• Mohana Prabhakar

Got the blues for the red

Ladies’ handbags are these amazing things. Technically, I could have run off to the airport at any time earlier this month with just my handbag. I had my passport, Panadol, kohl pencil and lipstick, hairbrush, wallet with credit cards, resident card and innumerable, useless pieces of paper.

Among all those bits of paper, most of which were receipts from purchases made ages ago, I found a square piece of plain white paper on which was written: Got the blues for the red 625311. And it was driving me crazy because I had no idea what it could mean.

It was in a handwriting that wasn’t mine, and not one I recognised. It was in the handbag that had travelled with me recently so it stood to reason it originated in another city. The paper was just ordinary white paper and the words, written in pencil. It could be a secret message but from whom? Was it even for me because surely if it was a secret code for a super-secret mission that I had to go on, I should be able to decipher it.

You know how they say when you can’t find something, or figure out something, leave it and come back to it later? I am not a fan of that course of action, and the message and the number kept running through my mind on an endless loop. I think I managed to sleep that night only because I knew I had an early appointment at the US Embassy to submit my visa application.

The cryptic message was still running through my head when I reached the embassy and settled down to wait before I got through the first door. There were at least 17 people there but a wasp decided to make friends only with me. I had both showered that morning and not drowned myself in perfume, so the attraction was unwarranted. As it buzzed around me and I tried to shoo it away in a gentle, dignified manner without giving in to the bubbling, screaming hysteria within (not a good look in general, but especially not a good look for someone trying to get a visa), I realised this had to be a sign.

And just like that, I once again needed to desperately decipher the secret message. The paper, and more importantly, Google was in my handbag in the car, so I knew I’d have to wait. As I sat back, waiting to be fingerprinted and interviewed, with my token number in hand, I happened to glance up.

The three-digit bright red indicator was flashing the number 625, the first half of the numbers on my secret paper! Was that sign just a sign or a sign of a larger conspiracy at play? (I should’ve also asked myself if it was a sign that I was losing my mind, but I was too wrapped up in the mystery of the numbers and wasp trauma to consider that.)

Now I was convinced that the paper was connected to my upcoming trip. The time to my turn (token 636) went by surprisingly fast and as I walked out after being told to pick up my visa in two days, all I was interested in was getting to the car and my phone.

So I typed in ‘what is 311’ in good old Google and this is the first thing that came up: Nonemergency 311 call systems, used increasingly in U.S. cities...give citizens a quick, convenient way to kvetch about problems…. So this was serious goosebumps time considering I had just left the US embassy, but a second later when I scrolled down to see the first article listed, I knew the universe was telling me something. It was an article on Wired.com titled: What a 100 million 311 calls reveal about New York. Where was I headed to in the US? You guessed it - New York.

On reaching home that night as I excitedly recounted the marvellously mysterious developments to Senior and Junior, it suddenly struck me that I hadn’t searched for the whole phrase with the numbers on Google. With all the anticipation and excitement of an anthropologist on the verge of discovering King Solomon’s mines (or a deranged Jim Carrey chasing the meaning of the number 23 in the exquisitely titled The Number 23), I typed in ‘Got the blues for the red 625311’.

The image that appeared brought my lost memory crashing back. This was just like in the movies, where the protagonist who has been in the dark throughout the film uncovers that final piece of evidence that completes the puzzle - an epiphany that crystallises everything for both him/her and the audience.

Except, unlike in those movies, where the epiphany usually involves the uncovering of a vast conspiracy or the discovery of the Holy Grail, this is what I discovered: Got the blues for the red 625311 was the name of a shade of OPI nail polish that I had really liked in the salon and the lady there, had very kindly written it down for me. I didn’t sleep too well that night.

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