By Marina D’AGO, EEB4 S6 ITA
The yellowed palm leaves and eggshells strewn on the floor crunched under her feet. Somehow, an old man had dozed off on a sun-baked plastic chair. He had dozed off, while sellers and buyers screamed prices back and forth at each other, negotiating over cawing chicken. The colours of all the fruit jumped to her eye, while swarms of people pushed her. Walking in the Addis Merkato was always so overwhelming for her. Dizzily, she decided to step out after just having wandered a little. To the utter dismay of her senses, the whole array of smells emanating from the livestock wafted to her even from the edge of the market, where half a dozen policemen were killing time leaning on the trunks of their service cars.
Taking a sharp left – motivated to escape the odour – she wound up in a fairly non-descript alley. The walls of what could have been a shop held her up as she came to her senses. A translucent curtain wavered in front of the shop window, covering it. A slit of the interior was visible, thanks to a fan that made the curtain move. She shifted her weight to get a better view. What she saw struck her with awe. A wave of shame and regret washed over her, yet what she saw was beautiful. Two men held each other in an embrace, slowly kissing and cradling each other while swaying to an inaudible melody.
The sight left her short of breath. Before leaving the house, she had read an article about how Stendhal Syndrome was a myth, but in that very moment she would have begged to differ. She looked around. A girl around her age was tying her shoelaces on the other side of the alley. They locked eyes. A thousand thoughts rushed into Marta’s head. ‘She seems around my age’; ‘Her eyes seem compassionate’. She inadvertently glanced back to the window, where right that moment, the curtain had flown to the side. ‘How would she feel if she had seen wha-’. Suddenly the girl started shouting as though she was possessed. She pointed and, accusatory screams in Amharic flew out of her mouth, reaching the ears of the drowsy cops sitting on their cars at the outskirts of the market.
The cops flocked to her. She redirected them. They brought down the door with a firm kick and let the batons do the talking. A cop car swished by. It engulfed the men, without even giving them time to put up a fight. The car sirens blared away. It was all over in under a minute and the girl looked proud.
Marta sprinted to the main road with glazed eyes and balled fists. Trying to avoid the herd of goats crossing the road, she jumped on the first moving thing she could hail. That moving thing was a rickety, overcrowded minibus that sputtered away, emitting a smoke so dark her lungs remembered it for days. Various glances from passengers made their way to her, the only non-local in there.
Steadying her hands, she pulled out her phone, muttering a ceremonial “Dear God, I hope I have enough reception”.
The phone beeped.
“Ciao Tonia! I hope you’re not too busy.”
“Of course not, querida, I always have time for my favourite activist. Oh, before I forget, we’re having a dinner party with the guys from the German embassy tonight, would you like to drop by?”
She could hear her smile through the telephone.
“I’ll think about it, maybe? Listen, T, I need you to bear with me for a second. I need to talk.”
“I’m all ears, Marta, but are you okay? You sound on edge.”
“Something just happened, I feel so disoriented and frustrated. I’m currently running on rage.”
“Ay, I’m so sorry, want to tell me about it?”
Tonia was filled in about the situation through Marta’s muffled sobbing.
“…So, I’m on my way to the police station.”
“MARTA!” Cue heavy swearing in Spanish. “Stop right there! Do you also want to be detained? Now’s not the time for your heroism.”
“But…but they’re probably chained to some wall right now.” The image of the bruises constellating their skin flashed before her eyes, making her shudder.
“So, you’re just going to barge in there, and then what? Your white skin grants you exactly five minutes. If you have money on you, you might be able to buy yourself another five, and then you’re at their mercy.”
“It’s just not right. This stuff makes my blood boil.” She tasted blood in her mouth from biting her cuticles.
“I need to do something right now. If we don’t intervene these men will lose a dozen years of their life to prison. Probably also any semblance of a healthy body they’ll have left from after the police station. And…I’ll never forgive myself for it.”
“Listen, honey, we’re going to help them. I see how important this is, but I don’t want you to have to handle the cops on your own. We’re going to do this right, okay? We’ll get a lawyer and go through all the steps. We’ll pay their way out of jail if we have to, but don’t go to the station.”
A few passengers were launched out of their seats as the bus skidded to a halt. The baby pink and pea green of the police station walls stood majestically in the sun. Her last thought before entering was ‘I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that they painted it like this’.
She barged in, still on the phone, the courage she was able muster up until that point melting away. The policemen listened to her when she asked about the men. What Tonia heard on the other side of the phone sent a chill down her spine. Assertive orders thrown around, a thud as the phone was slammed down, a crunch then beeping as the call got cut off.
© All rights reserved.
Editor’s note: This is a creative writing piece by one of the writers for the 13Stars Newspaper at EEB4.