RR
By Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin and Translated from the Amharic by Nafkote Tamirat
The English translation of Yekermo Sew was developed, in part,
through a collaboration with Masrah Ensemble in Beirut, Lebanon, in 2014.
Masrah Ensemble is a nonprofit theatre company and organization that makes, develops, and fosters research and criticism of theatre with a focus on the Arab stage. Based in Beirut, Lebanon, the Ensemble aims to reconfigure audiences and to encourage transcendent, riveting theatre.
ACT I

The town of Gola is in the belly button of Addis Ababa. Moges after paying for water and electricity has rented a kitchen-sized, one-room hut for thirteen birr, pasted over with and held up by newspapers and soap cartons since “if you call it life, even being buried is home.” His landlord Basha Telila built the hut from bits and pieces which he attached to the back of his house, not because he thought he would ever live in it but so that when someone worse off pushed in his troubled neck, he might also push in thirteen birr for Basha Telila. The money is very necessary for the treatment of his lung cancer.

Moges moved in three years ago, last month. It has been eleven years since he was hired as a clerk at the archives for sixty-five birr a month. In these eleven years, he’s learned more about caution and bending his head in submission than he ever has about enthusiasm. He is thirty-three years old. He separated from his wife two years ago. Due to a mutiny in his blood, involving something they called his “nerves,” his mind was a bit touched and he was taken to Emmanuel Psychiatric Hospital, where he stayed for two months, during which time, people say, fearing that her newborn child might die from shock, his wife up and left before he got out. Nevertheless, since the frustration which had led him to this disease had affected her as well, she had been waiting for a reason and a time to get rid of him, so that when he was in the hospital, she immediately left in secret and there’s even word that she’s well and done with him. Since the area is close to the main road, one can hear car motors ceaselessly.

Moges’s younger brother Tekola, lives with him. Tekola, in both body and mind, is very much a twenty-three year old fellow. It’s been ten days since their uncle, Abiye1)Term of affection for an older person, be it in the family or a close family friend Zerfu, came bearing news of the death of one of their relatives. He has decided to return one gasha of their father’s land to the children. Ato2)Mister Zerfu has had intestinal bleeding since his sixty-seventh year.

The day is Saturday. When the curtains are opened, we see that it’s 8:15 in the morning. Moges has gotten up from bed and is washing his face using the water from the bottle near his door. Ato Zerfu is sleeping on the wooden bed to the left of him. At his bedside hangs a knife along with its old sheath.

The front door to the house is to the left. Since the back wall is connected to the back of the landlord’s house, the roof of corru-gated metal slopes down, unlike that of the landlord’s. Moges’s metal bed is held up by this very same back wall. Just above the foot of his bed is a punctured hole that has been stuffed with an old rag. When the hole is opened, the smoke from Basha Telila’s house gets into his own. On the table right after the entry door, one sees half a loaf of twenty-five-cent bread, two English detective novels, one thermos, a stove and a match, below it a couch, whose material is tattered, and a wooden chair upon which an empty tray has been placed. A kirar3)A six-string lyre has been hung above the couch. When Tekola puts his finger through the opening at the top of the door, unbars it and sees that Moges is awake, he stops for a moment and then almost immediately sticks his neck out like an indifferent ox, brushes past him, puts the tray on the floor, and flops down in the chair, legs wide apart. Moges stays silent as if he hasn’t seen him.

TEKOLA
(After a short silence, as he scrutinizes his shoes)
There’s not one student in the seventh grade who doesn’t have shoes. Some of them even have three or four pairs to change into…me, seven days have passed since a pebble pierced through the sole and made a hole in my only pair. (He takes off his right shoe and puts his index finger in the hole between the sole and the top of the shoe.) There you go. Far from protecting me from the obstacles of the road, she allows my toes to escape and becomes another obstacle. Instead of defending me, she hinders me. (He puts the shoe back on and continues speaking while looking at his little toe peeking out from the gap in the shoe.) For those who want to look like the times, wearing shoes with holes is humiliating. In our class, there isn’t a single person who doesn’t have shoes.

MOGES
(Drying his hair with a towel, in a careless tone of voice)
Is that why you repeated the seventh grade twice and then the third time around, beat up your teacher and left?

