The phone rang and it was a young girl on the other end. She asked to speak with my eight-year-old daughter, who was in bed. It was 10:20 p.m. on a school night.
That’s late but not that late in Buenos Aires where bars, cafes and restaurants can bustle until after midnight even on weeknights.
I hesitated. I’d not heard the girl’s voice before. She wasn’t a schoolmate I knew, who I could call by name and ask how things were going, how her parents were doing.
This was a new voice, a new friend. What on earth do I say? And at 10:20 p.m.? Do I mortify my daughter by saying she’s in bed? Do I say, “It’s past her bedtime young lady and you should be in bed too?” Or do I play it hip and say, “Yeah, we’ve just got in from the movies and, well, let me see if she’s available.”
That’s all I could manage.
Then covering the phone to muffle out the walk to my daughter’s room, I shook her out of her slumber and said, “You’ve got a call. It’s a friend.” She sat up, took the receiver and started chatting away, oblivious to my plight.
Half an hour went by, and they continued to chat.
My wife sent me in to give the word that time was up. This posed another challenge: how to get the message across without sounding uncool.
I put up two fingers to indicate two minutes left to talk.
She glanced up and flashed me a smile and a peace sign.
I changed tactics. “Ah hem,” I grunted as softly as possible. And when she looked up at me I pointed to my wrist as if at a watch.
She stopped talking to her friend and said, “What?”
“Two minutes,” I said in a whisper.
She resumed her conversation and said down the line that it was her dad who was telling her to get off the phone.
I went to the kitchen and returned three minutes later, giving her an extra minute to come good on the agreement. But she was still in high gear. I stopped at the side of the bed. She looked up at me. “Oh, has it been two minutes already?”
Then she returned to the chat with a dozen repetitions of “gotta go” interspersed with and followed by who knows what.
I went to sit down on the sofa with my book.
“So?” my wife asked.
“Your turn,” I said.