I don’t usually write such long things, because I always lose interest halfway through, and forget what the point was and go off on some tangent. This, somehow, worked out.
Anyway, thank you, Thang (you know who you are) for editing and what not. ❤
Each day, at exactly 3:29am, the house phone would ring. It would do so for seven rings and then it would stop. Only on Tuesdays, it would not ring at 3:29am; it would, instead, ring at 5:29pm. He never figured out why it rang, or who was calling it, but he enjoyed living in the mystery of it. It was equal parts scary, like a horror movie, and mysterious because of the strangeness of it all.
The first time it rang was, incidentally, on the twenty-ninth of March 1999, a Wednesday – 3-29-1999. The first time it rang, he picked it up and heard breathing; a heavy inhalation followed by a soft exhalation -something not unlike an animal’s breathing pattern. He put it down immediately, frightened. That night, he was too afraid to go back to sleep. The next night, a Thursday, it rang again at 3:29am, and he picked it up, again, but this time he only heard a monotonous beep in a pattern: a beep, for five seconds, silence for two seconds, and then it would repeat. There was hardly any variation, save for one time when the beep went on for seven seconds followed by silence for three seconds.
Sometimes, it was only silence. For the longest time, it was only silence interspersed with days of heavy breathing and the beep. Then, when he was getting better at predicting the pattern – it wasn’t that hard, it was just a simple weighted probability – it changed. Soon, a new sound was added to the mix – it would play a classical piece. Usually, it was Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 3, or Berlioz’s Symphonie Phastastique, or, although very rarely, Mahler’s Symphony No. 1. Never the complete piece, though, always a small segment of varying duration, of the piece.
It had been several months since it had begun, and he was pretty much used to these calls. In fact, he expected it some days, he waited for it, he was eager for it. He could not explain his attraction towards this call; he could not quantify it in words. It was an ethereal connection that he had with the call, and perhaps even the caller.
Some nights, he would be too tired from his work at the university to pick the call up; some nights, he was just too lazy to answer it. For one whole week, he didn’t pick up the call just to see if the caller would call back the next time.
The caller did call back.
Then he left the call ringing and unanswered for a few more days, and that’s when he realized that he was attached to these calls. So, he started answering them again and listened to the sound or lack thereof on the other side.
It came to a point where, somehow, he was addicted to these calls. He tried giving it up once more, even going so far as to disconnect his house phone, but just after two nights, he plugged it back in because he couldn’t take the silence and the absence of calls. He had, previously, managed to break his smoking habit and his excessive drinking habit without too much of a hassle, but this strange addiction seemed impossible to defeat.
He started dreaming of the person behind these calls; he sometimes dreamed of a woman making these calls – a woman dressed in red, with red lipstick and naked heels. Some nights she was white, some nights she was black and sometimes European. He preferred her black, or European with an accent.
Other nights, he dreamed of a man calling him: this man was always large, with a disfigured face, and he dressed like an old Hollywood villain; sometimes it was a Godfather-like person with a thick accent.
Once these dreams got a bit out of hand, he tried to figure out who his mysterious caller was. Maybe, he thought, this would help him give it up once and for all. He asked his phone company to give him the records of his phone calls, and the number that the call came from every day was different. He found the records for all the previous months, and it was always different. Never the same telephone number. This fact, more than anything, perplexed him and further seduced him to the calls and the caller.
His dreams grew more vivid and detailed and he wished to sleep more, to dream more. It was affecting his job at University, but only to a limited extent. He didn’t have any classes in the morning, they were almost always in the afternoon. Tuesdays were free, completely, and the other days he didn’t have any classes, he’d turn up only after the lunch hour, when the whole university had a break.
People started to notice his absence and tardiness, and people started to ask him. He hadn’t told anyone about the calls. Though initially, he had mentioned it to his colleagues at the University, but when they brushed it off as something accidental, not noticing the strangeness of it, he stopped mentioning it altogether and they, he assumed, had forgotten about it.
He was never the talkative type, nor was he a particularly dominant personality, if someone wasn’t listening to him or what he was saying after a while, or showed no interest, he’d slowly retreat back into his shell and would cease speaking. The others, they never noticed it. Or if they did, they didn’t seem to care. He was quite content with his situation. It never bothered him.
So, the calls remained a secret, and he always gave strange reasons for his lateness or absence: his dog, a fictitious one, had to be taken to the vet; he had another one of his terrible migraines that were triggered by the smoke and noise from the kids under whose flat he lived; reasons that bordered the line of fake and real.
