“Come sit with us Kamla, lets catch up!” said the third floor Mrs. D’Sylva. Kamla hastened from the dining table to the lounge, hiding her phone that was beeping continuously.
She had friends and acquaintances from her apartment building over for tea. It was their usual monthly book club meet-up. But something was different.
Woman after woman, she greeted all and welcomed them to her humble abode, sparkling in anticipation of the guests.
Perhaps it was a bit cleaner than usual, wondered Mona. Or maybe Kamla has de-cluttered, there is surely less furniture, she thought. Her thoughts were broken by Sarah’s loud greeting to the company.
Amidst scattered thoughts, the ladies gathered around a lavishly set center table in the lounge, furnished with lush leather couches. Aroma of pastries, cookies and a freshly baked pot pie engulfed Kamla’s sea-facing apartment. She usually kept her curtains closed over the windows overlooking Karachi’s busy Sea View road. Today, they were drawn to show the birds flying away as storm clouds loomed on the city.
Kamla took a temporary leave to disappear in the corridors that led to her bedroom, closed shut since the guests began arriving. Restless Kamla grabbed her cellphone from the tea tray, shaking from the phone’s constant vibration. The names of new restaurants and stores were loud enough in the air for anyone to be bothered by the existing distraction. It was a perfect moment for Kamla to sneak out for a while and deal with this.
“Siri, open Contact,” Kamla hushed in the speaker.
“Kamla, do you want your tea to freeze away, come quickly!” yelled Rana aunty from the background interrupting Kamla.
She was almost sweating now; it was not a good time to be with her phone but she was running out of time.
“Oh, aunty you worry too much! I was just freshening up. The kitchen had me in a frenzy today, what a humid day it is,” said Kamla, swaying in her crisp ironed white button down worn over a pair of comfortable jeans. Sweat beads trickling down her forehead and depositing on her eyebrows did not support her testimony of freshening up. But the ladies were too busy to notice.
Kamla sat with the ladies, twirling strands of her hair that fell to her belly and tried to make casual conversation. She had missed what they were talking about but she heard the usual phrases about other women around town and their sons and daughters.
Rana aunty was the eldest amongst them. Worry for finding a match for her freshly graduated and employed son was eating her up day and night. In this vain, she had also developed a new eye for all girls aged 20 or so. Their hair, face, makeup, clothes, manners, social media accounts nothing went by Rana aunty unnoticed.
“You have prepared all this for us as if we will not visit again, Kamla,” Mona said, turning towards Kamla in an effort to include her in the conversation.
“Life is short my friend, I didn’t want to wait to spoil my friends,” replied Kamla, sighing and looking away. She was aching to check her phone, that was conveniently tucked away in between the seats of the sofa so that the leather can absorb the vibration.
Unfortunately, that’s all the leather could absorb. She could turn off the notifications, put her phone on silent mode or throw it away completely. Nothing would convince her persistent follower-turned-friend of the risks involved in their liaison.
Meanwhile. Rana aunty announced she was in a hurry to leave so she can call her son who was leaving for a trip with friends. Kamla surprisingly found herself relieved at the announcement and began to wish all women would leave one after another.
She was growing anxious as the clock ticked five, it was getting closer to six and the most important of all pings and buzzes on her phone was to come around then.
However, she was yet to wrap up so many things that she began regretting socializing on the evening she was supposed to leave.
After all, she was going off the radar for some time to escape this man she barely knew but revealed a lot to over the Internet. There was a lot to think, but no time.
She had informed her boss that she would be without an Internet connection for some time. The other boss; not from her day job everyone knew about.
Her wish was granted as the ladies began pouring out with warm embraces and salutations, giving Kamla some time to reflect on the past few months.
The last four months had been building up to this erratic moment that she shared with no one, not even her parents. The plan was to take a trip to a far-off resort in Maldives without any connectivity or contact with those behind in hopes of getting rid of the pesky client who haunted her day and night.
In a flash of memories, Kamla began reliving the moments of her evenings and nights all these years she lived alone. One call after another, one move after another, one less garment than another. She was at least able to save enough money to fund an escape like the one she needed so much today. But she was trapped in other ways.
Of the four months, the last two were a nightmare. One of her clients from the website grew rather fond of Kamla and sparked a friendship otherwise. Having become used to succumbing to the requests of men she worked for, Kamla dutifully obliged and in fact found it flattering. However, it soon took a toll on her life as the man grew obsessive. Excessive calls, messages and tracking trapped her daily life until she decided to confront him. And then all hell broke loose. The messages became threatening, and the calls became abusive.
If only she knew where he lived or who his family was, there has to be a way to stop him. But he knew so much about her than she knew about him. It was a policy if the website to never socialize with clients outside the service so the burden fell on Kamla.
Another beep broke her out of the painful trans of flashbacks. It was too late to think, and time to act.
“This has to be the last time!” she said aloud.
Next to Kamla’s house, Rana aunty tried reaching her son multiple times but failed. She called his friends. She called his office. But to no avail. Finally, she decided to step out the house and get hold of him once and for all.
She remembered keeping his address somewhere in the kitchen drawers. She lept for the kitchen and got hold of a small dirty piece of paper creased with marks of steel spoons.
She cleaned the paper with her nervous fingers and set off for the car downstairs.
Next door, Kamla shoved her phone in her purse and grabbed some change from the counter. Her taxi was here.
The ride to the airport seemed the longest. She deliberately kept herself occupied by creating scenarios in her mind about forgetting to lock the front door or leaving the gas on the stove lit.
The ladies crossed paths at a traffic signal by the McDonald’s but parted ways to different roads.
Rana aunty soon reached her son’s apartment. The door was cracked open and a waft of sweat and cigarette smoke rose just as it did from his room back home.
With hesitant steps, Rana aunty walked inside. It was a dimly lit area with the bed, dining table, kitchen, everything tucked in the four corners. It must be a spacious hall to be used as a cozy apartment but now reeked of carelessness and was strewn with thing all over.
There was silence in the house but she could hear the computer running somewhere. There were no other rooms in the house. He may be in the bathroom. Rana aunty walked over to the sofa, oozing with sheets and throws and pillows and rescued a laptop from under the pile.
The screen had many women. And a familiar woman.