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THE CALL TO 381

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After inquiring through friends and relatives in the Azores and Brazil, I found a beautiful Moorish-type baby girl in São Miguel for a childless St. Louis couple. The adoptive parents, Ben and Mary Ann, had never thought that I would succeed, with the result that when child became available they were not yet ready with all the necessary papers. They wanted her neverthless by all means - even if they had to swim to the Azores to get her. Ironically, their anxiety was not motivated by any form of infertiltity. Mary Ann had been pregnant seven times by the time she was thirty-four. Unfortunately she had miscarried every time. To say, therefore, that the Azorean child was a godsend would not be understatement. Adoption documents, however, are generally prepared slowly, particularly in this case where two different languages and countries were involved. To say therefore that Ben literally became an anxious pain in the butt and a nervous wreck until the papers were ready would be no exaggeration.

One day, in desperation, Ben called my office and asked if while on my way home I could stop by his ice cream shop. He and Mary Ann own a Baskin-Robbins franchise. I did. While there, Ben asked me if I could get in touch with my Azorean contact and assure her in Portuguese that she had nothing to worry about and that she should hold on to the child letting me know how much she would need so that the baby would not lack for anything until my friends got to the island to pick her up. In those days one could already dial the Azores directly, something that Ben did prior to handing me the receiver. When he did, there was someone on the other side of the Atlantic. It was about 6 p.m. in St. Louis. "Just a moment, please," I heard Ben say.

"Olá, Maria da Graça," I said.

"Hello," answered a weak-voiced man.

I introduced myself and once again suggested that I wanted to talk to the man's wife. "Hello," the weak voice responded.

Again I introduced myself. Same answer.

Finally I hung up, informing Ben that he had gotten the wrong number.
"Can't be," he said. "I have it written right here." He showed it to me and, this time, not wanting any errors I looked at it carefully and dialed. "Hello," responded the same weak voice. Again I introduced myself, this time shouting for everyone to hear. Same result. Finally, in desperation, I hung up and decided to call AT&T and blast it for its crossed lines. The operator politely offered to place the call herself. I let her while telling her that Maria da Graça did not speak English and that I should stay on the line while the two talked. "Hello," came the weak, tired-sounding voice once again, this time almost crying. The operator spoke and, once again, the same "Hello". For my part I told the operator that I was glad to have Sprint in my home. She did not appreciate it, maintaining that her company's service was as good as anyone else's.

By the time the operator and I had finished our argument with nothing still resolved, Ben and Mary Ann stood by disappointed. Finally he looked at me and said: "Funny this should happen. Here's the number 011-381-96...."

It was then that I realized we had the wrong code. Portugal's code is 351.
Upon checking with the operator we discovered that we had been dialing somewhere in the old Yugoslavia, where it was already between one and two in the morning.

Given what has happened to the old Yugoslavia since, I wonder if somewhere in that group of countries, there's still a man who remembers a strange telephone call he got slightly over eleven years ago, or whether he still refers to himself as Yugoslavian...

Manuel L. Ponte
St. Louis, Missouri.
 
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