Only a handful of people will relate to this number but this was my family’s landline in Kumasi in the 80s. 3474 were the the four numbers you had to memorise before you picked up the receiver and spun that dial.
5805 was the number I called all the time. As the ring tone turned, after the clucking of the numbers, I would nervously play with the cord between my fingers and pray for someone to pick up. “Hello” came the meek voice from the other end. (That was normally the case before caller ID). It was my best friend, we were inseparable and as soon as I spoke, her demeanour would change and we would spend a good chunk of time laughing on the phone.
That extra digit was a scandal. It came unannounced amongst our group of friends and I am sure we resented the adults for not telling us. As kids, we didn’t like change.
It was also near the time I moved to England and my life was turned upside down. New school, new home, new guardians and no friends. Not to mention the cold, it was brutal.
I remember sitting by my window in London and watching the rain slowly collect against the glass. The drops would bunch together until they were heavy enough to drop down the side of the pane and collect on the sill. I would sit close enough that my cheek could feel the cold glass, as I breathed onto it and wrote my old phone number against the glass, always omitting the “2”.
As I grew and left for university, so did my home town. Kumasi was getting bigger and the need for connectivity was unavoidable. We now had area codes and ours was 051.
Often I would pick up the phone and start dialling. 00, 233, 234… Shit. Forgot. 00, 233, 51, 23474. And I would wait for someone to pick up. I would wait for a while until an unfamiliar voice would pick up and tell me that everyone was out.
Everyone was out but they had mobiles now so it made it easy to text or call them on the go and that’s what I did, from my student dorm to my parents and friends back home and around the world. And as time went on, we have felt more connected; our mobiles have become an extended part of our lives and act as portals. That promise of “let’s stay in touch” is easier kept.
Last week, I had dinner with two old friends. The first was 5805 and the second was her next door neighbour and a friend we both went to school with. We have known each other for almost 30 years.
Things have changed a lot for all of us. 5805 is a stay at home mom, our friend is now in charge of an international advertising agency in Ghana. Both are married with a child each.
We discussed being kids in the 80s, where our classmates are now and how much Ghana has developed over the years. I am back visiting my family and exploring opportunities and their advice was endless and full of hope. For a moment, things were simple again, like we were frozen in time; like we had never left and returned.
But only for a split second.
As we said our goodbyes and drove off, I smiled. I smiled at the thought of how life, right at this moment, is the simplest it will ever be for us. Life at 03220 23474. This number is the number their kids will grow to love and hate to see change.
But change is good. It is a catalyst for progression and being progressive has many more positive attributes than simple nostalgia.