“Mixed-up priorities”, commented Adama. He annotated the World Health Organization’s (WHO) report and left it on his father’s desk. At seventeen years-old, he reviewed WHO initiatives in Africa for discussion with his parents. Son of a renowned physician and diplomat, Adama was schooled by the elite. His father’s status granted him an embassy card, which gave him discounts on imported goods and immunity with the authorities. Adama used his embassy card to buy alcohol for cheap, and to get out of trouble.
Issak dug parties and quick schemes. Like Adama, he attended the British school but for convenience only. Three years older than his classmates, his parents let him use their Land Rover as long as he stayed in school. He took Adama under his wing the day Adama bailed him out for drunk driving. Since then, the two became as thick as thieves. With Adama’s embassy card and Issak's Land Rover, the boys were the princes of Addis Ababa.
After school, Issak was waiting for Adama in his Land Rover pickup. He was solemn.
ADAMA: What’s up my man! It’s Friday! Why the long face?
ISSAK: Adama, I need your help.
ADAMA: What is it, brother?
ISSAK: I need your card to buy 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 for a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.
ADAMA: 2000? What’s the catch?
ISSAK: He’s in Gelila. It’s ten hours from here, and I have to deliver.
ADAMA: Gelila? Near the border?
ADAMA: That’s a no-law zone. You know that, right?
ISSAK: Exactly! Alcohol sells for ten times the price there. With your card, that’s 1600 birrs of profit per 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 he's greedy and well-connected. He’s collecting money from the villagers, so I’ll have to confirm the quantities with him first. Then I deliver the booze and come back. Of course, you get a cut. I just need your card.
ADAMA: I can’t lend you my card. You know, with my dad and all...but I can come with you.
ISSAK: Even better! I’ll call him then. If he confirms, we’ll leave tomorrow. Early in the morning.
Issak confirmed Taye’s order: six cases of whisky and two cases of beer, 72 bottles and 48 cans in total. In the evening, Issak and Adama bought the booze, stacked it in the back of the pickup, and covered it with a tarp. Issak dropped Adama home for an early sleep. Gelila was in the green plains of Oromia, deep in the wild. Adama dreamed of lions.
They left at dawn. The road from Addis Ababa to Gelila was beautiful, and completely abandoned. They crossed over hills, rivers, and bushes. Issak drove carefully on the beaten dirt road, maneuvering around potholes with the tinkling of bottles as his speedometer. Adama scanned the horizon for lions. They saw antelopes and coyotes, lots of coyotes, but no lions.
The boys reached Gelila at night, dusty and tired after 14 hours on the road. Issak called Taye, the smuggler, who led them towards the forest on the edge of town. The boys left the comforting lights of the city and ventured towards the dark woods. As instructed, they stopped by a large tree and kept the lights on. In the beams of the car, a silhouette paced in their direction.
Taye was a short skinny man wearing a Hitlerian mustache. Issak introduced Adama by emphasizing his father’s status and deeds in the country. Formalities aside, Taye checked the shipment and counted the bottles. Adama unloaded the cases on the back of Taye’s hut, while Issak counted the money. Once done, he hid the cash in the car, grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s, and joined them at Taye’s hut.
A small radio on the ground played reggae to a crowd of men sitting in a circle, on white plastic chairs. Taye handed out four bottles and a dozen cans around the circle. Adama and Issak grabbed a chair and joined the party. The faces around them were those of smugglers, poachers, and second-class hustlers. Issak popped his bottle and cheered to the brave lion hunters of Gelila. Adama, uncomfortable with the crowd, stuck to beer.
Drunkenness and loud laughter took over the music. Adama accepted a hash joint from the man next to him, and immediately felt uneasy. There were white dots popping out in the night. "Evil spirits", the man said. Adama forced a laugh and turned to his beer. The white dots, appearing and disappearing at random, made him suspicious. He thought of the cash, of Issak getting drunk, and how vulnerable they were. His suspicion turned to paranoia. He stood up and took the car keys from Issak. Adama walked to the car and locked himself in. Feeling safe inside, he relaxed a bit. He screened the tree line for the white dots but saw nothing. Coyotes, he thought. The car was comfy, quiet. Adama leaned back and dozed off.
He woke up with a start. Remembering Issak, he returned to check on him. Issak was curled up against the trunk of a cotton tree, sleeping deeply. Only two men remained in the circle. One, barely conscious, was smoking a joint. The other, holding a can, was passing out on his chair. The smoker asked Adama to help him carry the drunk. The drunk refused and pushed them away. The smoker cursed and showed his hut to Adama, then he left the circle. Adama found himself alone with the drunk. He peeked around for the white dots. Nothing. All of Gelila was sleeping.
The drunk man stood up and staggered a few wobbly steps. He reached for a chair, missed, and fell in a loud thud, kissing the dirt with his face. Adama felt for him. As he kneeled to lift him up, a rancid stench of alcohol and sweat hit him. He held his breath and carried the stinky drunk over his shoulder, as fast as he could. At the man’s hut, he knocked. A beautiful teenager, with sleepy eyes and a full, round belly opened the door. She thanked Adama and showed him inside. Adama dropped the drunk on his bed and left. He had not walked 100 meters when he heard a scream. The pregnant teenager walked out of the hut, legs wide, holding her belly.
