Jesus, my favorite teacher of all times, called Death ‘a thief’ and ‘an everlasting punishment’; while Herodotus saw it as ‘a delightful hiding-place for weary man’! To Charles Mason death was “a psychosomatic” and last, & indeed least, Woody Allen referred to it as “an acquired trait” :-). To me, death was always a test. A test I never enjoyed standing for and one I usually fail upon. And those who died, those weaklings who gave unto death, I saw into two categories: those that I cried for and those I didn’t.
I don’t know if it’s because I started reading books at an early age, or saw death as the end of all my teenage misery …. or simply due to a birth defect. But death has never bothered me. [I have a ‘logical’ and ‘impersonal’ view of it. That it, sadly, is the lot of humanity and shit happens. So, yes, I do not usually cry on funerals. Sometimes I don’t even feel sorry for the dead. And I don’t know how to pretend]. But I dread-ed it! The way you dread the return of your boss from an extended vacation. Ever since the younger sister of the woman who lived with us, and brought up my little brother and sister as her own, for 21 years (through the kind of thick and thin not even our relatives would have stuck by our side through) died, death has been a stomach-churning inconvenience to me.
I ofcourse didn’t know the younger sister. Never met her, nor even knew she existed until the news came that one of Worqe’s sisters (there are about 8 of them, I believe) has kicked the bucket. I may have become gloomy and skeptical, upon hearing she was a mother of 5 at the age of 28, and may have observed how “history” or “this vicious circle” (of girls being given to marriages young) keeps repeating itself. I know I have felt sorry for Worqe who, due to a Varicose-veins problem, wasn’t able to mourn her loss among her family the proper way.
So imagine my surprise and dismay when the minute we hit the church and were pointed to the right direction Worqe came running and fall on my chest! Lamenting the fact that her sister, who was never late to come visit her sickly elder, was finally delayed at her own funeral (the body was being brought from one of those cities at the outskirts of Addis where you need to walk for 4 hours to get to where transportation exists).
I have felt sad. I’ve wanted to cry. My mother and my aunts were certainly weeping in their respective “netelas”, audibly. But I couldn’t do it!! There was no fond memory that flashed in my mind to get the water works going, neither a sense of loss, or even a face. So I tapped her back conciliatorily, detached myself off the “Worqe & Co.” group and went to find a tree I can sit under the shade of: utterly and completely ashamed of my self!
Ever since then, I have viewed death as having an extra mission (aside the lot and the shit), of going around killing people simply to prove to the world what type of a person I ‘really’ am! That, contrary to appearances of kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity; I was a mean person with a cruel heart. A heart that would refuse a dead person a drop of tear!!
It’s something that keeps me awake at nights, this fear of how I’d react to death. I look at those friends and distant relatives whose closeness I value, and wonder what they’d see me as if [God forbid!!] somebody died in their family and I happened not to cry. How they could ever love me again, see me for what they thought I was or I feel I am again. Don’t laugh now, but there was even a time I prayed to Jehovah to either kill me or make me leave the country just so I won’t be present at another [tearless] funeral. Worries me sick, this fear, more than “their” loss and the kind of pain they would go through. [Yes, abesheet is self-centered]
No use asking what scares me more: people’s attitude towards those that do or don’t cry on funerals, or my own ‘cruel heart’. It’s the kind of question I do not care to ponder over because it really does make me feel like a bad person. Not that you can ever be the same after seeing yourself reflected in the eyes of those that can cry on a funeral you were unable to cry. If thy accusers haven’t said anything (and they always do! It’s one of those things, along with the types of food they don’t like and the list of things they would never do, people brag about; how much they cried over such and such’s funeral, or departure) you ‘would’ know what they are thinking by the look in their eyes.
There is nothing more accusative in the world than that look! Nothing more judgmental!! And, ofcourse, having no way of explaining ‘why’ you weren’t crying and being in a situation you have no control over (for, trust me, “kanjet biyaleQsum enba yigedal”), you would start believing it. So whenever you are in the mood for a little pity party (something those who do not cry for others are said to be quite fond of, selfish bastards!! :-)) of counting all your misfortune and every one of your vices, you go: “I’m such a wretch … don’t even cry when people I know die!”
