Cambridge Days (a novel)

Teodros Kiros

Cambridge Days is a unique literary work that systematically combines the genres of drama and story-telling. In this book, Professor Teodros Kiros, has assembled a diverse group of actors who love to make connections with areas of knowledge and the subtle nuances of life, sometimes exhibiting a self-negating condition of paradox and at other times, joy, rapture, and elation of group dynamics. The chief characters in the book are Neil, Heidi, Adowa, Elias, Rosa, Nyerere, Aster, ‘Dodo’ the nameless monk, Makau, and Conrad. Most of them find themselves in Cambridge, an “intrusive city of Juxtapositions” as the author aptly describes it. Cambridge is also a city of illusions and a city of knowledge, a venue for all the talented characters in the book.

ISBN: 9781569025482 HB. 9781569025499 PB
2017, Africa World Press, Inc. & The Red Sea Press, Inc.

I am not sure who suggested we go to the beach so late in the afternoon. The earth is on fire. Some would say the blazing tropical sun is in full bloom. I say everything feels and looks hot. It is supposed to be winter, when the rain comes and cools everything. There are hundreds of bodies at the beach today. I take up my spot on the faded wooden chair near the water. The brilliant turquoise of the Indian Ocean dances at my toes. Neil has folded his body onto a towel. Despite the gathering clouds he is ready to begin his after- noon baking ritual. He will face the sun from all directions. First he will confront it head on, then he will turn to the left and then to the right; he will lay on his side, his back, his stomach and then he will move back up to a sitting position and face the glare without blinking his eyes. He never seems satisfied after he is cooked through. I tell him he has grown black enough. He has been in Tanzania with me now for one year and I fear he will grow cancer if he does not take greater care. He is too busy arranging all his belongings to note this warning today.

Neil has placed everything he might need over the next hours within an arm’s reach of any position he may take. The most important of these items today is Heidi’s book, The Invisible Black Woman. He places this open near his shoulder. When Neil sun-bakes the backs of his arms from his stomach, he will turn his neck, rest his cheek on one page of the open book and read the other sideways. I think he has even perfected a way to turn the page without using his arms. Neil has also placed his tepid, nearly empty cool drink bottle near the top of the towel, his unopened sunscreen bottle at the foot and a pair of sunglasses on his knees. He will not use any of these things in the next hours.

‘You are growing black,’ I say to him after he had moved to his stomach. He seems not to hear me.

Neil’s concentration is so focused on reading The Invisible Black Woman book because he is making up for lost time. The book is the one thing spanning the twenty years that Heidi and Neil spent apart. She will be flying into Dar Es Salaam in just three weeks and then returning here with Neil. I am not sure that they will marry this time around, but I wonder. She is fifty now and he is even older. Perhaps Neil’s spurned proposal nearly twenty years ago in our old home in Cambridge turned him off to marriage, or maybe, they are too old to worry about either. I clear my throat and, when he looks up at me, I see that his eyes are glittery.

‘The book may be true but so is this,’ I say, sunscreen in my hand, ‘you are becoming baked nicely.’ His eyes gleam. ‘But love will not stop you from burning. The sun does not get weaker at this time of day, Neil. It becomes stronger.’

I pass him the sunscreen. He fingers the tube of 50+ UVB sun protection as though he took it from me by mistake. Neil seems to liken my gesture to being handed a tube of toothpaste right before eating a long awaited meal. He sets the tube down politely beside him and goes back to his book.

I try to look at his skin disapprovingly but Neil is so proud. He thrusts out one olive tanned arm without looking up as though to prove this point and then he proceeds to admire its slowly changing hue. He surveys me approvingly. My color is already a deep red- brick.

‘I use protection too,’ I say, doffing my straw hat and tapping my round sunglasses down to show him the sockets of my eyes, clear and unlined by the veiny red streaks that crisscross his. I pull the sunglasses back up and adjust my hat. Neil just grins toothily at me so I settle back into my chair, if even I know it is momentarily. The cloud heads are gathered and looking fiercer by the second. Today there will be a big storm. Neil eases himself onto his back, pretending not to wince at the way his terry cloth towel rubs at his chafed skin. Round number two, I think to myself. The sun does feel good, but it is unbearably hot and the air is dense as the storm approaches. A few more minutes of time before we will have to get up. I let the water soothe my feet and savor the moment. I feel supremely con- tent. For once, I do not remember I am an ex-professor from Cam- bridge, that my home country of Tanzania is plagued by problems or that Neil and I must begin to plan the gala event of the season, the second year anniversary of the school we opened. In this moment, I am only aware that we live, ready. We are two handsomely aging men ready to live for as long as we are given time.

