THE CONVERSATION (a short fiction)

>> Sunday, May 3, 2015

Ajay Pradhan | April 8, 2011

I woke up earlier than usual today. Normally I sleep in on Saturdays. It was still pre-dawn and even the early birds hadn’t come out of their nest yet to wake the neighbourhood up.

I pulled myself up from my bed, went to the kitchen and made some coffee from the high-Himalayan Nepali Jalpa Gold organic coffee beans that I had recently brought from my trip to Nepal. While the coffee was brewing, I sat down in the living room, mindlessly flipping through TV channels, trying to find something interesting to entertain myself with.

Nothing was, of course, interesting—most channels were still finishing up the graveyard hour mindless infomercials: the Magic Bullet chopper, Topsy Turvy Tomato Planter, Ginsu Knives, and, of course, the George Foreman Grill and the overly promising Bosley Hair Transplant. Maybe I should try out the last one some day. But, who cares about it anymore, I thought. I’m married and my wife is still a little too crazy about me, with thinning hair and all. So, as quickly as the thought of calling Dr. Bosely crept into my brain cells, it vanished.

It was still too early in the morning for the weekend newspapers to be delivered. I yawned, as if bored with myself and with the soft darkness that still hadn’t given way to the early morning sun.

Bored with stolid TV channels and having nothing else to do, I walked into the little room hidden away from the living room. It was my study—a place to nurse my daily need for some solace from all the ills of the world—the wars, corruption, incompetent governments, greedy corporate world, and the consumer-fleecing telecom companies— and for my prized moments of pensive isolation. It afforded me some energy to make feeble attempts at writing, which I have now long been convinced is not my forte.  

A desk occupied one corner of the study, with its side against the wall, just under the sill of the tall and wide window that overlooked the bluff and the bay beyond. I sat in the chair behind the desk, leaning my body against the comfortable backrest of the chair, causing it to lean far back nearly against the custom-made book racks that covered the entire wall behind me, floor-to-ceiling, one end of the wall to the other. The side wall, opposite from the windows, was also covered with matching book racks, full of books—fictions and non-fictions. Directly in front of me, near the door, was a plush couch. Two chairs occupied the space directly in front of the desk, as if I were to receive co-workers or visitors in the office at my work, my day job.

The aroma of coffee wafted from the kitchen, which I had forgotten about. I made my way to the kitchen, giving a quick glance at the wall clock on my way out of the study. It was 4:25 am, way too early for normal, sensible people to wake up on a Saturday morning. The rest of the neighbourhood was sleeping as I returned to the study with a steaming mug of coffee. I looked out the window as I walked around the desk to reach my chair. A distant light glimmered in the dark waters in the bay—a steam ship.

I took in the aroma of the coffee, taking long whiff, but without drinking, making sure that I took full pleasure of both aroma and taste. Sitting down, I realized that I had begun to write something last night, but had stopped without even completing the very first sentence. Procrastination marked much of what I did, especially my writing.

I glanced over the unfinished first sentence: “Jyoti was beautiful and intelligent, but was one of those girls who didn’t…..”

I read the incomplete sentence, took a deep breath, and tried to think of how to complete it. My mind wasn’t quite alert. I took a sip of coffee. I grabbed the pen, still trying to figure out what it is exactly that I wanted to write. I took another sip of coffee, and looked out the window, in the distant darkness, not looking at anything, but only thinking and thinking.

“Stop thinking, and finish what you wanted to write.” A soft female voice jolted me from my deep directionless thought. I rapidly looked around to see who just spoke. There was no one else at home today; my wife and our three children had gone to my in-laws’ for the weekend. I thought to myself, I must have just been imagining.

“I said, stop thinking already. Go ahead, complete the sentence. I want to know what you have on your mind,” the female voice said again.

I was quite alert now, thinking there was an intruder in the house. I looked around but saw no one in the room. I stood from the chair and walked to the living room. No one there, either. I looked out the window, just in case there was somebody looking up at the window from the backyard lawn. It was all very quiet, with no one to be seen.

