by Yeshi Medhin
News of Abai Kidanes sudden death hit the family hard. His wife, Imai Bizunesh, and their children, received the news with varying degrees of grief and disbelief.
Imai Bizunesh and Abai Kidane had simply discontinued their marriage sometime in the turbulent 70s, but had never actually gotten a divorce. Who wanted to maragef the details of too many dreams deferred for the silent amusement of shimaGiles with little else to do than Tirs mefaq while they listen to your list of irreconcilable differences, then try to decipher the sem of the matter from the wrq of the disclosure. Besides, there were not enough words to adequately explain things, only stifled emotions that had long subsided into the untreated cavities of mashed down molars. It was too late to rebuild this meseret back into the proud, meaningful edifice it had once been. It was healthier to move on and let old wounds lie nicely scabbed over by layers of other, perhaps finer, memories.
Their children received the merdo in three different countries, did their respective grieving then converged in Addis to be with their mother for the Arba. The church service went well and the ensuing digis was attended by Abai Kidanes extended family and friends. The following day, with Abai Kidanes nefs Abat in attendance, the family gathered again for the reading of the will. A brief prayer was said, and his spirit was wished well and Gods speed. Then, just after Ato Abraham, the executor of the will, stood up to do his bit, the maid entered the room and announced the arrival of a guest.
The family tried to frown the poor maid down, but, cowed as she was, she said that this guest was insisting on being seen right away. Petros, the oldest of the siblings, rose from the table and followed the maid out of the room into the foyer, where he found a young man, pacing the sanqa there. When the young man turned to face him, Petros heart plummeted and landed somewhere in the roiling acid of his stomach. Dear God! He muttered under his breath, then thought immediately of his mother, sitting innocently in the other room, waiting patiently for the will to be read.
The young man relished the acute expression of recognition on Petros face and even dared to smile. Vindication! At last. His own father may never have publicly acknowledged his existence, but the eldest son, caught in an unguarded moment, had given the younger man more than he had hoped for.
Emboldened, he stepped forward, broad shoulders back, head held high, quite unconsciously mimicking the posture his father had oft assumed in moments of stress and triumph.
And there it was again, in the timber of his quiet yet self assured voice, the stamp of his paternity.
Petros inclined his head ever so slightly, his guarded gaze noting the familiar directness of the other mans eyes, the telling flare to his nostrils that lent his face that look of arrogance. There was a saying his mother had oft repeated, something about the strong resemblance of a diqala to the father. And the proof of that adage stood before him, looking at him out of a face that was at once that of a beloved and a stranger.
"What do you want?" Petros said, though he knew.
"Only whats right," came the unflinching reply, and stepping forward, the younger man held out an envelope stained brown with age and from frequent handling.
"What is it?" Petros asked, reluctant to accept what he knew would be the proof.
"My introduction," the other said. "Take it."
And left with no acceptable alternative for a man of honour, Petros did.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
For him, it was love at first sight. Something about the tilt of her head, the length of that proud neck, the lilt of her laugh. For a man who has never been in love - who didnt know what it was to love anyone other than his children, who, at the age of twenty, had mistaken infatuation for love and married her - to experience it for the first time at the age of 55 is perhaps more calamitous than getting caught in a lightening storm with no shelter in sight. But thats exactly what Kidanes heart had done gone helter-skelter and fallen in love with a girl less than half his age, a girl, moreover, who had been brought to Addis from Harrer as mogzit for his first grandchild.
Horrified by the unfamiliar emotion, Kidane had fumbled about with it, now yaz, now leqeq, feeling feverish and sleepless like child with a secret. Always a private man, he could only consult his Bible, and it clearly said, atamenzir. He read that commandment over and over again, and prayed for a sign as to what he should do. Atamenzir! But the battle was lost before it had begun. Kidane was quite sure that whatever this thing was, he was not in control. It had him, and it had him good.
It took him a month before he found himself alone with her in the kitchen as she stood over the stove, stirring puréed vegetables, to come completely undone.
For her, it was not love at all in the beginning. It was a gradual thing that had crept into her heart during discreetly stolen nights when he came to her, heart in his palm, offering her the world with his eyes, and taking hers with his body.
Sofia was a young woman not unaware of her beauty and what it did to men. At as young as nine years old, boys and young men had began to approach her, some interested in the obvious, others imagining themselves in love with her. So, by the time she was 18, she was well versed in the art of flirtation, in how to keep a man in thrall and send him home with nothing but the scent of her perfume on his clothes. So, when she started to notice Ato Kidanes prurient interest in her, she did not, as the wife did, choose to mistake it for a preoccupation with parliamentary matters.
It was amusing, in the beginning, to tease the poor man, to send him consciously unconscious glances of shy flirtation out of eyes he would often tell her were yedoqma frE. But as time wore on, and their affair continued, Sofia began to long for his touch, to crave the sound of his voice against her ear when they made love. As the old saying goes, fiqirina wiha iyasasaqe nw miwesdew, and so, by the time she realized she too was in it for love, she was willing to drown in the eddy.
Their love was stronger because of its impracticality. The furtive sex was that much more intense, an addiction, almost. They would meet at prearranged places, arriving separately, and spend several blissful hours living their own version of the Kama Sutra. Sofia found the touch of a mature man more erotic than the untalented groping of the callow youths of her previous acquaintance. And Kidane, a slave to his emotions, found the very essence of his lover reason enough to live.
