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 childs upkeep.
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 backfired.
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 kebele.
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.
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