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Three years I spent with and without her. The last time she called, I blew her off. And now, two weeks later, I’ve been asked to give her eulogy.

I do not know when it was that I fell in love with her. I do not know whether it was when she prayed earnestly for my sick father to be well again or when she playfully punched me on my arm if she did not have a smart comment when I teased her mercilessly about things. I do not know whether it was when she insisted that I do not miss a single class with an oh-so-serious look on her pretty face or how her gorgeous brown eyes stared at the notebook in concentration as she completed class notes for me. I do not know whether it was when we watched the moon together or when she confided in me with tears in her eyes that she was an orphan. I don’t know whether love happened when she hugged me with pride and joy after her graduation or when she quietly held my hand afterward. I can’t point to a specific time as the one moment that ‘I fell in love’ with her and I have no clue how I did. However at end of the day, I was a goner. I was head over heels in love with her.

Our relationship was doomed right from the start. My parents would never accept an orphan girl into our family as my wife. I did not care about what anyone else thought. I was in love. And being so lost in love, I chose to ignore the fact that 95pc of long distance relationships do not work. I wanted to make us work. Our careers took us to different cities and different countries. Things got so hectic that we were never together in the same city for more than three days. Time moved on. Days became months and years. Three long not-so-happy years passed. The initial wonder and determination gave way to exhaustion and frustration. Love took second place to practicality. We broke up. And it was ugly.

She did not want to break up. And she made it painfully clear in more ways than one. But I was sure this was the best way out. I chose not to listen to the tiny nagging voice inside that said that I was making a mistake. I stuck to my decision. She called occasionally. Conversations would begin in a friendly tone and end in either her crying and blaming me for everything or in me losing my temper and slamming the phone down. This went on for a while. I was reaching the end of the rope as far as my patience was concerned. The last time she called was nearly two weeks ago and I totally lost it. I blew her off. And today I’m numb with shock, disbelief, hurt and above all guilt when a common friend rang to say that she passed away this morning. She had been the victim of a hit and run accident. She died on the spot.

I was always bad at expressing my feelings except maybe anger. So, when I replaced the phone on its cradle, it was almost natural when I began scribbling my feelings on paper. Remorse and a truckload of guilt ate at my insides. If only I had known that she would be taken away this soon…

The Last Time

I do not remember
The last time we spoke over the phone
Was it a Tuesday? Or a Friday?
Was it a sunny day? Or was it raining?
Were you crying? Or holding back your tears?
If I had known that it was our last phone conversation,
Would I have spoken to you longer?
Would I have been kinder?
Would I have shouted at you and slammed the phone?
Or would I have told you that I loved you no matter what?

I do not remember the last time
That you cooked one of your special dinners for me
How you pondered over many recipes before you decided the one
If I had known it was our last dinner together,
Would I have enjoyed the food more?
Would I have complimented you more heartily?
Would I have eaten slower?
Would I have helped you clean up after?
Or would I have insisted on another candle-light dinner?

I do not remember the last time
When we made sand-castles on the beach
Or the last time you wrote our names
On the sand and waves washed them away.
Would I have stayed longer?
Would I have laughed harder?
The last time we saw a movie together,
Would I have held your hand longer in the theatre darkness?
The last time I kissed the nape of your neck
And sent shivers down your spine and goose bumps on your hands
Would I have kissed you more?
If I had known it was the last time?

The last time we fought,
Would I have apologized first?
Or would I have avoided the fight altogether?
The last time I held you in my arms,
How small you felt against me
How soft, how warm, how nice…
Would I have held you longer?
Or would I have never let you go?
I don’t remember the last time I did hug you,
But heaven knows how I wish I did.

Sadly, I do remember when exactly we broke up
I remember your tears and shock.
I remember how you asked me why I left you
I remember how hollow and empty we felt
I remember how I broke your heart and I will never be able to forget it
If I had known that it was the last time,
That we were going to be taken away soon, so soon,
Would I have broken your heart?
Would I have pushed you away?
If only I knew it was the last time…

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Your Presence

I can still hear your laugh and see your joy

I know that you are there somewhere, my friend

Wherever I turn, you are in my eyes

And our friendship warms my heart

I see you in the clouds which are ready to cry

In the thousand drops of rain

In the many winds that crash against the oaks

And in the chime of the church bells.

You meant a lot to me, yes, you did.

When I saw dark clouds in my sky,

You were my silver lining.

Times have come and gone

And people have changed

But things were always the same for us.

You came into my life

Like the spring breeze of April

Like the scarlet of the crimson roses

Like a pleasant siesta dream

But where are you now?

Oh! Do give me a notion

I know that you are there somewhere

Your presence I can feel

And your memories bring me joy

But ‘somewhere’ is a long distance,

Somewhere among the clouds

Somewhere across the seven seas

Somewhere in the constellations

Like a glowing ball of fire

Still showing me the right way.

When will I join you?

This waiting is long

And patience I have not

Today, as I walk to the cemetery,

You remind me of the roses at your grave.

I know you are aware

Of the loneliness I felt after your death

I’m impatiently waiting

To fly to the clouds,

To sail across the seven seas

And to meet you at the end of constellations

‘Coz you were everything to me.

I was looking through my daily mail when the distinctive Skype ring tone sounded and the pop-up came up on my screen with the words “Vinil John calling” came up on my screen. I smiled involuntarily and answered the call. We had lot of catching up to do.

Vinil is my brother. No, we are not biologically related. But Vinil is all I ever wanted in a brother that I never had. I have only a younger sister Sapphire and I have always wanted a big brother. In fact, I used to almost always ask my mother for an elder brother. But I stopped it when she told me as-a-matter-of-fact that it was too late for me to get an older sibling. Well, one could always hope. And I never stopped hoping. Even though the Lord up above did give me moments of sorrow and dark nights when my mother passed away, followed by my husband Aaron after  few years, He did give me people and moments of joy and days of happiness. My adopted family of Asghar and Tamara was such a gift of God. Vinil was another.

Vinil was Aaron’s best friend. In fact, Aaron used to always say that there were only two people in the world who had seen him cry. One was me – his college sweetheart, and later life partner, the other was his best friend Vinil. I do not know when it was, that I started calling him Brother Bear. May be it was during one of those times when I used to run to him for comfort after a bitter fight or a trivial lover’s tiff with Aaron. Vinil always knew what to say. Being a strong Christian, his pieces of advice were always faith based. There were numerous times when I just wanted to yell at Him to stop preaching to me. But then again, end of the day; I was glad that I listened. The stronger my romance grew in college with Aaron, my sibling-hood with my brother bear grew stronger. Needless to say, he was Aaron’s best man for our wedding and his lovely wife Kay was the maid of honour. Vinil and his not-so-little family (He has four kids after 6 years of marriage) live in Sweden and he works as research Assistant in a fancy university there. After Aaron and I moved to Bahrain, our communications grew marginally smaller as our families were so far away, but brother bear and I made it a point to speak at least twice a week. Through the ordeal of Aaron’s cancer and his death, brother bear and Kay were a God-sent. Their help and support continued till Asghar and Tamara walked into my life. They knew my adopted family would take good care of me and they were right. My conversations with Vinil dwindled down to twice a month but when we did speak, we would go on forever.

When we moved onto the second hour of our conversations, I really had to go for a bathroom break. Asking bro bear to stay on the call, I went to the toilet.

I looked at the toilet bowl as I was about to press down the flush. The bowl was red with my blood. Not really a sign for panic for a healthy woman because this is pretty much the case every month during her menstrual cycle. But I panicked because I’m not a normal healthy woman. My periods had stopped many years ago when I miscarried my child and my uterus ruptured. So when I saw the blood, I knew things were terribly wrong. I had an inkling of trouble because my health was failing and I had terrible body pains for the past few months. I had known something was not right for a long time. My occasional stomach pains coupled with terrible body pain convinced me that I really had to go to the doctor. But then again, I detested hospitals. I hated the smells of disinfectants and medicines, the long wait of patients to see their doctors, the feel of so much distress in the air and the memories a hospital invoked in me that culminated in the death of my husband of 5 years – Aaron to cancer. But this was the final straw. I had to go to a doctor even though I detested hospitals. Now, I did not really have much of a choice. I flushed my blood down the toilet, washed my hands and stepped out of the bathroom and called out to Tamara – Asghar’s wife. My adopted daughter in law.

“Ma, you called?”

“Yes Tamara, I wanted to know when your next check-up with your gynaecologist was due.”

“Hmm… it’s sometime next week. What happened, ma?”

“I’m not feeling too good. I want to go to the hospital. I was thinking I’d go when you go next time and get myself checked.”

“Goodness, for you to admit that you have to go to a doctor, something must be really wrong. What is it?”

I told her. She insisted on going to the doctor immediately. When she narrated the issue at hand to Asghar who was lazing in front of the TV, I quickly ended my Skype call with brother bear. I told him that I wasn’t keeping well and I had to go to the hospital. Without wasting any more time than necessary, we were off to the hospital.

After running a few tests, the doctors diagnosed me with ESRD – End Stage Renal Disease. They were surprised that I did not come for a check-up or treatment sooner. I told them about my hatred for hospitals and I was met with almost-angry looks and not-so-happy tones when they told me what I had done were quite foolish in not consulting a doctor sooner. Asghar was livid with rage when he came to know that I was suffering for quite some time and I did not tell him or Tamara anything about it. The name of the disease had an-almost-final sound to it. But then again, the doctors said it was an appropriate name. The kidneys in end-stage renal disease function so poorly that they can no longer keep you alive. End-stage renal disease cannot be treated with conventional medical treatments such as drugs. Only 2 treatments allow you to continue living when your kidneys stop functioning: dialysis and kidney transplantation.

