Really Short Stories: “How Can I Help You Today?”

Rights reserved Mark Hillary

“How can I help you Madam?” he asked politely.

“I want a new SIM card. Here is my PAN card.”

“I also require a completed application form and address proof Madam.”

“What?! Why didn’t you tell me earlier?  Here, take a copy of my driving license!”

“We cannot accept this as proof of address!  Government rules do not allow this anymore.”

“What are you talking about?  I was here myself six months back. Someone told me to come back with a PAN card.
How many times do you expect me to come back?
Am I supposed to keep bringing documents at your whim?” she exclaimed.

“Madam the rules have changed.  We cannot help it.”

“Don’t tell me that!  Call the person who dealt with me last time! I demand to know why the information was incomplete!”

“Please understand.  The rules changed last month.  Whom did you speak to last?”

“Do I know all of you by name?  Do I care to?  How dare you speak to me like this?  Is this anyway to speak to your customer? Look at your tone!
Now I will have to travel another two hours back and forth and you are asking me who I spoke to?”
The lady ranted on.

Vikas’s face was red, his ears were ringing, but he kept his mouth shut.
This was not unusual. It was one of the things he hated about his job.
He reminded himself that he needed the pay.
His mother’s medical bills were piling up, the rent was overdue and after a sleepless night, he was nearing a breakdown.

The lady stepped aside to make a call.
Her volume suddenly fell and the tone became defensive,
“But Rakesh, I didn’t know! I am sorry I delayed it so long.  What can I do if the rules changed in the meantime?
I know, I know… I am sorry.”
She turned away to hide the tears that were springing to her eyes.

Vikas paid no further heed to her.
He was stewing in his own frustrated misery and was relieved she had left the counter.

Aarti stepped up and noticed his sweating brow and aggrieved expression.
‘He will simmer like this till the end of the day.   For no real fault of his,’ she thought.

She respectfully requested, “Please help.  There is no network signal in my area.”

Something in her tone and expression caught his attention.
His eyes widened as his soul felt seen again.
He paused, uncertain. Then Vikas’s soul snapped back into place.

His faraway look was replaced with acute attentiveness.
Silently, he looked at Aarti searchingly.
She understood his confusion and smiled.
Validating to him that she knew.

She knew that all the goodness and sincerity in him had fled in exhaustion for a moment.
But her compassionate presence had called it back.

“Let me lodge a complaint in the system.”
He took his time and was careful in his work.

She could see he was still soaking in the momentary oasis of peace he had just encountered.
So she waited patiently.
Allowing him the time to recover fully.
To be willing to deal with the outer chaos again.
There was no mention of the earlier confrontation.

Just a quiet recognition of the unsaid.

“They will call you within 3 days Madam.”
“Thanks for your assistance Vikas.  Have a nice day!”
She smiled and walked away.

Vikas watched in silent gratitude.
‘She will never know what she did for me.’

The irate lady was back in front of him.
She looked more strained than before.
In a loud voice she demanded, “So give me all your requirements once and for all!
Make sure I don’t have to go through all this again!”

Vikas was a different man now.
He looked at the phone she was nervously tapping, her red eyes.
“Yes Ma’m.  I will help you as well as I can.
But whether you go through this again or not, that is up to you.”

She began to argue back, but the meaning of his words hit home.
She went quiet, absorbing what he meant.
Reluctantly nodding in agreement, she started again, more softly, “My husband is really upset about the delay and I need to get this done…”

He nodded and continued his job.

One can help in more ways than one.

Photo Courtesy Creative Commons: Mark Hillary (Flickr)

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