A Wednesday. August 17, 2016. I go to a street near Menelik II Square. There are stalls of used and rare-books for sale. I am looking for the first edition of the first textbook of Amharic grammar. I find the book at the first stall. I pay the price the seller quotes. Friends of his stop by to chat. I ask them where is a good place to eat around here. Around here, I have only ever eaten at the home of my aunt, but she hasn’t been home for years, and her sister won’t be home for hours. They point out a place down the street. It’s very simple food, they say, for regular people. I go in the direction of the place. I think, I will look in as I pass and decide in the moment if I will go in, alone, or walk on. I pass. I look in. I walk on.
I walk on down a street I have never known. A woman on her way from Arada Giyorgis stops me. She tells me of her husband’s illness. She asks me for money. I walk on.
I walk on past City Hall. I find the door to Castelli’s. I think to eat there. It is closed for renovation.
I walk on down a steep road. I find Enrico’s. It is open. I go in to buy pastries. There is little in the display. I ask when the next batch will come. It is not for another hour and half.
I leave Enrico’s. I find a Pizza Napoli. It is after the lunch hour. It isn’t busy. I go in. At a table for two beside the windows at the back, a woman with short hair, like mine, but grey, sits alone. I choose a table for two next to her table for two. I order an Ambo and a ham pizza. I browse my Amharic grammar book. I make a phone call and arrange for a ride later. The woman is served a bowl of Spaghetti Bolognese. She eats all of it. My pizza comes. I eat all of it. I drink some of the mineral water. She goes to the bathroom. She leaves the restaurant wearing fresh lipstick.
I return to Enrico’s. There are a lot of people. I order a macchiato and sit at a table. A middle-aged woman holding her macchiato asks if she can join me. I say yes. We drink and wait. She starts a conversation. She asks if I am married. We talk about marriage. She recommends I get married. She says she is, unhappily. She is a chat merchant in Merkato. These days, women have to give 80% of the effort if a man shows 20% effort, she says. These days, the men are intimidated by the women, she says. Because these days, women are getting themselves advanced in life without them, she says.
People crowd the cashier. The next batch is going to come out. I and the woman crowd too. I buy a ticket for 12 pieces of pastry. We line up to buy. The pastries are cut into two-bite size pieces. I buy an assortment to go, and three pieces to eat there while I am waiting for my ride. All the tables are taken. I stand by the bar with the merchant. I order a tea and eat the first pastry. She eats one pastry and leaves.
I order tea. I ask a woman sitting alone at a table for two if I can join her. She says ok. She is dressed all in black. My tea arrives. I start eating my two last pastries. We eat and drink in silence. I start small talk. She asks me if I believe there is a God. I say ‘yes’. She tells me when she moved to the U.S. Midwest she had asked the internet ‘is there a god?’. She had researched a lot. She had read a lot. She had become obsessed with the question. She lost her faith. Her family was sad and disturbed by this. They tried to change her mind but couldn’t. Her brother is a minister. She challenged him. One day, in Ethiopia visiting, she gave him a ride to church. She did not go in. God spoke to her while she waited for her minister brother in the car outside the church. She believed.
My ride arrives. I leave. I drive home with my father and his driver. The driver takes the pastries into the apartment. My father and I go to a restaurant. He eats ye-beg tibs and drinks a beer. I have nothing. I am full from the pizza and mineral water and macchiato and pastries and tea. At home, I offer to bring him pastries for dessert. He is full from ye-beg tibs and beer. That night, we both eat pastries. He says they taste as good as many years ago, are smaller than many years ago, and cost more than many years ago.
Weeks pass. It is morning. I am walking out of the compound where I am staying during my visit. I am on my way to visit my grandmother and aunt. The woman who had spoken to me about God in Enrico’s drives past in her car. She stops. She reverses. I stop. I walk forward. She reminds me how we know each other. She offers me a ride part of the way. I say I can’t. She does not offer again. She drives away. I walk on, to get a taxi up the road.