GIRL: MY WATERS HAVE BROKEN!
GIRL: MY WATERS! You must take me to the health center. NOW!
ADAMA: But I... I can’t drive!
GIRL: Find someone, tell them Naomi is about to deliver. Please, hurry, I don’t have much time.
Panicked, Adama ran around the huts, crying for help. He shook up Issak, but the boy was far gone. He dashed to Taye’s hut and pounded on his door. Taye bursted out, swinging a machete above his head. Adama fell on his bum and waved his hands up, pleading.
ADAMA: Taye! It's me, Adama.
TAYE: WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU!?
ADAMA: Naomi’s waters have broken.
TAYE: So? Tell her husband!
ADAMA: He’s wasted. He 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 going to lose her baby.
TAYE: She won’t be the first. Now beat it!
Adama’s fatigue, panic, and disgust bubbled into a focused spike of rage. He shouted.
ADAMA: LISTEN YOU FILTHY SCUMBAG! YOU KNOW WHO I AM. WE ARE GONNA TAKE HER TO THE HEALTH CENTER RIGHT NOW, OR MY FATHER AND EVERYONE AT THE EMBASSY WILL KNOW ABOUT THIS. THAT YOU INTENTIONALLY ABANDONED A PREGNANT WOMAN TO HER DEATH. ADD THAT TO THE SMUGGLING AND YOU'LL BE ROTTING IN JAIL BEFORE YOU TAKE YOUR MORNING SHIT!
TAYE: Fuck you and your father!
Adama stood straight, his eyes towering Taye’s mean mustache. He took a long breathe, and added in a cold, crisp tone.
ADAMA: Is that your final answer?
The tension clutched his heart. His body was shaking. He clenched his fists, tightened up, and waited. Gelila held its breath.
TAYE: Give me the fucking keys!
Adama ran back to get Naomi while Taye drove the Land Rover to her hut. Adama helped her climb on the back of the truck. She was sweating, her hand burning hot. He pushed the tarp aside and sat on the floor panel beside her. The metal was cold under his bum. Adama and Naomi held on to the sides of the truck, as Taye rushed out of town. The engine howled in Gelila’s dank, dismal silence.
For an hour, the two teenagers bumped their backs and bottoms against the metal. Every bump came with a cry of pain from Naomi. The baby was pushing. She could not hold it anymore. After a long scream of agony, Adama tapped on the driver’s window. Taye stopped the car, stepped out, and pulled the tarp flat under Naomi. Adama, huddled next to her, saw the white dots again, getting closer. He gazed at the starts and whispered a prayer; his anxiety dissolving at once into despair.
The next hour was a battle for survival. The smell of sweat and blood filled up the night. Naomi screamed and pushed and sobbed; steam rose from her body like water on glowing charcoal. Adama shivered every time she squeezed his hand, unable to look. He felt and heard her flesh contract against the unstoppable force of Nature. Pain. Exhaustion. Sobs. Hiccups. And the cry of a baby in the night.
Naomi pulled up her newborn and laid it against her chest. She wrapped her pagne around her infant, sighed, and sobbed. Taye hopped back behind the wheel and resumed the drive. They arrived at the health center as the sun rose over the plains. Naomi was treated, disinfected, and checked for hemorrhages. The midwife cut off the umbilical cord and cleaned the newborn. It was a little girl.
Naomi walked out with her daughter strapped in her back. She found Adama hunched over in the corner of the truck, silent. She showed him her daughter, patted him on the shoulder, and dropped a kiss on his forehead. She was healthy, her daughter was healthy, and nothing else mattered. Adama smiled, tears rolled down his face. Naomi sat with her baby in the passenger seat, and Taye headed back to Gelila. The three who left at night, returned four in the morning.
Taye parked the car in front of his hut and left without a word. Naomi woke up her husband with her newborn in her arms. Hungover but happy, he spread the news to the hamlet. Adama, still in shock, was processing the events. When the husband pulled away, he turned to Naomi.
ADAMA: Are you going to tell him what happened?
ADAMA: But…you almost lost her. You could have died!
NAOMI: Nothing. These things are a woman’s affair.
She dropped a kiss on his forehead and joined her husband in the celebration. Naomi carried her burden alone, proud, and private. Adama admired her courage, but could not grasp her reaction. The families and neighbors welcomed the new child and gathered to prepare the feast. The joy of the day washed over the pain of the night.
Sleepy and hungover Issak, did not even notice the mess in the back of his car. The boys left a happy Gelila, and the dusty Land Rover started on the long road to the capital. Quiet, one battled with his migraine while the other tormented himself, searching for meaning to Naomi’s words.
A woman’s affair, Adama pondered, and missed the lioness roaming through the plains.