Yohannes A. Tesfamichael*
Oct. 11, 2020
[Setting: Messenger chatroom as observed on Filimon’s laptop screen. As a tribute to their friendship, Filimon, a writer, has written a story from an actual experience with his friends a few years back. He clears his throat before reading it to them for feedback. His maximized face dominates the messenger window; his friends’ posts roll in the chatbox at the bottom right.]
Selamat everyone! Excited to read you our story! For comments, either type in the chatbox or unmute mic and jump in! Here we go!
That evening, we had a fantastic Habesha dinner at Munira’s before the five of us headed to downtown at around 9:00 pm. Munira was going to join us later after her husband took over babysitting their girl. My cousin, Habtom, had come to visit me from Italy (to discuss my writing a book based on his death-defying escape experiences from Eritrea). The other new guy was Henok – like Tamru and me, he came on a student visa. Awet and Munira went to the same high school back when he was in Addis before getting deported to Eritrea, and they again ran into each other after his admission to ‘Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft, Berlin.’ She lived in Berlin, married to a German archeologist she had met in Awassa, Ethiopia.
There were some teens hanging around at the train station, and I could easily see they had been through the sea and were Eritreans. I felt sad, and quietly nodded as I passed by them.
Mondlicht was our favorite club, although the opposite was not true. Regardless, we wanted to try there first. Tamru and Awet stood in line behind me – apart from each other to minimize the possibility of rejection than if we were one group of men.
We pulled out our Student IDs and showed it to the security guard with arms the size of Habtom’s thighs. Ignoring the IDs, he said something in German which none of us could understand. Our fluency was equivalent to one online language course required during student visa applications.
“Sorry, we are new in Germany, could you please speak in English?”
He repeated the same words he said earlier in German. Based on the words ‘Mit frauen’, we agreed that he was telling us we needed the company of women to be let in.
Guys! guys! may I continue reading please?
For the second try, we trudged to Dachfenster. Although we cheered the uncommonly easy entrance, the DJ, apparently, was still setting up his mixer when we got in, and we had to wait for at least two rounds of drinks before the mood was clubby enough.
The floor was much smaller than Enda-Sidistu of Asmara or Jazzamba of Addis. Munira clasped her arms around her former classmate’s neck, dreamily looking into his eyes. Indeed, Awet finally managed to escape from her loving embrace and found refuge between the breasts of a big blondie. But a few white men competed to join her in her unique moves that seemed to fall somewhere between Eskista, Disco, and booty dance. Lucas was telling me how he was impressed by Munira when Habtom whispered into my other ear, “Eway tsililiti derho!”.
Hey, hey, please. Let’s continue….
Many women danced alone, and they danced like nobody was watching. In an isolated corner, a few Africans danced as if they were putting on a show.
Tamru, Habtom, and I dispatched in different directions to the dance floor. Half an hour later, back at the bar to get a fresh batch of alcohol is where I meet Maggie.
(Habtom’s Tigrinya poem, translated)
(Habtom’s Tigrinya poem, translated)
Maggie had a kind, pretty face, and hypnotic blue eyes. She was half Italian and half German, and she taught music in high school.
She said the pay was not bad but ‘it was mind-numbing to teach those rude highschool brats’, and then followed that with a long and impassioned narration of her childhood dream of becoming a professional pianist.
“Do you know how it feels to carry half-dead dreams and plod on?” she asked, finally.
“I know how it feels to be half-dead and carry living dreams” I said. Just then, ‘Karma Chameleon’ started playing and I jumped on my feet pulling her along to the dance floor. We held hands and danced to ‘80s rock ’n roll until we were drenched in sweat.
She came back from the bar with a glass of cocktail for herself. (There, it seemed, even friends didn’t buy each other drinks.) Sipping on a straw from a rosy glass of cocktail like the color of her lips, Maggie told me what her parents’ hearts were made of: her mother’s – from an ice cube, her father’s – from pure gold.
