Missed Call

Updated: Sep 13

​​Is it true that all casual relationships are genuinely casual? How can one point to anything and say, “This is where it becomes serious?” or “This is where their hearts, not just their bodies, start talking?”


“Missed Call” by Harsha Modukuri starts with two friends discussing their romantic relationships. While one feels he is simply enjoying life’s blessings, the other believes it is his entire life, something that defined him, something that filled all the gaps in his existence. They’re each expecting to meet their respective love partners that weekend, but they have no idea what surprises, reveals, and presents are in store for them.

 

Ravi was prepared to get away by 6:00 so that he could be at his best for the evening. He was expecting the last call of the day from the onsite team, ‘Indulgent pigs’, he said ironically, forgetting that once he wanted to work from onsite more than anything, even Anusha, and that led to the postponement of their marriage for almost two years. He talked in a stoic way when at 5:35 his subordinate, a fresh recruit, asked for his help on a bug and requested his authorisation before she could update it in the codebase. The fresher, Naveena, did not hesitate to remind Ravi that a similar situation, a couple of weeks ago, forced him and his team to work on Saturday too.

Ravi checked his Whatsapp and was irritated to see no reply to his messages. Was this Friday going to be the same as the previous one? Or was it just a once-in epoch miracle? The phone wriggled like a worm and there was a new message. He unlocked it and the message was from his son. It read, ‘We are at Sunitha Aunty’s place, Dad’. Ravi was disappointed as he was expecting a reply from another person. What was happening to him? He would have jumped to see his son’s messages a couple of months back. He sighed and continued running the script he had written. He ran it and after one glance at the output and the number of redlines highlighting the errors, Ravi knew he would not be leaving anytime before 6:00. Anusha died in an accident last year and the responsibility of taking care of two children fell on him. Her death shocked him, to say the least, but he recovered from it early and the life of a single parent has become acceptable, demanding and something he never wanted to fail at. He has been successful ever since. He brought back his attention to the work. He was aware that mistakes were not acceptable in his job, and mistakes made hastily on a Friday evening, would bend his knees and extract the punishment in the coming weeks. He called Naveena and asked her to re-run the module. She said it was working fine and could push it through. She came to his desk again and asked, ‘What are your plans for the weekend, sir?’ ‘Something you wouldn’t expect,’ Ravi said, rising from his chair. He went to Praveen’s desk and was surprised not to find him there. He called him and there was no response. Ravi grew closer to Praveen in these months, though he was just another fresher. Praveen should always be grateful to God, as the latter has given him both brains and looks. There wasn’t any girl who was not charmed by him, but rumour is it that Praveen fell for Nabha and she has a reputation which was not easily decipherable. Ravi knew that this wasn’t just a rumour and Praveen had been courting her for months and it was sometimes uncomfortable for him as Praveen sought his advice as if he had mastered the Art of Romance and Seduction. A few minutes later, Praveen came to his desk. Ravi was finishing up for the day, still a bit irritated for not getting the reply. ‘Still not in the weekend moods, Senior?’, Praveen chuckled while taking a seat beside Ravi. Ravi did not try for a rejoinder but said, ‘You’re young Praveen, don’t tease the old boys who envy you,’ he added, ‘these old boys shouldn’t become the reason for the delay in your promotions’ ‘If I get a promotion or onsite too early, I’d know who is behind it,’ Praveen said, ‘and if these things were delayed, guess it doesn’t take much to figure out who is behind them.’ ​ Ravi talked about his usuals and Praveen listened to him sincerely. He also threw a rumour that Naveena is hitting on Praveen. They had coffees and Praveen was learning how Ravi handles things. He was surprised to find Ravi was not as organized as he always thought. It was 6:15 and Ravi clicked on Shutdown. ​ ‘Nabha and I are planning to spend this weekend and Monday too’, Ravi initiated, ‘All I need is your permission for leave and your flat keys?’ ‘Flay keys? Calm down, my boy, calm down, Ravi continued, ‘I might run into my plans too. Sorry.’ ‘So? You have taken up a lover at last?’ ‘No. Not a lover. But a friend with benefits.’ ‘Achha, but that’s not the rumour ringing in my ears since last week’, teased Praveen. Ravi gave a wink and threw a wry smile. It’s been a year since he lost his life, he didn’t fall in love with another woman, for the young and rich he is, there wouldn’t be any problem when he seeks out one. He didn’t sleep around too, though he came close to that many times. He couldn’t date young unmarried girls, because there were already enough boys chasing them. He never went far enough than asking a woman out to lunch. ​ There were only four unmarried women close to his age, and he didn’t try to play his tricks on them. The one woman he was very interested in making it abundantly clear that she wanted to spend the night and all the rest of the nights of their lives with him, a marriage, a contract again he didn’t want to jump into. In all those twelve years in IT, if there was one thing that Ravi understood without any knowledge transfer, it is that any over-friendly move made by a male can land him in consequences that may inevitably destroy his career and throw heaps of shame on him. He had to make only one mistake, and he would be labelled as Chaser or Player and a hundred different words. Then, every other woman and man treats you like a creature straight out of a garbage can. These were not the tags he can proudly show on his shoulder, being a single parent and father of two beautiful children.


