Tony loved the poignant silence that fell across the prison at night, so deafening that one would hear the sound of a butterfly landing on a leaf miles away. Lying on his back with his eyes partially closed, he thought about Eve and why she hadn’t visited him in a while. Every day, he waited with held breath for the prison guard to come tell him that he had a guest, but that day never came. He eventually found himself trapped in this cocoon into which he retreated each time he wanted to convince himself that all was well and that one day the love of his life would show up. The rattling of Bible pages distracted him from his thoughts. He turned his head to the side to see The Reverend flipping through the Bible pages, an unlit cigarette wedged between his fingers.
“Son, what’s eating you up?” The Reverend asked without looking up.
Tony shook his head. “I wonder when she will visit you again.”
The Reverend looked up and their eyes met. He studied Tony’s face for a while before burying his head in the Bible again. “Who?”
The Reverend placed down his Bible and lit his cigarette. He gazed at Tony, careful not to lose that eye contact as he took a long drag, letting the smoke out through the corners of his mouth.
“Stay away from Patra.”
Tony sensed, from the timbre in his hissing voice, that The Reverend didn’t take it lightly when men messed with his daughter, so he nodded and looked away, silently thinking, “Oh, I didn’t know her name’s Patra.”
The next morning, they went to the Prison’s Basketball pitch to watch a match between two rival basketball teams. Seated next to each other on a metallic bench, both Tony and The Reverend supported the shirtless team mainly because its players were younger, teens that had the chance to make it in the world of basketball before they slipped and fell within the barrier walls of the prison. They were all up on their feet to cheer and celebrate a backflip goal when a prison guard, tall and with a Hitler moustache, approached them and pulled Tony to the side. The Reverend had quickly followed them to ask the guard if there was a problem and only went back to cheering when the guard assured him there was none. The guard dragged Tony by the arm until they were out of earshot before squeezing a tiny phone into his hand.
“Make the conversation short,” he said in a commanding tone.
“Yes, sir,” Tony said, confused.
“So, what’s your story?” A female voice asked from the other end of the phone. Tony looked around before moving a step further from the prison guard.
“I am sorry, who’s this?”
“The Reverend’s daughter, we met the other day when I visited my father in prison.” She paused. “You are Tony, The Reverend’s roommate, right?”
“Oh, Patra,” Tony said, finally remembering the name from the previous night’s conversation with The Reverend. He held the phone to his ear with both hands as if the words Patra would say were too sacred to be allowed to leak. “How did you get my number?”
“This is not your number, dumb-ass!”
Tony laughed. “Forgive me, I guess I am so surprised you called that I forgot I don’t even own a phone in here. So how are you?”
“I am breathing,” she said. “So, are you married?”
“If you are, I am hanging up right now.”
“Uhm, I guess I am—”
She laughed, the sound of her laughter ringing in his ears like slow music in a dimly lit bar frequented by the old, out to drink their wealth in peace.
“Relax, I wasn’t going to hang up. Look, I know you are married because my father told me so.”
“You asked him?”
“He volunteered the information because you had begun showing interest in me?”
Tony wasn’t sure whether that was a rhetorical question or not, but he went ahead and answered anyway.
“He speaks highly of you so I was looking forward to seeing you.”
“That doesn’t answer my question.”
“Well, I guess what I am saying is if I were free and single, I would have asked you out.”
She went quiet for a minute, were it not for the subtle sound of her breathing, he would have thought she had hung up. She cleared her throat and said, “I can see to it that you are free if you want.”
“Do you want to be free?”
“I guess so.”
“Fine. Just don’t tell my father I called because he will not be happy. He doesn’t like the idea of me fooling around with married men so let’s keep this between us, okay? And stay safe.”
She hung up before he could say his goodbyes or promise he won’t mention a thing to The Reverend. He strolled along to where the prison guard was waiting and handed the phone back to him. His heart raced as he approached The Reverend because he imagined he already knew he was talking to his daughter, and he wasn’t making things easier for him with the way he gazed at him as he approached. His eyes forever flushed red from constant smoking, watched his every step until he sat next to him on the bench, straightening his pants with his palms unnecessarily.
“Bad news?” The Reverend asked, finally lifting his eyes from him and staring ahead.
“Then why the sad face?”
Tony smiled. “It was Eve.”
“She called to apologise for not coming to see me in months, and I couldn’t help but notice from her tone that something was amiss. Like she is seeing someone else and is afraid of telling me.”
The Reverend placed his hand on his thigh. “Never worry about women, son. They were created to crave attention and if their husband is not there to give it to them, they will look for it somewhere else.”
“Thanks, that was very helpful,” Tony said, standing.