I returned to my desk and sat on the chair, silently laughing silly at myself for imagining things. Lazily, I grabbed my pen and pulled my notebook closer, thinking of writing from where I had left off last night. As soon as I looked at the notebook, I jumped up, disbelieving what I was seeing.

There on the notebook were the two sentences that I had just heard.

My hands were pressed down on the desk top. My knuckles were ashen white.

What’s happening here, I mumbled to myself. The room was silent.

Looking at the words written on the notebook, I pulled it slowly towards me.

“Hey, don’t get too close. And, don’t get any cute ideas.”

Not knowing what was going on, I blurted out, “What’s going on? Who’s speaking? Somebody using a remote microphone?” I’ll admit I was somewhat unnerved now, a bit shaken, even scared.

No answer. No sound.

“Charlie, Mr. Man, I’ve waited all night long for you to come back and finish writing whatever it is on your mind.”

“Huh? Who’s this? Why do you call me Charlie?” I said, with faint voice, apprehension and incredulity written all over my face.

No answer.

“Charlie, Charlie! C’mon.”

“Whoever it is, can’t you hear? I’m asking who you are.”

“If you’re not going to write, I think I’m going to go back to sleep,” the voice said.

I was a little irritated that my repeated questions were being ignored, but was curious. I asked again, “Who is it? Somebody spying me through a remote camera?”

No response.

I began to look around, under the desk, in the book racks, to see if there was a hidden camera or a speaker. Nothing was out of ordinary.

The voice had stopped. I lifted the mug and took a sip of coffee. It had gone tepid. I stood up, went to the kitchen, poured the tepid coffee in the sink. I quickly rinsed the mug with tap water and filled it up with steaming hot coffee from the coffee maker. I have the habit of rinsing mug even though I’m just going for a refill.

I came back to the study and sat down at my desk. I leaned back and closed my eyes, wondering if the voice would call me again; actually, waiting and hoping it would.

I was feeling lonely. My wife had gone to her parents’ house, her Maiti, yesterday with our three little children for the weekend. I was invited to join them at a family picnic in the afternoon today.

I grabbed the pen, pulled the notebook closer, and completed the sentence: “Jyoti was beautiful and intelligent, but was one of those girls who didn’t care much about her future.”

“No, you’re wrong. Of course, I do.” The voice came back again immediately. “But thanks for completing the sentence. Welcome back, Charlie.”

“Who is it? Who are you?” I said, with my husky voice.


“Hey, who the heck is this? Why are you doing this? Staying silent when I ask something. Speaking up when I’m least expecting,” I said again, raising my voice a little.

More silence.

I was a little irritated, a little disappointed that the person, whoever it was, wasn’t interested in engaging in a conversation with me.

I was surprised that I felt resentful and insulted that my questions were being ignored at somebody’s will, somebody who seemed to be playing some kind of mind games with me, remotely through some technology that I had no knowledge of.

In a huff and wanting to avenge the silent treatment that I was receiving by ignoring the voice that had stopped, I grabbed the pen to write again and looked at the paper, just to be completely shocked out of my socks. The sentence that had been spoken earlier was there on the lined page of the notebook, in neat royal blue ink: “No, you’re wrong. Of course, I do. But thanks for completing the sentence. Welcome back, Charlie.”

My hands were trembling, my teeth chattering. Sweat broke out of my forehead and my palms became moist. I felt fainting spell, but before I fell over the desk or to the ground, I grabbed hold of the desk and sat down slowly and firmly in the chair and gathered my thoughts. I paused, staring at the words on the notebook that I had not written. After a long pause, a thought came to my mind: maybe, just maybe, whoever was speaking to me before cannot hear my voice but can see me or read my sentences.

I rubbed dry my moist palms on my pajama thighs, grabbed the pen again, and apprehensively wrote on the notebook: “I must be crazy to be doing this, but I have to ask, who are you?”

“Jyoti, of course.” I saw the words appear on the notebook.

“Jyoti who?” I wrote down quickly.

“Don’t act innocent. You created me.”

