By Alem Hailu
Abebe who is stout as a mug is a handsome driver at the last chapter of youth. As cracking jokes is his bent, it doesn’t take him long to rent a room in the hearts of people he acquaint himself with. Even at times,when troubles of every hue, summoning each other, beset him, he fails not see to the bright side of things that unzip one’s lips. Regarding criticism, as he never spares anyone including himself, he never runs out of charm.
For he backpedals not from speaking his mind upfront, it doesn’t take one long to tell that he hails from a family that upholds democracy under their roof. Yet Abebe was never short of enemies. That dawn, to withstand the biting cold ,putting on a sweater cap and a glove, taking out the minibus taxi he used to park at a Keble’s compound, he mixed up with other taxis queued up to transport passengers from Kazanchis to Sidist Kilo.
As it was slowly but surely passengers were coming, he got down to mix with assistant drivers so as to chat and devour his favorite pasty with a tea from a thermos-flask . No sooner he alighted from the taxi the loud “Please buy me!” voice of a skin-plaited man that sells sayings written with a red marker on white cartoons drew his attention.
At the pitch of his voice “Proverbs! Striking proverbs only for five birrs!” the man was uttering leaning on the hotel’s wall by the taxi station ,artfully laying down the cartoons. The voice was being heard against the background of the assistant driver’s pleading call “Sidist Killo,Sidist Killo. We are waiting for the last occupant!”
Before he knew it, Abebe found himself walking towards the sayings selling man. He was intending to scan the cartoons for messages and mix with his colleagues. Abebe doesn’t like liberally spending money buying things he can manage without. Hence buying sayings from the man, who seems someone who took to the heels when mourners were about to commit him to the ground, was the farthermost thing from his mind.
Among the assistant drivers that stood making a throng, the shrewd one, on top of his voice, hurled ‘Abebe please buy us a breakfast. Don’t beset your mind with philosophies!From when is it you have become an elite?’ the others roared with laughter.
‘Is it not better than being an intellectual dwarf ?’ Abebe responded with a lightning quick witticism. An old driver and a coordinator wore a smile on their face.
It was eager to mix this circle of his, he read the last saying. With salt the saying rubbed a fresh wound on his heart. Detached from hearing and seeing, he read and reread the poem for a minute. Pulling out a ten birr note from his trouser pocket he paid. Without caring to receive the change,holding the saying close to his heart,heading to his taxi,hoping into the driver’s seat, he began searching at at a spot where he could frequently read it.
The saying reads
“Speaking lies may be dangerous. But speaking the truth is even more dangerous!”
A few months earlier giving up serving as a chauffeur to his close relatives, Abebe had become a driver to a governmental organization. Owing to his tongue foreign to speaking lies and his disposition of sticking to the truth, it was after he suffered chains of harassment by corrupt officials, donning the garment of the innocent that pursue evil ends, he was kicked out of job. After trying favorable spots from the vantage point of which he could take a frequent glimpse of the saying, Abe placed the cartoon against the front window of the taxi.
Minutes later, Abebe’s assistant driver Shemsu, wide opening the door of the minibus taxi, began calling for commuters that want come on board to go to Sidist Kilo. While speaking, Shemsu had the manner of using his right hand. Often with an upswing he liked slamming ideas he couldn’t buy and things he couldn’t accept.
A long bearded middle aged priest with a turban and who put on a Netela, a cotton -made bed sheet like white traditional cloth, on a three piece, jumping into the deck of the taxi ensconced himself by the driver.
Sporting the cross “Good morning my son. I want to go to Meskaye Hezunan Medhanialem Church. I hope you are heading there!” the priest eyed Abebe.
Abebe getting closer,kissing the cross the priest proffered him, replied
‘I will disgorge you a bit above Sidist Kilo University!’
‘God bless you my son!’
‘Have you seen this saying? Is it not interesting?
Pulling out a big spectacle, no less than a telescope soldiers carry to the front, the priest after carefully scrutinized the saying said ‘Very much interesting! From where did you get it?
‘For a while people could bury the truth, but they can’t efface it?’
Substantiating the claim Abebe uttered the adage
‘ It is gradually the truth and dawn get crystal clear!’
With his cross pointing to the floor of the taxi,
‘If one buries the truth hundred meters deep’ pointing his cross to the roof of the taxi
the priest added ‘When the right moment presents itself, it doesn’t take truth a fraction of a second to bubble up to the surface,for God is truth and truth is God!’
‘Is it not with “Telling the truth, come what may?” we are culturally programmed in ?’ Shemsu blandished his finger.
Abebe handed over the saying bearing cartoon to Shemsu to pass over to passengers so that they could read it.
A young engineering student who always at that hour of the day used to go to the Technology Faculty of Addis Ababa University at Amest Kilo got into the taxi and sat at the second row. Between her arm and breast she was hugging a bulky book that is difficult even to flip through let alone read. On her back this attractive girl was carrying a school bag that could be taken for a mini travel baggage. She was attentively listening to what they were talking.
‘It is better to be a dove of light than darkness’ rat!’ she said.