Now, if I weren’t such a person given to easy tears at a moment’s notice to begin with, or were born a guy – as I always feel I should have, the judgment wouldn’t have been so heavy upon me. Wearing the gray ‘kaba’ of sadness, I’d have helped organize who goes in whose car; carry the coffin all the way to the “gudguwad”; assist in the scattering of ashes and in making sure the dead won’t have no way out; [and.. afterwards..] run around like ‘wetwa yamarelat set’ to have the ‘nifro sehan’ filled; stayed in the “dinkuan” playing cards until dawn and would have gotten successfully away with it having spilled not a drop of tear! Would have even ‘matreff’ a reputation of being the kind of guy folks come to whenever they plan to have a wedding or a funeral (not that you can plan a funeral ..but.. you know what I mean!), with a confident “mechem yaaw.. mastenaberuun lante tiyewalehu!”. But, as my “temama edil” would have it, I am a woman and one with a reputation of weeping her heart out for saying something nasty to a person before understanding what the person was on about.
So it can’t be cruelty. Can it?!.
Nobody in my family has dared interrogate me on the subject, ofcourse. Aparently, it’s one of those “whom we do not speak of” type of things. A “qumTina”, if you prefer, like being a single female at 35, or not having a child after celebrating your 3rd wedding anniversary! People don’t dare look at you, let alone ask you, why you didn’t cry, especially when it comes to the death of those close friends or neighbors. Instead, they try to see your other ‘goods’ (goods that would have made you a saint if you weren’t surrounded by aunts with the ability to scream their guts out from a mile of the leQso bet, making you stick out like a sore thumb, or if there was anything saintly about the tongue on you). They may simply refuse to believe it, assuming that you were either grieving on the inside or, like I heard my mother do more than once, telling everyone that you have spent the whole night crying (where only a shade of tear may have sparkled on your eyes at around 3:00 p.m., over something totally unrelated). But see you would, the doubt in her eyes. A fear, perhaps, of wondering if she has given birth to a monster.
Don’t blame her! After all, there is definitely something wrong with a girl who failed to cry upon being informed of the death of that poor ole woman [from ‘tach sefer’] who, “tizz aylishim?!” brought her a funny looking ‘yetsegur ge’t’ for her graduation the good woman didn’t even know how to wrap: It just ain’t normal!. Because girls are supposed to be sensitive and kind. More intouch with their tear ducts, that is! More given to hysterias and crying for those they have no shared memory with. That is, atelast, how the cookie crumbles over here ;-).
To my credit, although the mere mention of the death of people that aren’t close to me fails to tag at my heart with tear-cultivating fingers, people with genuine sadness in their heart (or the type I consider ‘genuine’) simply break mine. No amount of ‘wai wai teleyayene’ would touch me more than a lost look on the face of someone, usually a guy, wearing a ‘fota’ and being patted on the shoulder by everyone around does. I don’t need to know their story to cry with them. It’s the aching kind of loss that gives you a glimpse of death. A look into it’s unassailable mightiness. It’s merciless cruelty. But only then! Only when I see the hole the loss of one person creates in another! [Dare I, therefore, suggest as a reason for my failure to cry on funerals the lack of any one person “really” grieving the dearly departed? Or would that sound like another excuse coming from an Al Capone type of heart in the movie: “The Untouchables”?!]
All these wonderings (and answers) have been raging in my bosom whenever death or funerals got mentioned. Until yesterday morning, that is. Until Alemu died! He was the owner of the video shop I’ve been going every other day to for the last two years. A quite man of about 37, with the kind of face many complain isn’t inviting and the type of absent mindedness that makes you think he was getting over some grudge against you, he isn’t your typical video shop owner (who are usually young, cute and suck up to those that speak English with a good accent). The kind of guy, in short, whose animosity takes months to get used to and may take you by surprise (you may even consider it a bonus) if you accidentally saw him smiling, or managed to make him. Chummy, he wasn’t! But honest and kind, he was. The type of “kind” who didn’t hesitate to burn matches under the snot-filled nose of an epileptic man lying in the street, then supporting him up and helping him carry his “festal” full of rags with not a hint of smugness or a look of fishing for compliments, when everybody else was crossing to the other side.
