‘Zebra Crossing’, the latest craze amongst Addis Ababa’s Page 3 set was crowded. The music was ‘abasha’ and the dancers were doing a very vigorous number. Sachin was engrossed in their movements and was sipping on his beer when a soft voice said to him, “I sit here?”
He looked up to see a rather colorfully dressed girl standing. He nodded his agreement, as he too needed company. “Thank you” she said as she settled in a chair. She had exceptionally large eyes and he noticed that she was quite beautiful. Her hair was tied in multiple tresses, Ethiopian fashion. She smiled at him. “Beer?” He asked.
“Yes” she replied.
He signaled the waitress; “One saint George” she said. The beer arrived.
“Cheers” he said and they clinked bottles.
“India or Pakistan?”
“Indian” was his reply.
“You like Ethiopian music?”
“Yes I do.”
“What about Ethiopian women?”
“I like them too” he said and laughed.
“What about you? You like Indian men?”
“Oh yes you have such beautiful hair.” What a reason to like a man he thought. “Thank God I am not bald.”
The music receded into the back ground as they buzzed along. He was surprised at the ease with which they talked. Maybe it was the beer in his stomach that made him brave. She took a cigarette from her pack and he lit it for her. Again she smiled at him.
“Let’s go to some quieter place” he said.
She seemed reluctant, so he said, “Oh don’t worry! I will pay you for the time you spend with me.”
She smiled and got up. They walked hand in hand to a nearby restaurant that looked less crowded and noisy than the previous one. Settling into a chair he ordered beer for both.
“My name is Sachin”
“I am Meklit”
“What does it mean? Meklit…”
“Protector of the family”
“What do you do?”
“I study beauty culture. You?”
“Nice profession. I am Finance Manager in Red Rose Flowers.”
“I like roses.”
“Oh you do?” He picked a rose from the vase on the table and presented it to her. Surprised she began to laugh.
“Where do you come from?”
She did not understand his question.
“Where your home?? Mother, father?”
“Harar. Very far from Addis.”
She took out a wallet from her purse and showed him a photo.
“My mother. Very beautiful…yes?”
“Yes just like you,” he said
She gave him a pleased smile. Suddenly he felt an urge to kiss her, but desisted.
“So how much money do you take for the night?”
“I don’t know. If you happy, you give me what you like.”
“I am not talking about me. Just asking. I don’t sleep with a girl without knowing her well. I like to take my time.”
“Yes. My family is in India.”
“Your wife is beautiful?”
“Yes very beautiful.”
She touched his nose. “I like it. It is so long. Mine is small. Give it to me.”
Conversing fluently with her wasn’t possible, as her English was halting and his Amharic was worse than her English. But it did not hinder the flow in any way. They exchanged personal information. Finally it was time for him to go. Sachin paid the bill and asked her if she wanted a lift somewhere. The waiter brought the change which he pressed into her hand along with a fifty birr note. Meklit shoved it into her purse without even looking, smiled at Sachin and said “Call me tomorrow.”
“Not tomorrow, but I will get in touch soon.”
She kissed him goodnight and left; he was too surprised to say anything.
The next day Sachin was not very attentive at work. His left hand was reaching for the cell phone to call Meklit but the right was holding it back. Finally the left hand won.
“Hello, is it Meklit?”
“Yes. Who is it?”
“Its me Sachin. Remember me?”
“Yes baby. How are you?”
“I am ok. I would like to meet you.”
“Okay baby. Where?”
“London café, seven pm?”
“Ok baby. I will be there. Ciao.”
They met in London Café. Drank coffee and again discussed life.
“What do you want to do after you finish your education?”
“I will go to Dubai”
“Money. Here pay very bad; they make us work hard only.”
“But they treat women very badly in the Gulf.”
“They beat us and rape us here too. And then don’t pay. At least I get more money there.”
He had no answer to this argument.
“So how do you plan to go there?”
“First I get passport. Then I go to agency for work.”
“They charge a lot of money. Where will you bring so much money from?”
“You think I do this business for fun? I will earn enough to pay for the passport and agent and then go to Dubai. I will be happy at last and my sisters will not do the work I do now”
There was a longing in her eyes, but Sachin had his doubts. Her income must be meagre and it cost a fortune to get work in Dubai and emigrate. It would remain a pipe dream and she would end up sick and old within ten years, her dreams shattered. But he couldn’t bring himself to tell her. Conversely, he knew that a lot of households in this country depended on remittances from their daughters in the Gulf Countries. They said bye to each other as Sachin put money in her hands.
A month had passed since their first meeting. The cold had set in on Addis Ababa. They were sitting at their usual meeting place. She was shivering. Sachin removed his coat and put it on her shoulder. His gesture brought a tear in her eye which she immediately wiped away, turning her face so he could not see. She took his hand and said “Lets go.”
“But I don’t have money.”
“Is ok. Come.”
