Confluence; Poetry Fiction
By Daniachew Worku
Thousands of my country men were under forced Labor--hundreds and hundreds of them perished under heaps of earth and stones -- the road had arrived. It had travelled for a long distance and had finally reached our valley. And it looked as if it would never get out of the valley--dynamite exploded, sections of hills were demolished, two tunnels were dug, and all these not for a far hut a short distance -- a distance that wound back and forth, like a great snake, for about four twists, up towards the western section of the surrounding chains of mountains at which point the longest tunnel was being dug and from which the road seemed like it would go no further. And yet the people worked and worked, day and night, and whenever I heard an explosion and looked up in that direction, I saw not a winding road but a dragon with a powerful head- a dragon which refused to be crushed before it had done its share of devouring - (l remember once being taken over to the other side of the mountain for Saint George mineral water, a mineral water which was believed to have an effective healing power. I'd the chance of kissing the icon of St. George in the nearby church which was named after him) I prayed to God that He would send the Saint to protect the people - His people.
The village town itself at the foot of the mountain did not have many people left in it. Most adult men and women were taken to the mountains. And those that remained behind were either the old or the young, like me. That was why in fact my parents, had to take in a Yegemlo or a Mammite, whichever you might wish to call her, from a far off village. You know they needed the help because of the carabinieri who dropped in at every meal and ordered whatever little we had. Especially before we came a little further down to this village where we arc now, it was difficult to say what belonged to us and what didn't. We were at their mercy. Even our very life.
I remember once - I was hiding from Mammite in an adjacent shop to ours, a butcher's shop - when an Italian followed by my father and two hired native carabinieri came in. The butcher was arguing with a client (with his knife stuck in a hind leg which was hanging from one of his stands) about the cut of meat he would slice for the amount of money he was to receive. There was no discussion - no explanation - the Italian! He simply took the butcher by the neck and propelled him out of the door with an accompanying kick on his buttock. I was staring out through the open door-staring at the red circular tasseled caps of the carabinieri, and the red capes hanging over their shoulders. And I was beginning to like them very much when I saw her. You know, Mammite, she was hopping about before the door like... like a crow ... like a vulture. And the sudden swish and fall of a whip! How I turned back-as if I was struck by it. My father was just raising his right hand. God knows what was the matter, He was being beaten by the Italian-he was being beaten on the head, on the shoulder, and on the legs, and he was doing nothing but raising his right hand upwards after every acurbaj he received. I thought he would strike back any moment, but he didn't. he simply kept on raising his hand after every lash-kept on raising-kept on raising-I got tired.
I saw the white bones that were dangling from the nails of the meat strands. So while they were I couldn't resist the temptation of touching them and trying to play with them. The butcher, with the knife still in his hand, called in a low voice, brandished his knife at mc and threatened mc with his bloodshot eyes to leave the bones alone. But no! Instead I went on touching and knocking every one of them. I was satisfied. I thought he would enter at any moment and throw me out, but he didn't. He didn't even as much as put a leg inside his own shop.
And then my mother appeared at the door. Mammite was sanding behind her. I knew Mammite was the one who had told my mother about my being there. I tried to hide as soon as I saw my mother. But she had seen mc in good time and tried to signal mc out. And when I refused to go out, she tried to enter. But for the natives at the door! One of them pushed her back in time. How I wished it were Mammite who had been pushed back. The Mammite who followed me every place! Well, anyway, for time, I felt more secure at the butcher's shop than at any other place. Even though I didn't stay long. I had seen how upset my mother was when she was pushed back. I went out to see what was the matter.
I found her in the kitchen. And I found her silently weeping. I'd never seen her that way before, and it seemed that the sight of me had given her more the cause to cry for she burst into a fit of weeping and sobbing. The earthen pot on the fire was making a lot of noise. The steam might slide open the lid any moment. And the liquid - it sprinkled out of the pot-it might even put out the fire. Well, that was Mammite's business. Instead of standing out there and keeping a watch on mc, she would have done well to look after the pot. I returned to the butcher's shop, then.
At the door the butcher tried to stop me. But when I made some noise, he immediately released mc and I entered. But then, as soon as I entered, the Italian seemed to see mc for the first time, and started beating my father afresh. He gave him fast lashes on his legs and I saw my father twitching and contorting his face. I didn't know what to do: I ran out of the shop and ran into a horse that was galloping fast uphill. The rider, another Italian, almost trampled on me when by some chance he quickly managed to snatch mc off from under the horse's legs. What a red face I saw as I dangled from one of his hands!
Then he dismounted almost as quickly and started brandishing his acurbaj. He headed for our shop. In the meantime, Mammite, who had not been there at the time, peeped out from God knows where, and came towards us and was trying to take me away from the Italian's clutches. He didn't seem to notice her at first, but when he did, his face flushed and for an instant looked very much sightless. He then uttered something very loud and started beating her on the head and on the shoulders. Blood started oozing from her head. I snatched my hand from the ground. But she refused my help and soon after rose by herself. There were no tears in her eyes.