No sooner she so remarked,
‘You are right Meti!’ Shemsu, who used to hear when her friends call her by the name Metasebya and sometimes with the pet name Meti, tapped her on the back. As he found the talk very much interesting he was making no effort to descend down from the taxi and call passengers.
Since Abebe was badly in need of someone who could share the lacerating pain searing his heart, he didn’t want to nudge Shemsu to solely focus on summoning passengers.
Turning his face towards passengers ‘Do you know why I bought this saying?’ he began
‘A year back I was working as a driver at a governmental organization. Once the organization’s Ethics and Anti Corruption bureau organized a sensitization meeting.’
‘Yes?’ the priest draged his goatee,
Though the taxi was starved of occupants,interested by the discussion it was halfheartedly, getting down from the taxi, Shemsu was trying to look for passengers.
‘The officers sensitized employees on as to what corruption is, the number of ugly faces it has and its destructive nature, they divided participants into different groups to allow them discuss malpractices lurking in the organization. After group leaders collected the tips on corruption and corrupt practices and improprieties manifest in the organization,respective group members, coming out forward, presented issues pinpointed by participants. The three groups raised protracting work for no apparent reason,wasting precious working hours and nepotism as the major malpractices in the organization.’
‘Yes?’ said the priest by way of saying go on
‘The fourth group comprising officials at higher post of the organization playacted as though there is no sign of corruption in the organization’
When Abebe said,projecting a smile and a surprise loaded tone, the university student Meti asked
‘How many members does the 4th group had?”
‘Five,’ he said.
‘Here I think there is a problem of logical thinking. I believe with four people it is quite possible to show the presence of corruption in a given organization, but with the testimonial of four people it is not possible to show the absence of corruption in a given organization. Besides they must be inured to the situation!’ she said
Making an upswing with his arm ‘Yes just like people who live around an abattoir devoid of a modern- bad -odor -controlling system, it doesn’t come as a surprise if they say “We sense not anything foul?” Just like people around the abattoir such officials could be hardened to the dirt they are submerged in. ‘
With eagerness packed eyes, gently pulling his goatee the priest urged Abebe to continue relating his experience.
‘ At last when a feedback giving moment was facilitated, I took hold of the mike and said “Every time when our vehicles fail to give service,they are sent to a private garage. Then claimed maintained they resume services. But shortly they stop giving services. There is also a need to know to which garage they are sent for maintenance purpose. There is also a need to check what type of spare-parts are affixed to them.?” I said. ‘
With admiration packed eyes ‘Valorous,valorous!’ the priest said pressing him to continue ‘No sooner than I finished, a woman who sat beside me added fuel to the fire. Then, she was working at the publication unit of the organization.’
With a bitter smile Abebe added ‘With a body gesture not less than dancing, she noted the dust like particles from papers being bought at higher costs and inappropriate inks are disturbing our expensive photocopy machines.’
Turning her face to the fourth group she added,
‘Aside from not giving proper service,inks that have the nature of tar make printing machines dysfunctional. Such items create a crisis on top of a crisis. Is that not what we call “ An insult to injury” It doesn’t take one to be a sorcerer to tell how much wastage is attached with the purchase of expensive equipment!’
‘Valorous! A valorous lady!’ the priest added.
‘ No sooner than the meeting ended and employees got dispersed, the head of the drivers unit that has a connection to the top administration,with little care to explain the reason behind his action, sending an errand girl ordered me to return the key of the vehicle I was tasked to drive.’
‘You see “If you give an advice to a wise man he will be yet wiser, but if you give an advice to a lazy person he will hate you!” is that not what the bible says ?” the priest said.
A week from the meeting I received a letter from the humanitarian resource development and Managment office. It was a letter, which carried notification words, that bore my being fired for inefficiency during my seven months probation period! ‘ Abebe breathed long.
‘Though Abe tried a lot to fight a solid wall he landed in a soup!’ he displayed a bitter smile
‘What about the woman? How come the Ethics and Anti Corruption bureau of the organization didn’t give you two protection?’ Vexed Metasebiya kicked the chair in front of her.
Three students with a uniform— blue sweater and with a brown trouser— were giving a heeding ear to the talk.
‘Following the resignation of her boss, the lady I told you about had asked for the vacant post of a publication officer.’
‘But surprisingly they filled the post with a person who has less qualification and experience. She was saying “ I will resign!” I don’t have any inkling how she fared,’
The priest reflecting the harrowing trial Abebe underwent pitied him .
‘Don’t lose heart my son, putting words into Isaiah 33:15-16 God tells us that a person who is revolted by corruption will have a higher place in store and s/he never worries what to eat and drink, for God shall see to things.’
‘Yes from what I learnt from my uncle who is a Shake the Holy Koran also advises us not to eat out of each others property. It also advises the faithful not to give bribe to twist the arms of judges in a bid to eat others out of their rightful property.’
‘Of course bribery, one of the grotesque faces of corruption, is what the omnipotent creator despises!” the priest further substantiated the point .
According to religious fathers
“Allah condemns both the giver and the receiver of bribe,” he said. At that point a woman heavy with a child got into the taxi. Leaving the bench for the woman, Meti moved to a chair on the next row.