Neil has fallen asleep and the storm is upon us. Swollen waves crash to the shore in a caravan of lines escorted by thundershowers threatening from what could be merely moments. The sky darkens and the gentle sea breeze begins to whip itself into foam. The bubbles turn to a wild froth that spray us both and makes Neil jolt upright and grope for his eyes. ‘What have I been missing?’ he demands as he gently brushes off the book he overturned into the sand. White sand sprays out over his knees. He sits up cross-legged, a hand on each kneecap, every sinew in his body alert, waiting.

While everyone else around us begins moving in haste, Neil and I gather speed more slowly. We are weighted down by the moist scent and heaving pregnant clouds, the heady scent of wet mangroves fills our noses. We can smell where the storm has been before it arrives at us. The mist coats us first, and then the thunder rolls out wide to open the way for the rain. We hear it pound at the sand before we realize the storm is right on top of us.

‘Let’s go, Nyerere!’ Neil yelps. He is smiling, excited by the commotion. A young couple dash past, blankets thrown around their shoulders, cool drinks clinking in the cooler bag, shiny pink and silver crisp wrappers fluttering behind them like celestial butterflies. We are captured by the frenzy and follow suit to pack our meager things and move out toward some shelter. Haphazardly we run, laughing like children again and tripping ourselves on the sand, covering space quickly. We move toward the first ledge of trees marking the slow ascent into what the tourists call the foothills of the Eastern Arc Coastal Mountain Range. We finally arrive at the trees just as the rain releases. We huddle, separately but together, and we slant our eyes. The young palm fronds dip to catch the rain and, unable to hold it all at once, flatten themselves into balding, peeling stumps. The cashew trees and old baobabs slow the rain and create pockets of silence. But our own bodies pulse. Rain must feel marvelous, I think, entranced by the way it glistens, graceful in its suspension between sky and earth.

I step out in to the open and Neil pushes himself forward with his nose out first, he follows my back, craving the rain. It is too perfectly cool and fresh to worry about being rational. We are greedy for the water, aching for it to enter our pores, our mouths, even our noses, to free us even (albeit) briefly from the heat. What can we do but surrender ourselves? Neil and I give over our bodies, and in re- turn, the rain pours in. We cannot get enough and long for it to bombard us even harder. It does not last nearly long enough. After a brief respite, the sun reclaims its domain and sets our faces aflame again. We find ourselves blinking into the glare, strangers in an involuntary blindness. When my eyes refocus, I do not see Neil anywhere.

‘Found it!’ I hear from down on the beach and somewhere to my right where the coastal grove has thinned out into a near a small enclave of round rock, sedge and sand.

I peer through shaded hands, searching for Neil. There are not many people on the beach now.

‘Over here, Nyerere! I’ve found us a great spot!’ It is the voice again, but I cannot see the (its) owner. I move toward the rocks and, as I near, a long red arm and high-flying purple towel flap into the air. It is Neil. I find myself slipping up and then down again on the rocks as I try to mount them, but they are still slick with vanishing rain. At the top I look down to see Neil in the sand arranging his towel. I feel tall and free, though I know I could jump down easily if I tried.

‘Great spot, isn’t it?’ he says cheerfully, waving up at me. The rocks cast a shadow over him and his burnt skin looks a slightly darker shade of purple than his towel.

‘Find a seat, Nyerere! You don’t even need a chair the way the rocks are shaped!’ He smooths the edges of his towel in the motion- less air and then begins to fold himself down again into the sand.

‘I am going to stay down here in the shadow if you do not mind, he calls up, ‘I think the blisters might be coming back.’

I peer at his shoulders. Translucent little volcanoes filled with clear liquid have burst up under the cracked and peeling shell of his skin. Neil has so many mottled layers of skin he will never become black; I chuckle to myself.

‘OK. I will see you a bit later then,’ I say and turn back toward the ocean.

The rock I stand atop is smooth and curved out like a belly on one side and bends in like an hourglass on the other. It is bone colored. I see an indented notch on the side of one of the rocks across from me; it looks as though it could mirror the curvature of my back and suddenly a burbling fatigue overtakes me. But a roving desire mounts in my blood as I maneuver myself into the chair of rock. I am in a mood for love. My hands itch, my feet sweat. I close my eyes in peace, thinking I am completely out of sight of anyone on the beach. Then, I sense a movement on the other side of the rocks. I hear Neil.

