5# A woman's affair

Updated: Jan 6

  • My waters have broken!

  • What!?

  • You must take me to the health center.

  • But...I can’t drive!

Adama was smart, educated, and arrogant. At seventeen, he had read all French classics and Greek philosophers. He knew enough economics and geopolitics to give a university lecture. Son of a famous physician and diplomat, Adama took full advantage of his privileges. With his embassy card, he had access to special protection and tax-free prices. Being a minor did not stop him from buying alcohol. Age is relative in Africa, and irrelevant beside money. Adama was the cool kid, the one with booze.

His entourage needed him for parties. Since he could not drive, Adama's friends took care of that. Issak, his classmate and elder, had a car. He drove his parents’ 1990 Land Rover all around town. With Adama’s embassy card and Issak's pickup truck, the boys were unstoppable. On an afternoon ride after school, Issak spoke in a solemn tone.

  • Issak: Adama, I need your help.

  • Adama: What is it, brother?

  • Issak: I need your card for alcohol.

  • Adama: What do you need? I’ll get it for you.

  • Issak: This time it’s different. I know a smuggler, Taye, who is paying 2000 birrs ($40) for a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

  • Adama: 2000 birrs? What’s the catch?

  • Issak: He’s in Gelila, ten hours from here.

  • Adama: Gelila? Near the border?

  • Issak: Yes.

  • Adama: That’s a no-law zone.

  • Issak: Exactly! Alcohol sells for ten times the price there. With your card, that’s 1600 birrs ($30) profit on every bottle. Quick and easy.

  • Adama: Ummmm...how many bottles can your guy buy? And how reliable is he?

  • Issak: He’s a piece of shit, but reliable with money. I have to confirm the quantities, deliver the booze, and come back. Of course, you’ll get a cut. I just need your card.

  • Adama: I can’t lend you my card. You know, my dad and all...but I can come with you.

  • Issak: Excellent! I’ll call him then. If he confirms, we’ll leave tomorrow morning.

  • Adama: Perfect.

That same night, Issak confirmed the order: six cases of whisky and two cases of beer, 72 bottles and 48 cans in total. They bribed the clerk, loaded the car, and slept dreaming of lions and adventures.

The road from Addis Ababa to Gelila was beautiful and terrible, even by African standards. Issak’s Land Rover rolled over hills, rivers, and boulders. The boys watched everywhere for lions but saw only hyenas and coyotes. They reached Gelila at night, exhausted, after 13 hours on the road. Issak had driven all the way.

Gelila was a mix of sparse lights, silence, and darkness. Issak called Taye, the smuggler, who oriented them through the bushes. Taye’s house was a small shack built on a plain bordering the forest. A few other huts showed dim yellow dots above their door. Issak turned off the engine and kept the lights on. They heard distant music and saw a man pacing towards them.

Taye was a short man with a Hitlerian mustache, half petty, wholly phony. He glanced from the boys to the car like a scarred squirrel. Issak introduced Adama by emphasizing his father’s feats in the country. Formalities done, they unloaded the shipment and did their accounts. Happy and refreshened, the boys hid their cash and followed Taye to his little gathering.

The music came from an old radio station put in the center of a circle. Young men sat on plastic chairs, drank, talked, and smoked. Adama and Issak grabbed a chair and joined the crowd. The faces around them were those of smugglers, poachers, and second-class hustlers. Taye distributed a few bottles. Issak drank whisky. Adama drank beer, and shared a hash joint with his neighbor.

Laughter and drunkenness took over the music. Issak was drunk on his second drink, and Adama started seeing white dots in the night. The men said it was the coyotes, or evil spirits. Both suggestions were spooky. Adama did not like Taye, or any of his friend. His fear turned to suspicion, and to paranoia. He seized the car keys from Issak and tried to control his thoughts.

By 3 am, only drunken wrecks remained in the circle. Taye went to bed early. Issak passed out, like a few others, on his chair. Adama kept staring at the forest, looking for the pale white dots. His generous neighbor was high, wasted, and pitiful. He fought against his body to remember how to walk, and lost. He fell flat on his face, kissing the dirt with his forehead. The man mumbled in agony, and pointed a wobbly finger to a house.

Adama picked up the drunk and lifted him over his shoulder. A rancid smell of alcohol and old sweat hit him. The stench cleared his head like a cold shower. He carried the stinky body in a hurry and knocked on the metal door the guy pointed to. A beautiful teenager, with a full, round belly opened. She thanked Adama and helped him drag her husband to his bed.