‘May God bless you!’ the woman expressed gratitude.
Abebe garbing the wheel set the taxi on move .At that point one of the students in a uniform said,
‘ In our Ethics lesson we learn how corruption has a debilitating effect on a nation’s economy. We have learnt “Corruption kills us and our country!”. Cognizant of this fact, as successors of this country, that shoulder tomorrow’s responsibility, we have to be averse to this malpractice equally condemned by all religions. ‘
Cutting in her friend added ‘May his soul rest in peace, once while I was attending a live show on TV, I heard the former prime minister of Ethiopa Meles Zenawi saying
“Our country has one and only one option. Either to be submerged in the quagmire of corruption or draining the quagmire!” He then called up on the public to be forerunners in arresting corruption.’
‘Do you really believe corruption could be eradicated. It pokes its head everywhere in the world. Of course we could decrease its degree of prevalence, but it may not be possible to wipe its grotesque face from the surface of the planet,’the pregnant lady said
‘In the old testament sons of the prophet Samuel were condemned for improprieties. Instead of emulating their father they did take money at the cost of their pride and integrity’ said the priest and added,
‘The pride of a corrupt person will be trampled underfoot. He loses his acceptance. At last a broken toy, he will be rejected. The dump yard is the right place for a broken toy.’
‘Once I had gone to our Sub City Administration to get a possession certificate for my residential house as per the time frame announced on TV.But after seeing to all the necessary procedures, paying the required fee, when on the appointed date, I went there to receive the certificate. A less genuine employee said ‘Your file is lost.’
‘ “How could such a thing happen in a country with an accountable government?” I challenged him. I turned a tigress and got a green light to the administrator. The corrupt employee compelled traced my file.’
‘I can’t understand such a statement? Did he want you to grease his palm. Had he said your file is misplaced it may sound Okay. But how dare he say “Your file is lost?”
Is it not appending their signatures they exchange the file?’Meti eyed the pregnant woman.
‘Yes indeed!’ she said.
The pregnant woman went on to say ‘But I had seen a genuine female engineer advising an old man cheated out of half of his compound space how to go about to legally reclaim his rightful possession’
The priest uttered ‘I see ,there are some innocent and ethical officials!’
The pregnant woman added,
‘Yes indeed there are many. But a drop of petrol in a pail full of water could mar the taste of the water.’
‘Right you are!’ Shemsu made an upward swing with his hand and began collecting money.
‘Yes during construction activities, greedy contractors, conniving with irresponsible supervisors, build roads and buildings that are below standard and specification. To tie down the supervisor or to keep him tight-lipped they apportion him an additional salary!’
‘I see not to be exposed by him,’ said Shemsu.
‘Specially works done below the surface are subject to sabotage.’
‘Yes they pilfer. if one arrests drops of water in a container it could make a barrel full of water. Last week I had gone to Kaliti prison administration. I witnessed one corrupt official who unfairly amassed fortune that suffice him for forty years. He was sentenced to forty years of imprisonment. He was fined all his wealth,’said Shemsu.
‘He creates pressure on the throng already besetting prison cells. To investigate the case of such corrupt officials the government spends a huge amount of money,’ Meti regretted.
‘They made him spit out the blood as a vampire he sucked!’ said Shemsu
‘I think I have heard this news. I feel sorry to his mother and wife who would be forced to visit him every week carrying food deducting from what they may be left with,’the pregnant women held her head.
When another student with a uniform added, ‘ I heard some foreigners engaged in the construction activity, disgusted by the act of some corrupt laborers and contractors, poses the question “How could one steal from one’s own country ?Do they have another country?” ‘ all split their sides with laughter.
When Abebe just passed the victory monument at Arat Killo he received a telephone call. When he saw the number he noted that the call was from his previous organization. Slowly grinding to a halt and parking his car at a safe place he crunched the green button.
“Abebe Dageme?’ he heard a voice with a question mark bearing tone.
‘Yes I am Abebe.’
‘This is Ewnetu Nesere speaking! I am giving you a call from office. From the Ethics and Anti-corruption bureau. ‘
His heart pounding, turning his face towards the passengers and muffling the cellphone with his palm ‘It is from my former organization!’ he said.
To let others hear he pressed the button for making the caller’s voice louder.
‘Raising your case, together with the Federal Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission, we have decided, you should enjoy protection. It is the rule of law not the rule of individuals that must prevail in our organization. Fighting for the triumph of this ideal we have decided you must rejoin our organization. Today in the afternoon we have a training session for new employees. If you join us it would help us to demonstrate that we give protection to whoever tips us. As a good example we shall discuss your case and that of another lady on the meeting. Please try to join us in the afternoon.’
‘I would be more than delighted!’he turned ecstatic as a fried pop corn.
‘Yes it is true that the dawn and the truth gradually get crystal clear!I am to get back to my job! Congratulation your prayers helped me. The almighty has not forsaken me.’ Abebe eyed the passengers.
“Yes but it is the prayer of that man who sells sayings that helped you a lot!”
Shemsu laughed. The others followed suit.
Happily Abebe resumed driving.
By Alem Hailu