Sunday, July 12, 2015

Information Please

When he was quite young, his father had one of the first telephones in his neighborhood. He remember well the polished old case fastened to the wall. The shiny receiver hung on the side of the box. He was too little to reach the telephone, but used to listen with fascination when his mother used to talk to it. 

Then he discovered that somewhere inside the wonderful device lived an amazing person - her name was "Information Please" and there was nothing she did not know. "Information Please" could supply anybody's number and the correct time. His first personal experience with this genie-in the-bottle came one day while his mother was visiting a neighbor. Amusing  at the tool bench in the basement, he whacked his finger with a hammer. The pain was terrible, but there didn't seem to be any reason in crying because there was no one home to give sympathy. He walked around the house sucking throbbing finger, finally arriving at the stairway.

The telephone! Quickly, he ran for the foot stool in the parlor and dragged it to the landing. Climbing up, he unhooked the receiver in the parlor and held it to his ear. "Information Please," he said into the mouthpiece just above his head. 

A click or two and a small clear voice spoke into his ear.


"I hurt my finger..." I wailed into the phone. The tears came readily enough now that he had an audience.

"Isn't your mother home?" came the question.

"Nobody's home but me." he blubbered.

"Are you bleeding?" the voice asked.

"No," he replied. "I hit my finger with the hammer and it hurts."

"Can you open your icebox from your freeze?" she asked. He said he could. 

"Then chip off a little piece of ice and hold it to your finger," said the voice.

After that, he called "Information Please" for everything. He asked her for help with his geography and she told him where Nagpur was. She helped him with his math. 

Then, there was the time, his pet duffy died, he called "Information Please" and told her the sad story. She listened, then said the usual things grown-ups say to soothe a child. But he was unconsoled. he asked her, "Why is it that birds should sing so beautifully and bring joy to all families, only to end up as a heap of feathers on the bottom of a cage?"

She must have sensed his deep concern, for she said quietly, "Shonu, always remember that there are other worlds to sing in." Somehow he felt better.

Another day he was on the telephone. "Information Please."

"Information," said the now familiar voice.

"How do you spell fix?" he asked.

All this took place in a small town in Maharashtra. When he was 9 years old, he, along with his parents moved another city. He missed his friend very much.

"Information Please" belonged in that old wooden box back home, and he somehow never thought of trying the tall, shiny new phone that sat on the table in the hall.

As he grew into his teens, the memories of those childhood conversations never really left him. Often, in moments of doubt and perplexity he would recall the serene sense of security he had then. He appreciated now how patient, understanding, and kind she was to have spent her time on a little boy.

A few years later, he realized that he should call Information Please" just to say thanks for what she did for him. He dialed his hometown operator and said, "Information, Please." Miraculously, he heard the small, clear voice he knew so well, "Information."

He hadn't planned this but he heard saying, "Could you please tell me how to spell fix?"

There was a long pause. Then came the soft spoken answer, "I guess your finger must have healed by now."

He laughed. "So it's really still you," he said. "I wonder if you have any idea how much you meant to me during that time."

"I wonder", she said, "if you know how much your calls meant to me. I never had any children, and I used to look forward to your calls." He told her how often he had thought of her over the years and he asked if he could call her again.

"Please do," she said. "Just ask for Sarita."

Three months later he again called. A different voice answered "Information."
He asked for Sarita.

"Are you a friend?" She said.

"Yes, a very old friend," he answered.

"I'm sorry to have to tell you this, she said. Sarita had been working part-time the last few years because she was sick. She died five weeks ago."

Before he could hang up she said, "Wait a minute. Did you say your name was Shonu?"


"Well, Sarita left a message for you. She wrote it down in case you called.
Let me read it to you." The note said, "Tell him I still say there are other worlds to sing in. He'll know what I mean."

He thanked her and hung up. He knew what Sarita meant.

* Adapted & Anonymous

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