Telephone conversation

Wole Soyinka

· Poem of the day

Telephone conversation 

The price seemed reasonable, location

Indifferent. The landlady swore she lived

Off premises. Nothing remained

But self-confession. "Madame," I warned,

"I hate a wasted journey—I am African."

Silence. Silenced transmission of

Pressurized 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 dumbfoundment 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’S THAT?" conceding

"DON’T KNOW WHAT THAT IS." "Like brunette."

"THAT’S DARK, ISN'T IT?" "Not altogether.

Facially, I am 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 madam!" — sensing

Her receiver rearing on the thunderclap

About my ears — "Madam," I pleaded, "wouldn’t you rather

See for yourself?" 

—Wole Soyinka (Poems of Black Africa)


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