They got into a Lada Taxi and she told the cabbie where to go. The cab interior smelt of diesel, but they couldn’t open the windows as it was too cold. They got down at a street corner and from there walked on a cobbled path. It was dark as the street lights were either broken or stolen. The path twisted and turned and finally she knocked softly on a gate and whispered something in Amharic. A middle-aged woman opened it and smiled at him knowingly. Meklit guided him to a door that opened into a small room. It was dimly lit and he could see that it was barely furnished, but clean. There was no bed, just a single mattress on the floor. The clothes trunk doubled as a chair. The aroma of ground coffee hung in the air. She closed the door, hugged and kissed him. Sachin hugged her tight and they no longer held back and gave to each other fully. Only six words were uttered; “The condom is in my purse.” As they lay exhausted on the mattress Sachin thought about the future. Where would they go from here? Obviously she was getting involved. She had broken the fundamental tenet of her profession and hadn’t taken money from him.
“I wish I could help her. But how? I am a loser myself.”
He got up without a word and dressed.
“You are leaving?”
“Yes I have to get up early in the morning for work.” His abruptness puzzled her.
“Call you later, Ciao.” he said
Sachin was restless the whole week. He had neither taken her calls nor called her. But she had never once left his thoughts. He wanted to help her get out of this hell hole. But how? He agonized over an answer to this question. How could he help her get that money? Distractedly he switched on the TV for his favorite sports channel. But they were showing an old cricket match so he flipped channels. The nervous clicking of the remote button stopped on the History Channel. They were doing a feature on George Bernard Shaw. “Shaw….hmmm Pygmalion…” he thought. And then an idea hit him. Excitedly he dialed her number,
“Meklit where are you? Come to my house immediately”
“But I was about to go to sleep and I don’t know where you live.”
“Oh get into a cab and give me a call. I will explain the location to the driver.”
Half an hour later his doorbell rang. He let her in and they hugged each other kissing passionately. She drew away and slapped him on his chest.
“Why you don’t call me?”
“No time for all that now. Listen I have a plan. From tomorrow you will come here every evening. I will teach you English.”
“But why should I learn English?”
“Don’t argue. Just do as I say. Hmmm, why don’t we start now?”
Bernard Shaw was going to turn in his grave, but Sachin couldn’t care less.
Meklit was laughing, thinking this was one more of his ploys to amuse her. But soon she found he was serious, and began to reciprocate. “He is such a good teacher” she thought “much better than that idiot in school”.
She was a quick learner and her base was good. In between language lessons he also taught her the graces. The tuitions continued for fifteen days, till finally Prof Higgins-Sachin was satisfied.
“Tomorrow we do some shopping” he said. He took her to Dembel City Center where the well-known designers had boutiques. She couldn’t believe it until he paid for a beautiful dress, that was quiet expensive. “This looks great on you” he said. “Okay let’s go. Sheraton please.” He said to the cabbie.
Meklit gaped and yelped “Sheraton? No way. They don’t allow girls like me in there.”
“ I am with you. Don’t worry.” She was apprehensive as they entered the beautiful but imposing building. The concierge didn’t bat an eyelid and saluted her. The luxury of the place was something she hadn’t even dreamt of. She was conscious of her heels clacking on the shiny surface and wanted to remove them. Sachin was holding her hand and pressed it lightly to reassure her. He took her to the pool side restaurant where a live band was playing. Many envious eyes were cast their way. She was looking stunningly beautiful. Meklit was soaking in the atmosphere when Sachin got up and said “I will come in a moment” and went towards the toilet. After five minutes her phone rang. It was Sachin. “Meklit, this is your new work place. Don’t be afraid. Men are the same everywhere, except for the clothes and perfumes they wear. If there is any problem give me a call. I am sitting in the Indian restaurant.” She wanted to run. But his voice had a calming effect on her. Now she realized the import of his training. She deposited the cell phone in her purse and looked up to see a Caucasian male ogling her. She raised her right brow at him and smiled.
The next morning Sachin was woken up by the insistent ringing of his door bell. He opened the door only to be jumped up on and kissed by an excited Meklit. She hadn’t even bothered to close the door. “Hey what’s up” he said and hastily closed the door.
She opened her purse and threw dollars on him. “See what I have earned… wow I have never seen so much money in my life. I want to buy something for you; let’s go to Dembel.”
“Ok! Now don’t spend this money like a fool. Just buy one more dress and some nice perfume. Rest you save.”
That day he took her to a bank and opened an account for her. This was something she could never forget all her life.
Within no time she had sufficient money in her account. Being naturally smart, she had overcome the difficulties- security personnel and established competitors-of operating in a five star hotel with ease.
Sachin had helped her in getting a good job in a Spa in Dubai through a friend who worked with a multi national cosmetic firm. Sachin was hugely satisfied with her success. In a way it was his success too. An ordinary man like him had done something extraordinary. “I am not such a failure after all” he thought.
It had been six months since she had emigrated. They spoke to each other, but the frequency of calls had receded.
Sachin was sitting in the same old café where they had first met. “Its been a week she hasn’t called” he said to himself. “I suppose its time to move on. But I miss her so much.” The band was playing a romantic number, which made him more melancholy.
He was about to get up and leave when a soft voice said “ I sit here?” Startled he looked up in hope. It wasn’t Meklit, but another girl who was making doe eyes at him.
“Help yourself” he said.
She smiled at him and sat down.
Sachin gathered himself and looked into her eyes,
“Ok! Now tell me… Do you want to go to Dubai or the United States…….”