In the comfort of her intimate attention, my deepest needs wanted to come up my mouth and breath. It had been a very long time since I felt like saying what I felt.
But just as I was about to open my mouth, she suddenly clasped my hand and asked me if she could please touch my beautiful curly hair. Her giggles chimed as she plowed her fingers through my head.
(Habtom’s Tigrinya poem, translated)
A few drinks later, I came back from the bathroom and was shocked to see Maggie slopped over the couch, dead sleep. Her belly was half-naked, her purse on the floor.
After a moment of hesitation, I called her name.
“Maggie! Maggie!” no response.
“Maggie! Hey!” I shook her on the shoulder. She slowly opened her eyes, grinning sheepishly as she sat up.
“My handsome, Komm! Komm sit here!” She rolled her sleeves up and pulled my wrist next to hers.
“Look at this, isn’t this beautiful? Sehr schönen!” – she meant the contrast.
“With your color, and my color, can you imagine? Imagine how beautiful our kids would be! Meine lockenkopf, will you please marry me?” She looked at me like she had been waiting for me all her life. Before I answered, though, her eyelids pulled over her azure eyes, and she free-fell on the couch and then spilled on the floor.
She blacked out. I asked for help. People gathered. People talked. I looked at faces. Kept guessing the German. Maggie slept. Maggie grinned in her sleep. I walked back to my friends.
Habtom : And then?
Filimon: I thought you disliked my additions. That is the end. Fenito!
Habtom: Wait, but it can’t end here. What happen to her? The police take you to ask question or what?
Tamru: I actually remember seeing the two of them on my way to the bathroom, she was trying to pull him up to dance, and he was slouching on the couch. Qoy! Was it you who had actually blacked out? Omg, is that why you disappeared for two days? Guys, I think I just decoded Fili!
Habtoma is not trusting you with writing his story after this one!
Awet: You didn’t think the fight with the Romanians was important? That was the only fight I had got into since high school, and you replace that with the story of dancing with a drunken woman? Scheisse!
Henok: And he didn’t even ‘walk back’ to us at the end. After we were kicked out, he remained with the chick he had just met!
Fili, we didn’t even see you for the next two days, and your phone was off! I thought you were finally going to tell us what really happened that night?
Munira: Fili, if you wanted to write about her, you know what is so interesting? The time she became your girlfriend and you kept ditching us on our Sunday barbecues, the party in my house where we dared you to kiss her, but you got shy and then! …when I said, if you really liked her you would’ve kissed her, she knocked the wine bottle on purpose! That E’bd! My floor is still stained!
Lucas: Munira must have celebrated when they broke up!
Filimon: Hey, hey, guys! But what I said was that I wrote our group story ‘based on’ our experience of that night. Didn’t say I was going to do a reportage.
Henok: “Our experience” ? Are you kidding? It isn’t even your experience! Qeldegna!
Filimon: Lucas, how about you? Don’t you think my Habesha friends are over-reacting? As the only non-Habesha here, your opinion is….emm…very important.
Lucas: Ach so. I like more…abenteuerlich…Munira, what is it in English…wie sagst du es …ad-ven-cha-ros stories, like the one you didn’t include. Endlich, it is your choice.
Awet: Filimon. Seriously. Are you going to write our real group story or not?
That was the only fight I had started since I was a boy and you don’t even bother to mention it? I say, get lost, meine bruder! Ich! Ich! Ich! Meine Leibe! Meine heart! Meine Kulit! Maggie! Maggie! Maggie!
We don’t want your fiction! We want the real story! Scheisse!
The piece was originally composed and was submitted to: “To speak Europe in different languages: Hybrid and collective writing competition.”
*Yohannes A. Tesfamichael is an exiled Eritrean poet and fiction writer who is currently based in California, USA. In his creative writing, he often deals with socio-political crises of citizens at their home countries and later in exile. Yohannes earned his MFA in Creative writing from California College of Arts in 2020. He can be reached at email@example.com.