If you know about the Barro hotel, you make sure to visit as often as you can. Its meagre grounds are curtained by a stubborn row of pine trees that screen guests from the streets of Addis Ababa; a city that everyone is sick of by nightfall. I was at home in a discussion among regulars, when I saw him walk over to me. Even though I was in good company, it was a little frightening, because I thought we’d said goodbye for good. “I’m sorry to interrupt you all, but can I just have a word with you alone for a moment, Kate?” he said.
“Of course,” I said. Unable to signal that I was anything but willing. Or show fear.
“I won’t keep you for long,” he said. We walked out of earshot from the others, near to the gate. Sounds of the street were audible, and gaining momentum, because the prostitutes had started work.
“How come you’re still in Addis? You told me you were leaving yesterday. If you didn’t want me to give you a ride here you could have just said.”
“I got my flight date wrong, because I’m flying at 4:30am, and sometimes the 24 hour time thing is confusing. I didn’t think to let you know because I didn’t think I’d run into you again,” I said.
“Addis Ababa is smaller than you think. There aren’t so many places you or I would go to alone in this city.” He paused and I knew my explanation wouldn't suffice.
“I want to believe just screwed this up, but you’re an experienced traveller. I’ve watched you. I’ve seen how you handle yourself on your own. I just can’t believe you ‘got your flight date wrong’.
“Honestly, that’s what happened. Whether you believe it or not. I hadn’t checked that ticket for six months. After we said our goodbyes in Bahir Dar, and I got on the flight back to Addis, I decided to double check and—low and behold—it was a day later than expected.”
“Were you scared of me? I mean, you didn’t think I was coming onto you or anything?”
“Of course not. You never made me feel uncomfortable. Not once.” Sweat gathered in my palms as I watched his face redden and contort something like fury or unshed tears.
“I told you about Sofie. I know I didn’t always paint her in the most favourable light. But, I thought you and I were friends. I trusted you, I thought you would understand,” he said.
“I did, and we are friends. I loved travelling with you, and talking to you. It sounds silly, but I never get to have honest discussions with men of a certain age.” He spat out a mean laugh, but asked me to go on, looking even older still, as his pupils dialated with new malice.
“Discussions about what it’s like to be married, and deal with kids. About being lumped with kids who you don’t know so well, and trying to fall in love with them anyway. This is bold, and I never thought I’d say it to your face but, sometimes when we talked, I felt like I was getting to ask my own father all the things I never had the courage to say. Of course I didn’t think you were coming onto me. And whatever you said, or in spite of it, I know that you love your wife.”
“I want to believe you; and your story sounds plausible. But you have to know that I have extreme anxiety. I over-analyse things. And I was always paranoid, that people thought I was a dirty old man tagging along with a young girl like you. I talked myself out of it, mostly. But I had speak to you now—after seeing you sitting over there—laughing and drinking with people your own age. You looked so happy. And it made me think, did we have that much fun together? Did Kate just want to break away and find people her own age that whole time? Was I boring? Did she think I was a creep? As I’ve gotten older, on these research trips, I’m conscious that I’m not the young man that I once was. And it scares me. It scares me, that perhaps I’m scary to someone like you”
“I never thought you were a creep. I felt incredibly lucky. You write for Lonely Planet—that’s my dream. Meeting people like you is why I travel alone and why I travel to places like Ethiopia."
“Just as long as you mean what you say,” he said.
“I wouldn’t have lied to avoid you. You know me well enough by now,” I said. Nobody was looking over at me. They wouldn’t realise if I...
“I thought so too. We’re good together,” he said, and took my hand.