Story

Boy

His name is Yitbarek. He’s seven years old. His mother had seen the commotion on the way home from church, children drawing pictures on desks in the middle of the streets and grownups selling children’s books to adults. So she walked him over and asked a member of the organization to hand her son paper and some colors.

It’s a nice sunny morning. Music was playing and there were posters of his favorite Tv character everywhere. Morning light slick, beautiful and yellow falling on the garden guarded by concrete in the rising city. The grass had been trimmed nice and green all the yellowing of the Bega season gone.

The clouds have started to come in lately but this Sunday morning they looked just happy.

Yitbarek’s mother had fallen into conversation with one of the grownups. She wouldn’t want to leave soon. So Yitbarek looks back at the garden and is caught by the yellow of the sun having fallen on a flower. It looked to him like the petals had opened to wave to him, like it was smiling.

He put his pencil colors to half the A4 paper the woman had set in front of him and he drew the happy yellow flower, he drew the green grass too and the happy clouds in the blue Sunday morning sky.

His mother finally remembering her son comes over to his desk. “Have you finished?” she asks him.

Yitbarek moves his hands from the paper to show her his work and looks up into her face.

The mother looks around at what the other kids had done. The boys were drawing cars and houses. The girls were drawing strange flowers. She smiles at her son. “Well let’s go. Sign your name.”

Blog · Story

An Almost On Point Reenactment of Ethiopian Victory in a Ladies Spa Chamber feat. Me

The thing I’ve always liked about foreigners is the way they seem to go anywhere and be comfortably at home. We Ethiopians usually don’t have that quality. We always regard something that isn’t technically ours distantly and with caution. I like how foreigners will be careful around our cities but they don’t hold back on how much they get to kick back and enjoy themselves.

I’m about to tell you a story of a time it went a little too far.

About a month ago, my aunt and I were feeling fancy so we went to the Spa inside Harmony Hotel. It was a foggy day, I was late on my day’s schedule for a late-night event so I was a bit agitated (more than usual).

I spotted the woman as I was paying before entering the Spa. She was a short, stout, light skinned black woman in a white one piece swim suit, dragging her flipflops on the floors as she walked. At first glance, she just looked like someone’s mother from the swimming pool downstairs. You couldn’t tell that she wasn’t a native.

I’d imagine she was supposed to wait for the Cashier to finish with me to ask for her thing but she just stood there gesturing, waving her hands at the cashier.

“መዋኛው በዚህ በኩል ወደታች ነው”, the cashier behind the desk points to the woman thinking that she’d lost her way to the swimming pool.

The woman in the swim suit catches everyone off guard. In a thick African accent that in better days I find super sexy, she says rudely to the cashier, “Towel. Towel. I don’t speak de language. Give me ea towel.” She held out her hand expectantly with half her body turned towards the stairs. It looked like she was ready to just blast towards the stairs the moment a towel touched her hand.

The cashier was startled by the woman’s tone but she quickly composed herself and asked in fluent English, “May I see your receipt?”

“I’m in room. Room.” the woman yells and gestures again. I move a step away so she doesn’t take out an eye.

The cashier calls for someone to get the woman a towel.

She grabs her towel and flip flops away muttering profanities that got everyone looking at each other in alarm.

At that moment I’m thinking, “Oh the poor woman is completely misunderstood because she looks so much like us and no one can tell that she doesn’t know Amharic. It must have irritated the hell out of her.”

I was thinking that but the truth is there were several nicer ways to ask the cashier to speak to her in English. Minutes later an Asian woman asked for the exact same services with such courtesy and even attempted “amesegenalehu” to everyone’s delight.

So, my aunt and I finish making our payments and we enter the relatively full Spa. Almost all the recliners were taken but a staff member promised us that people were leaving so more would be free soon. She finds us two recliners by a corner and tells us we can switch to more preferable ones later. On the recliners she put two signs that, in large bold letters read, “RESERVED” so that if new people came in while we were going about, they would know the beds were taken and refrain from putting their things on it. This seems trivial but it’s really important. Trust me.

So my aunt and I settle in.

About half an hour goes by with me having a good time because I’d somehow caught up to my schedule for the day. Until I came out of the Sauna to see the rude African woman from earlier sitting on my recliner. I look at my aunt’s recliner next to mine and it still had the reserved sign. In fact it had two.

I compose myself, walk over and say to the woman in English, “Excuse me my dear. This bed was reserved. It had a sign on top of it.”

By now some women had left and others had come in but there was just one unoccupied recliner right next to ours.

“So?” The woman says.

“So you need to move to another one. This one is mine.”

She ignores me and takes a luxurious sip of water from her glass. I didn’t know what to do so I waited….and waited as she took that sip.

“Ma’am. You should ask the staff member over there to reserve one for you. My aunt and I have this one.”