The Italian, however, didn't stop at that--he went straight to our shop window, banged and banged at the counter and shouted at the top of his voice. The other Italian from the butcher's came out. He saluted the new comer. Then they said something to each other. The natives dragged out my father and dropped him at the feet of the newcomer who had been all the while shaking and brandishing his whip in front of him. Then my father raised his face. It was soiled with blood. The red face of the newcomer slowly became whiter and whiter-his whip came to a standstill, as with a quick gesture, he dropped it by his side. And as swiftly as he had snatched me off the ground, he turned on his heel, mounted his horse and disappeared from our sight. Through the rising dust kicked up by the disappearing horse, I saw the three other caps following the same route and disappearing into its midst.
Mammite, with the dry blood on her head and one of her fingers, was now watching my every move carefully. I was sure she wouldn't lose sight of me for anything. She had already started to tell me where to play and what to do. How I hated her again. How I wished for another horse to trample on me …
"What's the name?" my mother asked her.
"My name?" she said. "I don't remember my name; I've forgotten my name.
"But how Can you forget your name, that's ridiculous!" my mother continued. -
"I don't have no name," she went on.
"You don't have no name?"
"No, I don't; I've never called myself by a name."
"You don't have to call yourself by a name, I'm asking what other people use to call you."
"They don't use no name."
"How do they call you then?"
"They don't call me at all."
"Well, what do you want me to call you with?"
"I don't know." -
"No, I don't like it." "You don't like it?"
"Then choose yourself a name.
"Call me Mammite," she said, after giving it a little thought.
"But Mammite is not a particular name; it's a common name for girls, as Mammo is for boys."
"That's what I want then, a common name for girls."
"Well, it's your wish. We'll call you Mammite," my mother agreed.
This was on the day she had come to our house. An elderly woman brought her from the countryside-a village called Yegemlo. Mind you, without even a name! I hated her from the moment she came. lust imagine somebody from a Yegemlo. you would immediately come to hate it. I remember that the name did not have any particular meaning to mc. But still I hated it. I hated it because I hated the very sound of it. And I hated it all the more because the more I looked at the girl the more she seemed to mc to represent the real Yegemlo that I thought I had known-a Yegemlo that I'd known but for some reason or other had escaped my memory until her arrival.
Cautiously I walked towards her and lowering my tone, so that Mother wouldn't hear me, I called her "Yegemlo!" The girl at first didn't seem to understand me, she simply looked at me. I thought she didn't hear me, and so, I repeated "Yegemlo!" with all the resentment and hate I could put into the name. For the first time since her arrival, she smiled instead of being angry; and that infuriated me all the more. I meant to make her angry, to make her cry, to make her beg me not to call the name again for I thought she understood what that meant. And so I repeated the name for the third time, with all the force, with all the hate and disgust I could muster at the time..."Yegemlo!" And she burst into shrill laughter.
"Oh, you like each other?" I heard my mother saying, smiling at both of us. "It's good you like her," she continued, looking at me. "She has come to stay with us, you know?... " I hated my mother for allowing a Yegemlo to stay with us in our house, and immediately darted out of the room before she even finished what she had started to say to me.
Outside, the kids of the market area were waiting for me. I was their head and they feared me. It wasn't that I was physically strong and threateningly huge; I was feared because I had what they wanted-"Kolo"--Candy, bread, and other food. And so as soon as I went out, I told them that a Yegemlo had come to our house and that Mother had consented to keep it. I told them also that it was a she-Yegemlo. I aroused their curiosity to such a pitch that they all begged me to take them to it. I took them around a corner of the house at where they could easily see the kitchen where Mother and the Yegemlo would soon come. And we waited in silence and eager anticipation.
Mother had just come out and went into the kitchen. And following her soon after came the Yegemlo. With a long stick in its hand! Chose a place to sit on by the door, outside, made itself comfortable, and immediately engaged in, chasing away chickens from the wheat that was spread on a mat in the sun. It was a good chance really. And on seeing it! you wouldn't imagine how the kids reacted. They all had different impressions: some saw a sickly Yegemlo; some a real and some an ordinary Yegemlo: others a very old Yegemlo; and still others a hungry Yegemlo. There were also those who commented that they had better Yegemlo's at their homes but that their mother wouldn't allow other people to see them. Anyway, at last, that is, after each of us had seen it to his heart's content, we all agreed that it could be a dangerous Yegemlo, and decided, to test its power, to frighten it by shouting "Yegemlo" at the top of our voices-we shouted and-ran away.