A long silence. Moges’s shirt is made of fragile nylon. His collar is just as wrinkled as his tie. He has a worn-out, greyish coat of old wool and his nylon trousers are so aged that they retain the shape of his knees even when he’s standing, resembling two balls.

TEKOLA
Anyway, I’m never going to make it when I’m the only one of my friends who doesn’t have shoes. In our grade, there’s no other student who doesn’t have…

MOGES
(Interrupts him, mumbling)
What worries me is not the state of your shoes but of your mind.

A long silence.

TEKOLA
(Looking at the ceiling like he doesn’t care)
Do you know what the girls call the boys in school without shoes?

MOGES
(Starts to make his bed)
I don’t want to know.

TEKOLA
(Puffing himself up)
In my opinion…in my opinion…

MOGES
(Interrupting him)
Don’t start your sentences with “in my opinion.”

TEKOLA
Why?

MOGES

Don’t do it.

TEKOLA
Why?

MOGES
Everything that begins with “In my opinion” seems to me like it’s going to be a negative criticism.

TEKOLA
What’s negative criticism? What is it?

MOGES
(As he glares at him, he takes a good look at Tekola. He speaks somewhat sternly)
Leave that alone and tell me instead where you slept last night. (Long silence.)

TEKOLA
(Using his muscular shoulder to indicate where Abiye Zerfu is sleeping)
With him here, where do you expect me to sleep? You gave my bed to someone else while I was still here.

MOGES
Didn’t you used to sleep just fine on the couch?

TEKOLA
The couch is too small for me. I can’t even stretch my legs out on it. (He lies down on the couch) Look. It’s stifling me. What’s more, all its metal has made a railway track out of my back. It doesn’t give me rest, it doesn’t let me turn over, it’s the tightest of nets. (Pushing his feet wide apart he wallows on the couch.)

MOGES
(Still with a certain amount of sternness)
But what I asked you is where did you spend last night, where are you coming from!

A short silence.

TEKOLA
(After a little bit of grumbling, it all comes out in a rush)
Why don’t you tell him to go away? Why don’t you tell him to go and free up my bed? We’re done with the grief he came to tell us about. What else is making him sit around here? He told us, your grandmother’s sister’s child died, we cried, he told us my wife’s uncle died of an epidemic, we cried, and so now are we supposed to wait for him to die as well? Won’t he leave? He says, my intestines are bleeding from sadness, well, we’re not grief counselors. Tell him you don’t have any money. Tell him to go. He told us that he was our uncle and we welcomed him with endearments. We indulged him for ten days. Isn’t that enough for him? Won’t he go? He tells us, your father’s land has succumbed to the forest. Never mind, the one gasha of land that was barren is still barren. Why doesn’t he go and develop it himself? He’s the one who knows anything about that. Tell him you don’t have any money. As it is, we can barely afford the house rent, the bed rent, the water, the electricity, etc. He has to go.

MOGES
(Reproachfully)
None of that answers my question, Tekola.

TEKOLA
(Continues as if he hasn’t heard)
He says that every village person tells him he looks like our father. So what? What should we do if he looks like Ababa?4)Dad Ababa died before I could get to know him. They say that it was when our mother was preg-nant with me that he went to Maychew5)The location of a battle between Ethiopians and Italians during the Italo-Abyssinian War and never came back. I don’t know my mother, she died before she could raise me. Amen. (In the background, Ato Telila’s cough is heard.) As for this one, I think it’s only when the rent is due that his cough starts acting up. Last month’s rent wasn’t paid and I heard him threatening that he would get a summons from the fifth district and you still haven’t paid him? (Moges leans against the bed’s head board as he reproachfully takes him in) He says that the only person in the family who knew the value of the land was our father. He says that he was the most envied farmer in the area. So what should we do with that? No but really, what does he want us to do with this information? He says the noise of the cars gives him nightmares, so why doesn’t he just go! He said he was tormented, he went to Saint Paul’s Hospital, he says they told him to come back for treatment for an ulcer, he went back and forth for ten days, so why isn’t he better? He says our father was a hero in Maychew, a real Christian, a good farmer, that we should be more like our father, but how does he know that we aren’t like him already? How does he know!

