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I am a light sleeper. If the person sleeping next to me were to move an arm even ever so slightly, I wake up as if the Great Wall of China has come crashing down in my vicinity. So it was no surprise that I woke up with a jump and was sitting up in bed when I heard the sound. It felt like a loudspeaker had blared in the stillness of the night. It was not an unknown sound though, just the familiar musical notes of my phone announcing that I had a new message. What was it doing belching out messages at me so late into the night? What time was it anyway?

I craned my neck to check the time on the clock on the far wall of the room. The radium dial said 2 goddamn a.m. I was disgruntled. Enticing sleep back when once I have woken up is not an easy task and involved inviting flocks and flocks of sheep to be counted. Who the hell was sending me messages so late in the night or rather, so early in the morning? I watched my wife sleeping, lost to the world, and sighed envying her. She could easily sleep through an earthquake if need be. I debated whether I should ignore the damn message and try to start counting sheep. But sleep had fled too far, and curiosity had bitten me badly. Checking the phone for the message seemed the next best thing to do. So I reached for my phone.

In the top left hand corner I could make out the blinking white envelope. So I hadn’t imagined it after all, I thought, putting to rest the niggling doubt that it had been a dream that had woken me up. I managed to slide the notification panel down and screwed up my eyes trying to decipher the number. It was an unfamiliar one. This better be good, or someone was going to get an earful from me on the morrow, I decided. I touched the screen to open the message. Nothing, I mean, there was no text that I could see, even faintly, only a splash of colors.

It took some time in my sleep befuddled state for it to register that it was not a splash of colors, but a picture. There was a bit of blue and brown and yes red too. But mostly it was black all around with a slash of white in the middle. I cursed under my breath. I needed my glasses to get to the bottom of this. Putting them on, I gave it a second look and gasped. The grinning face of my son stared back at me. What the hell did he think he was doing sending me grinning pictures of himself in the dead of the night? Granted there was only one picture not pictures, but whatever…. It was one taken at close quarters. His already huge nose (taken after me, I smiled with pride) looked even bigger in the photo. Self-clicked, I concluded. But why oh why wake up his old father in the middle of the night only to have him look at your bulbous nose prominently displayed? And the slash of white had revealed itself to be his teeth, all thirty two of them right below it. No, of course I did not count them.

There it was again, the message tone. I almost dropped the phone as it vibrated in my hands. A second message had arrived even as I was trying to decipher the first. If it was another photo of his I was going to call him up and give him a piece of my mind, 2 a.m. or not, I told myself. I quickly opened it. This time it was in text form. ‘Dad!!! Open the door!’ it read.  Open the… what?! I hadn’t solved that one when immediately on its heel followed the third message, ‘Surprise! Surprise! I am home! Dad, please DON’T wake Mom! OTD!!!’

OTD?! Oh right, Open The Door. Oh Narayana! Guruvayurappa! He was at the door. That picture had been clicked at my own front door. That’s why something had looked all too familiar about the background. But it being night, everything was mostly black that I hadn’t guessed. Narayana! He was standing out there sending messages instead of ringing the bell. Cheeky as ever, I noted, smiling involuntarily. But, but how…. How was he here? He had said his leave had been cancelled, that he couldn’t make it this time. All that could wait for now, I told myself. Now I had to open the door and let him in.

He had requested that his Mom not be woken. Not that I could, even if I tried. Even an elephant’s tread would have gone unnoticed by her. Still, I tried to make as little noise as possible and moved quickly and cautiously towards the front door. It is tough to accomplish that when you are as old as I am and your joints creak, refusing to be rushed. Thankfully unlike me, the well oiled front door opened smoothly and noiselessly.  As soon as it was open I was enveloped in a bear hug. I felt totally dwarfed. When had my son grown so tall and strong? I used to be the My Daddy Strongest around here till sometime back.

I tried to put on a stern expression, and glare reproachfully at him. What did he mean by all this drama? Why had he said he would be home only next month? Why hadn’t he let us know beforehand that he was coming? But of course instead, I grinned like a contented old Papa Bear who has just found a beehive.

Is Mom asleep? My son whispered in my ear. Yes, yes, I nodded. But the house could fall around her ears and she wouldn’t wake up till morning. It had always seemed a miracle to me how she woke up at 5 a.m. sharp without the aid of an alarm clock. Shhh…,  cautioned my son, wanting me to lower my voice, not so loud, she might hear you. I rolled my eyes, as if we could even if we wanted to! He agreed on that and laughed softly. Tomorrow I am going to walk down for breakfast and give her the surprise of her life, he said still whispering. I nodded again and bent down to help him with the bags. Leave them there Dad, he hissed, I’ll take them!

Obediently I turned, leading the way back inside the house and literally jumped out of my skin. I had bumped into something or someone just beyond the door. I stared open-mouthed. It was my wife, standing arms akimbo. She had actually woken up from her sleep? I was dumbstruck that it could happen at all. Not in the thirty five years we had been married had she ever done that.

“What do you think you are doing out in the cold at such an unearthly hour? And what’s so hush hush? Why were you whispering?” she asked me in a belligerent tone. Then she spotted the son behind me and let out such a shriek that I staggered back in its aftermath. So shrill had it been that I was sure the sleeping birds in the neighborhood trees must surely have fallen out of their nests and were even then dusting themselves off the ground wondering what had hit them. She had by then pushed past me, and was hanging on to the son’s neck happily chanting, ‘You are here! You are here!’

I glanced at my son, eyebrows raised. I don’t know whether he could see it in the poor light, probably he could, because they are now all white against my brown skin. He had such a comical crestfallen look on his face. His plan had backfired.  Oh well, what do they say about well laid out plans of mice and men? That applies to ad hoc plans as well, I guess.

Written in response to the Creative Writing Challenge: 2AM Photo