Clouds Over Addis Ababa

Written in


[Photo by Corporate Clarke]

I’m waiting for the last flight out of Addis Ababa. Eight-thousand mile journey home. Has to be a record for a Tinder date.

That strange year when guys were secretly listening to that Justin Bieber album. Whispering to each other, “But it’s actually good”. When Trump said, “Jeb is a mess”. When the Chinese money was starting to show in the city. Unfinished monorail already packed with commuters. A futuristic rail pod hovering over streets packed with fifty-year old soviet cars.

“I’ll come and meet you if you sign up to the Addis 10k with me,” I said. Couldn’t just come, had to set up a pretence.

An air of anticipation blows in with the foreign money. We ‘ran’ the 10k at walking pace. Locked in-step with a wave of people who stopped to dance at every corner. A carnival, not a run.

Local men calling, “Nĭ hăo”, telling you you’re beautiful. Almost apologising for being Korean. “Is that near China?” they ask.

Addis in November. T-shirt warm and overcast. You’ll burn without ever seeing the sun. It catches up on you like love. 

What are you doing here? Punishing yourself after Zurich, you said. But you seem to love it here. Punishment suits you.

Lingering in the pre-departure area. Sitting on my luggage is the only way to embrace you properly. Only way I can reach your ass. I’m too tall or you’re too small – both. We got drunk in a nightclub and you tried to dance sexy with me. Ass grinding on my thighs. But it has its advantages.

Dancing at the lodge. Swaying to Justin Bieber. She likes hairy, white Indie bands. I like slick, black soul crooners. We meet in the middle, Bieber. Corny and wholesome, without all our layers and past. You stand on the bed, only an inch taller than me. Grab my face and kiss me. “I told you this album was alright.”

Arguing at night. Mostly about politics. In other words, about nothing we can do anything about. Breath wasted on this instead of love. I don’t have to care, I could just be with you. Listen to music, watch films, talk about beauty. Listen to you better. Just enjoy each other instead of trying to fucking win all the time.

You’re tipsy from the French restaurant we went to before the airport. Face wide open with the first days of love. “So what are we doing?” you ask.

Ask me to stay. Ask me to stay and I’ll miss the flight. Fuck my job. But I say, “What do you mean?”

At the restaurant you told me you’d been seeing someone else, on-and-off, before I came over. Hadn’t properly ended it, but hadn’t text him since I arrived.

I felt anger then. But I had been doing the same thing. Nobody is actually single anymore. I’m always jumping straight to anger. Keep you at arms length. Your jealousy shows; mine doesn’t. Same flame on a different wick.

You want me to tell you to end it. I’m supposed to not look bothered. Stay nonchalant. Everything’s cool. That’s how you keep them interested.

“We haven’t talked about what we’re doing – after this,” you say. You’re braver than me.

Can I just stop going to my job? I have some money saved up. Then what? Men need money. Love isn’t enough. 

“Maybe we should chill for a couple of days. We might be getting carried away,” I say. You agree. Don’t agree. I want to be your boyfriend, now.

Dad, this is your fault. You worked all the hours. Paid down the house. Taught me how to hit a long pass, how to ride a bike, how not to die in a fight. Thanks dad, but how do I tell her I love her? You didn’t teach me any of that. Had to find it in Neil Strauss. Spent half of my twenties learning how to keep women at arm’s reach. 

Then the golden age of Tinder, where a little bit of that went a long way. Then Tinder Premium lets you change your location. Change it to another country and your match rate goes from one out of fifty to forty-nine out of fifty.

The plan was to find vacation ‘friends’. Definitely don’t talk to one girl in a different continent for eight months, tell yourself you’re going to see her for a fun weekend, and nothing more.

I have a date with someone else next week. Arranged it before I came here to meet you. To prove to myself it wasn’t serious. 

“You should go on that date,” you say. “See how you feel.”

“I’m not going to go on the date.”

“You should…”

“I don’t want to. I’m not going.” I’m almost raising my voice again, cutting her off. I can’t do it. Can’t treat someone as if I like them.

On the plane I’m sitting in the middle of a huge, Ethiopian family spread across three banks of seats. I’m on the one seat they didn’t take up. Two kids to my left. The parents on my right in the middle aisle. More kids on the other side of the plane. I look at the father. He’s just a regular guy, but he can do it. It’s totally normal. It’s totally doable.

Can’t sleep because I’m analysing every word you said. Then every word I said. Eight hours with no phone and all I want to do is text you and tell you to be my girlfriend.

Food is served as I’m almost drifting off. After I land I sleep in my car for four hours in the airport carpark before I set off. Broken dreams about losing you. 

You text me a day later, you’ve booked a ticket to see me over Christmas.

This is moving too fast.


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