MOGES
(His patience is gone and his voice has completely given in to anger)
I’m telling you to tell me where you slept last night!

TEKOLA
(Hi frustration is greater than his surprise; he’s in a rage, his confusion makes him fidget; he makes as if he’s going to get up and go, but then he sits back and scratches the heel of his shoe on the floor like a punished dog and then with a voice welling with choked back sobs)
Do…do you have any medication?

MOGES
What kind of medication?

TEKOLA
Penicillin.

MOGES
Pe…penicillin?

TEKOLA
(Shouting as tears choke him)
Yes, penicillin! My pancreas hurts. You asked me where I spent last night, didn’t you? Where do you think I spent it! After a short silence, Moges, in shock, begins to search all of his pockets; from his inside jacket pocket, he pulls out a plastic wallet and upon opening it and seeing that it’s empty, he pokes around in it until a single photograph falls out. He puts back the wallet and looks in his pants pocket where he finds a folded up one birr note, which he hurriedly gives to Tekola. Tekola quickly takes it and puts it in his side pocket, still clenched in his fist, and then swiftly leaves. Moges is consumed by thought.

MOGES
(Leans on the edge of his bed, his head lowered and slowly mutters to himself)
When I was a child, after Ababa died, whenever my mother scolded me, she would make her voice very calm when she said “Moges.” Mo—ges, when an obstacle is clearly in your way, duck but don’t try to fight it, she would say. My brother is such that he cannot advise but only mock. He’s not the kind to discuss but the kind to provoke. Tekola doesn’t measure his feelings by what other people say but by the force of crash-ing cars, horses’ hooves, the shriek of police whistles. (Looks up from where he’s sitting and considers the ceiling) Could this be why he believes in attacking instead of understanding? Why he believes in penicillin instead of the forgiveness of God? When someone says, “Stop Tekola,” he gets furious as if that person punched him instead of warning him. Even he gets upset and repulsed by his own behavior. Just as a firefly gets taken in by bright lights and gets caught, my brother also gets distracted by shiny things and loses himself. (He hears Ato Telila’s cough from the house at his back.)

A short silence.

He gets up from the edge of the bed and moves towards the center of the room.

Before Tihunae left me, before my wife left, before deciding that I was insane and abandoning me…as I worked so hard since I still hadn’t gotten a corrugated metal house, enough for our child and us…even now, my bitterness spills out but I still haven’t given up hope…Now, I’m not striving for a house anymore, I’m just trying not to lose hope…Yes, my entire mission is no longer to set myself up but to just not lose hope and that’s where it ends. Even if my bitterness flows, I remember my mother’s chastising and I tell myself, “stop Moges.” Yes, with myself observing, with myself chastising, I told myself. I told myself so that I would be quiet! (In a bitter tone of voice) Tekola however says, “Women and worrying about what other people think will hurt you if you give them too much value, if every time the world frowns on you, you search within yourself for flaws that you don’t even have, that’s a sign that the world is playing with you, so the only way to win is to stand your ground and fight.” But I said to myself, I told him, “stop Moges,” I scolded him to hold on. So that he would be quiet, so that he would be serious, so that he would be calm, so that he would be at attention, I told him. Even if your bitterness spills, don’t lose hope, I told him. I said “Moges” to him. (Ato Telila’s cough can be heard more loudly now. Moges’s monologue continues more calmly.) When I told her that our child’s name should be “Yitna,”6)“Let him be strong” she insisted that she could stand nothing but “Digafae,”7)“My support” “Mekuriaye,”8)“My pride” “Kindae.”9)“My right hand” I counted his stars and the name “Yitna” just doesn’t come up, she said. When I said, wouldn’t it be better if we called him “Yitna” before “Digafae” at least—rigid that she is—she said no. The night they said you’re crazy and made me sleep at Emmanuel’s, she took our child and ran. But the doctor said, your disease, it’s your nerves. Your blood vessels are i-irritated, i-inflamed, i-irritated, he said. When I came home the next day, my child and Tihunae were not there. So that I wouldn’t look for her, so that I wouldn’t send someone in my place, she called a monastery and had them officially forbid me from doing anything. The neighbors turned their backs on me, children pointed fingers at me, friends whispered about me behind my back, and so I shut myself in my room, I scratched the earth, I hugged the walls, I buried my voice, and I bitterly wept. Only Tekola consoled me. I thought even God had turned His back on me. I felt exposed. But Tekola said, “It’s all right Gashae.”10)Term of respect when speaking to someone older within one’s family, like an uncle Nonetheless, from that time onwards, it’s his soul, more than mine, that’s been stung with the desire for revenge, and more than I, he became afraid of people, he fled them. He said that people were wild beasts and then he became a wild beast himself. T-tekola…

