The call

  • One unfortunate mix-up and an unforeseen turn of events
- Pratik Mainali, Kathmandu
Raghu was about to put the phone down when the voice continued, ‘Look man. I’ve never owned twenty lakhs in my life, I’m shaking. Come here soon and just take the money.’ Twenty lakhs! Raghu froze. ‘I could live comfortably for 10 years with that kind of money’

Apr 15, 2018-We’re so sorry, sir. The boys mistakenly wired your phone to Mr Karki’s,” said the man in charge, timidly. He couldn’t even look Raghu in the eye. 

“And how exactly will that affect me?” asked Raghu.

The telephone guy took a deep breath and began, “People will not be able to call you, until we fix it that is.” His lips widened and he laughed in a nervous manner. “You might also get calls meant for Mr Karki and if you do, we suggest you don’t pick it up. We don’t want Mr Karki to realise that you can listen to his private calls,” he said.

Raghu didn’t reply. He just stood there with his hands folded and kept studying the person in front of him.

The guy was dead nervous. Feeling pity, Raghu said, “I’ll do as you say. But remember I want this fixed first thing in the morning.”

“Yes sir.”

“Now then, tell me, why can’t you repair it now?”

“The only guy who can repair this has gone to the hospital, sir. I’m afraid his mother has gotten terribly ill. He is the guy that made the mistake. The guy had lost all sense of work. I decided to give him a day off. I’m very sorry that you have to go through this ordeal, sir. I really am.” 

The man was nervously looking at the floor and everything else except Raghu.

“Well,” said Raghu, waving his hands dismissively, and forcing a smile, “It’s not really an ordeal. Anyway tell the guy I’m praying for his mother.”

“That’s very kind of you, sir.”

Raghu watched as the guy went inside his van and drove off. 

“Lazy idiots. Unprofessional imbeciles,” murmured Raghu under his breath.

He went to his living room and took out The New York Times and began sifting through the pages. A picture of angry Donald Trump stared at him. He rifled through the pages, running his eyes along the columns. As he was turning to the fourth page, the phone rang.

Raghu’s heart leapt. His boss had told him to submit the article by today. Was it him calling? The phone rang again, louder this time. As he picked the receiver, he took a deep breath and put the phone against his ear. 

“Hey man, look I’m really nervous. Hurry up and take your money,” said an anxious, unsteady voice in a single breath.

Raghu was about to put the phone down when the voice continued, “Look man. I’ve never owned twenty lakhs in my life, I’m shaking. Come here soon and just take the money.”

Twenty lakhs! Raghu froze. I could live comfortably for 10 years with that kind of money. He felt a wave of excitement rush through his body.

He was about to reply when he remembered what the repairman had said, “We don’t want Mr Karki to realise that you can listen to his private calls…”

His face was alight with joy now. He could use the money to buy a car or some jewelry for his wife or perhaps some branded clothes.

 “Yes, who is this?”

“Stop messing with me man. Just take the money. I’ll be at Tangal by 4pm...”

There was a long awkward pause before  Raghu cut him off, “But, but how do I recognise you? I don’t even know how you look.”

“Look, forget about the description. Just look for a man right in front of Euro Kids in Tangal. You hand me three notes of a thousand and two of five hundred, and that’s how I’ll recognise you.”

“Euro Kids in Tangal?” said Raghu. Raghu fought to hold his breath as he carefully wrote down the details on a piece of paper. Raghu’s mind was now working furiously and his eyes began moving from left to right.

“Yes, that’s it. See you there.”

“Man, this is a load of money you got here. Come soon, I’m really nervous.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll get there by 4 pm.”

Raghu looked up at the grandfather clock hanging on the wall. 3:20.

Raghu’s bright face turned drab as he realised he had no money. 

“I have a thousand, but I need to pay it to the technician.”

 He picked up a cigarette and a lighter from the table.

“Even if I use it now, where do I get the rest of the 3000?” 

He sank into a chair, cupped a match between his fingers and lighted a cigarette. I must act quickly. His wife had gone to work and she always took her purse with her. As he moved around the room restlessly with his hands clasped together, twisting and turning the cigarette; he stopped and his brow widened in disbelief. Her purse was hanging on the doorknob. His heart beat faster in excitement. 

Putting the cigarette between his lips, he sprang towards the door, took the purse in his hands and opened it. He took out a wad of Rs 1000 bills. She won’t mind, I’m going to give her ten times more in return. He put the money deep into his pant pocket, making sure it didn’t slip off. He had no time to lose. He needed to get there before Karki did. He looked at Karki’s veranda from the window. The man was sitting comfortably on his chair, sipping tea from a green cup. He wasn’t in a hurry. A sly smile crept across Raghu’s face.

“He doesn’t know what’s going to happen to the money. The thought of the money sent waves of both excitement and fear down his spine. Fear, because if he wasn’t fast he could lose 20 lakhs. 

He took out a long sharp needle from his drawer and hurried down the stairs, every step made his heart heavier. 

He hurried towards Karki’s house with eyes still at the veranda. Karki had vanished. He quietly went towards Karki’s car and slowly slit a hole across its tire. Instantly, air welled out from the tube making a loud hissing sound.

Raghu panicked and fled to his bike. The engine roared and Raghu accelerated towards the main road. Even with a bike, traversing the distance between Naya  Baneshwor and Tangal took 15 minutes. Raghu looked at his watch 3:40. “Have to move faster.”

