Sunday, May 22, 2011

MIND GAMES - Fiction Short Story

Fiction Short Story

From my Creative Writing Archives - short fiction - an old-fashioned psychological "thriller". I wrote this long back. Here it is suitably revised and updated for you to enjoy.

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. 
I looked at my watch: 6.45PM. 
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. 
Five rings. 
No one picked up. 
Ten rings. 
And suddenly it cut-off. 
I tried again. 
No one picked up. 
I tried Priya’s cell-phone – ten rings, cut-off, she didn’t answer. 
Walking towards Marine Drive, I wondered why Priya was so late coming home. 
Her office finished at five, 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: 7.15PM. 
Suddenly I spotted another phone booth. 
I went in and dialled. 
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 ten times and every time the story was the same – ten 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. 
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, “tell me the number. I’ll 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.” 
I looked at my watch: 7.45PM. 
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’m 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 the sound of someone picking up the phone. 
“Hello, Mr. Ranade, Godbole here.” 
Godbole was Priya’s boss, and he said, “Your wife left at five, as usual,” he said. “In fact even we are winding up now. It’s almost eight.” 
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’ve got it,” I said, disconnected and looked beseechingly at the stranger. 
“Go ahead,” he said, got up and walked away to give me privacy. 
Almost immediately I dialled Ashok’s 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, came on the line. 
“Hi, Anjali. Vinay here.” 
“From the ship?” 
“No. From Mumbai.” 
“Anything wrong?” 
“No. Is Ashok there?” 
“No. He’s not come back from office.” 
“But it’s eight o’clock,” I said. 
“Ashok told me he’d 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 hung up. 
So this was what going on the moment my back was turned – hanky panky, under the garb of platonic friendship. 
And to think I had left Pune only yesterday and 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 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, “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, returned the cell-phone to the kind man who had tried to help me, but I do not know what bizarre devious force overwhelmed me and 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, and 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 cell number. 
No response. 
Then I dialled our home number. 
It was the same story. Ten 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. 
“He’s not home,” Anjali said. I could sense the irritation in her voice. “Who’s speaking? Vinay? Why don’t you try his mobile?” 
I tried Ashok’s mobile. 
“The number you called is out of coverage area…” a recorded message said. 
My mind went into a tizzy and it suddenly became quite clear. 
Out of coverage area! 
They must have gone to his 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 six 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 she had come back. 
I rang the bell. 
No one opened the door. 
I rang the bell again. 
Priya opened the door. 
She was looking at me as if she had seen a ghost. 
I stepped inside my home and 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’ve been ringing up all evening.” 
“You were supposed to be sailing.” 
“The sailing got postponed…” I said irritably, “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.” 
“He came here? Why? You could have rung up on your mobile.” 
“I lost my cell-phone.” 
“You lost your cell-phone? When?" 
“I don’t know. Maybe in the office. Or on the way, the market.” 
“You expect me to believe that! You lost cell-phone! Our land-line phone is dead! All at the same time? Stop expecting me to believe such tall stories. And Ashok’s mobile was out of coverage I rang up Anjali and 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 and 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 put the phone down. 
And then I looked at Priya squarely in the eye and said, “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. 
And they expect me to believe this hogwash? 
Ashok swore that he was innocent in the presence of his wife. 
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. 
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’ve got the sack for deserting my ship. 

And worse – they’ve tracked down the stranger’s mobile cell-phone to me and have filed a theft case against 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 wants me to consult a therapist and get some counselling. 
She thinks I have gone crazy. 
Everyone thinks I have gone crazy. 
Do you? 

Fiction Short Story
Copyright © Vikram Karve 2011
Vikram Karve has asserted his right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
Did you like this story?
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About Vikram Karve
A creative person with a zest for life, Vikram Karve is a retired Naval Officer turned full time writer. Educated at IIT Delhi, ITBHU Varanasi, The Lawrence School Lovedale and Bishops School Pune, Vikram has published two books: COCKTAIL a collection of fiction short stories about relationships (2011) and APPETITE FOR A STROLL a book of Foodie Adventures(2008) and is currently working on his novel and a book of vignettes and short fiction. An avid blogger, he has written a number of fiction short stories, creative non-fiction articles on a variety of topics including food, travel, philosophy, academics, technology, management, health, pet parenting, teaching stories and self help in magazines and published a large number of professional research papers in journals and edited in-house journals for many years, before the advent of blogging. Vikram has taught at a University as a Professor for almost 14 years and now teaches as a visiting faculty and devotes most of his time to creative writing. Vikram lives in Pune India with his family and muse - his pet dog Sherry with whom he takes long walks thinking creative thoughts.
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© vikram karve., all rights reserved.
© vikram karve., all rights reserved.

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