The old battered Samsung phone vibrated.
It was an unknown number. Not again! Something told Niharika that it would be one of the unwanted calls, which she dreaded. She cursed every single man and disconnected the call. Ever since she moved to Mumbai, her life had been a series of failures. With no break in the tinsel town and the small kitty of her savings almost over, there was no hope of living her dream of becoming a Bollywood actress. To add to her misery, her new Mumbai phone number was earlier used by some escort. No wonder, everyday with the onset of dusk, it assumed life. When she received the first call, she was so terrified that she wanted to take the next train to Siliguri, her hometown. But then, with every passing day life taught her to cope better—by blocking the callers, posing to be an old woman and what not. There were times when she was bemused at the whopping monetary offers made over the calls.
“Antara?” A gentle voice on the other end of the line greeted her.
“Sorry, wrong number.” She disconnected the call as it was meant for the previous owner of the number, Antara, the escort.
The phone vibrated again.
“Please, would you stop bothering me?” She hollered.
“Well, I was wondering if we could meet today.” The gentle voice requested.
“Please, you listen to me. Neeraj has referred me. I will pay whatever you want.”
**** **** ****
Seated amidst the ostentatious luxury of a sprawling apartment on Pedder Road, she hated herself for accepting the indecent offer. Was it her precarious financial state or the thrill of the offer that made her do something as outrageous?
The man was in his late sixties, with a kind face and an air of authority. He walked towards the all-white kitchen.
“I am Bhanu. Bhanu Shah.
She maintained a dour silence. Her fingers caressed the textured leather of the couch while her eyes scanned the room dotted with artifacts and watercolors.
“Antara, here you are.” He placed the coffee mugs.
She became uncomfortable as the fear of unknown dawned upon her.
He was able to comprehend it.
“Don’t panic. It will be fine.” His voice comforted her.
“Sir, I should not have been here.”
“Trust me, it will be fine.” He got up from the leather recliner and moved towards her. She cringed, knowing that the night would be long.
She stared at the two envelopes that her fingers firmly held on to. Her cheeks were stained with tears as flashes of the night gone by haunted her. Through the night, they sat, while he narrated his story—losing his wife to another man, then his daughter to cancer. He also shared that when he heard one of his friends having a conversation with an escort named Antara, it brought back memories of his daughter who shared the same name. Before he dropped her home, he insisted she kept the two envelopes, one with two lac cash and the other with a diamond ring that he had procured for her daughter’s wedding.
Why couldn’t she tell him that her name was Niharika and not Antara?
Illustration : Romanch Soni
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