August 1st, 2010
We were sitting near the entrance of the small apartment of the old man. There, just right behind the door, his old computer was placed on an unstable small table. Under the table was a broken printer amid a lot of indefinable cables and adapters of all kinds.
He asked me once to help him to get him a free Amharic software so that he could be able to digitalize his handwritten memos and diaries. As I went to his place to do him this favor, I found out that his computer was quite out of date with hardware that would not cop up with the current software and internet podiums. YouTube or chat rooms like Paltalk platforms that he obviously addicted to, wouldn’t run smoothly or wouldn’t run at all. Evaluating his wish with the computer he has, I told him that spending some money on a better hardware would be unavoidable. I also told him that I would try to look for a secondhand computer for an affordable price.
He agreed on that point of having another computer telling me about his daily routine on how he and his old gadget get along through the day. “When I wake up in the morning,..” He started, smiling more to himself. “…the very first thing I do is turning this crappy old thing on. Then I go dealing with other things leaving it alone because I know that it will be ready when I am finished with my shower, shaving and having a coffee.”
The way he was joking about his unfortunate situation made me laugh with him. Then, since it made no sense to install anything on his rattling old pc, we decided to talk about other things.
I did not ask him how old he was. But the old man, I guessed, would be in his late 70s. It struck me again and again the fact that he was living all by himself in this sticky and untidy small apartment. Seeing around his two rooms, it was obvious to observe that he needed help to keep it nit and clean. But one could easily see that he had no help at all. Though I did my best not to show him my feeling about his condition, I couldn’t stop myself from asking him why he was all by himself at this age.
I was very conscious of his reaction upon my question but, for my relief, he was kind of glad that I asked.
I have seen some elderly Ethiopian men and women in Frankfurt and Hamburg but none of them seemed to be alone like this. Though I saw them once in a while walking in the city alone, I could tell by looking at them that someone out there was taking a good care of them. So, how come a well-educated gentleman like my host, who should actually be enjoying the remaining years of his life surrounded by family, be so alone while living so far away from the country of his origin?
As the old man started to narrate his story, I was glad that I raised the question. It was as if he has been waiting for this opportunity of talking about his situation as to take some psychological burden off his shoulder.
He made himself as comfortable as possible before starting with his story. He stood up slowly straightening his old body carefully and went in to his small kitchen. He brought two cold bottles of beer from the fridge, opened both bottles and gave me one without asking me first if I wanted to have one or not. Instead, he said determinedly: “If you want to share my story, you better start sharing a beer with me as well.”
“I am honored.” I said raising my bottle to his health before taking the first sip. The old man did the same smiling and clearing his throat with the liquid before starting with his story.
“As you could see…” He began. “…I am an old man and definitely too old to be alone at this age. But life hasn’t always been like that around me. Actually, I wasn’t alone till last year. It might sound strange but I still have a wife and three grown up children living right here in Frankfurt. After 35 years of marriage, my wife had me kicked out of our five-room apartment by the police telling them that she was afraid of living with me because, allegedly, I have threatened to kill her. But I have never threatened her at all.”
“What about your children? Didn’t they try to straighten things up?” I asked.
“Well, they were all against me and took on their mother’s side.”
“I still don’t get it….” I said, apologizing for interrupting him. “…how can all three grown up children take on their mother’s side and see their old father thrown out of his own home? And how come a wife does that to her husband after such a long years of marriage? Is there a story behind that made your wife act like that?”
The old man sipped his beer and remained silent for few seconds. Then he smiled and nicked his head confirming my assumption. “Yes, there was indeed a story that could have led my wife to react like that. But this story happened over 30 years back. She knows it. We have discussed about it and she has forgiven me for the foolish mistake I did in those days. But I have no clue about what made her change her mind after such a long time.”
“What was the story behind? ….” I said, fearing that he might change his mind and stop telling me the story. “…. I mean, in case you want to tell me about it.”
The old man’s face was suddenly lit by a mysterious smile as his thoughts took him 30 years back: back to the time where the story that was responsible for his current situation took place. Seeing him smiling like that, I had this funny feeling that he was more enjoying the memory of those years instead of regretting about whatever was the reason for his condition now.
