I was conversing with my mother-in-law in the kitchen last week as we washed the dishes. And to pass the time and tedium, I took it upon myself to educate her about random internet creeps.
Now, she is pretty worldly and, much like me, enjoys watching people make idiots of themselves. But her experience with perverts and weirdos was limited to 90s era sleazeballs and the odd guy airing his penis in a crowded subway train.
“So, Pavi, are you serious? Men actually send messages to women they don’t know and talk dirty to them?”
I nodded, wiping down the soapy sink. “Yes, Amma. Most of these men start off by calling you beautiful or sexy. Then ask if you want to be friends with them. They usually get blocked at this level. And there’s the crowd who are more miserly with their words. They just send you creepy, little ‘HI’ messages 15 times in a row and hope you’ll fall in love with them. But, these are the tamer ones.”
She stopped putting the spoons away. The worst was yet to come, and she knew it.
“And finally, Amma, there are a special few. Filled with the same audacity their ancestors showed on battlefields, they don’t waste time with conversation. Instead, they pop up in your messages folder and demand nude pictures. Very business-like and no beating around the bush. Like they’re loan officers, you must pay to avoid late fees and penalties.”
“Yep. And some of these weirdos go the extra mile. They’ll send unsolicited pictures of their junk, ruining everyone’s appetites. Which is why you should think twice before opening any messages from unknown persons.”
“Oh, my god!”
Our conversation flowed and meandered as we finished our chores. Both of us were sharing fond memories of creeps and perverts we had crossed paths with, which is when I heard someone clear their throat.
Now my mother-in-law’s mom, whom we fondly call Seethamma, lives with us. 80 odd years old and with a sharp, inquisitive mind, she was a force of nature. But like all powerful women, she had her moments of doubt, too.
And right then, she was waving her smartphone at us, a look of confusion on her face.
“What’s wrong, Amma?” my mother-in-law asked.
“Pavi is right. These wicked men are everywhere.”
“What men, Amma?”
“Those men you were talking about. The ones who send all those dirty messages. They’re here, even in our neighborhood! In fact, one of them lives on this very street!”
Dropping this bomb, she went about drinking her nightly cup of milk.
My mother-in-law and I stared at each other.
“Amma?” my mother-in-law ventured. “What are you saying?”
Downing an angry gulp of milk, Seethamma continued. “It’s too much. I’ve tolerated this for too long, but it’s too much. Such vulgar messages. Need a sex partner, they say! We live near you. Please call us, they say! I should call the police, is what I should do! Very unsafe! We have young girls living here,” — she nodded towards me — “and they don’t spare old women too! What nonsense!”
We were utterly confused. What was going on?!!
Then something about the words she said struck a chord. “Seethamma,” I asked. “When you say these men live on our street, how did you know that?”
“I’ll show you! Come, see this!” She set her milk down and tapped her touchscreen until she found what she was looking for.
I took her phone and scrolled through the messages.
“Big, horny men in your area! Join my chat room.”
“Hey beautiful, I live on your street. Call me for some fun!;)”
“2 hot singles found near you. One-time offer only!”
“Increase your penis size! Satisfy more women!”
And some more…
I burst out laughing. Laughed and laughed and laughed until I was breathless.
“What? Show me! What are you—…” My mother-in-law grabbed the phone and scrolled through. A second later, realization dawned on her face, and she began laughing.
Seethamma sputtered and huffed for a good few minutes as we held our sides, too weak to laugh anymore.
“What is so funny?” she asked crossly.
“Oh, Seethamma. This is not an actual person sending you these messages. No one living on our street is seeking sex partners. These are spam ads. Some silly website or telemarketer got your phone number, and now you’re getting automated, spam messages!”
Her eyes grew wide. Then narrowed in suspicion. Then wide again, as she understood what I was saying.
“You mean.. this isn’t some rascal from our street? Krishna Rama, that’s a relief, then. You know, I was scared to go on my daily walks. What if this man found me?!”
That set us off into another bout of uncontrollable laughter. And because she didn’t get to 80 incredible years by taking herself too seriously, Seethamma joined us in our amusement with a few shy giggles.
Later that night, I deleted all her spam messages and hugged her goodnight. And the next day, as I sipped my coffee, I saw her lace up her walking shoes and set out under the pale morning sun.
All was right in the world again.