‘Just look at you, sassy beauty!’ I hear followed by a throaty
whistle. ‘What a fine piece you are!’

I can hear the appreciation, can almost hear Neil’s lips smacking. So he is in a mood for love, too. Maybe Heidi’s picture is on the back of the book, I think to myself, stifling a smile, settling deeper into the sand. It is warm, the rock cool. I long for sleep. But then I see the hoopoe. My breath catches and even if I had tried, I cannot move. She (It) appears from behind the rocks on short legs, her ruddy pink chest held high, her head cocked to one side. She walks like a princess, feeling good, basking in praise. I realize she is what Neil had been whistling at. The crest on her head fans up then out into a plume, her long black and white tail swishes right, then left, bobbing as she walks past me with gem eyes. Her beak is long and thin, like a hooked needle. I have heard about the hoopoe. She appears in much folklore, from Egypt to India but I did not know she came south to Tanzania. I shake my head at the wonder of my country and then, suddenly too worn out to do anything else, I dare to sleep.

But sleep does not come so easily. Adowa appears in front of me radiating that rare smile. I think it is a smile that can penetrate a soul and glue a person to the power of beauty. My hands reach out but her smile begins to fade the more I reach until finally, she relieves me by taking my elbow and steering me toward the door of her apartment. Through the doorway we go, up the short stairs, through the kitchen and towards the big burnt oak table. Many papers are spread out on its surface and at first I think it is a chapter of her dissertation. I know she is at the tail end of finishing her last brilliant chapter on the “African Biological Self.” She will soon begin the laborious process of editing. She has less than two months until her dissertation defense in July. But when Adowa pulls out her chair to sit, I realize the papers have nothing to do with her dissertation.

There are exactly six different items placed in two perfectly aligned rows. On the top row are three sets of paper. The first two look to be letters, the last is a deck of blank sheets. Underneath are three envelopes. One has a US postmark. May 2008. Another has a red and white airmail border and is marked from Ghana. That post- mark reads April 2008. My eyes wander to the final items, two blank envelopes with stamps at the corners, one with a small airmail label and the other without. I am curious and so I lean closer but Adowa blocks my vision as she also leans down in an uncharacteristic bent. She picks up an empty sheet of paper with one hand and reaches to- ward the first letter with her other. I notice her forehead is wrinkled, her hand shaking. My own hand lurches out to her and finds itself in her hair, cut short to fit her finely built forehead. It is a forehead built for thinking, for looking at things deeply. I move my hands to her strong shoulders and they are hard, reminding me of the thick braided ropes the coastal fishermen pull taut to bring in their boats. Something is gravely wrong. I wave off a fleeting guilt that warns I am invading a too private moment. Adowa has a strength of character that does not belie doubt to anyone, not even to me. As I begin to rub her scalp, her temples, I ask her what is wrong and pull at her ears, easing the lobes down from the cartilage. She has never pierced them like most women I know, carrying her beauty instead in the grace of her walk, the length of her posture. The black gleam of her skin, the seriousness of her disposition, her insistence. Adowa ignites fires in my being I cannot control and nor do I try I rub harder into her shoulders.

Adowa takes no note of me; she picks up her pen and begins writing. I long to hear her words as my fingers work to soften her muscles. Her words are always chosen slowly and carefully, with the precision of a scientist and the controlled passion of a writer. ‘They are delicious, always,’ our friend Elias says, ‘as a ripe pear.’ Adowa writes so determinedly. I realize she is not aware of me at all. I withdraw my hands from her and try to contain my curiosity. But it insists like a small child wanting milk. I crane to see what Adowa spells, but the words blur the closer I move. Unable to resist, I push my head through the triangle between her torso and her arm and then I rest my head at her breast so that I am nearly eye level with her pen. I am surprised to find that the characters are messy and unlike her perfect script. Still, I think I can see my name in the text. Maybe she is writing to me. I open my hands to see my fingers and then I count them, one by one, until I reach fourteen. That is the number of days since I have last spoken to her.

‘It is too long,’ I say aloud to her.

Adowa has finished the letter and begins to fold it.

‘But I understand…’

Her back straightens as she picks up the first envelope, places
the letter inside.

