Friday, February 09, 2007

Tracing A Path Home

"Hi Sheila" says a tired and somewhat peeved voice after the sixth ring. "I am not on call today. Steve is. You can't reach him ?" he asks.

"Sean, I am sorry to call you this early on Sunday but I need your help. Can you meet me at Cosi's on Skillman Street in about fifteen ?" Shiela asks anxiously.

Sean sounds fully alert and a little concerned "I'll be over. Are you ok ? What's going on ?" he asks.

"I am fine. A childhood friend sounds like she could be in trouble and I need help for her. Tell you more when we meet. I am on my way there" she replies.

She settles herself a corner table and powers up her laptop. Sean walks in a few minutes later looking dangerously sleep deprived. It had been an insane week at work for all of them but specially for the production support guys. While the worst was probably over, they were not fully out of the woods yet.

"Couldn't whatever this is wait till tomorrow ? I'd have had one night of sleep in a whole week." he groans as he helps himself to a slice of pound cake.

"Its about my friend Vibha. She tried to commit suicide once in her teens. The parents hushed it up but some of her closest friends knew - she told us. I got an email from her out of the blue today. I think she is severely depressed again and needs help. I hope to God I am wrong" Sheila said waiting until he had read the mail.

"It sounds real sad but not particularly suicidal at least to me. Women act weird when they're pregnant." Sean said barely able to suppress a yawn.

"I need you to trace where the mail came from and find an address or phone number on her. I need to talk to her." Shiela said ignoring his dig about pregnant women.

"What's the last name ?" Sean asked sliding the computer over to him.

"I don't know what it is after she got married" Shiela replied.

"Never mind. I'll see what I can find out." he said as he set to work.

He traced the public library and by extension the approximate location of her home. A Google search on Gaurav, her husband's name and the city threw up a bunch of different things. There was a donation to the local Indian temple, a 5K marathon registration, a Craigslist ad to sell an used couch and then finally what they were looking for - the names Vibha and Gaurav in a listing of recent home sales in the area. Gaurav was listed in the phone book as well and with the same address. The search for Vibha was essentially over.

"I've now earned my free latte" Sean laughed. "Hey listen, I'd better head back and try to get some shut eye. I'll see you tomorrow. Good luck about your friend. I hope she is doing well" he said as he walked out tossing the empty coffee cup on his way. Sheila smiled to herself as she texted him a profuse "thank you" message thinking he would probably get to his non-emergency SMS messages sometime next week.

Sitting inside her car in the parking lot, Shiela dialed the number her mouth dry from anxiety. The last thing she wanted was to alarm Vibha but she would have no peace until they had spoken. A voice familiar from long ago answered "Hello ?"

"Vibs, this is Shiela. I'm sorry but I had to call you after getting that email." she said breathlessly.

"God, you actually hunted me down ! Now you know why hate email and all you geek types" Vibha exclaimed in astonishment.

"Are you ok ?" asked Sheila.

"I don't know" she replied.

"What the heck is that supposed to mean ?" Sheila asked.

"Just that I don't know. The two years I have been married, I have been in this frame of mind. I don't know any different. Maybe this is what marriage reduces us to. Be glad that you are still single - you atleast know if you are ok or not. You have a point of reference. When you get married you no longer have one. You have to get out of one, and into another to be able to compare" Vibha replied.

"Are you planning on doing anything stupid ?" Sheila blurted out and chided herself almost as soon as the words were out of her mouth.

"No, I am not getting ready to slash my wrists again if that is what you mean" Vibha said calmly.

"Vibs. I am so sorry. I didn't mean for it to sound that way. I apologize. That was incredibly stupid and insensitive of me" Shiela said awkwardly as she fumbled for a way to continue the conversation.

"No, that's fine. I would ask the same if I were you." Vibha said.

"Would you like to meet ? I can drive down this weekend - its only four hours away from here" Shiela asked.

"I'd love that. I had no idea that we lived that close to each other. That would be just wonderful !" Vibha's sounded genuinely excited.

"Ok then. I'll be over around 7:00 Friday evening. That'll give us plenty of time to catch up. I'll probably leave Sunday around noon. I am so glad we spoke today. I'll let you go now." Shiela said.

"Bye, Shell. Thanks for caring enough to check on me. I'll see you on Friday" Vibha said and she hung up.

Driving back home, she thought about what Vibha said - about how there is no point of reference for marriage. You don't know how the experience may change you and your life until you live the experience. It seemed like a chemical reaction where two elements combined to form a compound completely unlike its components. Vibha and Gaurav formed something together that was unique to their combination. The same Vibha with another man could have resulted in an entirely different outcome - a different frame of mind.

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