I agreed to undergo a dialysis. Well, then again, I really did not have much of a choice. Asghar, who willingly took the role of my son was acting on my behalf and making all the serious decisions. The hospital was going to be my temporary home for the next few days. As we drove home quietly, we were lost in our thoughts. If anything the Lord has taught me through my ordeals in the past was not to focus at the problem at hand. So I forcefully turned my thoughts away for my ESRD, the start of dialysis the next day and the difficult of obtaining a donor in case of a kidney transplant. I unknowingly played with my memory bracelet Aaron gave and Asghar completed. I started thinking of Asghar, Tamara and the little ray of life that was growing inside her womb. She was 7 months pregnant. I was going to be a grandmother soon. And then without my knowledge, maybe because I spoke to him earlier, my thoughts went to my very own brother bear.

There was a gap of eight years between the Aaron’s death and Asghar’s coming back to my life. And those years were made better only because my brother bear was there. He always was there; no matter what time of the day or night I called and disturbed him and darling Kay. Needless to say, the international telephone bills were quite high and there was not a single day in those eight years when I did not praise God for him, Kay and the guy who invented Skype. The best part about our unique sibling-hood was that even when one of us was done, we always stood strong for the other. For Aaron’s first death anniversary, Vinil and Kay flew all the way from Sweden to Bahrain leaving their kids there under a nanny’s care. I was too happy and sad at the same time when I saw him. The last time I had seen him was for our wedding and I had no idea they were coming down to Bahrain for me. When I hugged him in church, tears rolled down my cheeks and I was too choked up for words. My non-biological brother just held me tighter and said into my ears “Shh… D… This what siblings do.” And a tear rolled down his cheek too. That had always been our line to each other. “This is what siblings do.” Two years later, when brother bear had financial troubles over some loans and a failed year at work, I did not have to think twice to write off a chunk of Aaron’s investments in his name. That evening, during our Skype session, Kay, Bro bear and I had a virtual hug as I gave our lines off to him dutifully. “This is what siblings do”. I have been the godmother to two of his children. Meeting them on Skype used to fill the child-shaped void in my life to a degree. And yes, my students at the Good Shepherd School also helped. And when Asghar walked into my life with Tamara, brother bear couldn’t have been happier for me. He and Kay gladly accepted these young people into their family and lives. Brother bear and I often competed on what gift to give each other. And he insisted that he owed me one mother of a treat for getting back at whatever life or fate threw at me. I joined in and asked him for a front row concert seat for one of the performances of our favourite band Switchfoot. He said definitely, he would take me. That was years ago. Life moved on in Sweden and Bahrain and the rest of the world. We never went to the concert, but then again, I wasn’t complaining.

I was woken from my trip down the memory lane when Asghar parked the car in the garage and had opened my door for me. With considerable difficulty, I got out of the car and got into the house. There were a lot of things that I had to do before the start of my treatment tomorrow. I had to call the school principal and inform him that I was taking a medical leave for an indefinite period of time. I was concerned for my children at school but there was nothing I could do. I got to my room and started packing the few essentials that I might need at the hospital. Slowly, the seriousness of my situation gripped me and I was beginning to get terrified about my disease. I was a middle aged woman who had dealt with my share of problems about the fear of the unknown and the intensity of my illness scared me to my inner-mist core. The doctor had given me a detailed description of my disease and the two methods of cure. One being dialysis and the other, a kidney transplant.

He had said that people who require dialysis are kept alive but give up some degree of their freedom because of their dialysis schedule, fragile health, or both.

Kidney transplantation which involved the  replacement of the failed kidneys with a working kidney from another person – a donor was a much better option according to the doctors. Even though it was not a complete cure, many people who receive a kidney transplant are able to live much as they did before their kidneys failed. But the main problem about the transplant was to get a suitable donor, whose blood group and tissue type matched mine. Because of a shortage of donor kidneys, each year only a small percentage of people who need a transplant actually receive a kidney. I was definitely not feeling better when the doctor said that the wait for a donor kidney could take years. So for the time being Dialysis it was. The doctors had immediately put my name in the list of patients who required a  donor kidney but  they calmly said that this did not ensure that I would get a kidney. It was only the general procedure.

I had stopped asking God “Why” a long time ago. I knew all His plans for my life had a wonderful purpose behind them, just that I couldn’t see them. Even though there were only dark rain clouds on my horizon, I knew that any moment the sun would shine brighter than ever through a crack in the clouds. And through our sibling-hood of 17years, what my brother bear held onto strongly was that it was the darkest before dawn and that the sun would definitely rise. I knew it all in my head. But I needed the courage to stand strong through my difficult times. I knew the only place I could get that was at the feet of the Lord. I took my well-used Bible to bed and as I had done a million times before, I hugged it and poured out my heart’s anguish to the Lord. I did not know when I went off to sleep. I had told Tamara not to disturb me if I had slept off and therefore she did not.

The next day was bright and sunny and a stark contrast to the way I felt inside. The rest of the day was blur after I got admitted in the hospital. The doctors and nurses were very kind and efficient and soon, my treatment was in full swing. I felt rotten inside for not being able to help Tamara through her pregnancy. I wanted to be there for her when her baby came into the world. But by the look of things, I wasn’t going to leave my hospital bed for a long long time. Days passed. My health was stable. Asghar wouldn’t tell me how expensive the treatment was, neither would Tamara. My students from school came to see me and gave me a wonderfully handmade Get-Well-Soon card. There was a library right next to the hospital and I devoured the books because I got so very bored in the hospital. Days turned to weeks and soon, I stopped keeping a tab on days spent at the hospital. Well, now that I was here, I might as well find ways to enjoy it here. But I did not have to go through with it for long. The next day an over-excited Tamara came in to my room and happily announced, “We got a donor!”

That was indeed good news. Tamara, Asghar, his colleagues from his company, my colleagues from school had all undergone the test to see if they could be potential donors. But as fate would have it, nobody was a match. Few of my willing relatives had checked too, but it was still a no-go. My sister Sapphire who was in US was coming down next month to be with me. But she had undergone the renal compatibility check in the US and incredibly she also could not be a donor. Considering the difficulty in obtaining a donor with the doctor’s word echoing in my mind, I asked Tamara for the details. She did not reveal much. She just said that I would know all the details by the evening. The doctors checked with Asghar and fixed the transplant operation for the next day. I was dying to know who the donor was. I did not know if the hospital policies allowed it. I made a mental note to ask the doctor later. But I did not have to. Because a few hours later, when my brother bear strode into my room with a wide grin lighting up his face, I had a wild idea who my donor was.

He hugged me awkwardly through the medical apparatus that was surrounding me. Both of us were talking at the same time. Asghar had told him about my condition. Bro bear did not waste much time in getting in touch with my doctors and checking his compatibility to be my donor. Needless to say, but miraculous as everything else in my life, he was a perfect match. My name was duly taken off the list and Bro bear had started the treatments that he had to go through before the kidney removal surgery. He flew into Bahrain just the day before and now he was sitting by my hospital bed and showing me loads of pictures of his little ones and Kay who were still back in Sweden. Both of us wouldn’t shut up even after Asghar and then the doctors strictly told us to. I needed the rest and so did her because the surgery was the next day. HE finally said good night and went to his room which was adjacent to mine. I had no idea why, I could not take the smile off my face.

The surgery was a successful one by the grace of God. As I groggily came back to my consciousness from the after-effects of Anesthesia, my eyes fell on the bunch of yellow tulips by the bedside table. I loved tulips but they were not readily available in Bahrain. Attached to the flowers was a card. It read, “Yes D. This is what siblings do!”. I smiled wider than ever and went to sleep again.

Two years passed. My little family of four (Tamara gave birth to a  beautiful baby and we called  her Andrea) were on a plane Sweden bound for a small holiday. It was Christmas and what better way to spend it than with family? And considering the fact that Switchfoot was doing a Sweden tour just added to the whole effect. Bro bear and Kay were wonderful hosts. But then again, we were not exactly guests. We were family.

Brother bear sat in between me and my son in the front row seats and had a Cheshire cat’s grin. He leaned in and said that he felt ecstatic, a dream come true, since he first heard Switchfoot’s “meant to live” on the radio.

“I feel nauseous, and dizzy, I’m super excited”

“Yeah I know brother bear, I know”

“Really, you do? “

“Well, yeah, I do, cause, I have a part of you, in me too”

He smiled at me, shook his head, and grabbed all the tickets in his hand and waved it at me, “But you didn’t have to do this; you didn’t have to buy us these tickets!”

I put my hand against my stomach, and said “And you didn’t have to do this “

We both smiled. I saw the glitter of a tear in his eyes  and we both remarked, almost harmoniously, in the twinkling of an eye “This is what siblings do”. What followed next was a warm hug, a crowd’s roar, and a familiar intro to a familiar song. Finally, it did seem that we were meant to live for so much more. Once again, I just could not take the smile off my face.

Aaron was in my first year English class at the University. He sat behind me the entire semester and we never talked once and I’m to blame. I have always had starting trouble with talking to new people and I hardly spoke to anyone during the first semester at the university. Aaron’s attempts at talking to me were met with silent smiles from me and maybe he had given up after a while. But one day in class, he was sneezing to almighty heavens. It was obvious he had a severe case of flu and he ran out of tissue papers to wipe his running nose. I turned back and offered him my hanky. He lifted his eyebrows, he couldn’t believe that I was actually offering him something, even though it was as insignificant as a hanky. He took it gladly and I could hear him happily blowing into it while I looked at the lecturer in the front of the class with a smile on my face. The next day, he was about to return the hanky back to me but I wouldn’t take it. I did not feel right about taking it back. He tried to give it back many times but I did not take it back. A “D” was stitched onto one of the corners of the hanky. My mom used to stitch our initials to the hankies that we used (we, being my sister and I). My sister had a flashy “S” (her name was Sapphire) and I had a “D” for Danielle in almost all the hankies that I used through school. Even though I stopped using hankies when I got to university, I kept a couple of hankies with me because it reminded me of mom and home. And I had given one of these personalised hankies to Aaron and for some weird reason I wanted him to have it. Our friendship started with that hanky. And from acquaintances, we grew to friends, from friends to best friends and then soul mates. So when he asked me to go steady with him, I was not surprised. And I did not have to think twice to say yes.

