Your phone rang, in that annoying way it does, sharp electronic sounds clicking rapidly, clattering against each other almost in a deliberate cacaphony.
You wondered why you never bothered to change the default ringtone to something more…..tasteful; maybe a song you like, something by Passenger or Garret Kato; or maybe a composition, one of Lindsey Striling’s more likely. You wondered if it was because subconsciously you had accepted that the jarriness of the painfully familiar tune would help ensure that you pick your calls since you would not want the phone to ring too long and since rejecting calls was, well, rude.
You picked the phone from the bed on the second ring, and stared at her name on the screen. Nothing prepared you for the daze that came with seeing those letters sprawl on your screen. You stared, transfixed, the seconds tolled, the ringing continued and memories came flushing into your head with a reckless desperateness.
But between the daze and a sudden diziness that gripped you, you were most of all surprised. For one, you were surprised you still had her number. The thing about Google contacts, it seems, is that it ruins the luxury of mistakenly loosing numbers you can’t come around to deleting. For another, you were stunned that she would call. You let the phone ring for a while, wondering what she would sound like when you picked, what she had been up to all this while, where she was, who she had become, wondering about everything really.
You had not spoken in 5 or 6 years – a long time eitherways. The last time you spoke, you remember she had gone on about how she couldn’t keep you an emotional hostage anymore; about how you obviously wanted more than she had the capacity to give. And as she rattled on, you wondered how conveniently selfish she was being, while somehow convinced that she was doing everything for your sake. It occurred to you that the storyline was more for her consumption than yours. So, you let if fly, the watery storyline, her proposal of an end. You could feel your heart tearing at the seams but you didn’t try to stop her. You can’t make someone love you- this much was true. You couldn’t make her love you. It was one choice she had to make herself, one she didn’t have the will to.
So, here she was , the girl you used to love , calling. Why?
“Hello” She whispered into the phone, a cautiousness resonating through her thin voice. You remember that voice, the various fluid pitches of it; it’s laughters, it’s angers, it’s ecstasies. You remember days when that voice buoyed you into deep dreams, carassed you into heavens.
“Hi Human” You responded, a wetness teasing the side of your eyes as a new wave of memories crashed through your heart. Human; that was the nickname you called her. It had come to define most of your stock jokes.
The first time you met her, you had been taking a tutorial class. You were in your premium year in the University and you were taking her class, the then Sophmores on a course on Greek Mythology and Literature. As you taught, you made occassional references to your name, “Anias”, a variation of “Aeneas”, the Greek Demi-God, in a playful attempt to familiarise them with the hierarchy of Greek Deity. After the class, she came up to you and introduced herself.
“Hey, I’m Nneoma, and I am human. Actually, Nigerian human if you prefer to be specific”.
It was the both the cheesiness of the joke and the effortlessness of her charm that did you in. You laughed so hard your glasses almost fell. You knew instantly she was something else. There you were, an American-Greek, and she a Nigerian who was only just schooling in America and somehow she made worlds of difference come crashing with one easy lease of humour.
“Nice to meet you Nneoma” you had responded, letting her name roll off your tongue, purposeful highlighting your mastery of cultural variances of pronunciation. She smiled when you pronounced it properly and you felt rewarded.
“ I am Aneas, a demi-god”. You continued, tongue-in-cheek. Her retort would leave you in another feat of laughter.
“Nah. Not with that skinny frame. That defeats every Greek Deity Stereotype we have managed to cultivate. But don’t worry, I’ll keep your secret if you keep mine”. She had said. Eyes twitching with a mischievousness you realised even then was tireless.
“And what’s your secret?” You said, laughing.
“I am not supposed to be into white boys” she replied, making a face, eyes clear as mid-morning sky.
That was years ago. You wonder why you still called her that; why you lingered over the word in thesame teasing way.
“You still remember that nickname” she responded, offering a laugh that was genuine, despite the pain that crackled in her voice.
“It’s not the only thing I remember” you said. Letting her laughter draw you in for only a second of weakness.
“Why are you calling?”
