Requiem for a phone


March 24, 2024

Requiem for a phone


March 24, 2024

Back in the turbulent 90s, the flow of the day for an average kid was predetermined by a set of primitive everyday needs that are usually considered hallmarks of a civilized and developed society.

One such condition that could change the line of activity of little rascals was the electricity supply. Once the lights went off, it was up to the vividness and almightiness of young minds to think of a decent preoccupation that wouldn’t involve any electronic devices (playing Dandy console or watching cartoons) and still let joy fill their hearts. Literally, anything within striking distance was resurrected into a toy and immediately given a new function, name, or purpose.

One of those magic tools at my home that would fascinate me with its duty and mesmerize me with its design was a cherry-red rotary phone. It was the most beautiful and eye-catching device in the whole brown kitchen of ours, back in the day. You could always smell my mom’s perfume when dialing a number and putting the receiver close to your ear, as she was the most enthusiastic phone speaker at home. I was a bit jealous that she always got the chance to dial the numbers she knew by heart and talk to a bunch of people who would listen to her stories with great eagerness. It was obvious that I tried to master the art of using the rotary phone, but the chances for a 6-year-old were too slim. Who was I supposed to talk to? The only phone number we had was ours, and I would secretly dial it while the adults weren’t looking, secretly hoping the phone would ring on the other end.

I wasn’t really allowed to play around with the phone as Mom was always waiting for someone to call.

In secret, I would approach the phone when the lights went off. The feeling of putting your finger in the round slot, the sound the rotation disc made, and the distant and cold telephone beep were like heady wine – immediately striking me with excitement. I would try to put all my fingers in the slots and rotate the disc while holding the receiver upside down. Sometimes, I imagined the curly cord would make a perfect scarf, and I tied it around my neck while looking at myself in the kitchen cabinet. Putting a pen through the phone cable was the best idea – in my six-year-old mind, it was meant to be left there forever.

Once, when the boredom struck with unbearable intensity and my parents were busy with the oil-stove and kerosene, I thought of a new trick and decided that it was time to test it. It was pretty simple and seemed simply pretty – I just had to dial six digits on the phone and see what happens first. I was watching the disc moving slowly back to its initial position and felt how my cheeks went red when a stranger’s voice on the other end of the curly wire said ‘Hello! Hello? Who’s this? I can’t hear you!’

The most natural reaction was to slam the phone with a receiver and I left my toy as it was for a couple of days, just to process the information and forget about an unpleasant voice reaching out to me. However, a restless mind was back in shape again and set down to new shenanigans. It didn’t feel like a crime anymore so I was dialing numbers with a lion’s share of confidence. I was gambling sometimes, who would pick up the phone – a woman or a man? Will I like the vocal timbre? Do they know what my name is? Why can’t I dial numbers starting with a zero? All of the short phone rendezvous that I had with the Tbilisi residents had the same outcome – people were ready to bite off my head as I was just holding my breath and listening to them, throwing tantrums.

All except one. When I proudly dialed another set of digits and let the innocent stranger spend his time on a short, semi-competent prank of a 6-year-old, when I already got my dose of satisfaction the red cherry of the phone suddenly filled the room with a piercing telephone ring. I left the scene like a cockroach in the face of a repellent, understanding that something was not going as planned. I let my parents handle that situation and all I got from the dialogue of my confused mom and a total stranger was that they called us back via caller ID function.

That’s how the rotary phone bumped into its killer – the push-button, multi-functional phone.

I don’t remember what happened after this childish mischief, – whether I was scolded by mom or whether I continued disturbing people with my insistent calls, I just know that this feeling of happiness was absolutely genuine. I wish the modern phone also gave me this feeling of mystery and intimacy, just like back in the 90-s, when I was a kid.

By Anya Asakura

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