Some Text Missing

Jackie Kay





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My heart beats in my handbag.  I'm at the Airport, Terminal Two. I scramble amongst the debris and seize the little demon. A tiny gorgeous envelope appears on the screen. Yes! I stab the button and the envelope opens. I feel my heart deflate and the air go loose out of me. It is not you, baby. It's some message from Mighty Mobile. Win Mighty Mobile VIP weekends for only 12p. Find out How. Hit Picture. Why not break free right now? I've given up the fags. I've given up the booze. I've given up compulsive shopping. I've given up ranting at my husband. I've given up the search for the multiple orgasm.  But I can't, so help me, give up my mobile phone. At first, leave it switched off for an hour at a time. Slowly increase that to two hours, three hours, four. Never switch it on at home. Only use it when you are mobile - when you are walking, jogging, hang gliding, foot-slogging, skating, rolling, skipping or hopping.

I shove it back in my bag. It's starting to give me the shakes. What on earth am I doing? - A woman of forty seven, sitting here at Manchester Airport with my teenage daughter, about to go on a trip to Rome for the first time in our lives - so much to do, so much to see –and I'm obsessing about texts. Not even enlightening texts.

U r the 1 4 me. U r gr 8 ****. Such texts send me to dizzying, ecstatic heights. Text language is a buzz. It's almost foreign. A text like that is a shot in the arm. I'm in love. How on earth people managed affairs before the invention of the mobile phone beats me.  Sophie eyes me suspiciously. 'Who was that from?' she says. She's taken to asking 'Who was that from?' all the time these giddy days. My daughter wants to study forensics. It's a pain having a teenager into forensics when you are having your first extra-marital affair. Though extra seems a poor word for it. There's nothing extra about it; it's my lifeblood. It's bigger than becoming a mother, bigger than meeting my husband. Every nice thing in the world was waiting for the minute I would see it with you, sweetheart. Pompeii, Mount Sinai, the first thick winter snow to lie on the ground, all waiting for you, my life love. Limit yourself to ten texts a day and then gradually, week by week, decrease the number. When you are at one a day you are very nearly there. Hang on. The world is waiting for you. 

Teenagers have an odd way of looking at you. Half the time they appear not to see you at all and the other half they seem to know every blemish on your face. They notice the sole spot of lipstick on your teeth. They've become so acutely aware of themselves that they are acutely aware of you too and everything, anything, embarrasses them. 'Who did you want it to be?' 'Dad,' I say. 'A lovely little text saying have a safe flight would be nice when he knows I don't like flying.' She gives me a look, assessing me. I get up and go to the toilet. Terminal Two is a mess. There's reconstruction work going on and the place feels like a building site. I must confess it gives me little confidence in flying. I slam the loo door shut quick. I frantic-thumb a text saying come away with me. I know Norah Jones is a new lovers' clichè and the moment I've sent it, I instantly regret it. But just like you can't un-know what you know, or unsay what you say, you can't un-text what you text. It's a kind of confession - texting. You enter the new holy places of our time, the toilets, the back of restaurants, the back of a taxi, and post your confession of love into the tiny closed box of your phone. Then you wait, heart beating for the answering holy bleep: I understand; I bless you. And if none comes, you fall into darkness, helpless, alone. Never text in toilets. Never text in churches. Never text while eating a meal with somebody else. Don't let your phone allow you to forget your manners.

I leave the toilet, guilty, edgy.  Sending the text has not helped. I imagine in the days of the horse and carriage, you could have chased the horse and got your letter back. She will think me so naff. She doesn't love me like I love her. I am always the first to text and the last to text. I long for my phone to vibrate in my bag. 'What took you so long?' Sophie says.  'Shall I get us a bowl of soup?' I say because the minute I've sat down, I need to stand up again. I can't settle. I'm in love.  Being in love gives you ants in your pants. Being with anybody who is not her, makes me feel trapped, hemmed in.  Come away with me. Honestly! Think before you text. Think before you press send. Slow down. The speed of text will only make you rocky, inconsistent; ultimately it will madden you. Do not give people special ring tones. You will only feel hurt when you discover they haven't given you one. I've got up from bed at two in the morning and left my husband innocently sleeping and gone into our bathroom to text her

– can't bear it. Wish u were here. R u ok? Then I've crawled back into bed to sleep next to him, my un-texting, unsuspicious husband. I almost resent his sleep. It is selfish; it is closed. I am lying next to him open and in love and alive. He is dead.  I've never felt like this before in my entire life. She is the one. This is the closest thing to crazy I have ever been, feeling twenty two acting seventeen.  That same night I remember getting up again to send another text: I want u 2 **** me now!

It's like hieroglyphics; there's something beautiful and ancient and modern all at the same time. But the bleep didn't boomerang back, it was three in the morning, she was probably asleep for God's sake. I pictured her sleeping. If only we could have one whole night together. Get a grip, Vanessa, I told myself.   Stop bombarding her with these crazy envelopes. I felt like a fighter pilot dropping small packages of love. Don't text in the middle of the night. It will only make you jittery. It might also induce night sweats. If you must play with your phone in the wee small hours, go into the gallery and set new wallpaper. My phone bleeps. My heart lurches. Have a lovely time with Sophie x. I read it quickly, greedily - one kiss! But still. The message is another shot in the arm. Soon I'll have nowhere to put the needle. I'm covered in texts, all over my body.   Anybody could say have a lovely time and send one kiss. Is she cooling off maybe? Is she going to break my heart? Our flight is called. We board the plane. I switch my phone off and sigh with relief. Switch it off. You are in charge. Show your phone who is boss. Try and dodge other mobile phone users. Keep your own counsel. Enjoy the peace and quiet.