 I was doing my Civil engineering while he was doing his Mechatronics. Even though we had no common classes after our first year English, we always found reasons to be together. The cafeteria, library, student residences, we were inseparable. It was towards the end of our second year that  I got the dreaded phone call from home saying that mom had passed away. Aaron came home with me and helped me through my grief. On our journey back to college after all the formalities at home, he asked me to marry him. I looked at him. I found it very funny. We were both tired, we had a long bus journey of 9.5 hours in front of us and the only food we had with us were Diary Milk chocolate bars. In fact, I was gobbling up one of these bars when he asked me to marry him. I looked at him hard and burst out laughing.  We were only 20. We were still studying , we had nothing to fall back on, no job, no financial security, and no career milestones. I stopped laughing when I saw that he was not laughing. His face was serious. He did not want to get married immediately. He wanted to achieve something before we tied the knot. But he wanted me to be the one. He wanted to spend the rest of his life with me. This time, I had to think long and hard before I said yes. And eventually I did say yes. He held my hand, smiled and went to sleep with his head on my shoulders while I continued to nibble on my chocolate bar and ponder over the fact that I was unofficially engaged. Needless to say, I did not sleep on our journey back to hostel, while I could hear Aaron’s soft snores. I badly wanted to wake him up – how dare he sleep so well while I couldn’t? But I didn’t wake him.

Years moved on. We got married few months after we graduated. He had landed a job in the Ministry of Interior in Saudi Arabia and he wanted me to accompany him there. Needless to say, we did not have a honeymoon after our wedding. Saudi was the last place for it. I hated it there. Aaron knew I was not happy. Maybe to compensate for my unhappiness, he surprised me with a gift out of the blue. He gave me the charm bracelet three weeks before our first wedding anniversary. Shining in silver, it had 6 charms on it. A dainty folded hanky with a “D” on the corner, a miniature bus with the words “Ace Travels” to indicate the bus we took that day five years ago from my home back to college where he asked me to marry him, the tiny replica of a Dairy Milk chocolate bar,  an open umbrella to remind me of our first kiss (yea, we had our first kiss movie style in the rain, under an umbrella, in a public park! Beat that! ),  tiny rolled graduation diplomas, and last but certainly not the least, miniature copies of our wedding rings inscribed with ‘Together’ on his ring and ‘Forever’ on mine. I was too happy for words when I saw that. I hugged him tight and thanked him profusely. I loved the gift. It was personal and so very special. I looked at the 6 empty slots and asked Aaron with fake anger “Waitiamintit, what do you mean by only 12 slots?? Are you trying to tell me that we won’t be together after that?? “

Aaron laughed at me and held me tighter in his big arms “Of course not, what I’m trying to tell you is that after every twelve years, I will get u a new memory bracelet. I aim and plan to give you at least 10 more. What say?”

I joined in his laughter. “10 more? What? You want to live with me for 120 years?? Really?”

He seemed hurt. “What is 120? I want to be with you forever. An eternity. What do you say to that?”

I pretended to think for a minute. “Eternity? Naah, that’s too long. I think I will get bored of you after maybe 50 or 60 years.. Don’t you think so?”

Aaron let go off me and fell to the floor as if he had just been knifed through the heart. I laughed out loud and bent to the floor and hugged him again. He kissed me on my forehead and we both knew we wanted a forever together. Good times. If only we knew.

Life moved on. We moved to Bahrain the following year and I was instantly at home in this new, lovely country. The next year, Aaron added a miniature charm of a driving wheel to remind me what a dreadful driver I was. I had obtained my driver’s licence after failing the Driver’s Test 6 times. And right on our first drive, I was over speeding and hit my car into a tree. Aaron had scratches and I had three stitches on my forehead and a few fractures too. I vowed I would never take the driving wheel ever again. Aaron forever teased me over this and I was definitely not surprised when he gave me the driving wheel charm. The year after that was not a happy one. I was pregnant with our baby and in the 8th month, the child got aborted. My uterus was ruptured and the doctors told I would never be able to bear a child again. That night when we hugged each other and sat on the terrace of our villa looking at the school walls nearby, Aaron promised we would always have each other, that we would maybe adopt a child from an orphanage. I was too sad to say anything, I rested my face on his neck and shed silent tears and I knew he was also crying for our unborn, dead baby. That year, he added an empty crib charm to my memory bracelet. The next year, Aaron was promoted to Assistant General Manager at work and we could finally afford a luxurious European holiday. Well, considering the fact that we never had a proper honeymoon, I looked forward to our trip. At least for that one week, we pushed away all thoughts of work and our sadness and enjoyed each other’s company. And when we sat side by side enjoying the sights of Venice in a Gondola, Aaron suddenly got on one of his knees and extended a ring to me and surprised my asking me “Danielle, my lovely Danielle, will you marry me?”. The tall gondolier looked at us and smiled.

I couldn’t hold my laughter. “Marry you? Didn’t I already do that some years ago?”

“Yes, you did, and I’m glad that you did.”

“Aaron, what’s happening?”

“Will you take the ring already? My knees are hurting!”

I took the ring from the purple velvet box and put it on my finger. “Now, get up and tell me what’s happening.”

“Naah, nothing. I have always wanted to propose to my wife in a romantic setting. No denying that a night trip to college is the least of the romantic places. Plus, I did not have a ring then. So now, I’m just making up for it. Do you like your ring?”

“Like it? I love it!” And I did. It was crafted in platinum and had 20 tiny diamonds. Our wedding was on the 20th of February and I did not have to ask him to know that 20stones stood for the 20th. The smart gondolier cleverly looked away while we hugged each other so tight and stayed that way till the end of our trip on that beautiful Gondola. That year, the charm was a tiny replica of a Gondola. By now, I was eager to finish of the remaining three slots of my memory bracelet. And I could go to my second bracelet as Aaron promised. Three more years to go. I couldn’t wait. The next year, Aaron was diagnosed with cancer. He passed away before we could celebrate our 10 years together.

My thoughts came back to the present. I discovered that my pillow was wet with my tears. I got up and went to Aaron’s study. I sat on his favourite chair and closed my eyes. I loved the memory bracelet. It was the one thing that was the most special of all of Aaron’s gifts to me. Even greater than my wedding ring. The three empty slots reminded me of Aaron’s absence and the fact that they were going to stay empty forever did nothing to make me feel better. Maybe I should give it to Asghar. He had never asked me for anything. Or would I be letting Aaron down if I give it off to Asghar? I did not know. My head swam with questions and doubts and before I knew it, I was fast asleep on Aaron’s chair.

The next day, I was stiff all over because of my not-so-comfortable sleeping position. Asghar came to class and started his work as if nothing had happened yesterday. I watched him the entire period but there was nothing from him to indicate that he even knew or cared that I was in the class. After the bell rang, I asked Asghar to stay back. This time he did.

“Asghar, you wanted this bracelet of mine, right?”

He nodded.

“Here you go,” I took it off from my wrist, opened his palm and kept it in the hollow of his palm.

He still said nothing.

“Asghar, this is a very very special gift from someone I loved very much. Will you take good care of it?”

He continued to look at me.

“Please don’t spoil this bracelet or lose it. Please do take good care of it, okay?”

Blank stare.

“You can go now”

He did. I did not know why I did what I did. I earnestly hoped I hadn’t made a mistake.

The exams began the following week. I knew all my students would pass in my subject, well, maybe with the exception of Asghar. But Asghar surprised me by passing in all his subjects. True, he barely scraped through. But he did pass and I knew that it was an achievement. I congratulated myself and once the results were announced, I had a small party with my class of junior (now, Senior) students. It was the first time after Aaron’s death that I was genuinely happy and somehow, it felt good and bad at the same time.

The new academic year brought a significant change in almost all my students, including Asghar. All of them wanted to graduate with good marks and they put in the required efforts. Asghar still stayed aloof from me and the rest of the class but he was showing improvement. He stopped staring vacantly at people and I do not know if I was imagining it, but he seemed happier. Like he had a secret source of happiness and did not want to share it with anyone. But as long as he did okay in his class work and exams, I had nothing to complain about. He did not talk to me until and unless it was very necessary and he most certainly said nothing about the bracelet. I did not know if it would be right to ask him about it, so I did not. The year moved on. The senior students took their exams and with a tear drop threatening to fall from my eyes, I watched each of them graduate. Yes, including Asghar.

I kept in touch with most of my students. They belonged to the first batch of my kids at school and there was a special love and place in my heart for them. New batches came in and year after year, all the students who took Engineering Graphics as an elective boasted of 100 percent graduation rate. I knew I was doing something right. Or maybe God was just being merciful to me. Eight years passed. Few of my kids got married and almost all of them were working either as Engineers or as Interior Designers. I had no clue about Asghar. Neither did his old classmates. Therefore I was more than pleasantly surprised when I got this package from him.

Dear Teacher,

 

I do not know whether you remember me. It has been eight long years since we last met. Even if you don’t remember me by my name , I’m sure you would recognise your charm bracelet. True, I got it crafted in gold and I added a few additions too, hope you don’t mind. I still have your sterling silver bracelet with me and wouldn’t let anything happen to it.

 

You came to teach us the year after my mother passed away. My father married again after 3 months and it was needless to say that I was an unwanted member of the family. He would abuse me, verbally and physically and I was sick and tired of my life and living. In fact, I was contemplating of taking my life. But I remembered all those stories my mother told of God and his guardian angels. And I struck  a bargain with God. If he wanted me to live, he had to do something different the next day at school. And that was the day you first walked into our classroom. It was the middle of the year and the other teacher had resigned. When I saw you for the first time, I asked myself and God “Is this the different thing that God was doing in my life?” I did not know. You seemed uninterested in what was happening in  class and you stopped coming for a while. I came to know that your husband had died and to tell you the truth, I did not expect you to come back to teach us again. But you did. I put my suicide plans on hold. Then during the Parent -teacher Interaction, when you came to comfort me, I felt my mother had come back from the grave. But it wasn’t my mother. It was you – a stranger. I wanted to tell you what was my problem, but I couldn’t not bring myself to talk about it. I was very humiliated that day in front of my teachers when my father hit me, I started thinking of suicide again. And I told God so. In fact I prayed and begged him to take my life away. I was too scared to kill myself. It was as if he heard my prayers, the next day, you were showing so much interest in the weak students and I wanted to tell you then. But I couldn’t. I was emotionally a wreck and the only thing I looked forward to was coming to school and attending your class.