Meanwhile all he could think about was a giant pile of money, twenty lakhs, on his table. Throughout the ride his excitement got the best of him and he constantly lost control of his bike. His hands were sweaty and slipped many times. 

When he finally became aware of his surroundings, he realised that he had already passed Tangal and was now riding through Baluwatar. He stopped the bike at a corner and waited for the vehicles to slow down so he could make a u-turn and go back. He sat on his bike with both legs on the ground his hand running nervously across his chest. After a minute, the road emptied, he turned the bike, and raced to his destination. He parked the bike at Bhatbhateni Supermarket and ran nervously towards Tangal. 

He felt his legs begin to weaken as his heart thumped wildly underneath his shirt. He reached Tangal in a minute. He took a long breath. 

Mustering all the courage he started looking around. His eyes rested on a nervous-looking man standing right in front of Euro Kids. He slowly walked towards the guy. When he got near, Raghu began nervously humming to himself. The nervous man the voice had belonged to instantly looked up at him in relief.

“Are you Mr..”

His words got stuck in his throat when he saw Raghu take out three thousand-rupee notes and two worth 500. 

The guy looked to his left and right before handing him the bag, “It’s all in here.”

Raghu couldn’t believe his luck.

“Bless the telephone guy and his sick mother.”

“All of it?” asked Raghu, trying desperately to fight his laughter.

“I..I swear…sir,” the man’s voice was choked. 

The sight of the man cowering before him made things even funnier. A smile spread across his face, but he didn’t dare laugh.

“Check it if you need to,” said the man. Raghu could see beads of sweat appearing on his forehead. 

“It’s okay,” said Raghu.

As the bag fell on his hands, he could feel his hands go weak—it was heavy— the weight of 20 lakhs. His face soon embraced a look of unfathomable pleasure. 

Beneath those covers he could feel the crispness and warmth of the notes inside the bag. Panic and excitement hit his chest and sent chills down his legs

“You…” a lump appeared on his throat. He swallowed it, paused for a moment and then continued.

“You can go now. Your work is over,” said Raghu, with  a finality in his tone.

The man looked strangely at Raghu for some time. The stranger looked nothing like the cool and calm man he had spoke to on the phone. 

“Well, money can change people’s personality instantly,” he thought. 

“Ok then,” said the man finally.“I hope I didn’t disappoint you. Enjoy the money.”

 “I will,” said Raghu forcing a weird smile on his face. “Thank you.”

The man slowly turned and walked away. He would look back occasionally until he was far enough and out of sight.

Clutching the bag tightly in his arms, Raghu walked fast towards Bhatbhateni. His hands were trembling and he was walking so fast, his feet barely seemed to touch the ground. 

When he finally reached there, he began looking for his bike. In his excitement he hadn’t really paid much attention to where he had left his bike. “Over there,” he breathed a sigh of relief.

When he reached his home, he found his father in law there. “How are you jwai sahib?”

Raghu hated the old man’s voice. That hoarse yet shrill voice felt like having sharp glass stubbed in his ears.

 “I’m fine,” he said, trying desperately not to be rude.

 “A strange bag you got there,” said his father-in-law. 

“Yeah, work bag.”

“I don’t think you have a job, my dear jwai sahab. My daughter wouldn’t be working if you had one.”

Blood rushed to Raghu’s face, and his jaws tightened. His hands were clenched. 

“Everything is going to change, sir,” His hands relaxed and with a wide smile took over his face.

“It better…”

“It will…”   

Raghu never got the chance to check contents of the bag that day, but he stored it carefully on his side of the cupboard.

The next day, he woke up early. He felt his heart beating abruptly as soon as he remembered the money. Restless, he walked towards the cupboard when he heard his wife say, “Good you’re up honey. Can you bring the milk.” He suppressed his excitement and calmly said, “Sure!”

Everything seemed pleasant that day. The room, the corridor, the building, everything felt small, even the shopkeeper looked tiny. The van of the telephone guy was parked along the corner. 

As Raghu was returning home with the milk, he overheard his neighbours conversing.

“What are you saying?”

“Sir, it’s just a minor mistake.”

The voice was heavier and harsher now “What do you mean it’s a minor mistake?”

Raghu found himself leaning against the walls of his neighbour’s house.

“Sir, we’re helpless now. But I guarantee you by tomorrow we are going to fix it.”

“So what do I have to do until then?” his voice was obviously irritated.

There was a small pause before the repairman said, “Nothing much, sir. People won’t be able to call you, until we fix it that is.

“You might also get calls meant for Mr Karki and if you do, we suggest you don’t pick it up. We don’t want Mr Karki to realise that you can listen to his private calls.” 

Blood drained out of Raghu’s face as he looked up. What he saw gave him an even bigger shock. Karki, from his veranda, was looking at the two men with a smile on his face.

With his heart thumping, Raghu ran to his home.

“Honey, what’s wrong?” said his wife. He ignored her completely. He went to the cupboard and furiously began to take off his clothes. There, lying deep inside the cupboard was the bag. He took it up and opened it. A black cloth was covering whatever was inside it. As he removed the cloth he saw a stack of folded newspaper. Kantipur, Republica, Gorkhapatra, The New York Times.

The expression in his face quickly changed from shock to anger to disgust.

As he sat there with his eyes vacant. He heard his wife speak.

“Honey, three thousand rupees have been missing from my purse. Did you take it?” 

Published: 15-04-2018 07:52

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