The Phone call
Brixton, March 1996, 2:00 a.m.
Night doesn’t scare me. It never did. I like to walk back home. To walk till I have exhausted all the roads one by one. I like to hear my footsteps on the pavement; to count the lighted windows; to pass the unlit ones and wherever there is light to stand for awhile. A lighted window means a person. A person who still keeps the eyes open. Those open eyes might be looking at other eyes, watching television or reading. They might be looking at themselves. (No, light is not needed to look at yourself).
Or they might be turned towards the road, watching me as I walk by, alone. Behind the curtains, behind those lighted windows, there might be someone watching me walking by alone. He might be thinking: what is she doing out in the streets at two in the morning? Isn’t she afraid?
No, I’m not afraid, even though this neighbourhood is not the safest place to live.
However, nothing unpleasant has ever happened to me, no unpleasant events. (I mean external ones). Nobody’s ever bothered me.
“Have a good time, honey”, said the black woman at the club, applying lipstick to her fat lips. She addressed my reflection in the mirror, dragging her heavy glance across my face, emanating waves of good will. Strange. Of all the places in this town at night, only in the women’s toilets you come across to this atmosphere of familiarity.
“I don’t feel well” I said, “I have to go. The music is too loud. I’ve got a headache”.
“All by yourself? Wait a while, we ‘ll all leave in a minute”
“No, I’m going. I’ll take a cab” I insisted. “I don’t feel well”.
I felt fine; that is why I left. I longed to walk in the night. Hear my footsteps on the pavement; put forth my body and tear the darkness; exhaust all the roads one by one -small tasks achieved.
I’m only a block away from home now. All those years I have lived here, nothing unpleasant has ever happened to me. Except last year when I was away for a few months. How long was it, five months? No, six. I went to live with him. To see what it would be like.
No, not that now. I mustn’t start thinking again what made me come back. Now I am here. Safe. That is what counts. Safety. I ‘d better not start thinking about love and affairs now. The night is sweet. Calm. I ‘d better not disturb it with my thoughts.
I am getting closer and closer. Lights are thinning out. Eyes have shut. But still there might be dreamers, dreaming that they are walking in the night.
Once, long time ago, the film studios where Charlie Chaplin made his movies were located right here, in this road. The road I live. Those were the glory days. But which was his first film? The Gold Rush, or A Woman in Paris? I ‘m not sure.
I ‘m nearly there. My key -my key is in my pocket. I can feel it. I feel safe with a key in my pocket. Thinking of a key, each confirms a prison. I can never escape from verse that enters unexpectedly into my head as if answering my thoughts, refuting my convictions, forcing me to face their other aspects.
Ignore the key.
I have almost reached home. The fallen fence is still at the corner. Weeds sprout up between the wires, their growth unrestrained. And the abandoned car still at my door. This car has been left there for months, long since forgotten. Last Monday -I think it was- I saw someone sleeping inside as I passed by. As soon as I saw him he jumped up, startled by a barking dog. And they both seemed startled, for when the dog saw him it shut up. It ran off fast, licking its chops and displaying its rear end to the homeless man…
What was that noise? Where does it come from? A telephone! A telephone is ringing! The phone in the box just outside my front door. The phone-box is empty. Someone is calling. Someone is looking for someone. It persists. The ringing goes on and on. Who could they call at such an hour? This call can’t be for me. They would call me at home. It keeps ringing and ringing ceaselessly. It will upset the neighbours. Who could it be and how could I possibly resist an insistent call in the night?
“You took your time answering”
What is this man saying? He calls a phone box in the middle of the night expecting someone to pick it up at once.
“What is it that you want sir? You ‘ve probably got the wrong number; this is a phone box . I just happened to answer.”
“It is y o u I am calling. I have to ask you a favour. It is a very important matter and it is only you who can bring it to a conclusion. ”
“An important matter? What do you mean sir?”
“You have to give a message to someone”
“A message to whom?”
