The Telephone Conversation by Wole Soyinka

The price seemed reasonable, location
Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived
Off premises. Nothing remained
But self- confession “Madam, I warned,
“I hate a wasted journey- I am African.”
Silence. Silenced transmission of
Pressurised good – breeding. Voice, when it came
Lipstick-coated, long gold-rolled
Cigarette- holder pipped. Caught I was foully
“HOW DARK?…… I had not misheard……
“ARE YOU LIGHT OR VERY DARK?” Button B, Button A, stench
Of rancid breath of public hide-and –speak
Red booth. Red pillar box. Red double-tiered
Omnibus squelching tar. It was real. Shamed
By ill-mannered silence, surrender
Pushed dumbfounded to beg simplification.
Considerate she was, varying the emphasis-
“ARE YOU DARK? OR VERY LIGHT?” Revelation came
“You mean –like plain or milk chocolate?”
Her assent was clinical, crushing in its light
Impersonality, Rapidly, wave length adjusted,
I chose “West African sepia”- and as afterthought,
“Down in my passport.” Silence for spectroscopic
Flight of fancy, till truthfulness clanged her accent
Hard on the mouthpiece. “WHAT IS THAT?” conceding
“DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS” “Like brunette.”
THAT’S DARK, ISN’T IT?” Not altogether,
Facially, I am a brunette, but Madam you should see
The rest of me. Palm of my hand, soles of my feet
Are a peroxide blonde. Friction caused
Foolishly, Madam – by sitting down, has turned
My bottom raven black- One moment – sensing
Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap
About my ears- “Madam” I pleaded “wouldn’t you rather
See for yourself?”

 

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