He wakes up from his daze when the workplace in his area sounds the 9AM electric alarm; when he looks at his clock, it has stopped; straightening his wrinkled shirt, giving a quick look at his reflection in the mirror that hangs at the head of his bed, he hurries to the door. He turns back to the bed where Zerfu is sleeping and slightly uncovers his face, which is swaddled in the sheets.

Abiye, Abiye, wake up, wake up, it’s late. There’s a little breakfast on the table for you. Wake up, it’s late. (He leaves in a rush. As Zerfu wakes up with much sighing, yawning, and stretching, one can hear from the back the amplified sound of car motors and Telila’s coughing.)

ZERFU
(Abiye Zerfu picks up his knickerbockers from the head of the bed and puts them on while he’s still underneath the blanket; out of habit he prays and complains, alternating between the two, mumbling. In prayer:)
Will me to the right, will me to the right, will me to the right, Lord God, Lord God, don’t let us go to sleep hungry, bring down peace, will us to the right, in the name of the Son of God, in the Holy Spirit, you know best, you know best, you know best (Shaking his head, after he yawns, sadly complaining) What a nightmare, what a nightmare, will my head forever be filled with nightmares? One can’t call this sleep. From the cars, to the horns, to the noise of the people, to the bar noises, one can’t even name it all, so many nightmares, so many nightmares, one couldn’t call it sleep. (Stretching, putting on a tight-sleeved shirt, he returns to the tone of prayer) You know best, you know best, you, the God who created a sky and an earth without support to hold them up, hear our prayers, hear our prayers, the Lord of Nineveh, of Nebelesae and Saba, of Baliam, hear our prayers, hear our prayers, hear our prayers, the God who saved Job [sic] from the stomach of the whale, Daniel from the lions’ den, who spit Lazarus out from the grave, forgive us, forgive us, forgive us Son of God, forgive us Christ, forgive us Savior of the world, forgive us, forgive us. (Spitting on the palms of his hands, rubbing his face and stretching, he gets down from his bed, throws his gabi11)Handmade chiffon cloth of four layers, worn over the shoulders and upper body, also sometimes used as a blanket over his shoulders, taking a step forward, he suddenly grabs his stomach and stops short as if he has been stabbed. After a little while, when he has gotten his breath back, he speaks bitterly) Christ, stop it, you just stop it now! Stop, son of Mary, stop it right now! Stop your tormenting of this body! Stop this habit of yours of giving people ulcers, stop! I’m telling you to stop Son of Mary. Where did you even find this intestine tying pain and sweating for me! (Unwillingly bending down and righting the bottle from which Moges had washed, staring at the little water that’s left in the bottom with greed) This isn’t enough to rinse my mouth out, never mind to wash my hands. Oh city life! Is this really any kind of life? (After lightly moistening his hands and rubbing his eyes with two of his fingers, he takes the remaining water and gargles out his mouth twice, spitting out the water underneath the wall, and saying with scorn) Now is this really a life? (After he puts down the bottle and stands up again, he holds his stomach in pain and stays that way. When his breath immediately returns, he says with bitterness) Son of Mary, stop it, stop it. Stop using me so inappropriately. Don’t test and hold me here, don’t. (Yawning, as the fringe of the gabi that falls over his shoulders brushes the floor, he goes to the table where the paper-wrapped bread is and picks it up; he quickly makes as if to take a piece and eat it, with fear and hesitation, but pulls his hand back and in a tone of uncertainty) Could there be a fast right now! They say they bake this with eggs.

