Just Checking

Probably for the fifth time during the night I check my phone. I haven’t got up to check. I steal a look only because I’ve got up.

When I am between sleep and wakefulness, it is especially magical to receive an email. A gift delivered in your dream. A gift you had tried hard to dream up. The bold letters, in their assertiveness, could bring you an apology you had longed for, a peace that did not passeth but came from an all-comprehensive understanding. It could be a missive congratulating you upon your work, declaring you – yes, you – to be one of the chosen elect, an offspring of the moment in which an editor’s tired eyes lit up when they came to rest on your work. Or it could be rejection. Sad, regretful, but certain, decisive. Not vague, not shifting shapes like your dreams.

I look with derision at the promotional emails. Where what I get is just one of the many facsimiles. Where I am an ID, not a name. What sort of a presumptuous sender believes that this nameless faceless mass at the receiving end would be roused by the sender’s personal cause, which they insist on making public? The worst part is that they do not know you but even when sending a mass email, use your name to address you. Must be the kind of shit they teach you in MBA programs. ‘“Dear so-and so”, make it personal, make them feel you are looking at them with kindness and holding their hand with compassion . . .’ Like somebody would be pathetic enough to fall for it. A cheap attempt to trap the lonely.

Then I see the other messages, the ones that conspire to shame me. This time the sender is actually addressing collective concerns. An invite to participate in a protest, a signature petition. The fight matters to all of us. The win would benefit all of us. But I remain on the periphery. Not afraid to fight but unable to fight my own ennui that comes from sameness. Same enemy, same battle, same results. Same, same, same.

Then a eureka ping momentarily attracts me with news of the new. It works for a few moments. While I am reading the first and last sentences of the article’s paragraphs, my cousin messages me and because I cannot bear to see that red flag on the message box I stop reading the piece and quick-type a reply. Then I erase it and start again with a capital letter because I don’t want him to get his grammar and spelling all wrong and abbreviated. I write full sentences and correct him again when in his reply he uses ‘its’ for ‘it’s’.

By now there are word clots everywhere inside me. I breathe heavily and cough at times. I need to flow. I start typing an email to my partner about our last fight which had not got resolved completely when we spoke about it. A few months back, I would never have allowed it to go unresolved. ‘Never go to bed angry’, etc.

But lately it has been taxing. Speaking, emoting, veering off the curb just when you’re about to be hugely misunderstood. Writing is better, calmer, more articulate. I cannot concentrate enough to write an essay but venting is better. I keep typing, trying to ignore the red underlined words. When they get too many, I take a break and correct all their spellings. It’s a little bit of effort to get back into flow but I manage and resume. I try that the words should not represent the chaos within. I erase and edit. I can deceive one into believing that this is the calculated hypothesis of a detached mind. I can cleverly sheathe my vulnerability with sharp sarcasm. No handwriting here to reveal my crests and troughs.

I reply to another friend, in the form of a more honest sharing, a reaching out for support, rather than a defensive venting. What I am sending out is several months too late. What I want is immediate response. I cannot bear the sight of the waiting screen any more.

I step out to meet a friend. I carry a book to read on the train. The battery is low and I need to contact her when I reach the meeting place; that too prevents me from checking again. The phone slides into my bag. I keep feeling its compact slenderness from time to time to reassure myself it has not been stolen. I read for twenty minutes. At the back of my mind I can imagine the closed white envelope on the home screen showing the number 5, then 6, and then 7-… I am also glad that I have been able to finish so many pages of the book. I stall my fantasy a bit longer trying to focus back on the book. Maybe if I am a good girl the phone would reward me with a surprise email at the end of the ride. The phone rings so the fantasy is interrupted and now I have to look at it. The friend has reached the place. I am late.

I get off the train and put the book and the phone back in the bag. I don’t want to look preoccupied and get groped. In the auto, the phone comes out once again and it is held tight in my hand so no biker can snatch it away. Three of the six flags on the mailbox unfurl to reveal themselves as mocking advertisements. In my red hot rage I do not even look at the others till I report spam or phishing, or unsubscribe. One is a mass invite to some event. Two monosyllabic replies from my partner. He doesn’t like to see those yellow stars in his Inbox so in order to finish the job quickly and to indicate he is engaged in the dialogue I have initiated he throws a question back at me.

The phone has died. So had God long back. And I tell myself I am better off without each of them. False hope givers, kiddies’ toys both. Now the days would be peaceful and the nights uneventful.

. . .

Of course, one has to admit that the machine has its uses. Even if I were to leave it un-fixed, it would be an encumbrance to others who rely on me, for conversation, links, assistance. It would be selfish of me to relinquish it completely. I go to the repair shop. It would take three hours, I am told, which is fine by me but I had been expecting my partner to call around the time he left office. The shopkeeper lends me a rudimentary set as a temporary replacement. It has no Internet but I can make and receive calls. That was all I was looking for anyway.

After all these years this version seems amazingly small in the palm of my hand but it delivers its promise of making and receiving calls. Thankfully because of the SIM card I have all my numbers. Otherwise I only remember my sister’s. (It’s one of those easy ones, with a couple of digits repeated in a pattern.)

When the original comes back I am grateful for it, for all the colours and the flags and the pings and the buzzes. There’s something to be said about the company of old friends.

Based in Delhi, writer-poet Ankita Anand has been an invitee to the International Poetry Festival, Andhra Pradesh, and the Multilingual Poetry Festival, Kerala, India, and has been published in Indian and international journals. Her work has been chosen to be part of an anthology featuring forty Indian poets below the age of forty.

She is a recipient of the European Commission’s Lorenzo Natali Media Prize and a fellow with the Washington based group The Rules. Her poetry has recently won her the second prize in the Second Annual Singapore Poetry Contest.