Vasant (Spring) 2020 Short Stories -Samya Senaratne


Wake-up Call

By Samya Senaratne


There was once a defining moment in my life, when all the crisscrossing invisible lines around me were suddenly revealed to me in their stark nakedness. These invisible lines were revealed to me through a smiling Voice of a wake-up call.


“Good Morning, is this Suh…se….sahinia?”flowed a smiling Voice through my mobile’ssmall speaker.


His call had woken me up.


“Yes, this is Suhaina”, I said groggily, partly weary of hearing my own unpronounceable name, and partly angry I was woken up by a smiling man.


“Hi Suhaina,” the voice sounded slightly embarrassed, but still smiling. Then it paused. Then it said, “I’m Matthew, this is about the translation job you have applied for, I was goingthroughyour…” my stomach chose this exact moment to grumblinglycomplain that I had forgotten dinner and breakfast and my throat to announce that it was parched and very itchy.


The Voice silenced itself. Then a sweet alteration in its tone, now it was concerned and apologetic. “I’m sorry, is this a bad time?” I could’ve slapped myself for upsetting the smooth flow of the Voice. So, I tried my best totransform my voice to the brightest, chirpiest tone I could muster.


“Nothing like that, please do go on,” I chirped.


So the smiling voice washed over me, reminding me how couple of weeks back I had sent my CV for a translation job and explaining that I had only to translate some interviews in Sinhala-my mother tongue, to English, type it up and email.


I must tell you that I only applied to this because the pay was gold for a rupee-less undergraduate. So, I thanked the Voice profusely, bordering on becoming a big loud buffoon.

The Voice seemed to be satisfied with my fluency in the vernacular and the colonial and bade me a good day. But it never left me. The Voice kept resounding in my ears, kept whispering to me in the night as I lay in bed. It was such a particularly queer voice, why does it have to be so happy? I kept wondering. And one day, he sent me the first recording I had to listen to.

I played it in the isolated corner of the library, and realized to my dismay that my heart did something funnyevery time his Voice came on during the interview. My brain was sending me warnings and red notices, STOP IT. But the Voice was indefatigable, insurmountable, and too powerful for me to resist.


I was soon smiling sheepishly whenever I heard it. As I went on with the translation, I realized for the first time (as overpowered by the Voice as I was, until now) that I can perhaps trace the owner of the Voice and assign a face to it.


So I did what every millennial does. I googled him and also had a thorough search on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn and every platform available, until it was Library closing time and I was kicked out. He was not very hard to find, and I clicked and opened each and every link mentioning his name.


Matthew Carmichael. His skin was ‘not’ porcelain white with undertones of red, as his name would have suggested. Quite on the contrary, he was the colour of a bar of dark chocolate mixed together with milk chocolate for a pastry filling. Yum.


I went to town with the obsession over the Voice and learnt his whole pedigree and life story with one day of research. His parents were both very erudite scholars by the look of things, university professors, alumni of Oxford and Yale. His sister, the only sibling, was married to a prominent Tamil Anglican family and all his cousins, aunts, uncles seemed to be from that same lot.


Not a lot of hope there for a Sinhalese Buddhist with a Muslim name.


However, I carried on translating. The Voice kept on smiling instructions and haunting me day and night and ringing inside my head when I was wearing the heavy headphones borrowed from my roomie, and even when I wasn’t. The frequency of contact was dangerous.


I found this out, when I heard a giggle during one such call. And to my disgust, the giggle came from me. The voice seemed unperturbed, and forever smiling over me. It was a drug, warming me and calming me and assuring me that sunny days are ahead, if only I followed the Voice.


He always sent me the annotated transcript with comments for alterations, very punctually, without fail.


“It’s just that he has strict and conscientious work ethic, not because your translations are quite alluring, so shut it” my brain often rebuked.

It really annoyed me how my voice kept going through all these changes, when talking to him, and a high-pitched tone came to stay, trying to emulate that queer silky smile of the Voice. It was impossible to imitate itof course, but then I had already started smiling and all, over the receiver’s end.I had finished 14 translations, and was naturally waiting in expectation of the 15th.


But it didn’t come.


And no instructionscame. I was grieving by buryingmy head in the world of his voice. On the second weekof silence, Matthewappeared on my caller ID.


“Suhaina, your payment is ready. Can you come and collect it today? Or shall we…”


And I felt like I was shell-shocked. You have no idea. I said I would come, even before he could finish.


Why did I not realize that I might actually see the owner of the voice? Surely, it wasn’t such a far-fetched prospect. But I had never considered it nor anticipated it. How peculiar.

How odd.


It’s almost as if I feared meeting him in person might rob my pleasure of perfecting him in my mind’s eye.


But I did go to meet him.


I hailed a tuk-tuk, because as a government university undergraduate, I wasn’texactly sure which side of the invisible line I belonged to. Heck, at the time I didn’t even realize there was such a line. However, I thought that I might as well not go on foot and must reward myself witha bit of gracefulness and some sort of a conveyance on this occasion, qualifying as, perhaps in my mind, Cinderella’s phaeton out of a pumpkin.