“We, I mean me and my wife, were leading a very luxurious life in Addis Ababa. We were professionally successful. I was an administrator of a state-owned company and my wife was working for a site construction firm as site manager: quite an unusual position for a woman in those days. Because of her position, my wife was frequently on the road inspecting different sites all over the country. Our three children were still small kids; the youngest was only three at that time, I guess. Since we were heavily occupied with our jobs, our children should have been looked after by a nanny. The woman we have found as a nanny was very good at her duty and competent that the kids were more close to her soon than to us. They were so accustomed to her that they would neither allow us to feed them nor bring them to bed if this nanny wasn’t nearby. I and my wife were very grateful about having this woman in the house because the kids loved her and we had nothing to worry about their wellbeing.
“Especially for me, the situation was very convenient. Whenever my wife was in one of her field trips, I went out with my friends to have a good time. Having good time in those days means like going to bars, restaurants and clubs where you have also access to other beautiful women who were working in such establishments. As you might well know, there were no other recreation points and places to go to in Addis Ababa….”
“My wife knew about my going-outs with my friends. Because she knew all of them well, she wasn’t worried about what might happen. Once in a while, she reminded me of my responsibilities and warned me not exceed my limits. But it was hard not to exceed your limits when you are filled with alcohol and surrounded by beautiful girls. Often, you are then unintentionally forced to forget about those warnings of your wife.”
“Was that the reason of your disagreement? I mean, if she knew that you were going out with your friends, how could that be a reason?” I asked.
“Of course not….” Continued the old man. “….like most of the women in those days, my wife was quite aware of the situation. In Ethiopia, it was normal; I also think that it is still normal to go to bars with friends where other women who simultaneously work as prostitutes serve the drinks. Our wives also knew that these women could also be tempting. But, as long as we came back home early enough, everything was alright. No, going out was not the reason of our disagreement…..”
He took a mouthful sip of his beer as if he was recharging himself for the decisive portion of his story.
“… The reason for our conflict was not where I was with my friends. The reason was what happened after I came home when she was away. In the beginning, when she was not there, I did spent few nights in hotels…”
“In hotels? Were other women involved?” I asked.
He didn’t say yes or no to my question. Instead he laughed an “of-course-other-women-were-involved” laughter.
“….But because of the kids, I never felt free whenever I spent a night somewhere else. I knew the nanny wouldn’t tell my wife about my adventures in her absence. But it just didn’t fit my attitude. Besides, we had a very nice home and it was much comfortable for me to come home and see my kids before they went to sleep, have a nice dinner and sleep in my own bedroom. But….”
Then there was a long pause. The old man wasn’t smiling anymore. Lost in his thoughts, he seemed to stare at an imaginary screen which was filled with pictures that only he could see.
I did not disturb him and waited till he brought himself back to the reality and continue the storytelling.
“….The reason for our conflict was…” He stopped again for few seconds and continued. “… I began an affair with the nanny of my kids.”
After saying that, he inspected me sharply with his eyes in order to see my reaction. The only response from my side was “Ouch!”
He smiled understandingly to my reaction and then continued the story with a controlled emotion on his face.
“This affair that started coincidentally continued for few years. My wife was never suspicious because she loved and trusted this woman like her own sister. As long as she wasn’t suspicious, things went quite well for me; or at least I thought it would continue that way for ever. But you can’t remain undiscovered if you don’t stop stealing when it was safe…”
“…After enjoying this affair for years, things have changed dramatically. The nanny told me one day that she was pregnant. Although she said that she will never dare to destroy my marriage, I was too shocked to believe her. She rejected my proposal to have an abortion saying that she would keep the child by all means. She said that she would leave us before her belly gets bigger and before my wife was aware of the matter. She also added that she would raise the child all by her own and I wouldn’t need to bother…”
“…My wife was very sad as the nanny told her that she must visit her family and wouldn’t know when she was coming back. She even proposed to raise her salary thinking that it might be the case for this sudden decision…”
“…As I knew that the nanny was really keeping her words about not bringing my marriage in jeopardy and leaving us just the way she promised, I felt so ashamed of myself. Ashamed of myself for disturbing the life of this woman and for being so selfish all the time after she told me that she was pregnant.”
“How did your wife know about it if the nanny was gone and kept her words?” I asked the old man as he stopped his storytelling for a minute.
To be continued soon on part 2….