(Disclaimer: i have got back to writing short stories after a very, very long time, so i may be a bit rusty, please bear. and oh yeah!, its purely a work of FICTION and names and incidents are purely imaginary)
The Ghost In My Google
It was yet again a Valentine’s day and I had learned from bitter experience to dread “that” day. It involved a lot of pointless time wasting and sucking up to people you did not really like except to make a point to people who didn’t really matter, that “Hey look at me, I am not alone on V-day” and to boot heavy expenses lately. This v-day, this year, I had to attend a dinner organized by my still girlfriend or as she referred to herself “My fiancée” although god only knows when/where/how we became an item. I certainly don’t remember asking her and I am always, always, sober when it comes to women- the consequences are too horrifying not to, as the stories of my numerous friends locked in matrimony show. Well, off then, to the dinner and maybe to give her the heave-ho soon- certainly not this day but maybe tomorrow, this relationship had already been stretched to breaking point and would snap off its own accord if I left it any longer. I would though, have to be, emphatic and unambiguous, leaving no room for any mis-understandings and the inevitable, I will forgive you and you will forgive me proposals later on- that wouldn’t do. My current girlfriend had disproportionate assets, big breasts vs small brains- so she might have trouble understanding that a “no” is a “no” and not merely a feint to get anything else later on to make up, you catch my drift?
I wasn’t always this cynical about valentine’s day, for instance, three summers ago I had the most magical valentines’ day ever. And that’s the story I am going to share with you now. There was this girl in my area and somehow I started noticing her at the bus stop regularly – her dad used to bring her and drop her off at the bus stand and wait until her college bus – with the words Sree Sairam College of Engineering blazed on the sides, turned up and she would get in and wave to him, the bus would leave and then, only then, her dad would get on his bike and leave. So this kinda restricted my window of opportunity to get to know her better. And every single day, I would just stand there looking longingly at her as she waited with her dad and went away on the bus. I would let my own bus go by and wait for another one till she left, never mind that I was late for college, for, you know, which is more important in life, classes or girls?
And then one day, something strange happened – she had left by her bus and my bus having turned up later than usual I had got in and was trying to move forward in the crowded bus having bought my ticket, when the bus stopped at the immediate next stop and I saw her standing there at the bus stop. I was shocked and confused “what’s wrong? Was something wrong with her? Was she sick or something?” Meanwhile the bus had started again and I saw her piercing glare directed straight at me.
I pushed through the crowd, elbowed a few, stepped on a lot of feet and jumped down from the moving bus, with the curses of the conductor deafening me and I went straight up to the bus stop and stopped a couple of feet away from her and stared straight ahead. So here it comes, I thought, she is gonna come up to me and blast me in front of everyone for always staring at her and for making her uncomfortable before her father. But she didn’t speak a word to me or to anyone else and just stood there staring ahead. My heart did a sudden jump, was she waiting for someone else to come pick her up? Say goodbye to dad at the first bus stop and then hop onto boyfriends bike at the next one. It was an old trick. My eyes started to tear at their corners. Damn! I swallowed the lump in the throat. Can’t be. Just not possible.
And then a 41-D turned up and she hopped onto it. I couldn’t understand, but I wasn’t in the right frame of mind then to even attempt to understand. I got onto it also and bought a ticket for theGemini-MOP Vaishnav stop- the furthermost point this bus would take me before I switched buses to go back in the opposite direction to my college. The bus thankfully was not crowded, which was quite unusual for a 41-D, but maybe it was providence playing a hand in my love story, just when I needed a helping hand.
So I stood beside her while she fiddled on her mobile and the bus kept going and going. I had a sneaking suspicion that something was expected of me, but I still couldn’t figure out what. At last, just as the bus crossed the Taj hotel and my stop just minutes away she spoke loudly and clearly- firstname.lastname@example.org, did you get that? And she enunciated every single syllable clearly, “have you got that di?” And turning around looked straight at me. My heart did a jump, having finally got the message in the center of my forehead, and a few minutes later having got down I crossed the road vaulting the center median barrier in a single jump, like a high jumper, for I was literally floating on air all that day.
That evening, having consulted my friends, I typed in the e-mail id on Google and not surprisingly found a link to the Orkut profile. The next part was to log onto my Orkut profile, change my profile picture to something nattier, delete a few pictures of me celebrating “hostel day” with my friends and after having sanitized everything, I sent her a friend request. She accepted it immediately and within seconds I was reading through her previous status updates and going through her photo albums as I was pretty sure she would be doing the same almost simultaneously. I then posted a “hi” and got back a hi” then a “wassup” got me a “wassup” oh come on, give me a break thought I, when there was a ping in my outlook express which I had activated to pull mail from my Gmail account. I checked the message and it said “my friends might check this, I don’t want them to know, and so can we move to Google chat?” I mailed her back “sure, wait ten minutes till I download it, install it and learn how to use it..For till now I had no need” I left the rest unsaid. She Mailed back “Ok, keep it ready same time tomorrow, got to go now” and she went away.
The next day we were both at the bus stop and both avoided looking at each other and acted perfectly normal, to make sure her dad didn’t catch on. The next few nights were memorable, chatting on Google talk- we could only do it a few minutes each night but it was worth it. Then on the 13th of February, she dropped a bomb-shell on me. “I won’t be there tomorrow at the bus stop at our regular hour. I am going late- directly to the company where we are doing our final year project”.. “what?” I almost punched my monitor and then controlling my temper asked “and where exactly is it”? she messaged back “you know that tall building on mount road?” “LIC?” I asked hopefully….”no, in Teynampet- Temple towers- we are doing a project there on a banking software called temenos”.. I hurriedly saved down that name before it got deleted and we said our good byes.
