by: Affera Awega
So I had failed after all...even after having done everything in my power to convince her I was worthy. The place was Dembidollo and I was on another work visit to the town. After hearing the stories a thousand times, I had finally found the courage to try my luck.
"What are you looking at, eh?! Never seen an old woman, new mesel'...certainly none as old as me. I may be getting stooped and squinty, but that doesn't mean I can't see the look on your face...why, if I had a lengthy lmCH right about now, I'd teach you to look at me with respect. Ay ídmE kffu, it has left me at the mercy of the likes of you...but that's fine, that's just fine...
"Mn alk? Anten'konew!? Speak up! Dehna, dehna, igzhEr ymesgen, kbru ysfa. So that is how you greet me -- ages and ages after you step into my house? Yet'new yadek'kew bak'h?! Bel'sti QuuuuuCH bel...I'm getting a neck pain staring up at your gawking face.
"Ohhh, you ask where I got my name. Well, it's one story in a long lifetime of long stories, and I don't think you have what it takes to sit still and listen to your elders. What...yhun, alk? You think you're the exception? DnQEm, y'Arada durye blo ti'igsteNa! Well, I'm not running any marathons these days so I have some time to waste. Tega bel'na teQemeT...I don't want to waste what little breath I have yelling across the room.
"Anchi manesh! Ere smuN'bakach'hu!! Gud'ko new! Isti go into that gwada of yours and find a Tassa of Qrari for this boy. WHAT DID YOU SAY?! Tejj lsTew!!!?!!? Lezih?! So help me Kidane'mhret but I'll surprise everyone and rise up from this bed and kill the whole lot of you! How many times must I tell you that Tejj isn't for everyone, eh!!? Only when I TELL you to serve Tejj do you serve it -- who are you to ask?!!" She made a shooing away gesture with her knobby hand and mumbled some more threats under her breath as she glared at me, at the guilty maid and, for good measure, at all past and future presumptuous offenders.
All I had wanted had been a little taste of what people had traveled from hundreds of kilometers away to drink at her venerable establishment (I didn't dare even think to call it a Tejj bEt -- she sure wouldn't like it, and something tells me she reads minds as well as she reads Tejj-worthyness).
Of course, I already knew how she got her name...I had just hoped to loosen her up a bit by letting her wax nostalgic over her memories of the tejj-b...maletE..."service establishment" that she'd recently closed. When she got too weak to keep it running, she had preferred to see its tidy doors shut rather than pass on the recipe and reputation to an undeserving beneficiary. Many had tried to emulate her all over town but to no avail; maybe it was because of her legendary picky and prickly nature over the choice of honey, her immaculately kept distillery, or the fear of God she mixed in with the other just-as-carefully selected ingredients of her unparalleled brew. No one even came close. When she goes, though I had my doubts of her ever going as I look at her fierce strength...when she goes, she's taking that unequaled recipe with her.
Ah, the stories they tell of the good old days! Imagine any ordinary Tejj bEt you've ever seen or walked by, they'd say...now throw away that image, because it had nothing to do Ima Sunday's. Yes, you've probably guessed that her place of business was only open on Sundays -- that's how it, and eventually she, got that name. She had known she could have made much more money had she kept her doors open all the time, but as she always said, it wasn't about throwing together any old borChaQa mix -- it took time and talent and much more. Yes, the good Lord may have created many marvelous things in six days, but you only had to look at the riffraff around the neighborhood to wonder whether, maybe, he had been just a tad sloppy. Ima, you see, knew it took at least six days of each week, and several weeks of careful waiting and watching, to make her golden drink.
So imagine that you are a brave soul, and dared to visit her little building. If you were lucky enough to enter unchallenged, you would recognize the cleanliness and order that reigned supreme, not to mention the hushed reverence with which the incomparable potion was both served and drunk. And the fact that they seated and served you marked you as a man of infinite worth.
No one under aQm'Adam was allowed to cross her threshold unless he was to deliver on some errand. If one dared come for a drink, "Gud'ko'new-erre-zmmm-new," her words would slide into one indignant epithet as she shooed the daring boy out, "gud gud gud...nfTun alTerege Tejj liTeTa meTa?! WiTaliN...WITA!!"
Tejj wasn't for everyone, you must understand.
If you didn't have a decent shirt, you borrowed one before daring to come to her place of business. If possible, you'd find a tie, too. Her eagle eyes would meshQedadem up and down your carefully put-together outfit (shivers would immediately follow along your spine as you awaited your fate)...a ring around your collar or frayed cuffs would earn you a contemptuous glare as she sauntered over to firmly show you the door, "YenE zrkrk, ChQ'Qt'hn yalasleQeQ'k mn l'thon Tejj tfelgaleh? Bel, wendmE, wTalN." No one snickered or smirked, since nothing angered her more than smugness...as far as she was concerned, if you weren't respectful of others, how could she expect you to respect her Tejj? Anyone misguided enough to scoff found the drink snatched from his fingers and the door slamming behind him once and for all.
Once allowed to sit, each customer's stamina was immediately assessed; "Ante's hulet tchl yhonal," she would declare, and the obedient servers would give the lucky penitent no more and no less than two b'rlEs, one after the other, each squeaky clean with its own cover. Heaven help he who would be so disrespectful as to put down the b'rlE without covering it...he would be relieved of his burden, and his eyes would never forget the anger in her eyes as he was ushered out...no one, and I mean no one, left her potion to sit unprotected from the invading air or from the odd fly that may alight on the lip of the glass container.
Too poor to look like you could afford the Tejj? She reminded you that an empty stomach was no way to appreciate what she worked so hard to offer the discerning palate. Too busy chatting with your bench-mate, going over the latest neighborhood gossip, to savor the slide of heaven down your throat? As you were denied the next round and escorted out, she would mutter that she understood the need to commune, but that your loose lips marked you as someone incapable of mustering the manners required to do justice to her sacred mix. And off you would go.
So my mission aborted, I glumly drank the Qrari, knowing that somehow, despite my clean khaki coat and jaunty bow tie (could THAT have been the problem!?), I had been deemed unworthy of even the brz that I know she has sitting sweetly somewhere in the gwada. They say she still supervises the process and mixes the mythical Tejj herself even now that she's mostly bedridden. She may not be running a business any more, but Ima Sunday still had a drink or two for the deserving. I bowed my good-byes and left with her "ay ye-smteNaw shih!" following me out the door, knowing it unlikely that I would acquire the polish and maturity required to wrest a measley brlE out of her gnarled, loving hands. Maybe in the next lifetime...
Thousands of shacks may be selling Tejj nowadays, and tens of thousands of revelers may be staggering out to end up in gutters minutes later all over the cities, towns and villages in Ethiopia, but none of them have any idea at all of the travesty they had just been party to. Once you sat in Ima Sunday's presence, you KNEW that you were looking at a sorceress who had, for decades, held the secret of life in her hands. Those who were privileged enough to have had a taste knew that they were doubly blessed -- for they were the lucky few who had passed the most exacting of tests. And that first and unequaled taste of her Tejj was just reward.
Because, you see, regardless of what you might think, Tejj isn't for just anyone.