(A Short Story)
As the rainy season set in early, a heavy downpour out of the blue that took many by a surprise was forcing passersby to quickly seek refuges in nearby shops or bars. That is why Daniel, an ethical civil servant, got into a pub for an enforced boozing.
“Treating oneself with raw meat has a positive feedback. When I eat a kilo I become hungry. When I add one more I become famished experiencing a metamorphosis into a lion, out from its den to feed on a buffalo,” said Abraham gulping a mugful of draft beer on a knee-high-long-and-narrow table sporting a tray bearing lumps of yellowish white raw meat, hiding red layers underneath. Such butcheries having french windows, made of long glasses, are painted white and red to make a perfect color match with the meat they display.
He was responding to the questions Daniel posed. Daniel had taken a seat by the door. They hail from the same district though their villages differ. They are on bowing terms. Abraham is 15 years older than Daniel. It was soon after he joined the Land Administration and Management of X's Kifle Ketema Abraham got transformed from a needle-like boy to an amorphous animal. It was in no time he got transformed from a considerate boy to an arrogant civil servant, who has no care for others and who sees service seekers as sources of income. He was sharing a seat with an old man on a bench having a rectangular nature similar with the table. Injera, a flat home made bread,pieces of loafs and a small bowl containing a mixture of gal,chili and red pepper were decoratively placed along the meat on the tray.
Though a young adult, with a pot belly and a bulging bottom that seems to vie to throw him out of balance, Abraham cuts the shape of landlords, who became subject to extinction like the pitiful dinosaurs. A barfly, no one misses him at pubs by his house and his work place. The pub has a butchery which,in a tantalizing way, exhibits oxen meat accentuated by a 100 Watt lamp, put on day and night to lure passers by and standers by to get in and enjoy raw or fried meat to their hearts' content. It is the habit of such butchers, cloaked in a white gowns, to stand alert to whet the appetite of clients wielding a big knife with another and kicking the table with a cleaver. Often they utter “Do come in!” when someone casts a glance towards the meat.
“What is it like eating a meat raw?” posed Daniel who is a vegetarian by choice.
“The taste is good. When you adapt yourself to it, it becomes irresistible. Moreover, it is easy to chew. Nor does it give the stomach a hard time to digest. Try this!You could take the traditional medicine Koso to purge out possible parasites who may evade the chili” he offered Daniel a lump.
“ No thanks. I am a vegetarian!” Daniel waved his hand right and left.
“Unbecoming of an Ethiopian!” the old man said.
“Sure!Sure!”Daniel said .All laughed.
Pressing with his question“Which one do you prefer most?The raw or the fried one?” Daniel asked.
“The raw one! but I never become satisfied unless I conclude with a kilo of fried meat.”
“How often do you come here?”
“On a daily basis. I don't want to share the Shero ( pea-flour soup) and Injera (a homemade flat bread) with my wife and children.”
“ On daily basis!How do you afford the exorbitant price?” Daniel projected a cross-questioning face smelling a rat, for, once, he had heard an old woman right from the land management office complaining 'Officials of these days don't spare even those who lead life asking for alms!' ”
“Most of the time I afford but clients satisfied by my excellent service either offer me with treats or give me tips.”
“Offer me with treats?” Daniel said with a sarcastic smile.
“You see 'The worker deserves his due!' says the holy book. Besides one can't be well off with one's salary as one cannot become tipsy with water.” Daniel nodded by way of saying is that how you try to justify your wrong doings.
“But it as well says trouble will visit the house of s/he who eats others out of their resources?” Daniel challenged him back.
“Man don't philosophize. Corruption was there from the times of Samuel!” Abraham said.
“Yes!But you should not skimp over how his sons landed up in a soup for their wrong doings?”
“Anyways the practice was there” Abraham said casting a glance towards the old man by way of saying help me out.
“ Father, when did you begin eating raw meat?” Abraham asked the old man.
“It was my grandpa that encouraged me to go for it. He used to criticize me for fight-shying to eat a raw meat saying 'It is the coward who backpedal from eating raw meat. When we go out for hunting a gazelle we used to eat it raw before we fry it on a bone fire. Always go for the fatty one. A meat has no meaning unless it pisses in once mouth.' I further developed the habit when I became Archive officer in the municipality office. People used to grease my hand for finding their files, I often liked hiding on heaps of files on purpose.”Abraham and the old man laughed while Daniel reflected this remark hints rent seeking is deeply entrenched in the society's psyche.
While the two were laughing a lump of raw meat, dipped in a bowl of red-pepper and gal mixture, adamantly lodged in his throat, unable to breath, Abraham tumbled flat on his back.
Between life and death, with rolling big eyes, pointing a finger to his throat he pleaded, Daniel, butchers and waiters save him. The old man, beside him, shouted terrified to the core of his being.
“Please pat him behind his shoulder. Be quick!Be fast! The old man shouted.”
“He who takes bribe will be beset by a problem that arises from his home,” Abraham heard the angle of death mocking him with a laughter of a victor standing on his prey. He saw the pauper old lady from whom that morning he took a bribe to cut down a deliberately -protracted service goading the angle of death to pool him with a forked spade to hell.
“He is an imp in human guise. Allah has no mercy for the likes of him. Escort him to hell!” he heard a similar utterance once an old Muslim man made revolted by the long appointment Abraham fixed to him though the task was a minor one.
“I will mend my wrong ways! I must not tarnish the image of innocent collegues,” Abrham also reheard his utterance in a deep renewal meeting.
Making a projectile motion a lump of meat stashed in Abraham throat fell on the floor when the butcher, who came forth rushing, patted Abraham on the back.
Regaining his breath Abraham saw people in the butchery's dining room.
“May God forgive me. Though I get a modest salary, enough to lead a good life I was leeching on innocent citizens. I must go to get my confessing father. I will also apologies clients I displeased.
“What a lesson !”Daniel said! “How could our country transform unless it shakes off such lechers!”
“I am afraid I have to confess too! I did sponge on many while in office” The old pensioner who is now president of a self help association said whose trouser turned wet by his own urine.
BY ALEM HAILU