At last, here is the long-awaited music video of The Lion and the Ghost Sims story. A huge thank you to all my readers! This is for you:
Stay tuned for my next Sims story, coming later this summer. Dag dag!
At last, here is the long-awaited music video of The Lion and the Ghost Sims story. A huge thank you to all my readers! This is for you:
Stay tuned for my next Sims story, coming later this summer. Dag dag!
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!)
That phone call from D.J. changed my life.
I followed the directions he’d given me and found myself at a sleek, urban electronics shop called Digitz. D.J. was inside, assisting a customer. I browsed around, pretending to shop for a new computer, until at last he spotted me.
“Leon!” he cried. As his customers turned and stared, he bounded across the room to greet me. “How long have you been here in L.A.?”
“Around twenty years,” I said. “So, are you a salesman like me?” I looked around the shop, which was filled with computers, cell phones, and other electronic gadgets.
“Not just a salesman.” D.J. grinned and spread out his arms. “Digitz is my store. It has franchises all over the country.”
As I stood there, gaping, he explained how he’d gotten the idea while he was still in college. After graduation, he’d saved his money and opened his first shop. “It was slow at first, but then business took off.” He gave me a tour of the store and introduced me to his staff as his “long-lost brother from another mother.” Then he invited me back to his house for dinner.
Okay, house is an understatement. D.J.’s house is a sprawling mansion up in the hills. “Just relax, make yourself at home,” he said. I laughed. My home was one-third the size of his, and didn’t have an infinity pool or sweeping views of the Pacific. His was like the Nordstrom to my Walmart.
During dinner, I filled in D.J. on my life – Lindsay, the boys, the move to L.A., everything. I even told him about the hollow feeling that had overcome me since my sons headed out into the world.
“I understand well.” D.J. sat back, a thoughtful expression on his face. “We always circle back to Walden, don’t we? ‘The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.’ It makes little sense, doesn’t it? Especially after we gain it all – the family, the job, the dream. Yet still, emptiness.”
After opening his second store, D.J. had met his wife, Wendy.
“There was never a question,” he said. “Wendy was the one for me.” The two were married on the beach by a barefoot minister in a Hawaiian shirt. In time, they moved to their home in the hills, and enjoyed the life of luxury.
Wendy struggled for years to get pregnant. Then, with the help of a very expensive fertility doctor, their daughter, Kristina, was born.
“I had everything,” said D.J. “My life was perfect. Yet still, at the height of my success, I felt like something was missing.”
“So what did you do?”
“I learned to give back.” he said. “I learned to stop being a taker, living my life and spending my time and money in ways that only benefited me or my family. It’s not enough to have stuff, to make your life better. You have to find a way make other people’s lives better, too.”
It wasn’t exactly Walden philosophy. But it made sense. And it stayed with me as I left D.J.’s house and went about my life. My life was empty, because at one time, I’d made it all about my sons – getting a better job, earning more money, buying nicer things, all so that I could be a better dad to them. But I had already fulfilled that purpose. I had raised two great kids, and given them a better life. Now maybe it was time to pour that energy in a new direction.
Months later, Orangeview Community Park was opened. I attended the ribbon-cutting ceremony along with the other volunteers who had worked together to build a playground where there had once been an empty lot in an impoverished neighborhood. As I watched the local children play on the new equipment, I felt renewed. With my own two hands, I had helped to give these kids a safe place to play – something that I hadn’t had during my own childhood.
D.J. and I got together many times – often at his house. We occasionally went out to play golf, but I’m afraid I am as hopeless at golf as I was at basketball. I shared with him my efforts at helping to rejuvenate poor neighborhoods, and he gave me news about the charity he supported, which was an orphanage somewhere in Ethiopia. What were the odds of that, I thought?
Then one night, D.J. and I shared a couple of beers and good laughs about days gone by and old friends — including Keith, who, as it turns out, only stayed a gold statue for a few days before the golden touch spell wore off. He and what’s-her-name had woken up, bewildered, in the middle of that old antiques shop. Eventually, Keith moved back to Detroit, had learned of D.J.’s whereabouts from his parents, and contacted him. He had no idea that D.J. had accidentally turned him to gold.