Still, neither suffered under the misguided notion that this affair of the flesh and the heart was going to lead them down the aisle. A fish and a bird may fall in love, it is said, but where would they build their nest? So they were careful not to let their little world spill into reality.
Sofias pregnancy came as a rude surprise to both of them.
My love, every day without you is an eternity in darkness. Every thought leads to thoughts of you. Every dream is a dream of us together. I am bereft without you. Everything I eat turns to sawdust in my mouth. Everything I touch I find lifeless and uninteresting. When I pray, I pray for you and our unborn child. Everyday, I have to find a new reason not to come to you, for I know, if I were to come and find you, I would never let you go again.
My heart, I am well
as well as I can expect to be without you here by my side. Our baby is well, too. My mother suspects, but I have not said, who the father is. In some ways, I feel more fortunate than you. I carry inside of me proof that what we had was not just a sweet dream. When our child is born, if it is a boy, as I feel so sure it is, I shall name him after you. If it is a girl, I shall name her QalkidanE. Stay well, my love. Perhaps, in another time, in anther life, we shall meet and love again.
Kidanes wife, Bizunesh, would have cried her pain out on her mothers shoulder
if her mother were still alive. Well, pain is not the word, really; more like simmering anger. Her husbands infidelity was no secret to her, although she let them believe they were successful in hiding their affair from her. She let him have his fun and turned a blind eye for as long as it went on. After all, the girl was a very good mogzit. When Sofia left, Bizunesh knew why. In fact, she was the one who had insisted on it after she had caught the girl doubled over the toilet emptying out her stomach in the morning. After the girl left, Bizunesh watched her husband suffer his loss as silently as shed watched him have his affair. And she thought it would pass, this quiet pining he did for his mistress. After all, sex was only sex, and family was
well, family. If it were more, he would not have let her go so easily. When months turned into years, Bizunesh realized that her husband was not really hers anymore. More attached to her pride than her heart, she chose to walk away rather than try to salvage what had long been lost.
Kidane lost no time after his wife left. He telephoned Sofia, to tell her that he wanted to send for her immediately.
And Sofia said, I am married.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Petros pulled out the letter from the open envelope while standing right there in the foyer and read the it with a grim expression on his face. The words were explicit but succinct. His father had fathered this man, and had, with this letter, acknowledged him. The letter was mailed out by the estate executor as per Abai Kidanes instructions. This man, his fathers secret illegitimate child, was here to sit at the table with them and claim his share of whatever was in the wil. And it wasnt the mans legitimate claim to his inheritance that bothered Petros so much. It was that his mother was in that room, waiting with the rest of them. To have Abai Kidanes indiscretion follow him back into that room was quite unappealing.
So he said, "This is not a good time."
"This is the only time," came back the implacable response.
"Then wait here," Petros told him and strode back down the hallway into the living room where everyone awaited him.
"Oh, good, youre back," Ato Abraham said when Petros entered the room.
"Yes." Petros looked around the room at his siblings and his mother, who were all looking at him questioningly. "Ato Abraham, forgive me, but will you excuse us for a minute. I must confer with my mother in private."
"Of course, of course," Ato Abraham said watching in bewilderment as Petros helped Imai Bizunesh rise and lead her out of the room.
Petros led his mother to an adjoining room and closed the door firmly behind him. Then, taking his mothers hands in his, he said, "I dont know how to say this, Ima
" he paused to clear his throat. "There is a young man here I left him waiting in the foyer - and he
well, its clear even without the letter, but he brought with him a letter to prove
. Imai, his name is Kidane."
Imai Bizunesh smiled humorlessly and patted her sons hands comfortingly. "I know," she said.
"You know?" Petros asked startled.
"Ive always known," Imai Bizunesh said. "I didnt know that your father would acknowledge the child, but Ive always known that there was a child. I even knew his mother."
"You knew her!! Do I know her?" Petros asked running over in his mind the possible list of candidates, but they were all really too old for him to imagine them inflagrate with his father, or their bellies swollen with his fathers diqala. He shook his head trying to dislodge the inappropriate images from his minds eye.
"Oh, yes, you knew her, but I dont think you would remember her."
, what do we do?"
"Do? Nothing. I gather hes here for the reading of the will, so we let him come in, sit with us and hear what there is to hear."
"Youre so calm about this," Petros said.
"Well, your father is not the first man in Ethiopia to populate the country outside the marriage bed," his mother said matter of factly. "Bel, na, Petros." Her tone implied, lets get this over with.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
"BesmeAb! Kidane!? teyinji, BizuyE. AyareGewim!!" weizero Abebech said and dramatically pseudo-spat twice onto the nice Parquet floor of the living room.
The two ladies, friends from before the second war with Italy, were sitting in weizero Abebechs condo, bought for her by her children, who wanted their mother close enough to visit but not close enough to live with. Imai Bizunesh came to visit her friend in America once every few years, and, because they had precious few secrets between them, was quite comfortable divulging the story of Abai Kidanes other son to her.
"Ayhehe," Imai Bizunesh said, shaking her head. "demmoko quCH Abatun nw, Zerihun yimut. Kidane mekad inqua beefelig, aychilim nebereh," she said and took a dainty sip from a melekia of AreqE.
The two old friends contemplated the truth of the matter in silence, then, "meches, iskandalus nw, BizuyE," weizero Abebech said, repeating the new addition to her growing vocabulary in English. "mts! Awon