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post False Prejudices

April 28th, 2008

Filed under: The Unspoken — Admassu @ 00:09

I was fighting with my conscience to avoid my stereotype conclusions and degrading judgments whenever I saw him lying beside the road exhausted and exposing his alcohol tormented poor body to the midday sun. Wondering how he had succeeded to get drunk so early, I used to walk by without paying attention to the very fact of his being a human being.

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That first time I saw him half sober and in a vertical position was the day he came looking for me. Actually he was not looking for me, I was just the last chance to borrow some coins for his daily ration of alcohol. Seeing him coming towards us, I have told my brother that it was my first time seeing this guy walking.

My brother told me that Demisse was once a decorated soldier as Mengistu Hailemariam was ruling our country, and that he was kind of a hero in his regiment. Hearing his name being mentioned for the first time put me in a certain eagerness to know more and I asked my brother…

“What happened that he ended up like this?”

“You better ask himself…. I think he is looking for you.”

“Why me?”

“Well, you are new and he knows I wouldn’t give him a cent.”

Demisse was near us by then. He didn’t greet us because he was too busy positioning himself in a suitable position to face and confront us. It must have taken him all his strength and self-persuasion to come here. He was just looking at both of us smiling, lost and defenseless. Looking at him that way I couldn’t imagine that he was once a soldier, a hero in his regiment.

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“What is it Demisse? Why are you here? Didn’t I tell you that I won’t give you any money again?” My brother said.

Demisse smiled shyly, almost like a small kid. His way of responding to my brother’s unfriendly question was so disarming that we couldn’t help laughing. Demisse, accompanying us in our laughter, has some difficulties to keep his balance and he staggered a bit till he found his previous standing position. We saw that he has his first portion of alcohol already.

After standing there smiling and staring at each other for a while, I couldn’t help asking him if he was once a soldier.

He didn’t answer me for about 30 seconds. Instead he looked at my brother in a funny way as if he was blaming him for telling me about his background. Then he said…

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“Yes, but no more questions about that please.”

“Why?!” I said. Now I am really eager to know more.

“Why, why, why… why should I tell you why?” He was smiling while he was saying that but his words sounded quite serious.

I was a bit off balance and visibly irritated by his answer. “So why are you here?”

“It is a free country.”

“Don’t be silly Demisse, just tell him why you are here. You need money for your drink and he is not going to give it to you unless you tell him your story.” my brother said.

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Demisse looked at both of us for a while evaluating my brother’s offer. He was in a kind of agony. Seeing him suffering to make a decision, I told him not to bother about it. I took out my wallet and gave him 10 Birr excusing my self for pushing him that far. He didn’t believe his eyes and was reluctant to take the money. My brother was also a bit surprised but didn’t say anything. 10 Birr is less than the amount of an Euro and it wasn’t a big deal. But it must have been a big deal in those locals where Demisse usually went to drink. That must be the reason that made him come back after we have thought that he was already gone.

He was still holding the 10 Birr in his hand as he came back as if he didn’t trust his pockets.

Looking directly in to my brother’s eyes he said….

“You have a good brother….” then he turned his face in my direction but still addressing his words to my brother “….I saw your brother few times passing me by while I was lying there drunk. You know, I thought he was just like you and the others here…. you think you are better because you see me this way….” he opened his closed palm to reveal the money I gave him and, still looking at me, he continued talking addressing his words to my brother “….but your brother is different, he gave me so much money because he understands me.”

I was now a bit self conscious and wished he wouldn’t look at me that way and say those untrue words about my being a good and understanding person. I am the one who didn’t recognize him as a human being till I saw him walking towards us on that day. I was the one who passed a degrading judgment on him till I heard that he was a soldier. The only reason why I wanted to hear his story wasn’t because I was interested in his personality, I just wanted to satisfy my own selfish eagerness.

Demisse looked at me and said…

“Do you really want to know why I am drinking?”

“Yes.” I said.

“Really?”

“If you tell me, I would like to hear.”

After a brief silence, he continued…

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“She wasn’t older than 21. A beautiful girl with a Kalashnikov… a gorilla fighter of the enemy. My bullet hit her through her chest and I saw her sliding down to a sitting position. Her fighter friends left her there and retreated because we had more soldiers from behind. I think she was already dead, but she was sitting against a tree with her weapon still in her hand, we fired some more shots at her. Then I went to where she was while the others were waiting in their ambush. While checking for her ids I saw that she was a young girl. Her big eyes were still open and they were directly looking at me….”

Demisse walked away silently without saying goodbye. I wished I hadn’t said “yes” as he asked me if I really want to know why he was drinking.

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