She was perhaps about twelve or thirteen years old, a rather plumpish sort of girl, when she came to our house, and I'd just turned my eleventh birthday. And so it happened that from the day of her arrival until the time she took over the full control of the kitchen from my mother, there was nothing for her to do except chasing away hens and following me like a shadow.
I guess my mother had told her casually to look after me. But she took her duty so seriously that it became impossible for me to get even a moment's peace by myself. I always saw her peeping out from some corner. How much I hated her always-tear-laden sickly eyes. I hated her eyes so much that I even threw up if she happened to peep in while I was eating. And sometimes the food in my mouth refused to be swallowed. Sometimes I felt I was chewing her very eyes. How nauseous I felt at such a time! And of all the times, I hated her most when she came around when I wanted to be alone-such times as when I was out in the field to fulfill nature's demand. She was most of the times there to offer me a better "toilet" leaf or even a piece of paper. And it was hard for me to reconcile myself to the idea that I was being watched.
As time went on, however, I started to catch her and pinch her skin between my fingers. But her body was so strong that it was difficult to catch even a tiny piece of it. Then I resorted to slapping her on the face and knocking her on her head with my fist. She wept a little; but it was always difficult to tell whether it was tears or the sickly fluid of her eyes that was trickling. Mother tried to catch me and beat me if she happened to be around. But it was difficult for her. I ran as fast as I could. Well, perhaps Mammite could have overtaken mc, but then, when she tried, I'd always manage to chase her away by throwing stones at her. I knew she would never throw back at me for fear of hitting or cutting herself or me.
A real Yegemlo! I tell you. And the firewood she brought home! You know, despite the fact that she was using all types of burning material-dried cow dung, cartons and small bones - she always complained of the scarcity of firewood, my mother. She ordered Mammite to acquire some wood from a nearby forest. And Mammite wouldn't be gone long before she came back gasping for breath with an unusually heavy load across her back.
True, she didn't know the surrounding areaof the town. But that was no excuse. Sheshould have asked people instead of taking justany road that took her to the countryside. Itwas clear she didn't have to walk very far beforeshe reached Bulla-Meda-a place where theItalians were butchering horses for food. Justimagine her joy! when she found a whole field of white bones which she took or expected she could use for firewood. She'd collected all sixes of white leg bones, and arrived at home beaming happily and sweating terribly. It was no wonder that she was tired since she'd to walk uphill a country road rocky from various sizes of stones. What a sight! for the people who saw her plodding up under such a load. How could they have guessed that she was actually overjoyed by her discovery of a potential place for firewood. She brought the first load and ran down for a second. She was afraid other people might discover it before she had as much as she wanted. She came up with her load for the second time.
It was then that a carabinieri got curious about her and about her bones
and followed her. But then, my father was also sitting at the window of
his little shop-there weren't any clients at the time-and he was looking
out into the road to see some peasants whom he might possibly attract,
when he saw the white load of bones entering his gate. -People on the other
side of the road were also looking towards our house, and some of them
were in fact laughing and pointing towards her. My father, of course, immediately
left the shop and went out to meet the incoming visitor. He didn't at first
recognize her, and he asked her what she was looking for. Mammite, however,
beamed up at him and told him that she was bringing in firewood.
"I was sent to bring in firewood."
"Yes, Madame sent me!"
"Yes, this is my second time!"
"And there's a lot more."
"Get out of here!" my father snorted and growled, losing his temper and pushing her backwards, scattering the bones all over the place. Mammite was dumfounded at his growling and she couldn't at all understand why she was being treated that way. People were laughing and pointing at them, and my father was more and more losing his control. He slapped her once or twice and not being satisfied he kicked her in the ribs again and again while she crouched on the ground. The carabinieri who had followed from afar was now witnessing the incident with, a kind of superior and agonizing smile and with a kind of contemptuous twist to his lips as if he would bounce at him any time. My father on the other hand didn't seem to have noticed him.
In the meantime, Mammite had managed to rise and had already started to collect the scattered bones when the carabinieri slowly approached my father and asked him to collect them for her. My father had only to look once to be able to tell what would follow if he refused. He picked them, tied them together, and offered to put them on the back of Mammite. But the carabinieri suggested that it would be better if my father carried them since he was stronger, and that he would show him how to dispose of them. He mounted his horse. My father carried the bones. And off they went.
Mammite had already slid behind our house to where she had hid the other load which of course she had previously intended to surprise my mother with, and immediately followed the other two. I was also curious as to what would happen and followed Mammite...I'd seen a lot of killing, flogging, and a lot of dragging of bodies on the roads and on the market area itself which was located in front of our shop. I'd even seen people's bodies being torn to pieces by horses pulling their hands and legs at different directions. I wasn't sure whether I liked the horse and the native carabinieri or not...Anyway I followed. My father followed the carabinieri - Mammite followed my father - and I followed Mammite.