The next day, I went to college as usual and maintained a low profile throughout the day trying my hardest not to attract the attention of any one of my profs. And then the minute lunch hour came I hurried onto the boys common room and did a complete costume change to total green- her favorite colour. My friend promised to cover up for me if the the profs noticed that I had failed to turn up after lunch hour. And I hurried out to catch an auto straight to temple towers.
When I got there, I hurried in and from the notice board I found that “Temenos Inc.” occupied the whole of the ninth floor and when I went onto the lift, the lift man asked me pointedly for my id, saying he only took company employees with id cards to the ninth floor and others have to call their friends down to vouch for them. I was nonplussed but decided to shake him off by pretending to go away to call my friend and the minute the lift doors closed I was off like a hare up those stairs- all nine floors without passing to catch my breath. When I went into Temenos Inc., it was kind of deserted- it was their lunch time too and a kind being, in response to my enquires asked around and told me that the students from Sairam engineering college had gone down to the basement cafeteria..Here goes I thought, another nine floors down and off I went.
This time panting and puffing I went down to the basement to see it nearly deserted, again. I enquired off the solo waiter there and he said “that group’a sir? They just now paid the bill and went up”. Oof! That took the wind off my sails. So it was back to mountain climbing again. This time whooping with deep breaths, sweating like a pig, I got up the stairs taking it one floor at a time and always keeping an eye out for that lift-keeper for if he should catch me, I had no doubt I would be escorted out without meeting Shruthi. And I suddenly noticed something the lift had started from the ninth floor again and had stopped at the eighth and then the seventh and it looked like it was stopping at every floor. Had the liftman caught on to me? I stood there frozen, physically and mentally too tired, waiting for the exact minute the lift would stop at my floor, when I would make a dash up the stairs to the floor above and thankfully avoid being seen.
Then as the lift stopped at the sixth floor with a ping and as the doors started opening and I got ready to run for my life upstairs, something, something, held me back and I stood there like a dumb sheep to the slaughter and Shruthi stepped out, she floated out of the lift straight towards me. We both stood there for the seconds it took for the door to close again with a ping and then I opened my mouth to say something and she stepped forward towards me, very near to me and we……err, something happened, something magical. Later as we were seated at the Red fort restaurant, which unlike the fancy name was a modest budget restaurant situated on the corner of Mount Road/CIT Nagar road and right next to Temple Towers.
We had a long talk and she told me that as soon as she had entered the company the marketing vice president had informed her that a gent was looking for her and had probably gone down to the cafeteria and that blessed lady had made it clear that it wasn’t someone in the fatherly age group, so Shruthi had more than a frank inkling that it would be me, but she still couldn’t imagine that I would do something so impulsive as turning up at her project and in a green shirt to boot. I shrugged and asked her what was uppermost in my mind “When we …err…did that..You didn’t mind that I was all sweaty, did you?” There, I had asked what was troubling me. She smiled the smile of an angel- “What you did was the sweetest, most romantic thing of my entire life and I don’t mind your sweat” and to prove it she wiped it off again off my forearm with her palm. That was the most incredibly erotic moment of my life and I shivered with repressed feelings.
And although we never actually expressed our love for each other, we did fall in love, became a couple and went about everywhere and had a happy time until she finished college got selected in a campus interview by a company called “Oracle” and went to work. Later differences cropped up, we had a bitter break up and drifted off losing contact with each other. And then three years after we broke up, I was again on a valentine’s day reminded off that mad dash I had made up those stairs of temple towers to meet my love. Having finished dinner with my current girlfriend and strategically reminding her that we had by now reached her expiry date and she could no way satisfy me as she was a like a candle to a flood-light when compared to the love of my life, I put into her head it was time to find herself a newer and better boyfriend.
When I came home that night, before going to bed, I steeled myself to do something I would rather not. But the spirit of the day got to me and I sat down and sent her an E-card from 123greeting.com for Valentines Day to email@example.com (something I will never in my life forget) with the message “Always and forever yours”. The next day when I checked my Gmail it had a copy of my card with the message “you will be notified when the recipient opens your card”. I kept logging on every day after that and five days later, was happy to see that “Your E-card has been opened and message has been read” The next two days I was on tenterhooks, expecting a call or a message or a chat window or even a mail from her but nothing. So she still hated me did she? I knew it was a bad idea to go crawling back to an ex….
And then today I suddenly happened to chance upon an old and mutual acquaintance on Facebook, and on Facebook chat after a few preliminaries, I asked her “So what’s up with Shruthi nowadays? You guys still in touch?” she replied back after a few minutes “You don’t know? You really don’t know?”
I was on tenterhooks “What? Whaaaat? Tell me..I don’t know anything, I lost touch.” She messaged back “Shruthi died in an accident a couple of years back on an overseas assignment in Germany. We even had a memorial page for her on facebook for people to pay their last respects. You really didn’t know?” I didn’t say anything but logged off silently and sat back, back away from my computer. If I remembered correctly Google deactivated an email account six months after not being used. If so who had opened that e-card two days ago? And whose call was I waiting for? ……I shuddered with fear and cried “mummy”.