Forty years ago, revolutionary soldiers razed my childhood village like pirates, destroying the only life I had ever known. They took my home and my family. And they took away my very best friend. I wrote you letter after letter, even when I knew that I wrote in vain – that you would never read a single word.
But then, I received a letter that changed everything.
Dear Tadelech, my anonymous donor had written. When I saw the photo of you and the orphans, I was stunned. Could it be? Were you the same young psychic who had once cleansed my aunt’s home of troublesome ghosts, and who had reluctantly introduced me to the world of alchemy? (It worked, I’m sorry to say. I should have listened to your warnings).
Yes, Leon. My anonymous donor and I had met many years before, in the town of Asteria. But that wasn’t all. He went on to tell me about a former roommate of his – a dear old friend who had also grown up in a tiny village in Ethiopia. A friend who took one look at the photo of me and had gone pale, like he had seen a ghost. (Haha).
Apparently, this friend had been writing letters to me over the years, too, and had mailed them all to Zewedu.
I did not hesitate. I left the orphanage in the care of friends from church. Then I rushed away to Zewedu. I wasn’t sure what I would find there. Perhaps charred skeletons of the huts the soldiers had burned down so long ago. Perhaps ghosts. But in truth, the village looked the same as it had in my fuzzy childhood memories. Narrow dirt roads. Women in colorful dress balancing baskets atop their heads. Simple clay huts with thatched roofs to shade from sun’s heavy rays. I took a deep breath, inhaling the familiar smoky scents of food cooking and the dry breeze from the savanna.
I was home.
There were more than a few curious stares, of course, as I made my way through the village. My pale skin and hair were still an oddity. But I sensed no hostility from the people I passed.
At last I reached the school, which also served as a city hall, a bank, and a post office, I learned, as it was the largest, most sturdily-built structure in town. “Oh, you are the Tadelech we have been waiting for!” the clerk cried out when I introduced myself. “We have been saving every letter that came for you over the years.” She picked up a cardboard carton and dumped its contents onto a countertop. There were dozens of envelopes, some written with childish scrawl, and others with neat, rounded letters, all addressed to me.
“And the letters I’ve written to Aurelio?” I asked.
The clerk nodded. “We had those, too, until a month ago. We received a request to forward every last one to someone in America.”
I thanked the clerk. Then I took the heavy carton of letters with me to the guest house where I was staying. For the next week, all I did was read. With fingers trembling in excitement, I ripped open one envelope after the other, and read.
I read about your teen years in Detroit, Michigan, with your tia and tio. I read about how you became a mechanic, and your move to Asteria. I couldn’t believe how we’d once lived so close, and how I’d even met your friends and visited your home without ever knowing you were there! I smiled as I read of how you’d moved to the desert, fallen in love, and had two healthy sons. Then I cried for you as I read of how your heart had been broken, and life uprooted yet again. I understood the emptiness in your heart, and how giving back to the community in love had filled it once again.
After reading the final letter from you, I went to the church where your father used to preach. There, I prayed and thanked God for how he’d blessed your life, and mine as well. I was overcome with so much happiness! Yet at the same time, I ached to see you again.
That very evening, I was standing at the edge of the village, watching the first stars appear in the wide, dark sky. The moon’s silvery head was just beginning to peek from behind distant hills. I was thinking of you, so far away, maybe looking up at the same sky.
“Akkam waarite?” said a man’s voice. I whirled around, heart pounding. There stood a man I’d never seen before, with straight, gray-streaked hair, and large, dark eyes that twinkled in the moonlight. Something about his smile triggered a memory.
“I’m sorry…do I know you?” I asked.
The man took a step closer. “Yes you know me,” he said. “Maybe better than anyone has ever known me.”
My mouth dropped open. Was it possible? “Leon? Is it really you?”
You nodded. “Yes, Tadi. I’m here.” I stumbled forward, then fell into your arms, weeping. You were here, my dearest friend, my family!
I don’t know what else to write. Our journey has been so long. Our paths diverged, then crossed without our knowing. And now they’ve come together again. We are back where we began, surrounded by friends and neighbors, some old, some new. We are parents together – a surrogate mother and father to the orphans of Zewedu. We hug away their hurts, tell them stories of America, and teach them math and English and Amharic.
And some days, we rest together. The savanna calls to us, and we answer, tossing stones in the river where we once waded as children, or strolling like lions, hand-in-hand through the sea of gold.
(Coming soon: The Lion and the Ghost Music Video!)