The carabinieri trotted and galloped. It was very difficult for us to catch up with him. It was difficult for my father, and it was even more so for Mammite. She was sweating excessively. And the wind-it wasn't cold enough. Or at least it didn't cool them. It just blew silently-it met the leaves-it stirred them gently-a ceaseless contact. As if it were some kind of delicate music. Music?! No, no, it was not music-it was not a loud human music. Faintly audible-it was like a vibration of us and everything around us-a vibration of gentle body strings -- I approached Mammite and offered to help. She refused. I tried to pull on some of the bones and managed to pull out one which was already dangling - then another - and another and another. She didn't resist. At heart she seemed to have wanted it. Only, the rope had gotten a little loose and she had to stop to tie it again while I ran on with the other two.
It took her some time to catch up with us. It was then the carabinieri saw me. I don't know what made him turn around. I only remember that he came charging towards me at a terrific speed. The wind! It now beat at us dully and rhythmically...making the horse look like a little hill through the dust it was kicking. I couldn't even see the rider. But I knew he was there...he would lift me up. Funny, that was what I thought! Like the other time.
The horse stopped with difficulty, and the man dismounted. He threw back the bones from my shoulder-grabbed me by the shoulders with both hands - looked me straight in the face -- he seemed to have taken me for somebody else. But for his shout! he shouted at me. I could still hear his "Where in the world do you think you are going?" I could see he was angry. I told him I was following my father. That again infuriated him all the more, for he started stamping the ground with his foot. And then he turned around, mounted his horse, took another look at me, and galloped away.
Well, that was that! I liked the man's red cap, and I even would have liked to touch it...or even put it on my head...just for a moment. I also liked his horse. It was well-fed and fat. I liked him. But I was angry that he might be killed any day and be eaten. That beautiful horse! Oh, yes, I was angry. I wondered why he didn't throw the man down and run away. Then I would have the red cap. But horses, they can be dangerous. They can trample on you.
We'd reached an open space, the carabinieri had again turned back; I saw him again galloping towards us. He again stopped the horse with difficulty-looked at Mammite, and this time, without taking any time turned back and galloped away. He galloped and galloped and we, sweating heavily, tried as much as we could to catch up with him. Finally he stopped. He turned around! With the bones on our shoulders we were sweating and trotting! We caught up with hint.
And you know, when we did, he was still on his horse, like a king, looking down at us from one to the other-how I felt cold sweat trickling down my back as I stood there in front of him. Then he slowly dismounted his horse-came to me, took my bones from my shoulder, added them to father's, lifted me up and put me on the crupper of his horse-told the others to return the bones where they had found them-uttered a sharp "You're lucky" to my father and off we galloped back to the town. All the way back, he was saying "Hold fast to my waist! Hold fast!...Hold fast!...Hold fast...."
It was next day that we had moved to this village. And I guess it was here that I almost forgot to look at Mammite's eyes. Yes, she made me forget about them. She washed my feet every evening. And at the end she always raised one foot to her lips-in both hands-and kissed it. She made me sit at a better place around the fire. She gathered my share of firewood when we were sent to the forest. And I, every time I had a chance, slid a bone into my pocket for her-a bone normally reserved for father but which he rarely ate and which he almost always transferred to my plate. He thought that I ate it I guess; but funny, he never seemed to notice even the absence of the bone.
And so every time we killed a goat or a sheep, and we did that almost every week since it was our main food, I slid the bone into my pocket, took it to her and gave her, and she embraced me in return. I'd always the difficulty of washing away the heavily buttered and spiced stew out of my pocket. I used to scrub it so much that it was my pocket which got worn out before any other part of my coat. And all that for that Yegemlo which I hoped I might see again-the Yegemlo I saw in her face the first time I took her bone! how delighted, how happy, how changed at the very sight of it she was! I thought she might weep over it. You know I was the first one to ever give her a bone...a bone - and yet a bone which caused such a flash of light on her face-such a flash! That was the one time that I ever wanted to be a king. To give...give...give...give....
You know? She called me "My master." But it always wounded to me as if she called me "My god." She also called me "My hope" or "My fate" and I knew the way I knew the meaning of Yegemlo that the words weren't as powerful as she would have wanted me to believe.
Mammite, every day at four in the morning she rose and how she worked. By god, she worked...But she also sang over her "wofcho" (grinding stones for flour). She sang one of those long-drawn songs...Sad sad songs! but which somehow lightened the heart. She sang about love as well. She sang and sang and I lay awake and heard her. She sometimes seemed to moan, sometimes weep, and whatever she sang, it stirred my heart with a gentle prickly pain. - And mixed with her songs, I always heard the up and down, the grinding sound made by her "wofcho." I heard them and their accompaniment - the sound of the wind, the chirruping of crickets, and the occasional sound of bullets. I heard and heard and heard until they would fade and die away beneath the morning song of the birds. And in the morning, I went running about our compound and making noises of every sort and enjoying the morning air-and Mammite, well, she went about her work again-to mix flour and water- to prepare liquid-dough and make "injera"-to spin - tend the cattle...I still hear those sounds as if they were in my very ears.