Illustrated by Nisha Yadav

Praveen poked him on his shoulder and he woke up from his thoughts. ‘What?’, he grunted.


‘Flat keys, my brother’


‘I told you…’


‘You told me many things...’, Praveen interrupted ‘But it’s the only place, you see, I can have my shenanigans and errands peacefully.’ He smirked and his mouth opened widely showing his white teeth.


They both took up their bags and walked towards Naveena’s desk and asked her to bring something better on Monday that was cooked by her Mom and not her. She made a face and scowled. Once they were in the elevator, several other familiar faces greeted them, all worn out, restless and yet pretending to be ready for the weekend.


No wonder they make memes on Software Engineers, Praveen thought.


A few minutes later, they were in Ravi’s Hyundai. The Hyderabad traffic was just about to become worse. Ravi said he’ll wager two thousand that a pedestrian can easily reach the junction instead of them. He was checking his mobile regularly and that made him restless and angry. He cursed the man who designed the options to turn off the blue ticks in Whatsapp, but not the woman who used that feature.


Ravi did not say a word but observed everything. ‘Tell me Praveen, how does it feel to be in the warm hands of someone who loves you, I’m afraid I lost that touch a year ago.’


‘No, you did not,’ Praveen tried to be careful.


‘Yes, I did,’ Ravi said, as their car crawled around the Biodiversity junction. It would be another one hour more journey in this nightmarish traffic. But they didn’t have a choice.


‘So, how’s everything between you and Nabha?’ Ravi continued, his eyes fixed on the road and his thoughts elsewhere. He had no deep interest in Praveen’s relationship, but he did not want to appear unconcerned.


‘Great! I’m glad I met the right woman,’ Praveen was quick, ‘She’s beautiful, understanding’ he also added, ‘and playful too’


‘’Playful huh?’, there was a touch of sarcasm in Ravi’s voice, ‘You seem to be enjoying your youth, it seems.’


‘Not as much as you enjoyed, dear Sir’


‘Aha’


Soon there was a buzzing sound and Ravi unlocked his phone and read the message with a beaming face. His face instantly turned glorious as if it had been polished with those Egyptian face packs Cleopatra used. The message was from the woman he slept with last week and now he was sure the same was going to happen today too, with a chance of luck, he’d be spending some good time with her during these two days.


Ritika, she was called, a middle-aged woman, whose husband was sent to work at the client’s location and thus she was forced to keep her desires to herself. The message read, ‘At my place again, Love’ and Ravi wheeled the car at such a speed that it came close to an auto-rickshaw and its driver gave it back every ounce, cursing Ravi and his entire family.