“I have missed you” She said. There was something raw, something aching that you could almost taste in her tone. A weakness that she always so over-enthusistically guards. It was not the words – she ordinarily had that uncanny ability to say just about anything and manage to send any emotion across – It was the unguardedness of the tremor of her voice, the sheer depths that she had forgotten to mask. You wanted to hold her, to hug her, console her. But you also wanted to hurt her, to fist into this vulnerability that she so selfishly had kept for herself all these years and twist in until she felt something akin to the pains she caused you.
“You are not calling me because you ‘miss’ me Nneoma.” You replied, a coldness lacing your words, suddenly disgusted by the fact that she had such powers over you and knew it; powers she never let you come close to welding over her. It wasn’t fair; worse still, it wasn’t safe. You hardened.
“I just wanted to know you’re okay. I have been meaning to call for years…” As her voice drailed away, you wondered how she was the way she was; so fiercely self guarded. How could someone be this emotionally withheld? It never made sense. That she could feel so much and supress it, that she could want so much and somehow refuse it. That she could not let herself be eaten by emotions like everyone else.
“ I am okay Nneoma. I’ve been enjoying my freedom” you retorted, referencing her breakup soliloquy, wishing you hadn’t come off so harsh. She sighed on the other end of the line, and you could not even begin to fathom what was going on in her mind, what her sigh said. Was she hurt? Did she see your words as justified? Was she exasperated already? You could never truly read her! Oh, It was always so frustrating.
“See Aneas, I know I hurt you. When we broke up, there were so many things going on that I was not in control of and I was scared of being overwhelmed by them. I was choking, do you understand? I needed to breathe, I needed to be able to be as I like, a bird, flying as I will. I was scared I would lose myself to you in a way that would cost me more than I could afford. I know it doesn’t make any sense. That was why I didn’t explain it to you, that’s why I made up that bullshit narrative I knew you would see through. It’s just, there are things my mind does that I cannot explain or defend – things that just are. I did not call you to revisit old hurts. I just wanted to hear your voice again to say I am sorry; and to see if, I could have some…..redemption, by making things right with you. It’s okay if you hate me. It’s okay. I understand that I deserve it…”
You could feel your heart melting, slowly, deliberately. There she went again, playing your heart like a Cello. You shrugged, flashes of the pain you kept so close to you jarring you back to consiousness, again. You could tell she was trying not to cry. It hurt you that she didn’t, because it reflected again just how much restraint she had over her emotions; how much you didn’t. You wiped the line drawing across your face, suddenly mad at her. She was right! You should hate her, but you couldn’t and it infuriated you. She was asking for a redemption that she did not care to work for. It infuriated you even more. Worse still, it was just as emotionally selfish as she always managed to be. Did it even occur to her what calling to get “redemption” meant for you? Where did it leave you and the upheaval her call would engineer? Did she wonder? What did the scheme make of you? A giver as always? How convenient!
“I’m glad you called to help your conscience, but I don’t need your compassion Nneoma. I only ever needed your love, but you snatched it from me because you were scared of frailties and demons you created for your own fascination. You won Nneoma. What else do you want?”
As you ended the call in the seconds after your words had settled, you visualised her gasping, although you knew she wouldn’t. If she was ever dazed, it never showed. As the tone dipped to signal the end of the call, it dawned on you that for the first time since you’ve know her, you felt fully in control.
You knew it was just a farce though, you really didn’t have any such control – it was just the anger boiling through you, disguised as a detacheness that made you temporarily impervious to her. Once it subsided, you knew you would call her. As much as she hurt you and as much as you wanted to hurt her back, if only for some semblance of self gratification, it would seem your love for her transcended your feelings of self. When you called her, you would say “I’m sorry” like you were always too eager to do when ever you made her feel even the slightest hurt. You would explain how you felt and why you said the things you did and you would then meet her for lunch. You would laugh over old memories and you would forget how much she hurt you, although temporarily. Ultimately, you know how it would end, with you kneeding in pain. But you would call her, because it would seem you love her more than yourself.