Excerpt of There Is No Me Without You by Melissa Fay Greene
(Page 3 of 9)
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Several visitors chuckled. Disbelief stirred under the surface.
Ethiopiansespecially the highlanders, the Amhara and the Tigrayare famously
sarcastic people, so there probably were a few sly remarks, in a language and of
a degree of subtlety impossible for me to understand even in translation.
Centuries of living under tyrants have given Ethiopians the gift of double
entendre. The hidden speech has a name: säm enna wärq (wax and gold): the säm is
the surface meaning and the wärq is the deep or hidden meaning. Skilled
practitioners are respected as masters of verbal artistry.
At any rate, of course Haregewoin had no room for another child: the two-room
brick house, two small outbuildings, and rusted, bright blue boxcar with a door
carved out of it overflowed with children and teens of every size, and there
were wistful adult hangers-on, too.
She sat for a moment, holding the receiver against her chest and curling the
fingers of one hand around her lips, counting. No one moved, nor did anyone
offer to shelter the child in Haregewoins place. Who knew what his condition
would be? Probably sick, maybe contagious, certainly hungry and filthy;
barefoot, uneducated, and hysterical. No thank you. While it was appreciated
that the neighborhoods administrative unit, the kebele, took an interest,
neither the kebele nor the federal government had a stipend to offer for the
Haregewoin stood up. I go, she said.
Thinking Id caught the rhythm of the afternoon, I protested, Now? Youre
going somewhere now? I looked to the others for approval.
But one doesnt ask this of someone who actually has work to do, for real work
is hard to find and always respected. Some now must have thought, Now the
ferange doesnt want to go?
May I come too? I asked more humbly.
Yes. Ishi [Okay]. Come. Please.
Selamneh Techane, the taxi driver, instantly alert, stood up, keys in hand.
Haregewoin no longer had a car, much less the two cars of her married life. She
gathered her shamma (thick, handwoven shawl) and black handbag and splashed
cheerfully into the courtyard.
Where are we going? I asked, wading behind her.
To pick up the child, she called over her shoulder, already hoisting herself
into the front seat of Selamnehs tin blue taxi. I got into the back and off we
At the intersection of the mountain lane and a paved thoroughfare, we pulled
over to pick up a woman in khaki slacks and a zipper windbreaker waiting outside
her apartment building. She got into the backseat with me and introduced
herself, shaking hands all around. Her name was Gerrida; she was a housewife,
married to a police officer. It was she who had just phoned on behalf of the
The little boy is Mintesinot [Min-tess-eh-note]. He is about two and a half
years old, Gerrida said. He was growing up on a sidewalk near a busy
intersection in town. Two months ago, his mother, Emebate (Em-eh-bott-ay) died
of pneumonia (an opportunistic infection of AIDS); now his father was very sick,
coughing all night, probably from tuberculosis (TB was one of the typical
opportunistic infections of AIDS [OIA] invading immune systems weakened by HIV
disease). It was evident to everyone in the neighborhood that the young father
would soon die.
Gerrida had given charity to the small family over the years, she said, and
many others in the district had also tried to help them. Finally, though, with
the death of Mintesinots mother, it was time: the boy required better care than
what his homeless, terminally ill father was giving him in plain sight of the
entire world, beside the gutter of a busy street, nearly under the hooves of
urban herds of goats and donkeys.
Excerpted from There Is No Me Without You, (c) 2006 Melissa Fay Greene. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Bloomsbury USA/Walker & Co. All rights reserved.