A Ruse, A Rupee
by Janvier Valmiki
It was seven o’clock in the morning and I was running late. I quickly buttoned up my crumpled, white shirt and threw on an old blue tie around my neck, before saying goodbye to my father. He had that same sullen look on his face as he sat in his wheelchair watching TV. He and I never saw eye to eye. I could never understand why he never approved of my job. I tried to look through the same lens as he did but ended up breaking it in frustration at not being understood.
I continued rushing throughout my apartment, like a headless chicken, collecting my laptop, microphone and bag, before stepping out and into the bustling madhouse of Mumbai – the deafening sound of horns honking, cars revving and people yelling across the street. Unable to hear myself think, I looked up to the sky grey and smoky and prayed for a hassle-free day. I walked past the many scrawny children sitting on the street, who often begged for money saying, “Please sir, two hundred rupees.”
Ignoring them, I confidently walked into my towering, white building complex, showing the receptionist my badge and greeting my boss, Mr Das. Mr Das was a portly man, with a big black moustache and a deep, unnerving voice.
“Namaste, Mr Das,” I said, shyly.
“Mr Mourad, you’re late. I’ve also noticed that you made a significantly smaller amount of money yesterday from our…. Clients,” he said, sharply, awkwardly pausing before saying the word “clients” because deep down, everyone in this office knew that the people we took money from were more like victims, than clients. However, I never questioned it as “a job is a job,” is what we all told ourselves.
“Yes sir. Sorry sir. I’ll do better today.”
“You better, Mr Mourad. Don’t forget why you are here,” he said, pointing his index finger at me before plodding into his office.
My work area was a large, carpeted room with many tightly packed cubicles and dozens of other phone call scammers, like me, working for long hours in these poor conditions, but none of us questioned it, as to us, having any kind of “job” was like a privilege.
I lazily sat down in my tight cubicle and took a glimpse of the phone numbers I needed to call. The list was as long as an elephant’s trunk and I knew I’d never finish it in a day. At the top was a name: Vivian Rogers. I dialled in the phone number.
“Hello, who is this?” said a brittle voice. I let out a sigh of relief, hearing the voice of an old lady, typically easily manipulated.
“Good evening ma’am. My name is Christopher Jones and I work for the Bank of America, calling to ask you about some suspicious transactions on your account,” I lied, in my best American accent.
“Suspicious transactions? I didn’t do anything, son. I barely even go out of the house.”
“That’s fine ma’am, no need to worry. Is there anyone who may have access to your account?”
“No, no-one. No-one’s used my account except me since my husband died.”
“I’m sorry to hear about that ma’am. Could you please confirm that your bank account number is zero-zero-zero, six-two-three-four, five-six-seven, eight-nine and that your full name is Vivian Louise Rogers?”
“Uh, yes. That sounds about right,” she said, nervously, “How much will I owe you after this, son?”
“Oh, nothing ma’am, this is a free bank check-up. I’m here to help.”
“I’m so glad that there are people like you who are around to help old people like me with all this bank stuff,” she said, as her voice began to break, “I haven’t had anyone to help me in months, since my husband died in a car accident.”
Immediately, I felt like I was being transported back in time when she mentioned a car accident. I saw clear and distinct images in my head, almost as if I were there again, reminding me of my past and my childhood. I saw distinct images as I felt my mother’s hand holding my right and my father’s tight grip on my left. It was late at night and raining, but my parents were there to shield me from the rain, and we were coming back from a run-down theatre. I could see the smiles of my parents, filled with energy and joy. We were all wearing matching white clothes, which shined in the streetlamps as did my mother’s pearl necklace. As we still couldn’t afford a car, my father signalled to a rickshaw driver on the street. The rickshaw was wobbly and unstable, but it was too late in the night for any of us to care.
I could feel the rickshaw slipping on the wet bumpy road, still packed with cars, honking aimlessly.
“Are we almost home dadu?” I asked my father.
“No beta, still far away. You can try to sleep, it’s getting late,” he said gently.
I lay down and began to close my eyes, but they were forced open by the deafening sound of the rickshaw honking before everything faded to darkness…
My eyes were closed but I felt a sharp pain in my left leg, causing me to immediately open my eyes, revealing that I was lying on the road with my once shining white shirt, now stained a deep red. I turned my head over in panic to see the rickshaw toppled over with a large dent on its nose and in front of it were the shining white pearls of my mother’s necklace, rolling on the ground.
Months after the crash, I had been living with my father without any income as he was paralysed and I was still a student, who couldn’t focus on school. Alone. Without government aid and without jobs. No-one ever came to help us until one day I saw a sign on a window, offering a job that didn’t require any education, only communication skills in English: The Bank of America Refund Service, which I soon found out to be a scam call centre, but Mr Das offered a well-paid job, which at the time I saw as a privilege and a way to survive.
“Hello? Mr Jones? Are you still there?” said Mrs Rogers.
“Yes, ma’am. I was just… uh… checking your account,” I said, after being brought back to reality. I thought to myself, what made Mrs Rogers and the rest of our victims so different from me? We were both forced to live on our own because of a tragic accident, but that didn’t give me the right to steal from her. Did it? Maybe this was what my father meant. I thought as I was finally able to see through his lens. This was wrong.
I looked through the window and saw hundreds of other people with different jobs – real jobs, cleaners, chefs, accountants. I thought I could be like them and make my father proud, as I disconnected the call and walked out of the building determined to turn over a new leaf.