This is how they start, the very first time he calls her, after he has taken her number:
A pause, the sound of their breathing over the line.
- Heeey - yow what're you doing up at this time?, she says, Haleh yu baah yi yaype taydi nenye.
- Anh OK, he replies, more tah yow yaangeh nelawe.
She giggles, a preamble. He settles down, into the couch in which he sits, laying his head on its arm, his hand under his shirt warming his stomach.
- Yow ninga mell baahute deh - how could you say that about Alasan Camara on your show.
- Lu hewe daf la nahari?, he asks.
- Man?! Ham nga neh maasi Alasan Camara yi ngaa def loe lu.
- Hay-haay - dang maa tigal laygi - loal la Miss Rambo - maangi ragal sah.
She is smiling - he can feel it even in her silence.
Tonight he is a comic, and she is his audience.
Her laughter comes sometimes in peals, and sometimes in waves, but always accompanying his words, filling in his pauses.
- Paco bi nyaaye, paara bi nyaaye, ma nyaaye. Paara muss na laa riitaye?
She is laughing so hard she can barely answer.
- Day… he-he-he… Day.. he-he.. daydayt.
- Paco bii nak paaraa daf kor daan riitay very day. More nehkorn sunye baandi konye bi - Hans! Choy yi yaypa kor haameh after.
- He-he… Laygi after?… he-he-he…
- Paco baangeh def tali bi lore ham neh. Paara bi nak ndekeh morm fitut… mu laaha sunye konye rek sayga tay biram bi. Balaa more sigi paco bi disappear na.
She can see the image he describes, and it makes her smile.
- Then after?
- Paara bi turn em chi man maangeh jail curve bi. Sunye boat yi tasseh rek mu rush ma….
- Dama sorna teye, she says, suma borpa bi morye mayti.
- Naan nga garap?
- No - I think dama need pour nelawe.
- Anh OK - kon haara ma baayi la nga taydi.
The desperation in the way she says it warms him. She is aware of it, and attempts to take it back.
- I mean unless you have to go, she says.
- Nah I don't. Yaangi tayda?
A mood is upon her tonight. He tries everything - she gives him no quarter.
- Lu hewe, he says, yaangi hala stress teye deh.
- Ah dara.
- You sure?
- Maa la kor wah tehdu.
Their conversation falters and comes to a stop, a false start.
- Guess who I saw teye?, he tries again.
- Hawe ma di - just wah ma!
An impatience in her voice, that she does not even attempt to hide. He retreats, his smile disappears. So this is how she is going to be tonight.
- Ken, he says, never mind.
- OK. Anyway dama sorna - maangeh dem taydi.
- Beh after.
Dama kore feral, he thinks as he holds the dead phone in his hand. Duma kor call three days, suma calleh sah duma pick up. Ndo bii bum ma yap.
But of course the next night she calls, and he picks up.
- Danga lamba?, he asks, his voice mocking.
- Horl ma bu baah seht ndah dama la nuru ku deh lamba. Shuu!
- Ah lu maa wah, he says, laughing softly, So lu hew?
- Dara - dama just buga nehka alone right now rek.
- Daydayt loe lu normalut. Nehku lore dima wah full story bi.
- Maneh yow lu la chi sornal, she says, yow ak man we're just friends tehdu.
The words have the intended effect - she can feel a deflation in his silence. So he is interested, she thinks, and her heart quickens.
He rallies well.
- Dara, he says, dama la yay-raym rek. Cause ham naa lamba-ness easy wut.
She giggles dutifully. She thinks, now I have him, where I want him, and her mind fills with possibilities...
It is the stillest part of the night, undisturbed except for the ticking of clocks, and the creaking of houses. They speak each from their beds, their eyes closed, the distances between them dissolved by a free call. He is listening attentively to her.
- So after loe lu la sumap Pa deh, she is saying, After suma maam mu nyowe dehka si chi kerr bi.
- Ban maam, he asks, the one you go to Gamo with?
Her smile is weighed down by sleepiness, and it cuddles her where she lies.
- Oh you remember?, she says, See that's the thing I like about you. Dang deh actually dayglu. You're not just a sollipsist.
- Solip-lan? Ham nga sa memorize dictionary bi.
She titters, and yawns before she continues.
- Like… nehkut neh sa borpa rek nga deh joh importance. Cause a lot of guys do that.
- Ah OK. Sore deh waaja nelawe si nak sa baat bi…
She smiles again, her eyes closed, waiting. But he does not complete the sentence.
- Suma baat bi lan?, she asks finally. She speaks out the words slowly, a child again, almost a sing-song.
- Dara, he replies, Flattery more reye sa maam.
She misses him, the whole day. She misses him when he leaves, she misses him until his return.
She misses him right after he hangs up the phone, in a way that dampens her mood and leaves her feeling annoyed at herself.