“Hey,” said D.J., after our laughter had subsided, and the conversation turned more serious. “I got a couple of photos yesterday from the charity I’ve been supporting. Would you like to see?”
“Sure.” I leaned forward to look the photo on his cell phone, then froze.
There, on his screen, was a picture of you.
I am convinced that God has sent us an angel.
After Reginald left, I was so scared. There I was, a woman alone, living in a small Ethiopian village. Although I am not truly a foreigner, I was not a native to Senalat. No family, no long-established friends – only me, caring for a group of orphans. What’s worse, we had very little money. The church that had sent me here only gave a small amount of support each month. It was not enough. Food was scarce, and there were too many nights when the children and I would go to bed with hunger gnawing at our bellies.
But then the miracle came. One day, I received a letter that came all the way from America. I had hoped that it was from you, but it was not. The letter was brief – an anonymous donor had gotten the name of the orphanage from a charity group, and wanted to help. He sent us a large sum of money – far more than my usual monthly allowance.
Oh! What a happy day! I shared the news with the children, and we all danced around the room. We would have food to eat, and furniture, and new school uniforms to replace the children’s tattered rags. A few months later, the anonymous donor sent more money, and toys for the children. It was like Christmas in the orphanage. I wrote letters to the stranger thanking him profusely and telling him how I’d spent the money.
As time passed, Adia, Fisha, and the other children grew up and set out into the world. And I gained new children, all of whom I treated like sons and daughters. With the donor’s money, we were able to move the orphanage to a comfortable hut with a real wood floor, soft furnishings, and electricity, which we used for two hours every evening. There was even a small playground for the children.
In time, I also managed to save enough money to establish a school for girls, whose education had been largely neglected in Senalat.
The generosity of our donor had brought about such wonderful changes to our village. Not only were the girls and orphans now thriving, but two of my former orphans returned to the village after earning medical degrees, and put their education to work, caring for the health of the people.
In our next letter of thanks, I enclosed a photograph of the children and me, taken by a passing missionary. “You must be angel,” I wrote to the stranger. “I cannot express my gratitude enough.”
Weeks later, I received a personal letter written by our donor. When I read what he wrote, the blood drained from my face. Could it be true, the things that he had written? I paced back and forth until at last I reached a decision.
“I must go away for a while,” I told my children that evening. They were distressed, of course. But I assured them that I would return soon. The next day, I hopped about a transport truck and traveled far from Senalat.
When the driver had taken me as far as he could, I hopped out and walked the remaining miles. And there it was – a tiny village that had grown in the midst of the savanna. My heart pounding, I marched on, until my feet were once again walking along the roads of Zewedu.
I know that I have not written in a very long time. Deep down, I’ve always known that you have not received my letters. Still, I write to you, perhaps out of some crazy hope that someday you will.
The last time I wrote, I was heartbroken. My so-called wife, Lindsay, was not really my wife after all. She was still married to Jason McDougal.
“We got married straight out of high school,” Lindsay explained. “We were babies. Way too young to know what we were doing. Less than six months after the wedding, we parted ways. Jason ran off to Texas with some other girl, and I moved back in with my parents. We didn’t bother to get a divorce. Years later, you came along, and, well, we got married on a whim.”
I was seething. “And it never occurred to you to tell me that our marriage was a sham? You just let me think that you were single! How could you?”
“I’m sorry,” she said, looking away. “It wouldn’t have been a big deal, you know, not being legally married. But I didn’t expect Jason to track me down.” Apparently, the two of them had reconnected while I was out repairing appliances. Not only were they still married, they realized, but they were still in love, too. “I’m moving to Los Angeles with Jason,” said Leslie. “We’ve decided to give our marriage another try.”
“And the boys?” I asked.
She hesitated. “I’m taking them with us,” she said, her voice firm.
So there was only one thing for me to do. I hugged my tia and tio goodbye. Then I moved across the country to L.A.
