Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Suspicion – Fiction Short Story

Many years ago – one evening – during my wonderful Mumbai days – I went for a long walk to the Gateway of India – then – down the waterfront to Apollo Bunder – then – on Colaba Causeway – and – that night – I wrote this story...

SUSPICION 
Fiction Short Story 
By 
VIKRAM KARVE 

Mumbai
Circa 2001

The moment I saw the telephone booth I decided to ring up my wife in Pune.
I wish I hadn’t. 
But then  you wouldn’t be reading this story. 
At that precise point of time  I should have been just out of Mumbai Harbour  sailing on the high seas.
But – my ship’s departure was suddenly postponed by a day – as some cargo documents were not in order.
And  whilst the ship-chandlers and agents were on the job  obtaining the necessary clearances  I decided to see a movie at the Regal cinema  and then  kill time window-shopping on Colaba Causeway. 
Having enjoyed the afternoon show  I was lazily strolling down Colaba Causeway – when I saw the telephone booth. 
I wasn’t carrying my cell-phone – there is no point taking your cell-phone along on the high seas. 
(This story happened 16 years ago in the year 2001 – in the nascent days of mobile cell-phones – when international connectivity was not as widespread as today – especially at sea – and – we shippies communicated with their families whenever we docked in a port)
I looked at my watch  it was 6.45 PM 
Priya  my wife  should be back home from work in Pune by now. 
I dialled our home landline number. 
The phone at the other end started ringing. 
5 rings. 
No one picked up. 
10 rings. 
20 rings. 
And suddenly  it cut-off. 
I tried again. 
No one picked up. 
I tried Priya’s cell-phone – 10 rings  cut-off – she didn’t answer. 
Walking towards Marine Drive  I wondered why Priya was so late coming home. 
Her office finished at 5 PM 
And  it was just half-an-hour’s scooter drive to our home. 
Priya was always home by 6 PM – latest by 6.15 at the most...!!! 
I looked at my watch.
It was 7.15 PM 
Suddenly  I spotted another phone booth. 
I went in and dialled Priya’s cell-phone mobile number.
No reply. 
Then – I dialled my home landline number.
No reply. 
I dialled again  and again  and again. 
I kept on dialling both the numbers – our home landline number  and Priya’s mobile number. 
I must have dialled both numbers at least 10 times.
And every time  the story was the same – 10 rings and cut off. 
As I walked by the sea in the enveloping darkness  strange thoughts began entering my brain. 
Maybe  Priya had an accident. 
I wished I had never bought her that scooter. 
It was so dangerous driving a two-wheeler in the chaotic evening traffic of Pune. 
And – Priya’s driving was so rash. 
I had warned her so many times about her reckless driving. 
But – she just wouldn’t listen. 
Stubborn...!!!
Obstinate...!!!
Headstrong...!!!
That’s what she was...!!!
Like she insisted on buying the latest two-wheeler model with powerful pick-up  so she could zip around town. 
I had suggested she use the car  but she said it was impossible for her to drive a car in the frenzied traffic on the narrow roads of Pune. 
And  of course  she was tired of travelling by bus. 
Besides  it was below her “dignity” to use public transport – now that she was a high-flying executive. 
At first I was angry with her.
Then gradually  my anger turned to anxiety. 
An accident...? 
A distinct possibility. 
Maybe  I was imagining things and getting worried for nothing. 
Priya must be home by now. 
“Please – can I use your mobile phone...?” I asked a stranger sitting on the parapet on the sea face. 
“Sure...” he said, “you tell me the number. I will try...” 
I told him. 
He dialled. 
Once.
Twice. 
Then with a knowledgeable look on his face  he told me what I already knew: “No one is picking up the phone...” 
I looked at my watch.
7.45 PM. 
I felt a tremor of trepidation. 
Instinctively – I knew that something was wrong. 
I tried to calm myself and think rationally. 
“Anything wrong...?” the stranger asked looking intently at me. 
“No...” I said trying to wipe out the anxiety on my face  smoothening my worried look into a grin, “I am trying to get my wife...” 
“Why don’t you try some other number...? Her friend  her office...?” he said holding out his cell-phone. 
Yes. 
Her office. 
Priya’s office. 
How come I had not thought of that before...? 
I dialled Priya’s office number. 
“Hello...” said a male voice. 
“I want to speak to Priya Ranade...” I said, “I am her husband speaking from Mumbai...” 
“Oh...” the voice said,” Just a minute...” 
There was long pause. 
The silence was killing. 
Then suddenly  there was the sound of someone picking up the phone. 
“Hello, Mr. Ranade  Godbole here...” 
Godbole was Priya’s boss. 
Godbole said: “Your wife left at 5 PM  as usual. In fact – even we are winding up now. It’s almost 8 PM...” 
I could hear some conversation in the background. 