 

But I wanted to know that you really cared. I had seen you involuntarily touch and play with the bracelet that you wore on your wrist. I used to observe that very carefully. I had seen nothing like it before. I mean, it was obvious each of those tiny charms that hung from the bracelet had a special meaning. I wanted to know if you cared for me enough to give it to me. Emotionally vulnerable that I was, I put another wager in front of God. If you gave it to me, I would work hard and graduate, that’s what my mother would have wanted. And if you did not, I would take my life. The day when I asked you for the bracelet and you refused, I swallowed nearly 30 prescription pills. But fortunately or unfortunately, my step mother saw it and told my father. He put his fingers into my throat and made me vomit it all out. My first attempt had failed. I do not have to tell you that he hit me till I could hardly stand. I was angry with God. And with renewed vigour I promised myself that I would definitely succeed the next day. But the next day, you gave me your treasured bracelet. Now, it was my turn to keep my end of the bargain. I had to pull myself together. And that was exactly what I did. Every time I felt that it was almost impossible for me to go further, I thought how much my mother wanted me to be a successful person. Then I thought about how you gave me your bracelet. I was responsible for it now. And I had to move on. I had to make it in the world. You, being my guardian angel and maybe my mother from her grave left me no choice. I had to prove myself to the world.

 

You know that I graduated from school the first time round. I took up civil engineering at University. My mom had put some money in my name for my education and my father gave some. The third year and the fourth year, I got scholarships and I graduated college with honours. Then, along with three friends from college, we started a small company and the Lord almighty has blessed it abundantly and is now “Miracle Construction and Interior Designers”. I couldn’t find a better name for my maiden attempt at something. My life is nothing short of a miracle, as you now know. I met a beautiful young woman and we are engaged to be married in three months.

 

If you look at the Memory bracelet that I have sent you, you would see that I took the liberty of adding three more charms in the last three empty slots. I do not know the meanings of the others but I want to tell you why I put these three new ones. The first one I added was the miniature replica of a 30degree set square, I’m sure you know why. The second – a Civil Engineer’s site-cap is the smallest representation of all that I have achieved. The third and the most important is a baby in the crib. I knew you did not have children of your own and I have lost my mother. You came into my life and changed it when I missed my mother the most. If it makes you feel any better, I would want you to take me as your own child. Maybe not a conventional way for a child to be asked to be adopted. But I mean what I say. I wish you would come and live with me and my wife and complete our lives with your presence. It would make us very happy. By the way, did I tell you my fiancée is an orphan?

 

Please do consider my request. And if you chose to deny it, I want you to always know that you were always loved, at least from the moment you gave me your memory bracelet. I pray for you every day. If you change your mind and wish to see us or come and stay with us, our door and hearts are always open for you.

 

God bless you, teacher. Hope to see you soon.

 

Much love,

Asghar Khalifa.

Tears of happiness and pride rolled down my cheeks and I made no attempt to wipe them away. I cherished the moment and I knew it was not every day I would feel something like this. I sank bank into my chair and thought of Asghar and how he was all those years ago. I thought of how I impacted his life and he, mine. I held my memory bracelet and slipped it onto my wrist.

Three months later, as I hugged Asghar and his beautiful bride Tamara after their wedding, I knew Aaron did make the right decision in pushing me to go back to school. I could almost see his boyish smile and knew he was happy for me. We had a child now. Asghar.

I had just finished teaching Engineering Graphics to my class of Senior year students when the school receptionist called me to the office. There was a DHL delivery man waiting for me with a small parcel. I showed him my ID card and signed the receipt and got the professionally wrapped box from him. I looked at the senders address. It said “Miracle Construction and Interior Designers” and gave the corporate address of the firm. I had heard of Miracle Constructions. Who did not? It was quite famous in town. But I wondered why they would send me a registered packet. Even though I was curious, I did not want to open the packet in the school office. I hurriedly walked to the privacy of my empty Engineering Graphics hall to open my little surprise. After carefully cutting away the binding twine and layers of external wrapping paper, I was left with a black velvet jewellery box. My curiosity rose to a higher level and I eagerly opened this little box. Inside was a beautiful charm bracelet crafted in gold. I lifted it carefully out of the box and examined it. Tears of joy began to well up in my eyes as I recognised my own ‘Memory Bracelet’. I looked for an accompanying note or a letter and I found a letter among one of the layers of packaging. I was in a hurry to open the packet that I somehow missed it. Now that I found the letter, I tore it open and read as fast as my eyes could read. Tears of happiness and pride rolled down my cheeks and I made no attempt to wipe them away. I cherished the moment and I knew it was not every day I would feel something like this. The letter was signed Asghar Khalifa. I sank bank into my chair and thought of Asghar and how he was all those years ago. I thought of how I impacted his life and he, mine. I held my memory bracelet and slipped it onto my wrist. In my mind, I travelled back in time. Eight years.

Asghar was one of the students of the first batch that I taught at The Good Shepherd School.  I joined the Good Shepherd School as the Engineering Graphics teacher for the junior and senior students just after the summer of 2003 when Aaron, my wonderful husband of four years was diagnosed with terminal lymphoma or the cancer of the lymph nodes. I did not want to take up the job. All I wanted was to stay by my husband’s side and care for him. His health was failing fast and the chemotherapy sessions weren’t kind to him either. We had a live-in paramedic at home as my husband did not want to stay admitted in the hospital for his treatments. As a result, one wing of our not-so-small villa was converted into a mini-hospital and it certainly felt like one. I, who always was queasy when it came to hospitals and medicines did not enjoy this medical renovation of our house, but if I had a choice, I would first make my Aaron better. But he showed no signs of getting better. His health kept deteriorating so fast that every day when I got back from work, I felt he had aged 2 years in the past few hours. I would then mentally make a note to resign my job and stay with Aaron but he would not hear of it. In fact, the job was his idea. In the nine years that we were together, he had asked only two things of me. One was to marry him after a whirlwind romance of 5 years. The other thing was to take up this job. Even though I was a civil engineer by profession, I never wanted to spend hours in the office. I did freelance work for friends and family and that was about it. But when the job offer from the school came to us through one of Aaron’s professional acquaintances, he was adamant that I take this job up. He knew I hated the hospital atmosphere and he knew my heart broke to see him sick but his logic which almost never coincided with mine was that I needed a change from the sickly hospital atmosphere at home. And my freelancing work wouldn’t be able to guarantee that. It was useless fighting with him over this and I knew it. With every last ounce of strength in him, he pleaded and begged and threatened and ordered me to join work as soon as possible. He had constant medical support from the hospital and  to top it, there was the live-in paramedic. He said he was going to be fine. I had no choice but to believe him and take up the job at the school.

I do not think I did justice to my two batches of senior and junior students, not at least in the first month of work. My mind was always at home with Aaron and I kept checking my phone every 15 minutes to make sure that I did not have any missed calls from home. I hurried to finish off the syllabus and did not make any particular attempts to know the names of students even. I was doing something that I was forced to do when I’d rather be at home. It was evident in my classes. Even though the feedback forms from the students said that I taught well, I knew that they were just being nice. I did not do a good job and I knew it. Aaron was in my thoughts always and when the school day got over at the end of the 9th period, I rushed home to stay with him. All I wanted to do was just stay with him.

You know how they say fate is cruel? Well, I can write a book on the cruelties of fate. I lost my father when I was just 4 years old. And when I was in my second year of college, my mom went away to join my dad in heaven. I have had to wage a war against my odds to make it out in the world and the only good thing that happened in my life was Aaron. And fate took him also away after we lost our battle with his cancer. Devastated was an understatement to describe the way I felt. I was under shock for a few days and all the procedures were carried out by our family friends. I watched how my life was not going to be the same again through a third person’s eyes. We did not have any children. Our first attempt at having a child resulted in an aborted foetus and my uterus was ruptured. I could never conceive ever again (Didn’t I tell you fate was cruel?). Whatever Aaron made in his lifetime was transferred in my name in the last few days when he was alive. Maybe he had an inclination that he was going to die real soon. When I was away at school during the day, he had painstakingly called a lawyer and made a will entrusting everything to me. He had sorted out all his bank formalities, changed the ownership in the bond documents and bank accounts. He knew me well enough to know that I would not be in a position to handle any legalities after his death and so, he had done all of that for me and I hadn’t had a clue that he did all of this. He knew that I would never marry again – I had sworn it to him the day he was diagnosed with cancer and he wanted to make my life better  – or at least liveable, in whatever ways he could before death called him away. And he did. Starting with making me stand on my two feet without anybody’s help – my job at the school. True, the pay was not all that great, but it was enough and more for a widow like me who had my dead husband’s savings to fall back on in case of emergencies. My Aaron did all he could and beyond. He was the one person who knew me inside out. For shouting out loud, he was my soul mate. And now, he was gone.

