Abraham T. Zere published a book entitled “KALIE SLE ZEYELO” in January 2020, which translates to “That is all there is” or “There’s nothing else.” This work, a compilation of 16 short stories authored between 2002 and 2014, spans 188 pages. In Eritrea, especially in Tigrigna literature, the literary tradition commonly gravitates towards genre novels, adhering to popular storytelling conventions. The vast majority of these works, if not all, tend to prioritize certain narrative elements, such as a strong focus on plot, dramatic climactic actions, and definitive resolutions. However, Abraham’s anthology of short stories diverges from the conventional approach, placing a strong emphasis on innovative techniques to explore the depths of characters’ psyches and contemplate existential themes. It dares to weave a different narrative, one that dances on the edge of convention, inviting readers to delve into the profound depths of existence.
One notable observation about the characters in the story is their recurring episodes of forgetfulness. On pages 127-128 of the book, the main character, Abraham, initiates a conversation with his friends by saying, ” when I was in the city of Barentu for the national service…”. However, his friends quickly interrupt him, informing him that he was actually stationed in Mendefera, not Barentu. They explain that Henok, another friend, always starts his stories with “when I was in the city of Barentu…”, and that Abraham had simply adopted his narrative. Despite his attempts to recall the specifics, Abraham cannot remember the details and had to trust his friends to correct him. He attempted to substitute the names of cities in his dialogue, but it fails to satisfy him. As a result, he loses the passion for narrating his tale.
In the brief narrative “Sardine,” a particular dialogue serves as a manifestation of the protagonist’s prevalent forgetfulness. The story’s title, “Sardine,” which unravels the narrative of five friends entangled in the intricacies of life, might be interpreted symbolically as a depiction of their dilemma. The title evokes the image of sardines tightly packed in a tin, which mirrors their sense of confinement and suffocation, their inability to find room for movement or breath. The friends perceive themselves as trapped in their own existence, seemingly unable to break the chains of their monotonous routines, akin to the sardines which are densely packed and have no escape. The metaphorical application of “Sardine” signifies their longing for liberation, a life that provides more breadth and direction, and an opportunity to elude the stifling feeling of stagnation. The author ingeniously incorporates this episode of forgetfulness to highlight the characters’ psychological intricacies and to amplify the story’s themes. As suggested by psychological research, forgetfulness could be indicative of deeper issues such as depression or anxiety.
In another short story, “Transit,” forgetfulness strikes again. Penned in September 2008, the tale revolves around a group of diverse individuals stranded in the Cairo airport due to unspecified interruptions during their transit. A few unfortunate folks are stuck there for one or two lengthy years, while others are compelled to stay for only a few weeks, months, or even longer. What makes this story so intriguing is that it was written before the COVID-19 pandemic experiences, which adds an extra layer of suspense to the narrative.
Upon their arrival, every traveller is directed to remain within the airport’s transit zone, with no room for inquiries. They are supplied with reading resources, a place to sleep, and rationed food. The initial introduction to this so-called “extended transit” was met with incredulity, perceived as nothing more than a jest. However, as the hours stretched into days, and the days extended into weeks, their initial astonishment gradually shifted to denial, and eventually to fury over their unfortunate circumstance. Yet, most travellers ultimately accept their predicament and make adjustments to their surroundings. Some even find employment within the airport to keep themselves occupied. In the end, nearly all resort to prayer, submitting themselves to the whims of fate and accepting their situation with resignation.
The extended delay in transit was a result of an airplane deficit, with most incoming flights filled to capacity, leaving no room for extra passengers. The situation was further complicated by increased security protocols, implemented following a recent act of terrorism on an airplane. The narrative of James, a character of minor prominence, unfolds on pages 186-187, where he shares his journey with his daughter from London to Johannesburg for their summer vacation. However, their journey was halted in the transit area, leading to his daughter’s profound distress over not being able to see her mother.
In the midst of narrating their odyssey, James is suddenly interrupted by his daughter. With a firm conviction, she corrects him, asserting that their actual journey was from Johannesburg to London, not the other way around. James is stunned, his brow furrowed in disbelief, but the echo of validation from other familiar faces in the crowd confirms the truth in his daughter’s words. Gradually, he acquiesces, his narration resuming its course, this time with the corrected version. He shares how they were marooned in the transit zone for an astounding period of two and a half years.
However, like a ripple effect, his revelation stirs up a wave of dissent among the group. There’s a murmuring disagreement about the exact duration they had been trapped. A faction insists it was only a year and a half, while another group counters with two years. Yet, standing firm in their recollection, James and a handful of others continue to argue for the excruciating timeline of two and a half years. Their voices linger in the air, a testament to their prolonged struggle within the confines of the transit zone.
The tale weaves an intricate tapestry of stagnation, a saga where time stands still, and individuals are subjected to a test of patience, their lives held ransom by forces beyond their control. In this narrative ballet, the author employs forgetfulness as a recurring motif, a literary technique with profound implications. It serves as a mirror reflecting the psychological toll of prolonged confinement on individuals, suggesting that it might be a life raft of sorts, a coping mechanism employed by some characters to navigate the treacherous waters of their predicament. This dance with uncertainty and stress choreographs a ballet of forgetfulness, confusion, and a myriad of other symptoms. It underscores the profound impact that extended confinement and uncertainty can have on the canvas of the human mind. The author masterfully orchestrates this episode of forgetfulness, using it as a brush to paint the psychological depths of the characters and to add more hues to the thematic palette of the story.
There’s a brilliant approach in using a child, specifically James’ daughter, to correct her father’s narrative. Unburdened by the heavy cloak of depression often associated with confinement, a child’s perception dances free and untethered. Their spirits, akin to dandelion seeds in the wind, are not easily weighed down by existential shackles that may grip adults. The world within the walls of confinement might shrink for grown-ups, but for a child, it can transform into a vast playground of imagination, unscathed by the boundaries of the physical world. Thus, through the voice of his daughter, we hear a tale unwarped by the crushing weight of existential confinement, offering a refreshingly innocent perspective amidst the weariness of the trapped adults.
The author’s use of forgetfulness is an effective tool for exploring the psychological depth of the characters and their personal struggles. Additionally, forgetfulness can also serve as a literary device to build suspense and create an air of mystery. The author may manipulate their perspective of reality and muddle the lines between what is real and what isn’t by making the reader feel doubtful and confused. Depending on the context and underlying themes being explored, the significance of forgetfulness in the story may vary. In the narrative of “KALIE SLE ZEYELO,” the author’s employment of forgetfulness could be seen as a beacon illuminating the profound depths of the character’s psyche. It’s as if forgetfulness is a protective veil, a mechanism triggered by the brain to shield the bearer from the scorching flames of emotional distress or trauma. It’s a defensive fortress, a refuge in the face of overwhelming pain, underlining the resilience of the human spirit even amidst the turbulence of forgetting.
Aman Tekeste is a Toronto-based Eritrean writer who graduated with a degree in civil engineering from the University of Asmara. In 2020, he published two volumes of the ‘Encyclopaedia Eritreana: Dictionary of Eritrean Biography’ in the Tigrigna language. Alongside these biographical works, Aman also writes reviews and memoirs. He can be contacted at email@example.com