We hear Telila’s cough. Zerfu raises his voice and calls out a greeting.

How did you sleep over there? May God heal you and send you His mercy! (Lowering his voice) I think he didn’t hear me. (He looks at the bread longingly but then steels himself and throws it back on the table.) As if I would enter into sin for this! They say they bake it with eggs. (Grumbling he moves towards the bed and pulls out from under the mattress a bullet container and a belt for bullets, which is so old that it’s falling apart.) Now am I really going to call this a life? Their father’s magnificent land has been swallowed up by woods! His sons have been swallowed up by the cramped buildings of the city! Now truthfully, is this supposed to be the kind of life that God loves?

He picks up the horsetail fly swatter that has fallen at the foot of his bed and when he goes to stand back up again:

Are you refusing me my Lord? Are you refusing me Son of Mary? Every day I go to Saint Paul’s Hospital and get punctured with needles. On top of that, the pills I have to take, the types, the colors, the amounts, the sheer number of them! Oh stop, son of Mary, stop. (He places the horsetail fly swatter at the foot of his bed. After pulling his bernos12)A wool cloak-like garment and hood woven in one piece, worn by Ethiopian highlanders from the foot of his bed to the head of it and cushioning his head with it, he lies down, doubled up on himself, and in a voice slowly taken over by fatigue and sleepiness) Ifoy13)An exclamation that indicates settling down to rest; for example, after a long day at work, you come home, you heave yourself onto your comfortable couch and you let out a long and hearty “Ifoy!” Why won’t you stop trying to finish me with such intestine-peeling troubles, Christ? Why can’t you stop holding me here and testing me, my Lord? Why won’t you stop trying to kill me with such painful anger, son of Mary. The mighty used to die by the bullet, why did you forget about me for so long and then decide upon this fate for me instead?

Telila’s cough is heard. Fed up, he lies down. After a short silence, Tekola shoves open the door and comes in…

TEKOLA
(Standing at the head of Zerfu’s bed, speaking in a loud voice) Abiye Zerfu! Abiye Zerfu! (Zerfu startles awake and uses his right arm to lean on his pillow) It’s almost time for your injection, go to the hospital and get your medication.

ZERFU
(Still waking up)
Eh?

TEKOLA
It’s time for your injection, I’m telling you to get up and go!

ZERFU
(As if to indicate that he’s understood)
Mmm…

TEKOLA
(Goes to the water bottle and picks it up and upon discovering that there isn’t enough water with which to swallow his pills, drops it back onto the floor and takes them dry. Turns back to Zerfu)
Did I wake you up? (Taking his time) A week ago Saturday, I was at the Adwa.14)A movie theater

ZERFU
(Doesn’t understand)
Where?

TEKOLA
The Adwa! So it turns out you don’t know anything about the cinema!...You see, the hero was just lying around and resting like you. Elvis played the hero! At the Adwa last week, he didn’t have his guitar. Instead, he had his Colts on his left and right sides. His enemy hadn’t seen him. (As he remembers, he imitates what he saw with action-filled emotion.) His enemy was Ricardo Montalban. I’ve never liked him, whenever I see him, he irritates me. He disgusted me the moment he peeked through the window! Even before this, I felt repulsed by him. When he bounded in, Elvis turned off the lights and went straight to bed. His enemy was stunned. He became afraid. He lost his courage. He started to shake. As he nervously fidgeted, cocking the gun, he began crashing into the table and the chair. Every time he heard a noise, he would stumble and then shoot, he would shake and then shoot so that finally, he ran out of bullets. All of a sudden our hero turns the lights on! Where can the scumbag go? When Elvis saw him standing there with his mouth open, he grabbed the gun holstered at his left side and threw it to Ricardo. He told him to pick it up! Nervous, hesitating, shaking, Ricardo bent down to pick it up. Holding his hips with both hands, Elvis elegantly waited for him. He told him to pick it up already! As he bounced the gun around, trying to swoop it up and shoot him, Elvis took the gun at his right side, fast as lightning, shot his hand, and made him drop it! As he shook while the blood spurted out, Elvis twirled his gun, smoothly returned it to his left side, and said “Confess.” He made Ricardo confess, made him blabber, pestered him, and when he was done, scornful of him, Elvis glared at him and turned and left him. I bet you that when he bent down to pick up the fallen gun, Elvis saw his shadow, turned back, and shot him repeatedly through his forehead, his chest, so that he finally fell over on his face. Seeing his corpse, he lightly took both the gun that had fallen and the gun in his hand and after twirling them on his fingers like cotton threads, neatly slotted them at his left and right side. Whistling and smiling, he swiftly made his exit…then he kissed the beautiful lead with style, jumped on his horse, and rode away.

