He gets a text just before midnight.
His bedroom window is open making the evening breeze get a way into the room. The drapes are drawn making the light from the security bulb in the next apartment penetrate into his bedroom. It forms a yellowish glow inside. He is lying on top of the bed in just a boxer and a vest.
It has rained all day so the breeze penetrating through has some strands of wetness in it. Its dump but sure and refreshing. It would be chilling was it not for the Hotpoint heater in the room. It glows orange as it struggles to warm the tiles that have resisted its charm since he moved into the apartment.
A Quran rests on his bedside table with a Good News Bible just next to it. Both are open. He isn’t a philosopher but the study of religion has always fascinated him. As such, he tries to understand religion, not from a single end but from as many standpoints as he can.
Can I call you?
The text reads. The number is familiar because it’s the oldest in his handset. It calls twice in a year. At most three times. No, last year, it appeared on his screen 4 times. So he knows it must be important for the number to be requesting a call. It usually doesn’t request, it just calls. Today seems to be different.
He sits up in bed and responds to the text…
Sure stranger….You can call me…
After a few minutes the phone rings and after three rings, he picks up… A soft voice emanates from the other end. A voice he doesn’t hear often. It is a voice that has been talking to him a few times in a year for the past 8 or so years.
The voice: Hello
Him: Hello yourself
The Voice: How have you been?
Him: Same old same old. Yourself?
The voice: I have been well. How is work?
Him: Work is okay, we keep doing our best every single day.
The voice: That’s great. How is mum and dad:?
Him: They are fine
The voice: When did you see them last?
Him: I went home last weekend… They are doing great. How is your sister? Did she finish high school?
The voice: She is okay. Yes, she finished high school last year. She is watching tv just here, do you want to say hi to her?
Him: No. Pass my regards
The voice: I want to see you. When can you come over to my place?
The request takes him by surprise. She has never invited him over to her place. They aren’t that kind of friends. When they met, he would have been elated at the request but not anymore. So, he ponders over the request. He knows he can’t say no because it would be selfish and rude. She keeps quiet as she waits for his answer.
The voice: Hello, are you still there?
Him: Yes. I am still here… Can I ask you a question?
It’s her turn to keep quiet. She knows he is about to reject her for the umpteenth time. He has been doing great in that section for the past five years. He doesn’t say yes very quickly when it comes to her requests and every rejection cuts deeper than the previous one. He has mastered the art of causing her pain. Though they are not entangled in any form of comradery, he still manages to penetrate sections of her feelings no one else has been able to get through to.
Bearing this in mind, she has toned down on the requests in the few times they talk yearly. She keeps the talk light and easy. That way, there can be no requests thus no refusals… She has been strong enough to keep doing that but she knows she has to see him whether he accepts her request or not. If he isn’t open to seeing her, she will look for his office and go there. It’s important that she sees him.
She knows the question will slice a part of her even before he asks it.
But she wants to hear what he has to say…
The voice: Sure
Him: Why now? Why do you want to see me? Why do you want me to come to your place? What has changed?
She expected one question, he asked four. So typical of him. He doesn’t make anything easy. He is complicated, but having known him for several years, she knows how in touch he is with his feelings. He hates assumptions. He
The Voice: It’s because I want to see you. How long has it been? Three years? There is something important I need to tell you. I wouldn’t want you to find it out from anyone else.
Him: Why can’t you tell me now?
The Voice: Because I want to tell it to your face. Is it too much to ask? We haven’t seen each other for a while. It would be important to see each other too. Don’t you think so?
Him: No. In as much as we haven’t seen each other in a while, there isn’t much to report. Through social media, we are up-to-date with whatever has been happening in our lives.
That hurts her. But she doesn’t let it be heard in her voice. She knows he feeds on her anger and pain. She hurt him once… A pain she knows he has never gotten over up to this moment. He is a great guy but he hurt her more…. In revenge, he tore her pride away from her, but she thinks they should be friends. Her mum is particularly fond of him.
