It happens when I’m on my sofa reading, sipping chai, or whatsapping a friend. There’s music playing (my current obsession a soulful i-tunes genius mix based on Rachael Yamagata’s “Duet”) or maybe just the birds’ morning melody on repeat. Sometimes I hear a soft knock on the door, but usually it’s just footsteps and heavy breathing that signal his arrival.
“Man nau?” I ask. Who is it?
“Ine nagn.” He replies. It’s me!
This ritual announcing his arrival is a joke that sets us both in giggles. What other three year old leaves his shoes at the door of the home of the only ferenji in town and welcomes himself in?
“Amandeya,” he cries. “Muuz allish?” My Amanda! Are there bananas?
And this is when our day begins.
If you must know one thing about The Banana Thief (or muuz leba as he is known around here), that is he loves bananas and will go to great causes to obtain his favored fruit. The Banana Thief also happens to have sweet, round cheeks and a smile he knows can break his way into any heart.
I limit The Banana Thief to one banana daily, though he hasn’t caught on to this yet. Consequentially, The Banana Thief comes a-knocking four, five, or even six times a day with the same simple request: “Amandeya. Muuz allish?” And thus, The Banana Thief pleas to enter my sacred space. He has learned what it’s like to exist here, or at least negotiate his idea of a good time with mine.
The Banana Thief keeps a running inventory of my possessions. His favorites are the dental floss under the yellow sofa, a plastic pink battery-charged fan, and the box of pastel-colored chalk near my book collection. When The Banana Thief discovers something new (stalks of broccoli in the vegetable hanger, a roll of scotch tape in the shelf, my students’ scribbled midterms), his eyes grow big and he turns to me with one simple exclamation: “wow.”
The Banana Thief cries a lot, laughs a lot, and asks a lot of questions. We have those three things in common. Six Ethiopian birr a week is a small price to pay for the extra bananas that satiate my friend’s hunger. I know that he won’t always be this small, this innocent. I won’t always be a tenant in his household. But for now, we are here. There is sunlight streaming through the windowpanes, cats waiting to prowl on my discarded compost pile, a cup of coffee, and a yellow banana to share.