20th September 2012, 06.00 P.M.
Her phone comes to life for what seems to be the hundredth time. I search into it as anxiously as she. No messages. No calls missed. It is not the phone’s fault, after all.
She whimpers softly. She tosses her phone away in helpless anguish. It lands safely on the pillow. She then launches herself prostrate onto her bed, and starts sobbing. Her body shudders violently with each sob, her mouth pressed to the bedspread so that she would not cry out loud for her mother to hear. It is not a grievous cry. She is not crying now like she cried last night, or on and off all day today. She cries now out of realisation. The possibility of Raghu’s betrayal has begun to percolate into her conscious mind. She is lucky she could cry.
I had to wait only until the dead of the night yesterday to see it. Raghu sent a message to her, right after she had had her lunch in her home yesterday after her trip to the movie, saying he had accommodated himself comfortably in a bus starting then for Madurai. A jubilant smile filled her face. That SMS was the last one. Anitha had a long nap throughout the rest of the day. She woke up by seven in the evening. The first thing she did was call Raghu. The singsong female recorded voice on the other end said the subscriber she was calling could not be reached. I smelled a fish right then. A moment later, though, I reassured myself thinking not to jump at the shadows. I did not know then it was going to be the worst night of my life.
Anu waited for another hour before she made her next call. The response was the same. It was well past the time it would have taken Raghu to reach his home, let alone Madurai. I could not see clearly the expression on her face, but I assumed she was confused. She decided to give it some more time, though. She went about, preparing her things and books for college the next day - today- and pestering her mother to prepare the dinner sooner. I sat tight, trying my best to share Anitha’s cool. A hidden voice from deep within me said with a derisive leer, “I know why he could not be reached.” I had to swat it down with some effort.
Anitha seemed to have conquered her curiosity. She did not even glance at her phone until she had finished her dinner. She bit down her lower lip in thought when she found no message or call had come by all this time. She called him. I strained to hear the ring from the other end. It was a shattering blow when the same singsong voice came again with the same message. Anitha looked at her phone with her mouth agape. It dawned on her something was wrong. She called again. And again. And again. I counted to six times, then got too worried to keep track. She would not back down. She kept dialling for another hour, her dread more tangible each time the same cloying voice recited the same message, the voice inside me growing more dominant at the same rate. At one point, she did not look to me like she was trying to get hold of him, but as if she was so possessed with a twisted fascination to hear that recorded voice that she was trying without any pause to hear it again and again. Not once did the phone even ring in the other end. Tears started to flow then. A funny whistle came out of her breath.
I had to sustain a queer sorrow. No human would feel it. A human misery could be vented by tears. The pain I felt - and I feel now- was more acute than anything I ever felt. It was a jumble of emotions, each piggybacking the other to come first in line, each with its own venomous sting to impale me with. I felt anxiety on what was happening to Tee right then; an intolerable dread due to the images my troubled mind conjured up to me on what might have happened - a seemingly endless possibilities of ways things might have gone wrong, or, fatal; a fury smoldering within me against someone, something - Anitha or Raghu, or her father; a helplessness closely in its heels. The helplessness was the most powerful feeling. It wrapped within itself everything else and struck me with its ferocity. I could fume here, cry here, languish here for eras but I would not be able to do or change a bit of their lives. It rammed into my head what I was. I was - am - a lowly being. A piece of plastic. My world is confined within these silent thoughts that roam around in my head. Out of it, nobody knows of me, nobody cares. Lowly beings are never supposed to be happy. Or, their feelings do not matter to anyone else so that if they do not feel happy it is nobody’s problem.
I saw the final nail go onto the coffin when Anitha’s father spied in on her after his own bedtime. He came into her room on the pretext of checking in on her, which in itself was odd. She had been crying into her pillow and now shammed sleep with her eyes closed, tears still wet beneath her cheeks where they pressed to her pillow. He came in slowly, and that gave her the time to arrange her composure to one of a peacefully sleeping girl. He flicked the fluorescent light on. She was lying dead still. Then I caught him looking away from her and at her phone. He stood there, looking at the phone for a span of time that ruled out a casual glance. I understood it just then. Her father had done something. He took care of it somehow so that Raghu had vanished. He had inadvertently ripped away Tee from me. He marooned me.