In her mum’s eyes, he can do no evil. He is the epitome of success, confidence and well mannerliness.
The Voice: It’s important to Ben. I don’t ask you for anything. Just see me this once. Please.
The once calm voice is stretched and shaky. That softens him.
The light from the neighbor’s security bulb has since gone off. The breeze is violent now which makes him lift his upper body, reach for the window and close it.
Him: Okay. Just text me the when, the time and the directions to your house. I will be there at the stipulated time.
The Voice: Thank you.
Him: It’s okay. I have an early day tomorrow so will you have a good night?
The Voice: Goodnight Ben. I will send you the details first thing tomorrow morning.
The following morning he wakes with a hangover. He isn’t sure between the two glasses of whiskey and the late night call what caused it but since there is a lot to do, he javs to the office and goes on with his day, tending to clients, attending meetings and basically making the company move forward.
By 11:45, she still hasn’t sent the details regarding the visit, the time and directions to her house.
He starts getting anxious.
At exactly 11:59, a message pops up on the screen giving him the information. The invite talks of a lunch hour invite the following Monday at 1 PM.
He gets to the house some minutes after 3 pm. Primarily because of traffic and his ego. She was never on time when he was really interested in courting her. She meets him at the gate and they hug for a few seconds. They missed each other for sure…
She then guides him to the house where the sweet aroma of cooking chapatis hangs over the air.
The first thing he notices is the baby cot resting near the tv stand. He doesn’t comment about it as he sits down on a chair by the door. She notices his eyes but ignores the direction they take as she sits down on the single seater couch next to him.
She calls out to her sister who is in the kitchen…
Her: Moni, Ben is here… Come and say hi.
A show by Nat Geo World is showing on the 32 inch Sony TV mounted on the wall directly in front of me. Lions dominate the show as they also dominate other animals as is evident on the buffalo several of them are trying to bring down.
Her: I have a daughter.
He doesn’t know how to respond to that revelation. He doesn’t know whether to get hurt or be relieved. Deep down he has no reason to be hurt or to feel bad but something inside him stings… He feels a tinge of betrayal…
Him: Why are you telling me?
Her: Because I think you should know. I didn’t want you to find this out from anyone else.
The sister comes in and greets him courteously. She is all grown up. The last time he saw her she was just going to form one. Now, she is mature in features, voice and also actions. She is the younger version of her sister.
They exchange pleasantries as The voice looks at them pensively. There is sadness in her eyes… An uncertainty definitely caused by the revelation she made some few minutes ago. She is not sure what happens after the sister leaves because, for a moment, the tension recedes to a corner giving the two some space to talk and catch up.
There isn’t much to talk about after Moni leaves.
Lunch is served a few minutes later, which they eat in silence. Moni and the house help eat from the kitchen giving him and the voice space they need to talk and ‘catch up’.
Her: Do you still take whiskey?
Him: I would really do with a glass right now.
She stands up, heads to the kitchen and comes back with some ice, a 750ml bottle of Jameson and a single whiskey glass.
His eyes light up as soon as he sees the bottle. There is a lot that needs to be said and the only way he can say them, without giving two Fs is after two or three shots of some Irish finesse.
Him: Where is your glass?
Her: I don’t drink whiskey. Maybe wine. But currently, I am in no mood to take anything alcoholic. It’s Monday.
Him: So, what are you trying to say?
Her: What do you mean?
Him: Are we irresponsible adults for drinking on a weekday?
She isn’t surprised by the assertion. It’s Ben. He says anything without a single thought on the repercussions of his words. But she has gotten used to his flaw in character after a long time of listening to him expressing his hurt through words dripping with pain and an unexpressed anger.
After setting down the bottle, she hands him the glass, after which he pours himself a shot and thrusts it down his throat without a blink. The burn in his throat brings him to life. He pours himself another shot and repeats the process.
