My short story has been published at Terror House Magazine.
The old fighters greeted each other with their customary, shoulder-bumping handshake. They went to their usual table in the corner of the raised section where they could look over the other customers in the restaurant. There were two types of food to choose from: Italian or Eritrean. They were so old that they could remember when this colonial-era hotel served many Italians. Even earlier, natives had not been allowed.
The Italians were long gone. The friends ordered a simple meal of lentils and injera because both were adhering to an Orthodox fast. It was late afternoon.
In any group of three people, there is a government spy, but Johannes and Tesfay were only two, and the other customers were slightly too far away to hear their easy conversation. They spoke freely of brownouts, feuds with tenants, mandated food prices, the water shortage. The coup attempt. The boys who’d been arrested. In a small city of old families, there are only a couple of degrees of separation to both sides of a conflict.
Coffee came. Now they talked about the many shops and cafés the government had closed down for supposed tax evasion. They didn’t speak of Johannes’ surviving son, who was absent. He’d presumably slipped overseas to escape endless national service, like everyone else. They were old men, so next they spoke of old times. On this occasion, Johannes was the one to bring up the hyenas and Tesfay smiled with nostalgia. He had, after all, been the one who’d almost been eaten.
“Think of it!” Johannes guffawed. “You survived the Ethiopian airstrike but nearly got killed by those beasts instead.” They both laughed. Their youthful exploits were their favorite topic because everything was different now. Complicated. It was simpler when the enemy was foreign and in the other trench.
Tesfay stretched his hand towards his upper back, where the scar was. “It’s still there. No bite marks, though! Only the burn, thanks to you. Thank you, my friend!” It was something he’d told Johannes many times before. While manning a rugged mountain redoubt on the Nakfa front, the Soviet-made bomb had sent him rolling down a cliff-like mountain slope, coming to rest against a boulder with several broken bones, unable to move as the sun plummeted beneath the horizon and the hyenas began to squeal. He’d heard other men die that way, and women. The ones too far away to be rescued by their comrades. The Martyrs never aged, never saw their country free. Or, mercifully, what had happened to it since.
Johannes suddenly grew serious. He looked at his friend intensely, as though about to inform him of another death in the family. Tesfay returned his look quizzically. Normally they bantered at this point, perhaps about how he would be a skinny feed for such large predators, or how, if things had become desperate enough, he might have had to eat the hyenas, instead.
The hush and the penetrating stare continued. Somewhere in his heart, Tesfay knew what was coming. He’d been waiting for the moment for 30 years.
Finally, Johannes broke the silence.
“Do you remember your promise?” Read More