‘This is where you’ll sit,’ said the Colonel, pulling a chair out for her. ‘Get used to it.’

She sat at the small desk, shifting uncomfortably on the hard wooden chair. She cradled her hands in her lap, examining the objects on the desk. A digital clock, a printed script, a red phone.

‘You know the procedure?’ asked the Colonel.

‘Yes,’ she said. ‘On even numbered hours, I pick up the phone and deliver the message. On odd numbered hours, I answer the phone.’

‘Good,’ said the Colonel. ‘There’ll be someone listening at all times, so don’t worry about what happens. Just make sure to relay any messages calmly and clearly.’

‘Ok,’ she said.

The Colonel checked his watch, even though the time was clear from the clock on the desk.

‘You don’t have to wait,’ she said.

He looked at his watch again. ‘I’ll wait.’

They sat in an uncomfortable silence. Her eyes drifted to the phone, to the clock, and back again. 8.59.

The phone rang.

The Colonel shifted, just slightly, and she picked up the receiver. She held it to her ear.

‘Good morning Fox, this is Hummingbird.’ A man’s voice, foreign but precise. ‘All is well.’

She cleared her throat. ‘Good morning Hummingbird. This is Fox. Message received.’

The line went dead.

She looked up at the Colonel. ‘That’s it?’

‘That’s it,’ he said.

———

‘Good afternoon Hummingbird,’ she said. ‘This is Fox. All is well.’

She waited, her back straight, the phone held tightly in her hand.

‘Good afternoon Fox,’ said the man’s voice. ‘Message received.’

The line went dead.

———

She finished the book and put it down on the floor. She wished she’d taken something longer.

She stood up. Stretched. Sat down again. She began to rock the chair backwards and forwards.

She looked at the phone. She looked at the clock. 5.32.

She picked the book off the floor and opened it at page one.

———

The world was upside down. The legs of the table, glued to the ceiling. The phone, glued to the table.

Slowly, she let her legs dip down and lowered herself out of the headstand. Her heart was racing. She felt exhilarated.

‘I want you all to mark the date,’ she said, to the empty room. ‘It took me four weeks, but that was a headstand!’

She stood a moment, not expecting any response, then swept her hair back behind her ears and sat down at the small desk.

The phone rang.

She lifted the receiver to her ear.

‘Good evening Fox,’ said the man’s voice. ‘This is Hummingbird. All is well.’

She stifled a yawn. Shivered, as her body cooled down. ‘Good morning Hummingbird. This is Fox. Message received.’

‘What’s your name?’

Her heart missed a beat. Her eyes flicked to the camera mounted in the corner of the room, its tiny red light watching her.

She looked down at the script on the table. It was squint, hard to read at this angle.

‘Are you there?’ The man’s voice again.

‘Yes,’ she said.

‘Well…’ A pause. ‘Don’t worry about it, Fox. I misspoke.’

The line went dead.

Almost immediately, she heard the click of the door behind her being unlocked, then it flung open.

The Colonel was standing there, with two women in military uniforms.

‘What did they say?’ asked one of the women.

‘He asked my name,’ she said.

———

‘Good afternoon Hummingbird,’ she said, her voice even. ‘This is Fox.’ She listened, but could hear nothing. ‘All is well.’

‘Good afternoon Fox,’ said the man’s voice, immediately. ‘Message received.’

‘My name’s Alex,’ she said.

There was a long pause. Her eyes flicked from the script on her desk, to the eight men and women in military uniform standing around her. They were all looking at her, eyes wide. Most were holding their breath.

‘Good to speak to you, Alex,’ said the man’s voice. ‘Speak to you in an hour.’

The line went dead.

‘What did he say?’ asked one of the military men.

She shrugged. ‘He said it was good to speak to me, and that he’d speak to me in an hour.’

———

Her eyes went from person to person as they spoke, but the debate seemed circular. No one in this room had an answer.

‘It’s a warning, we should increase our threat level.’