- Baby?, she says, sounding breathless, Fore nehkorn - maang la nehka di call rek.
- Dama demorn sidey Ous, after boy yi ak si nyu chlll - left my phone at home.
- Sa boy yi denye sorf - hanaa amunye girlfriends? Di chill beh time bii.
He laughs. He can hear the desire in her voice, and it fills his breast with a certain pride, a certain sense of manliness.
- Lore def teye?, she asks.
- Dara - just went to record show bi. Lamin neh dafa am contacts yu ess - maybe we'll bring Vybz.
- Kartel?!, she asks, excitement in her voice.
- Yeah. Ak nyorm Popcaan.
He tries to sound as nonchalant as possible, as if talking to Kartel was something he did every day.
- Baby that'll be so cool!
- Yep - then day boe bu nak dinga finally stone.
- Ma-aan?, she exclaims, Nopes - baalal naa lehn - mun naa just dem faycha.
- Ah kon haara ma dem uti benehn date.
- Acha demal - you're the one who'll come back - fee ngehn maa fehka, yaa sa date bi yaype…
Tonight they are both relaxed, after the activities of the day. There is a new closeness they share, that had not been there before.
- Ana Little Paul?, she asks, her voice teasing.
- Yow sore morye tu wut sa borpa. Laygi Little Paul nga def sa harit?
- Wawe. Paski more ma njayka def harit.
- Mungeh nelawe - teye man rek maa fi nehka. So wahtaanal ma.
- Unh-unh, she says, shaking her head, imitating a little child, Dama buga Little Paul.
- So lim la def teye dor-yut? Ham nga danga nyaaka jom.
- Baby hanaa hamulor duma deh dorye-lu chi Little Paul.
- Ah kon laygi amaa tulore suma time.
She can see him pout, as he says the words, his bronze skin, his full lips. She feels suddenly absent, as if her life were at his side only, and everywhere else did not count.
- Aha kanye. You know I love Little Paul's owner.
- Anh? Ndik lan?
- Mmmm… cause dafa cool, beh pareh dafa handsome, beh pareh he loves me more than anyone, ever.
- Ku la wah loe lu?
- Really?, he says, Nahh na la kon.
- Wawe nama nahh - care wuma - buga naa kor noe-nu.
- Aunty Jai mu neh bossam daf deh late yehna saaye, she says.
- You asked her?
- Daydayt - yow tam am not that stupid di. Dama kor just bring up in conversation.
- Oh OK.
Panic chases after them, and though it has not yet caught up they can feel its breath hot on their necks, as they lie in the dark talking.
- Ah I'm sure dina nyowe.
- Dore deh muna predict these things.
- Nyaata days laygi?
- Three, she says, Musuta late three.
- Yeah. Ah first time dafa am pour lu nehka, he says philosophically, Dina nyowe.
- Bull stress sa borpa.
These are hard nights, of silences filled with stone. A new awkwardness lies between them - their speech is a mechanical thing that they must drive forward.
- How are you feeling today?
- I'm fine, she replies, not sounding fine.
- Did you vomit again?
- I'm fine. When I was with girls yi teye maangi halorna scared. Y no one noticed.
When he is away from her, when he imagines her now he cannot remember her face. All he can recall is her stomach, and in his imagination it is a grotesque, bulging thing.
- Lore lehn dorne def, he says, torga ebeh?
- Yeah. Then nyu dem hang out LP. Famatta faram bi came from England.
- Anh OK.
She has gone beyond the need to blame, is now only filled with a resignation.
- Ban time ngaa nyowe Friday?, she asks.
- Doctor bi said 7am. Dinaa nyowe pick up la borri 6.
- OK, she says, Maang dorn halaat pour Thursday ma dem fanaan sidey Ida.
- Ndik sa yaaye?
- Yeah, she says, She wakes pour njail and sits chi ayta bi.
- OK. Dang kor wah Ida?
- Not yet, she says, Y she has to know sudeh foe fu laaye fanaan. Y du deh wah.
A cloud of gloom hangs about her, growing larger with every word she speaks. It comes over the phone line and fills the room in which he lies too, and the distance between them feels endless, though neither can turn away from the other.
- Leh ka nga?, he asks.
- Nah. Heefuma.
- Danga need pour lehka di Babe.
- Yeah. Dinaa lehka after.
She is tired - so tired. She wishes she could hang up the phone, and shut out the world, and be alone. And yet she feels the exact opposite too, the thought of loneliness filing her with a fear and a panic that she can scarce contain.
- Naka show bi teye?, she asks, Record nga?
- Yeah. He sounds as if she had asked him about a chore he had performed during the day, but had not wanted to.
- How was it?
- Ah - just the usual, he says dismissively, Music, interviews, Lamin ak jokesam yi.