In movies, L.A. always seems like a glamorous city, filled with Hollywood stars with bleached teeth and hair, who live in fancy mansions overlooking the Pacific Ocean. The reality couldn’t be more different. I never saw a single real celebrity – only struggling wanna-be celebrities who rented cheap apartments and desperate little bungalows in the cruddy, high-crime neighborhood where I now lived. The only good thing about it was that I was only a few blocks away from Leilani and Jason, so I could come by and visit my sons often.
In time, I found a great job selling cars – not at a used car lot full of lemons, but one filled with shiny new cars with high price tags, which meant higher commissions for me.
I saved my money and bought a home on a nice, quiet cul-de-sac in Orange County. Every Friday after work, I drove across town to pick up Mikey and Dylan. Then the three of us would spend the weekend together. I took them to parks, to Disneyland, and to the beach. We hung out at my house, playing video games and making monster-sized ice cream sundaes.
As the years passed, I was there for my boys. I attended all of their school events, and was there to hear about Mikey’s first girlfriend (and his second, third, and fourth), and Dylan’s first real job, waving a big sign in front of Weiner World. And when they both graduated high school and headed out into the world, I was in the stands, applauding louder than anyone else.
After that, life came to a strange standstill. Everything I had done had been for Mikey and Dylan. My home, my job, all my hard work had been to raise my kids. But now what? I could feel it creeping over me again, that unsettling feeling of emptiness.
And then one day, out of the blue, my phone rang.
“So tell me, Leon,” said a familiar voice on the other end. “Did you ever manage to suck the marrow out of life?”
I couldn’t believe it. It was D.J.
I grinned into the phone receiver. “Hey old friend,” I said.
(Still) your friend,
Guess where I am right at this moment? Africa!
I can still hardly believe it. It took me a week before I managed to make a decision. “Yes,” I told Reginald. “I’ll go with you to Ethiopia.”
“Wonderful!” He pulled me into his arms, a wide grin plastered on his face. “I can’t wait to see your homeland.” I couldn’t wait either.
The next few weeks were a blur of preparation for the big trip. Passports, check. Immunizations, check. Packing, check. Then came the sad day when I hung up my bakery apron for the last time. This was followed by the even sadder day of saying goodbye to Belinda and Chris, and my sweet little nephew.
“Will I ever see you again, Auntie Tadi?” he asked, his wings drooping.
I stooped down to kiss his cheek. “Of course you will,” I said.
And then, Reginald and I were on an airplane, flying far away from Pirate Bay. Although we would only be gone for four weeks, an unexpected lump rose in my throat.
It was nighttime when we arrived in Senalat, a small village many miles from Zewedu. The inky black sky was brilliant with stars. And the warm breeze blowing in from the savanna smelled like my childhood adventures, like my mother and father, like you and me and one hundred summer days. Flooded with emotions, I dropped to my knees on the dusty road and wept.
Soon, Reginald and I were settled into our home for the next four months – a humble bungalow with cool dirt floors and mud walls. There was no electricity, no indoor plumbing, not even a place to prepare meals indoors. After so many years of American luxury, I had nearly forgotten. But it didn’t take me long to adjust. Reginald, however, was another story.
“This is like living in the middle ages,” he said as he lugged in a pail of water from the well, sweat pouring down his face. “Or in the middle of an oven. I can’t decide which.”
On our third day in Senalat, Reginald began his volunteer dentistry work, and I fell in love with four orphaned children. There was Naomi, whose gentle smile and doll-like eyes reminded me of Megan. Then there was Emanuel, who was always telling jokes to make everyone laugh. Adia had a sharp wit like Belinda, and sweet little Elias reminded me so much of my baby brother, Fisha.
As the days passed, Reginald grew crabbier, filled with complaints about the oppressive heat, the enormous insects, the lack of modern conveniences, the Oromo language that the people spoke, though many of them spoke English as well. I, on the other hand, became more settled into Ethiopian life, shopping at the village markets with the other women, wearing local dress, and cooking the familiar meals I’d grown up with over an open fire. I spent most of my time with the children, helping them with their schoolwork, telling them stories, watching them play the games that we once played long ago.
One day, Adia ran to me and wrapped her thin arms around my neck. “Miss Tadi, I am so happy that you came to be our mother,” she said, her face beaming. My heart soared. The children looked to me like a mother, and they were beginning to feel like my very own children.