“I don’t even know you. What’s your last name?”

“I’m sure you know me; I think what you know is somewhere in the back of your mind. Or maybe you’re right, you just don’t know me yet beyond my first name, but I’m sure soon enough you will know me. Why’re you asking my last name? You haven’t given me one yet.”

“What do you mean?”

“You started it all. Now you give me a last name, if you want.”

“Okay, how about Hammerschmidt? Jyoti Hammerschmidt? You just seem to know how to keep hammering your demands at me.” I asked with a soft voice.

She didn’t reply.

I wrote on the notebook, “How about Jyoti Hammerschmidt?”

“I don’t like that name,” pat came the reply, all written in ink on the notebook, below my own sentence.

I took a little pause to think and then wrote: “Are you deaf?”

This time the answer took a little longer to come: “You are mean and insensitive.”

“Why? I’ve been called many things, but not mean or insensitive,” I wrote.

“You are my creator, my author. I’m your character. You are determined to portray me as a deaf. And, if I am really deaf, why do you have to remind me of my deafness by asking if I’m deaf?. That’s hurtful.”

I read her lines and felt strangely stupid. I wrote, “I’m sorry. Didn’t mean to hurt you.”

“It’s okay.”

“Tell me about you,” I wrote down.

“It’s all in your head. You just need to find me there.”

“What do you look like exactly?”

“What do I know, my creator? You tell me. But first give me a nice last name, so I don’t have to feel stupid every time somebody reads about me and asks what my last name is. But I’m not going to be a Hammerschmidt or a Nailschmidt. Give me a nice Nepali name.”

“Jyoti Tuladhar. Like it?”

“I kind of like it, thank you. Hi, I’m Jyoti Tuladhar. Pleased to meet you, Mr. Charlie….,” She trailed off, and wrote again, “By the way, what’s your last name?”

“Brown. Call me Charlie Brown.”

“That sounds like a cartoon character.”

“How would you know? You’re just my creation, a figment of imagination.”

“I’m a story character. Charlie Brown is a cartoon character. I know that, because I dwell in your brain. I go wherever you go. I see whatever you see.”

“If you’re suggesting I’ve been thinking about you for a very long time, you’re wrong. You just came into my mind last night, when I was all by myself, lonely, and bored to do anything else. You know what, you don’t even exist,” I wrote. I took a pause and added, “Actually, I might just throw this paper that I’m writing on in my waste paper basket. Heck, I may even feed it through the shredder. And then that’ll be the end of it all. You will cease to exist for me.”

“How cruel.” The two words appeared on the paper, below mine. I noted that the ink was bleeding.

“Are you crying?” I wrote.

“What’s it to you if I’m crying? You are heartless.”

“Look, I’m sorry. But, I haven’t even written beyond the first sentence and I don’t know what to write. I don’t think I want to write even.”

“Of course, you will write, I know that. You’re a writer. It’s in your blood. You’re a wordsmith.”

“Heck with wordsmith, swordsmith. I’m not a good writer. I can’t think of writing anything interesting. Besides, you’re disturbing me,” I wrote.

“Why don’t you write something romantic? A romantic short story, maybe?”

“I hate romantic stories and novels. The only romance I like is the one with my wife.”

“Hmm, Charlie, by the way, how old are you?” Jyoti wrote.

“What does it matter? I’m married, with three kids.”

“How old?”

“Eight, five and three.”

“Silly, I meant your age, not your children’s. But, thanks for letting me in on their age. And, don’t worry, I’m not going to ask your wife’s age.”

“I’m 36, but what does it matter?”

“And how old am I?” Jyoti wrote.

"God, what’s with this age thing? Why are you asking? I don’t know. And I don’t want to know. I don’t care.”

“You’re my creator, you’re a writer. You invented me. Don’t forget.”

“You’re 28, okay! No, I take that back, you’re a 12 year-old kid. Not even a teenager. You’re so immature.”

“I rather like your first thought. I like 28.”

“Fine, 28 or 48, for that matter. What does it matter?”

