My line of work, like many people’s, involves answering the telephone on an hourly basis. As I’ve explained before, this is something fairly nerve-wracking for me, but there’s also a substantial amount of curiosity to be found in the task. Recently, at one of my two workplaces, we’ve been receiving a steady and noticeable stream of wrong number calls from various people. When you answer the phone to them, some pre-empt what you are going to say, admit their mistake and immediately hang up on you. Others are ensnared in a moment of confusion; I will open with my usual professional greeting, and they will question why they aren’t speaking to their mate Derek before the penny quickly drops and they leave me be. In my particular experience, there have even been elderly people who – mistaking my workplace for the local hospital – have proceeded to describe gruesome ailments in considerable detail before my awkward admission that I am not medically qualified to deal with their complaint. They can put you off your lunch at times, as it happens.
Whatever their reasons for calling (albeit unintentionally), these people do all have one thing in common, at least in my view. Because they’re totally anonymous – the calls generally don’t last long enough for me to establish their identities – I always do wonder who they are, and what their stories are. Why might a phone call to the aforementioned Derek be so important? Was it intended as a simple catch-up between friends, or was he being sought out as part of the resolution to a life or death situation? When I am mistakenly contacted by confused hospital-goers, how worried are they about the problems they face? Are they looking for an answer to a simple question, or are they frantically searching for a second opinion on something that could potentially change life forever? All I can do is ponder, as any writer might. Whatever the truth may be, that’s what this is good for – imagination and inspiration. As annoying, inconvenient and brief as some wrong number calls may be, they do make me think – so maybe the people on the end, whom I generally speak to for no more than a split second each time, do have a much bigger impact on my day than I could ever have anticipated.