The school officials were gracious enough to give me a month off to mourn Aaron. Now that he was gone, I felt so empty inside. It was as if there was nothing worth living for. I agreed with the Bible and sincerely believed that suicide was a sin. If I did not, I would have gladly taken my life the moment death came knocking at Aaron’s door. But now, I was here. Alone. The day I went back to work, my students were sympathetic and kind enough not to give me any trouble. They quietly did the diagrams that I drew and explained on the board. They did not even ask me any doubts in class and I was grateful. When the bell rang at the end of my junior class, every single student in the class of 41 got up and came to my table. One of them had a  hand-made card and it was signed by all of them. I looked at the serious young faces and heard them say “Our Condolences, Teacher. We are really sorry”. And then, one by one, they came closer and hugged me, starting with the girls. This little, selfless action of theirs was so earnestly done that I felt so much better than I had in ages. One by one, they filed out of the class and I sat back in my chair. I couldn’t help but smile. True, I would never be a biological mother, but here I was in a class of 41 kids and the least I could do was make an effort to be the best teacher they ever had. I knew I had to focus on something else other than my sorrow and the engulfing hands of death that had taken so many important people from my life. And my class of students was a good distraction. In more ways than one.

I started putting more efforts into my classes and made sure my students knew what I was teaching. True, my class of students was considerably better than other divisions in the 11th grade, but there were academically weak students in my class too. I did not know how to work with them. It was challenging because I had never worked with such a  diverse group and I did not know how to get through to them and help them pass in the annual exams which were just two months away. I was working on  a plan to get them to pass their exams when I was called by the principal for a parent-teacher interaction session for the benefit of these weak students. I brightened up slightly because speaking to the parents first hand would give me a better insight into the lives of these children and I would know how to get across to them. I was right and wrong.

The Parent Teacher Interaction was nothing like what I expected it to be. For each division, all the teachers who taught the various subjects sat around in the room and each student along with his/her parents were called into the room. Then each teacher shared his/her opinion about the student with the parents and got the parents’ version of things. The discussion was supposed to be a productive one but I was horrified to find out that it was far from it. I was the new teacher on the block and nobody really cared much for my opinion. When the students came in one by one with their parents in tow, I was sad and horrified to note that my fellow teachers were so critical about the students and had almost demeaning comments about their performance in class. It was anything but positive criticism. It was unkind, hurtful and saddening. The kids sat with their heads bowed and the parents looked embarrassed. Whenever I could interject this discussion, I did talk about the positive things I could think of about the student. From my junior class of 41, 12 were called for the interaction. Of this lot, maybe 4 or 5 were genuinely not interested to be in school and the only reason they were there was because they had no choice (Exactly how I felt a few months before). The remaining others just needed help and I was determined to do all I could to help them out, at least in my subject of Engineering Graphics. There were tears shed and depressing looks and heads bowed and for the first time in my life, I felt this was what I was called to do. I had worked in an Interior design company before I got married and I also did freelance work on and off. But never before had I felt this way before. I knew God had definitely worked through people and certainly through Aaron when he forced me to take up this job. And I was now grateful. I had my task outlined clearly for me. I belonged here. I had to help these students. This is what I was called to do.

Even though I felt a pull at my heart strings during the course of the Parent Teacher interaction, the one time I felt tears well up in my eyes was when Asghar and his father  came into the room. He was the last student of the day. My colleagues went on their usual lines about how he was not going to pass in his 11th grade if he kept failing his internal exams and term papers. Asghar stared at the floor with vacant eyes while his father visibly fumed up. When the teachers were done with their individual monologues, the father added to the long list of complaints about Asghar’s academics and the works. Suddenly the big man got to his feet, lifted Asghar to his feet holding onto his shirt collars and slapped him hard across his face again and again. It all happened so suddenly that we teachers were stuck to inaction for a few seconds. Then when it sank in that the father was physically hurting his son, the male teachers got in between the father and son and tried to calm the father down. The tears which were threatening to flow down my cheeks finally did. I went over to Asghar and put my hands around him. Asghar was way taller than me and broader too. With some difficulty, I got him to sit down and tried telling him that it was going to be okay. But Asghar did not even raise his eyes to look at me. He kept staring at the floor and after a few minutes of comforting him, I seriously began to wonder whether he was able to even hear me because there was absolutely no response from him, not even a sign from his body language. I then held his chin and lifted his face to look at him. Tears were flowing down from his cheeks too. When he realised that I saw his tears, he wiped them off furiously and sneered to me “Go away” and walked out of the room. By now his father was much calmer and nobody had to say that the meeting was over, we saw the father walk to his car parked outside. By now, Asghar was already inside the car, with his seatbelt on. The father got into the driver’s seat, put on his seat belt and drove away. My fellow teachers looked visibly relaxed. Senseless banter continued between the teachers and the principal who was present. I do not remember the conversations, I just wanted to get home and have a good cry. And when I got home that day, I did. I cried long and hard. On one hand, I had had my revelation that this was what I was called to do for the rest of my life, and on the other hand, I was too heartbroken to see the way the Interaction went and especially how Asghar’s father hit his grown child. I knew there was a lot of work I had to do if I had to help these children and I prayed for strength and courage because I was all set to change the predictions that my fellow teachers made that these kids not seeing their 12th grade and graduation.

The next day, I was ready to take up my new challenge. During my class, I made an announcement asking all the 12 students who had attended the interaction session yesterday to stay back after class. From that day on, I started extra classes for Engineering Graphics and made sure I gave my personal attention to my students during their regular classes and the extra classes. Slowly but steadily, I saw small improvements in their performances. Asghar was an exception. No matter what I seemed to do, he stayed dumb – literally and otherwise. He looked uninterested in whatever was happening in the class and stared at me with a  blank look in his vacant eyes. I tried in vain to get him to talk to me. I tried the friendly approach and when that did not work, I tried the stern-teacher approach. Nothing seemed to make a difference to Asghar. He was always quiet in the class and lagged way behind the rest of his class. I was at my wit’s end and I had no clue what to do. After my multiple failed attempts, I began to ignore Asghar completely. Now when I think back at that, I see that as my failure as a teacher, but then again, I had tried everything I could and it was all useless.

The Annual Exams were just a week away. My group of special 12 was gearing up to get at least enough marks to pass. Once I helped them with their Engineering Graphics sums, I gave them time to study the other subjects they were giving exams for. I could not clarify their doubts and questions when it came to the other subjects, but at least I could give them an atmosphere to study and practice sums and write their reports and essays. They seemed to make some kind of progress. Well, everyone except Asghar. He was a super-special case. Even though he made it a point to attend all the regular classes and extra classes, I seriously began to wonder why he was wasting his time and my efforts by even being in the class. It was one of those days when I was particularly vexed about my students, especially Asghar when I saw him drawing clumsily on his drawing sheet. I couldn’t help but yell at him. “Why on earth aren’t you using a 30degree set-square to draw that diagram??” My voice came out louder than I intended. The class went silent. I did not lose my temper very easily with my students and this was one of the rare moments. I walked over to the elevated drawing table where Asghar was standing with his incomplete drawing sheet.

I repeated my question again. “Why are you not using a set square?? Don’t you have one?”. Asghar stared at me intently for a moment and asked a totally unrelated, random question “Teacher, can I have your bracelet?”.

I was visibly surprised and taken aback. It was the second time I heard what his voice sounded like. “What?”

“Can I have your bracelet?”

“Why do you need my bracelet for?”

Asghar just stared at me. His speech-quota was over.

I asked him again “Why do you want my bracelet, Asghar?”

He stopped looking at me. He looked down at his table and tried to continue his drawing.

I was quite puzzled at this weird exchange that we shared. I just stood in front of his table and asked the other students to resume their drawing. End of the day, I watched as the students took their backpacks and left for their homes. I hoped to speak to Asghar then. But he did not stop even when I asked him to and I felt like an idiot, I did not know why.

As I lay on bed that night, I could think of nothing else but Asghar and his strange request. He wanted my Memory Bracelet! Of all the things that Aaron had left behind of our life together, the Memory bracelet was my favourite. To anyone else, it was an ordinary charm bracelet, but it was anything but ordinary for me. Crafted in Sterling Silver, my memory bracelet had 12 tiny round slots where the charms were hooked on. Even thought there were 12 slots, only 9 were taken up by the charms. 9 tiny charms to denote the 9 lovely years that I got to spend with my Aaron.

contd.. Part -2 in the next post.

I felt my heart go out to her as I hugged Rhea in a tight bear-hug. This young girl in my arms had gone through a lot of problems in the last few days. And no eighteen year old deserved what she was going through. Not even the meanest, most evil person deserved this. And as I desperately tried to comfort her and get her to stop crying, I discovered that I too had begun to cry. And I knew it was useless to convince her to stop crying while tears slowly trickled down my cheeks. I let them flow. I empathised with her. I hurt for her and with her. I just stood there hugging her and cried. There we were, two people – a young woman afraid of life and an older one, bitter with it.

Rhea Kher and her widowed mother had been my neighbours from the time I could remember. We lived in the same wing of the apartment complex in our not so healthy town. Rhea’s father had passed away when she was a baby and her mother never remarried. She said it wouldn’t be fair to her dead husband if she did. No coaxing and threatening from her family would change her mind. And when she could not afford the posh villa they used to live in when they were a complete family, she moved with her baby girl into our apartment complex. Rhea was a toddler of two when they moved to our town. My parents took an immediate liking to this mother and child. And my mom was extremely fond of this little girl – maybe because she realised it was time that I had a sibling and she couldn’t naturally have one after me. Because I destroyed her uterus when I entered into the world and I was always doomed or maybe blessed to be an only child. My mom was so very fond of Rhea that she was like a surrogate daughter to us. And considering the fact I was quite bored being the only child, having no one to play with, I took to Rhea equally well. We had an age gap of seven years. But that did nothing to limit the fun we used to have as kids. Those were the good times. When we were both innocent and undoubting. Then time moved on. We grew up. I wonder where the childhood and innocence disappeared.

After I finished my school, I went to university to pursue my architecture dreams. Rhea continued being the topper in all her school classes. She wanted to become a doctor. It was not the kind of passion children have after their parents force them to do stuff and pursue a particular profession, the most sought after being Engineering and MBBS. Rhea’s mother was one of the kindest and most unassuming people one ever met. She never believed in running after everything the society was after. In fact, she cared nothing about what society demanded of her and her daughter. But we did. Our family of three always was around to take care of Rhea and her mother. When she lost her job, my father found her an equally good job at his firm. My parents offered to pay for Rhea’s school and other expenses. But her mother would have nothing of that sort. She worked very hard to bring her up. Rhea knew it and she worked equally hard to keep her mother happy and do her dead father proud. Even though Rhea or her mother wouldn’t accept any of our monetary help, we helped them in every other way. For shouting out loud, she was like my sister. Correction, in ways more than one, she was my sister.

