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Heaven and Hell, a short story

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Time Zone: EST (New York, Toronto)
Messenger: SunofMan Sent: 7/3/2007 9:46:42 PM

Heaven and Hell

by: Sza Sza Zelleke

Gruelling Ginbot blazed its scorching sun relentlessly over the treeless, shadeless part of Addis Abeba where “Jawz” stood squinting in the shimmering heat trying to see through the rising dust, waiting for his bus to come bustling towards him so his wicked work could begin. He was waiting, of course, as he always did, from Monday to Friday, for the Number 23 bus. This bus that travelled jam packed daily, carried would-be consumers from MegenaNa to the free market economy of Merkato (with structural adjustments made by Jawz along the way), until Jawz got off at Piasa to melt into the crowds and coffee shops—unseen, unheard and, most importantly, unfelt by any passenger on bus Number 23. This bus was his gravy train, his ship that always came. Never had Jawz failed to ride and provide on bus Number 23 . Wasn’t it sent by God everyday especially for him and his beloved girl Addis to live off of? Though the buses never ran on time and had no schedule to speak of, bus Number 23 always, eventually, came… packed full of potential pockets and purses waiting with open mouths and heavy hearts, listlessly laying there waiting for liberation by Jawz’s light fingers.

Jawz's two fingers were famous. He was famous in the back streets and brothel bars of qEra and Arat Kilo where thick necked guys—ex-boxers, ex-bombard and ex-body guards-- would sit around talking about him while picking their noses, scratching their heads, cleaning their teeth and clawing at eye shit all with the same Moa Anbessa ringed right hand that boasted a long nail on the pinky finger purposefully grown to a ridiculous length precisely to serve these multi purposes.

Before he met Addis and settled down, Jawz had ho’s in different QebelEs who would fight over him and sing about the generous size of his tip. These working women passed on their poetry about him to grateful azmarees who did not sing and wait in vain in front of Jawz. Not Jawz. Those infamous forefingers loved to reach for his own wallet as much as they liked the feel of others. Old school Arada was our Jawz.

He had graduated summa cum Laude from the Addis Abeba Arada School of Srqosh, a star pupil and valedictorian in the high school of Wnbidinna. It was the city of Addis Abeba itself that raised him and not his parents. A senior alumnae and life time member of the Phi (Phi-leTTew) Kabbo (Kabbortoon) Deba (Debabsew) fraternity established by his mentor and friend the late great Yohannes Mabrejaw. Johnny was the one who gave him his nickname and launched him on his first bus and freedom ride.

He was given that name because of his supernatural success in swimming silently through seas of suckers on the buses of Addis Abeba, stealing with the speed and stealth and suddenness of a Great White Shark. Jawz could also smell the money on his unsuspecting meal tickets from great distances. He never missed his immobilized mark and sometimes, quite strangely , it was rumoured that people smiled lovingly into his scarred, fearsome face and simply handed him things... wallets and jewellery, waving good bye contentedly as he slithered away with the goods. That was Jawz.

Now, as he liked to say, he had his beloved Addis and all his bile and boldness had ebbed right out of him. He had needed help and Addis had shown him the way. Absently he scratched on the permanent wound etched forever into his arm by the personal Awaqee she had found him. The Awaqee, the Tenquwai, would regularly dab daub on the scab with special powders that he said gave special powers, but Jawz sometimes wondered if he and his holy hooker girlfriend Addis weren’t, in reality, merely slaves of this sorcerer who kept them both coming back with promises of protection and predictions for which they paid dearly from the proceeds of their prostitution and pick pocketing . He scratched the wound some more and wondered who worked for whom? After all of that mumbling and jumbling, “MechE new mialfiliN??”

“It’s all the devil’s work”… “It’s all God’s will,” Jawz chanted to himself for comfort, for balance. Wasn’t that what both the priest and the professor of the Prince of Darkness told him all the time? Both of them used both phrases. And both liked a good drink of that garlic areqE and birrilE tejj that Addis was so good that throwing. Absent-mindedly now, and growing impatient, Jawz continued to scratch his permanent scar when he was suddenly stung out of the cool shade of reverie by the burning sensation of his own scratching, the ceaselessly scorching sun and the consistently rising cost of witch craft. He cursed the skies, the bus and his big black Awaqee out loud. “Who was working for whom?” he wondered again. Had the predator become the prey?

