Outside the gate Aberash and Samuel were still waiting. They were told to go home, so they watched us set off across Addis Ababa with a policeman in the back-seat of our car and a huge armored vehicle with half a dozen officers in it right behind. You should have seen the face of the Hilton doorman when we pulled in.
As Kratochvil and I ran inside, Kratochvil dashed ahead and was safely up in an elevator before officers Neguesse and Shanbel caught up with me in the lobby. By the time they'd accompanied me to my room, appropriated my passport and told me that I had nothing to worry about as long as my papers were in order, Kratochvil had already flushed the undeveloped film of the previous day's photos of the prison. The officers took his camera for good measure. We said we would see them on the morrow, and then spent an hour calling everyone we knew. We tried to sound calm. We've, uh, been in the prison and, uh, they held us all day, and now they have our passports. If you don't hear from us, say, by tomorrow night, you probably should contact the U.S. Embassy....
We got up early the next day and drove through mists to the office of the police commissioner, who took one look at us and said he wouldn't be responsible for faranjoch. Be serious. We had to go to the Ministry of Internal Affairs. The interpreter swallowed hard.
The downstairs courtyard at the ministry looked like a crowd scene from Gandhi. Hundreds of rain-soaked people were mobbing the office that issued exit visas. By contrast, the tiny office for foreigners had cobwebs on the desk. We were sent upstairs to a room where the sign on the door read only THE CHIEF. It had bustling secretaries. The power went out. The secretaries opened the curtains. The power returned. After an hour we were ushered in.
The chief was Internal Affairs Minister Mahete. She wore a red dress. Her angular face was forceful, and she looked a little sour, perhaps because on her desk was a volume titled Immigration Laws of the United States.
As the interpreter made our pitch, I tried to seem nonthreatening. I must have looked like one of the kids begging at the stoplights. She stopped the interpreter, made some calls, shook her head, called in a secretary and dictated a three-sentence letter to the prison authorities. She had given me permission to see Mamo.
At the prison we held her letter before us like a cross toward a vampire. The gate rolled open. The guards who had hassled us the day before looked at the document and fell back against the walls. We were given an escort down a stony path. The buildings—one with no roof—were spread apart, with weedy land between.
Major Neguesse bowed us into his office. He gave us back our passports and camera. His eyes were still red, but now he looked almost friendly. He said he hoped we understood that they had only been doing their duty. We understood.
"Well, then, let us see your friend."
A cluster of guards led us down a sloping path toward a two-story building that could have been an old theater. Wooden rails on posts ran out under an awning from its double doors, as if to keep a great many men in line. No prisoners could be seen, only guards. I peered in through the doors. A staircase led up. Guards were coming down it, and among them was a slender man in a green-and-white sweater and a distinguished widow's peak.