She looks at him patiently. Through her features, no emotion is visible. She does a good job at hiding them.
Her: When did you start drinking?
Him: When did you become my mother?
Her: I am just asking. I don’t remember you drinking…
Him: A lot has happened over the years.
Him: You got pregnant… I started drinking… Brexit happened… Americans elected a twat for president.
Her: You still haven’t answered my question.
Him: That’s as good as an answer… What does it matter anyway? I didn’t drink back then, now I do. End of story.
He then drops two ice cubes in the glass and pours the golden drink inside. As they struggle to melt, he holds the glass by his nose and takes in the rich taste of the warm liquid. He swirls the whiskey in his glass, listening to the clinking of the ice cubes, breathing in a fragrance that only years in an oak barrel can achieve.
It is one vice and he intends to make a virtue of, savoring it slowly, not racing to the bottom of the bottle like he had when he knew of her pregnancy for the first time. She thinks she surprised him by informing him of the girl she had sired with a nameless man but he has known all along that she got knocked up.
Her: We need to talk.
Him: Aren’t we talking?
Her: We are. But I need to know what you feel about the baby.
Him: Where is she?
Her: She is sleeping.
Him: There is nothing to talk about. You got pregnant, you gave birth, life continues…. It’s not like we can go back in time and change anything. Besides, you owe me no explanation whatsoever. We live different lives dictated by what we think is best for ourselves and the people you care about.
Her: But I am worried….
Him: Worried about what?
Her: You… I am sorry I hurt you.
He sets the glass down and turns his body to look at her. She is looking down, one leg folded below her, and her hands on her laps… some locks have fallen across her face and she makes no attempt at removing them.
Him: Hey, I am not hurt. I have no reason to be. My feelings aren’t important in this conversation. You made that clear very many years ago. Let’s not pretend like we care so much about each other’s feelings. That train has already left the station. If you really did care about how I felt, you should have let me know of the pregnancy… I thought we were friends… In as much as we don’t talk much, the few times we talked over the past year or two you should have let me know.
I am not angry at you. In fact, I am not angry at all.
Her: Your words and actions speak of two conflicting things.
Him: Can I go?
Him: Where I came from. Home.
Her: No; you can’t leave until we are done.
Him: Done with what?
Him: I don’t have much more to say
Her: Then sit back and listen to me as I speak
Him: What if I am no longer interested in hearing anything you have to say?
Her: You came here to see me… So I will tell you what time you can leave…
Him: You can be psycho sometimes…
The whiskey starts to kick in…
Its 11 pm and they haven’t really said much other than arguing over a past that never happened and because he has had enough of it all. He stands up and heads for the door. On trying the lock, he finds the door locked.
Him: Open up; I need to leave.
Her: Where do you think you were going?
Her: You are drunk. Sit down.
Him: I won’t sit down. You don’t tell me what to do. Where are the keys to this door?
Her: Somewhere within this house of course. But you are not getting them until you sit down and open up to me. I am ready to sit here up to 2 am… You are not going anywhere until you let me in. Your house can wait. It’s not going anywhere. How often do I see you? Once a year. Twice if I am lucky… So let me enjoy seeing you here at least today.
He is starting to get irritated and angry. This is visible from the veins that are steadily forming on his forehead.
Him: It’s getting late and I am working tomorrow. Its already an hour to midnight and this isn’t my neighborhood.
Her: I don’t care. You just have a seat.
Him: How long will I have to be here?
Her: For as long as I want you here.
He doesn’t sit. He chooses to lean his frame on the door as he contemplates his next move. He hasn’t been in this situation before and fear starts creeping in. Moni, the house help, and the child are spending the night in their aunt’s place so it is him and The Voice in the house. He is a little bit drunk which means if anything was to happen, his balance would be off because of the temporary impairment of his cognitive senses.
It gets to midnight and she still won’t open up.
He begs her to let him go. She mildly says no without remorse or consideration of his pleas.