the  call button I exhaled heavily. I knew that whatsapp group had only boys and it’d be fine if I called a boy at any time. The bell rang and I could hear my heart beats. I said to myself, calm down man. Just let him receive the call and let him say ‘hello’. You’ll identify him with his voice.


A panic wave travelled through my body. It was a girl.

I tried to recall if there was any girl in that whatsapp group. I came up with no name.

“Hello” the girl said again.

“Hello” I replied. My voice trembling. From two hello’s I couldn’t identify the girl.

“Yeah Parag!”

She referred me by my name. Means she knew me. She had my number. But who was she?

“Hello Parag?” she said again as I hadn’t said anything after my first hello.

The voice was familiar. I knew this girl. But my memory couldn’t fetch her name. I was panicking and Akshay was asking me who it was. Even I was asking me the same question.

“Hello” this time she yelled.

“Hello. Your voice isn’t clear.”

The voice was clear but I needed some more time to guess her name. She wasn’t ready to stop her hellos and I wasn’t ready to reply to any of those hellos. I listed all the girls I knew in my mind. I heard her voice again and I removed a couple of girls from the list.. I knew I’d heard this voice before. I had the names and the faces of many girls in my mind. But assigning any of those names and faces to that voice was what I was unable to do.

Finally she said, “Wait, I’ll call you from the other phone.”

Then the line went dead.

I told everything to Akshay and instead of helping me figure out the identity of this girl he started laughing. I rewrote the list, thinking of each and every girl in the class. It was the first time when I was thinking so much about those girls. Every girl’s face was right in front of my eyes, every girl’s voice was hitting my ear drums but none of that matched the voice from the unknown number.

My phone rang and I knew who it was. I hesitated to accept the call. But rejecting the call would have created some other problems. This time I said, “Hello”

“Yeah Parag, is my voice clear now?”

“Yes.” I cursed myself thousands of time for saying that. I could have said no. There was no way she could detect my lie. The girl was unknown to me and I was known to her. The only thing I could think of to say to this girl was ‘hello’ and now with that out of the way, the conversation had moved ahead of hello.

I realized that it was me who had called her. So it was me who was supposed to say something. Fortunately she started the conversation, “Are you back from Gandhinagar?”

“Yes” I replied.

She knew I was at Gandhinagar. She knew me very well and I couldn’t fix her name after a small texting and this chatting. I felt bad. I was still struggling with the girls’ list in mind. Thinking about so many girls simultaneously was something new for me. It was really difficult.

“When did you return?”

“It’s been a week or so.” The conversation is fine till she is asking me questions. I just had to answer.

“So?” she said.

And that was it. Now it was my turn to say something or ask something. I wanted to ask her name. But now that option was completely gone. After this much of talking, asking her name would be rude. Akshay was still there- doing exactly what a best friend is supposed to do- laughing and discouraging me.

I refocused on the phone call. I was supposed to say something.

“Actually, everyone has holidays now. So we were thinking of a get together.” I said slowly, taking time to choose my words properly. This girl should think that I knew her and I knew if she had vacations or not. Girls’ names still ringing in my mind. No one had this voice. But still the voice was familiar.

“Yeah, fine. Get together. Okay. When and where?”

I searched for some hint in her words. Anything related to her place, her college or anything. At least something that would cut some of the names from the list. This could be the only time in any man’s life when he’d regret knowing more than one girl. It doesn’t mean I know plenty of girls. But each and every girl I know was now troubling me. And the girl on the phone- who are you?

“The date is not fixed yet. We’ve to decide it depending on everyone’s holiday.” I said.

I hoped that for this she’d reply when she had holidays. I could invite her without even knowing her name.  My main purpose is solved. Right now I just need something to cut the line.

“You’re coming to Mumbai, right?” She asked.

What did she say? Coming to Mumbai. Means right now she was in Mumbai. My list shortened to two. As we were talking about meeting in holidays, I’d already snapped out girls from my college. Apart from those, I know two girls who are studying at Mumbai. But I remember those two girls very well and I remember their voices very clearly. Damn. This was  neither of the two voices. I wished it was one of them. At least I’d have the name of the girl to whom I was talking. Mumbai means it must be one of them. But wait!

It couldn’t be any one of those girls for two very obvious reasons. One- none of them was in my old class. Means none of them had asked me about my status in the group chat. Two- it was Akshay who told me about the intern at Mumbai. So it must be Akshay to inform her that we were coming. And Akshay knew neither of those two girls. So now my list reduced to zero. Or there was another possibility. The girl was in my class and I didn’t know that she was studying at some college in Mumbai. I felt guilty. She knew my name, she knew my phone number, she knew I was at Gandhinagar, she knew everything about me and I didn’t even know where she stayed. God, I couldn’t even guess her from her voice. What a bad friend I was! And what a bad friend I had! Akshay was laughing and teasing me. Oh God! Stop this guy and tell me this girl’s name.

“Yeah, we’re planning to come to Mumbai but it’s not fixed yet.”

“But your mom said you’re coming on 22nd

My Mom said! My mom talks with the girl friends I have!

Then there was a moment of clarification. A moment and everything was suddenly cleared. Every question was answered. Her knowing my name, her knowing my place, her residence at Mumbai, her knowing my number on whatsapp, her dp. Everything was cleared within a moment.

It was a damn co-incidence. Someone from the group asked me the question about my status. I didn’t answer. The very next day my cousin from Mumbai asked me the same question and I thought it was the same guy from the group. We were planning to visit Mumbai to meet her and my uncle. She thought I was talking about that get-together. The dp, the small girl, it was my niece. My cousin’s familiar voice, my niece’s photo everything was in my mind. I just never thought in that way. All this time I tried to connect it with my girl friends and not cousins.

“Yeah, mom had said so but still it’s not confirmed.” Now I’d to manage the conversation. I knew who the girl was and I didn’t want her to know that this call was an accident.

“Okay Parag, can I call you later? I’m out actually.” She said.

“Yeah, okay.” Indeed I want to cut the line.

“I’ll call you in an hour.” She said and cut the line.

Finally, the call ended. I wondered how my mind managed to recall so many girls in so small a time span and missed a very simple name. The voice was familiar and I’d identified it on the very first hello. But no, it can’t be my cousin. The girl has to be from my class. I was not ready to accept it.

Akshay was still laughing and annoying me. Then he appreciated my presence of mind. I said, “This is nothing. I’ve managed more difficult situations.” He laughed again.

I still have plenty of unknown numbers in my android phone. Except two or three people, I’ve no idea with whom I’m chatting. So if you’re chatting with me on whatsapp, just make sure that I know you.



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