"No," Aberash said. "No. Here is what happened. This was in 1975, at the height of the terror. Mamo said one night he was phoned by [a top kebele official] and ordered to put on his dress uniform, with his pistol, and go to a certain nightclub. Mamo thought this was protocol, that he was to meet an important visitor. When he got there, he saw that the official and some others had a boy with his hands tied. He was about 15. He might have been in some youth group fighting against the Dergue. The official ordered Mamo not to talk. Then the official and another man took the boy out and shot him. Then they told Mamo to go there, to the body of the boy. At first he refused, but at that time to refuse an official was to be dead yourself, so finally he went. The boy was dead. The official told Mamo to shoot the body again because there had to be two holes. The policy. Mamo said he went to three meters [10 feet] away and shot and purposely missed. Lots of people saw him miss. In 1992 many witnesses said Mamo didn't kill anybody. Only one accused him. The official who shot the boy wants to blame Mamo to save himself. But the prosecutors said they had to keep Mamo in detention until they bring charges. But they never do. He just waits."
As I listened, I looked again at Mamo's medals. The Mamo in Aberash's story had acted as I imagined I might act if plunged into a world of such choices. I began to revive a little.
Mamo had been receiving a small pension from his government service. When he was imprisoned, the money stopped. "I couldn't feed my children," said Aberash. "I applied to the athletics people, and now the IOC gives a little every month." Also, Samuel has dropped out of school and gotten a job as a welder's assistant.
Mamo was briefly allowed out of prison twice, once when he was ill and once when he told Aberash he thought he was being freed. Each time he stayed in Addis Ababa with his family. Each time he was rearrested. In a way, this was the most galling thing I learned, since it seemed to prove that Mamo is no risk to flee his country. "He wants to go to trial," said Aberash. "He wants to clear his name."
If he has to wait, I wondered, why couldn't he wait at home?
Mamo's latest detention had lasted two years and six months by the time I arrived in Addis Ababa. His health had not been good. "He was very sick in prison, with bronchitis, liver and stomach problems," said Aberash. "He's lost a lot of hearing in one ear. He was in the prison hospital for a month and a half, in the winter."
Prison food is terrible, but families are allowed to bring supplemental rations four days a week. "On Tuesdays and Thursdays the guards take the food and tell me to leave," said Aberash. "But on Saturdays and Sundays family members can go in and see the prisoners for a few minutes. You are lined up in a field, six feet apart, with a fence in between. I think Saturday you should try to come along."
So Saturday at noon, loaded with chocolate, cookies and cigarettes for Mamo to use in barter, Kratochvil and I drove Aberash to the prison. She had warm chicken stew in a plastic carrier. She did not believe the prosecutor was being truthful when he told us that Mamo would soon be charged.
Outside the prison gate perhaps 200 people—women and children and old men—were shuffling into one end of an open shed that had four long rows of benches. At the other end guards took names and allowed 20 people at a time to enter the prison. Through the open gate we could see them being searched. Kratochvil had my tiny panoramic camera hidden in his voluminous white scarf and was blazing away at the prison and the people.
Many of the visitors were obviously middle class. The children stared at the faranjoch out of wonder rather than want. Down the rows went urchins selling peanuts, bad fruit and Olympic lottery tickets that had Abebe Bikila's picture on them. I bought five tickets for 10 birr. The seller shook my hand and wished me luck. I began to feell a wild hope. We just might waltz in here.