An elderly man sat alone on a bench. / SUR

The telephone of loneliness

One of the biggest social problems we face in big cities: that on the other end of the line, there actually was nobody listening...

IGNACIO LILLO

He was sat on a bench in the city centre early on Christmas morning. Mature but not elderly and well groomed, I noticed as I passed by that he was talking quite loudly and in a very animated way, which for the time of day, didn't fit.

I saw that he had one of those little, old-fashioned mobile phones stuck to his ear, the ones we used to call a flip up.

It took only a few seconds, but I noticed the man's ability to remember and list all the ingredients of what I imagined to have been his Christmas Eve dinner; with a level of detail that was childish to a degree, but which made me think he would have been a good journalist, with that memory and loquacity to recreate the seasonings and the preparation, dish by dish, of what seemed like a meal with a lot of cooking.

If you had asked me, I would hardly have been able to mention the main course of the previous evening, although I do remember the wines.

The first time I passed by that verbose gentleman, I didn't give him any more thought and kept on walking, on my morning stroll with my dog Nori so that he could relieve himself from the night before.

But, for some reason, when we reached the end of the street and turned around, we opted to go back exactly the same way.

And there he was.

The talk this time was about the characters he had seen on television the night before. But something didn't fit.

I stood nearby, pretending to be looking for something on my mobile, and I noticed that he kept talking; it wasn't a conversation, but rather a monologue, like those that many people do with WhatsApp, where you see them walking around and talking to their mobile phone, usually in a horizontal plane... Only the phone of the protagonist of this story was too old to have internet, so there was no room for this ultra-modern communication option.

I waited for a while, to see if the suspicious telephone conversation showed any sign of being real, that is, of the interlocutor intervening and forcing the first to listen; but after a while the soliloquy continued in a different direction, and the dog wanted to continue his walk, so I left the speaker on his bench with two possible theories: that the other person could not or would not intervene.

Or what seems more likely to me, and which is one of the biggest social problems we face in big cities: that on the other end of the line, there actually was nobody listening...