“Just hold the line please...” Godbole said. 
After a few seconds Godbole spoke again: “You’re speaking from Mumbai  aren’t you...? Anything wrong...? Any problem...?” 
“Priya is not picking up the phone at my house...” I said.” She isn’t answering her mobile also.” 
“I see...” Godbole said, “Why don’t you check up with Ashok Pandit. They left office together. Maybe your wife is at his place.” 
“Together…? They left together...?” the words escaped my mouth. 
“Just a second...” Godbole said, “I’ll give you Ashok Pandit’s residence number.” 
“Thank you, Sir  but I have got it...” I said – and – I disconnected. 
I looked beseechingly at the stranger. 
“Go ahead...” he said. 
The man got up – and he walked away  to give me privacy. 
Almost immediately – I dialled Ashok’s home number. 
I knew Ashok’s number by heart. 
After all – Ashok was one of my best friends  besides being Priya’s colleague at office. 
Anjali  Ashok’s wife – she came on the line. 
“Hi, Anjali. Vinay here.” 
“From the ship...?” 
“No. From Mumbai.” 
“Anything wrong...?” 
“No. Is Ashok there...?” 
“No. He has not yet come back from office.” 
“But  it’s 8 o’clock...” I said. 
“Ashok told me he would be late...” Anjali said, “some important business meeting. Dinner with a client or something. He told me not to wait for dinner. Why don’t you try his mobile...?” 
She sounded so nonchalant that I decided not to delve any further. 
“I just rang up to say goodbye...” I said  and I hung up. 
I began thinking.
So this was what going on the moment my back was turned – hanky panky” – under the garb of platonic friendship. 
Just imagine. 
I had left Pune only yesterday.
And  Ashok and my wife Priya  they were having a good time already. 
It was only yesterday morning that Ashok had come to see me off on the Deccan Queen. 
I had asked him to take care of Priya while I was away at sea. 
And while bidding me goodbye he had said: “Don’t worry. Vinay. I’ll take good care of Priya. I’ll look after her so well that she won’t even miss you.” 
Sure he was taking good care of Priya – a bit too much of good care for my liking...!!! 
She wasn’t missing me at all...!!! 
I should have known. 
The familiar way they talked to each other  their harmless jokes. 
Platonic friendship my foot...!!! 
I had been a fool  a fool who was blinded by trust. 
Deep down  I felt terribly betrayed. 
I was so angry  so full of hate – that I could feel the venom rising within me. 
I cannot begin to describe the intense emotions I experienced  but a strange force took charge of me  impelling me to act  propelling me toward the nearest Taxi. 
“Dadar...” I told the taxi driver, “take me to the “Mumbai-Pune Taxi Stand”...” 
Something vibrated in my hands. 
Oh My God...!!! 
I had forgotten to return the stranger’s cell-phone. 
I should have turned back  to return the cell-phone to the kind man who had tried to help me.
But  I do not know what bizarre devious force overwhelmed me.
So  I just switched off the cell-phone and kept it in my pocket. 
Soon I was on my way to Pune  having hired an entire taxi to myself  owing to the urgency of my mission. 
Also – I did not want any company. 
As I closed my eyes in self-commiseration  I saw both halves of my life  my marriage and my career  side by side – as I had never seen them before. 
I tried to fathom how I could be so stupid in one  and so capable in the other. 
The voice of the taxi-driver shook me out of my thoughts: “Sir  we’ll stop at the Food-Court before climbing the ghats. You can have a cup of tea or eat something.” 
I decided to give Priya her last chance. 
I dialled her mobile number. 
No response. 
Then – I dialled our home landline number. 
It was the same story – 10 rings – no one picked up. 
I looked at my watch. 
10 PM. 
I dialled Ashok Pandit’s home number. 
A few rings. 
“Hello...” It was Ashok’s wife Anjali again. 
“I want to speak to Ashok Pandit...” I said curtly. 
“Ashok is not at home...” Anjali said. 
I could sense the irritation in her voice as she said: “Is it Vinay speaking...? Vinay – why don’t you try his mobile...?” 
I tried Ashok’s mobile number. 
“The number you called is out of coverage area…” a recorded message said. 
My mind went into a tizzy.
And  suddenly – it all became quite clear. 
Out of coverage area...!!! 
They must have gone to Ashok’s farmhouse in Panshet. 
There was no doubt about it now. 
It was too much of a coincidence. 
Unfaithful Wife and Devious Friend…!!! 
They had made a cuckold of me. 
Having a good time at the farmhouse on the very night of my departure...!!! 
As if – they were waiting for me to go. 
Just imagine what they would be up to during my 6 month absence away at sea. 
I felt tormented by the torrent of anger flowing within me. 
There was no going back now. 
I had to get the bottom of this. 
The next two hours were the longest two hours of my life  as the taxi took two hours to reach my home in Pune. 