I got down at the place he mentioned, but had trouble finding the exact building. So, I called him. The all familiar Voice appeared and wrapped me in a wave of warmth. “You’re in a place like a junction right, walk up a bit,” he smiled. I held my phone with both my hands and smiled back, “okay”.


Ignoring the baffled look of the tuk-tuk driver, regarding me as a potentially lunatic woman, I walked in the direction he suggested. The Voice was moving with me, I realized. He must’ve come out of the office to see where I am. My heart skipped a beat. I walked on till I saw a figure walking towards me.


It was him, in chocolate hue and blue jeans, bathed in the rays of the afternoon sun, holding his phone to his ear. Our eyes met and the Voice said “ah!”
Oh, but, oh I hardly got to smile at him, that he turned around and disappeared into the apartment-turned-office with great urgency. I had nothing else to do but follow him in.

There, a nonchalant girl occupied what seemed to be the reception and gave me one disapproving look and was again engrossed in work. I sat down stiffly on the sofa there and counted seconds until he appeared again.


In what felt like eons, he came back and I got a good look at his face. It was quite different to what I had found in my detective work. The whole latter half of his face was covered in a thick beard, so that when he gave me a warm smile, I could only make out his glinting round black eyes and a set of gleaming white teeth.


“I just wanted to say…” the Voice was back and was overawing me as always. I was so grateful for that sofa because I could have seriously risked my legs giving way and melting in a lump on the floor at the sound of the smiling man.


“I just wanted to say that I went through your work and it was done so well, it was very good.” Insert smile.


Insert reciprocal squeamish grin.


I remember blabbering something at this point about being thankful.


“Were there any problems in the recordings?” A sexy smile.


“No, just that when they were seated a bit away from the recorder, the voice was not very clear,” I managed to say without stuttering or blurting out.


“Yes, also the community centres where we did the discussions were very noisy,” the Voice agreed. I should probably stop referring to him as the Voice at this point because he was a man of flesh and blood, standing respectfully in front of me, while I clutched at the sofa for my dear life.


I had a fleeting desire to be bold. “What if you took the recorder and…” I stopped.


I forgot English, I forgot words.


ABORT,ABORT, an alarm went off in my head.


The only thing I could manage to do was form my hand in the shape which I thought resembled a recorder, and hold it up for imaginary people, around me.


Thank god he understood me.


“…and held it up to each person?” he completed me.


But then, I felt as if his eyes grew cold. He stared at me, his brows furrowed and he shook his head ever so slightly and said, “no, that won’t work.” I felt that my suggestions were unwelcome. Just at that moment his eyes moved past me to look at someone behind me. I looked back to see a girl come in with a bulk of files, plant a kiss on his cheek and disappear inside.


I avoided looking at his face.


“So,” he continued as if no disruption had taken place, and conjured a manila envelope from thin air along with a piece of paper. “Please sign here to indicate that you accepted the money.”


I signed.


He handed me the money.


I was about to take it and get up when I heard him say, “Count and see if we’re paying you out properly.”The smile was now all gone. I looked up and saw that his face has transformed. The eyes looked jeering and patronizing.


I was the vernacular servant, counting the money as the master looked on.


As I affirmed that it was the right sum, I felt a sickening rush of emotion, wrapping me up tight like a huge Python, winding round and round, andthe choking feeling gave me a glorious insight into the scenario playing out in front of me.


He thought I jumped up at the opportunity to come and collect the money before he could, maybe say he’ll deposit it, because I just wanted to make sure I got the money. He thought of me as nothing but a greedy, pitiableproduct of free-education, who mistook genteel courtesy to crude flirtation of a village boy.


I don’t know why, but this made me smile. I smiled at him and said goodbye.


The handsome, posh face was a bit bewildered by this unexpected, inexplicable smile. He respectfully offered me some ‘water’. (Maybe he was concerned by the hysterical grin on the colourless face of the poor girl).

By this time she had come out again and was staring at the spectacle that was me. “Babe,” she was going to say something. But I had felt humiliated enough and had overstayed my welcome far too long.


I shook my head to indicate that I was fine without water and pointed at my tuk-tuk saying, “it’s waiting”. I said this much and left, catching in my peripheral vision that the receptionist gave a look of relief.


I gathered my frayed skirt and got into the tuk. “Sahennawelawakgiyanehnona” (you took a long time madam), said the driver smilingly to me, looking back.
“Yamu” (let’s go) I said, realizing that I was safely back in my world and away from the temptations of the forbidden line.


No, I did not leave my worn rubber slipper behind.



Samya Senaratne is a lawyer from Sri Lanka who takes to wiriting at her leisure. Her work has been shortlisted by the English Writers' Cooperative (EWC), Sri Lanka and published in several local and internaional literary jouranls as the "Channels", "WRITE"and "Prosopisia". Short fiction is her forte, and she nurtures the hope of soon publishing her collection of short stories.





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