The certainty of it struck me with such a force that I gave up on my hope just then. I lay there, deadpan, as Anu called him all night long. Her panic was not out of desolation like mine. She still believed in Raghu. During the intermittent moments her continuous attempts gave way for hopelessness, she browsed through the Internet in her phone, scouring the news for any hint of a bus accident. It was an unfortunate night for her. Nothing she expected to come up with turned out to be in line with her anticipation. Not that she was looking forward for Raghu meeting with an accident, but such a news would at least ease the overwhelming frustration the obscurity of knowing nothing at all was garrotting her with.
Almost all of them in her closest circle has asked her today if she was alright. She spent all day in the college as if she were slapped by someone. Her mother made a startled remark this morning of her eyes being so puffed up as if she had not slept well. She was too preoccupied with her private misery to note her father waving her mother off, a gesture to leave her alone. He must have sported a stern look; it was not in her mother’s nature to leave things like this without making considerable noise unless he intervened. I could hear her mother making baffled snorts, though, about her father’s unusual calm. It was uncharacteristic of him to be impassive with her daughter’s face looking stricken. I knew the reason for it well enough. He had expected this to happen; he would have counted on the effects the absence of Raghu would have on Anitha. He was cunning enough to know they should not be kindled. Given time, she would convalesce.
“Anitha,” Her mother calls.
Anitha crawls up to her pillow. She dries her face hastily with the bed covers and lies face down. She shoves her phone aside from the pillow with the back of her hand.
“Anu ma, come here and have some food.”
“I don’t want food, ma.” She says in a slurred, sleepy voice.
“What is this now?” Her mother’s frame silhouettes her doorway. “Why are you keeping it dark?” She switches on the light. Anitha turns her head away lazily as if this interrupts her sleep.
“Turn off the light, ma.”
“What happened, dear?” Her mother asks, concerned. She moves closer to Anitha and gingerly feels her daughter’s forehead with her palm. “Are you feeling sick?”
“No ma, I’m just tired,” says Anitha in a lazy voice. Her face is carefully turned away from her mother.
“Ok, sleep well then. Your face looked haggard all day. I have kept meals for you on the dining table. Go and have it whenever you feel like it. I am going to attend the marriage reception of Kamala akka’s son. I will be an hour at most,” She carefully adjusts the apron of her saree. It is not of the usual kind she wears in home. It is not wrinkled or faded. The silk in the saree glimmers with a proud charm. Glittering ornaments cover her neck and hand. She takes good care not to move her hands too quick as if the gold she is wearing needs a reverential treatment. “Shall I lock the door and go?” she asks.
Ten minutes later, Anitha sits cross legged on her bed, looking intently into her phone’s display. She goes to contacts, picks out Raghu’s number, dials.
The recorded voice coos.
Anitha hurls her phone against the far wall. The impact shatters it. It does not break, but comes away in pieces. The back panel flies off, leaving the battery tumbling to the floor. I stay secure until the chassis hits the floor, then the flap that holds me fast slackens and I am thrown off to a corner. I see everything clearly now. Anitha is well within the radius of my Intelligent-Wave range.
She wails aloud. Her cries echo off the walls. It invigorates my own distress. Tee’s memories would never allow me a shred of peace in all my lifetime ahead. I love him so much. It is love in its rawest form, where difference in gender, or the sharing of blood plays no part. I love him for what he was. What he has always been to me. I should have at least told him my fears yesterday. It is hard to believe it was just yesterday. A huge span of time seems to have transpired and it has served to dig out a deep crevice between my past and present. But what difference it would have made if I told Tee? There is only one thing you could do if you knew you were facing your end but you could not do a thing about it. You have to pray for a miracle. It is like a tumour. You know it is going to consume you. You try as hard as you can only to find out it is something you have no control over. It will kill you for sure. The tumour that threatened to overthrow our happiness sprouted the day Raghu and Anitha named their relationship love. It was hanging over our heads all the time, swelling and growing heavy. Tee was too optimistic to notice it. I was too absurd to acknowledge it. But it waited for its turn. It struck yesterday.
