At five years old, you really don’t care much about anything.
Not about that woman on the other side of the phone who is under the weather, lying in bed with drugs running through her veins, their effect making her drowsy so all she wants to do more than anything is to grab some shut-eye, but she will not do so just yet, not before she speaks to you because if she doesn’t speak to you, she might fall asleep and by the time she wakes up and calls, it will be way past your bedtime and you will be fast asleep and she will not want you to be woken up and yet she will still feel bad about not wishing you a goodnight.
You don’t care.
You don’t care that when you pick the phone she might want to just talk with you and hear about how your day was; if you had any trouble in school, if any of the other kids bullied you, if the teacher was mean to you, if you have any homework that is proving difficult and need help with, or even a song that you might have learned and are willing to sing, maybe even teach her and have her sing with you.
No. You don’t care about that either.
You don’t bother to answer to the cheery “Good evening Heidi!” but instead, you go into a complaining fit. You pick every little complaint that you can think of along the way, starting from your older sister who denied you a chance to go first on the phone. You make this an issue and even though she assures you that she will talk to your older sister you want your day in court and you want it now! So you ask “Do I give Hailey the phone so that you tell her” to which she says ok. She speaks to Hailey and requests her to let you go first on the phone next time.
That taken care of, she requests to have you back on the phone because technically, you haven’t spoken. When Hailey holds out the phone to you, you ask Hailey to ask her to wait first because you are tying your shoe lace, or taking a sip of your evening tea. Taking a sip of your evening tea! Hailey does your bidding, she gets back on the phone and goes “Heidi says you wait, she is tying her shoe laces or taking a sip of her tea. Hehe…She is now eating her pancake…Heidi!” she hears Hailey admonishing you.
You finally get back on the phone “Good evening Heidi” she tries again. “Muuum, Hailey yelled at me!” you never forget to pick up where you left! If you are keen, you might hear an audible sigh from the other end. But you don’t. Because you are five years old. And the number of times that she has wished you a good evening that you have not answered back to does not mean anything to you.
She goes silent for a while. “Hello?” you ask into the mouthpiece. Getting no answer, you start to think that there is a problem with the connection. At your tender age, you do not realize that she really really wants to get you in the moment. To have you fully and completely (excluding all else and everyone else) for just a few minutes.
So you go “Hello?” and she hears in your voice something that makes her heart beat again. She hears that eagerness in your voice to get the connection back – to get her back. She hears a hello that is not ready to wait for a sip of tea or a shoe lace to get tied. She finally hears that she has you. And she smiles. Then she tries again “Good evening Heidi!”
“Good evening Mum” and you are smiling. And you know she is smiling too. She is smiling because she knows she has you. She is also smiling because she knows your attention span is so fickle and she has to make these moments count for both of you. She also knows that at your age, you do not know how much this means to her.
“How was school?”
“It was fine”
“Tell me what happened” she will say.
Being the story teller you are, you will get into every detail; how you played and how you taught the other children to recite a poem. You will indulge her by reciting the same poem with the same zeal you recited to a full class. Only this time it will be to a phone mouthpiece that will force her on the other end to hold the phone a few metres away from her ears. Truth be told darling, you have the most beautiful voice this side of the Sahara, but it is one strong voice too. And when you shout, it can get powerful.
She closes her eyes and listens to you. She wishes you a good night and asks you to keep warm. Then she reminds you to say your prayers before you sleep. When she hangs up, you have no idea that she prefers to speak to you last. And there is a reason why. And it is not because she loves you any less, but because your sister is older, and she always brings in the serious talk.
“Good evening Hailey” she goes
“Good evening Mum!”
“How was your day today?”
“It was fine. Mum, why are you talking like that?”
“Like umetoka kulala. Have you been sleeping?”
“Yes. I am not feeling well”
“It’s ok. I’ll be fine”
“Have you gone to hospital?”
“Were you given medicine?”
“Have you taken the medicine?”
“Usijali. You’ll be ok”
“Thank you baby girl”
“So what happened in school today?”
“Anything you want us to talk about?”
“No. Are you already in bed?”
“Yes. You had a good day?”
“That’s great. Remember to say your prayers before you sleep ok?”
“Yes. And I will pray for you”
“Thank you Hailey. Thank you very much.”
Do you get what I mean?