1-800-Abol: Intro & Chapter One

Just for fun, silliness and entertainment, in response to Binyavanga Wainaina’s Provocation, I’ve started what I hope will be a serial, spontaneous story to be posted here once a month or so, one chapter at a time. If I can help it, I will try to not plan what happens next until I’m actually sitting down to write it, hence the “spontaneous”. However, I will take suggestions/requests/demands/petitions from you, dear reader (please exist), if sent to me via my contact page.

Chapter One

The idea is brilliant. I am surprised that it took me so long to come up with it. Of course, Tariku will tell you, if you ask him – and maybe you won’t even have to ask him since he doesn’t need much excuse to start talking. You could just sneeze and he’ll say bless you and that alone will get him talking – anyway, Tariku will tell you whether you ask him or not that it was his idea. But it was just him and me together when the idea came to ME, so there is no one to really say whose idea it was to begin with (MINE). So that doesn’t matter. Let’s say, for now, it doesn’t matter. The idea is brilliant by itself and one of us (ME) realized it one day as I sat in our apartment in the freezing winter.

As usual, I was doing what I do every end-of-day, making a little buna on the stove, just enough for two sini. Tariku had just finished his dinner and would be going out to start his shift. Tariku drives for a taxi company that I refuse to say the name of because they are seytan-shits. This is part of what makes MY plan brilliant, you will see. Not the seytan-shit company. I mean that the idea came to ME on a day when we were, just the two of us, doing what we always do at the end of the day. Well, at the end of my ‘day’ and at the beginning of Tariku’s ‘day’. Who says the day starts and ends with the sun? Your sun is my moon and my moon is your son, aydel?

So, there we are, me taking my dear jebena off the stove, he wiping his hands on his napkin after destroying yet another plate of my special kik wot that, as they used to say back in the day, “could make you chew on your own fingers” (never the same when you say it in English, is it? But I have to use English as much as possible if I’m going to do something more with myself besides sell Mmmufffins at Union station from sunrise to sunset. In case you’re wondering how my English can be ‘so good’ as you read it now, it’s because you’re inside my head. Of course! And inside my head I speak many languages very fluently. Amharigna first – because it’s the first language of my father and no one can throw down the REAL amharigna like Ababi, Tigrigna first – because it’s the first language of my mother Emami and I like how it clears my throat, Oromigna second – because if the world was going to end and you told me I could only have one last thing – a kiss from Tariku !finally! or a bowl of perfect genfo, I will take the genfo, and then Arabic, then French, then Spanishigna. I will explain why about all those another time. All you need to know for now is that in my head I am an international language machine.)

I take the jebena from the stove and put it in its holder and carry it to the table, which means I turn around and take one step and put it down. That’s how tiny our kitchen is. But I still hold it with both hands, the jebena and the holder. Me and my jebena have a very long history. I feel about her the way other people feel about their pets, or their children. She has sat many hours with me and heard all my boiling secrets. Sorry, sometimes I get poetical. I think we even look a little bit alike, our colour especially. And I am also a little wide and round at the bottom and kind of long like a tree up top. If I put my hand on my hip and put my other hand sideways (like I do when Tariku gets too much and I tell him (jokingly) to get out from my eyesight) you’ll think we’re sisters.

“You know what I miss?” says Tariku, throwing his crumpled napkin into the garbage at the other end of the kitchen like a basketball. He makes a score, so he claps for himself. He’s Michael Jordan when there’s no defender.

“What?” I say. Except I don’t say it. I just make a mhm kind of sound. As if he is going to tell me a teret teret and it is my way of saying…what’s that thing you say back?

I know what’s coming. Memories: Volume 10,032. Tariku likes to talk about back home just before he is about to go out for his shift. I think it makes him feel better. Depending on the time of day and the day of the week, I can tell you exactly what he’s going to talk about. So, for now, since he has eaten his dinner and all that is left to do is swallow his one sini of tikur tikur dibin yale tikur buna and grab his keys and stick that bluetooth in his ear, he will say something about home. (As for what he talks about the rest of the time, well you’ll have to find him at different moments to hear. Don’t worry, you will find him. At many different moments.)

“How we used to have our buna,” he says. “I miss that. You know, the grass all on the ground, and the rekebot and the asra simint sini

“Eighteen cups? Whose house was that?”

“I just mean very very many sini, you know, no matter how many people are having it.”

“Too many cups!”

“Forget how many cups. I just miss all that big ceremony. And the coal on the thing, that thing, what you call it?”

I want to say mitad but that sounds wrong. It’s very irritating to not find the word. Like you want to scratch but you are not even sure where the itch is. I pour the coffee into the two tiny cups.