ZERFU
(Still doesn’t understand what’s going on)
So who is that? Go on.

TEKOLA
(Angrily)
Elvis!...Don’t you understand the cinema at all? (After a delay, as if he’s joking) Did I wake you up?

ZERFU
Eh?

TEKOLA
Did I wake you up or not!

ZERFU
(Forgivingly)
Oh, it’s nothing, don’t worry about it.

TEKOLA
(Immediately launching into a mocking twist)
Don’t worry, don’t worry, ta-ra-ra-ra-ra.—Don’t worry ta-ra-ra-ra-ra. There’s nothing that a person can’t do, hahahaha! There’s nothing that a person can’t do, tee-ree-ree-reem!

ZERFU
Your brother spent the entire night wondering where you might be and worrying about you.

TEKOLA
(Jokingly)
Is that right?...tee-ree-ree-reem, tee-teem, ta-ra-ra-ra!

ZERFU
Yes. (Reproachfully taking him in) Tell me, what was that pill you took before?

TEKOLA
They call it headache medicine, it won’t help your ulcer…Have you washed your face?...Tee-ree-reem, tee-teem, ta-ra-ra!

ZERFU
Yes, well, you should listen to what they say.

TEKOLA
Have you eaten breakfast?

He stops dancing and whistling the tune of his song, he picks up the bread and takes a bite.

ZERFU
Oh no, I didn’t want anything. (After a pause) And anyway, that could be the kind of bread that’s baked with eggs. What can I tell you!

TEKOLA
Yes, what can I tell you, what can I tell you, what can I tell you. (Quickly speaking in a mocking way) The eggs, the oil, the grease, the sweat, the dirt, what can I tell you, what can I tell you! A culinary genius didn’t knead it! A culinary genius didn’t bake it! On top of that, the bread, the cookies, the flatbread, the macaroni, the pasta, the atmit15)A thin, nourishing porridge, the water-soaked beans, they get sold, they get put on the market. From the time they leave the ground to the time they go back in, a culinary genius doesn’t touch it! The crumbs, the plants that grow from the seeds that birds drop, they get ground up, they get made into powder, they get baked, they get made into porridge! Oh, what can I tell you! (Lowering his voice, he turns without warning towards Zerfu) Did you like my mattress?

ZERFU
Eh?

TEKOLA
Did you like my mattress!

ZERFU
(Thinking)
Umm…Yes, yes, I was comfortable, it’s quite extraordinary…But you know, I told your brother that—what do you call it—that an armchair would be more than enough for me.

TEKOLA
(Protests in a mockingly polite tone)
That would be unacceptable! What! Why would we do that! It’s just not done! When I, your son, am here? Let Satan’s ear never hear such a thing! Don’t you know that I’m your son! Isn’t it said that, “a brother’s child, even if one did not father him, is still one’s child”? It could only be you on the bed and me on the chair. The alternative would be a sin! How could we do that? What’s just not done!...Are you getting used to the noise of the cars?

ZERFU
Eh?

TEKOLA
Are you getting used to the noise!

ZERFU
It does no harm. It’s fine, it does no harm at all.

TEKOLA
Yes, it does no harm, one can get used to it. There’s nothing one can’t get used to. (Takes out a cigarette stub from his breast pocket, lights it with a match, and while smoking it) I would offer you a cigarette but you haven’t gotten used to them yet! (A short silence. They size each other up. Zerfu lowers his head from his staring.) What, was there something you wanted to tell me?...Eh?

ZERFU
(Hesitating)
Oh no, there isn’t anything.

TEKOLA
Oh?...

