Ring! Ring!

This Global Village thing is nothing but global trouble. No thanks to technology, none of us can truly get away from the world anymore. God bless the pager, e-mail, cell phones, instant messengers, fax machines and snail mail.

Of this mass of ever-changing technology, the one that irks me most is the telephone. It occupies a pedestal all by itself. I suspect you already know why… It’s those damn night calls! No, not the telemarketers who target dinnertime to sell you what you already have. I’m talking about the emergency long distance calls from Nigeria!

Traditionally, our people wake up early in the morning to set off on long journeys, address very serious issues or make faraway phone calls. And because of the 5-6 hour time difference between Nigeria and the United States, their 8am calls always send us rushing out of sleep at 2am here, heart pounding, grabbing blindly for the phone receiver.

If my phone rings between 1am and 6am, I know it’s Nigeria reaching across the distance. Okay, there was one night a lady rang my house for a “Jackie”. How could anyone be dialing a wrong number in the middle of the night? Can “sorry” make up for that panicky lunge for the phone? And why wasn’t she in bed like all God’s children? As if that wasn’t terrible enough, the phone rang again in the course of that same night and this time, it was Nigeria.

  • Me: Hello? Hello?
  • Him: Hi. May I speak with P…?
  • Me: Who’s this?
  • Him: Bobby. (It was my wife’s cousin!)
  • Me: Boboye…Is something wrong?

Nothing was wrong. He just got to the office early and decided to quickly take advantage of the direct dial on the telephone before the bosses arrived. Of course he didn’t consider the time difference. We had to admonish him never to do that again.

You may have concluded by now that I’m freaking out. I agree with you. Only a nutcase would accept those wee-hour collect calls the way I do. Besides, I have been traumatized just like a number of you out there. A year ago, the phone rang. You could hear the beeps and burps of NITEL’s abused circuits. “Brother Sola!” yelled a faraway voice, “Call home! Call home NOW!”

And the line went dead.

Those are the worst sort of calls. The short alarming ones that say nothing but “Call home!” Two minutes later, I knew my mother had passed on after a “brief illness”, the stupidly insignificant type that could have been caught and treated if things had worked another way. Now you see why I panic when the night callers stir?

A week after I got my slice of agony, I called home and was asked to pass a bit of bad news to another whose turn it was to burn. It was 5am. I couldn’t wait, not with that sort of burden. I called him and told him… Right on that terrible contraption called the telephone… I listened to the poor boy break down at the news of his own mother’s passage. Long live the telephone. No! Die, telephone, die!

Grudgingly, I admit the late night call isn’t always bad news: a new house, a baby for a husband in the distance, a wedding in the works… It’s just that bad news is a stronger motivation to spend all that Naira on a long distance phone call. Good news crawls via snail mail, taking its time. Okay, e-mail’s good and fast. But e-mail won’t drag you screaming and fighting off your bed in the dead of night. It will remain in your inbox like an obedient dog until you yell COME! “Why don’t you just switch off the ringer”, you say. Or disconnect it! I can’t! I’m too scared something will happen and I won’t be there for them when it is most crucial!

So, stop whining, uh? I know what you mean.

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