“Yes yes,” Tariku says, agreeing with my thoughts, “That metal thing that holds all the coals. And the incense holder. And all that. All that kotet. I miss all that kotet. Now, you just put some coffee powder and you put the water in the jebena and swish swish and put on stove and basta from the beginning to the end of the buna is twenty minutes.”

“Yes well, what can we do?” I say. I wish I hadn’t said that because it makes me feel old. Shut up I am not old. It is the kind of thing the old women would say, sitting around complaining and gossiping about this and that, while they have exactly the kind of coffee that Tariku is talking about. Sigh. Yes well, what can we do. What can be done. Then they rearrange their wide bottoms on the sofa and pick up and put down and smooth their netela like they are making a bed on their laps.

In the time he has been talking, Tariku has taken the cup from me and drank almost all of it. He gets up to go. And it was in this moment, I don’t know what got into me, but I feel so bad for him that he has to go, so I say, “Take it with you.”

“What” he says.

“The sini.”

“This cup?”

“Yes, just take it.”

“To do what with?”

“Keep it on the seat beside you. But bring it back when you finish your shift in the morning.”

This is not that unusual. I mean, we live in a “to-go” world right? You can even have a “to-go” wife. Sometimes he takes his midnight dinner in a plastic container with him. Even I sometimes carry a big cup of tea, not a to-go mug but like a real ceramic mug, and drink it while I do the laundry downstairs. But the things we take outside the apartment are always normal things, not habesha things like a coffee sini, for example.

Tariku stands there, holding the sini like some kind of precious thing, rolling it from side to side, not saying anything. He looks to the corner of the kitchen, like he’s thinking, his eyes smiling a little as if there is a joke and he hasn’t figured it out but he knows it’s funny. For one second I am afraid he’s going to pretend the sini is a basketball too. He would do it.

We are both quiet for a moment and then he says, “Why not! I will take it with me!” and sort of does that one hop he does when he’s about to go out, like the runners do when they are warming up before kneeling down to wait for the gun. One hop, then he tosses the sini up in the air a little, catches it, says goodnight to me and is gone.

Now until this point we – me and Tariku – agree on the story of how this idea came into the world. I still haven’t told you the idea. I know. Just wait.

Until this point, because we were together, we agree this is exactly what happened. Tariku was warming himself up with memories and I was serving us our normal after-dinner coffee. Everything was normal until I, for some reason, told him to take the sini with him for the night. Don’t ask me why I suggested it. Maybe it was my way of making sure he feels less lonely, though we both know that he calls me as soon as he starts driving and keeps me in his ear, talking when there is no customer, me listening to the silence or their conversation when there is a customer, until I have to sleep. That’s our together time, except for the dinner, during the week. We share our together time with the television (me) and customers (him). Good thing we have unlimited evening minutes!

But this night, Tariku does not call when he gets in the car and starts driving. I think, maybe he got a customer right away and it’s back-to-back customers, so busy that he doesn’t even have time to press the call button once between taking cash and giving change. (This happens when he gets a chick. And then another chick also, before he has time to rotate the first chick out. When they double-up on him like that, then comes the story of sorry baby I didn’t call you I had back-to-back customers.)

That’s okay. I am not some jealous crazy why didn’t you call me chick. I am not chick, period. I am a friend, a roommate. So he calls, good. He doesn’t call, good. I’m not a jealous crazy why didn’t you call me girlfriend-chick or wife-chick. I am segon you have to be careful with. When they double-up on him like that, by the way, it’s good for me because I get the apartment to myself for days at a time, sometimes even weeks.

So. I didn’t even notice that he didn’t call. That’s the funny thing. After he left, as I am washing the tray and the one cup and rinsing my Enat (that’s what I call my jebena, yes I have a name for her. Long story.) I start thinking how happy he would be if he could take the whole buna setup, like he described it, with him on the road. Have the rekebot, and eighteen sini and incense holder and whatever-mitad-is and the grass and the fiendisha and even the little duka. Did I forget anything? Bicha how happy he would be if he had all that just laid out in the back seat (Yeah haha! Only if his taxi was an SUV!) and me of course sitting in the back corner of the trunk, making the coffee, telling him to be careful when the road is bumpy because my duka is that big hump where the wheel would be. If he had coffee like that Tariku’s taxi would be the most customer-requested taxi in the whole city! (Not that customers can request a driver. He’d get in big trouble for that.)

And that’s how it hit me.



Why not?

It can be done. You can call and order delivery full-service buna, brought right to your house any time of day or night!

I was so shocked by my own brilliant-ness that I almost dropped Enat.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s