Phone fixer

Manjula Padmanabhan | Updated on January 12, 2018 Published on December 09, 2016


Bins and I walk into my little apartment after 10 days away. Everything is just as we left it, “Even the cute little dust bunnies that live in all the corners of all the rooms!” says Bins. According to him, they have become his pets. “One day I will write a fancy academic paper,” he says, “on the life-cycle of dust-creatures.”

Usually, as soon as I cross the threshold, I get a chirp from my cellphone telling me that we are back within range of my local wi-fi. The chirp means that there’s e-mail waiting to be read or, at the very least, a WhatsApp message. But it’s a Sunday evening and when there’s no chirp, I don’t think much about it. I send out text messages to tell my sister that we’ve arrived safely and to say “hi” to Muriel.

Half-an-hour later, however, we realise that the lack of chirps has a serious source: my landline phone is dead and with it, my internet connection. “This is YOUR phone company,” says Bins with a satisfied sneer. He maintains that I am paying a giant fee for a worthless service and that I should have switched to the competitor years ago. I say that I would love to switch but, at the same time, I can’t bear the disruption and loss of time and money that would inevitably be involved.

Today, of course, I have no choice but to call the complaint number, using my cell phone. I wriggle through the maze of electronic choices, until I get a sweet-voiced lady called Kathy.

“My phone’s not working,” I say and I tell her what my number is. She checks her records and then says, with some surprise, “Oh! It looks like it’s been disconnected! Have you recently changed address?”

My turn to be astounded. “N-no,” I stammer, feeling instantly guilty. This is my normal response to all situations that arise: Of course it’s my fault and I’m willing to face the guillotine for it, but please! In the meantime! Could we get the phone fixed?

As I talk, Bins, who is standing close enough to hear what Kathy says, is keeping up a constant barrage of unhelpful comments: “What?! No! It’s a scandal! It is racism! We will call Interpol! We will give interviews to the BBC!” Kathy and I struggle on with the bizarre situation: Yes, I’ve had the connection for six years; no, I’ve not made any changes; no, I’m not shifting to a new location on December 12. After much waiting, Kathy comes back, apologising very sincerely. “Look, I have no idea how that happened, but we’ll have your connection working right away,” she says. And then, just as I’m deciding that I must finally switch to the Other Phone Company, she adds, “– and we’ll reduce your monthly bill by half. For 12 months. Is that okay?”

Um, yes. Of course it’s okay. When I finally put the phone down, I’m grinning uncertainly. For the price of a two-hour disruption, I get a whole year’s discount! Bins refuses to be impressed. “Take the discount, wait one year, THEN switch to the other company,” he says, heartlessly. “These phone services are crazy.”

Manjula Padmanabhan, author and artists, writes of her life in the fictional town of Elsewhere, US, in this weekly column

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Published on December 09, 2016
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