I'd often been told that my cousin who was older than I by three or four years resembled me in appearance. I'd had the chance of meeting and playing with him several times when he, with his father, came to visit us at our previous place. But I'd never really got to know him then. It was, therefore, after we came down here that we struck some kind of friendship. He stayed with us until the time he heard of his mother's illness, for about a month, I think, and we'd some jolly times together. He was really a good chap and I liked him. As for his resembling me, I couldn't really say if he did. But people said he did, and perhaps he seemed to resemble me, after all. I don't know.
But one thing I knew though, Mammite started to become different to me during this time. One time she showed me love, and another time hate. And then the queer way of washing my feet! I didn't quite like it. You know, she started scratching the soles of my feet in a funny way and taking more time than she normally did in fondling and caressing them. She even began pushing my shorts upward and splashing water from above my knees. And the way she did it! You would think she was engaged in something forbidden-something secretive. Something that might be sweet if only I hadn't felt something else at the same time. I didn't know what that something else was at the time, I felt like what I felt when I first met her-or when I saw her sweating under the bundle of horse bones and tried to help her-or even like when she came out into the field with the "toilet" articles. But whatever it was, it wasn't a feeling I could name. And funny! The upshot of it all was that when I refused to let her wash my feet, I saw that she couldn't do without it. She started washing the feet of my cousin. She washed his feet in such a way as to make mc beat her or beg her to please stop washing his instantly and start on mine. But I didn't do either.
At that season, it was hot in this part of the country. There were all kinds of lice and bugs in your bed that would eat you up if you insisted on going on sleeping. Some bit you; others licked you; and still others pricked you as if with pain. There was no chance for you to get a sound sleep. But strange enough, Mammite was never afflicted by them. Even if they bit her, they never left a mark on her. And most of all, they never awoke her-she slept like a log. I wondered how it was she managed to protect herself. I couldn't help asking her. She didn't have anything to tell me. Instead, she allowed me to sleep on her breasts if I wanted to. Well, I didn't like the idea, but it was better than being eaten by bugs.
I slept on her breasts one night. I found out that her flesh was as strong as a solid rubber ball. Especially her breasts that were so sharp and strong that, feeling their warmth, I made an attempt at kissing and fondling them. She was gently touching me along my back. I asked her to pinch for me certain spots on my back - spots that were itchy. And she did. It felt sweet. And then I felt her hand more and more. I felt hot and longed for air. I felt also like urinating. I slipped from her breasts and quickly put my feet to the ground, and wiping the perspiration from my face, I sat upon the bed. I was suddenly tired like I was carrying the bones.
When I returned from outside, I found her sleeping on her side. But as soon as I got on the bed she got back again to sleeping on her back and I slept on her breasts again. But the bed bugs found me out. They smelled me out--came from beneath and from above -- from the side -- it wasn't possible for me to sleep. I touched her breasts. I felt very hot again.
And so next to my not letting her wash my feet, I refused to sleep with her. I told her she didn't save me from the bed bugs; and I was right. But then, my cousin found the situation different. No bed bugs came to eat him when he slept with her. He even started following her to the kitchen during the day time. I'd always wanted to ask him if he had ever touched her breasts-but somehow, I felt again that there was something special, something secretive about it that was not proper to divulge to another person-not even to Mammite. However, I was sure that she knew about it as much as I thought she knew about what I meant by Yegemlo when she came to our house.
When the typhus broke out in my uncle's village, many people had died before it entered his house. His son came to stay with us because of it. Then it entered my uncle's house, his wife got ill. His son wanted to go back and be by his mother's bedside very much. My father advised him to stay a little longer with us, until things got better, but he refused. He went away. Some three days later, we were told that she had died.
My mother, accompanied by Mammite, left for the other village to sit in for the mourning of her sister-in-law. My father couldn't accompany her since he was still under police surveillance. He wasn't allowed to leave this particular locality...A week passed. Mother and Mammite didn't return, we got worried. We sent messages for them to return. And about the time we thought they would at last return, we heard of the illness of my cousin. And soon after we heard of his death. We became more and more worried. We sent messages to them for the second time. My father asked permission again to go there. He was refused again. News from the village became more and more serious. We heard the villagers had become fearful of infested houses like my uncle's, and that every one of them had refused to even go into the cottage to prepare the young man's body for burial. In fact, from what we heard, it seemed that they knew or my cousin's death a day or so after his actual death. His food was sent down to him through a hole in the wall and there was no knowing whether he was alive to eat it or not.