You can never understand him! He will probably never be able to tell you apart out of a handful other homo-sapiens, qena bilo bimeleket aydel?!. So and/or instead, you try to take comfort by making fun of a certain fondness on his side to the later “e”: you’ve heard him refer to the movie “The Ex” as “the eeeeyex”. And Jessica Alba’s ‘The Eye’ as “the e”.
I was passing by his shop yesterday morning, on my way to a hair saloon where I was planning to have my hair done after my almost 2 week’s office absence, when I saw his assistant outside the locked doors of his video shop waiting for someone or something. Upon seeing me, she waved her hand in greeting. I waved back. She asked how I was and commented, ‘atitayim’. I said I’ve been busy and would come in the evening. She told me she won’t be around in the evening. “Tomorrow evening?” I asked, ready to continue my walk. She shook her head sadly. “Well, I’ll give it to Alemu then”, I replied and was about to wave her goodbye when with what looked like a change of mind she beckoned me to cross over. It’s true, I haven’t been there for almost 5 days, which was pretty unusual for me. But I knew there was nothing pressing on my hand so I crossed over, wondering if she was having trouble with her boss, and wanted to gossip about it. It’s while we were shaking hands and preparing to exchange the usual ‘gunch leGunch’ kiss that she said “BeNatish, I heard something awful! They said Alemu died! He died last night! He was on his way home after closing the shop and was hit by a car. They didn’t even find the driver!”.
I simply couldn’t stop the tears!! I cried, and cried, and cried. So much that I have to be taken into the stationary next door and given a chair. I couldn’t get over the shock or indeed be able to understand how a man you were counting on see that evening, and were worrying would complain (in his grumbling, ill-pronouncing voice) about some film you forgot to return, can lie dead in the street! It felt so senseless. So cruel.
It’s then, or a little afterwards, that I realized that death has nothing to do with neither me nor those whose name would appear on the ‘ye Arba qen metasebia’ card. That death was an interrupter: of a human being who went to Merkato every morning (in all the noise, the mess, and the dirt) to get the latest movie in the market; come back (through the noise, the mess, the dirt); stands in an empty room the whole day being deafened by a loud music (and sometimes by the stinking smell of a dead rat it would take him almost two days to find the location of), there through holidays and electric interruptions; giving and taking movies, receiving and changing money; to close and go home after 10:00 a.m so, one day, he would become the man he’s always dreamed of being! That death is not only the cutter of lives, but of dreams too. That, when we are standing around his coffin, we are admitting how we have given up to death another one of ours – who here lies: stolen away from his dreams, with his efforts put to naught, lying there quietly and with bowed head, folded arms – having surrendered his life to the cruel ‘sickle’ of death.. “shamed”, it seems, into silence as all ‘teshenafi’s do! A major set back! A huge short-coming! The ultimate bump in the road!
But life goes on.
And go it did, drying it’s tears, wishing rest in heaven to the dead and comfort to the family.
Two hours passed!
Back at the hair saloon, reading Addis Neger’s reportage on “Teddy Afro” (an amazing piece, by the way, guys), this sister (alive, well, and with all types of dreams) is waiting for her turn. Suddenly the lady who owns the place (as can be witnessed from the license on the wall) came running from her house at the back. “Did you hear?!”, she asked of no one in particular, “I just heard ADA’s owner was killed by a car accident last night. Ayasazinim?!”.
One of the girls asked who he was. The other gave a description. The lady went back to her coffee. That’s when I saw two of the girls who looked, for all intents and purposes, quite absorbed with the respective hair they were curling and blow-drying only seconds ago, looking up and exchanging a smile. A smile I did not understand. But one which nevertheless created a tightening in my chest.
But life goes on…
I went back to my reading.
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