He wants to know when we're coming down, because he has a doctor's appointment on Wednesday - could we have lunch, instead, on Friday? Yes, I assure him, that would be fine. I ask how he is; he responds with the usual litany and its antiphon: "declining very rapidly."
"Your voice sounds good," I tell him. "And you always have something to say."
"I began with that and have kept it!" he responds, laughing. "You know the story about my birth, don't you? The woman who came to deliver me was in mourning - her husband had died the day before - so she wasn't speaking. When I was born, she didn't give the usual "ululululu!"cry that means, "it's a boy!"; she just whacked me on my bottom and said, "Shut up!" My mother knew from that that I was a boy, and she rejoiced."
"And you've never stopped talking since."
"No!" He laughed again. "How is your poetry book coming?"
This caught me off-guard; I had mentioned it once in passing and was very surprised he remembered. "It isn't my book, it's something that a number of us are doing together."
"So you are all poets?" - this in a decidedly skeptical tone.
"Yes, some more than others. Anyway, it will be out soon; I'll get you a copy and you can see what you think."
"In Arabic we say, 'The best poetry is the one that tells the most lies.'"
It's a typical non-compliment, but I laugh anyway; I've never heard the proverb before and it explains a good deal. "Flattery will get you somewhere," I counter.
"The Arab one is better."
"It's good, you're right. Well, it's nice to hear your voice. You sound OK, even if you don't feel it."
"I'm declining very rapidly. Really. Every day is worse than the one before - I can see it."
"So everything is going to give out, and finally you'll be left with nothing but your voice."
"In that case maybe we should discuss what my last words should be! If you continue on the way you are, I'll say your name at the last!"
"That sounds very much like an illustration of your proverb."