Too soon, our four weeks came to an end. “Are you looking forward to returning home?” Reginald asked. I did not have to ask him the same question. The relief was apparent in his worn-out face.
“I’m not returning with you to the States,” I said.
“What?” Reginald’s voice was shocked. “But I thought that…after we go home, you and me…”
I pressed my lips together. I could picture it. Reginald and I could fly back to Pirate Bay. Get married. Have a couple of kids and live the American Dream together. But a huge part of my spirit would always be missing. It would be many miles away, in a land where lions roam wild and the sun hangs heavy in the sky like a copper coin. “This is my home,” I said. “With Emanuel, Adia, Naomi, and Elias. I belong with them now.”
“Are you sure that’s what you want?”
I nodded, then stood on my tiptoes to kiss Reginald goodbye. Two days later, he boarded a big plane and went back to the land of luxury. And I stayed behind with my little family in my new village, where I am not an outsider, or a freak, or a ghost. I am just Tadi.
It was like time had stood still while I was away. Almost everything in Detroit seemed the same. Tia Karina and Tio Jaime’s house had barely changed, though they had aged, of course. My old neighborhood was as run-down as I remembered it – same scene of boarded-up shops and fenced-in lots strewn with empty brown bottles.
The crime rate, too, was unchanged.
“This place is kind of depressing,” said Lindsay, who tended to walk around the city with her nose wrinkled, as though the air were too dirty to breathe. I don’t know, maybe it is.
Even my old stomping grounds, the basketball court, was still there. I couldn’t resist jumping in to shoot some hoops. I found out pretty quickly that I was rusty.
I even ran into a couple of guys I’d gone to high school with. “Well, well, if it isn’t The Mexican,” said one dude, as we pounded fists. “Speak some African at me, brother.” I laughed, and said a few things in Oromo. (I didn’t bother to remind them that my dad was from Colombia, not Mexico).
Lindsay was unhappy. “Your uncle smells like mothballs,” she complained one day. “Your aunt keeps trying to teach me how to cook, but I don’t like her kind of food,” she said the next, almost in tears.
She kept asking when we were going to move out and get a place of our own. “When one of us has a job,” I said.
“Then get a job,” she said through clenched teeth.
It’s not like I wasn’t trying. But no one was hiring. Even the guys I played basketball with were mostly out of work. Tio Jaime stepped in to help by telling everyone he knew what a great handyman I was. Soon, the calls began trickling in, and I began making house calls, my box of tools in hand. Even though I was trained at fixing cars, I learned quickly how to repair everything from washing machines to toasters to television sets. It didn’t make much money, but it was better than nothing at all.
I had hoped that we could at last start setting aside money toward getting our own place, but next thing we knew, Lindsay was pregnant. Months later, little Mikey was born.
Know what? Babies are expensive. No matter how much I worked, it seemed that all our money was drained away by diapers and clothes and a zillion other things Lindsay insisted we needed for a baby.
Less than two years after Mikey was born, Baby Dylan joined the family, too.
Don’t take me wrong – I was overjoyed to become a dad. The boys were like sunlight and laughter in a household that had been strained and tense for too long. But I wished I was able to provide for them better.
Then one day, our lives were shaken up in a very unexpected way. “There’s someone you have to meet,” said Lindsay, bundling Dylan into a stroller. “Come on. He said he’d meet us at the park.”
“Who is it?” I asked. But Lindsay was already headed out the door. I scooped up Mikey, loaded him into a stroller, and followed Lindsay to the “park,” which was still nothing more than a large cemented-over lot in the middle of our neighborhood. It annoyed me more than ever, now that I had kids of my own, that the city hadn’t even managed to build a simple sandbox.
But I forgot all about that after Lindsay introduced me to some guy I’d never seen before. He had carrot-colored hair and a beard that needed to be taken down a notch or two. “Hi, I’m Leon,” I told him, extending a free hand to shake. He looked at me through narrowed eyes and did not take my hand.
“Um…Leon,” said Lindsay, “I would like for you to meet Jason McDougal. My husband.”
Yes, Tadi. My wife was married to another man.
Your incensed friend,