Late Night Calls
Late nights calls are risky, reckless.
They look relatively naïve in the morning. And I went about my day, sweeping the house, peeling oranges, baking cookies, paying for a magazine I couldn't recall buying. It was in the evening that a strange unease would grow. I could no longer work or think or sit at ease. I'd go outside and watch darkness lurking in the shadows, scrambling in slowly but forcefully.
Akram likes to watch the news after dinner but he dozes off quickly. And when I urge him to go to bed, he complies like a sweet little boy. What's wrong with him today? Why was he still here? Eyes closed, he slumped on the couch, his bald head dangling like an over ripe bael fruit. I paced around the kitchen cum living room a couple of times; every time my gaze turned to the cordless phone on the wall between the two rooms. "Go to bed," I prodded him gently, trying hard to hide the irritation in my voice. The urgency.
At last, he stood up. I released a sigh of relief. "Aren't you coming?" he asked.
"I have work to do," I said, pointing to the dishes stacked in the sink.
"Turn off the TV," he said and headed towards the bedroom. I stood there for some time, with the TV remote in my hand. The television blared nonstop. A man in Honolulu did something unique, a woman in Madagascar did nothing unique, yet her smiling face flashed all over the screen. I pricked up my ears. He would brush his teeth, drink a glass of water or two. He would start snoring the moment he closed his eyes. I looked at the big clock on the wall. 10.30 pm. It was time. I went to the kitchen and turned on the tap water. I stared at the street bathed in moonlight. A dog barked somewhere, water filled the sink, the cold water numbed my fingers, my heart started beating faster, faster—the clock, too—tick tock— tick tock.
At precisely 10.40 pm, the telephone rang, shattering the unbearable monotony. I rushed to pick up the receiver. I could feel the vibration, transmitted from the cord to my racing heart. To the veins of my body.
The sound of his voice soothed me. Made me crave a little more. How long would it go on? I wondered. Every story has a beginning, a middle and an ending. It's the end I feared most.
We talked in whispers. The dirty dishes stayed dirty. The night progressed gingerly outside. I asked him not to call me again. He knew I didn't mean it. So, he would call again. I would wait.
When I went to bed late at night, feeling happy but a little conflicted too, I found Akram awake. He looked at me and asked, "Who was it?"
My heart skipped. I tiptoed towards the bed. Should I say, no one? How much did he hear?
"Who were you talking to?" he asked again.
I sat on the bed, facing the wall, damp and dirty. I could hear the thumping in my chest. I bit my lips and mumbled, "Mira." I had no idea why this name popped into my head. I hadn't spoken to her for ages. I didn't even know where she lived.
"Who is Mira?"
"A friend," I said.
"Never heard of her."
"Do you have to know all my friends?" I snapped.
"Why are you getting upset?"
"I want to sleep," I muttered and lay down, my back towards him.
"Okay," he said and turned over.
I started counting seconds, minutes in my head. One, two, three … sixty seconds or was it fifty-nine? Numbers can be treacherous. The wall seemed to be closing in, or was it the bed, dangerously close to the wall? If I stretched my hand forward, could I touch its rough surface or the cracks snaking here and there? He began to snore, while I tossed and turned a long time before I could finally fall asleep.
Marzia Rahman is a fiction writer and translator.