• 18 Aug - 24 Aug, 2018
  • Nadeem Alam
  • Fiction

I was in the middle of an important meeting when I received a call from the same mysterious number. My phone was on silent but I saw the screen flashing and turned the phone upside down. I had been getting calls from this number for the past one month. Whenever I attend the call, nobody says anything from the other side. I only hear some radio noise and electromagnetic disturbances, and the call gets disconnected. I have stopped attending these calls now.

I have also tried calling back on this number several times but I always get the same computer generated response that the number being called is not valid. I lodged a complaint with the concerned service provider and was told that this number is not active. I sent many short messages as well but never got a reply or even a confirmation receipt.

It was late at night when my phone again started ringing. I woke up and received the call. But, all I could hear was radio noise. A sheer wave of anger started building up inside me. Frustrated, I was about to end the call when I heard a faint female voice. “Help!”

I suddenly woke up and started yelling. “Hello! Hello! Who is this?” But the call got disconnected. I dialled back several times but in vain.

I hardly slept for the rest of the night and the first thing I did in the morning was to call a friend who worked in a cellular company. With his help, I got the call data record of my own phone number which gave me proof that I am getting calls from that particular number. Then through another contact I tried to get ownership information of the mysterious number. I was again told the same thing that the number is not assigned to anyone and is inactive. But this time I had undeniable proof. I managed to get in meeting with a senior executive of the concerned service provider. I showed him the proof and threatened him of going to court on account of harassment. He told me to wait and went out for a while. He came back after a few minutes and very reluctantly handed me a chit, and hurriedly walked out of the meeting room without saying a word. Name on the chit was Sumbal and the address was local.

I decided to end this mystery, so I straight away drove to that area and started searching for the address. I had to park my car on the roadside before walking into a maze of streets. It was a summer afternoon and the area was deserted. I, however, found a shop in the corner and inquired about the address. The shop owner first looked at me from head to toe and then guided me to my destination.

I knocked on the door and a small boy appeared with an inquisitive smile on his face.

“Does Sumbal live here?” I asked him. He immediately ran inside and very loudly announced that there is another man asking for Sumbal baji. I felt extremely embarrassed and started searching for a plausible excuse to be there. After few moments, a decent middle-aged woman came on the door and started looking at me blankly. I very politely asked her about Sumbal and she, with her eyes full of pain and tears, told me that Sumbal was an airhostess in the flight that crashed in the Margalla hills. Before turning back inside she also told me that I am the fifth person coming and inquiring about her since the fatal accident and second in this month alone.

I kept standing there for several minutes before walking back to my car. I did not know what to do next.


For the next one month, I did not get any call from the mysterious caller. Earlier, I had traced the caller identity and address, and had been to her house only to find out that she died in the air crash accident couple of years ago. I had visited the airline office and the federal investigation agency to find out about the crash details. I was told that the investigation is still going on, and there were absolutely no survivors. Though I was amazed to dig out the fact that many dead bodies were beyond recognition and few incomplete bodies were found. DNA tests were carried out and even small body parts and personal belongings were given names and handed over to their relatives in closed caskets. To my utter surprise, Sumbal was one such person whose body was not recovered at all.

I ran a small business of my own. Lately, I have been distracted with the cryptic calls which had started affecting my business. So I decided to concentrate on my work now and more over I had stopped receiving the calls too. Time passed smoothly without any glitch till one day I saw a news report on TV. It showed the family members of the air crash victims who were demonstrating for non-payment of compensation by the concerned airline. Beside others, I saw the woman whom I had met when I went to Sumbal’s house. She was probably her mother. I saw the same pain and grief in her eyes, which I had seen before and it was still haunting me. For the next few days, I could not get her image out of my mind.

And then after one month and five days, her call came again. It was just ten seconds of radio noise only. However, it forced me to do something more for her. So I sought help of a friend’s friend who worked in a security agency. He listened to me patiently and then saw my call data record. He then gave me the idea of getting call data record of her number as it will give us her tower location. It suddenly illuminated my mind. I requested his help in getting the same. He promised me to do that but excused himself from further assistance because of his own commitments.

I anxiously waited for a couple of days and then I received his email that contained an excel file. I opened the file and it had received only five calls in the last three months. Three of these calls had been on my number and they all had originated from a tower in interior Sindh. The person who sent me the file called me and told me that some agency is also tracking this number and that is why it is still being kept active and allowed the calls only, despite having no balance. He advised me in a firm voice to refrain from any further intrusion into the case.

