I don’t like people going through my post, or checking my e-mail. And I’m not too fond of others hearing my answer phone messages either. And so it was with reluctance that I hit the play button last night in my parents’ company. They had given me a ride back to my apartment and insisted that I stop its beeping by checking the machine for messages. They then assumed their positions around the phone, and unnecessary as it was, stared at it as it began.

The first was a message from my ex-girlfriend Beth, with whom I still share a close, though not geographically close, friendship. After all, we were together three and something years and, although we see other people (but not actually each other – Beth being in California), like close friends we occasionally say ‘I love you.’ No big deal. However, all but those three words were inaudible, and if this message were a stick my parents would have had the wrong end. They looked at each other and then back at the machine as it beeped onto the next message.

It was me, leaving a memo for myself and, rather bizarrely, one for the apartment: “See you soon,” I said. Then, like the unwelcome encore to my answering machine circus, the final message began before a bewildered crowd, who listened with some bemusement as my friend Pam did her turn as a young and very much alive Marilyn Monroe singing Happy Birthday to a similarly iconic and living President Kennedy. “Happy Birthday Mr President,” she sang in her breathy – I’ll say it – sexy voice. “Happy Birthday to yoooooooooou…”

“End of Messages,” the machine announced.

And with that my parents shifted their gaze from the answer phone to their son, ten months from his birthday and clearly not the President of anything. Blushing that maroon colour Indian people do, I switched off the machine and said with a shrug, “probably got the wrong number.”

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