earthly Charlotte and the freedom fighter

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The Independent Culture
It's 7.45am and there's a thick layer of frost on the church hall roof. Buried beneath the duvet, clocking up my fifth hour of sleep, I'm leading a guerrilla resistance operation against some faceless but evil Nazi types in the hills around Petra. I've just pushed a chunk of Nabataean crow-steps on to a convoy of jeeps when the phone rings.

I hate it when it does that. Telephones and jebels don't mix. For a moment I cast around the wadi to see where the satphone went. Then I'm awake, and stumbling through the grim morning. Too little time to find a dressing gown before the Ansaphone goes off.

"Hello?"

The breathy monotone of the Shires. "Hi," it says, "It's Charlotte. Is Charlie there?"

These calls never happen at night, when at least you could blame drugs or alcohol for the misdialling. For this I had to drop my Uzi. I sigh. "Wrong number."

"Oh," she says. Then hangs up. No sorry or anything: just a dialling tone. Morning people are so smug about their moral probity; it never occurs to them to apologise.

"It's perfectly all right. Any time. Just feel free to call." I replace the receiver.

Thirty seconds later, as the bedclothes start to warm up, it rings again.

"Hi, it's Charlotte. Can I speak to Charlie?"

"Look, Charlotte, you've still got the wrong number."

"Oh. Is that -?" She recites my number.

"Yes."

"Well, Charlie must be there, then."

"Sorry. He's not."

"Well, when's he going to be back?"

"He won't be. He doesn't live here".

"Oh. Has he moved?"

"No idea, but he doesn't live here."

"Oh." She hangs up.

I dial 1471. She's withheld her number. I briefly consider a fag and a cup of coffee, then take the phone to the bedroom.

This time, she gives me just enough time to believe she's given up. The furring of a light doze has begun to translate itself into moments of blackness, and every now and then I catch a glimpse of the Qasr el Bint from above, from the table mountain where Saul or Doeg or one of those biblical warmongers cornered 18,000 Edomites and chucked them off a cliff. Any moment now, a hand grenade is going to form in my hand and I'll be off and running. Instead, the phone rings and I flail in search of it.

"Hello, Charlotte."

There's a pause. "Can I speak to Charlie, please?"

"Charlotte, I can't help you with this. I don't know who Charlie is."

She thinks she's caught me out. "If you don't know who he is," she says triumphantly, "How did you know my name?"

"You told me the last two times you rang."

Silence.

"Look, Charlotte," I sit up. "Charlie isn't here. I've lived here for years, and there's never been anyone called Charlie here. You've either got the wrong number or he's given you the wrong number. I'm sorry about that, but please don't ring me again. I still won't be able to produce him. OK?"

More silence. "Goodbye, Charlotte."

There's no point now. I'll never know if my freedom fight came out right. I find a jumper, start switching on heating. As I fill the kettle, the phone goes again.

"Look," says Charlotte, "Can you tell Charlie that if he didn't want to speak to me he could have just told me?"

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