I was on a bus to Rahim Yar Khan. It was a strenuous ten hours journey but I somehow managed it comfortably due to better roads and good transport facility. The story thereon is different. I stayed the night in Rahim Yar Khan and then next morning, I got into a local bus and travelled to Daharki which is a small town in District Ghotki. It was hardly 80 kms away but my ride took no less than four hours. After reaching Daharki, I knew where I had to go, all thanks to Google map; but I had to inquire about the transport which could take me there. I was told that only one vehicle goes there and it leaves at six in the morning. It was already noon so I decided to spend the day exploring the area. I did not find a friendly atmosphere and felt a lot of tension in the air. People looked at me in a strange way and kept their distance. Anyhow, I spent the night at a local hotel offering charpoy only. Next morning at six, I was ready to travel to my destination which I had been dreaming about for the past several months.

The transport I used for commute could hardly be termed as a vehicle. It was part truck part bus and part loader. There were 14 people including me stuffed in it along with few goats and a lot of hens. The driver of this amazing vehicle also loaded a few gas cylinders. My only concern other than the smell of sweat, diesel, goats and hens was the gas cylinders, which I knew can blow off in excessive heat and mercury here was already touching 40 at six in the morning.

The vehicle to my dream destination started crawling at seven and by midday it reached Ali Bux Mahar Unsani, the last town before the great Thar Desert. It was the last stop of my ride so I got off and started looking for the cell tower. I had two hours before my ride would start moving back. My network was irresponsive at this location but I saw someone talking on a mobile phone at a small tea stall. I went there and asked for tea. I was immediately served with readymade tea which was already boiling in a pot on stove. It looked like charcoal and tasted like charcoal too. I started talking with the stall owner and asked about the mobile networks in this area. Conversing in his own version of Urdu and using sign language, he told me that only one company has a tower here and surprisingly it was the same network from which I was getting calls. I asked him about the location of this tower that turned out to be some distance short of the town on the road where I had travelled. I missed it due to my head tucked down in my knees because of dust and smell.

I tried to talk to other men there but did not get any response. There was no other vehicle in sight. Driver of my ride had already refused plainly to go back. There were a couple of bikes but they drove off as soon as they saw me walking towards them. So I decided to walk back towards the tower showed to me by the tea stall owner which I could now see at a distance. It was on the same muddy track where I had earlier made a visit. I thought of catching my ride on its way back after inquiring few things from the tower guy. I walked for an hour and reached at the tower location. At this point, I was in a bad shape. Desperately looking for water and shade, I started banging on the door of the cell tower compound. I could hear the sound of a generator from inside as there was no electricity there. After some knocks, an elderly man opened the door and I just zapped in. I grabbed the mud vessel placed on the ground and started drinking water. After quenching my thirst, I asked many questions from the old man who did not utter a single word. I was very disappointed. The old man had already gone back to his charpoy. I was dead tired, so I decided to take a nap too. Before coming here, I told my driver to pick me up on his way back from this tower.

It was late afternoon when I woke up. The old man was sitting at a distance and looking at me weirdly. I thought of my ride and rushed outside. The muddy track was deserted. The afternoon sun was losing its heat but it was still quite warm. I had missed my ride. But as I was about to turn back inside the tower compound, the door behind me was slammed shut. I pushed the door hard but it was locked. I kept knocking on the door for the next half hour but it did not open. My bag was still inside. I had come out even leaving behind my wallet and cell phone. I regretted setting myself on this adventure. I sat at the door for ten more minutes before deciding to go to town and get some help.

I had walked half way back when I saw the dust rising on the track. There was some vehicle coming towards me. I felt a sense of immense relief. I stopped there and started waiting for the vehicle to arrive. From a distance, I could now see that it was a jeep carrying four men with their faces covered. My heart started pounding not because of their covered faces, as it was considered normal to travel in the desert with a cloth covering your head and face but because I saw two of the men were carrying rifles. The jeep stopped near me. Without saying a word, two men jumped out and knocked me down. They tied my hands and covered my face with a hood and threw me in the jeep. Soon, it started flying on the desert track. I tried to make some noise and started tugging my body. Initially, one man told me to stay quiet but I kept protesting and eventually got hit in the head with something solid, and then I went unconscious.

I woke up with a throbbing head and pain squeaking through every inch of my body. I opened my eyes and found myself in a room with my leg chained to something. It was complete darkness yet I could feel the presence of someone else, too.

“Hello! Hello!” I whispered. There was some movement of the chain and then I heard the same faint female voice. “Help!”

I again went unconscious.

to be continued...