“Why are you upset? I’m just trying to have a conversation here,” Jyoti wrote.

“Hey, why did you call me Charlie in the first place? I don’t think I ever told you my name. In fact, that’s not even my name.”

“Look at the cover of the notebook. It says ‘Charlie’s Notebook’”

I looked. “It’s just a brand, silly.”

“Then what’s your name?”

“You can keep calling me Charlie Brown.”

“No, please, I want to know.”

“I’m Samrat Upadhyay.”

“I saw that name on the cover of a book you were reading last night. I don’t think you’re the author of that book.”

“What’s the basis of you opinion?” I felt stung at being told the bitter truth.

“If you were the author of that book, you wouldn’t be reading it, Sir.”

“Alright, you got me there. My name is Deepak Sthapit.”

“I think that’s a cute name.”

“Why, thank you,” I wrote.

“At least you could say you’re pleased to meet me. How impolite.”

“Pleased to meet you. Happy?”

“Yes. I want to giggle and laugh, but don’t know how.”

“What do you mean you don’t know how? Just giggle and laugh, like everyone else.”

“Emotions are hard to show on paper, if you didn’t know.”

“Am I a writer or are you a writer?” I wrote.

“You tell me.”

“You know what, you do think like a writer.”

“But I’m not. It’s you who are the writer.” She wrote.

“So, who are you? I mean, what are you?”

“I’m just your story’s character.”

“But, what do you do? Tell me about your life,” I wrote.

“I thought you were going to write about that. Remember, your first sentence of the story was ‘Jyoti was beautiful and intelligent, but was one of those girls who didn’t…..’”

All of a sudden, I broke free from my conversational reverie with the character of my own story. I read and re-read my first line.

“Do you want me to write the story then?” I asked with a soft voice.


I wrote down the question, “Do you want me to write the story?”

“No, let’s just keep talking. I’m not interested in your story,” Jyoti replied on the notebook.

“I’ll warn you, I’m not much of a conversationalist.”

“You just have to be intelligent, talk intelligent. That’s all I want in you.”

“What do you mean you want that in me? It’s not like I’m your friend or boyfriend,” I wrote down.

“But you can be my friend or even boyfriend, can’t you? Maybe we can go out on a date, tonight. Do you want to go on a date with me?” Jyoti asked.

“Wait, wait, wait. Wait a minute here. Stop this nonsense. I’m married. I’m a happily married man, with three kids. Thank you for asking. But no thank you. I love my wife.”

“I was just testing you… and teasing you,” Jyoti wrote.

“Oh, is that right, huh? You know what, if you test me and tease me like that again, you’ll end up in the paper shredder or in my fireplace.”

“Don’t worry, I’m not going to test you or tease you anymore. Once is enough. But, you know what, you could use some sense of humor, if you ask me.”

“I don’t need your opinion,” I blurted, and wrote, “But, I hope you’re not judgmental, Jyoti. Hey, thanks for the conversation. But I have to run. Just realized it’s already 9 am and I have to go meet my wife at my in-laws’ We have a family picnic today. I’m getting late” I lied. I was invited at my in-laws’, but I didn’t have to get there until after 1 pm.

“Deepak, you just called me by my name for the first time. And I loved it. Before you go, can I just ask you one question?”

“Sure, Jyoti. What is it you want to know?”

“Before we began to have this conversation, what were you going to write really? What kind of story did you have in mind?”

I thought about Jyoti’s question for a good few minutes, and wrote: “Why don’t we leave that for our next conversation? I’m late already.”

I closed the notebook and ran from the room. In my haste, I bumped my toe on the doorway. I flinched with pain. Just at that time, my alarm went off and I woke from dream.

Snoopy, my puppy dog, was licking my toe, trying to wake me up for his breakfast. It was 9 am.

[The End]

I wrote this short fiction four years ago. It was submitted to The Malahat Review , a literary journal published from Victoria, Canada, for Far Horizons Award for Fiction in 2011, but did not win the award. 
It was later published in NCSBC Newsmagazine as "Conversation with Jyotika".


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