She waited all night and he did not call.
She does not know when she finally fell asleep, waking up to a hardness against her chin, the mobile on top of which she had rolled. It was vibrating. A text - Jai - 'gal we r at idas house cme down'. An ebeh hangout - they had discussed it the previous week, before the fight. After a week of christmas and new year dates with boyfriends a girl's Sunday, to sit around and gossip and tease each other.
She gets out of bed. There are no missed calls on her phone. She keeps checking, but there are never any missed calls, or if there are the names she reads only irritate her.
She is not hungry. Not for breakfast, and to tell the truth not for ebeh, either. She sits at the kitchen table, slumped lazily forward, her head on her elbow. She wants to go back to bed. I am tired, she tells herself, that is all. I need to sleep - when I wake up I will feel much better.
She tries not to think of the mobile ringing. She tries not to glance over at its screen, to catch the call in the moment of its connection, to will it into being by being sure of its imminent arrival.
The phone rings - she gets up and grabs it. It is Saye. She sounds like she is licking a cut lemon. Jang-ha ananga? Hanaa jotulore sunye text bi nga nyuuse nyore ignore...
Saye.... Saye.... she tries to interrupt in a small voice. Saye finally stops and listens.
My head hurts.
Anh?, Saye says, come get some ebeh then - it's good for it. She is silent. Maneh jang-ha dunye la nehal - come if you're coming. Nonsense.
Maneh taygal sa time, she says, lee lan la nee? Maangeh nyowe in a bit.
More gain chi yow deh. And Saye hangs up.
She drags herself to the bathroom, and slogs her way through a shower. She dresses - a little mascara over the eyes, a string of beads around the neck. Then she leaves the house.
It is not that other men do not like her. She reminds herself of this, she presents to herself as evidence the looks in the eyes of the ones she passes, on the roads and in the streets. She reminds herself of this, and it in no way proves to be a salve, or serve as a lightening or even a shifting of the weight that sits on her chest.
She hears the girls as soon as she's inside the gate - their laughter from the back, one voice listened to as it finished its story, three others raised in raucous laughter following its denouement.
Saye sees her first. jinay bi nyowe na!, she says, slapping her thigh. She is a slight woman, fair skinned - of the girls she alone does not own her mouth. This is what they tell her, Saye the blunt one, the one you wanted at your side in a fight.
The others stop talking and turn. She thinks she can see it in their faces, how they analyze her: the way she walks, the expression in her face. Seeking to fathom from these things the answer to the question they are not sure yet it is cool to ask. And they must see that there has not yet been a call, because none of them mention it, then, not even Saye.
Jang-ha baayil di nelawe beh naaj bi laka sa taat yi - jang-ha ninga Mel baahut deh, Yassin says - Ida giggles.
Hey jang-hus beads yi, beads yi, Jai says, and she can't help but smile.
As they cook, and talk, gradually thought of the call slips almost from her mind, is reduced to a slight itch that she is almost able to forget, for a moment, as Saye explains how she confronted a girl who kept rolling her eyes at her in public the previous week, as Jai tells them of the latest eruptions of her father, the man of many wives. They are careful, in the way they speak - they steer the conversation away from boys in general. Though occasionally one will come close to quoting a boyfriend, or repeating a joke he made on the phone at night, always they avoid it at the last minute, skillfully maneuvering around it. But she notices, nevertheless, and gradually over the course of the evening the call waiting returns once more to the forefront of her mind. There is a sinking in her mood, a sloughing. Bit by bit she falls out of the conversation and retreats into herself, staring fixedly into a space of her own significance. And the others falter, their conversation sinks into the hole she creates, despite their bravest attempts.
There is a moment when there is a lull in the conversation. Everyone waits for someone else to fill it, with a word, a laugh - it remains empty, turns into a morose silence. The sun has almost set - it is getting dark outside. Cats fight on the other side of the fence, their caterwauling penetrating the brick wall. Suddenly she does not want to be here anymore - she wants to be lying at home in bed in a complete dark, the room silent, no music playing. She gets up.
Jang-ha forye dem?
