THE LAST CALL
By Neel Anil Panicker
“Can I borrow your phone? I lost mine in the melee. I need to make a call,” pleaded Adil, his voice striking a note of urgency that the middle aged man crouched next to him found difficult to resist.
“Here, take it,” said the bearded man as he extricated a cellphone from somewhere within the folds if his dhoti. The contraption was a black piece, it’s glass screen a melange of cuts and bruises.
Clearly, it looked as if it had seen better days.
“Don’t hesitate. It works. Makkhan jaisa”.
The younger man hesitated, albeit slightly before grabbing it.
The next instant he was furiously stabbing the keys.
He cocked it to the ears at the sound of the dial tone.
A few anxious seconds passed by.
Six rings elapsed. On the seventh. the phone sprang to life.
A voice answered.
The first words were an agony filled cry, “Baba, how are you?”
He didn’t know what to say.
A lump formed on his throat.
It was his first contact with his family in almost two months.
His leather factory shut the day of the lockdown. A day later, when a roommate at the shanty, a 10 by 10 cramped airless hole in the wall that he shared along with 5 others, contracted the virus, he had no recourse but to head for his village
Home was a two roomed mud hut in far off 24 Parganas, some 700 kilometres away.
The first week he walked the highway. Keeping him company were a rag tag bunch of fifty other poor people—men, women and children—all clutching over filled bags and suitcases, several walking barefoot along rocky, dirt filled roads, all looking to escape from poverty, disease and sure deaths.
“Maa, I’m good. On a truck…will reach in four days. You take…”
The words hung mid air.
The crash was instant.
An hour later, it became TV headline news.
‘Massive accident on NH 24. Two trucks collide—14 dead, several injured. All migrants.
What the news anchors failed to mention was one among the dead was a 25 year old__the sole bread earner in a family of eight, the eldest a paralytic mother and the youngest, his daughter, a day old baby girl.