Sitting in the compound he never left, the Awaqee would always sit cross-legged on carpets laid out under a huge Grawa tree festooned with beautiful ribbons wrapped around wads of cash that his followers faithfully hung up like Christmas decorations as tokens of gratitude and testimony confirming the power he proclaimed. It was on this Birr-bedecked and well-buttered Grawa tree that the Tenquwai always leaned back on before ordering Jawz and his attentively breathless girlfriend Addis to bring him honey butter perfume and clothes in order to get his mojo working. He said he could not hear his Master’s voice without these things. Then they had to buy red sheep and black sheep and, (on days he had a sale), red chicken and white chicken in order to start off his cleansing rites, spinning the terrified chicken round and round over their heads for good health, and spitting and spitting as he slaughtered the animals given as gifts for blood. Blood was the fuel of all the fantastic voyages he took them on and Jaws always felt he had been to a movie after a visit to Addis’ Awaqee. What got his goat though, was the search for the biggest, blackest goat that the Awaqee periodically requested from him to be sacrificed to Satan regularly in midnight rituals by the river. Only then, he was repeatedly warned by the Awaqee, would the powder and powers that Jaws used for his work be sure to protect him and provide.

And so they brought blood of all shapes and sizes, driving it… dragging it to the Awaqee’s house regularly so the slaughter and sorcery could begin. And at the same time, all the time, seeking penance from their saints, swearing by the Tabots, and fasting- frash on the floor kinda fasting. The fundamentalist faith of the flawed and fearful soul is never fully absolved and at peace. For his part, Jawz tithed a tenth of his daily takings everyday before heading home, and together, Addis and Jaws waited on the wicked Awaqee’s wizardry and white robed priests with their water and prayers to weave them a dream… a detour from their miserable existence. Yes, they said to each other, to themselves, Mary would intercede for their souls in heaven while the Awaqee opened up the gates of hell and looked into what was being said about them on their behalf. Nope, they had it covered.

Jawz thought of Addis, and proudly, lovingly longed for the baby beginning to grow in her womb. He smiled a crooked smile as he boarded the bus that finally arrived. Life in Addis is heaven and hell!!

After Jaws left for his daily "Laboro", Addis hurriedly cleaned up the bar and prepared the place for the night’s business well in advance of the marauding bands of bandits that would soon arrive to drink and drive her crazy. The azmaree, the whores, the precious customers… nothing mattered to her today as she rushed about getting ready. For this was no ordinary day. Today, the qalicha was coming as he did every year on this day!! He was the one, the only one, able to calm the attendant spirit of her disruptive and wily wuqabi, a wuqabi that needed soothing and stroking, that had a huge appetite for appeasement and knack for negotiation. And the qalicha was the only one who could keep the wuqabi entertained and pacified and pleased until he finally cajoled it back insider her with a promise to do the same thing and have the same fantasy same time next year.

This cleansing process did not conflict with Addis’ faith. It was supplementary and she felt the annual exercise saved her from slipping down slippery slopes of the straight and narrow path to her God. A God that she strived to reach daily in dedicated devotion and habitual prayer. With its bad hair/bad breath days of general ill health, foul moods, odours and constant, yes constant, carnal desires, Addis found that living with her wuqabi without her qalicha was too much to contemplate. She was, above all, terrified that these temporary possessions would turn out to be permanent and feared she would turn into that ibd sEtiyo with the CHebreraE Tseguur, bruised from beatings and breaking out in boils all over her body, things she got from the mch and aganint and all manner of keisee and erkuss menfess driving her to stay butt naked and laughing while chewing that CHat and running hysterical searching seferoch with Dorze deaths and their lively funerals where the grieving dance and do acrobats, somersaulting all the way to the grave. Besmeab we-weld we-menfess qduss. Growing up without her qalicha was too much to contemplate for Addis.