One night, the house phone rang at 3:30am, a minute late. He found this eerily strange and almost didn’t pick it up; he was waiting to see if it rang beyond the seventh ring, but decided against it and picked it up on the seventh.
This time there was heavy breathing, and the sound of a glass being placed on the table. He built up the courage and said, “Hello?” He had stopped greeting the call after the first few weeks, and this was the first since then. As soon as he said it, then breathing stopped. He heard the sound of a sip and the caller cut the call.
This was his first sign of sentience behind the call, the first sign of life. He felt rejuvenated, a new avenue had opened up and he was ecstatic. He pondered the reason for the deviation from the norm for this call, and he noticed the date: it was his birthday.
The next day was a Tuesday, and the phone rang at exactly 5:29pm and he was there to answer it, which he did so on the first ring. There was silence on the other end of the call, but he started speaking. He started with a “Hello, are you there?” The usual questions one would ask in such a situation. He followed that with, “I know you are there and listening. Please answer me, I would like to talk.”
“Okay,” he said, “I’ll talk then.”
He found it easy to speak to a person with no face, and, perhaps, no voice. He told the caller about a lot of things, he sometimes cracked jokes. He revealed to the caller what he hadn’t revealed even to his previous boyfriends or girlfriends, he revealed his true self to the caller.
His attachment to the calls and the caller only grew further and became more obsessive. The first few calls were short – fifteen minutes at most, then they grew longer and, occasionally, it grew longer, up to two hours. His attachment to the calls was obscene. Throughout these calls, which continued for years, not once did he get a response.
Every year on his birthday, the call would come at 3:30am or 3:28am, and if it fell on a Tuesday, it would be at 5:30pm or 5:28pm. He continued to talk to the caller as if they had known each other for years, never expecting a response, and never receiving one.
This continued for a very long time, well into his seventies, well into his retirement. It was his only source of entertainment after he stopped going to university and stopped meeting his colleagues.
Until one day, exactly forty years to the day it began, he picked up the call and before he could even utter his first hello, the caller made a sound that shocked him. The caller was crying but still didn’t speak. He realized that something was wrong and something bad was going to happen. He didn’t know how he knew, or what was coming, but he knew it was bad and that the caller was crying and that was enough for him. The caller cut the call before he could even utter a single word to console the caller.
The next day, a Wednesday, he waited for the call, but the call never came. Three days went by, and the call never came. Two weeks went by, and still no call. He became anxious and worried and started showing signs of withdrawal. He no longer had anything to do; that was his last connection to this world, and it was dying out. He waited, almost every day, near the phone for a call.
One day, a call did come, but he was outside and his answering machine caught it. He hated himself for missing the call. After the missed call, he ceased all outings. He refused to leave home, and he hardly moved from his chair near the phone except to use the toilet or to make food. In a few weeks, the food ran out, but he was too scared to leave the house for fear of missing the call again. He set up a recurring delivery of food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner; he also set up a recurring delivery of fruits and other food so that he never had to leave again. He kept aside enough money to pay for the food for at least the next ten months.
He was getting desperate, so he took out all his house phone records and called every single number that had called him. He got out his own records and played the same musical tracks to see if the caller would respond; he repeated the same things to the person on the other side that the caller had done to him. But he was always met with silence. The calls that he made that were answered, were always greeted with silence. He’d make at least a hundred calls a week, and it took less than four months for him to exhaust his calls. He broke down at the final call, and cut it halfway through.
The very next day, he received a call and he was ecstatic. He picked it up and the caller finally spoke. The voice said but one thing: “Thank you.”
He wasn’t sure if the voice was a woman or a man, but he was happy either way. He started crying while still on the call. He put the phone down, and he closed his eyes. His tears were those of happiness, and relief took over him and he closed his eyes.
The next day, at breakfast, the doorbell rang several times but no one answered. The delivery man thought that the man was still asleep, or perhaps he was away, slipped a note under the door notifying the resident that the food was kept right outside his apartment. When the deliveryman returned for the lunchtime delivery, he noticed the breakfast parcel still outside. He knocked on the door and rang the doorbell several times, and finally called the authorities to break the door down.
The authorities arrived a while after, and they entered the house. They could barely take the smell emanating from the house.
Then, they found him.
There, on the chair, with the phone in his hand, the man lay with his eyes shut and a smile on his face. As they were inspecting the body, the phone rang. It was 2:49pm.
No one picked it up because they couldn’t release the phone from the dead man’s grasp. No one would ever answer any call that came to that house. No one would ever know who the caller was, but the man was happy in the end, and that was all that mattered.