"Your appointment with the liver doctor is April 6th."
"My brother's birthday", he said.
"Your brother, is he older or younger than you?"
"He's about five years older."
He went back to reading. Then looked up from the book and said (with regard to the computer)
"Do you think you could find Tina on there? She's into that computer stuff too."
I found an address and telephone number for his brother and sister-in-law in about two minutes, wrote it on a post-it-note and handed it to him.
He lit a cigarette and studied it carefully. He laid it over on the table and still looking at it from a distance, he said,
"She don't like me to call collect but I could send them something I guess, letem' know I'm okay."
Without looking up at his face, I reached for a cell phone that was between us and turned it slowly, to face him. A beat later, I shifted my gaze to meet his.
"Free," I said, pointing to the phone.
He lifted his eyebrows. "Really?"
"Uh-huh. I pay one price regardless of who or where I call."
(So okay, that was mostly true.)
"You can use it if you want to."
I went back to typing, held my breath.
The goal was to remain neutral and let it be his decision. Journalistically speaking, in this case, I've already broken a number of rules. There are some rules about being a decent person though, and one of them is: Don't deny a man a telephone to call his family if he wants to.
"How long since you've talked to anybody?" I asked him.
"Must be close to ten years by now," he said, reaching for the phone.