‘It’s a cry for help. He wants to defect.’

‘It’s an olive branch. A back channel for the military to open negotiations.‘

She cleared her throat and they all stopped talking.

‘It’s time to place the call,’ she said.

She picked up the phone.

———

‘How’s your mother?’ she asked.

‘Not good,’ he said. ‘In fact, I’m going to see her after this shift.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that,’ she said. ‘I thought maybe something was wrong when you weren’t here yesterday.’

‘They let me swap shifts so I could visit her during the day,’ he said. ‘She’s better during the day.’

They sat with the silence for a minute.

‘What did you think of my colleague?‘ he asked.

She laughed. ‘Seems like the quiet sort.’

He laughed too.

‘What’s your name?’ she asked.

He sighed. ‘You know I’m not allowed to say.’

She nodded, knowing that he would sense the gesture, even if he couldn’t see it.

‘Goodnight, Alex,’ he said.

‘Goodnight Hummingbird,’ she said.

She placed the phone down, and drummed her fingers on the receiver. All is well, she thought.

———

‘It’s your turn,’ he said.

‘What do you mean?’ she asked, laughing.

‘The clock’s at the hour.’

‘Oh,’ she said, sitting upright and feeling foolish for doing so. She reached for the tattered script on the desk. ‘Do we need to do it?‘

‘I don’t know,’ he laughed. ‘I guess that’s the rule?’

She laughed again and in a sing-song voice said: ‘Good afternoon Hummingbird! This is Fox! All is well.’

He laughed too. ‘This is Hummingbird, message received.’

‘Great,’ she said.

‘Great,’ he said.

‘They let you speak like this?’ she asked.

‘They seem to have decided to tolerate it,’ he said, chuckling. ‘Yours?’

‘They think you want to defect.’

The line went silent.

Then he said: ‘Yes, she’s doing OK. Still in hospital.’

‘Sorry,’ she said.

‘We’re still hoping for the best.’

———

She tucked her hair behind her ears, wetted her lips, and picked up the phone.

‘Good evening Hummingbird. This is Fox. All is well.’

‘Good evening Fox. Message received,’ he said.

‘How are you doing tonight?‘ she asked.

‘I’m ok,’ he said. ‘My mother is upset though.’

She frowned. ‘Did she have another spell?’

‘She’s not happy about something. We’re not sure what it is, but it’s making her angry.’

She nodded and sat back in her chair. ‘Would it help to speak about it?’

‘I don’t know,’ he said. ‘When she’s like this, we find it’s best to confront her. You can’t back down, no matter how mad she gets. She’ll calm down once she realises she won’t get her way.’

She hesitated a moment, then said: ‘You know, it’s none of my business, but I’ve heard it can be best to just agree with whatever they say? You live in their world, rather than arguing.’

‘No,’ he said. ‘I think in this case it’s best to confront her and not back down. Do you agree?‘

She leaned forward again, gripping the receiver a little more tightly. ‘You think it’s best to confront her?’ she asked.

‘I absolutely do think that,’ he said. Then, his voice softened. ‘But I’ll see what she’s like when I visit later. Goodnight, Alex.’

The line went dead.

She sat for a moment, then looked up at the camera. ‘I need to speak to the Colonel,’ she said.

———

She sat down at the small desk, shifting uncomfortably on the hard wooden chair. She cradled her hands in her lap, examining the objects on the desk. A digital clock, a red phone.

‘Just keep it casual,’ said the Colonel. ‘Everything’s fine.’

She nodded, but found her chest tight. It was hard to breathe.

The phone rang.

She reached for the receiver, hesitated a moment, then picked it up.

‘Good evening Fox, this is Hummingbird.’ A man’s voice. A different man. ‘All is well.’

She squeezed her lips tight together. Her throat felt dry. Her eyes stung. She took a breath and said: ‘Good morning Hummingbird. This is Fox. Message received.’

The line went dead.

‘Thank you, Hummingbird,’ she said.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s