But then Mammite was there. She was never ill in her life. She was never afraid of anything. We were told that when she heard of my cousin's death, she poured out her tears without restraint - calling him sometimes by my name and sometimes by his- that even the father was put out of face in her presence. And so when she saw they were finally preparing to pull him out with a rope, she couldn't stand it. She entered the cottage.
It was still very dark when I started out. The road ran among mounds and bushes out of which I expected anything to spring. And I, calling up all my courage, ran through them. Oh, how I ran! I ran and ran and ran and the wind! It blew and blew against me. Sometimes I ran between hills, sometimes between houses, and sometimes through ploughed fields. How I kicked at the clods or soft earth that met my feet. I must have run at least half way before the day started to break and the east started to pale. The stationary mass of clouds which ran all along the horizon had started to disperse-moving slowly, absorbing each other, mingling their colors and, forms, and again emerging in new shapes. And almost as if saluting the dawn had come the explosion of dynamite, chains of explosions which shook the valley for a moment. And I ran-or rather I ran and walked. The wind blew. It blew and blew against me. Sometimes it drove me towards the trees. And sometimes it came upon me unawares and suddenly hurled itself at me...And I ran. How it made me feel I were one of the trees.
As I got nearer and nearer, the metallic scattered sounds of the little church bell, I heard. They came floating through the air from the top of a little hill. The horizon had started to give way to the rays of the rising sun...and the dew drops to disappear from the leaves of trees and the blades of grass. I headed towards the village pond. I heard the birds with their twitter and whistle in the little wood beside the pond. The air was fresh. The light breeze gently swayed the tops of the "wanza" arid "besanna" trees around the pond. The dew fell in drops. I felt like washing my face and saying my morning prayer. And here was this old man, shrivelled, bent, small and thin. He looked as if all his soul had been squeezed out of his body and there was nothing left but a bag of bones. And his head was trembling. He had worn a small "shemma" over his shoulders. God knows how he withstood the morning cold. And his pants! They were so patched with diverse shapes and sizes of clothes and all of different colors.
I stood a little further from the pond until he filled his gourd and left. I didn't know why-I didn't like his shallow face. And how he looked at me. Well, anyway, he filled his gourd and walked away. I could see his gait growing faster and faster and more and more shuffling - like when we were tired carrying those bones-and then I saw a girl jumping and hopping like a rabbit-singing and coming towards the pond when the old man stopped her. Funny, she stopped for him. And as soon as he tried to talk to her, a terrible fit of coughing empowered him - his whole body began to shake and rattle. And funny, she was still standing in front of him. Oh, how I felt sick at heart as though someone were gripping and wrenching my heart.
From a distance, she looked ragged and unkempt-like the trees. And with her hair being blown in every direction! Just like the trees!! She was being smart-in her own way, you know the little brat! How I wished I called her and told her so.
I went down on my knees at the edge of the pond and scooped up the water in my hands. I splashed my face. And then when I rose and started to dry my face and hands with the underside of my "shemma" I saw the old man going away, coughing, swinging his hands and stooping-and there she was-the girl. How she came jumping like a rabbit! With very Small feet. And wearing a "sherret" wrapped round her waist and hanging down to her knee. And the "anget-libs"- (a small cloth) on her shoulders. As if to show me her plump and round body! I wished I told her I didn't care about it. And pointing her breasts at me as she stood behind me at the pond. I could see it in the water. She thought I would care!? ...You know I'd almost forgotten to say my doxology-with her standing there with her lips parted as if to talk to me. Anyway, that way she helped me remember my prayer. I gave her way to fill her earthen jar. I started to say my prayer. What a girl ! she thought I was talking to her ...The silly girl ... You know, after she'd filled, she went on looking at me... I wished somebody told her how much I hated her. I finished my prayer-put some spittle in my hand-rubbed it with the other hand-and patted my face and my hair with it. Ignorant! I was sure she wanted me to pat her too with the sacred spittle of God's words. But no! In fact, I started to feel little pains in my heart, and I hated her as I hated Mammite once. I passionately wanted to strike her, to knock her down at my feet and trample on her on the ground, to kick her in the breast and face with my feet. And then, as if from a distance, I heard her voice. She wanted me to help her put the earthen jar on her back. And by God! I did it...without knowing what I was doing. Just like that! I clenched my fist and looked around again towards her. By God, was I angry! I wished I could break that earthen jar. But then she was no fool, after all. She'd already gone. How much I hated her. I shouted Yegemlo after her. But it seemed then as if the word didn't reach her ears. It seemed as if the word had lost all its force and all its meaning...as if it died never to rise again. I no longer could remember - what that word meant to me. I laughed at myself. I laughed and laughed-to hoarseness, to tears, as I ran towards the village.
