And dialled the number he could (and did) recite in his sleep. It was also the number he often dialled when he meant to call another person and wasn't being particularly attentive. Sometimes when he was almost ready to explode, he thought, he would never be rid of this number.
It was answered on the third ring. He relaxed. If it went on to the fifth, it automatically went to her voicemail, which irritated him beyond tolerance. He had tried explaining how to change settings so that the voicemail thing didn't occur. But it had been an inopportune moment. A new pair of shoes had been bought and his advice had fallen on deaf ears.
He said what was the most difficult thing for him to say.
This was not the most difficult thing for him to say - it was what lay beneath the innocuous greeting, the very act of him calling. Two words no one could accuse him of being extravagant with - I'm sorry.
Glumly, he looked at the scene ahead. He had had no sleep. He knew he looked deranged. His car was parked next to a petrol station, and he had found the petrol station itself after several hours of driving. It was in the middle of nowhere and slowly, everyone on his longitude were waking up. Where he was, it was dawn. These were the points in time when he seriously doubted his own sanity.
It amazed him how someone could inflict so much guilt and imply such pain with the utterance of a single word! The unfairness of the situation was starting to give him a headache.
"Talk to me. If you don't tell me what's wrong, how am I supposed to know? I can't read your mind na?"
"It's just..." after a pause that seemed to stretch through time and space and a million galaxies in between ,"I don't know, I really didn't mean to say what I did. You just didn't seem to understand! Maybe it's my fault."
He knew her well enough to know the trap that lay there for him. He bravely resisted the urge to snap yes! you are right! you are making a mountain out of a molehill - as usual! - and what's more, you will do it again!
"No no," he heard himself say in a soothing voice he barely recognised as his own. "Don't be silly. I over reacted a bit too you know. I should have been more patient."
"Anyway", (in a resigned tone that translated to: what can we do about the fact that you do act funny even when you know it will backfire on you), "I'll go sleep now sweetie, it's late here. Got an early day tomorrow."
He hung up and walked back to the car. There was a perverse angle to staying up the whole night and greeting dawn this way. But then again, he had always been nocturnal. He took out his wallet. Sandwiched between an old bill and a hundred rupee note, was a slightly creased photograph that he'd kept, and truth be admitted, sometimes looked at.
An impish grin and excited eyes looked back, a slightly wrinkled nose and plump cheeks squashed against his own face. It had been one of those insta-pic booths and his idea. For once though, he looked at his own face. He looked young, his hair was a little floppy and he was laughing. He looked very happy. And so did she.
She'd sounded low, he decided. And wondered what flowers to send.