If you ever ran away from certain death or grave injury like I did on my way to Awassa, you might have failed to realize the things that other mortals usually realize when they run, or ride, for fun. You might have failed to realize, like I did, the admiration drawn from spectators standing at the doors of their huts. Indeed, I must have drawn severe loathing from some two cyclists, also laboring upon their ancient bicycles as I zipped past them with impolite haste. I only recalled later, how they grinded their bottoms from right to left on tortured leather saddles to reach the pedals. Those saddles, I now realize, must have inadvertently planned their families if they had been sat on daily for any reasonable length of time. It is impossible to explain this notion without appearing to laugh at neutering, and I shall not do that.
I got to Awassa as darkness fell. It is a big beautiful town, well-planned and almost a city, with wide streets numerous street lights that work. It looks almost exactly as Nakuru. Coincidentally, there is a lake nearby and like Lake Nakuru, Lake Awassa has flamingos and has been polluted severely in the past. (Nonetheless, it was still breathtaking from where I stood the following day).
I still felt like someone running from own shadow as I rode the streets of Awassa. I recall the rapturous relief I felt upon seeing a bank across the street with a partition outside that looked like an ATM machine. In my excitement, I disregarded the building traffic and made a dash across the road amid hooting and shouting by drivers and sane people. Had they been in my soggy shoes, they would have made the same dash. I now imagine that maybe one of them understood my trials and was saying in Amharic, “Go forth, my child!” And I did.
On a wet evening and in a place like this, one is to be excused from bearing burdensome wisdom. Let wisdom be had by people going to their homes, in dry clothes and full wallets. It is true the structure had in it a cash machine, but a broken one. I could see figures moving inside the tinted bank windows and I knew that I wasn’t beaten yet. I went to the door and rapped it with the authority of an African husband upon coming home. I was greeted by the stern face of fair-skinned guard who spoke few words of reprehension and inquiry into what I sought, all in bad English and body language, and in exactly one second. He gestured that I should move away from the door as he went to fetch the manager.
The manager was slow to appear. When he did, he did not seem like a man too eager to help. I was now shivering and every shiver drained the false bravado I had earlier put. My clothes and I were the same color of a rock kicked through mud, as was my bike behind me. My eloquence never failed me at a worse time. When I tried to talk I did little more than clattering my teeth unintelligibly but I made sure the “please”, the “money” and the “hotel room” came out as clear as thin mucus that dripped from me shamelessly at this time. There are humans out there still, for I was allowed into the bank to cash my card.
When I walked outside, the cold crisp air of Awassa smelled freshly earthy, the way it does when it rains on fresh earth. I felt like eating a lump of soil. The street lights shone with new liveliness. I even observed that the drivers left room on the road for a cyclist.
“Carpe noctem!” my wallet said. Seize the night! And I did.
I rode to a hotel with a parking lot and parked my bicycle right diagonally on one of the spaces. I stepped back, impressed by my preposterousness, congratulated myself at excelling at folly and walked to my room. I planned to paint Awassa red or whichever other color that I willed.
There was but a single objection that remained. All of my clothes were wet. I chose those that were agreeable in dampness and exited into the night to indulge in culinary adventures, musings on the aesthetics of daughters of this land and later, or at the same time, music and dance appreciation escapades of rhythmic Ethiopia. I must disappoint you that I did not go much farther after midnight at which time I had stared dreamily at figures doing a queer shoulder dance on the dance floor waiting to hear an agreeable song.
And then they played Zumbara by Diamond! I shall forever remember that song and the dancing and the happy faces it created. That is how I wanted to remember Awassa. I stumbled half-awake to my hotel thankful that life was a little kinder to me on this night.
I had to see Shashemene the following day.