When she told him the result of the test he had sprang into action. He did the research, found a good and discreet doctor. He made the appointment, paid with cash. He did all there was to do, and now he is at a loss, feels helpless. What to say, to make her feel better. He casts about for words. His assurances die in his throat, never reaching his tongue, sounding hollow even to him.
- Wah ngaa Ida?
- Wawe, she replies.
- What did she say?
- I mean she was OK. Me and her go back a long way - she's always there suma kor needeh. She's, like, suma best friend dipi timey halel.
- Anh OK, he says, So elayk?
- Yeah - dina ma jailsi si afternoon bi. I told my mum neh we had a show.
They speak about inconsequential things, after that, until she can muster enough courage to end the conversation.
- Hello, she picks up the vibrating phone.
- Babe? Yaangi sidey Ida?
- Yeah. Y Mungeh nelawe.
- OK. Yow tam you should.
- Goemantuwu ma, she replies.
- Ah OK.
- Lorye def?
- Man - dara. Just sitting here.
- Ah OK.
With each word they speak the night draws closer to an end, the day becomes clearer in its approach over the horizon. So their silences are longer tonight, as if by not speaking they can hold the day at bay.
- Dama deh nehka di feel as if…, she trails off.
- As if lan?
- As if lan, he insists.
- Ah dara. Just… Suma cousin dafa gaynay worn bosam, and then they found out. Sumap Pa was saying how reye kati nit la, and then he didn't speak to her again after that. Gaayi denye kor banish from family bi...
- Babe, he says. Wah naa la nga stop worrying. No one knows.
- Neh-kut loe lu.
- Lan la kon?
He feels a sudden irritation. The things that worry her are not things he wishes to think about, and he feels a flash of anger at her for bringing them up.
- Danga set sa alarm bi?, he asks, and he could have been talking to a stranger he worked with.
- Daydayt - necessary wut - duma nelawe.
- Maneh just set kor. Sore oversleepay nak? His tone is scolding.
- OK, she says, quietly.
She sounds so weary. His anger is replaced with shame, at itself.
- Sore reyeh nit kuuye dunda, he says, ching deh nehka murderer. Fii amute dara luuye dunda.
- Yeah, she says, almost as if she had memorized the word and did not need to think of it anymore to say it.
- Su dorn a couple of months sah. Y aagut foe fu.
- Danga wara nelawe.
He wants to go, and his guilt at this makes him angry again. She knows, and does not think she holds it against him.
- Demal taydi, she offers, beh elayk.
- Maneh if I wanna sleep I'll go. Needulore pour wah ma kor.
A long silence.
- Baby demal taydi, she says again, with great effort, giving him a way out, Suma nehkeh di wah damaa eh Ida.
- You sure?
- Yeah - demal.
- OK. I'll leave suma phone bi on. Call ma sore munuteh nelawe.
- Wawe OK, she says, and they both know the night will pass without her calling.
Something is missing from her voice tonight, something that sounds as if it has been crushed and destroyed under a heavy load.
- Munu maa nelawe, she says, and it is as if she has lived a long life filled with despair, and never slept.
- Amulore sleeping pills?
- Aha kanye - doctor bi gave me some. Y bugu ma lehna naan…
- Lu tah?
- Dafa.. suma deh…. my eyes - every time I close them dama deh nehka di giss…, she does not finish the sentence.
- Baby just naan lehn nga nelawe.
There is a note of pleading in his voice, that has never been there before, and rather than soothe her it makes her feel worse.
- Wawe - maybe later, she says, Dinaa naan some later.
- Ana sa yaaye?
- Dafa dem hewe. Maangi kerr man kehna.
He gets a sudden inspiration.
- Dang lehn wara naan before she comes home, he says, So dore lehn need pour wah.
She laughs - it is a cold laugh, there is no mirth in it.
- Bull worry - I'm fine. Du detect dara. Yaangi safe.
There is the accusation, in those last words. He is quiet.
- Sorry Baby, she says after a while, I didn't mean that. Dama sorna rek.
- It's OK, he says, sounding surer of himself now, demal naan some pills. Then nga nyowe tayda nyu wah benga nelawe.
The load that she has carried through the day does not seem as heavy, anymore.
- OK, she says, and gets up.
- Dangaa over make a good mother sah.
- Anh. Naka nga hameh loelu?
- Just horl la rek. Jaimi yaaye nga ameh.
- So dang maa oryeh fat laygi?
It is the first joke they have shared in weeks, and they laugh much longer than its funniness allows.
- Baby so first one bi suma Papa, she says, planning names.
- Daydayt - jehkarr bi gets to name first kid bi di! Hai - yow yabulore ma.
- Anh OK. Wawe OK - so kore kore tuday?
- Sa Papa, of course.
She smiles, and it is not forced.
She feels as if everything will be alright.