My father passed away when I was in my 2nd year of college. My super-man was gone. The one person who had my back no matter what, was no more. I was shattered. No, shattered was an understatement. I was beyond shattered. My dad had a heart attack and he died on the way to the hospital. I had spoken to him just one hour before his stroke and I couldn’t believe he was there one moment and gone the next. My mother was in shock and she could not do any of the things that had to be done after the head of the family passed to the world beyond the grave. She couldn’t offer the help and comfort that I much needed. Hold on, she couldn’t comfort herself, then how me? Rhea’s mother was our strong pillar then. Since she had gone through the whole cycle herself, she knew what all had to be done. She helped in obtaining the death certificates and the completed the formalities for a decent burial. She comforted us and co-ordinated the help our relatives offered. And after the procedures were complete and the mourning over, she was more than happy to help in any way that we wanted. My maternal uncles insisted that my mother and I move to our ancestral family. After much thinking and planning, my mother consented. She moved back to her home town. I went back to college and entered a life of rebellion. Life was not fair. My father who was at the peak of his health just was not supposed to die. Now, there was no-one to give me away at the altar. Nobody would walk the aisle with me. I couldn’t go on those long rides with him and hum the old songs of Mohammed Rafi and Jagjeet Singh while he sang in his rich baritone voice. I couldn’t pick fights with him anymore over who would have the last slice of pizza. I could no longer complain about the world to him. I couldn’t goof around at home with him and laugh at the silly Mallu jokes. True, I was close to my mom, but I was always a Daddy’s girl. And now, he was gone. He had no right to leave me and my mom alone and go away all by himself. But he did. There was a Dad-shaped void inside of me and I desperately tried to fill it with all the wrong people. I was into wrong relationships one after the other and each break-up left me drained out and weaker than before. I was a wreck and I knew it. Then Rhea did what she does best. She was just there for me, as my saving grace.

After my mother moved back home and I went off to college, there was no reason for us to go back to our old apartment. In fact, we chose not to go there because it reminded us very much of dad and the happy times spent there. It was just too painful beyond words. But Rhea and her mother made it a point that we got together at least once a month. They would come over to our new home in the village and spend a weekend there. We looked forward to these visits and it went a long way in helping us in our long journey of healing. And Rhea, who was thirteen at the time acted in ways which were so mature for her age. In ways more than I could ever say, they were our strong helping hands. And it wouldn’t do Rhea enough justice if I didn’t say that she was my saviour. I went on long monologues about my horrible choices when it came to picking a boyfriend and how very often I ended up with my heart broken into million pieces and my trust and faith in men shattered. Rhea listened. Always. And she had such sound advise that I often wondered that she had the brain and mind of a wise guru in her. After realising that I was looking for happiness in all the wrong people, I knew it was time to call for a time out. I had to be single. It was just too bothersome being in a relationship. And I was slowly and earnestly beginning to believe that I was cursed and jinxed when it came to men. Starting with my dad who left when I still needed him, to my male teachers and long string of boyfriends, I knew I wasn’t meant for any kind of meaningful relationships. And it was high time I faced the fact and stayed aloof. Aloof, but not alone. Rhea was there. As a sister, as a friend, as a sensible voice, as my pillow and strong pillar. My Rhea.

Years moved on. I finished my course and went off to America to do my Master’s. I went back to my earlier ways of being the worst judge when it came to searching for my soul mate. I thought I found my Mr. Right but he was wrong for me on multiple levels. We dated for a year and got secretly married in America. I did not inform my mom or anyone else except Rhea. By now, I had become so very estranged from my mother with all my rash decisions, the latest being my decision to study abroad. And there was no way on earth she would agree to my latest man and even my marriage. And I did what I had to do. I married him in a civil ceremony. Did I tell you that I stopped being a Christian by then? I had. I stopped praying after my dad died. I did not think praying made any difference. I did not have anything worth praying about, except maybe Rhea.

Then the story of my life repeated itself. My husband of 5 months divorced me after I finished my course. And about time too, I had enough of that foreign land. I just wanted to come home. True, I was being a coward who was running away from her problems, but then again, who really cared? America did nothing good for me, except maybe give me a degree. By the time I got back to India, I was worse than a wreck. I was a shadow of my former self. I had lost nearly 12 kgs and my virginity and the little bit of self respect that I had. In ways more than one, I was beyond repair. My mom gave up worrying over me and resigned herself to the fact that I was always going to be a prodigal daughter. My rebellion just added to her love for Rhea and I did not complain. I had accepted her as my very own sister the first day I set my eyes on that little girl and I loved her to bits. So when Rhea graduated high school in flying colours and announced that she wanted to go to Medical School, my mom was more than happy to give her my dad’s savings for her educational expenses.

Rhea continued to be my best friend and saviour. But when she started college, she needed my help in lots of areas. When it came to inhuman sessions of ragging or issues with her teachers, she always turned to me for advice. And the fact that my words of advice seemed to help her was a surprise even to me. Things seemed to go smoothly until the incident. The incident that changed Rhea’s world for good. And mine too, to a degree.

The primary reason Rhea chose to take up Medicine as a career was her way of getting back at fate for losing her dad at such a small age. Her father had been admitted in the hospital with lung infection. And before doctors could correctly diagnose the disease and begin the treatment, he bid farewell to Rhea, her mother and this world. Rhea’s mother had always believed that he died because of the inefficiency of doctors and Rhea who was too small at the time to know the true reason believed what her mother told her and from time immemorial, she wanted to be a doctor. And an efficient one at that. Because of her staunch passion, when she had problems in her hostel with seniors and other issues, she did not inform us in the beginning for the fear of worrying us too much. But there was a limit to how much an eighteen year old could handle. She broke down and called me one day. She asked me to come to her hostel immediately. And I, who had no inclination of the degree of her trouble, went as soon as I got the call. She had  specifically asked me  not to inform our mothers. I did not. After all, we were each other’s secret keepers.

I could not almost recognise the girl who greeted me at the visitor’s lobby of the college hostel. Rhea had lost so much weight and her eyes were red and puffy. She looked tired and it was kind of obvious that she had been crying the entire night. Well, I should know, I had enough and more experience wetting my pillow at night with my tears. When she saw me, she rushed to me and hugged me tight and started crying loudly. She was trying to tell me a lot of things but I could not understand any of it because of her crying. I tried my best to calm her down and after multiple attempts, her crying was slower, even though it did not come to a complete stop. I could see that my poor baby girl was suffering and I just wanted to protect her. I took her to the garden outside her hostel and we sat on a stone bench and I asked her to tell me what had happened and why she was so shattered. And the reality of what she said scared me to a degree I had never known before…

Rhea was in the college hostel and she had two roommates. One of them was not a bright student and had gotten a medical seat just through donations and by paying huge amounts of money to the college management. The only way she found to make sure she passed in her exam papers was to sleep with her male lecturers. I was taken aback when Rhea told me this. Because in all my years of messed up living, I had never seen or heard of anything like this. But apparently, it was common practise in her college and the lecturers and professors demanded the girl students of sexual favours. The girls who were concerned about their grades complied unwillingly and the others did it, for the sheer bragging rights. I had trouble digesting that Rhea was talking about a college in India. I asked whether she was faced with any such requests from teachers. She said she was. And when she refused, they failed her in her first term exams. She had not told us any of this and my disgust was slowly giving way to anger. She went on to say that when she refused even after failing in her exams, one of her Sirs with help from her roommates did something to get her to comply. Her roommate left her mobile in the video mode in the room when Rhea was changing her clothes. This went on for a few days. They got videos of my baby girl naked without her knowledge. And the girl handed it over to the lecturer. They made a full length video out of it and started circulating it among themselves and in the boy’s dorm. Rhea still had no idea this was happening. But the day before she called me to her hostel, she accidently stumbled upon this video in one of her class mate’s phone. She confronted him and the story came tumbling out. Rhea was scared and heartbroken at the same time. She asked her other classmates and some of them even had the audacity to say that there was nobody in the hostel who hadn’t seen her in her birthday suit. Rhea couldn’t not take it any longer. She wanted me to take her back. She could not study in that college any more. There was no respect for her there. Someone had told her that her video was now circulating on the internet too. She just wanted to run away from that wretched place. And she wanted me to take her away.

I felt my heart go out to her as I hugged Rhea in a tight bear-hug. This young girl in my arms had gone through a lot of problems in the last few days. And no eighteen year old deserved what she was going through. Not even the meanest, most evil person deserved this. And as I desperately tried to comfort her and get her to stop crying, I discovered that I too had begun to cry. And I knew it was useless to convince her to stop crying while tears slowly trickled down my cheeks. I let them flow. I empathised with her. I hurt for her and with her. I just sat there hugging her and cried. There we were, two people – a young woman afraid of life and an older one, bitter with it.

I felt hurt and bitter and very angry. My Rhea did nothing to go through this. I did not know what had to be done. I was still too young to take such a major decision, more so since it could affect Rhea. I did not want to make any mistake when it came to her. I convinced her that I needed time to think it over. However, I took her home with me. I knew she wouldn’t last in that hell for another night. On our 2 hour journey back home, Rhea was silent in the car. I desperately tried to get her to say something unrelated to her ordeal and failed at many attempts at getting her to laugh at my pathetic jokes. After a while I gave up, I drove home in silence. But even without my knowledge, I found myself praying to the one above for Rhea and to comfort her. There was only so much I could do to help her. The rest, only God could do. I prayed earnestly after nearly 4 years. And tears streamed down my face and I wiped them away furiously before Rhea could see them. But I did not have to worry, she was starring at the outside sights with a blank stare. I took her to my house and phoned Rhea’s mother from home. The four of us had a good cry. I was bitter at whoever did this to my baby girl. The lecturers, her room mates, the people who enjoyed watching her naked in the video. And when I thought of the fact that these were the people who were going to come out as doctors after a few years, my heart sank into my stomach and I felt I had to throw up. It was just too disgusting for words. It really was.