‘What is the matter chief?’, Praveen asked, unable to hold his curiosity.


‘You have the keys, he said, giving his keys and placing them in Praveen’s palm, ‘Till Sunday evening’, he added, ‘And please wash the sheets when you’re done or take them with you, don’t leave them on the bed’. Praveen chuckled. ‘I’ll hang you out from my balcony if you don’t, ' Ravi finished.


Praveen groaned and said yes. He muttered something about flavours and Ravi caught it with perfection and teased him, ‘So, you’re trying flavours boy’, he said, ‘You have come a long way.’


‘She insists, we use them,’ Praveen turned his face down and his cheeks went red.


‘Well, be careful, that’s all I can say…’


As the car crossed Mehdipatnam and stopped near a familiar food truck, Praveen waved goodbye and left.


It’s nearly 8:30 when Ravi parked his vehicle in the cellar. He climbed up the stairs to the first floor and was disappointed to see the door shut, not locked and there was not even a light in the house. Is she sleeping?, he wondered and pushed open the door and entered. His hand was grabbed by Ritika and in a swift motion, he was rushed inside. Ravi stood there motionless and looked at her. She wrapped a towel around her hair and that fell on her shoulders. That was all and he stood against the door, locking it from behind, and provoking him to look at all of her. Last week was a mistake, he thought, he was drunk and she was drunk and we found peace in each other’s arms. But today it was madness. This was her bold invitation and it seems like she’s whispering in my ears softly how much she desires me. It sank him down and flooded me. His children, friends and Praveen, everyone and everything seemed trivial now. His desire was strong and overwhelming enough to risk his life and reputation to indulge in it.


They both discovered peace and warmth again. Ritika shook him awake the next morning and they made love again. For the next two days they pretended to be man and wife, but the fears of Monday enveloped him from Sunday evening itself. They just sat on the couch and talked that night, cut off from their phones and the world outside.


The farewell kiss Ritika gave him was so intense that he wished that next Saturday would come sooner. He checked his mobile, there were two missed calls from his son and one text from him. There were a couple of missed calls from Praveen and he swiped them left.


He thought, ‘Kid’s still in confusion about which flavour to use,’ chuckled and went home. Though a pinch of weariness took him, he was in his best mood, nothing could go wrong. He had a great weekend, the last week had been bloody at work, and so will this week be, but he had thoughts of Saturday, again. It’s not the sex he was craving for, it’s the human contact, it’s the resting shoulder. Suddenly, he missed Anusha very much. If only she had listened to him that day. He was in the office, at the desk checking his mails. Praveen was nowhere to be seen, late as usual on Mondays.


He went to grab a coffee and the machine was trying its best not to deliver anything. Naveena was seen at her desk, her face lying on the desk and sleeping.


‘You shouldn’t be sleeping on Monday, miss’


She looked up at him, eyes red and moist. She was crying.


‘What happened? Is everything okay, Naveena?’, he muttered.


‘You didn’t know?’


‘Didn’t know what?’


‘Praveen took his life, he swallowed a bottle of Ativan on Sunday’, she said half crying and the words uttered fell on every syllable.


Ravi’s mouth slackened and his eyes widened in disbelief. He moved back slightly and shook his head. A tingling was rising in his heart and his stomach hardened.


‘But why?’, he asked, wiping his tears from his left eye.


‘Nabha and Praveen, they spent Saturday together it seems’, Naveena said, ‘But when he came again on Sunday, she was seen with another man in an objectionable manner….’ She was cut off.


Ravi felt tremors rising in his heart, he walked away from her. He checked his phone. Two missed calls from Praveen at 8:55 PM, on Sunday. He wiped his tears again and entered the elevator. If he had only picked up his call.

 

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Credits

This contribution is edited by Manognya Bethapudi & Tarun Chintam & illustrated by Nisha Yadav.

 

Product

This story is available in paperback & ebook.




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