ZERFU
There was something but I’ve forgotten it now.

TEKOLA
You also forget? I thought it was just my brother who forgot things. My brother’s problem is how he forgets things. Have you ever heard of a disease called nerves? They say it’s the constriction of blood vessels. When your blood cells constrict, your head does too, and when your head constricts, so does your brain, and when your brain constricts, you start to go a bit crazy and when you go a little crazy…it’s not good. My brother used to be crazy. He used to be, and he still is. Once in a while, it hits him hard. When a teacher beat me up, he asked me, why did you defend yourself? When they expelled me from school, he asked me, why did you leave school? Ever since his wife took her child and left him, he’s really changed. She ran away and became the maid of a prostitute; they said it was our sister who got her the job. Why, our sister has been a prostitute for so long that she’s aged with it. But she hasn’t done well…the other day, you went to borrow money from her for your medication and she turned you away, didn’t she? My brother’s wife is almost like her. Didn’t you also go to her, saying that you were both family? She also turned her back on you. There just isn’t anyone who doesn’t turn you away! Never mind you, even he can’t get anywhere near her. She had him banned from coming anywhere near her by a priest and by the law. But he still goes in secret to see her and his son. Even so, he’s really changed. (Lowers his voice and without warning, turns towards Zerfu) When will you go?

ZERFU
Go where?...The hospital?

TEKOLA
(With horrible anger)
Where else do you ever go but to the hospital! (A short silence. Zerfu looks up at him but when their eyes meet, looks back down again) What, is there something that you want to tell me?

ZERFU
(Hesitating)
Oh, no, not at all…

TEKOLA
Oh?

ZERFU
I had thought of something but now I’ve forgotten.

TEKOLA
(Jumping on this statement, twitching, he speaks quickly)
I already told you that my brother’s problem is also how he forgets things. His memories keep going and going, as if a thief snatched them away so that there’s nothing left. (When he turns, he sees the photo which fell from Moges’s wallet and goes to pick it up. Giving it a glance) For example, this blasted photo from his wallet, from his inside coat pocket, he’s never parted with it before. But now look, he’s dropped it and left it behind. He’s never been away from it before. It’s his son’s photo. They say that even when he’s at work, he takes it out and only puts it away once he’s looked at it for a moment. And sometimes when he’s in bed, he spends the whole night holding the photograph and consoling it as if it’s a living creature. If you hear him speaking with an inanimate piece of paper, can you really believe that he hasn’t changed? (When Zerfu stretches out his hand, Tekola throws the photo onto the bed for him and still fidgeting, continues speaking) He’s probably frantically looking through his office’s files right now, trying to find this photo. He couldn’t even raise me, his own brother, yet he had another child and is now distressed. On top of that, he tells me to stumble along wearing shoes with holes in them.

ZERFU
(Having brought the child’s photograph closer and marveling at it)
Issey!16)An exclamation for something well done or good; in this case, he’s exclaiming at what a well-formed child Moges has. Issey! Issey!(Tekola, wondering what he’s found turns back towards him) This is a child! This is a child! (Spits17)Multiple small spits are a form of blessing; for example, if someone is going on a long and dangerous journey, his parents might quickly spit on him to bless him and wish him well against any potential harm. on the photo) May you grow tall! He looks just like your father, you know! He came out looking like the spitting image of Moges’s father, didn’t he?

TEKOLA
(After a pause, in a joking tone)
Oh?

ZERFU
Have you seen the way his eyelashes fall? The way his face smiles? It’s like your father came back from the dead.

TEKOLA
(Mockingly)
Oh?

