The clouds gathered in the sky for the first time in nearly six months; dark and rich, and thick with rain. Iria’s heart became heavy at their sight. Their appearance meant he had started to shut it down. He had been right, and now he would be gone at any moment. She wished that the sky would return to its clear dryness, if only just for one more day.
“Is it raining yet?” she heard him say.
Iria had been looking up to the sky, praying for just a single drop of rain to fall when the obtrusive sound cut through the dry and still air, like a very loud whistle being blown by a very angry man. It had filled the empty space so abruptly that she had jumped back and fallen hard on her buttocks. Not three feet away was the object from which it came.
The best she could use to describe it was: “it came out of nowhere, and it was saying grin grin grin.”
“What do you mean it was saying grin grin grin?” Ebere said eyeing Iria in that way that made it seem like her eyes were being controlled by puppet strings.
“I’m telling the truth,” Iria said to her sister. “If you had been here you would have heard it too.”
They stood in front of the strange box mounted on a pole held in place by the parched earth of their farm. It had some buttons in the centre that went down when pressed, and a handle that rested in a groove cut into it. One end of the handle was connected to the box’s frame by a long metal rope.
The box was silent now, a terrible contrast to the moments before Ebere had come home. Before now, the box had cried out, as if in protest, beckoning her to take some form of action. She had gone to it, eventually picked up the handle, and immediately threw it down at the sound of the voice that had come from it:
“Hello, is anybody there?”
Grin grin grin. The sound ripped through the air. Iria flew from her position in front of the house and ran to the back. Ebere was at the market again, but no matter, she had grown tired of waiting for the object to cry out after the seventh day.
A minute or more passed before she summoned the courage to pick up the handle. She clutched it till her knuckles hurt, pressing the topside into her ear so the bottom was at her mouth. Never in her twenty years had she seen a thing like this. Her throat tightened in fright and her palms dripped so much she thought she was melting.
“Hello,” the box said.
There was nothing to do but answer it.
“Hello,” Iria croaked back.
“Oh my God, there is somebody there.” the voice said. It sounded strange, nothing like she or Ebere, or anyone she had ever known.
“Who are you?” she asked. It must be a spirit.
“I am Daniel. Daniel Whitaker.”
“Where are you from?” she croaked again.
“London. Blasted jewels, it worked! I’m talking to someone. Blasted jewels!”
She relaxed a little. The spirit did not seem angry that she had touched its property.
“What is blasted jewels?” she asked.
“Oh nothing, just something I say when I am very happy, and I am very happy right now. Tell me, what is your name?”
“Iria. Why are you happy?”
“I‘ve been trying to call someone, anyone outside of my time for a very long time,” the voice said between peals laughter. “Oh my goodness, nobody ever answered, just empty static, until you. You’re the first to answer my call! ”
“So you are not a spirit?” Iria asked.
He laughed for a bit. It was so infectious she joined in too.
“No. I am not a spirit. Tell me, where are you from? What year is it?”
The questions rolled out of the box, on and on till she started to chuckle again.
The voice on the other end laughed too.
“Why are you laughing?” it asked.
“You sound funny. You are a funny man.”
“Ah, my friends don’t think so, but if you say so. I need to know, where are you? What year is it?”
Iria’s face turned to a frown for a minute. Why was he asking? Did he want to come and steal her away?
The voice must have sensed her hesitation because it said, “Don’t be afraid. I just want to know where I am connecting with.”
She pondered this for a moment then said, “I am in Daale. It is the seven hundredth year. So, talking to me, this is what you call a call?”
“Yes.” She could hear the smile in his voice as he said it.
“Where is Daale?”
She laughed. “Daale is my home.”
On and on the questions came and on and on she answered till she heard Ebere calling her name.
“I have to go, my sister is home.” She hesitated. “Will you call me tomorrow?”
“Yes, yes, I will call you tomorrow.”
Her lips were cracked and her throat was parched, but still she smiled against the phone; this was what he called the strange object with which they talked. She liked listening to his voice filtering through the holes in the handle of the phone, and the things he said were always a welcome distraction to the pangs of hunger that clawed at her stomach.
She had learnt so much in the four calls they had had. On the second she had learnt that his time was called 1985, and in his time they had something called electricity which he used for the experiment that had sent her the phone; particle transmission he had called it. On the third she had learnt about trains and parks, and when she inquired about the chewing sounds she heard through the phone, she had learnt about tea-time and biscuits, though he had stopped eating when she said she was hungry. On the fourth, he had spoken of seconds and minutes and hours, the units of time he said he would wait till they could speak again.
“Has it rained yet?” he asked, his hopeful tone wishing it more that she did in this moment.
“No. Not yet.”
She coughed a dry, gut wrenching cough.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
“I am fine; it’s just hard to find food or water.”
He went silent.
“Are you still there?” she asked after a while.
“Yes. Iria, I think we may have to stop talking.”
“Why?” she cried. His calls were the one thing that kept her going day after day.
Ebere called her name before she could inquire further.
“I have to go. Please don’t go yet, please call me tomorrow?”
When he replied he sounded far away.
“Yes. I will call you tomorrow.”
She heard the ringing through the haze of thirst and hunger. A smile formed on her face. She had diligently counted down the twelve days since their ninth call. He had wanted to stop, but she had persuaded him at the end of each one to call again. Despite the pain in her heavy limbs, she willed herself, slow step after slow step, to get to the phone.
What is happening in London now?” she asked as loudly as her weakened voice would allow.
“Well, it is Sunday, and the sun is out, so a lot of people are outside and in the parks.”
There was something even sadder and distant in his voice today.
“I wish I could see your London,” she said in a whisper.
“I wish you could to.” he replied.
He took a deep breath. “Iria, I need you to do something for me.”
A sense of foreboding hit her at the heavy tone of his voice.
“What do you want me to do?”
“I’m going to start to stop the experiment and you must let me know if the rain returns as I do.” he said.
“What will happen when you stop the experiment,” she asked though she knew.
“I will no longer be able to talk to you.” he said.
“But I don’t want to stop talking to you.” she cried.
“If we don’t stop you may never have rain.”
A moment later the clouds started to gather and lightning streaked the sky. A lump burned in her throat and tears fell from her eyes.
“Is it raining yet?” his asked, his certain voice already confirming the answer.
“Yes, it is,” she said.
She opened her mouth to say another word but the phone vanished before she could, leaving her alone in the field as the first drop of rain hit her face.