Year VIII: Seattle smells of ‘አሪቲ’ in the Spring
And that remind me of Addis Amet, Addis “Aba”, and this paragraph I read in Metasebia Seifu’s “If I could only draw and knew how to paint” a few months back.
መልካም የዓቢይ ፆም – ለጿሚዎች!
While [he] was narrating his missed opportunity for love, I was remembering how 13 or so years ago, I have failed to “cease” my carpe diem. I have seen a young man “coming up from the wilderness like clouds of smoke” and turned willingly away from what might have, could have, should have been. In a wilderness known as “Merkato” [which, in the guidebooks, is listed as “the biggest open-air market in Africa” – which was made even bigger that afternoon by the fact that there were thousands, if not millions, of people trudging its muddy grounds doing their last minute shopping] I have looked potential in the eye and let it pass me by.
It was a little after 5 o’clock, when work and school lets out and men & women bustled about to procure whatever material good they looked forward to ‘receive’ the New Year with. It has rained a few days before – for our New Year is the official end of the three-month Winter break for teachers and students – and although the sun was brightly shinning, there was chill in the air and a lot of mud on the ground; mud made elastic and cushiony by the remnants of the smelly grass that was brought to town by farmers to cover carpet-less houses for holidays. Half a dozen of the yellow and black flower that carpets the countryside, as if to announce the end of winter and the beginning of summer, were stuck in between the bundle of grasses standing for sale, decorating the green of the grass like the black hair of a pretty maiden in some British novel.
I was sited in a minivan, listening to the ‘Woyala’ [the guy who summons patrons and collects the fair on behalf of the driver] calling out destinations in no particular order; skipping A to get to B before going to D and then coming back to C. There was a song playing on the radio, one of those new releases that become earworm very quickly, due to being played everywhere one went.
In an attempt to avoid the entrance [through which humans, sheep and chickens would be bustled in with the ‘Woyala’ asking for all to “make room, make room, be more neighborly; it was a holiday after all”, while trying to stuff every inch of the vehicle with as many people, domestic animals, and goods he can manage], I have chosen a chair by the window. And I was, just then, enjoying the ever familiar holiday hub-hub [day dreaming of nothing in particular, warmed by the coziness of the chair, the happiness whatever item I have on my lap would bring my family, and the melodiousness or catchy tune of the song] when I was startled by a tall and exceptionally well dressed young man slamming against my head – or at least the side of the minivan I have been supporting my head on.
The area being a place where cabs lined up to pick up and drop clientele, there was a considerable amount of foot-traffic near the 9-16 capacity ‘bus’ I was sitting in. Cab shortage, lack of infrastructure, population boom make for a rough ride in Addis any time of the year. But on this particular afternoon, it was made even harder by the wet ground and so many carrying so much that hindered their progress.
When his side crushed to the side of the cab and I felt a small jolt, I looked up. He saw me and smiled apologetically as if he has hurt me, then brushed his hand the length of my face – mouthing some word I cannot hear. I was neither hurt nor indignant, as there was a glass between us and he has not so much rocked the van. But the way he was looking at me, and the very foolish gesture of caressing a mirror in place of my face, could not stop me from bursting into laughter. This laughter, honest – amused and unexpected, must have presented a pretty picture. Because he smiled, waved his hand and walked away. But not for long. He turned his head around to see me and finding me still watching him; he seemed to hesitate. He stood irresolutely, as though he could not make up his mind whether to continue on his way or come back. A call from a young man carrying somebody else’s burden to clear out of the way shortly distracted him. But not for long. He kept walking and pausing to look at me where I sat, begging/promising/daring with my eyes for him to return, to get in the cab and sit beside me. [Start a conversation, swap phone numbers, say goodbye with a meaningful squeeze of the hand – almost certain this shall not be the last we would lay eyes on one another]. He could be anything at that time. A patron coming to shop, a business owner getting back to work from a lunch break in one of the restaurants behind the many shops that populated that part of the market, a man passing through to get to the other side. All of which is likely to discourage tarrying from destination’s end – especially on a late afternoon like that. But the coincidence of it, the anticipation in my shoulders, and the promise of a new love in a new year must have made trudging through man and mud very hard. For, although he has been forced to cross the street, he was standing there, passionately looking back at my unbroken gaze, as if wondering why I wouldn’t take the all too obvious next step to get off and fly to him. [It was much easier for a guy-pursuer to be frowned upon and turned down than it was for a girl doing same. He cannot really get into a cab without knowing where it was destined – especially when he was meant to be here and not elsewhere. We can always find another cab to send me home in after we talked, swapped numbers, and squeezed hands meaningfully]. But I didn’t, I sat there holding his gaze, and my breath, not caring how I was being pushed and pulled by those descending on the sit next to me – pleading with him to please understand, I wasn’t the kind of girl who could go after men. That I was, in fact, the exact opposite – the kind who runs [in the hope of being sought, captured, and arrested].
Not long after, something seems to pull at him from destination’s end [some knowledge – some promise – some commitment]. He lifted his hand – as if to say goodbye- and walked out of my sight.
I have looked for that man for years to come; wondering what would have happened if anyone of us decided to stop for fate. What love, what joy, what contentment would have awaited us.
I have seen him, and dreamed of him [although he is but a shadow now; a form-changing thing whose only defined feature I remember is how he stood above most men, wearing a bluish sweater on top of a white shirt – judging by the collar] whenever I dream of a soul-mate, a love at first sight, the one minute seizing the day would have made all the difference in my life.
I have wondered who I would have become, if we had: A single woman with a neglected love child? A wife and a mother? Or a fat and happy proprietress of a store in the middle of Merkato that sold either kitchen or bathroom supply & hardware?
[Who knows if the roads we did not take would have landed us somewhere else or changed the course of history, the shape of the universe, the flap of the wings of a butterfly.]
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