Many love letters were torn to shreds. Many would-be poets saw their poems ridiculed. Many would-be singers crooned in vain.
As she stayed late selling hard boiled eggs to drunkards and barflies making the rounds of the various alehouses in the village, Timar would remember Tesfai whom she loved so much in the past. Unfortunately, he was arrested by the Derg soldiers, tortured but finally succeeded to escape from prison and vanished into thin air. He was a secret agent of the EPLF.
However, despite her lover’s personal attachment to the EPLF or because of it, Timar, who was a free spirit and visibly non-conformist, never liked the Organization for whose uncalled for wars against the ELF where her mother died in vain making her motherless and fatherless. She hated the Organization’s zealous and fanatic members or sympathizers in the village who thought that everything in the country including the birds and the trees belonged to the Sewra (the Revolution). She was already too smart to buy that kind of independence, one that seemed to already show traces of regimentation and despotism.
Timar was unique in her character, and as a result, only few understood her. However, those who approached her found themselves outsmarted and outwitted and totally confused.
She wore her hair short in a culture where long hair was regarded as a symbol of pure lineage. She wore blue jeans in a society where such thing was considered immoral or unbiblical. She was a sort of an Eritrean hippie born in the wrong place and at the wrong time.
She hated regimented life and marriage and religious fanaticism and backward culture and above all she hated power politics which left her fatherless, motherless and lonely.
Well, there was nothing for her to do in the village anymore. Bored of the monotonous life which tried her indomitable spirit, and not one to care about freedom that smelled of despotism and communism especially in a small village like hers, she decided to move and face the world in her own terms. Her first trip took her to Asmara.
On the way to Asmara by a squeaking bus, Timar could see the ‘rotting’ carcasses of army trucks and armored vehicles, some blown out others burned down; check points manned by relaxed soldiers, and from time to time fighters on leave asking for a lift. It was a strange habit of the fighters to ask and do things for free. For when they were in the field, they lived a life comparable to the early stage of human social life. Everything belonged to everybody else. Too bad, they lost this habit after liberation and adopted one that was diametrically opposed to it.
With looks like hers, it didn’t take long for Timar to find a job in a snack bar owned by a certain matron named Haregu who had made good money during her stay in Jeddah. (PART 1)
The day Timar began her work in earnest, there was a noticeable increase in the number of people who frequented the snack bar. Among them was of course combatants, who never despaired of one day stealing her heart. To make the competition even tighter, men with cars, would-be Romeos, town playboys, dirty old men, sugar daddies, etc. entered the bitter battle for Timar’s heart.
The candidates would come around ten in the morning or around three in the afternoon, when the room was rather empty with only one or two customers sipping their tea quietly. They would order tea or sandwich and the moment Timar brought it on a tray, they would whisper at her to sit by their side for a while and would begin their courting. She would oblige them just to break the monotony that characterized her new job.
Well, to come to the various suitors, their strategies were as different as their background, their social standing, their salaries, their marital status and, of course, their age. But they had one thing in common. They all, without exception, told lies, nothing but lies; the more honest among them limiting themselves to simple exaggeration and hyperbole.
A guy by the name of Alem arrived, sat at a table near the window and ordered milk. When Timar brought it on a tray, he told her to sit by his side.
He used the most effective tool of kindness and generosity, accompanied by promises of taking Timar with him to America as soon as his visa was ready. He had to create a fantasy world of his own, where all his aunts, on his mother’s side, lived in Sweden; where a relative was a general in the Ethiopian army, and he himself followed distance economics course from the University of London. And in the event she promised to marry him, he would sell his villa in Massawa and buy her car.
Then along came a friend of Alem, a member of the Pentecontalist Church. He ordered tea, and went through the same ritual.
His promises were more ethereal than real. He wanted to go to heaven with her and sing along with the angels in the sky. He wanted to share the special gift of the Holy Spirit with her and assured her that Jesus would fulfill all her wishes for the asking. And in the event that she promised to marry him, he would ask the Holy Spirit to take them to America.
But of all the suitors that harassed Timar, no one was more boorish and dangerous than the liberation fighter who went by the name of Weddi Mannu.
Weddi Mannu was a good fighter in his days, but he didn’t get what he deserved for his bravery or maybe for his bravado. He used to say that he shot down three enemy fighter planes in one battle. But, he didn’t as much as get a pat on the back from the EPLF leadership. His bravery was dismissed as an obligation and a duty required of any fighter. He should have used his anti-aircraft missile to bring down one of the leaders instead!
He married while in the field to a woman whom he said had killed and humiliated men in various bloody encounters. He now wanted to marry a real woman who could raise his male children without killing their manhood in the process. How low can you get!
He worked with the Security and always carried a handgun.
