Nestled in the busy living room between the two sofas, on a square brown table lay the phone. A dull green in colour, it was unappealing at best. Accompanying it were a message pad, a pen and a phone book. Within such a crowded space in the house, this unassuming and almost ugly device sat proudly. In spite of all the noise — the loud volume on the television, the immersion in chores or play — when this device spoke shrilly, we ran to it from all corners of the house. No wonder it was haughty. It had the power to command us all. We dropped everything to respond to it.
On lifting the heavy receiver and holding it against an ear, it was possible to hear a dull sound. The dial tone. It was akin to white noise. It seemed to take ages when trying to make a call with this ugly contraption. We needed to insert an index finger into one of the round holes with adjoining numbers and turn it. The whirring of the dial rang in our ears as we waited before going again. The longest wait was when we dialled the number nine. And yet, after impatiently dialling all eight digits required, we would wait, cradling the phone. A loving gesture rarely bestowed on other human beings.
Conversations were rarely private due to the phone being in a conspicuous position. All one could do was cradle the receiver closer, cup a hand over the mouthpiece and hope the speaker on the other end of the line could hear the conversation clearly. This amidst the din of the television and the loud voices of almost every other family member.
As a child, the phone fascinated me. I would twirl my fingers around the coiling cord, entangling it further, while I had pretend grown-up conversations. ‘How was your day, darling?’ ‘The teacher was very proud of how she went at school today.’ ‘You won’t believe what happened today.’ There were rarely any calls specifically for me, of course. Being my grandparents house, it was almost always for them. But it didn’t stop me from rushing to answer. To use my adult voice. To pretend the call was for me.
When I finally started to get my own phone calls, they were on a different phone in another house and a new country, altogether. This beige one sat in the common passageway, looking just slightly prettier than my grandparents’ green one. Seated in the middle of the house, I’d make and take calls. Some short, some long. About everything and nothing. A few summers later, I returned to my grandparents’ place to find the green phone gone. In its place was a sleeker phone with buttons. We no longer had to wait several seconds while dialling. It was quick and easy. We were still chained to the centre of the living room but things had already started feeling lighter.
By the time I entered my teens, we had a brand new phone at our place. Much better than my grandparents’ phone, this one didn’t even have a cord. I was now able to have conversations with friends in the privacy of my room or the balcony. I could speak at a volume I wanted. I no longer had to cup the mouthpiece. There was nothing to keep me in one place. Nothing to tie me down.
I was able to chat while doing other things. Make a cup of Milo. Look through my notes and ask questions. Walk and talk. Tidy up my room. Cordless phones made way for mobiles and smartphones. I now can talk to people everywhere, not just from home. Calls to see where they are when we’ve already made plans. Calls to organise spontaneous catch ups. The devices are much lighter, sleeker, better looking. I can talk now while I cook or clean. I can converse about the day while putting clothes in the laundry. All on loudspeaker, of course.
And yet, somehow, I don’t talk all that much. None of us listens all that much. We are doing it all. Multitasking. Saving time. I fondly think back to the days when I entangled my fingers within the cords. I was connected to one spot, one seat, unable to move more than a metre away.
Perhaps the ugly green phone connected us a whole lot more.
© Sanch Vee @ Sanch Writes (27 May 2016)