The phone rings with a sense of urgency that can only come from getting a call shortly after dawn. I all but jump out of bed, disoriented and terrified. Carmen, lying naked next to me, barely stirs, of which I am grateful as I grab my phone to see who’d be calling me at this hour. The screen is blurry, and I fumble for my glasses.
Out of the molasses of waking I see a name and number that sends a chill down my spine and illicits a sound similar to a growl. I grab a pair of shorts and head for my bathroom. A studio is not a conducive place to have these early conversations from a primordial time before seven years ago. Once my shorts are on, I’ll be out on my building’s communal balcony.
“Hey,” I say as I accept the call. My voice is scratchy, a few beers and the equivalent of a bottle of wine might just do that. I sound tired, being jerked awake after being up rather late enjoying the naked woman in my bed will do that.
“Hi, Joshie,” the twang of her accent tells me how much mine has faded over the last seven years. “I’m sorry to call so early. Did I wake you?”
“Technically, it was my phone ringing that woke me up, Tam” I say, fastening my shorts and stumbling from the bathroom to my coffee table to grab my tobacco, rolling papers, and lighter. “What’s up?”
“It’s about Grandma.”
“What about Grandma?” By this time I’m out on the balcony, scarcely aware of how quickly my hand-rolled is being assembled.
“She’s fading,” Tammy says, and I almost catch what sounds like a sob.
“Tam-Tam,” I say as gently as I can in my exhausted state. “Grandma’s been ‘fading’ for the past ten years. She was starting to go back before my mamma and daddy got killed.”
“Joshua Allen Storm, you asshole!” Tammy snaps, her voice on edge of tears. “Do think I’d call you up this early about Grandma just to hear my head rattle? When I say she’s fading, I fucking mean it!”
“I’m sorry, Tammy,” I say sheepishly. I light my hand-rolled and take the first drag. “What’d they say at the home?”
“Just that she’s getting worse,” Tammy replies. I hear the pause, the deeply held breath. What comes next is harder for her to say than telling me our grandmother is closer to death’s door than she has been. “You should get back here.”
“Shit,” I mutter. “You reckon she’ll even know who I am?”
“She’s been asking about you. That’s why you should come back.”
I consider this. Grandma’s mind has more holes than swiss cheese. It seemed to get worse after my parents getting killed in that train accident. We hadn’t talked in a couple years because half the time Grandma didn’t recognize me. How she’s managed to live ten years is nothing short of miraculous. Tammy and Uncle Joseph, who works at the home she was put in, promised to take care of her. Truthfully, I’ve always had more faith in Tammy than in her father.
“I’m gonna have to make some arrangements,” I say finally.
“I know,” Tammy says. “Just keep me posted.”
“I will, Tam,” I say. “You’ll hear from me soon. Bye.”
The line goes dead. I finish my hand-rolled and have another. It’s bright, clear, and cool out. Under another set of circumstances, I might’ve brewed some coffee and continued to sit outside with a book. Maybe I’d have thrown on some clothes and gone for a walk. Under another set of circumstances I’d most likely still be asleep next to Carmen because my cousin wouldn’t have called me so early with news about our grandmother.
I activate my phone again and scroll through my contacts. There are arrangements to make. Arrangements I am not looking forward to. With another drag, I make my first call. Kisshandra’s sleepy voice answers. Instinctively, she knows to be concerned.
“Hey, Kiss,” I say softly. “I got a problem and I need to talk. Can you meet me for coffee down at Cafe Nairobi?”
“Give me a half hour,” she says, and that alone makes me feel a lot better.