The one from his cousin Sameer would read , ‘Yo Bro! Wassup? Happy Birthday Dude! Go grab some beer and some meat ;) Catch ya later!’ Even the language of the email hadn’t changed in years. That one mail, once a year though arrived quite unfailingly.
Shiv would write, ‘Hi! Howdy? Happy Birthday! Was trying to call but cudnt get thru. Have fun k?’ The fact that Shiv was famous for not spending on telephone calls was not just famous, it was legendary.
Mr. Adams, his immediate superior would write, ‘Prajwal, Happy Birthday. Wish you a year full of success with us. Hope you are not planning to leave early for the sake of a pseudo celebration.’
The prim and proper Jenny, who sat two tables across him, who evidently had a crush on him and who he tried to avoid in every possible way would have written, “Dear Mr. Prajwal, wishing you many happy returns of the day. Hope all your wishes are fulfilled. Regards, Jenny Stevenson.’
He logged out of his account without bothering to open those all predictable mails. Emails were so impersonal! He was a fine one to be saying that, considering he could not recollect a single moment in his life when he had taken the pen to the paper with the thought of writing to someone. He had a lot of friends, who were waiting for him to say the word ‘Party’ and then the night would be lost in the commotion of booze and noise. He didn’t feel like partying tonight. Tonight he felt lonely. Tonight he did not want to run away from the loneliness and drown his feelings in cheap jokes and raunchy laughter. Tonight he wanted to explore the why of his loneliness.
He stepped into his empty apartment. The message light on his answering machine was blinking. He frowned at the machine. Nobody every called him on the landline. In the age of mobile phones, who wanted to call on the landline and speak to the lifeless and unresponsive drones of the answering machines? It had to be some tele-marketing smart-ass. He might as well listen to it and erase it. Free even that space for some more emptiness to fill the void.
“Yeah Right! The answering machine! Anyway hope you hear this before twelve tonight mr. I-am-too-busy-to-pick-up-my-phone! Happy Birthday!”
It couldn’t be? Of course it was! She called up every year on his birthday. His sweet Sasha. He smiled at the answering machine. His first genuine smile of the year. He could feel the warmth of the afternoon sun, in the midst of a darkness approaching midnight, as he pictured two toddlers standing at the gate of his house. Sasha and he. Seven years old. Bright coloured water bottles dangled from their necks and small school bags hung from their shoulders. He did not remember what it was they spoke about. But he remembered standing there and talking and talking and talking some more.
She would always be his confidante and faithfully follow him with her sword of twig, as he waged a war with the other boys in the society. Knights and warriors.
Gosh! She had grown up to be on jaw-dropping beauty. He would very proudly flaunt her on his bike as he dropped her to college. Every evening out, she was his date.
He remembered that one time when he and his guy buddies had gotten drunk. He had a submission the next morning and he still had some mechanical drawings to complete. But he had a splitting headache, effects of the hangover! She had come, bunked her college and her beloved lecture of history and come to him. She had, of course, abused him as she put her brains to completing his submissions, but she had saved his day.
He had fallen in love with her. And he had fled.
She had tried writing to him. He had kept silent.
She tried calling him. He never returned her call.
But she still called.
He was still staring at the answering machine. He looked up. There right above the phone stood her farewell gift to him. A photograph of the two them, laughing after they had just, won a street race on his bike. She was sitting behind him, with her arms around his neck and he was looking like he owned the world. Splashed across the photo were the words ‘You rock my world!’
Maybe he should call her back this time. Life, he was told was full of surprises. Life, he knew was too short to spend feeling lonely most of the time.