Sunday, November 11, 2012



A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

‘So, tell me about these people you see.’ The psychiatrist was good at her job and it was just another day at work for her. The patient in front of her was a scrawny teenager, shorter than most of the boys his age, with curly hair and shy eyes, he claimed to see people that did not exist. It sounded to her like a simple case of schizophrenia, and this session was supposed to allow her to dig deeper.

‘They are aliens from a different planet.' His voice was surprisingly confident for someone with such shy eyes, ‘They are elemental beings, made of fire. They have been trapped here for thousands of years and need to get back to their home planet’. She observed that the boy was becoming more and more excited as he kept explaining, ‘they didn’t make contact earlier because we were too primitive, now we have the technology to build them a space ship which can carry them to the sun, their home.' 

‘Another case of a child being unable to distinguish between reality and imagination’, she thought.

‘And when did you first see them?’

‘I saw them all the time; I have been seeing them for as long as I can remember’

‘And when did they first speak to you?’

‘They did not, they couldn’t see me, but I could see them. So I started talking to them. It took some time for me to learn their language, but once I started speaking their language they started responding to me’.

‘And when did they first start responding to you?’

‘A couple of years ago’ his voice grew melancholy. She had read his file thoroughly before the session started. The teenager had lost his parents a couple of years ago, they had disappeared on a vacation and their disappearance had been linked to a forest fire. The police had not discovered any bodies yet, and the boy who was with his uncle and aunt at that time had been handed over to them permanently. It was obvious that he went through severe mental trauma, and had retreated into his fantasy.

‘They know what you are thinking’ his voice was firm than earlier. The shadows of sorrows had been replaced by excitement again. ‘They are telling me you think I am mad. You think I am lying’ he was hurt, ‘they say they can prove their existence to you’.

‘There is no need for that; no one is calling you a liar. We are here to work on some issues’ she said in a most calming tone. 

‘And what issues might those be?’ the teenager was becoming skeptical, ‘my uncle says that what happened with my parents has something to do with my seeing these creatures, he says that I am hallucinating. I have tried telling him that these creatures have always been a part of my life, but no one ever believed me because I am a child’ his tone changed during the last part of that sentence. He appeared hurt again. What the teenager lacked in body language, he more than made up for in voice tones and facial expressions. 

She noted down ‘sudden bursts of excitement followed by short bursts of depression’ in her notepad.

‘And these creatures, do they pay attention to you? Do they believe you?’

‘At first they didn’t,’ the burst of excitement was back, although he didn’t move an inch, his voice and his face revealed how passionate he was about this subject. ‘When I first communicated with them, they were scared. I told them there were billions of my kind, but they refused to believe. They think this planet is lifeless; they can’t see us or hear us’. It seemed like an appropriate moment for the doctor to intervene, ‘so how can they see you and hear you?’

‘They can’t see me, but they can hear me. I have taught them to listen to my voice’.

‘Just a few moments ago you said they knew what I was thinking? How do they know of me? And you said they didn’t make contact earlier because we were primitive, how could they have known we were primitive if they didn’t know we existed?’

The teenager became silent for a few moments, then he looked the doctor directly in the eye and said, ‘you ask too many questions’ his cold stare sent chills down her spine. ‘Perhaps a demonstration will convince you of their existence’, she had seen some strange cases in her years as a psychiatrist but never before had she been so scared. ‘I think that’s enough for the day’ she hastened to put down her notepad, ‘I will see you in a week’ she tried to smile.

‘Oh but I am not leaving’ the boy suddenly didn’t seem short or scrawny anymore. His presence in the room was making the doctor very uncomfortable, she could feel his eyes burning right through her, ‘I insist you leave, we shall have another session in a week or so’ she tried to pretend she was not intimidated. 

‘I like you. We like you. We enjoy your company. We shall stay as long as we like,’ it may have been her imagination playing tricks on her but she could swear the boy was speaking in four different voices simultaneously. She nervously moved further back in her seat and pressed the security button. She kept her eye on the boy and he kept staring back for what seemed like an eternity, until the deafening silence in the room was broken by someone opening the door.

‘You called’ the brawny security guy asked in his deep voice.

‘Steve, would you please escort Mr. Chapman to the lobby’ she didn’t take her eyes off the boy; she had a feeling something bad would happen if she looked away.

‘Okay’ Steve sounded confused ‘Where is he?’

‘Where is who?’

‘Mr. Chapman.’

‘You mean the boy sitting in the chair right in front of me.’

‘But there is no one here’ her reaction to Steve’s reply was that of a person who accidentally touches a live wire. ‘He is right there,’ she screamed while pointing at the boy. 

