Being friends with you wasn’t like being friends with anyone else in Zewedu. With the other kids, I played soccer in the dusty field next to the school. I traded jokes and collected bottlecaps and chased stray chickens with a stick. Typical stuff.
But you…you were like a fairy who took me by the hand and led me into this world of magic that I’d never known existed. Suddenly, Ethiopia wasn’t just a little village full of gossiping tongues and elders who scolded us for our mischief. It became this great, wide world where kings once ruled and anything could happen.
Remember that night when you convinced me to sneak away from the village to see the stars? “But it’s dangerous!” I said when you first suggested it. “We’re not supposed to go into the bush at night.”
You rolled your eyes. “Danger is everywhere, day or night,” you said with a shrug of your shoulders. “If you spend your entire life hiding in your hut, you’ll miss the things that make life worth living.”
I was still unsure. But when you appeared at my bedroom window late that night, I crawled out to meet you. Quiet as a breeze, we slipped out past the boundaries of the village, where nothing but darkness awaited us. I was shivering, so certain that a lion lurked behind every rock – a real lion, with sharp teeth and a ferocious appetite.
Suddenly, something dark and fast darted out from a clump of tall grass. I shrieked like girl. You clamped your hand over my mouth. “Shh! It was only a bushpig,” you said, laughing. I scowled and shook your hand away, partly annoyed, partly embarrassed, and mostly still scared out of my wits. I was tempted to turn around and march home, with or without you. But then you said, “Look up, Leon.”
I looked up. In that moment, I forgot all about bushpigs and even lions. Because the night sky had suddenly sprung to life. It was an ocean of black ink on which someone had spilled millions and billions of tiny sparkling diamonds. (Have you ever seen a diamond, Tadi? I hope that when you do, you will think of that starry night, just as I do).
Most of the time, we didn’t do such risky things. We played imaginary games and made up stories so complex, that we often lost track of the original plot. When we were thirsty, we’d race to your home for a bowl of fresh milk.
When we were hungry, we’d head to my home for Mama’s tamales. My papa was always happy to see you. He called you Tadita and treated you like a daughter.
And now I am sad, thinking of my papa, who loved three things most in the world (besides me): First, horses, including our family’s horse, Pelé. Next, Papa loved the church where he preached, and all the people in it.
But more than anything or anyone else in the world, Papa loved my mama. He treated her like royalty, and danced with her under the moonlight, just because. He was pretty romantic, my papa. I guess that’s where I get it from.
“Do you think you will fall in love and get married one day?” I asked you once. It was the kind of question I could only ask you, because the other kids wouldn’t understand.
You chewed your lip as you thought. “I don’t know about falling in love,” you said. “But I’m sure that my father will arrange a good marriage for me when I’m old enough.”
I gaped. Arrange a marriage! It was the first time I had ever heard of such a thing. But you acted as though it was an ordinary kind of future. Maybe it was for Oromo kids, but not for me. I knew that one day, I wanted to be in love. I wanted a girl who I could treat like royalty and dance with in the moonlight, just because.
But that summer, everything changed. A drought sucked the water from the savanna, causing everything to wither away. And the soldiers came to Zewedu, causing our future dreams to wither away, too.