This guy, the first time he saw Timar in the snack bar, steeped as he was in the PFDJ’s culture of arbitrary actions and lack of responsibility, decided to force her to love him. A girl who slept with the Derg soldiers all her life should be honored to be the wife of a freedom fighter, he thought.
He told Timar that he lived in a villa which belonged to a rich Italian, and that his brother in Holland would soon send him a Land Cruiser.
When after three days of ‘propaganda campaign’ undertaken to woo her, he failed to make any visible change in her attitude, he resorted to intimidation.
“You see Timar, the war is over, but since we are a small nation, our neighbors are a menace, especially those who covet our strategic position in the Horn of Africa….”
Timar couldn’t care less. The bellicose nature of the PFDJ was not new for her. Soon would they start antagonizing their neighbors one by one. War and strife is the leadership’s modus vivendi, and bragging and arrogance, its modus operandi.
“One day the government may want you youngsters to fight in order to defend the country. We have already done our share, and now it is your turn to suffer and to die for your country,” he concluded.
Timar showed signs of irritation. This man seemed to enjoy seeing people suffer. Deep inside he simply felt frustrated that Timar and her likes slept with the enemy soldiers while he slugged it out with them in the filed.
“You see Timar, I know exactly where you live, because it is my job to spy on people,” he said by way of intimidating her. “You don’t know how safe you would be if you simply promise to marry me,” he suggested.
Here was a man, more dangerous than the hyenas she met at night in her village, hyenas that a loud shout or a bright light sent howling away. How is it possible to ward off the evil intentions of men like Weddi Mannu? This man could even go over to her house and kill her.
She thought of calling Haregu for help, but she knew somehow that people like Weddi Mannu didn’t have much consideration for non-combatants much less a woman like Haregu who, according to them, might have spent her days prostituting with Arabs in the Middle East. So Timar decided to take action that might shelter her from Weddi Mannu’s evil intentions.
“Okay, but you don’t have to rush things,” she said. ”Let me think about it.”
Weddi Mannu seemed very much pleased. At least he got what he wanted. He frightened her into considering a possible marriage. The next move was to make continuous surprise visits to her house, until she would crack and succumb.
The next day, around 10 am Weddi Mannu strolled into the snack bar. This time he was with a friend who wore a checkered headscarf sported by most freedom fighters for some years following the liberation of Asmara. The moment Timar saw him at the door, she feigned stomach ache and scurried out of the snack bar and headed towards the bathroom that stood about twenty meters away from the kitchen. Weddi Mannu seemed to have noticed her as she left the kitchen. He said nothing for the time being.
They ordered a bowl of ful (crushed peas mixed with butter) each and downed it with a papaya juice. Haregu kept on stealing glances at them. They had a sinister look about them. Haregu didn’t like what was going on. She felt that trouble was brewing. She kept looking over her shoulder at the two strangers who now seemed nervous and restless.
“Why do you keep staring at us? Haven’t you ever seen freedom fighters before?” growled Weddi Mannu.
“I beg your pardon?” asked Haregu politely.
“You heard me loud and clear! Well, on second thought you couldn’t have seen liberation fighters as you were busy running around with Derg soldiers to make money,” he explained.
“If you think you were the only one who fought against the enemy, you are mistaken. Haven’t it ever occurred to you that every Eritrean fought in his or her own way for his or her own country,” she retorted.
“Maybe the fighting took place on a bed with Derg soldiers, as you haggled about prices…” he continued.
“Well, didn’t someone tell you that you left for the field not to liberate the country but because the only bed on which you slept with your brothers and sisters was not wide enough to accommodate the whole lot of you?” she replied.
At this point, Weddi Mannu couldn’t control himself. He stood up and reached for his handgun and pointed it at Haregu, his eyes red shot with fury. Fortunately, his friend who had more sense of fairplay shouted at him to stop and made him to sit down.
”You old bitch, I honored myself and my country by struggling for 30 years, while you sold your body to the enemy,” he foamed at the mouth.
“So you fought expecting one day to come to Asmara and run about with young girls like Timar?” rejoined Haregu.
“That’s enough!” hollered the friend of Weddi Mannu. ”You are insulting the Sewra (Revolution) and it may cost you dearly,” he warned Haregu.
“I am sorry, but it is him who is desecrating our noble Sewra by frightening a little girl whose mother was martyred for her country,” clarified Haregu.
Suddenly, the man’s face dropped and he looked confused. He told Weddi Mannu to get up and they both left without saying a word.
In the end Timar came to realize that the only way out was to stay with her old time friend Alem (who lived in a tenement houses, kanshelo, in the outskirt of Asmara), closer to a tough guy for safety, and in a crowded place for psychological reasons.
The other choice, that of going back to her village, was not considered safe as it would encourage Weddi Mannu to do things with impunity in an Eritrean peasant society where boys are preferred over girls, the latter being raised to finally get married and have children…
to be continued…