We check into our small hotel, not bad, not bad at all, hard beds, white sheets, a tall foreign window, and go out into the spring day in Rome. Map in hand, we walk down Via del Quattro Fontane and into a lovely Baroque church with a very interesting cloister designed by Francesco Borromini. Rome is full of beautiful churches; you just stumble across them. I have a sudden urge to go to real confession. But there is nobody in the box. I want to confess to adultery; I want to confess to not finding my daughter overwhelmingly interesting anymore. I want to confess to being addicted to my mobile phone. My phone bleeps in the church; I switch it off, resisting the tiny envelope. We go to the Spanish steps. 'Aren't these amazing?' I say to Sophie. I'm still resisting the envelope. 'What's so special about them? They are just steps.' Sophie says. I grit my teeth and try to breathe. The Keats Shelley Museum is at the bottom of the steps. The lovely brown shutters open onto the square. The building is the colour of lemons and tangerines. Shall we go in and have a look? 'I'd rather go to the Trevi fountain and sit around and have an ice cream.' Sophie says. 'Oooh. We'll go to Il Gelato Di San Crispino - it's meant to do the best ice cream in Rome.' I'm getting stronger. My phone is still switched off; it's partly delicious, the waiting. I leave it switched off as we wander about, passing the small delis and the patisseries and gleaming fruit stalls.  Later that night, when Sophie is safely tucked up in our twin room, I turn it back on. I've been saving myself.

Welcome 2 Italy. Remember for easy access to your voicemail Customer Care and the best call charges select Mighty Mobile Universe. 2 change network go 2 phone settings. I'm gutted again. I send her a message that says I love u. Then I wait. Bleep. One comes back instantly, boomerang, fabuloso! From Manchester to Rome, isn't technology a twinkling miracle?!  What's the weather like? I send one back saying hot today. She sends one back saying excellent.  I send one to her saying: is this a joke? She sends one back saying relax, enjoy yourself. I send another one saying Ok I love you. And then wish I hadn't. Then it stops and nothing bleeps, nothing comes back. I'm about to throw my life away for a woman that doesn't love me. I must be crazy. I pour myself another glass of wine. Then I switch off the phone. I'm always the one that loves too much.

Remember that love is mercurial and your mobile will not help it be constant. Love will always be choppy. Love will always agitate. All you are doing when you use your phone frenetically is expressing the panic you feel to be in love. Give up the phone and deal with the panic. Deal with the real kinetics. Look at your mobile face in the mirror. It is changing before your eyes. Open your eyes.

I'm giving you up, I whisper to the dead blank face. You are finished. Finito. It's absolutely absurd: here I am in the world's most ancient, beautiful city- we haven't even been to the Coliseum - waiting for texts. I get into the other twin bed. I cry myself to sleep. I love her. I've never loved a woman in my whole life. She is my other self. She is, she is, she is.  I fall asleep dreaming of the little love texts that she has sent me in our time, the lovely opening envelopes, like fluttering butterflies that will fly no more. Before I came to bed, I deleted my entire inbox. Next morning, I leave my mobile phone behind in the safety deposit box whilst Sophie and I take the metro to the beach. You never think of the sea being so close to Rome. It's a rotten journey and I don't feel as content as I should. I am jangled and jumpy and jealous. Everywhere is beautiful in Rome except the beach. So we come back after not being long there and go walking about again, around the Piazza del Popolo where the tall obelisk stands still, looking as if it knows something I don't.

But all the time, everywhere we go, I'm thinking she would love this, she would love that. I don't think of my husband at all. He's whinged his way through twenty years of family holidays. But I miss her.  'What are we doing now?' Sophie says. 'We're drinking our drinks.' I say. 'And what next?'  she says. 'Have a wander around. We're in Rome. Drink it in. Isn't this the most amazing city you've ever seen?' 'Not really Birmingham was,' Sophie says. 'Birmingham?' I laugh. When we get back to our small room, I rescue my phone from the safe and switch it on. Nothing happens. No bleeps, no envelopes, no nothing. I've lost faith now. Perhaps she has many married women all lined up. Perhaps this is nothing to do with me. I'm about to send her another text with trembling thumbs when I stop myself. You are annoying me now; I am sick of you, I say to myself. I take the phone out with us the next day. We go to the Trevi fountain again because Sophie likes it down there; she likes the ecstasy of water over stone - no! She likes the people milling around there, live people and stone people. Sophie licks her ice cream. I feel high. I'm standing in front of the Trevi fountain. I always wanted to come to Rome. It's a sunny day.  On impulse I pull the little demon out of my handbag and chuck it in. It plummets and drowns. I hear all the little bleeps blubbing; then lovely, golden silence. There! Sophie smiles at me; she knows. I feel like a free woman. I walk around Rome with my inquisitive, intelligent, beautiful daughter and Sophie says as we pass the Spanish steps again, looking up at them. 'Actually mum they are kind of amazing.' 

I've written a book called The Easy Way To Give Up Your Mobile Phone and recorded a self help tape which was quite fun to do.  It has made me filthy rich. The advice I give is pragmatic. At the very first signing, Cath was there at the end of the queue. Her eyes were dark and full of longing. Fame does wonders for desire. 'What if I write you an old fashioned letter?' she whispered urgently in my ear. I smiled at her, indulgently. 'I loved you, but your texts were lousy.' In the long book signing queue, I listened, whilst signing my name quickly, to the confessions of one addict after another. I watched the till. Dring dring dring. What a lovely inspiring noise, so much better than bleep bleep bleep.  














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