After hours of crying together and talking about it, we decided that Rhea should quit med school. True, it was her dream, but there were higher things at stake here. We did not want her degree; we wanted our Rhea safe and sound. And we could not let anything hurt her. Rhea, who was too tired after all the drama said she wanted to go to bed and retired to her room,. We were concerned for her. My mom, who always had wild imagination feared Rhea would do something stupid at night. She wanted me to sleep in her room. So I did. We talked all through the night. Our roles were reversed now. For the first time in my life of 25 years, I was expected to be Rhea’s saviour. I do not know whether I did a good job at it. Frankly, I do not think so. Neither of us wanted to talk about the big problem at hand. We spoke of random things. Childhood memories, teenage crushes, our mothers, our dead fathers. Then we did something that we ought to have done in the very beginning. We knelt down by her bedside, held hands and prayed. It was heart breaking to see Rhea crying her heart out to the Lord. And watching her, something broke inside of me. All the bitterness that I had in my heart ever since my father passed away seemed to rush at me all at once. My heart kept getting heavy and I joined Rhea in crying to the Lord. It went on for some time and then after a lot of crying, I felt so light. There was some kind of a relief which I could not explain. I did not know when I had fallen off to sleep but when I woke up in the morning, Rhea was all smiles.

“Guess who called in the morning?” she asked with big grin.

“Who?” I was still sleepy.

“ABRAHAM?!!!” She said and smiled wider.

“What?? Why did he call?” Abraham was my ex-husband-of-5 months.

“Why don’t you find out? He is in India. This is his number. Call him. NOW”

I did. Abe wanted to get back with me. It seems he had missed me too much and wanted me back in his life. He wanted a new beginning and couldn’t imagine anyone else to share his life with. He wanted me to move back to America with him.

I was not sure whether I wanted to go back to him. True, in the depths of my heart, I still loved him, but was it that simple? I wondered. My mother wanted me to go back to him. As far as she was concerned, it was better to have a living, breathing husband than stay at home divorced. Well, you couldn’t blame her; the questions from relatives were sharp enough to drive anyone insane. She was sick and tired of answering them on my behalf. Rhea was the happiest for me. For the first time, something seemed to go right in my life and she said it was about time. But I did not feel completely at ease about going back to US. Mainly because I did not want to leave Rhea behind. She needed me and I knew it. But Rhea surprised me and all of us when she announced that she was going to go back to the same college. She said it was useless trying to run away from her problems. She said she knew it was going to be very tough sitting in the same class with her classmates sharing videos of her nudity. But she insisted saying that this is what her father would have wanted. She had always been a strong woman and this I felt was the pinnacle of her strength.

Things moved fast after that. After spending two more days at home, Rhea left for college. She got a single room in her hostel and turned deaf ears to the demeaning comments and taunting of her classmates. I moved back to America and remarried Abraham – this time in a proper Christian manner. I asked my mom to come and stay with us and she did. I landed a good job at a prestigious architecture firm. I became pregnant after a year and when I held my baby daughter for the first time, I did not have to think twice what to name her. She was going to be named after the one person whom I cherished as my own, Rhea.

After struggling her way through medical school, she graduated with honours (no surprises there) and after completing her internship at a prestigious hospital, she got a lucrative job offer from the same hospital. But then with the same ease with which she told us she was going back to college all those years ago, she declined the offer. She then joined a non profit organisation called “Aditi” which works exclusively among rape victims and women with AIDS. Her explanation to the whole thing was that her first year in college had taught her how demeaning and emotionally scarring society’s shunning and taunting can be. Even though Rhea’s mother was not too happy about this career diversion of hers, she said nothing. Rhea had always been a smart kid and she knew she would not mess up now. They moved from the city that had brought us together to a small house near the slums. We keep in constant touch with each other. Rhea met a young social worker and they are getting married in June. I couldn’t have been happier for her. Now, when I look outside my window at my snow-covered lawn, I can see Rhea in my mind’s eye. Doing what she does best. Being somebody’s saviour.

They say that writers are eccentric people. I never really believed it till I started writing at the age of thirteen. Things ceased to be simple. And the voices inside my head grew louder. I couldn’t choose between things or decide soon enough. I was becoming a writer. Or maybe having a bad entry into teenage.

Now that my teen years are way behind me, I can safely say that it wasn’t teen-troubles. I have a girl inside my head. Writers and artists all over the world would give her different names – muse, inspiration, driving force, spark of creation and so on. But for me, it was always a feminine spirit inside my head talking to me about my characters, story lines, plots, titles and themes. I don’t have a name for her. But then again, I don’t think she really minds. She talks to me on silent nights – sometimes as loud shrieks and other times as silent whispers. She embodies love, kindness and everything romantic. She melts inside of me with girlish shyness when he sends me flowers on every possible occasion. She fills me with such silly happiness and I pour those lovey-dovey lines on paper that I feel mortified to read them out later. And when I see helpless, hopeless people around me, I can feel the girl inside my head crying and shedding tears. They flow from her eyes, through my hands into the white sheet in front of me. The ink in my blue fountain pen becomes my tears and I cry on behalf of her. And when people read through these tears of mine, they share the sorrow of the girl inside my head. I choose to be quite and try to calm her down but it rarely works.

Sometimes the girl inside my head has her temper tantrums. She grows so restless that it seeps from her into me and I get these bouts of restlessness where noting calms me – except maybe prayer. Injustice, Corruption, Exploitation and unfair treatment of people – all of these things have her going on non-ending tirades and I move my pen according to her whim and fancy. I help to let her frustration out and write fiery pieces about social reforms and positive changes. God knows, I do. And He knows that all those words remain just that. Words. No life, no meaning and sadly, no action taken on them. The girl inside my head goes into depression and doesn’t speak to me for days on end. Needless to say, I often have a terrible case of writer’s block when she does this. And after repeating this cycle innumerable times, she has learnt not to talk of these things. Nobody wants to know about the harsh reality. They just want entertaining stories. And I am included in the “they”. I fight with her and get her to talk to me. I fight to overcome the writer’s block. And eventually I win over her depression. I ask her to then tell me stories. Stories that she creates.

And boy, does she tell stories! She has a story for every occasion. And times when she doesn’t shut herself in her cave of depression, she tells such colourful, lovely stories that you feel you are living through them. She creates princes and paupers, magically weaves an empire to her liking and she reigns supreme there. She creates twists and turns in her world. She makes people to fall in love, she creates happy children and there is no sorrow in her land. And then she turns bitchy in my head. All the bitterness she has for this world, she spews it out through her stories. She creates ironic moments to reflect our lives – she breaks up happy lovers, she kills people and ends these stories abruptly. She, who used to feel sorry for the sad state of things around her begins to create them in her world too. In accordance to the universal law ” Like begets like”, she becomes so much like the world she clearly despises. But fortunately, she doesn’t stay that way.

The girl in my head looks for the good in this bad world. And fortunately, she finds it. She finds it in the eyes of newly-weds, in the song of a mother as she puts her child to sleep, in the kindness of a random stranger by the road, in the way a Christian priest donates money to a Muslim orphanage, in the innocence of a four-year old’s prayer for a sick puppy, she finds it in me when my words help to soothe someone in need. Correction. Not my words. Her words. Words that she put in my head and whispered in my ears.

She slowly believed in the good over evil and she works through me for it. She comforts me when I need it so that I can share the comfort. She continues to talk to me and I’m ever so grateful for it.

They say writers are eccentric people. Are we? I ask my reflection in the mirror. And I see her light brown eyes looking at me. “Maybe. Maybe, we are” , she whispers in my head. I smile back at the girl in my head

Kalyani looked at her chapped and broken finger nails and made a mental note to go for a manicure at least next month. Then she thought of the salary she would get and the loans she had to pay and the balance that would remain from her pay. Maybe she can go for the manicure the month after next. There was no hurry. What mattered was whether she sent money home to her parents and family of 7. She let out a soft sigh and adjusted her headset and the small microphone attached to it. She had an avail time* longer than a minute and that was rare. Usually, calls peaked at this time and she was wondering why wasn’t she getting her next call and then her desk phone beeped and the call was automatically answered. She had to deliver her opening lines*. She had done it so many times that it came naturally to her now. “Thank you for calling OneEdge Communications Technical support. My name is Sara. How can I help you today?”

She was not Kalyani anymore. She couldn’t afford to be. Not for the next few minutes at least. She was Sara now. Sara – a confident American who was pleasing to the people who called her when their phone service was not working. Sara who fixed their phone connections sitting at her desk. Sara who symbolised politeness, kindness, efficiency, approachability, and whatever else her customers and OneEdge demanded of her. Kalyani, who struggled day in and day out to put food on the table for a poor family in the outskirts of a village in India ceased to exist. Kalyani, who studied hard and wanted to become an engineer. Kalyani, who had to abandon college after her first year of BSc because she could not finance her studies. Kalyani, who worked at nights in a call centre, to hear people call her the choicest of American profanity when their phones weren’t working , complain and grumble at the poor service offered by their phone company and then who had to solve people’s problems in spite of it all.  Nobody wanted to talk to Kalyani. She did not exist. Sara did. The confident, cheerful Sara.

Kalyani finished her call in the allotted time of 12.5 minutes. She did not have to worry about her AHT* today. There were about 1.5 more hours for her shift to end and she knew she would manage. She had handled 17 calls and she knew she would get at least 5 more before she logged out for the day. She adjusted her phone system to busy status, took off her headset and rose up from her rotating chair to get a coffee. She looked at the watch. 2.48 am. 1 hour and 12 minutes more to log-out time. She sighed again – this time loudly and went off into the pantry.