She makes an excuse. She does not remember what later - something about her father coming home that night. It does not matter - they can see how she wishes to leave. They walk with her to the gate.
Jang-ha Assan said he'll call me when he gets here tonight, Saye says, as she gets into the car.
Assan, who may have information. But does she wish to know, truly, is there not an advantage in this not-knowing.
At home. She is tired. But she cannot sleep - she lies in bed, as she imagined. But though the room is dark, the light of the mobile phone screen lighting as a call arrives will not enter it. And though it is quiet the sound of a mobile vibrating and screaming its ringtone will not startle her in it. Time plays funny tricks on her. She waits for an hour and when she looks at the luminiscent clock only a minute has gone by. At midnight Saye texts her.
Jang-ha Ass said he has not spoken 2 im yet bu he will 2mrw.
k thnx, she texts back.
She thinks she must have forgotten how to sleep. She closes her eyes, and breathes slowly, and tries to clear her mind, but always she seems as far from sleep as she is in the middle of the day, with the Sun at its highest, destroying all shade and shadow. In order to fall asleep she must stop thinking about it, yet she cannot stop thinking about it unless she falls asleep... a circling that leaves her feeling even more irritated... And it is hot and it is cold... And her eyes feel so red, under her closed eyelids, so she has to keep opening them... And where is he now.... She sees him, reaching for his phone.... His hands rest on the keypad but they cannot type out her number, they are frozen by some dark magic... But it is her dream, she... Must... Be... Able... To.... Move... And she wakes without succeeding, bleary eyed, and reaches automatically for her mobile.
No missed calls, one text. Her heart skips a beat - she jams her finger down on the inbox button. But It is only her brother, back home from clubbing the previous night, texting her to open the gate. She checks the time - 4am - Ya must have opened it for him, in the end.
She goes into the bathroom, to brush her teeth. She looks at her cheeks in the mirror and they seem so fat, even grotesque. She is suddenly angry at herself, her many-faulted self that men will abandon without a thought. She is too ugly, she thinks, she is too fat, too slow. He would not call, he would never call again, she thought, feeling sorry for herself. And then she thinks, and he does not care the effect this is having on me. And she feels a sudden flash of anger, she thinks if he does not care then neither will I. Something in her hardens for a moment and she savagely puts away the toothbrush and marches back to her room, flecks of toothpaste still on her chin. She will not care either, then, she cares so little that she will turn off her phone right now! She picks it up. A change in the color of the flashing light, a missed call notification, and in a moment she has forgotten all her anger as she picks it off the bed, her heart beating in anticipation. It is an international number, and her disappointment makes her sigh, and sink back into her posture.
She climbs back into bed and gets under the covers. She does not wish to go out, not today. She will stay here, and perhaps sleep will come to her.
When the phone rings it is without any expectations that she picks it up. Her eyes are closed and she does not bother to open them - she merely gropes on the bed for it, her fingers pressing remembered buttons. She holds it to her ear.
Hello, she says, almost a whisper.
It is him. Her eyes fly open and she sits up in bed. The phone is pressed tight to her ear, so tightly it would have hurt, under different circumstances - but now she does not even notice. She barely knows what to say.
Yow lu hew?, she asks him. Her voice is not accusing yet - it probes him, intends to find out his explanation first. There is a pause in which a thousand possibilities come true, and each is as false as the one preceding it. Then
Baby, he begins, and she knows she has won, it does not matter what he says next, in his tone of voice she accepts his surrender and she is once more the queen who will lay down the laws which he will follow. She listens to him speak with a regal silence, not interrupting, making barely a sound.
And all the while the relief in her chest is so sharp she is left breathless, she has to gulp back her breathe, and regain control of herself with an effort. She has had many years of training, in the ways of deadening her voice with a cold rejection that makes the hardiest of men take pause and re-consider. But all she can manage now is a stifled rasp, like someone recovering from a bad cold. She tries to pack as much anger and sangfroid as she can into it.
I don't want to talk now - I'm busy, she says. Beh chi kanam.
And over his protests she hangs up, her hands trembling a little.
Then she puts the mobile on the bed, and sits waiting for him to call back.