Perhaps he wants me to give a message to the man who sleeps in the car. Perhaps it is his father. But he is not there tonight. Perhaps he’s found a better place to sleep.
“You won’t have to go far. It’s in the same road as your house. Number 73.The message is for the lady who lives in 73”
“When? When you want me to go?” It is not for the homeless, its for one of those ladies who sleep.
“Now, now you have to go!”
“It’s very late sir. She ‘ll be asleep”
If he could see all these silent houses around, all these dark windows, he would not dare ask such a favour. But he is so insistent.
“She is waiting”
“What if I hadn’t answered? ”
“I would have kept trying. I would have kept calling”
“What if somebody else had answered?”
But who could possibly have answered a call here. It is so dark. There is not a living soul around.
“It is only you who takes messages in the middle of the night. Therefore you h a v e t o g i v e my message”
He is almost answering my thoughts. Who is he?
“Okey sir. What shall I tell her?”
“Just that I called…”
“You only want me to tell her that you called?”
“Yes. Remember you will be rewarded for this. Good night”
Number 73. A block further down the street. Its so dark. Who could be awake, waiting at this hour? 73. This is a deserted house. It looks as if no one has lived here for ages. It must have been a pretty house once, but I am sure that there is no one in there now. The bell isn’t ringing. But that man insisted on the message. He said that I have to leave a message. Well then, I ‘ll leave a note, but there is no name. I don’t even know her name. I shall simply address it to lady.
Madam, someone called for you tonight. He has asked me to informed you that he did not forget to call.
* * * *
Ι feel tired. I shall go to bed now. I still have my key. There in my pocket. At least my key and my house are still at the same place. But no I am not safe. The phone is ringing again. This odd man wants to know if I went there. What if he is crazy? No he can’t be.
“Did you go?”
“Yes, sir I did. But the house was deserted. Nobody lives there”
“Tell me please miss. What date is it exactly?”
“It is March the…”
“I know the month. It is the year I am interested in”
“The year? 1996…You are making fun of me, sir”
“In other words, it is almost the twenty first century. Do you know Ella?”
“No, sir. There is nobody living in that house”
Why am I talking to this man? What is he saying?
Yet he speaks so thoughtfully, so reflectively, the very sound of his voice convinces me. Although it seems as if it comes from very far, it is not distant. His voice touches my heart directly. It’s crazy, I know, but I trust him.
“It is my fault. I did her an injustice. I didn’t give her the life she deserved. I gave her a hasty end. I did not have enough time and she paid for it. I gagged her mouth and stole her voice”
“Ella’s? You mean you KILLED HER?”
“Yes, and I shouldn’t have. She still had so much to say. It is all my fault. First I gave her all the passion that was needed to set her forth and then when she was at her best I cut her off. That is the reason why she has to get my message and YOU have to give it to her”
“Me? I just left her a note”
I looked up. There was no moon. I suddenly realised my position. Being in a phonebox, surrounded by darkness, which seemed to be an unfamiliar space, talking to a man who seems to break any convictions I may have had about logic, about relations of events to meanings. How naturally, how easily am I attracted to paradox! Yet I almost believe this man
“Tonight you just delivered the beginning of the message; you will give her the rest another night. Go to sleep now. Soon you will be given the chance to fulfil your task. Please don’t forget, when you meet her, tell her that she was my only mistreated child. I didn’t stand by her. She was so much like me.
She had too many of my eccentricities; You do as well, I think. When you see her tell her that: there was not enough ink to follow her. You have to make her understand that. Don’t fail me. You say it’s March. You have enough time till summer. Good night for now ”
How amazing! An amazing man! Amazing expression. And confident. No, definitely this man is not crazy. He speaks like a prophet. He says that he lacked the fortitude to follow Ella! Who is this Ella? How am I supposed to find her? And why should I give her this message? What have I got to do with either of them?
-Perhaps you need some paper?
-No, I have enough.
-Perhaps you need a pen?
-No, Thank you…I have my own