‘You must be so very busy now…’

Adowa begins to write her return address in the left corner of the envelope.

‘.but you are almost finished. The dissertation is nearly complete.’ I strain to sound comforting, but my voice seems to bounce off the table and back into my mouth.

‘I will wait for as long as it takes to finish, Adowa.’ She sneezes, pauses, and then she moves her hand to the center of the envelope.

‘Finish what you must there in America,’ I say and grasp her hand as she writes, moving with the script as the letters appear, ‘and then come home, to Tanzania.’ We had agreed that she would arrive at the end of her summer, the beginning of our spring here.

I look down to what we have written and coil back in surprise. Rosa. At 183 Morningside Road.

Rosa. The name rings bells and brings to me a smell. Sweet, then sour, but I cannot place a face.

183 Morningside Road, Somerville. Not in Cambridge. Rather,
in Somerville, the town adjacent to it. An industrial town I rarely go to. Yet, the address is familiar. Why?

Finished, Adowa sets the envelope aside and looks out her open window. The rustle of maple leaves and the cool breeze beckons me to follow Adowa’s gaze. We stare out the window together. Waiting. The breeze tempts me, seducing me with the same sweet and sour smell until I agree to let it take me where it wants. I drift outside.

As I walk toward Harvard Square, I pass streets I know. The small shops shine fuzzy lights onto the narrow streets, past the little brick houses on Brattle Street, through the crowded sidewalks. A group of street musicians jam on a corner. Cambridge has an intoxicating beauty that can dazzle any passer-by. The breeze releases me for just a moment to enjoy the scene. It nudges me on, not too long after, and I find myself at a bus stop. I get on a bus that indicates it passes Morningside and we head north. To the other side of Cam- bridge then Somerville. The journey seems to take only seconds, and then I am at Morningside Road walking toward Rosa’s yellow door at the end of the street. Before I have even walked through number 183 I can taste the sweet and sour on my tongue. I soon find myself in the kitchen, at a table. There is the pitcher, the glasses. There is the pink rose petals floating on the surface of the light green liquid. I cannot wait for the cool limeade, and so I help myself. It trickles down my throat as I listen. There is the light tinkle of a wind chime hung somewhere unseen. There is the rustle of maple leaves again. Then, there is Rosa.

She stands at the cupboard wearing a red and white flowered apron. Her hair is gathered up near the crown of her head. She has cocoa eyes that still glint with gold slivers. A string of small pearls adorns a young neck. Hands cross over a soft breastbone. I marvel for a moment at her honey colored hands. They lived through the death of two husbands, countless cats, and most recently, the brutal chopping of the ancient weeping willow tree in her front yard. The city said it was a nuisance.

Rosa. The only woman who can make such divine limeade. I take another swill from my glass and a rose petal gets caught on my teeth. As I peel it away I wonder again, how did she manage to find roses in the middle of winter? Of course her kitchen is filled with plants. They swing from baskets, from sills, from corners. Plants everywhere, but I do not see any roses. Maybe because it is winter, I think, suddenly, looking to the frost on the open window pane. I look to the calendar on the wall. It is open to the year 2005, December. I am confused, but only for a moment. Elias walks into the kitchen and I have to laugh out loud. Somehow, I have fallen asleep at Adowa’s house and found myself in a memory. It is December 2005. The year I decided to quit teaching and move home to Tanzania. The month after I met Adowa. The first and only time I ever saw Rosa. The last chance I had to see Elias before moving to Tanzania in May of the New Year. I do not have time to muse on this point because Elias is talking loudly, trying to get my attention. He is trying to ex- plain to me about Rosa. He shivers at the open window.

‘It is not only that she has a green thumb in winter, but that the ring she wears on it is magic.’ I notice that Rosa does have a ring on her thumb, and on each finger. Rosa talks to her plants as though they are grown up adults and she cleans their leaves as though they are children’s limbs.

‘It helps with my arthritis,’ she tells us, massaging her knuckles and sighing over the fact that she will soon be seventy. We settle at the table together.

‘I do not feel old,’ she says, filling our glasses for the third time,
‘every part and every aging organ has its own aesthetic.’

We can appreciate this truth as we look at her. Rosa is stunning.

‘Each organ has its own calling of beauty, its own markers, and its own destiny. Each have their own rules of beauty, of uniqueness,’ she continues, her cheeks warming to a deep rose blush, ‘but there are other markers of beauty, just as important.’

