Mintesinots smile disappeared the second the car doors slammed. Abi! he shrieked as the taxi jerked away. Dad! He lunged for the window. His curiosity about biscuits failed next to his panic at leaving his father.
Lets go find biscuits for your dad! Selamneh said again, but the boy whirled and knelt and pushed his worried face up under the back window. He was trying to memorize the route home.
Minty, Minty, sang Haregewoin, turning around and clapping her hands. When he ignored her, she sighed and looked out the window again. The kebele had deputized her to do this degree of aid and nothing more; she could rescue the child; she could not save the father.
When we roared back inside the corrugated-tin walls of Haregewoins compound, Mintesinot wailed, This is not the market! I remembered that somewhere in my backpack was a half package of Italian biscotti left over from a six-hour airport layover in Rome, Italy, a week earlier. I gave the rolled-down package of gourmet cookies to Mintesinot, unwittingly falling, myself, for Selamnehs fiction. Biskut! he yelled triumphantly. Biscuits for my dad!
Lets clean you up, little man, said Haregewoin, turning him over to Sara. Five minutes later there were screams of protest and terror. Had the child ever been bathed before? But, half an hour later, here came Prince Mintesinot, his dark curls glistening, tucked into a clean T-shirt and dark blue, cuffed blue jeans, proudly wearing a used pair of Power Rangers sneakers with Velcro closures.
When Mintesinot spotted Selamneh, he galloped over and threw himself into the taxi drivers arms. Lets go to my dad now! he said happily.
Selamneh bounced him on his knee. I wish I could adopt this guy, he said. A gentle, square-faced man of high intelligence and intuition, wearing a sparse mustache, Selamneh, thirty-seven, looked enough like Mintesinot to be his father. In a different economy, Selamneh, who favored khaki slacks, a plaid button-down shirt, and brown oxfords, could have been a history teacher, a psychologist, or a journalist. But he lived in his mothers house, underemployed and single. There was no borrowing policy or landowning policy in this country; no college loans, car loans, or house mortgages existed to enable an ambitious person to climb the social ladder. And, regarding romance (with, for example, a recent graduate of Addis Ababa University), Selamneh had told me, Parents with ambition do not prefer for their daughter to marry a driver.
Wistfully, he let Mintesinot slide down his leg.
All this activity roused my rumpled fellow travelers. They exclaimed over Mintesinots good looks, while Haregewoin sat and answered her phone again.
Suddenly she stood and said, Another one. Its unbelievable. Im going.
Selamneh exited, jingling his car keys. Mintesinot bounced along at his side, picking at his pants leg, singing about biscuits and Dad. Sara, at Haregewoins signal, hurried to detach Mintesinot from the taxi driver; now there was true terror and kicking and screams of betrayal. Abi! Biskut! He waved the Italian gourmet cookies in his fist.
Selamneh rolled down his window. Later, Minty, well go later.
But will you take him home later? I asked, unable to keep the hurt out of my own voice, feeling that I tagged along plucking at Selamnehs side as Mintesinot had done.
But will he see his father again?
Yes, hell see him.
I returned to my seat in the humid room, too sad to go on another errand of child removal. I discovered that my seatmate, the matriarch, had decamped.
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.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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