“Don’t forget to take your tiffin, Roy!” echoed the voice of his mom across the empty drawing room. “We are already having trouble finding labor, so come home soon from your piano classes, got it?” Roy wasn’t listening. He was looking at himself in the broken, well, half broken mirror, combing his hair. The shoes were polished, the belt was just fine, the tie was not matching the shirt but as if he had any other and then comes his ironed shirt. His lean structure wasn’t very pleasing to him but then we can’t change everything we dislike. We are who we are.

Isn’t it?

The next few hours saw Roy walking through the damp roads, struggling with his umbrella and taking larger steps to reach Miss Well’s house. Miss Well was his piano teacher and was also one of those few people who saw Roy beyond his ironed shirt and sleek geeky face. He liked Miss Well. He would ring the bell and as usual Miss Well will answer the door with a warm and comforting smile.

She would always say “you are a lot more than you think, Roy. Why don’t you open up to people and appreciate God’s creation a little!” and then would laugh with her set of 27 teeth, counted “I mean, give him a break! He worked so hard on you.You are so talented my darling!” Before Roy could think of an answer, which would on an average take him more than seven minutes, Miss Well would say “Alright,now the next note.” Oh yes, he liked Miss Well.

He pressed the door bell and waited, as always. He would hear her hard shoes tapping the floor, her weight sounding a little too evident.

 But wait, hasn’t it already been thirty seconds since I pressed the door bell,he thought. Is she alright? He was going to ring the bell again when he heard some voice coming from the back of the door. Not of shoes, but anklets. He distinctly remembered that sound. Now,this very moment of the Sunday morning had witnessed one of Roy’s biggest geeky smiles he had ever showcased.

Here collected the sound, very well. Then her face. Then her. The door opened and Roy looked up. His heart was racing and his mind had stopped functioning. Just for those few moments the dripping sound of the water wasn’t bugging or the fact that his polished shoes had been given a nice bath with mud wasn’t bothering enough for him. He met her again, or did she come to meet me?

“Oh dear,let him in! He’s one of my piano students. Come on Roy! Roy?” it took a while for the lost, staggered Roy to respond.

For Miss Well,Roy’s response is taking off his shoes and coming inside bowing his head down,too scared to look up. But not today. Roy kept gawking at the beauty standing a few inches away from him. Just a few inches? Has he ever been that close to someone? Probably not. But that didn’t bother him either.

The girl kept looking at him with curiosity. Why to keep the door of curiosity this long? Thought Roy. Was it really his mind saying that? He hadn’t asked a question to anyone for years now.

The Sunday afternoon saw Miss Well lost in her own notes, but hoping that Roy would follow her soon and produce the same as always. But today was not an “as always” day. 

He had rung on the doorstep of that girl. That girl.Roy had seen Mili in one of his shopping visits to the mall nearby. It wasn’t common for Roy to look up and see people. But Mili had her own charm. For the first time, Roy thought of going and talking to someone. Is she that beautiful? No. She’snot just beautiful. She’s everything, he thought.  For Roy, the fact that Mili turned out to be Miss Well’s niece, was maybe one of those moments when we feel a part of being a novel or a written story ourselves. Yes, Roy liked her. He wanted her.

“You want to have some tea?” asked Miss Well as usual after her first one-hour session of self -musing and Roy- following. “Mili dear, can you bring us some tea?” Roy heard her shouting yes from the other side of the curtain. Why was there a curtain between a drawing room and the kitchen? Maybe that’s how the richer lived.Maybe that’s the all he could see of her today.  

The following week saw Miss Well busy with her own musings and piano playing while the half benched geeky Roy observed the little moments, habits and laughs of her niece. He never knew a person could be this interesting.

One of the days he observed something unusual. A wrong number had dialed on the Well’s address. It was usual for her to pick calls. But he had never seen having a conversation with a wrong number for more than two seconds. “ No No, this isn’t Holmes's residence. But at least we could get to talk to each other! Have a great day and take care.” Came her voice followed by his favorite laugh.

After thirty-four seconds of continuous staring would she look straight in the eye and pop up the same question raising one of her brows “what?” to which he would simply nod away.

 As the time passed by, they both got to know each other and started talking. By talking I mean, she kept talking while he would tilt his head to one way and observe her. “I don’t know, Roy! There are so many people out there and I just feel too thrilled when I come across a new person in my life. I know it’s strange, but talking to strange people is an art and is fun too!” why don’t you open up, came the question to which he had just one answer. He can’t.

He came home late that night.

“Where have you been? Don’t you know it’s not safe to go outside these days! People are getting murdered here, Roy. It isn’t a joke alright?” He kept silent and nodded his head thrice in response else his mom won’t stop talking. “Why don’t you help me do some work, Roy? This is your uncle’s suitcase with some trash in it.Take it upstairs and see if you like anything else throw it out, got it?”

Roy took the suitcase upstairs when he heard the bangs on the door.

He’s back.

 Roy climbed the stairs as fast as he could,holding his breath and locking himself in the attic. He was back after two days. Where does he go? What can I do even if I know?  Roy had hated his life for many reasons but this was the worst of all. He, his poor family and his drunk dad.