‘It is true,’ Elias says thoughtfully over his limeade, ‘the beautiful person is the person with a good character. Her beauty is revealed in the morality of her actions.’

Rosa helps herself to the empty glass on the table and fills it just halfway with limeade. ‘Here, there is more for you, Nyerere,’ she says, pushing the pitcher toward me. ‘Do not be embarrassed,’ she adds, seeing the way I hold back. It would be my fourth glass.

‘Suit yourself,’ she says, turning back toward Elias, ‘there is more in the refrigerator.’

Rosa clasps the glass in front of her and I pour myself a fourth
glass. The pitcher is nearly empty and the rose petals lump together in the leftover liquid.

‘Yes, for ancient African thinkers a person is loved for her age- less moral action,’ Rosa continues, ‘these outlive her organs. Her biological self. African civilizations had an extraordinary under- standing of aging.’ She looks at her ringed fingers, blue veined but energetic. ‘They understood aging as a source of beauty, beauty as a biological and ethical form of humanity.’

She looks pointedly at each of us in turn. I feel suddenly like a teenage boy being reminded about the responsibility of manhood.

‘For ancient African cultures, biological beauty and ethical beauty were inseparable.’

‘We have to recover those insights of wisdom, do you think?’
asks Elias, ‘I mean, the wisdom of beauty.’

‘Absolutely. We need to learn its properties.’ Rosa nods to Elias, and leans back to set the timer on the oven to warm the casserole for dinner.

‘If we can learn to adapt to the ongoing laws of beauty, we can begin to accept that beauty does not stand still. Beauty, as a biological form, is always evolving.’

Her words sound deceptively simple and in them, I recognize currents of Adowa’s project on the “African Biological Self.” I run over her relation to each of us in my mind. I know Adowa has been friends with Elias for a long time, and Rosa is Elias’s mother. Adowa has known me for just a short time. In fact, we have seen each other only twice. Yet all of us at the table, I realize, are so enamored with her ideas that we speak about them as if they are our own.

‘The moral ethical self hides the aging biological self,’ I blurt out, interrupting them. My hands fly toward my glass. I had not meant to be so abrupt. Rosa is caught off guard for a moment and looks quizzically to Elias. I continue.

‘But moral actions live forever, long after the biological self dies. Just like physical objects outlive us, the moral self lives forever. It leaves traces and lives again in other people.’ I pause. ‘Or, at least, that is how I understand this matter.’

My words sound formal, as though I am in front of a classroom again. My friend Makau often tells me it is OK to speak casually

[. . .] Ending
Marriage of Dreams

The great day had arrived. The conference on Emerging African’s schools was in full swing. Ethiopia in 1990. The African sun was in Ethiopia that day. It was forecast that Addis was going to witness one full month of extraordinary days. Of course, amid famines and poverty, the Almighty had given Ethiopians the most extraordinary weather. Almost every single day is beautiful in Ethiopia. Sunny days, and when the rains come, the whole city is covered by lush, green, with roses and tulips on the side streets, and hundreds of items for sale on the roads and streets of the great Addis.

As expected, the conference attracted Africa’s greatest educators in the Humanities and the Sciences, with novelists, painters and artists leading the way. Among the dignitaries were the founders of a major school, on its way of blending with a new university in Tanzania. Of course I was there with the American, Neil, who describes himself as “American by birth and Tanzanian by choice. ”

To my great pride, and through the efforts of a friend, the African world was also introduced to Adowa, the emerging leading African expert on the Biological Self. There were fifty papers. Among them the three panelists chosen were Neil and Adowa and I, who were introduced to the audience as the emerging voices of the continent.

I was the first to speak on the necessity of educating the African

I said that education is the nerve center of being. Moral education in particular is a task, an indispensable task for the liberation of the continent. The major thinkers of the world, chief among them the Egyptian priests, who in turn educated the Greek mind emphasized the necessity of organizing the self through the mediation of thought. Thought, these major thinkers argued, is the organizer of the moral self; it is the organizing principle of life itself. The uneducated self could be rich, courageous, and lucky and much else, but that which contributes to its moral organization is thought, critical, undiscriminating and disciplined thought.

