Ethiopian Songbird - rewrite
“Nyala, today is a slow day for selling tomatoes. Please tell me how you became the most popular barroom singer in Addis Ababa. I’ll give you a quart of milk from my prize goat in exchange.”
“Well, how could I refuse such an offer? The taste of Ethiopian dust followed me into my dreams. Also, the beggar, blind in one eye, was there, who never panhandled to the miserly rich because while their bank accounts were full their hearts were empty. Also, there was the gypsy woman whose wares I couldn’t afford but who let me sit in the shade of her market stall. And let’s not forget the soldier who shared water from his canteen and drove me home in his jeep after I’d been begging myself.”
I say, “I read your interview in the local arts magazine. But hearing your story told in person means so much more. Tell me about when your brother was born and I will give you a gallon of milk.”
“Please, good vendor don’t rush me. You will get your gallon’s worth. The night Mama’s water broke she wept. She didn’t weep for herself, but rather for the boy she gave birth to who would be conscripted into the army one day. But when he grew up strong and tall she saw that he was fast and tough enough to hide out in the mountains and escape the draft.
My daddy was a bicycle taxi driver. Some men tried to recruit him to be a pirate which paid enough to buy a car. But he figured being a live father was better than being a dead swashbuckler. My mama, couldn’t breastfeed and we couldn’t afford a wet nurse. But we did have a goat and her milk nourished me when I was a baby.”
“One goat cannot feed a whole family. Your Mama should have come to me. I would have given her enough free goat milk to give you strong bones along with your brother. No baby in my part of Addis Ababa goes unnourished.”
“More street vendors should be so generous. Your belated gift is the gallon for bones don’t stop growing at my age. But the story must go on. In my dreams, I transformed into a flying batgirl. I soared high above Addis Ababa with my leathery wings. Nothing and no one could take away my faith in my bat powers. I could hear beyond the range of humans. I was invincible. There blue was all I saw but it was below me.
When I reached puberty I closed myself up into a cavern of the mind. There it was dark and protected. Within my cave, there were stalactites of my pure onyx tears. Yet there were also stalagmites giving the finger to anyone who intruded in my sanctuary. I lived in a paradise of the mind. I sang like an Afro-pop diva. But I became a bird of appetite. Moldy bread and tuna from a can weren’t my cuisines. So I became a barroom singer.”
“Wine bibbers are far more in need of your soothing voice than soda drinkers at a stadium. Your voice is that of a celebrity but your heart is with the poor. The angels in heaven are aloof while you are there for them.”
“Angels have earned their wings while we are still human. One day I walked the street waiting to be discovered by a talent agent. Each step was a dream come true. I was harmonizing to an African lute player whose street melody was the heartbeat of Ethiopia. My hips swayed like a Calla Lily in the wind. The Calla is the national flower but I was more graceful than any floral beauty I knew. Deep in downtown, a bartender from Egypt offered me a singing job at a resort on the Red Sea. The tips alone would have been enough to live in a luxury seaside condo. But I was not a migratory bird and chose to stay in the land where my ancestral spirits gathered me into their bosoms.”
“Tips given by the poor are worth more than those from the rich. Though less in monetary value they are a fortune of spiritual worth,” I say.
“I am an Ethiopian earth maiden who speaks in tribal songs from my parched land where tears float from the sky to splash on my native soil in drops of joy and sorrow. I sashay past the drinkers and gather my notes from a rainbow on high. I tremble in passion’s embrace with my voice flying in the clouds along with my sister the hawk on mystic wings of light and heat.
My smoky barroom exhalation is a wail of womanly desire. Each tender rise of hunger’s song is a dark timbre of the haunted feminine.”
“You are a credit to your sex. Please sing for an
old man who cannot afford a radio and will add half a dozen tomatoes to your bounty just to hear your voice.”
“Imagine the drumbeat. The trombone playing sends me into a frenzy with each pump of blown bliss. Here is my song, “The Ethiopian night embraces me in the cradle of my birthplace. There the blood of slaves lies in the ground where roses grow red with their love.”
I reply, “You are the heartbeat of Ethiopia. Sing to me some more. Alas, I can spare no more fruit or milk. But take the blessing of an old man as your bonus.”
“For your blessing, I will also dance.”
“Dance sweet Nyala to remind me of my youth which never was. I worked at a tender age and was too tired at the end of the day to date.”
Nyala says, “Watch me and let your eyes do the dance with me.”