They raided the Toyota Corolla automobile which was parked at a roadside in the middle of merkato, the biggest open market in Ethiopia. All are young boys under 20 …some with braided and dyed hair. They were chatting with one another. Some were smoking cigarette. Two of the young boys got closer to the driver, a foreigner (ferenj), and started speaking to him in broken English. The driver did not respond to them. Two boys with their clothes torn to shreds kneeled down near the front fender…tried to light their cigarettes using the blinking red hazard light. One of the boys pushed away the other who failed to light the cigarette … wetted the end of his own cigarette with his tongue and placed it on the red light… still sucking on it till his cheeks deepened…
The ferenj driver felt the incident was very interesting. “What the fuck these idiots are doing? … Oh, my God! These must be real jungle boys and very idiotic! I have never seen such a backward scene in this backward continent. …Yes, this must be caught by camera…” He stretched his hand to the backseat feeling for his camera. Still he fixed his eyes at the boys who were pushing each other to light their cigarette with the red blinking hazard light. The ferenj could not reach his camera which he placed on the backseat. He twisted his neck backward to get better view. There was nothing on the seat. ‘What!’ …He was sure he damped many of his things there. His laptop bag, two hard drives, sheaf of travel documents including novel manuscripts, cameras, GPS apparatus… He looked at the opened widows from both sides. He sprang up and got off the car.
He looked around. There was no one. Those young boys who were trying to chat with him were not around. The foreigner walked round his vehicle. When he got back to the driver’s door, he discovered that those boys who were trying to light their cigarette had disappeared. He giggled to himself in anger. Arms akimbo, he searched with his eyes for somebody who could help. No one gave him attention. Young and old were rushing all over the area. He kicked with his boots the side of his car in anger. That moment a piece of paper flipped from its loosen paste on the side of the car. It was a bus ticket. He looked at it carefully. Something was scribbled on the blank side of it. He picked it up, “Hey friend, you don’t worry yourself. Just call through these cell phone numbers.” He read the short message which was followed by cell phone numbers.
He grabbed his cell phone and called through the numbers. Somebody with rough voice responded from the other end. “Good afternoon, sir! This is the voice of breadwinners. …peaceful fellows of merkato. I should tell you that we are very sorry about the incident. On behalf of the breadwinners, I would like to tell you one important thing. We have just taken your properties for the time being. What I can tell you now is that we don’t need them all. But be informed that we need a favor from you… You are under our strict surveillance. We give you our brotherly advice not to report this incident to the police. If you do that, you will never get your properties back. We will call you back after an hour,” the cell phone disconnected.
The ferenj was so angry that the guy did not give him the chance to speak a single word. He looked around to discover the guys who might look at him that moment. No one was looking towards him. He giggled and climbed aboard his car… He thought he should report the theft to the police. ‘How should I keep quiet while I am losing my important documents! My novels, travel documents, research papers… I should get them all back. No… It is better to report this theft to the police. But what if the police fail to get back my properties! No! It is a fool of me to trust them. The police can never get back my lost properties. Moreover, the guy warned me that I might not retrieve the properties if I did this…’ He was determined to wait for the second call from the bread winner guy.
An hour later his cell phone called. He answered it immediately. The same rough voice came through. “Yeah, we have just checked in your laptop and hard drives. There are a lot of documents stuffed in there. We think these things are very important for you; not for us…. We can delete them all at a single click and sell the apparatus. But we don’t do that… So, let’s come to dealings… Hey buddy, are you ready for that?”
“Yes, I am ready. Please come up with your demand,” the foreigner said.
“Ok… we breadwinners are demanding you to pay us…” he stopped talking for a long time.
The foreigner from the other end was breathing heavily. “Hallo, please name the amount of money you need me to give you… please!”