As I entered my apartment block  I noticed that Priya’s scooter was parked at the usual place. 
So  there had been no accident. 
My suspicions were true...!!! 
I ran up the steps to my second floor flat. 
There was no lock on the door. 
So – Priya had come back. 
I rang the bell. 
Once. 
No one opened the door. 
I rang the bell again. 
My wife Priya opened the door. 
She looked at me as if she had seen a ghost. 
I stepped inside my home. 
I quickly went to the bedroom. 
There was no one there. 
“What’s wrong...?” Priya exclaimed, “Why have you suddenly come back...?” 
“Where were you...?” I asked ignoring her question, “I have been ringing up all evening.” 
“You were supposed to be sailing...” she said.
“The sailing got postponed…” I said irritably, “You answer my question. Where were you...? I rang up at least five times...” 
“I was right here – at home...” Priya said. 
We stood facing each other. 
I saw a flicker in her eyes. 
I knew she was hiding something. 
Then she spoke  trying to keep her voice calm: “There is something wrong with our phone. Even Ashok said he couldn’t get me on our landline.” 
“When...?” I snapped. 
“He came to check in the evening. I told him to make a complaint...” 
“Ashok came here...? Why...? You could have rung up on your mobile.” 
“I lost my cell-phone.” 
“You lost your cell-phone...? When...? Where...?" 
“I don’t know. Maybe in the office. Or on the way – in the market.” 
“You expect me to believe that...? You lose your cell-phone – our land-line phone is dead – all at the same time...? Stop expecting me to believe such tall stories. Ashok’s mobile was out of coverage too – so I rang up Anjali – and even she did not know where you two were.” 
“Anjali...? You rang up Anjali...? Are you mad...?” 
 You think I am dumb. You liar, you cheat…” I screamed at her incoherently in furious rage. 
“What’s wrong with you...?” Priya shouted, “You suddenly land up at midnight and….” 
Before she could complete her sentence  the landline telephone started ringing. 
I rushed to the phone and I picked it up. 
“Priya  what’s wrong with Vinay...?” said Ashok’s voice, “He’s been ringing Anjali from Mumbai. There is a missed call on my mobile too.” 
“It’s me...!” I said angrily to Ashok – and I put the phone down. 
Then – I looked at Priya squarely in the eye and said to her: “And now  what do you have to say...?  This dead phone suddenly comes to life – with Ashok at the other end calling you up at midnight...? Wow...!!! What coincidence...?” 
She had no answer. 
Adulterous cheat...!!! 
Deep down – I felt terribly betrayed. 
I did not return to my ship. 
I just could not. 
Everyone tried to convince me that I was imagining things  that my mind was playing games. 
But – I am not convinced. 
They took me to the telephone exchange. 
But tell me  do they repair faults at midnight...? 
And next day  Ashok turned up with Priya’s cell-phone  claiming that it was found lying in the office conference room. 
Do they expect me to believe this hogwash...? 
Ashok swore that he was innocent  in the presence of his wife Anjali. 
Priya did likewise. 
But deep down within me  is sown the seed of mistrust – growing day by day – proliferating  and burgeoning into a massive tree of suspicion. 
I have to make a decision. 
Soon.
Once everything is clear. 
This way – or  that way...!!! 
I have read somewhere  the underlying principle of decision-making in uncertainty: 
“Suspend judgment till all possibilities are considered...”
So  till this very day  I am living in a state of suspended animation”  considering all possibilities. 
And – the more I think  the more the possibilities grow. 
Oh yes..!!! 
The possibilities are endless...!!! 
I have got the sack for deserting my ship.

And worse – they have tracked down the stranger’s mobile cell-phone to me 
 and – they filed a theft case against me  they arrested me – and  I am out on bail. 
But  I am still waiting  doing nothing. 
I have suspended my judgment – while I consider all possibilities. 
Till – I reach a final conclusion.
Are so many coincidences possible...? 
Is there hanky panky going on or are they telling the truth...? 
I am going to get to the bottom of it all and find out the truth – yes  the actual facts – the real truth. 
And  till then  I am going to do nothing else. 
My wife Priya wants me to consult a therapist and undergo counselling. 
She thinks I have gone crazy. 
Everyone thinks I have gone crazy. 
Do you...? 
Tell me Dear Reader: “Do you think I have gone crazy...?

VIKRAM KARVE
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Disclaimer:
This story is a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the story are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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This is a revised version of my story SUSPICION written by me Vikram Karve 16 years ago in the year 2001 and earlier p
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