 His dad.

How crazy was it sounding to even call him that? He heard the sound of a bowl crashing on the floor. He shut his eyes as his heart had started racing faster than ever. He heard screams. The screams which used to haunt him all night during his bed-wetting sessions. He heard the slaps, the abuses, the him. He heard him. The dominant, cruel, him. He hated him, yes. He hated him.

Things would have been different if he weren’t there, he thought. I would have been different.

Crying and sobbing all alone, he opened the suitcase. to his surprise, his uncle was an interesting man indeed. A few things are worth enough to draw Roy’s interest.

***

The month of September saw a lot many changes. Roy’s house got shifted, Miss Well had started with their third song of the session, Mili had been smiling more than usual these days and as for Roy, he had been in his own world of admiring Mili with his geeky head and broken spectacles all day long.

“My My! Did you hear the news, my child? Another murder down the street! What is up with these people. I feel at times that they do it just for the sake of killing someone. The city is getting dangerous day by day” Miss Well said “Also, I think my niece is in love” while sipping her favorite tea. “She has been smiling more than ever, she does not move from the drawing room, waiting still,for the telephone to ring.” Yes, Roy had observed that for the past couple of days now. One ring on the telephone and she would come running all the way to attend the call.

“I feel she’s being a fool. She has never even met the guy. It’s one of her “wrong number” people. I have always told her to stay away and talk less to strangers.But here we are, she has her own rules and ways to live!” she sounded worried and so was Roy. How could she fall for a stranger in this way? He thought to himself.

***

“Do you believe in magic?” asked the voice on the other side.

 “No. but I do believe in love.” said Mili.

 “Love. Ha. It’s a pity that people fall for such concepts”. said the    voice.

“So tell me then, Mr. Stranger. What do you believe in?” and that’s how the conversations would go.

Mili was mesmerised by Mr. Stranger. She felt stupid yet blissed when she would recollect their first conversations together.  

Pieces of conversation would float across her mind. She never knew that she would find a charmer, that too this way.

“The stars tell a lot of stories, Mili. Have you ever thrown all your worries, laid on the cool grass and observed the night sky?”

 “Let’s do it together” would come the voice.

 She had been living her life her way. He just made her realize how beautiful was it.

“What do you feel about people? Are they all what they show they are?”

“maybe.Maybe not.”

 “People can be deceptive, Mili, you know that?”

“are you?”

 “you bet?”

 

***

“Would you have tea?” asked Miss Well. in response to the geeky nod, she got up and headed to the kitchen.

Mili?

Miss Well turned back and said “She has not come out her room since morning. I don’t know what’s up with her. I’ll make it for you, son.” It’s easier to converse with Miss Well.

The class got over and Roy started to leave when Mili came to the drawing room with an umbrella. “let me drop you, tonight.”

It was raining heavily. Roy was protecting his shoes from the puddles to keep them anything but tidy. Mili was staring at the ground stepping on puddles whenever she could. After a good ten minutes, Mili, as usual, broke the silence. “I am in love, Roy.”

Roy looked up to her and smiled “So, what’s the problem?”

“I don’t even know him! I don’t know his name, identity or anything. How crazy is that?How can I love someone for just who he is!” well,that is crazy.

“He didn’t call for the past three days now, Roy and I am losing my head already. But I know one thing for sure, I am in love and I am helpless.”

Roy came home late that night, again. The walk was longer than he could fathom.

It had stopped raining. Sitting all alone in his attic, he could only hear his breathing and the dripping water. Thankfully, the frogs had stopped moaning. In front of him was the suitcase. The same suitcase with a leather jacket, a pack of cigars, a knife and some shades. He looked at himself in the mirror. The same lean structure, holding a cigar in one hand and the telephone in the other. The leather jacket was just fine and the shades, well didn’t match the jacket but as if he had any other and his ruffled shirt. We can’t change everything we dislike, but we can choose who we are.

 Isn’t it?

Now he’s not choosing to be Roy. He no longer wishes to be shut or disciplined or someone who can’t approach people. Now he can choose to be Ray or Charlie. Yes, Charlie was his favorite character. The one with the leather jacket with bad-ass attitude. Now he can face his dad, or he could be john? The guy with a thirst for blood. The guy who kills people for the sake of fun? How cool is that. Or maybe he could be….

“Yes ma’am,the phone’s repaired. As if they did some favorold-telephone.jpeg! Why can’t they fix things on time? Who takes more than three days to repair a telephone!” his mother was talking to herself again “Roy! Dinner in ten minutes.”

He was a particular kid, but calls can take longer time, right?

                                                                                    ***

The phone rang at the Wells residence. “Mili?”

“Where were you all this while Mr. Stranger?”

“Ha! Did you miss me?” came the husky voice.

“No, I didn’t. Anyway, what were you up to?”

“I had a meeting in Canada. So, had a tight schedule. I was just wondering if you would like to meet sometime?”

“I thought you would never ask. When?”

Pulling over his leather jacket and a cigar, John was all set to reveal Mr. stranger to his new obsession. 

***

Miss well doesn’t keep telephones in her house any longer.