The organization of the self cannot happen without an organizing power, self-sufficient and humble enough to submit to guidance by the Transcendent, the origin of origins, the horizon of horizons, the perspective of perspectives, the whole that is a part and the part which is a whole. A vigilant openness towards Being is the beginning of education, and the fulfillment of the commands of Being is the end of education. Being commands and beings obey, not blindly but intelligently, not slavishly but freely, not sluggishly but with moral alertness.

The Heart is the seat of thinking, particularly, moral thinking. It is in the heart that great decisions percolate. When the blood flows to the body, so does thought, in the form of thought impulses, which flow with the blood. Movement is what propels thought, what makes the blood flow. The heart is the moral educator of the self. We must therefore listen to the heart, before and after we act, before, because thoughts wants to originate, and after, because thought has originated, and a choice has to be made.

The Egyptians, and following them the master thinker Aristotle, made the Heart the seat of thinking, because they knew that nothing great is accomplished without the heart’s task, the task of teaching the citizen dreamer, to transform the world by engaging our moral reasoning, our duty. It is the task of the African entrepreneur in particular to make the dream of founding new schools and new universities in the heart of the continent a reality.

Our ancestries left for us the alphabet, the pyramids, the churches and obelisk, which continue to be the wonders of the world, and we modern Africans should cease to be beggars. We must strive to give to the world. Our ancestors were not beggars. They were inventors and fighters. We must rejuvenate that culture of originating, that culture of inventing souls and hearts.

I appeal to the wealthy and powerful to give so that the model school that I and Neil constructed from nothing could be reproduced elsewhere in the continent.

As I finished, I saw the first row Adowa, next to Neil, and they could not stop clapping, moved by the Tanzanian who wore a simple white shirt and dark pants, and brought the audience to its feet with his “brilliance and his simplicity,” wrote a reporter the next day.

In the meantime, the city of Addis was celebrating St. Michaels’s day. The cattle were grazing, and Ethiopians were dancing with abandon, eating and praying on the narrow streets and the wide Bole Avenue, Addis’ choicest avenue. It was decided that lunch would be served at the majestic Hilton, a few blocks away from the African Union. Adowa, Neil and I sat at the same table with Ali the host of the event. The Hilton dished out its choicest offerings on a lavish buffet, consisting of thirty kinds of Ethiopian cooking, from the hottest, through the mildest, and coldest dishes. Ali introduced the guests. Characteristically shy, except on the podium, I rose from my chair to greet Adowa. From the very second my eyes rested on hers, for the second time, having not seen her for the last three months, something changed in my body, and I shook my body, as if to free it from the invasion of Eros. I had not been with a woman for two years, married to my ideal. My companions have been books and speeches across the continent, with many eyes falling in love, and I struggling to cleanse myself of the power of Eros. Eros, I once told a friend, is a curse, except for the blessed few, for the rest, including myself, it is a source of suffering, because it does not last long, and when it is gone, you have memory to fight against.

I told the friend that I am now happily married to an ideal, a project, a life-time work, that will be finished in the grave, and perhaps beyond it, at the Creators table, where I can finally rejoice for a work well done while on Earth, guided by ideals, seeking to transform reality, the reality of the African condition. I was thinking of Adowa while I was visited by the hands of Eros, when this beautiful mind from Ghana sat across from me, examining my soul, and she herself, fighting memory, the memory of the other man, inside her, containing, her mood for a new love, the love of a mind this time, the love of an ideal. She took many secret looks at me, through lonely eyes, eyes fighting against love, by a new love. She looked outside. Then looked at this tall Tanzanian man, thin like a feather, wiry body, born for fearless thought. She nervously looked outside, but not for long. Eros would pressure her to look at the man in front of her, looking at the ceiling. Neil caught us both looking at each other, and he smiled.

I did the same. I wanted to remain a virgin, free from Eros. Eros was about to win, but lucky for both of us, the lunch was over, and we returned to the conference hall, and Neil ascended to the podium, and spoke on African Art.

He was introduced by Ali as “an American by birth and a Tanzanian by choice.” He wore a colorful dashiki, a local trouser and a leather sandal, which matched his skin color perfectly. It was a scene to remember. And he felt it too. The African audience was respectful and anxious to hear his words. He was not an “other” in their eyes, but an intimate analyst of the African condition, as an observer and a humble participant in African pain and African joy. He had already painted those two contending realities that are now part of African visual pleasure. But this time he has come to speak on an African matter, the duty of the African Artist, of whom he is one.

“African Art,” he said,

“is a unique art, a uniqueness imposed on it by the tragedies and triumphs of the African situation.”