When I arrived at the village, I noticed all the little horses scattered on the hill side as if they had been thrown to the ground at random-all the barns, the stables from which rose the smells of hay, cow dung-and for no reason at all, I wanted to see the girl at the pond again. But she was nowhere to be seen.
From the wood on the further side of the village, as if to announce my arrival, came the ominous cry of the crow. From the mountain came the sound of the bell... and from all around me, mingled with the cow dung which abound the village, came the smell of wet leaves and of warm earth. Gray coloring and general squalor of appearance seemed to be everywhere. More pronounced perhaps in the case of the huts. They seemed to me very pitiable because of it - Very small too. Especially in contrast to all I had seen on the way, and in contrast to the wide wide spreading sky overhead. I even hated to walk in their midst. But then suddenly and simultaneously, I saw the girl at the pond in my mind, bigger than everything. She veiled the surrounding from my view. I smiled...I smiled-I laughed. I was still laughing when I reached my uncle's house and saw the villagers scattered and seated outside his house-in the courtyard. The old man that I had seen earlier was also there.
"She's won at last!...She's won at last..." he was saying coughing all the time and repeating the same thing between the intervals...My uncle was walking back and forth-now and again attempting to pull at a rope which stretched from within the cottage.
"...and there's no way of forcing her out!...", he was saying, the old man, still coughing and adding, "...unless you wish to burn the cottage down...in that way killing the typhus with the fire..." and my uncle, how he got enraged at hearing this, how he looked! He kept on walking back and forth, back and forth, repeating to himself "My beautiful cottage … my beautiful cottage..." as if they were the only words he knew-and occasionally he stopped and looked at the top of the cottage. I was sure he was looking at the top of the cottage. I was sure he was looking at the beautiful cap of an earthen ware surmounted with an eight-pointed cross. I liked it myself. Or perhaps, he was looking at the high domed roof which enclosed the outer wall and the inner circle of uprights...l liked that too.
The old man was now seated on a stone near a group of elderly women. He was coughing freely. He was not talking now. Instead, one of the women was talking to him. And how they looked, the women. Huddled together like that at a corner...Some of them blinked their eyelids and lowered their eyes. Others screwed up an eye as if taking aim at Something - still some other faces were distorted by grimaces which made them look pitiful-and still there were those who looked at you with eyes which had no sparkle in them-and those who hid their faces with their hands and gave a faintly audible sound harmonized and accompanied with the smacking of lips and suppressed humming and sighs. And then there was a woman who got louder all of a sudden. She sobbed, wept, sniffed and wriggled on her seat. She couldn't restrain herself. I went nearer to find out what was the matter. She looked up at me-stretched her hands and clutched my waist and wept over my bosom, growing louder and louder, she was my mother. And then all of a sudden, others followed suit-they moaned and groaned, talked mysteriously to each other, their voices lowered to a whisper-cried and moaned again. The odor of a freshly flayed skin of a cow attracted my nose and I tried to locate the odor. I freed myself from the grasp of my mother. I followed the scent and found the skin at the back of the house, spread out over the wall of the barn. The blazing sun had already bathed the skin and the stables with its generous rays, and with the help of the sudden and sharp draft of wind, their odor was drifting and diffusing in every direction. Added to this, there was the cry which came jarring on my ears-and I didn't like it. It had even stirred up some kind of anger that smoldered in my heart. I needed a place to cool it down. I entered the cottage.
An outcry such as I'd never heard before followed me. I even heard my name being called from various sources. But still it didn't occur to me to turn around. I wondered in my heart why it got louder and to why they called my name. And so there I was...at least I was saved from the smell.
Normally, whenever I came down here, my uncle had tried to make me happy and feel at home. But today, he only came to the door and didn't even follow me to his own house. He was even pushing back my mother who was trying to enter. She was calling my name-was weeping-gesticulating, and for a moment I thought she had gone crazy. And again at the rope, my uncle. He was trying with all his might to pull it out when it broke and he fell backwards. I couldn't help laughing. It was then that I saw a body that lay huddled up on the floor. And the noose of the rope that had just broken was round its neck. Funny how it looked-it was almost round. I got down on my knees, just like I did at the pond, to examine it, you know. Then I turned its back. And there she was, Mammite. Well, I went to the door and told them she had died. But they didn't seem to care; they simply went on calling out my name-my mother, my uncle, and many others, as if I told them I'd died or something. In some ways I felt like what I felt at the butcher's. You know, sort of big! I told them again that Mammite had died. And again they shouted at me to come out from the cottage. But I refused. Why, after all, Mammite was one of my best friends in the family. I went back again and tried to carry her onto the bed. But I couldn't.