‘Dr. Dawson, there is no one here.’ The cold smirk on the boy’s face grew deeper, and the fire burning in his eyes became intense, ‘we told you, we are not going anywhere.’

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Call Center

Call Center

A Short Story by Ehtisham Rizvi

“Assalamu Alaikum. XYZ call center how may I help you.”

It was just another day at work for Taqi. He had just signed in for his 3 to 11 evening shift at the inbound customer support call center for the local electricity supplier, and was answering his first call. The opening greeting was worth ten points, and he had to sound fresh and pleasant while delivering it to the customer.

“You know what?” The customer was angry and started yelling from the get go. “You guys should just say how may I screw you instead of how may I help you.”

“Sir we try to help each and every single one of our customers, but some things are just out of our control.” Taqi had been working there for about six months now, he had learned all the tricks of the trade, and knew how to handle angry customers.

The CRM at the call center did not have the customer’s phone number in the data bank, so he couldn't find the customer’s address. Judging by the area code, he placed the customer in region 4, and judging by the customer’s anger, he placed him in the area where there was no electricity for the last 4 hours.

“May I know which area you are speaking from?” Although he had already placed the customer in an area but he had to hear it from him. After all, it was a recorded call and he didn't want to go off script. Points were being awarded and quality was being assured; he had to aim for the extra incentives.

“Why? That computer of yours isn't telling you anything?” He was amazed how people just overestimated the power of computers.

“Sir, your number is not stored in our database. If you could kindly tell me your area, I could provide you with the latest information and updates.”

“Screw your updates; there is no electricity here for the last four hours. I don’t need excuses, I need electricity.”

“Sir, the only area in Karachi without power for the last four hours is FB Area Block 6. Is that where you are speaking from?”

“Why are you asking me if you already know?”

By this time, 40 seconds had already passed. Taqi had to finish this call within one minute; negative points were awarded for each second after that. He decided to take the familiar route; he would just shower the bastard with information and wouldn't give him a chance to speak.

“Sir, the main cable supplying electricity to FB Area Block 6 was damaged a few hours ago. Repairs are in progress as we speak. We are also trying to route electricity to your area through our overhead network. Your electricity will be temporarily restored within half an hour, but the main cable will be fixed in about eight hours.” He rushed through it in one breath, but waited for the customer to respond.

“I am not speaking from block 6 you moron.” The clock was ticking, the floor supervisor was already signaling him to wrap it up, and the minute was almost up. Nothing had been achieved so far.

“Then which area are you speaking from?”  He had received worst calls than this, he had been cussed at, threatened, and once a few angry customers had paid the call center a visit, but for some reason, this to him was the worst customer he had ever dealt with. And the call was not over yet.

“I am speaking from block 4, and my meters have burnt out. I registered a complaint early this morning, and you guys haven’t sent the repair team yet.”

“Sir could you please tell me your complaint number?”

“It’s 4974.”

Now this was another problem. Taqi looked at the complaint numbers in the CRM, and only 1500 complaints had been issued so far. It appeared as if the morning shift had been slow. He checked for complaint number 497, it belonged to someone else. He checked for 4974 for the day before, and it wasn't there.

“When was this complaint number issued to you?” He knew this would piss the customer off even more, but there was no other choice.

“What the hell do you people do all day? Someone issued this number to me five minutes ago.” There were serious contradictions in the customer’s statement. If the complaint number was issued 5 minutes ago, he couldn't possibly have registered the complaint in the morning. 

Meanwhile, the clock was ticking.

The floor supervisor had already left his chair, and was now standing right next to Taqi, listening in on the conversation. This was a pretty good sign that Taqi was in trouble and had to finish this quickly.

“Sir how about I send a reminder to your area support center asking them to hurry up? Could you please tell me your name and address?” He put his hands on the keyboard, ready to file a new complaint, while trying to save face for his fellow call center agents who handed out fake complaint numbers.

“Now I have to go through the whole process again?” It sounded as if the customer was about to burst in tears.

“Sir I apologize for the inconvenience, and assure you that we will do everything in our power to get your connection fixed, just kindly tell me your name and address so I can send them a new complaint.”

Two minutes were up, and the floor supervisor simply ended the call with the push of a button. 

“Sir, he was about to give me his details.” Taqi protested.

“Next time, just give him another fake complaint number. And for God’s sake keep your average down to 50 seconds.” 

Taqi looked around in disappointment as the supervisor walked away. The person to his right was lying about a blackout; the person to his left was dropping calls in mid sentence just to make it look like there was a problem with the line. Most were assigning fake complaint numbers and giving false information to the customers.

The next caller in line had already been routed to him, but he decided not to answer that call. He minimized the CRM and opened a new Word document. He had a resignation to write.