The moment he said that Wole Soyinka, Chinua Achebe and Ama Aidoo, who were the guests of honor, together, rose and clapped, and the audience roared.

“Yes,” he repeated, “African art is indeed unique. The African artist does not simply write, because she could; the African play- wright does not write because he is gifted; the African story teller does not tell brilliant stories because she is skilled; no the African Artist must write because she must educate the African public about its own treasures buried in African reality, the reality of pain and joy, hope and hopelessness, wealth and poverty. It is the juxtapositions of these realities which impose on the artist, the duty of writing, painting and singing. The African condition has politicized African sensibilities. African art is destined to be socially relevant and politically vigilant. African art is not autonomous and cannot remain indifferent to the African condition. African Art must speak truth to power. “He paused. The audience roared again. Neil was sweating and said.

“The African artist writes with purpose and characteristic lucidity and accessibility. The African artist must perform her task to be understood and to be followed by the generations to come. Art, in the African situation, is an educator, a transformer, and a reporter. The artist must report what is, and imagine what could be. The African artist cannot afford to be neither irrelevant or irresponsible. She must be relevant, lucid, responsible and visionary.”

It was a short but powerful piece accompanied by slides of African art that is being produced in the continent as an illustration of the present, and a projection for the future. The audience consumed the slides with great interest and much appreciation. Several panels examined many other educational themes.

Shortly before dinner, it was Adowa’s turn to come to the podium. Shy and self-contained, she impressed the audience with her youth and beauty. After several seconds of preparation, she opened her mouth and gave a tantalizing image of the African body and the future African Science. There was a remarkable marriage of ideal between her paper and mine. The papers sounded as if they were precise distillations of ideas that these two minds have worked on for years. Of course that was not the case. These two souls met on African soil for the first time. There was a gap of twenty years be- tween them. One in her thirties and the other one pushing sixty. But the two of them met at that tangent where reality encounters truth, and truth cuts through age, time and space, and speaks justice to truth and truth to justice.

Adowa addressed herself to the situation of the human body, with a particular focus of the African body, men and women, young and old. She argued that the African body suffers because African men and women are not being taught to know their bodies, so as to take care of them, to the best of their ability, with the aid of the African Scientist. It is imperative, she contended, that Africans are given free education in the Sciences at all levels of their existence. And drawing on my paper and Neil’s paper, she concluded, literacy and African Art will blend in a perfect harmony to complete the education of the African mind.

The knowledge of the Biological self is a project that is bound to last for centuries, if the ground work of the production of the African Scientific Mind is done in this generation. The applause for the paper was even louder that the first two. The talk lasted for one hour, with illustrative tails of pain. She spoke at length about Aster, the Ethiopian whom she met there two years ago, who died at the hands of an abusive ex-husband. She brought the audience to tears with this tale of sorrow and the defeat of the African woman in the hands of African male ignorance and insensitivity. She told the tale coolly and dispassionately, and many in the audience could not help but listen to an African woman speaking about the rights and abuses of her sisters across the continent.

Thus, the conference was closed with her paper. I invited her that evening for dinner at a local bar, after I knew that she was de- parting in just one week, and may not have time for me beyond that evening. And I was gravely mistaken about that. After that evening, we met every day and every evening for the entire week. It was as if we wanted to stretch that week by using every second of it to one year and more, so that our hearts could justify what I had planned to do.

Upon meeting her for the second time in less than a year, I had already made up my mind to lock my hands with hers, through an engagement ring, which I dreamt, she would accept. She said yes, and accepted my ring on a Saturday evening, on her way to the U.S. to wrap up her dissertation at Harvard, and to return to Tanzania a year later.

When she returned home and opened her mail box, she found a
letter from Elias’ mother Rosa. She opened it immediately, and two lines later, she read that Elias had killed himself, and declared his love for her, with painstaking details of the ambiguity of his life, and his bitterness about his forty years on this earth.

Her trip of joy was juxtaposed with the visit of pain, which is a theme of the human situation, and the seriousness of existence. She immediately wrote her first letter to me and told me, among other things, about what she encountered on arriving home.

She did not leave her apartment for one whole week. She de- voted that time to grief, to the memory of her only encounter with a sensitive soul, who died without knowing who he was and what he wanted from life.

Teodros Kiros, author of many fiction and non-fiction books, is Professor of Philosophy and English (Liberal Arts), Berklee College of Music.