“Yeah… we don’t need much. No need to hurt you as you have been doing good jobs. Ok, we want you to pay us only 5,000 USD! No phony notes! Genuine dollars. We don’t want you to give us in local currency. If you agree to our demand, just say it now. If you don’t want to say it now, we can call you tomorrow…”
“No! No need to wait till tomorrow. I have accepted your demand. I am ready to settle the payment. I can do that. Please…” the foreigner pleaded.
The cell phone clicked dead. The ferenj was so disappointed that he was about to hurl away his cell phone. But it rang right away. This time he saw different numbers on the screen. He does not want to talk to others. He should give priority to the breadwinners who took his properties. But what if they called using another cell phone… He responded to the call.
“Yeah, this is the real voice of breadwinners. Now listen very carefully. Do you have the money with you now?”
“Yes, I have it here with me. I can pay you right now.”
“That’s good! Please get out of your car… Yeah! Put your hands up one by one, above your head, and turn around. … Please do it one more time. Ok… turn your face to your right and look ahead straight. …Can you see a LADA Taxi …a blue-white painted one with its number plate covered with black plastic?”
“Eh…Eh… Yes, there I can see it from afar!”
“You will go directly to that taxi and climbed aboard on the driver’s seat. You are not allowed to touch anything inside except the cell phone you see on the passenger’s seat next to you. You will answer the call that will be coming through this cell phone… Am I clear?”
“Now throw your cell phone inside your vehicle. No… No! Do it again very slowly so that I can see it… Ok! Now close your vehicle. Be informed that no one will touch your car. …Now do as instructed!”
The ferenj did as he was told. He walked some two hundred meters and boarded on the LADA Taxi. He saw the cell phone on the passenger’s seat next to him. Five minutes later, the cell phone called. The foreigner grabbed it immediately. “Buddy, you did a good job! Now you hand over the said money to the man who will pop up in a moment behind you in the cab. Warning… You are not expected to turn your head and face the man.”
The foreigner was so alarmed that he was shaking. He thought he would get injured… probably get stabbed from the back… ‘They are going to snatch my money by chalk holding me… Are they playing a trick on me?’ he thought. Some three minutes elapsed. It was like a year for him. Nothing has happened to him so far. He heard the rough voice coming from the other end.
“Hallo! … can you hear me? Yeah, don’t be afraid. We are friends. Nothing will happen to you so long as you want to communicate with us friendly…. Don’t switch off the cell phone. If it is not comfortable for you to handle the phone on your right ear while taking out the money, shift it to the other…” the phone went dead.
Then the ferenj felt something feeling his side. He gave a sudden jerk and tried to turn his head, but he stopped and glanced up to search through the front rearview mirror. But there was no rearview mirror on the windshield. A long thin arm stretched out between the two seats. He peeled out the dollars from his breast pocket and placed it on the stretched palm. Immediately the cell phone called. He answered it.
“Hallo! …Now, put me through the man behind you. You remain seated where you are. Don’t move!” The foreigner did as he was commanded. He placed the cell phone on the same palm stretched out… A couple of minutes later, the palm handed back the cell phone to him. The ferenj placed it on his earlobe. “Hey bro! you did a good job. Now we are about to depart… But one more thing…”
“What about my properties… Please….” the foreigner cut in.
“I need you to cool down. … Now you will walk back to your car. You will get all your properties retrieved in the same place you had left them before they were taken away for the time being… This is the voice of breadwinners. …Last warning! …No reporting to the police! You don’t need to do that if you want to have long lasting friendship with us. Any question?”
“Yes, how can I trust you that you will give me back my properties?”
“What I can advise you is that you will have to trust us. I don’t think you will have another alternative. …You will get your properties. You trust us. If you don’t want to trust us, that’s your choice. But that makes no difference….” The cellphone went dead all of a sudden.
The ferenj ran back to his car. He was very surprised to see all his properties retrieved in his vehicle. He checked for everything piece by piece…. Yes, they all are back. “Thanks to these guys! What would I do if they did not give me back…? …What could I do if they did something bad against me when I was in the LADA Taxi? …. They are very smart! I should thank these bastard breadwinners…”
The writer can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org