Dreams and promises
Infront of the Olympia light, stood two girls. Young, pretty, skinny. Waiting for a taxi and… fighting! Not a serious fight. Rather, a playful fight. The kind you fight with your spouse when it suddenly hits you how much you enjoy their company. Or with a female roommate, as Joey and Chandler of F.R.I.E.N.D.S. would have it no other way, in bras and using a pillow.
One had a short and curly hair French-styled perhaps an hour or so ago. The other had a long hair that rose and fall on her shoulder every time she threw a playful punch at her friend’s arm. Which was being fended off by her friend who was laughing as if she was unaware of the world around them. This included a minibus holding yours truly and a handful other travelers; a “Woyala” lighting a cigarette and calling for new comers to join us; a pregnant lady looking bored; a ‘santim azwari’ boy who also sold the Nyala and provided the lighter; a young man using his chest as a shelf for books he also carried in a duffle bag on his back waiting, perhaps, for a bus-home after a long and fruitless day; and two young men who look as if they were on their way to a hot spot somewhere. One wearing a hat that hid half his face and, along with the colorful attire and pointed shoe, completed whatever look he was aiming for (gangsterish? Pimpish?!). The other, clean shaven and neat in an expensive light-colored sweater (the kind of neat and sweater that bespeaks of good-upbringing and well-earning parents) had tiny dreads that lent him that “feminine” look guys with dreads have, making them cute, also waiting for a taxi. They obviously were, what in literature is called, ‘the target audience’ for the pillow-fight-save-for-the-pillow the girls had going on.
Not many of us knew what neither Jemanesh Solomon, nor Alemneh Wasse looked liked when we loved them for years. Yet, that didn’t stop us from considering them as part of our family and, in Jemanesh vs. young men all over Ethiopia of the time case atleast, the ideal person for “..a bed fellow, in marriage pleasures playfellow” (as Shakespeare would say). Which is why, by the way, that other girl who copied her voice on Fana Radio and always reads love stories off disgusting love letters in a sing-along voice got the job to begin with. We did not love them [only] because she made us cry, and he made us laugh. We loved them because they had beautiful voices that made “promises” all on its own. The kind of voice that you’d like to curl in and go to sleep, in his case, and the kind of voice a woman who needs a man to save her in hers. So women loved him, coz they needed a man to make them feel like a woman, and men loved her because she represented the Ethiopian version of a damsel in distress. To men, he sounded like the ‘it’ guy. And to girls she sounded like the “yet to be the ‘it’ girl, the minute her gallant gentleman rescued her”. [The classic!]
So we loved these people. Seeing what we want in them. Or seeing what we want to be seen-as in their voice. Or in it’s promises!. Until such time came for them to come out of their shell — to disappoint us. Fortunately, Alemneh knew what our reaction would be before he came to Alebe’s show. Where he was asked by the tactless and rather slow host, nefsun yimarewna, why he wanted to remain anonymous as long as he did, with an admonishing “ahun ante minih yaastelal?!”. Alemneh’s response: it wasn’t so much about his looks (which, let’s be honest, didn’t show much in the way of improvement even now, after he dumped his pretty wife) but what his voice promised [a promise he and his mediocre look can never hope to live upto].
Promises, then. They are as essential to life as dreams. Infact, promises “are” the foundation of dreams. For being rich promises a luxurious life (a dragging your fur on the ground, a having a maid you can tell to bring you any thing, of everyone looking at you with envy and with grief, while having mountains and mountains of things). Being in love promises a happy life. Being in power, obedience. And a “mehur”, respect. Which is why when we pursue our dreams, we are in reality pursuing the promise achieving them is supposed to grant us. The dream is therefore an extension of the promise, not the other way around. And.. so they say .. all that glitters ain’t gold. And rich people, married people, powerful people and learned people, they don’t have everything [hon!].
Yet we promise. And we are promised to. With words and gestures. With laughs and fights. With the dresses, the makeup, the perfume! By the religion, the drug, the advertisement. In exchange for a bit of money, always money, which, in America’s case, was rumored to be enough to bring 6 African countries out of poverty a decade ago, they scream something to their respective audience (their respective dreamer), to each according to the desire of his heart, or atleast the lack therein. They promise the promise of perfection, of beauty and femininity. The promise of sex, of fame, of being someone bigger [more refined, more .. equal] than yourself/herself/himself..
What makes a person/product line/religion ‘with a promise’ different is he/she/it brings something new to the table. Or atleast ‘something else’. A new fragrance, if you like. And they get awarded for that: a marriage, a business, a following! We reward them with our own promise as a grateful gesture for the promise of them fulfilling ours.
That doesn’t mean we are aware of what we are promising all the time. A good look on a man promises a girl that it can be hers. A new born child presents the prospect of immortality to his father, and an unconditional love to his mom.
But promises are tricky things. Like a knife, or water, they have the power to heal and the power to kill. Because, like formula, they can fall into the wrong hands and lives could be lost over them. That’s what happened to Einstein. And that’s what happens with stalkers. And victims of stalking. A kindly smile, a gentlemanly gesture, a drunk or horny “I love you”. Something always personal and promising to them. Something that meant nothing to you. John Lennon, Martin Luther King Jr., and our own Shushan Gillan are all victims of promises. Of changes and of love.
On the less extreme end, where lives don’t need to be lost (atleast literally), promises break heats and associations. Whether between couples, companies or countries, they have the power to build and tear down. I mean, we have all heard them! A problem in a marriage is always followed by accusations: she put on 20 pounds, and he stopped giving a damn. Broken promises, both of them, that were given (in the case of the girls next to the Olympia light) so willingly.
The mothers of the ‘old south’ knew this. So they trained their daughters never to try and sound smarter than a man, not to eat more than a bird would, and ask for their smelling salt every time unpleasantness occurred. Pretty much what you and I see on the first few dates… before the girl mastered enough confidence to tuck her hand in his “k’nd” to/and show all prospective runner-ups that ‘this ship has sailed’ ;-).
But come the day will, when a girl needs to drop all acts and get down to brass tacks. That’s when a bewildered Mr. Kennedy would start leaving the house and hangout with the boys, wondering how he was unable to see ‘the real her’ before they married, and wishing they didn’t. If he wasn’t such a gentleman, and had lived in the 21st century, he’d have been searching the horizons for another “Southern Belle” that would give other ‘southern belle-like’ promises.
The same is true with women, especially with women. The only difference is men usually read promise from what is promised or presented to them (in words and gestures), women from what is not. Which is why, in the absence of promise, he threatens to kill the girl and she cries her heart over the man. It’s scary, when you think of it! A man who doesn’t want to get married is “scared of commitment” to women. If he doesn’t want kids, he isn’t ready. If he’s bad in bed, he’s nervous! You don’t hear men making half those excuses for their female partners. No, sir! Men are realistic, except maybe when it comes to what they are capable of achieving! Women?! Don’t even get me started. I’ve come across sisterswho melt like butter when hearing, from their object of affection that is, how much he loves his girlfriend or wife. Utterly rejecting the fact that “now” was the time they should be paying attention to what he is saying, and
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