‘The Message’ by Nishath Nizar

Short story selected for the 2013 New Asian Writing Short Story Anthology

He woke to the hum of the three tonne truck outside his home, unloading or loading bricks or wood or whatever the landlord was crazy enough to get at nine in the morning every day. It was nothing new. Ever since he’d moved to this side of town, or rather this side of the village, this is how his daily routine had been. He couldn’t remember exactly when he had gone to sleep but could remember that he had had a good night’s sleep. He had come in late last night. It was his job, basically. It was all Roger Federer’s fault. If he had not dragged on a match he was already losing into a tiebreak every set, all of them would have gone home earlier. But it was not to be.

Pushing aside the thin blanket that gave him warmth against the air waves of the split air conditioner directly above him, he shuddered. He had been planning to move things around in the house, so that he didn’t have to feel this shudder every morning. Groggily, he went to switch off the air conditioner. There was just one thing he was looking forward to in the morning on a weekend (because one does not usually get up so early on a weekend, even with the racket created outside) – a message. But it wasn’t there. The Nokia e63 had been abuzz all night, with messages coming in through the night from the group he had created for his school friends on whatsapp. But the one message he was looking for was not there. Battery depleted – due to the influx of messages – he decided to charge his phone.

Jockey shorts are good, he wondered as he sat on the toilet. But then that was not exactly what he was thinking of. There were more things on his mind – why didn’t she message? And then a barrage of reason and answers seemed to instantly flood his mind. What if her dad had found the phone and confiscated it from her? What if her battery had malfunctioned? What if some unearthly beings had zapped her phone? Toilets are good procrastination chambers. He pondered on, little realising the scalding hot water about to touch his nether regions. He realised it alright but only after getting burnt a bit. After a few curses, and pulling up his shorts, he went about his next routine – rummage for food in the fridge.

But before he does that, he takes a look at his phone screen once again. No message yet. Leaving the phone on the table, he proceeds to the kitchen – there are a couple of eggs, some bananas and a loaf of bread in the refrigerator. Scrambled egg and toast – ah that sounds good – he thinks. But was that actually what he was thinking? Not exactly. What if she’s been robbed? The sting of crackling hot oil brought him back to his senses. Robbed? What absurdity! He goes on to make his scrambled eggs and toast and then pours him a glass of orange juice. It’s a noisy morning, breakfast’s light yet filling and he still hasn’t gotten the message – except for the latter part, could he have asked for anything more?

Time for the weekend laundry chore, he goes onto collect the smelly clothes lying in one corner of the room. He switches on the tap to the washing machine. Watching the tub fill up, he goes into his daze once again – what if she actually doesn’t want to message you and is avoiding you? He smirked as he thought of his last reason as to why she didn’t message. The clothes went in, the washing powder too and the tumbling began. But what if she really is avoiding me? The tumbling continued. And then the phone buzzed. He ran, picked it up, just to find the operators apparent scream across message – GREAT OFFER! Curses, he muttered under his breath. She still hadn’t messaged and he had forgotten about his last thought.

After a couple of more washing in and out, the clothes went on to the clothesline to dry in the hot summer morning. I shouldn’t bother about why she didn’t message or should I actually bother and find out the reason as to why she hadn’t messaged? He thought. Was it something that he had said last night? But he had made sure his words were carefully constructed. That wasn’t the reason, he confirmed with himself after going through last night’s messages. He wiped the dollops of sweat on his forehead, formed from standing out too long in the close-to-afternoon sun. With the quota of clothes neatly lined across the clothesline, he went in. Ah curses! He said to himself again, as he wondered why he hadn’t switched on the air conditioning.

After switching on the AC, he flopped on the couch in front of the television. Flipping through the myriad of channels, he finds the timeless sitcom – Friends – playing on Zee Cafe. Finally something to get him to stop thinking about the message. But no, he is not your ordinary guy, his mind meanders again – what if she is stuck in a lift and there has been a power outage. He knows that he doesn’t get network inside the lift at his workplace, so what if she is also stuck in a similar situation. Just thinking about the absurdity of his last reasoning he decided he shouldn’t think anymore. Back to Friends again. This time, he focuses on the episode – the thanksgiving one, with Brad Pitt, before he had become one half of Brangelina. Ah, the good old days, and he slumped a little more into the couch, slowly dozing off.

He couldn’t see it, but his eyeballs were rapidly moving beneath his closed eyelids. Seems like, even in his dream, he wouldn’t let go off the message.

The familiar Nokia tune startles him, close to three hours later. Eyes rubbing, he awakes from his slumber, and slaps his hand around the table next to the couch, searching for his phone. He finally gets his hands on it, and hurriedly checks out if it is the message. Heaven’s be praised, it was and it said – yes.

The smirk on his face said it all. But he didn’t reply. Why not let her worry for a while?

He never knew he was the fool.



About the author:

Nishath NizarNishath Nizar is a 25-year-old Muscat-based Indian journalist, currently working as a sub-editor at the Muscat Daily newspaper in Oman. He is a book hoarder, a sports writer, an occasional bass player and a tall person. After having completed his M.A. in Convergent Journalism at A.J.K. Mass Communication Research Centre in Jamia Millia Islamia University, New Delhi, India and working with Sports Illustrated India for a year and a half – he has embarked on the journey to survive his 20s while living with his dad in Muscat. A mumbling narrator constantly in awe of the mundane, he is obsessed with day-dreaming and putting words to the walking-talking stories – the lives of people. He is currently trying to find time to write a book about ice-breathing dragons, ninja penguins and the flying tortoise that stole his book! Visit his blog at nonsenseofnishath.blogspot.com


Illustration by Alan Van Every (Featured image on the front page)

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