As he walked down the deserted street on his way back from work, Rahul could feel his head throbbing.
“That’s probably because I haven’t slept two nights in a row.” he thought.
He had stayed up all night thinking about how to fix things with his wife, Surbhi. They had gotten into a huge disagreement two days back. She had stormed out in a fit of rage and hadn’t yet returned.
Rahul had spent much of the past two days trying to reach out to her and find her whereabouts but had been unsuccessful.
While deeply engrossed in his thoughts, he didn’t notice the woman standing in front of him and bumped into her.
“I’m so sorry!” exclaimed both of them at the same time.
“It was my fault, I wasn’t paying attention.” apologized Rahul.
The woman smiled mysteriously and said, “That’s all right. Anyway, I’m Riya.”
She held out her hand. Rahul shook it while introducing himself.
“So…” continued Riya as they walked down the street together, “What were you thinking that made you completely unaware of your surroundings?”
“Well, I’ve just had a bad couple of days, that’s all.”
“Why is that?”
“I had a fight with my wife two days back. She left in the middle of the argument and hasn’t come back yet.”
“What was the argument about?”
“Nothing significant, really. We’ve been having too many disagreements lately. This has become more of a daily occurrence now”, confessed Rahul as he sighed heavily.
“Well, you or your wife can always reach out to me. I work as a therapist.”
“That’d be helpful.” replied Rahul as Riya took a paper and pen out of her bag, wrote something down on it, folded it in half, and handed it to him.
“That’s my name and number. Both of you can reach out anytime.” she said with an enigmatic smile.
Rahul found that odd, but he thanked her anyway as he put the paper in his pocket without opening it.
His house was now just around the corner.
Riya added, “It’s important that you do.”
Rahul looked at her strangely, “What?”
Suddenly, he began to receive a bunch of messages from his friends, asking him to check the news. He decided to immediately rush home to check it.
“Riya, I’m sorry but I’ll have to….” he started but as soon he looked up from his phone, he realized she was nowhere to be seen.
He looked around a few times while calling out her name, but upon getting no response, he resumed his journey back home hurriedly.
Upon reaching home, he quickly turned on the TV to check the news.
His heart skipped a beat at what he saw.
Two buses had met with a crash that afternoon, and the names of the victims were flashing across the screen.
The only name that Rahul’s eyes fell upon was the third one. He couldn’t take his eyes off it.
‘Surbhi Arora’, it said.
He couldn’t believe it. His wife. Gone. Just like that. “This can’t be it”, he thought.
He began to panic. He was now crying, howling like a baby. He was shivering, trembling all over. He began to feel like he could not breathe anymore. He started panting. He tried to get up to fetch himself some water but lost consciousness, due to the intense shock.
He fell back onto the sofa with his ringtone echoing around him as his relatives continued to call.
Rahul got up the next morning groggily.
His phone began ringing again. The echo of the ringtone and the news channel still playing on the TV before him brought everything from last night back into focus.
He lost his composure once again. The same sense of impending doom began to plague him. He couldn’t think straight anymore. His mind was in a muddle. He felt as though he had lost it.
“I need to talk to someone.” he thought frantically.
That’s when he remembered. The lady from last night. She was a therapist.
He considered reaching out to her. He took out the paper from his pocket and opened it. What he saw written on it shook him completely.
Below the phone number, written in bold letters, was ‘ -YOUR WIFE’
He began to seethe with fury. “What sort of a horrible joke was that?” he thought angrily. He immediately dialled the number in annoyance.
It was answered after the first ring.
“What sort of a sick joke is this? Why would you play this stupid prank on me?” thundered Rahul.
The voice on the other end spoke up, “Rahul?”
He was immediately frozen to the ground. He could have recognized that voice anywhere in the world. He was flabbergasted. As he found his voice again, he whispered,
“How in the world did you find this number?” she inquired in confusion.
“But….but how are you alive? The news, it-” Rahul stuttered, ignoring her questions.
“Yeah, I know. There’s been a huge misunderstanding. I was on the bus but I’d gotten off two stops before my destination due to an emergency, after which the accident happened. So the police assumed I’d been a part of the accident. But I’m working with them about this misunderstanding, don’t worry. Please tell all our relatives and friends that I’m fine.”
He heaved a sigh of relief, but his questions were far from over, “But whose number is this?”
“Well, the woman sitting next to me had the same phone as I did. We even chatted for a bit. She was a therapist, so I even told her a bit about our fight. She seemed genuinely concerned. Anyway, both of our phones were on the bus seat, lying next to each other. While leaving, I accidentally picked hers up.”
“Why do you still have it?”
“Trust me, I’ve been here at the police station waiting for someone from her family to pick it up. They were supposed to come an hour back.” she answered irritably.
“Was the lady’s name Riya?”
“How did you know that?” she asked in a shocked voice.
“I actually bumped into her last night. She was the one who gave me this number.” Rahul explained.
“I don’t know why she hasn’t come herself to pick the phone up. But do thank her on my behalf.” Rahul added.
There was silence on the other side. No response.
“Surbhi? Are you there?” asked Rahul.
Surbhi finally spoke in a concerned tone,
“Rahul, Riya died in the bus collision last afternoon.”