The Cold Caller (2)

Part 1 can be found here.

For a couple of days, the incident was always at the back of my mind, but slowly I began to forget it. It must have been about a week later, when they called me at work. I had just put down the receiver after making a sale, when the phone rang.

‘Hello, David? Or Sahil, should I say? I thought that you’d forgotten me.’

‘Who is this?’

‘Don’t you know? Can’t you remember? You called me last week. My name is Williams.’

‘I…’

‘I thought that I would call you to let you know that my computer is running absolutely fine.’

‘Oh…’

‘I really appreciate your concern, though, but it was unnecessary. So I’ve saved myself some money, haven’t I?’

We are taught that if we have a difficult telephone conversation, then we should try to take control, and so I tried that now, as if the caller was just another difficult customer.

‘Mr Williams,’ I attempted to sound far more confident than I actually felt, ‘might I ask where it is that you are calling from?’

‘Can you not remember? Oh, I suppose that you have so many numbers to call. Mine is a Delhi number, Sahil. Do you remember it now?’

‘There is really no reason why I should, Mr Williams…’

‘As I have just told you, I really do appreciate your concern, and I am pleased to find that you are so obviously such a kind and conscientious fellow. I am sure that, in turn, you will be pleased to learn that because of that I am going to be taking a keen interest in your career, so I will be keeping a close eye on you from now on.’

The line went dead.

Like every other line in the building, my telephone was simply an extension number, so there would not really be any point in my getting it changed. The caller might have asked for my extension, or they might have requested me by name. There was no way to find out which it was. For a moment, I thought of telling my supervisor what had happened, but decided it would sound foolish and he would probably not believe me, anyway. I’m not sure I believed what was happening at that point, either, but I did feel a little scared.

Two days later Mr Williams called me again. This time, his tone was rather different.

‘Hello, Sahil. This is Mr Williams here. Have you made many sales since we last spoke?’

‘Look,’ I tried, ‘where did you get hold of my number?’

‘You are not answering my question, Sahil.’ His voice was soft but unpleasant. ‘Have you made many sales since we last spoke?’

‘I don’t think that is any…’

‘Do you know, Sahil,’ he interrupted me, ‘that many people do not like aggressive salespersons calling them up and trying to coerce them into making purchases? Trying to get them to part with their money for no good reason? I have been thinking about that, and I have decided that a nice fellow like you really should not be in this line of work.’

‘I am not going to be lectured at by you!’ I said hotly. ‘I demand that you tell me…’ I realised that the line that I was talking to was dead.

That evening he called me at home, on my mobile. Often, if the caller display indicates a number withheld, then I don’t answer. This time, though, I did.

‘Sahil,’ said the familiar voice, ‘I hope you are thinking about what I have said to you.’ Desperately, I stabbed the button to end the call, and then stood in the middle of the room, staring down at the phone. I couldn’t think clearly; I just felt an awful panic. ‘This is stalking!’ I thought to myself. ‘And no one would believe me if I told them!’ It was no good my thinking it was impossible for him to have my mobile number, for he clearly had.

My phone rang again maybe another dozen times that evening before I switched it off completely. Then, in the morning, I noticed that I had one voicemail message. Although I knew who it would be from, I still listened to it. It was very brief.

‘I wouldn’t want you to get hurt, Sahil.’

I tried my best to act as though there was nothing wrong at work, but I found it very difficult to focus. All went as normal, however, until the afternoon. I had been back at my desk for no more than five minutes, and just put down the phone when it rang again. I hesitated and then, as it might well be a supervisor calling, I knew I had to answer it.

‘Hello, Sahil. Do you think that you can hide from us for ever, then?’

Us! I shivered, and my mouth became very dry. I looked around desperately, noticed that a supervisor was nearby, and silently I beckoned him over. I thought that if I could keep the caller talking, and hand the phone to my supervisor, then ‘Mr Williams’ would at the very least say something incriminating. Unfortunately, though, just as the supervisor reached me, the phone line went dead.

Final part to follow.

The Government Response to Covid-19 and Some Numbers

chestnut-leaves

I wasn’t going to write anything on this subject, since there is hardly a shortage of articles everywhere you look, but some of the things I have been reading online have prompted me to put this up. This post concerns the measures put in place by the UK government for the protection of the public. But first, a caveat. It is a commentary on the UK response ONLY. I do not know enough of the details of how other governments have reacted to comment fairly on those.

And please understand also, this is not any sort of commentary on the financial aptitude or ineptitude of their response, which is another kettle of worms entirely.

The prime difficulty of any measures taken is that there is not one immediate and obvious action that can be taken to protect the public. The issue, of course, is that we need to meet, as far as possible, two opposing objectives. First, we need to develop as much immunity in the wider population as possible and second, we need to protect from infection those who are recognised as vulnerable. And to satisfy the first objective, we need to expose large numbers to the virus but to satisfy the second, we need to shield as many as possible from it.

And these objectives are so different that it is impossible to meet both at the same time, but are both so important that each needs to be addressed. Like many things in real life, there is no perfect solution and the best that can be put forward is a compromise of some sort.

And each person’s opinion on which is the more important will be coloured by their own circumstances. Those with vulnerable relatives, or who fall into that group themselves, will likely favour protecting the public as far as possible for as long as possible. Some others who may not have those concerns, may be more likely to favour ‘getting it over with’. Although most will, naturally, want to meet both objectives at once.

It is no wonder that the government has been caught in two minds over how to react, and I rather doubt any other make-up of government would have either found it any easier or managed to square that particular circle.

And what is incredibly unhelpful is a strong partisan approach on social media especially, to the way it is being dealt with. There is always a tendency for the extremes of one side or the other of the political spectrum to denigrate any decision made by the other, and to exaggerate or invent motives for them, and I am seeing this more and more on social media. I may not agree with a particular course of action taken by the government, but to ascribe that action to a policy of deliberately killing the vulnerable, to name just one opinion I’ve read, is both ridiculous and highly insulting to both the government and the public. And hardly conducive to encouraging people to support the measures put in place.

Their response has been hampered not only by trying to find the impossible – a solution that accomplishes both the goals just mentioned, but also by having no real idea for some while how many infections there actually were. It was recognised the figures were under-reported, due to the inability to test the entire population for infection, but no one seemed to really know what they were and, for a while, what the infection rate was.

But how many people are currently infected?

The published figures may actually give a false impression of both the virus’s spread and how lethal it actually is. Depending on how effectively authorities gather the data, there is always going to be under-reporting of the infection rates. Those who self isolate are not tested, nor are they included in official figures. Even those displaying definite symptoms are not tested unless they satisfy various criteria, such as being admitted to hospital, or in a position where testing is seen as necessary, such as high profile involvement with the public. It is even reported that front-line NHS staff are not necessarily tested if they fall ill.

A far more realistic picture might be gained from extrapolating from the death rate. If we take the, admittedly still vague, official estimate of between one and three percent mortality rate for the virus, and perhaps making a judgement call on the efficiency and effectiveness of the health system in place in that particular country, we may get a closer figure. As of yesterday, the UK figure was 55 deaths which would equate to somewhere between 1,800 and 5,500 people infected, most likely closest to the higher figure in the UK. Sadly, the higher the figures, the more accurate the extrapolation is likely to be.

But even these figures are probably far lower than reality, since those who die will have been infected with the virus for some time, so those figures probably lag around a week behind. And on the basis that known infections are doubling approximately every four days, that figure of 5,500 is probably closer to 22,000 and showing no sign of slowing down.

Wishing everybody well.