Adama, relieved to breath, was walking to the car when he heard a high-pitch scream. He looked back and saw the pregnant teenager staggering, her eyes wide with horror.

  • Girl: My waters have broken!

  • Adama: What!?

  • Girl: My waters, women's waters. You must take me to the health center.

  • Adama: But...I can’t drive!

  • Girl: Find someone, tell them Naomi is about to deliver. Please, be quick. I don’t have much time.

Adama ran around each hut crying for help in the night; nobody answered. He tried to wake Issak and the other drunkards; nobody moved. He then remembered Taye's door and pounded on it like a desperate man. Seconds after, Taye bursted out swinging a machete above his head. Adama jumped back and waved his hands up.

  • Adama: Taye! It's me, Adama.


  • Adama: Naomi’s waters broke.

  • Taye: So? Wake up her husband!

  • Adama: He’s wasted, can’t even walk. We need to take her to the health center, now.

  • Taye: There is no health center here!

  • Adama: The closest one then. I can't drive. You must do it.

  • Taye: Not my fucking problem.

  • Adama: If we don’t do something quickly, she’s gonna lose her baby.

  • Taye: She won’t be the first. Now beat it!

Adama’s fatigue, panic, and disgust bubbled into a spike of rage.


  • Taye: Fuck you and your father!

Adama stood stiff and straight, his eyes towering Taye’s mean mustache. He added in a crisp, cold tone.

  • Adama: Is that your final answer?

The tension was squeezing his heart. He waited, powered by anger. Taye broke first.

  • Taye: Give me the damn keys!

Adama ran to get Naomi. He grabbed her hand, hot and sweaty, and helped her climb on the Land Rover. Then, he sat on the floor panel beside her. The two teenagers held on to the sides as Taye rushed through the plain. The engine roared at the deep, dark, dismal silence.

For an hour, Naomi and Adama bumped their backs and bottoms against the cold metal. Every bump came with a shy cry from Naomi, until the cries were not shy anymore. The baby was pushing. She could not hold it, and they were still far from the health center. After a long painful scream, Adama tapped on the window and Taye stopped the car. He walked out of the cabin with two empty whisky cases, flattened the carton, and laid them under Naomi.

The next twenty minutes were the girl's most painful moments. She screamed and pushed and sobbed and cried. Adama, huddled next to her, could not see in the dark. But he lived the experience intensely, his anxiety dissolving at once into helplessness. The smell of sweat, blood, and iron filled up the space. He heard Naomi's flesh contracting against the inevitable, unstoppable force of Nature. Pain. Exhaustion. Sob. Hiccup. Relief. And the cry of a baby in the night.

Naomi pulled her newborn and laid it, steaming and wet, against her chest. She wrapped her pagne around it and sighed. Taye hopped back behind the wheel and resumed toward the health center, slower this time. They arrived at dawn. Naomi was disinfected and checked for hemorrhages. They cut off the umbilical cord and cleaned her baby. It was a little girl.

The new mother walked out with her daughter strapped in her back, joyful and smiling. She found Adama, still hunched over in the corner of the truck, shaken and silent. Naomi patted him on the shoulder, showed him her daughter, and reassured him. She was healthy, her daughter was healthy, and nothing else mattered. Naomi sat with her baby in the front, and Taye headed back for Gelila. The three who left at night returned four in the morning.

Taye went home without a word. Naomi woke up her husband with the news. Happy and hungover, he spread the joy among his neighbors. Adama, processing in disbelief, asked Naomi.

  • Adama: Are you gonna tell him what happened?

  • Naomi: No.

  • Adama: Why not? You almost lost her because of his drinking.

  • Naomi: True, but these things are a woman’s affair.

  • Adama: ...

She thanked him again, dropped a kiss on his forehead, and joined her husband in the celebration. They partied with the families and neighbors, feasted, and welcomed the new member of Gelila's community. Naomi was a happy mother, and the joy of the day washed over the pain of the night.

Adama found Issak curled up under a bush and dragged him to his car. Issak was abashed by the remnants of the scene on the back of his truck. He asked about it but received no answer. Adama was shocked and haunted by Naomi's answer. He admired her courage and acuity, but could not grasp the meaning of her words....a woman's affair.

They drove back in silence. One returned from Gelila with a migraine; the other, with humility.

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