I hate it all. The injustice of it all. I wish Tee and I were no different from other SIMS. I wish we were just pieces of equipment with no intelligence of their own, serving only to make life and lies easier for humans.
Tears stream down Anitha’s face in torrents. Snot clings heavily by her nostrils. Her cry is guttural and high now, as though she had been waiting for this lone moment to vent it all out. She looks desolately at the pieces of her phone strewn about the floor. She rubs away her tears but they keep coming. I watch all this happen with no feeling whatsoever for Anitha. This is the first time I’ve seen her in such a deplorable condition. She has shed all vanity within the confines of her solitude. I have never attributed much truth to Anitha’s love for Raghu, anyway. I don’t see a sincerity in her sorrow even now.
After a few minutes, she stops crying. Wet tear tracks are still glistening in her cheeks. She remains reclining on the wall next to her bed, her face turned up, her eyes gazing sightlessly at the roof. Freshly formed tears spill out of the corners of her eyes to trace a new detour through her temples to her hair. A calm, as holy as it is spooky, prevails. Then Anitha slips down from her bed in one fluid motion and heads out of the room.
I wait for the sound of TV turning on or fridge being opened or the clank of dishes as she set down to eat. Nothing comes.
Anitha appears after a minute or so, her mother’s kitchen knife glinting in her right hand.
Fool, I think. The sympathy for her lost love which Tee would have lavished on her by now had he been here, still would not come for me.
I watch with a detached fascination, my head heavy, not with consternation for Anitha but with dismay for Tee. She sits on the edge of her bed and looks at the knife contemplatively. Her lips twitch. She blurts out a loud whimper, and her face contorts again to cry out loud. She shrieks as if with pain for half a minute or so, rubbing at her tears and phlegm haphazardly. Then she sets a straight face. She holds up the knife again with a seemingly curdled resolve. I could not help but notice the cinematic aura it all has.
She brings the edge of the knife to her left wrist. She bites down her lips together as if this demands much effort out of her. The knife hovers over her hand, its business end lowering ever so slowly to meet the flesh. A knot of anxiety grips me. I am sure Anitha does not have the guts to do it. I am sure the most far she would go would be to hold the cold steel of the knife touching her tender skin. She does not have the muscle or strength of will to do anything more.
Maybe, I have always been wrong and Tee’s claims were not entirely unfounded. I gape with terror as Anitha goes over the huge boundary that separates thinking of doing something from actually doing something. The edge of the knife sinks into her wrist, magically drawing out a black glob of blood that runs around her waist and trickles to the floor. Her eyes are shut tight. I pray that is the end of it, but she perseveres. The blade of the knife traces a dark red line across her wrist in a slow motion, its razor edge dipped into her skin by millimetres. I hear a thin mewl come out of her. I see the trickle gather blood and grow into a thin red line between her hand and floor, spilling rapidly from her ruptured veins. All my theories based out of Anitha’s false love cave in. I feel a deep shame.
Anitha looks at the source of her life draining away in fat globules. She cries harder now. The knife drops out of her hand. A dark red puddle grows by her feet. A shock seems to have come to her face that makes her look like wondering what she has just done. She looks bewildered as her blood gushes out through the gash.
I am already overwrought with the loss of Tee, and the guilt of having misjudged Anitha’s love adds to it. I pray for someone to reach home in time. She does not have a long time to live now.
Anitha’s eyeballs turn up so far that only the whites of her eyes show up now. Her eyelids shut down. She collapses onto her bed in a complete surrender to gravity. Her cut hand lands over the covers of her bed. A dark crimson stain blooms out on the starched sheets of her bed. The silence in the room is complete with its horror.
The clock is ticking precious seconds now.