ZERFU
And how! (Looking at the photo again) And how! (Immediately sinking into a reverie of remembering) Your father was a great man. He was also a farmer of whom the whole area was jealous. Your father was an excellent farmer, he was a man of agriculture and the harvest. On top of all this, he was a warrior above all warriors, a hero above all other heroes. When he said, “How dare you, when I, a servant of the Emperor,” with his brow furrowed, you would be seized with shivering, wishing that the earth would split open and swallow you up. Even before I got so thin, back when I was bigger, his stature was still greater than mine and although his shoulders were similar to yours, his had majesty. When Emperor Menelik was about to go to war in Adwa and had announcements made, saying, “Beat the drums! Pack up your things! Load your donkeys with supplies! Put away your bad habits!”—at the time, I had just been weaned off the breast, he was still a boy, too young for women—I remember like it was a dream how my brother demanded to go to war with our father. But by the time of Maychew, we were ready to take our turn, walking at the same pace as the donkey, on the right and left side of our father, me carrying Ababa’s gun, him with a sword that he had stolen from a drifter. Even on the battlefield, when I was clutched by fear, he would say, “Courage, son of my mother!” finally dying in front of my father as he threw himself into the fighting, attacking like a leopard.

TEKOLA
(Picking up the horsetail fly swatter, he throws himself onto the bed and crouches at its foot, mockingly waves it around and looking down onto Zerfu, says as if it’s a joke)
Why did you come here?...Oh wait, never mind, I just forgot, like you did before. You came to tell us that someone had died.

ZERFU
(Keeps talking as if he hasn’t heard)
Your father was a hero. Even before, during peacetime, he was a good, God fearing and strong farmer. He would rise from bed before the chickens came down from their coop, he would already be whistling before the birds began to chirp, he would harness and drive the oxen, using irrigation to beautifully till the land before the sun had risen. The alarm to wake up for all farmers was the sound of your father’s whip. There was never room for more grain in the storehouse, crops in the soil, cattle and horses in the stable, injera18)A type of flatbread, eaten with everything. in the mesobs19)A traditional basket used to carry and contain food. sheep and goats in the enclosures. Your father…

TEKOLA
(Interrupting him, curling his sly lips on one side and mockingly saying)
Leave that alone and tell me, when are you leaving?

ZERFU
(Taken by surprise)
Eh? (Trying to look up, he is seized by a bout of pain that causes him to hold his stomach with both hands and moan.)

TEKOLA
(Gets up in anger and looking down at him, loudly says)
When will you go!

The stage lights quickly go off.

Contributor
Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin

Tsegaye Gabre-Medhin (1936 - 2006) was Ethiopia's poet laureate. His first play, written before entering high school, was presented before an audience that included Emperor Haile Selassie. An alumnus of the Royal Court Theater in London and the Comédie-Française in Paris, he returned to Ethiopia to serve as the artistic director of Ethiopian National Theatre and founded the theatre department at Addis Ababa University. He translated Shakespeare, Molière, and Brecht into Amharic, while his own plays and poetry were written in Amharic and English. Although several of his plays were banned in his beloved country at certain points during his life, he is considered Ethiopia's greatest modern literary figure. The anthem of the African Union is based on his poem which reads, "All sons and daughters of Africa, flesh of the sun and flesh of the sky, let us make Africa the tree of life."

Contributor
Nafkote Tamirat

Nafkote Tamirat is a native of Boston. She holds an MFA from Columbia University. Her short stories have appeared in Birkensnake, The Anemone Sidecar, and Best Paris Stories. The Parking Lot Attendant is her first novel.

Footnotes:   [ + ]

1. Term of affection for an older person, be it in the family or a close family friend
2. Mister
3. A six-string lyre
4. Dad
5. The location of a battle between Ethiopians and Italians during the Italo-Abyssinian War
6. “Let him be strong”
7. “My support”
8. “My pride”
9. “My right hand”
10. Term of respect when speaking to someone older within one’s family, like an uncle
11. Handmade chiffon cloth of four layers, worn over the shoulders and upper body, also sometimes used as a blanket
12. A wool cloak-like garment and hood woven in one piece, worn by Ethiopian highlanders
13. An exclamation that indicates settling down to rest; for example, after a long day at work, you come home, you heave yourself onto your comfortable couch and you let out a long and hearty “Ifoy!”
14. A movie theater
15. A thin, nourishing porridge
16. An exclamation for something well done or good; in this case, he’s exclaiming at what a well-formed child Moges has.
17. Multiple small spits are a form of blessing; for example, if someone is going on a long and dangerous journey, his parents might quickly spit on him to bless him and wish him well against any potential harm.
18. A type of flatbread, eaten with everything.
19. A traditional basket used to carry and contain food.
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