When she wasn't dead, she wasn't heavy. I'd carried her many times. She'd tried to carry me too. But I was more clever. I gave myself more weight pressing down upon her, and she'd never succeeded in more than raising me a little from the ground. Even then it was with difficulty. And besides, it wasn't carrying since I was standing upright...always! Mammite, how she'd shrunk into a small round ball! There were even no tears in her watery eyes; they looked as clear they never had before. Her lips were parted a little in an elusive and alluring smile. I thought of her breasts. Yegemlo! I felt my lips forming. I repeated it louder and louder. I'd a funny feeling that she would burst into her shrill laughter. The cottage got warmer all of a sudden.
I became conscious of the stifling effect of the stuffy and crowded room-beneath a low-hanging ceiling covered by soot and cobwebs and surrounded with the mud walls smeared with cow dung....My eyes seemed to me to grow larger and larger. I'd the sensation that more and more things had opened to my eyes...the various farm instruments in the various niches in the walls...the small "medebs" made from raised ground, covered, as they were, with special quality dressed sheep and goat skins with the hair left on...the things which were on the hooks of horns, suspended t the walls - a sword, two spears, a shield, goat skins for holding grain, mule trappings, and the beautiful "wancha", a drinking horn… the special made native bedstead covered with a newly tanned ox hide with the hair off…thepole which supported the roof and around which hung five husks of dried up maize, a bunch of "mashella", and some four bones whose marrow I know was used for lubricating leather… the circular fireplace with its ash still intact…the stakes with ropes tied on the top of them and buried in the ground and o which the favourite sheep and goats used to be tied and fed with tidbits from my uncle's table… the rags near one of the "medebs," the rags, some of which patched with variegated colors of pieces of clothes, Mammite's bed clothes. And then I felt! I felt something crawling on my hand - a big bed bug - it was preceded by another creature which I didn't feel, a body louse. Oh, what a speed and delight they had, those two - you know - to get hold of me and sample my fresh blood.
Vague, muffled noises wafted to me from outside. I heard the rustling of the foliage louder than before as if coming from far and near, I even heard the shrill note of the mosquitos in the room. And the sunbeams - they'd passed trough the roof and alighted on Mammite's face - as the tree branches were being moved by the wind they cast their flickering shadows on the floor. I saw them.
My uncle was standing at the door and was now calling my name furiously. He wanted me to tie the rope together. And I tied the ropes together. I also untied the rope from its entanglements. He dragged out Mammite harshly. I stayed, I don't know for how long - for a long time. And then, when I was about to go out, I saw the uneaten bone on the earthen plate. One end of it was placed at the edge of the plate and the other end was, almost up to three-fourth of the length, deep in a gray kind of stew. It must have been there for at least two days, for as it was, it wasn't much ingredient in it - it got a little muddier - but that was how far it could go. I looked at the bone again. I looked at and looked at it - and the more I looked at it, the it looked ate me. I went out into the open. They were almost about to leave for the church.
Two decaons were singing the requiem. One of them raising his voice in a kind of sing-song, while the other was interrupting in lower voice. A censor tinkled in the hand of one of them. It swung back and forth. Small flakes of blue smoke rose into the air from it and melted away. How I disliked the deacon with the low voice who kept smiling at me at every interval as if trying to show me his colorful costume and glittering umbrella.
Well, the body was washed and laid out on a litter made of boughs. It was wrapped in a red-bordered cotton cloth, even her face. And they started for the church. Four men carried the litter and I could see that they had started knocking Mammite from side to side- walking as they did quickly and out of step. A hooded vulture landed down softly in the courtyard. He ran about befor the door - I chased him away. And he perched himself on the beautifuyl cross of the cottage. I wanted to chase him away from there. But instead I simply looked at him. I looked at him and looked at him. And then I turned and looked at the funeral train. I looked at the church on the hill towards which they were going. I looked at the very far distance, chains of mountains which surrounded the valley and which had a cross planted on their highest point by the Italians. I saw the long row of telegraph posts which climbed across the breasts of the raising hills - and the small villages which were almost hidden by the high rising ground on either side of them. The explosion started again - dynamite after dynamite after dynamite…
I thought of the natives and the Italians that were digging the tunnel trough the mountain. So puny and small compared to the mountain that reached up to the clouds - the mountain that reached up to the clouds - the mountain I loved and feared - they drilled into its bowels - they burrowed and burrowed deep inside, cutting gash after gash into it… I remembered how the sun always disappeared over the mountains. "One day," I thought, "one day, I'll pass through that tunnel and catch up with the sun… and the dawn… the dawn… it'll find me no more." "No more - I looked at the mountain again… The great mountain… the rugged and beautiful mountain… Already the funeral train had disappeared into one of the bowels - Mammite was no longer to be seen. And already, my eyes were clouded with tears - and I was only standing and mumbling - "My great great Yegemlo - my beautiful beautiful Yebemlo."