“Hi, I just wanted to see how you were,” he stated in a tone as reticent as he could manage. Through the receiver, he heard her sigh in-tempo with the breath he had withheld.
“Not so good, really,” she whispered with an uncharacteristic despondence. She had just been through a surgery that had kept her away from work for quite a few weeks; she was recovering, but time seemed like eternity. It hadn’t been complex, only traumatising. She was living alone now, and it seemed every thing took double the effort to complete, especially in Winter. Snow had piled up on a tree, sending its branches crashing down onto her car, and part of the roof had given way. Her bills were overdue and a fine would probably be delivered to her mailbox sooner than help for her roof and car could be made available.
He smothered his astonishment with a throaty hum, thankful that she could not sense his tension through the phone line. With much contradiction, her voice brought a surge of relief that hugged him in a bubble of inexplicable emotions.
An important client was calling her every day seeking a status update, and she might have responded harshly one evening; she wasn’t sure if she still had a job after that. Lunch was just prepared but she didn’t have the appetite; not today, not yesterday too. In her state of melancholy, she had found an old CD of her favourite songs – this one in particular – which she was playing it on loop this week, spending much of these dreary days reminiscing about the past.
He threw a pointed look at his stereo as it began the very song she had specified – strange coincidence, perhaps.
She paused. “Now, I’m so sorry for going on and on. It’s just … never mind. I think I might have forgotten to ask, but who’s on the line?”
He floundered, not knowing what to say. They worked in the same office, with the occasional fleeting elevator rides and cursory hellos that occurred in the wee hours of the morning when they wrapped up their work to head home. She worked too hard, he often thought, but was more than pleased to end a day’s work sharing the elevator with her. They had bumped into one another on a late evening, and he had purposefully retained her name card that he picked up from the floor while gathering the tumbling files for her. The next day, she stopped showing up. And the next. And the day after. And the weeks after too. He probed with skill, skirting professionalism to learn that she was still employed. Through the gossip-mill, he found out that she was taken ill. Then another two weeks passed, and he began to worry.
She cleared her throat, breaking the awkward silence that hung on the line. “Hello?” she asked.
He had observed their encounters a little more keenly than others, but this was not something he was ready to share with her. “Well … it’s ok. Trust me, I mean no harm, I’m really just calling to see how you are. Good to know you’re recovering fine. I’ll see if I can get someone to fix up your roof, but the car has got to wait. You really shouldn’t be driving too. The client can go to hell, along with the job, if they can’t behave like humans. Keep warm this Winter, well, maybe even toss the fine into the fireplace. And … eat a little if you can, it’ll help your recovery,” he rambled, making sure he could answer all her questions, bar one, before she interjected.
They held their phones for a second, each listening to the strange yet familiar music on the other end of the line. Then they both hung up – one stirred, the other excited – as both their hearts pounded in synchronic rhythm.
This is Part 1 of a story about two strangers. Part 2 came spontaneously… and perhaps more will surface too.