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Once up on a time…

Adapted from an old local story

Once up on a time there was a rural lady named Almaz who was 32 years old. She was so pretty that everyone in that part of the country called her Almu konjo. This nick name was originally given by an Arab man who was also a member of that rural village. The Arab man was an owner of a big shop which was regularly visited by all residents of that village. Boys and girls, ladies and gentlemen including young and old visited the big shop to get whatever they needed. Sugar, coffee, salt, edible oil, sandal sticks, ointment, soap, detergent, stationeries, candy, biscuit, pasta, macaroni, wheat flour, candle, matchstick, dry cell battery, needle, thread, safety-pin, mirror, razorblade and many other materials needed by rural community were available in that big shop. Whenever someone needed something, it was common to hear others saying, “why don’t you go to Arabu’s!”. The people in the village liked the Arab shop owner who always looked happy. He always sang in Arabic along with an old and big radio which was on the whole day in the shop. People liked his way of speaking the local language. Residents of the village called this man Arabu. His real name was not known by the local people. Arabu’s shop was also called arab bet (house of an Arab guy). Little boys and girls liked to go errand to the arab bet to buy whatever they needed. Arabu used to give them candy or a lump of sugar.
Almaz lived in a big cottage surrounded by thick fence of hedges. The wooden gate of the big compound had its own shade or porch made from corrugated iron sheet. If somebody needed to visit the cottage, s/he would pull a small rope seen hanging by the side of the gate so that a small bell far inside could ring. Almaz was living with her husband and a young son aged about 13. Most of the time her husband, Simegnew and the young son, Arega spent their time out in the farmland. Simegnew tilled his farmland which was located within ten minutes’ walk. He sometimes walked back home to have his lunch and coffee. Simegnew was a diligent farmer who grew teff, beans, peas, vetch, chickpea, wheat, sunflower and other crops. Arega, their son looked after cattle of his family. As he carried his lunch, he was not expected to come back home for lunch.
Sometime Almaz crossed over the dirt road near her house and visited the arab bet to buy coffee, sugar or edible oil. This time Arabu would come out of the balcony and grab Almaz’s slim hand. He would smile and sing and talk in the local language appreciating her. “Almazu konjo! Almu pretty… I love you Almaz… Almu, my pretty lady! Welcome! Please drink tea… I can make you very sweet tea… konjo! You like it, Almu!” He sometimes hugged her, touched her breast and felt her long black flaxen hair hanging over her back.
Almaz felt shy and tried to free herself from his strong grip. Sometimes she said that she did not like the hairy arms of him. “Don’t touch me with your hair. It caresses me!” Sometimes when he did too much hugging and fondling on her, she warned him to stop it. “I am a married woman. I have a big and respected man. I am only for that man. Stop what you are doing. My husband will shoot you if he happens to see what you are doing here!” she said seriously.
“Better to die than miss the chance to touch such a pretty lady like you. Almu I love you… Bal yikotal? (is your husband angry?) …No, I don’t care. I need you! I will come to your house to chat with you. Bal yimetal (will your husband come?) Arabu anchi yiwedal! (Arabu loves you.) Ene bet yimetal (I’ll come home).” Arabu said stroking her long hair.
“Stop that and rather give me coffee and sugar. Do you hear that?” Almaz said seriously.
“Yes, my pretty lady. I do hear you. Take whatever you like for free. This shop is yours. Arabu loves you. Bal bet ale? (is your husband at home?) I will come to see you at home now…” He gave her whatever she needed. More coffee beans than she required… too much sugar and candies… He also added for her, as a gift, sandal sticks. At last he grabbed her hand and kissed it. Almaz would slap his hairy hand and walk out of the shop hurriedly.
“Almu, my dear, I will come home right now…OK?”
“No! …If you want to come, make it after two hours… at around 11:00 AM. I have a lot of things to do at home. I cannot chat with you unless I am through with my work… understand?”
“Yes, Almu… Arabu comes at 11:00 AM… bal yimetal? (Does your husband come?)” Almaz smiled and left the shop without responding to him.
Arabu walked over to Almaz’s after two hours. He carried coffee, candies, sugar, salt, wheat flour, a bundle of sandal sticks and bar of soaps. He pulled the thin rope hanging over the gate. The small bell tolled far inside the compound…
It was Almaz who responded to the call after some seconds. She was very busy cleaning the house, milking the cows and preparing food for the family. As she was surprised to see Arabu, she stared at him. …He caressed at his white beard showing her his tea-bleached teeth. She led him to the living room and started washing cups, saucers, spoons and kettle. Arabu looked at her very carefully. Her long black hair was shrouded by a white shema. Her breasts were seen bouncing inside her wide robe. “Almu, what are you going to do now?”
“I am going to make coffee for my guest.”
“No coffee! No, please! …No, please! I need you…, Almu,” Arabu implored her.
“No, you should know our culture. I thought you knew that! … Our guest should be invited coffee and snack before he directly does whatever he has come for. Particularly if the guest is a special one, we make a special coffee with butter. You are a special guest here. So, first you will drink coffee with butter.” she smiled.
Arabu’s heart started beating fast, “Ok, Almu konjo, I will drink coffee with butter! …Yes, I love coffee with butter!” He moved over and tried to kiss her on the check. But she did not allow him.
“Arabu, you sit over there! You are now my guest. I need your tolerance.” She rolled her eyes sideways.
Arabu felt something warm inside. He liked her eyes, her lips and her whole being… “Ok… Almu, I shall wait till you are through with your work…”
Suddenly the gate bell tolled. Arabu was alarmed. He rose to his feet and stared at Almaz questioningly. …She said something to comfort him. “Sometimes children ring the bell for fun… You don’t worry. Anyways, let me check out…” She walked out and returned in a moment. Arabu could read from her face that she was afraid. “My husband is at the gate! This is the end for both of us!”
“Ya Allah! … What Am I supposed to do now, Almu. I don’t want to die. Your man will shoot me! I know he will kill me! …Please, do something!” Arabu was shaking like leaves on a tree.
“Come on, follow me. …Hurry up!” She pulled him by his sleeves to the inner dark kitchen. She gave him a shema and told him to cover his head and hands. Then, she showed him to bend over and start grinding shiro (powder of roasted beans or peas) on the stone mills situated in the dark corner of the inner room. She walked out hurriedly to respond to the knocking at the gate. Arabu started grinding the shiro like local maids. He saw how they did it. He crushed the roasted peas between the two grinding stones. He pushed with his two palms the small stone against the mother or wider stone placed beneath crushing in between the grain or shiro. He padded his hands with netela cloth so that his skins would not blister.
(to be continued…)

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