As he walked away, he could hear The Reverend mumbling something with a chuckle and wondered why he always came up with philosophical lines when it was unnecessary and when he needed him to, he said unhelpful things. In the cell, he sat with his back against the wall and thought about the lie he just told The Reverend. Until it came out of his own mouth, he hadn’t thought about the prospect of Eve cheating. Rather, his cocoon didn’t allow him to think about the prospects of her seeing someone else.
His own mother had neither called nor visited him since he got locked up, but that didn’t bother him because she had sworn she would never visit him in prison for she didn’t raise him to be a convict. But Eve? What was her excuse? Even his safe cocoon couldn’t wipe out the negative thoughts from his mind. Had she found someone else? Who was he? He rubbed the back of his neck as the reality of what was probably happening hit him. If being locked up hadn’t stopped him from coveting another woman, and going to bed to the memorable sound of her laughter, what about Eve who was free? Free to move around and meet other people? These feelings were confusing and couldn’t allow him to sit still anymore. He charged out of his room and went to look for the guard who had brought him the phone earlier.
After minutes of looking around, he found him supervising the inmates doing laundry in the basement. He walked to him and whispered in his ear that he needed to use his phone.
“It will cost you,” The guard said.
“I am willing to pay whatever it takes.”
With a smile, the guard gave him the phone. He dialled Eve’s number but before calling it, he had a change of mind. He dialled Chris’ instead. It rang twice before Chris picked up.
“Christopher speaking, who is this?”
“Chris, please come visit me as soon as you can. I need to talk to you.”
“Tony? Is everything okay?”
“I am fine. How soon do you think you can visit?”
“I am your lawyer, I can see you when I want. I will be there tomorrow.”
“Just don’t tell anyone when you come. Not even Eve.”
The next day, he woke up early and lingered by the door, eager to see a uniformed man approach their cell to tell him he had a visitor. The Reverend, reading his Bible from his bed, said, “Still waiting for the love of your life?”
Tony ignored him.
Eventually, a prison guard finally showed up and told him he had a visitor. When he walked into the spacious and nearly full visitors’ room, he saw Chris standing with his hands deep in his pockets. He approached him with a smile and when they hugged, the hug was neither tight nor did it linger. He would later hold Chris by the shoulders, peer into his eyes and whisper, “God, I missed you,” in a dramatized voice that made Chris chuckle. When they sat, elbows on the table between them, Chris sighed and said. “Nice to see you are okay, man. You got me worried when you called.”
“I am glad you came,” Tony said, and then narrowed his eyes. “Looking good, by the way. And you are glowing. New love?”
Chris tugged on his tie with a smile and pointed at his wedding ring.
With a grin, Tony said, “Since when did a wedding ring stop a man from finding new love?”
“Is that why you asked me here? To discuss my romantic life?”
“Actually, I asked you here to discuss mine.”
“I didn’t realize people in prison have one.”
“You are my lawyer, are you not?”
“And yours is so to solve my problems, right?”
“The ones you are paying me to.”
“Well, I paid you to make sure I don’t end up in jail, and you did such a remarkable job while at it.”
Chris leaned back in his chair and folded his arms. “Where is all this coming from?”
Tony sighed. “She is cheating on me, isn’t she?”
“I have a feeling she is. I haven’t seen her in a while and I can’t think of a reason she hasn’t visited, other than the fact that she has moved on with someone else.”
Chris looked at him silently and when he couldn’t stand the heat in his eyes, he asked, “Why am I here, Tony.”
“I know I am not paying you to do this, though I can if you want, but find out for me if Eve is seeing someone else. All I want is the name of that someone else.”
“I can’t do that.”
“I just can’t. You surely don’t expect me to spy on your wife, do you?”
“I expect you, as my lawyer and friend, to be my eyes and ears out there. I wouldn’t ask this of you if I didn’t trust you.”
The air suddenly became too hot in there. Chris loosened his tie and unbuttoned his crisp white shirt. His forehead furrowed thickly and he reached for his neatly folded pocket square and wiped the drops of sweat that had formed on his bald head before they could trickle down and give him away. Struggling to maintain his composure, he feigned confidence and said, “I can’t promise you anything. But I will try my best.”
“Don’t try,” Tony extended his arm to him for a handshake. “Do your damn best. You are a good man and an excellent lawyer. So I trust you will bring your A-Game.”
One of the prison guards walked over to them and told them their time was over. As Tony was leaving, Chris called out his name and he turned around.
“If you don’t mind me asking, what do you intend to do to this ‘someone else’, if at all he exists?” Chris asked, drawing the quotation marks in the air with his fingers.
Smiling, Tony said, “Just find him. I will fix him.”