When she got back, she was in a better mood. She had just one more hour to go and she wasn’t working for the next two days. She smiled and changed the status on her phone system so that she could go back to taking more calls. As soon as she did that, she heard the familiar beep and it was time to be Sara again. “Thank you for calling OneEdge Communications Technical Support. My name is Sara. How can I help you today?” She couldn’t hear a response from the other end. So she gave her opening lines again. This time she heard something that sounded like a soft crying noise. She paused for a few seconds. She gave her opening lines one more time. As per the company policy, she could disconnect the call if there was no response even after the third time she gave her opening lines. And that was what she usually did. But she hesitated this time. And months later, whenever she thought of this particular call, she had no idea why she did not disconnect the call immediately. As she paused with her finger hovering above the disconnect button, she heard the crying again. This time she heard it louder and an old voice said “Please help me, Sara, my son is in an accident. I want to speak to him. My phone is out. I do not know what to do. Sara, help me.” Her senses kicked in immediately. She got the basic customer information from her caller.

Her name was Martha Lindenmeyer and she was an old widow living with her son. Her landline connection, provided by OneEdge was not working for some weird reason and she wanted it fixed immediately. Her son, Neil had met up with an accident on the road and somebody had called  to inform her  to rush to the hospital. But before she could ask him the name of the hospital and the other details, her phone died on her. Martha did not own a cell phone as she could never figure out how to operate one. The only way to reach her was through the landline and the number was stored on Neil’s cell-phone. The call to her house came from his cell and she had no way to call back as her phone totally was dead. Her neighbours weren’t home and the old woman walked nearly a block to find a public phone booth to call Neil’s phone. It rang and rang for about 2-3 minutes till finally somebody picked it up. Before she could say anything to the person at the other end, a crisp voice told that it was a nasty accident involving two cars and a person was dead on the spot. The cell phone’s owner was bleeding profusely and almost looked dead. In fact the paramedics thought he was dead but somebody found a weak pulse. He was rushed to the hospital.  Any further information would be conveyed to the victim’s home number. And for the second time, before she could ask the name of the hospital or at least where the accident had occurred, the call was disconnected.  Martha almost had a panic attack hearing the news. She held onto the receiver and felt sweat pour down her back. She was having trouble breathing and she knew she had to steady herself soon or she would pass out right in the public booth. After what seemed like hours, she managed to get her nerves straight by taking long and deep bouts of air through her mouth. Then she realised that she still did not know where Neil was.  She called back frantically but this time nobody picked the call even after it rang for more than 10-15 minutes. The only thing she could do now was to pray and somehow get her home phone fixed and wait for someone to call her with the news and details. Her next call was made to the customer helpline at OneEdge and by the time she told her story of mishaps to Sara, she was almost breathless. She cried twice in the middle of her narrative and her old voice broke in numerous places. Kalyani felt her heart go out this helpless mother and she knew she had to somehow fix her phone. In a weird way, it was a matter of life or death.

Kalyani tried the basic troubleshooting that she could do over the phone but no matter what she did, the phone just wouldn’t work. And it was almost impossible to do the advance troubleshooting as Martha wasn’t even in front of her phone. Her attempts at bringing the dead equipment back to life was futile, to say the least. And she was at her wits’ end. The only thing she could do now was to send a technician to Martha’s house and as per the company policy, he would do a house call only after 24 hours since the first call was made to the Technical support. For the first time Kalyani felt angry at the way things worked, in this case how things did not work. She was consoling and comforting Martha as she desperately tried various steps to revive the phone and bring it back into the network. And as she was multitasking away furiously, a pop-up window opened on her screen. Her boss was pinging her in the company chat service. He was barging* into the call as it had been active for nearly 50 minutes now and Kalyani was screwing the AHT – not just for herself, but also of the whole exam AHT average. He wanted her to fix up a technician-house-call and hang up the call immediately. She tried to quickly tell him of the issue but he cut her off curtly saying that he was aware of it and just wanted her to get off the call somehow. And Kalyani knew her boss was right, there was nothing more she could do. Well, if she was located somewhere near Martha’s house, she would have gone there in person and done something. But she wasn’t in America. She wasn’t’ even close. She was all the way at the other end of the world, in a dirty urban city in India, desperately trying to earn her wages pretending to be an all-American woman.

After repeated warnings and commands from her boss, she had to disconnect the call. Martha did not have a CBN*. Kalyani got her neighbour’s phone number and promised to call the next day to check up on the issue. She tried again to comfort Martha before she disconnected. She told her that Neil was going to be fine and that tomorrow her phone will be fixed and she will hear good news about him. She felt a lump form in her throat as her reassurances sounded hollow and meaningless even to herself. With a half-heart, she disconnected the call. She had already gone 7  minutes past her log-off time but for some reason, she did not feel like rushing back to the Working Women’s Hostel where she stayed. Her thoughts stayed with Martha and she knew she was not going to enjoy  her two days off. Before she left the call centre,  she assigned the call-back to one of her colleagues and made him promise that he would follow-up on the case. She was still not feeling good, and she made a mental note to call and remind him of the call back tomorrow.

As she expected, Kalyani’s weekly off did not go well at all. She kept thinking about Martha and Neil and wondered how much she was concerned about two people whom she had never even met. From previous experiences, she knew never to share her office stories to her parents or siblings as they were not too happy about her job. They had the typical Indian mentality and said working in a call centre was cheap and not suited to girls from a  good family. But they couldn’t follow up on it or force her to quit because her money paid their bills and she supported the education of her 2 sisters who were in college. The call-centre money was better than no money at all and there was nothing they could do about it. Kalyani reminded her office mate about the call back multiple times. And even after the repeated reminders, he did not make the call back on the first day and the second day when he did call, nobody answered the call at the neighbours’. She asked him to call again but he said he was too busy handling his calls. She let it go. She would go to work the next day and see to it herself.

The first thing Kalyani did when she logged in at 8pm was to call Martha’s landline. She could hear the phone ringing and that was a good sign. After the second ring, someone picked up the call and said “Hello” softly. It was not Martha’s voice. Kalyani introduced herself as Sara from OneEdge and asked to speak to Martha. The person said Martha was at the hospital. She had collapsed after her son had passed away two days ago in a car accident. She was her neighbour and was watching the house for Martha. Yes, the phone technician had come. Yes, He fixed the phone. But it was not much of a use now. Neil was gone and Martha was not in a position to see to things. When was the funeral? Soon, the date was not decided. Yes, she would definitely pass her condolences to Martha. If Sara wanted to attend the funeral, she could give her the address. Martha had told her how the nice lady from the phone company tried desperately to help her. It was too bad she couldn’t attend the funeral. Yes, thank you for calling. God bless you.

Kalyani disconnected the call and sat there motionless for a few minutes. Then she put the phone on busy mode again and accessed the customer information of Martha Lindenmeyer. She saw that she had been a model customer for the past 8 years. She had never had any outstanding dues and always paid her bills on time. The connection was taken in the name of Neil Lindenmeyer and she knew they would have to change it soon. She checked their call logs and found that 90pc of the calls went to a cell phone listed under Neil’s name. For some unknown reason, she felt her eyes well up and hot, round tear drops rolled down her cheeks onto her headset. She knew she was going to get in trouble for what she was going to do next, but then again, after today, it was not going to matter. She accessed the payment information of Neil and Martha and saw they had paid $31 per month for the past 8 years. She did the small math and found that the sum total came up to $2976. They had paid nearly $3000 to OneEdge and when it mattered the most, the company could do nothing for them. Sara felt that it did not deserve their money. And in a twisted way, she considered it blood-money. She had to give it back to them. The money no longer belonged to OneEdge. It had to go back to the Lindenmeyers. She gave that amount as a credit in the account and pushed back the amount into the credit card used for payment. She knew no amount of money would bring Neil back to Martha but this was the only thing she could do. She felt slightly better but deep inside, she still felt like she was responsible for Neil’s death. She felt like a murderer in a weird sort of way and she hated it. But she knew she wouldn’t be able to do anything about it. It was part of being Sara. But it somehow had to stop. Sara had to go. Kalyani then logged onto her company’s intranet portal and submitted her resignation online. She took off her headset and felt it for the last time. Then she unplugged the phone from the base cord and threw it on the ground. Her colleagues from her adjacent cubicles looked at her sudden outburst. Her boss was walking towards her with a What-is-this-nonsense-? expression on his face, but Kalyani did not care anymore. She threw down her headset also and it joined the phone at his feet. Kalyani got up from her chair and walked out of her office into the night. She couldn’t live with the knowledge that she had something to do with someone’s death. She did not want to be a murderer. But she was more than happy to kill Sara. Yes, Sara had to be murdered. She was not Sara anymore. She never will be. She was Kalyani, and that’s who she was always going to be.

*****************************************

* Avail time – It is the time in between calls. Once a customer care agent finishes a call, he/she goes into the “Avail Mode” where he/she can attend to the next customer in the phone queue. And if there’s no customer waiting, the agent gets something like a free time where he is not on a call, but waiting for one. Avail time varies from company to company depending on the number of customers who call and the number of agents who are there to attend the calls. More agents, more avail time, less number of agents and many customers, less avail time. Avail time ranges from 2 seconds to maybe 5-6 minutes.

*Opening lines – The boring, factual welcome lines that you hear when you call any customer care agent. It states the agent’s name (some companies do not have this), the company name and the department and a greeting.

*AHT – It’s the abbreviation for Average Handling Time. The time an agent takes to handle a call and fix the issue is the Average Handling Time. The lesser the AHT, the better.

*Call Barging – It is when a third person barges into a call in progress. It is usually done to ensure the agents follow the company procedure and fix the issue without further dilly-dallying.

*CBN – CBN stands for Call Back Number. Almost all the major companied take this information so that they can call back the customer in case the phone call gets disconnected before the issue is resolved.

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