“Where de the aunt?”

“She’s in the shower. She’ll be right out. Wasn’t there a reserved sign over here on this recliner?”

“Yes.”

“Did you move it?”

“Yes I did you stupid mother*beep* Just leave me you stupid *beep* and *beep* with *beep* and *beep* *beeeeeeeeeeep*”

(Yes I’m beeping out her curse words in writing because I don’t remember the exact ones and because that’s what I do now. I beep out curse words in writing like a moron)

I laughed. I was irritated all afternoon because I was behind schedule but receiving insults laced in beautifully thick African accent from a half naked fat stranger in a spa made me laugh and laugh and laugh. Let’s me be honest. I’m a confrontational person. I am sometimes violent. Don’t let my size fool you. Rage is a good friend of mine. It often gets me into all types of trouble but I don’t control it. That’s why I’m more werewolf than vampire.

This however, this day is one that I am proud of. Because I tried something different. Diplomacy. I called one of the spa workers and asked her to get the woman a recliner even with the insults still echoing on and on in the back ground. But one look at the woman and the spa worker panicked like she’d seen the woman before. She asked me to excuse her and she hurried away.

WTF.

By now I had an audience of the other women in the Spa.  None trying to help. Just silently watching.

I can’t stress enough on how new this territory was to me but I found the whole thing so very bold and amusing.  I could have just left the bed for her and taken the empty one beside it but there was the matter of principle. This woman had moved my reserved sign with complete disrespect and occupied a space that I’d paid for. She had flat out insulted me for reasons I couldn’t properly rationalize at that moment. I still had a schedule to keep.

So, I sat there on the next recliner and I started talking to her.

I was no longer trying to be polite but I didn’t resort to profanities and insults either. My mind started to question what in the hell this was. It felt like someone had come to my house to spit on me and take my John Green books. My mind went to places like, “This woman has a mental illness.” “Oh my God, Is this racism?!” “You could take her if you were wearing anything more than a towel.”

The foreigner kept the insults coming and very VERY slowly sipping her glass of water now and then. I started talking over her. “You could have just asked for a bed, you know. And I saw you earlier being super rude to the cashier out there. Where in the hell are you from?”

“Dat is non of yu beznes.”

“Okay. True. But something is definitely wrong with you. What is it that has irritated you this much? What is so wrong in your life? What have you been through? What is it?”

“Shut op! Shut op! *beep*”

I hope you’ve gotten my gist by now.

“No, I’m actually not going to shut up until you get off my fucking recliner. What is it? Was it your husband? Is he a dick? Is it work? Is work driving you crazy? Do you work?”

There were several facial huffing and puffing motions before her glass of water, that in this moment I would learn also had lemon in it, went flying into my face. The lemon burned my eyes.

I was still laughing.

She strutted out still yelling profanities, so very angrily. But I had won. I had talked the woman off my recliner! I was being so childish about it, I was basically giving her a raspberry.

Here one of the guests who’s been standing around watching asked me, “Did she hit you?” The Staff member from earlier came followed by the manager who apologized in such a professional manner it overwhelmed me. My aunt also finally came out of the shower, “What happened? What happened to you? Did you get in a fight again?”

***

I swear I have never been so angry yet so entertained by anything in my life ever.

I know nothing about what that African woman could have been going through. I don’t know what kind of day or life she must have had in order to justify how she gets to act the way she did. But after she had left, so many of the women started talking about how this foreigner came to our country and disrespected us the way she did.

The Asian Woman from earlier came in and took the one empty recliner beside the one I had just won back. The staff members smiled at her and offered her towels.

“Amesegenalehu,”

I lay back on my recliner and wondered what Atse Yohannes IV and Atse Tewodros and Atse Menelik would have made of me.

Others · Story

Nail

They call him The Hammer. He is an artist of a murderer. After suffocating his victims until dead, he makes a point of hammering a large nail into their throats. Then he leaves them in places where they would sit like they could be enjoying a cup of coffee or looking  into the off  view. Only upon closer inspection would you notice that the round thing in their necks encircled by clotting blood isn’t really decorative neck wear.

Luam was a school principal. She lived with her parents and she always took the train to her work place in the middle of the city. She liked pasta and Coca Cola. She absolutely hated feet and teenage girls. She thought of herself as a business woman rather than an educator. She aspired to become the reverse.

Yonas was in love with a girl called Christian. She sat in front of him in his economics class at the college where he studied to become a geologist. At first he really wanted to become a geologist then he just wanted to be with Christian. He’d heard her tell a friend about how she hated short guys so he joined a basketball team to make himself taller. It turned out he enjoyed basketball and he was very good at it.

