Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Go Between

The doorbell rang at about half past seven, after dinner. Fatima’s little brother, Abdullah, put down his crayons and ran to the door to answer it. He pulled the door open without even looking first.

An African man in a business suit, with an Arabic style white head covering and a box wrapped in decorative paper under his arm was standing there.

“Is your dear mother home little man?”, the visitor said in polite Ibo.

“Mom! The wedding mail man is here.”, Abdullah yelled out in English.

“I’m coming down, my son, please have Fatima make some tea for us.”, Fatima’s mother said in English.

Mother escorted the man into the otherwise never used parlor. Her other arm carried a bundle of Fatima’s vellum packets, with a two page list of destinations on top written in a fine script on handmade paper. The bundle was wrapped in raffia. As usual, mother was dressed in the rational house robe that she wore after she got home from work. But, she had thrown on about a pound a necklaces, bracelets, anklets, nose rings and earings on the way to the door. The man put his bundle down on the coffee table and introduced himself.

“I am Saddam Ugawe. I’ve been asked by certain acquaintances of yours to bring the news of their families to you personally.”, he continued in Ibo in the scripted formal traditional phrase.

“I welcome you into my home, Saddam Ugawe, my husband who is here with me and I, appreciate your thoughtfulness.”, mother said in Ibo, respecting tradition again, even though Fatima’s father was in fact away late at a business meeting and would not be home for another hour.

They were still while they waited for Fatima to come. Pouring tea for three into the cups that were always waiting from the thermo pot that was always full only took a moment. But, Fatima had to take a few minutes to decide how to dress for this very important meeting. She kept the loose black slacks she wore to school, more conservatively than her American classmates, and added a loose sweater with an African pattern and her most colorful headscarf. She wore no jewelry and took off her watch-phone before leaving her room. She entered the parlor gracefully and served the guest and her mother before she took her own seat. She smiled broadly the entire time.

Mr. Ugawe opened his bundle and give a brief speech as he delicately laid out each portfolio, breaking from time to time to sip his tea. This was by far the largest bundle yet to arrive at the Kwam house.

Mother pushed her bundle towards Mr. Ugawe and give her own little speech about Fatima. The glowing description was all true, although Fatima was not terribly pleased that descriptions of her chin, eyes and cooking aptitudes were discussed at length, while her remarkable academic talents were reduced to “she is a good student at South High School in Denver from which she is expected to graduate this spring.” Her top five class rank in a class of two thousand, scholarship offers, admissions to the science honors program at the University of Colorado and Space Club Presidency apparently did not warrant any mention with this audience.

Mr. Ugawe looked carefully at Fatima to confirm the veracity of everything being said which he could see, and quizzed Fatima on several intangible points, to confirm that everything was bona fide.

“I’m sure you will incur some expenses in our journey, so I’ve left an envelope under the first pages of the first portfolio for you.”, mother said, concluding the traditional script.

Formal goodbyes were said, and the man left to hand deliver his packages, sometimes with the help other go betweens across the world.

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