Kamby Bolongo Mean River
Robert Lopez

Should the phone ring it might be Charlie on the other end because the last time he called he said he had to go and would call right back.

Once when Charlie called he said he had several appointments and would be in the area.
I didn't believe him so I said what kind of appointments Charlie.
Charlie said he would try to stop by but not that I should wait around for him. If I had something to do I should do it and we would catch up with each other later.
I said what the hell are you talking about Charlie. Then I said do you even know the area Charlie.
Charlie said there were some things he wanted to discuss but it wasn't something I should alter my routine over.
This is when I said to myself this isn't the Charlie I know. The Charlie I know is a fanatic and he doesn't talk like this but I thought I should play along anyway.
I said to myself Charlie never should've become a boxer.
So I told Charlie I didn't need to see him but if he needed to see me I would be drawing stick figures on the floor most of the day.
Then Charlie asked if I get bored drawing.
I was about to say I don't know when Charlie said some of his appointments might run long.
Charlie said he had to visit an Indian couple that didn't speak English.
I said he smoke'm peacepipe Charlie.
Charlie said goodbye by saying they always give Indians to the new guys and hanging up.

This is why you never know with Charlie.

You never know what he's going to say or do next but this is always what's made Charlie Charlie especially after the boxing.

It's when people use words they shouldn't is when we get in trouble with ourselves. One caller asked me for an allocution once before I was even finished with the hello how are you and I had to hang up in his face. I didn't know who this caller was and no one had told me to expect a call like this. I probably had to read allocution when I Mother gave me the As but I can't remember what it means. This is when Mother would say I should make myself useful which meant to leave her the hell alone.

Allocution is a word no one should use over the phone intruders especially.

The caller's voice was deep and gruff and sounded a little like Charlie's. Charlie has had this kind of voice for as long as I've known him.

We used to sing songs during commercials and try to harmonize but I was always the better singer which made Charlie jealous. Charlie always wanted to sing lead because he didn't know how to sing harmony. He said he didn't have the ear for harmony but I never believed him. He wanted to sing lead because it's the lead singer who gets all the glory. No one pays attention to the people singing harmony. In this way Charlie is like most people.

Anyone who isn't tone deaf can sing harmony.

The Charlie like most people isn't the same person as Charlie Robertson the hypothetical actor. How you can tell them apart is Charlie is real and the hypothetical actor isn't.

When we were kids I would call different kinds of people Charlie. Cops were Charlie Pork Chops or Charlie Nightsticks or Charlie Hambones. The ice cream man was Charlie Popsicle or Charlie Sundae and dogs were Charlie Canines or Charlie Fleabags. I never had a Charlie name for MPs or security guards. I don't think I knew about MPs or security guards when I called everyone else Charlie.

Charlie didn't like it when I'd call these other people Charlie which is probably why I did it all the time.

Should the phone ring and it's Charlie I would know right off from the sound of his voice. Charlie is a baritone which proves my point. Baritones are never lead singers. Sure there are exceptions but not when it comes to Charlie and not when there's a tenor like me standing right beside him. This is how people tell us apart over the phone. There's no mi staking Charlie and me this way.

Should the phone ring it might be the smooth sounds of Charlie's silky tooth baritone.

That's how radio people would describe Charlie's voice.

When Mother called the house from work she knew right away which one of us had picked up by the sound of our voices. Whenever I picked up the phone she wouldn't say the hello how are you at all. She would say put Charlie on the phone like she had nothing to say to me herself. Once I asked Charlie why Mother wouldn't talk to me on the phone and he said what do you expect.

I don't know what Mother said to Charlie when he picked up the phone himself but I assume it was the hello how are you I'm fine I didn't sleep last night I have a headache.

Otherwise it was Mother saying to Charlie what do you want for dinner tonight Charlie.
Charlie would say sandwiches and coleslaw would be fine.
Mother says you're not as dumb as you look Charlie.
Charlie doesn't say anything which is his way of saying thank you.
Mother says make sure your brother doesn't get hurt and die in the meantime.
Charlie says I am the responsible one Mother.

So people calling here expecting Charlie to answer should know it's not him as soon as I finish with the hello how are you. I know it wasn't Charlie who asked me for an allocution because Charlie was away at camp at the time and he wouldn't have known what a word like allocution meant anyway. Even with all the books he reads he wouldn't know a word like allocution.

Sometimes callers talk like I 'm supposed to know what they are talking about. This is when I concentrate on the voice and leave the words along. How the voice sounds is always more important than the words. Otherwise I tell them I have to go that I left something on the stove. Most callers don't know I don't have a stove here and can't leave anything on it.

Every morning during breakfast Mother would say she didn't sleep last night. She would come to the kitchen in her bathrobe and curlers and cook us breakfast. When she put the breakfast on the table is when she said she didn't sleep last night and she had a headache. She said but still I feed you rotten kids. We would both thank her by keeping our heads down and eating our breakfasts.

Breakfast was usually cereal and toast but sometimes it was eggs and other times pancakes. She would only cook eggs or pancakes if she wasn't running late which she almost always was.

I think this is when I started with the allergies.

Everything Mother cooked for us I was allergic to.

What happened was my stomach would be in agony and I'd have to go to the bathroom even more than usual.

Otherwise I would wheeze and it felt like I couldn't catch my breath. It was exactly like Charlie on one of our morning jogs only worse.

I would wheeze in my room and Mother would have to come in there to calm me down. She would give me a yellow pill and sing songs to me and before long I would stop wheezing and fall asleep.

This was Mother as an act of kindness.

Kamby Bolongo Mean River will be published by Dzanc Books in September.