Asnake wasn’t always a homeless man. In his teens he learned to play the accordion. In his twenties he married his neighbor and had two sons with her. In his thirties, he divorced her and married another woman with whom he made two more children. He joined the army  in his forties with two of his older sons and then lost his wife and all his kids to a massacre. In his fifties he played the accordion at weddings. In his sixties he lost his house and his accordion wore out. He was turned out to the streets and he found himself sleeping outside St. Gabriel church begging and getting upto 17 birr a day.

The civilian who found the victims was sneaking under the bridge to relieve his bladder completely unaware he wouldn’t be able to do so until the following morning.

Luam was found in a pretty floral dress and sparking red heels. She’d on pink lipstick, still neat on her mouth and a briefcase full of teacher files. Also, of course, the large iron nail in her throat. Yonas was in a basketball jersey. A laptop, a notebook, a bad sketch of a girl, a box of condoms, a water bottle and some weed were found on him in addition to a nail sticking out of his neck. Asnake too had a nail in his throat, as well as a large gabi draped around his shoulder. Two birr coins sparkled on the floor next to where he could just be asleep.

The officer called to check them bodies vomited twice while his colleagues tried to guard the place from onlookers. Everyone longed to understand The Hammer.

January 2017

Story

Peripheral

 

There was once a time when people fell in love because they thought they were good judges of character. A man would catch a fleeting glance of woman’s lustrous hair and her shiny red lips across a room and be convinced that she was beautiful and she would make a good wife because somehow he would just assume she’d be everything he’d ever wanted. He’d approach her and make small conversation over his glass of something strong. She‘d see his impressive negotiation with his liquor and the straightness of his shoulders and know he’d make a good husband. But mostly, the idea of being the object of his attention would overwhelm her and she’d instantly fall in love with him.

They’d look into each others eyes a lot. They would see something there. They always looked and saw something they liked.

He wouldn’t kiss her on the first day and she’d want him to but she’d tell herself that she’d say no anyways. He’d ask to see her again and she’d pretend to hesitate but she’d say yes. He’d worry too much about their date but whatever he does, she’ll find it romantic. This was a love story started.

I know I made it sound dull, mechanical. I’m a little resentful. It’s supposed to be beautiful, fireworks and all. It’ll never happen to me. There won’t be much for him to look into and like.

I met Danny online. I’m not very active but after he said hey, I lived almost exclusively in the cyber world.

My profile picture was a quote of a song. It was a Gerard Way Song.

We want television bodies that we can’t keep
we have battles in the dark when she falls asleep…”

He thought it made me sound deep.

We talked a lot, day and night. I could always count on an unread message from him. He was a busy student, aiming to become something big someday and make the world a better place but somehow, he always found the time to text back to me.

He opened up to me so well, even talked about the time his zipper caught his penis when he was 14. The old school janitor helped him with it. It was the most embarrassing moment in his life, he said. It had felt good when it shouldn’t have. She’d noticed and then laughed at him.

I didn’t tell him a lot about myself.  Just the basics, name, schools, siblings, parents.I could tell he was falling in love with me even though we’d never actually met. He’d ask me things and he cared so much about the most minor things like the time I told him I had a swollen lip, he spent a good fifteen minute surfing treatment tips for a swollen lip.

We both had separate lives with people and things to do but our private chat room was cozy and better. I read his texts like they were whispers in the dark and when he sent me four minute recording of songs he’d liked, it was like we had on split earphones, and we were lying head to head under my blanket. He’d send me pictures of his views sometimes. The view from his classroom window, from his favorite bar, from his bedroom window, from his bed. He wanted me there with him and I was. He was with me too.

The dreaded question came three months in. “I want to see you. Send me a picture of you.”

I said no.

“I don’t really care what you look like. I’d just like to think of a real face when I think of you.”

I said no.

“I swear I don’t care if you’re fat, skinny, black, white, blue. If you have a snout even. I just want to see.”

I still said no.

Three more months later, I agreed to meet up. I could only hug my pillow for so long. I knew it would be the end of it all but I hoped he would react so badly that maybe I would hate him.

We decided to meet up at a café in the city. It had an upstairs and it was usually empty before noon.

I wore a dress to show my pretty ankles and a leather jacket because I am deep. I didn’t try on much makeup because no make up could hide my little anomaly. But I ran red lipstick over my full lips, a tribute to all women of amour. I packed enough tissue paper and I tried to arrive before he did.

A thin boy who looked like he spends way too much time indoors sat looking out the large windows in the upstairs of the café when I arrived. He had on a regular flannel shirt above his regular jeans and regular converse on his feet. He was so regular, he was perfect.

His regular smile broke too fast and so suddenly that he didn’t have time to hide his surprise before it became offensive. For the silence that followed, I thought maybe I’d gone deaf too.

One eye might be enough to look into someone’s soul but if the other one is gruesome and blind, no one would come close enough to look.

Not even Danny.