She needed him to tame and maim the shrew inside her, the ibd setiyo with the CHeberE hair. Otherwise, as she told herself everyday since she left the Wello girls choir and fled her father’s church in search of lights brighter than kuraz and an easier life with lighter levels of work, THE DEVIL IN ME WILL DEFEAT THE GOD IN ME. I am heaven and hell, thought Addis as she felt her wuqabi stirring and working its way to the surface. She turned off the tape player quickly. (Abonesh singing “Hiji, hiji Tiffi bireriee, CHuhee CHuhee Birerri yleNal.. Bei, bei… bei bei...”)


Before boarding a different bus to Jawz, far, far away from Addis Abeba, in Wello, Addis’ brother, the priest Merigeta Yimer was turning to take in his last look at Lasta, and the monastery that made him what he had now become. “Disillusioned men become outlaws,” his sister had told him in her last letter about the thief she loved, the Jezebel she had become and he had wept. But here he was now, finding out that priests respond the same way when disappointed and disgusted. He was a Debtera now. The Debtera, Debtera Yimer, boarded the bus.

Large-scale looting and rampant corruption amongst the clergy had made him decide it was time to start trading too. Unable to break into the cliquish and kleptocracy built around the business of exporting the church’s most ancient relics and Tabots as profitable "antiquities" to the feverish hands of foreign divestures, Debteraw Yimer had decided to join the ragged rat race in Addis and resolved to peddling his knowledge of the greatest power to the highest bidder amongst the lowest of the low, heading to sell sacred power to the secular and powerless sinners in the underbelly and world of Addis Abeba.

His sister, Addis, the budding girl-priest, carefully cultivated by their father for qumsina, was once an illuminated icon of divinity and purity. But now, she was, rather handily for him, a common hussy for hire in Addis Abeba and he meant to stay at her small hotel and bar and work his way up to heaven by going through hell. He was the only one not to pretend to know, the only one who does not use repetition and ritual to ease and please, tease and appease. After all, didn’t he have in his hands the ladder to the only pulpit from which to order the Devil himself to dance? And in the original language spoken before he was sent into sidet. GE’EEZ.

“Wey sidet wey sidet new! Now Satan and I are in exile together,” Yimer sighed as the bus climbed down, down into Dessie. The heavenly view above and the hellish scenes of horrible accidents on either side of the razor sharp mountain edge of a road loomed ahead of him as the bus rolled down recklessly. A Life in the church had been heaven and hell, Yimer ruefully thought to himself as he contemplated on how he would make it rain rocks and turn sand into sugar at the blink of an eye. Who but he could tell all the thieves and whores who lived in the shadows of bigger thieves and whores about the that power and reveal the power of plants including the terrifyingly powerful pimple on the plant called the Teketsila.

Who would know which dgimt to recite for which cause, and what particular effect it would have? So many verses, indeed his whole entire leather bound bible was an arsenal of magic weapons more divinely deadly than anything imaginable on earth. Who will show them what to read and what to leave out…gdef gdef gider. He had never wanted to leave the Gedam. If anything he had dreamed of delving deeper still. Becoming a Bahatawi and harnessing clouds to travel on from monastery to monastery as the sewiran are said to do. Days in the desert of Kilkwal and locusts licking the white, white Lallibella honey, waiting for a sign, a seal, a single solitary glance at an angel’s face with a message or an answer from God.

Well now he was ready to look in the eyes of the fallen angel and laugh. He had the answers this time, right here in the Bible he held in his hands. He had the power and the Glory and he planned to give away and sell, sell, sell. He would turn ploughshares into swords and make it rain rocks on roofs in the sky; he would make beautiful women fall in love with monkeys for money. Sidet from the safety of his spiritual heavenly world to the physical world of hellish realities … for money… for money… for money… said Yimer to himself.

Messenger: Ten Sent: 7/4/2007 8:25:56 AM

Give Thanks for the story I, its a relfection of the times, have you ever read Wizard of the Crow by Ngugi wa'Thiongo?

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