Asha, 55, is a mother of five daughters and a son. Like all other Ethiopian mothers, she toils from dawn to dusk. Her hometown is named Bedessa which is located some 350 km from Addis Ababa in the eastern part of the country, Hararghe.
One morning Asha walked over as usual to the backyard of her house where her khat plantation is situated. She plucked the tender part of the khat leaves which she would take out for sale in the town. While collecting the khat on a spread sheet of cloth, she felt for herself that the important part of the khat has been diminishing… But still she could have some to sell off and get money. Were it not for the small rain that was falling for a week, she would not collect a single bundle of khat. …khat is means of income round the year for her entire family including her husband and herself. Asha sells the khat and buys whatever is necessary for home… like edible oil, salt, sugar, wheat flour, onion, potato, tomato…
Her husband sometimes hoes and prunes the khat; plucks and makes bundles of the leaves so that Asha can carry them out to the market. He usually keeps himself at home chewing khat. The only son of the family who is about 15 years of age serves as a hired cart driver. He usually gets birr 50 per day for his service. If the business is good, particularly on market days, Wednesday and Saturday, and if he collects over birr 300, the cart owner will pay him his daily wage of birr up to 100. The boy gives the money to his mom. He sometimes buys several ears of corn and loaves of bread for his family. The boy stopped going to school at grade four. When he is not on duty for various reasons, his mom, Asha is expected to carry as much khat as she can to the market for sale and get money needed for her family.
Now Asha has cut the khat; tied them in to three different bundles and wrapped all together with her girdle. She expected around birr 30 from the three bundles. As usual she would buy wheat flour or some grains to make daily food for her family. …Asha carried the bundles of khat on her back and started strolling along the roads of Bedessa Town late in the morning. However, the day did not look good for her… While walking around, she happened to see a lady friend of hers seated herself in the market. Asha put her bundles of khat behind while talking with the lady who was selling onion at the market. After a while, when she turned her face back, the three bundles of khat were not there. She was taken aback and tried to search for them around. No one seemed to give attention to her… ‘what does this mean? …this means I am losing the food which I should have for my poor kids… How unlucky I am! …’ Anger and sadness built up within her.
She walked ahead looking for someone who stole her property. No one was there. She felt crying… Suddenly she heard a roaring of laughter coming from young boys who were sitting under the shadow of a fig tree. Piles of khat placed in front of them. They were snatching and chewing from the khat. ‘They are enjoying chewing my khat. Yes… but… why? This must be nonsense!’ Asha stopped and took a look at them from afar. Yes, she convinced herself that the young ones were having her own khat… She walked hurriedly towards them. “My sons, why did you steal my khat which I carried out for sale? … Why did you do that, my kids?” she asked with crying sound.
The young boys were surprised. They stared at her for a while without saying anything. Then, one of them said, “ayo (mother), we did not see your khat… Please, don’t make rush judgement like that. We are not thieves… Trust us…”
Meanwhile, a young passerby was listening to the dialogue of the lady and the young boys. He realized it was not a friendly type of talking… He got closer and listened to them… Yes, they were having disagreements. “Mallo, umma?” (what has happened, mother?) He asked looking at Asha. …her chin leaning on her skinny hand while talking with the young boys in an angry tone of voice. A big blood tube seen across her forehead.
“She lost her khat which she was about to sell off… and she thought we had stolen it,” a little boy responded to the young man.
“Who took it? … I hope you boys did not do that; did you?” the young man inquired.
“abba, I don’t think the lady knows where she lost her khat,” a young boy with his cheek bulged out with khat said.
“Umma, where did you lose it? … Was it around here or in the center of the market?” The young man turned his attention towards Asha.
The poor lady kept quiet. She was looking far at the vacant air… Her once smoothed complexion has turned to rough and black. The young man felt sorry for Asha. He thought that at this age of hers the lady should have got her place at home being respected and supported by her children… But what if she has no anyone to support her?… The young man walked closer to her; patted her shoulder in a kind of consolation …
“Umma, I need to talk to you… come on, please.” He led her to the brink of the road and stared at her. She glared at the ground in a state of melancholy. “Where did you lose your khat? …Are you sure the boys took it?”
“I don’t know. I thought what they were chewing was my khat. I have no evidence. I accused them of theft without any evidence… I was worried…”
“Yes, we all do the same when we are sad or angry… Don’t worry. …Please watch out the ISUZUs while strolling across the street… You know how mad our drivers are. Now I want you to take this… Please don’t assume you received alms. Just think of your own son giving it to you,” so saying he gave her rolled notes of birr 200.
Asha clenched the notes as if to protect them from being carried away by wind… Then, immediately she felt ashamed of herself and thrusted her hand to the young man’s pocket giving him back the money. “No…no…please! It is not necessary. I can surely find the khat. I am sure. Let me search for it around… Please take your money back. Thank you so much, my son”.
“No, I will never take that back,” the young man pushed her hand back and walked away leaving her behind.
Asha was surprised. She did not expect such a thing. Then she started walking back to the market. After a few steps on the dirt lane, she happened to watch a piece of cloth sliding off the road. She stopped and followed with her eyes the slowly moving piece of cloth. She knows this cloth. It is her waistband. She had wrapped her three bundles of khat with it before she came out to the market. A nanny goat was pulling the cloth. …The animal was enjoying the last bundle of khat that belonged to Asha. She was alarmed. … She thought she committed a sin by falsely accusing the young boys of stealing her three bundles of khat. ‘How sinful old lady I am!… A good-for-nothing woman!’ she said with a sense of remorse.
Asha ran back to the direction where the young man had walked. ‘I should give him back the money.’ She saw him from afar disappearing into the crowd of people. She did not know where she could find him again… But she thought that she could do one more thing… asking for the excuse of the young boys whom she mistakenly called thieves… The boys were chatting and chewing at the same place where she had seen them. She got closer and watched over them. They have not yet seen her. They lost in their world. She cleared her voice calling attention of them… They turned their faces and looked at her in surprise. “Ayo, what has happened?” a boy asked her.
“I am ashamed of myself… I am sorry to call you names which you do not deserve… Please, excuse this old lady who is standing in front of you…” she implored.
The boys were alarmed and did not say a word for the time being. Then, minutes later, one of them said, “what are you talking about, ayo? Are you telling us you got your khat?”
“Yes, indeed, my boy. I saw it while it was being chewed by a nanny goat.”
They all laughed hilariously. “Ummo, we are happy you discovered who the thief is… and regretted. We thank you.” Then, they talked one another in low voice; contributed some money and handed over it to Asha through a boy.
But Asha was reluctant to receive the money saying that she has already got much from the other young man. “Please, I have much money… The young man has just given me,” she said.
“What you got is not from us. We should also support you. Besides, we want you to shower us with blessings… Take it please and go back home,” the boy said.
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