She had big brown eyes the ones that you couldn’t help but stare at. Her big curly fro framed her toned, slimmed features and she could make make many guys stop dead in their tracks and do a once over. Her luscious lips made you want to pucker up and kiss them.
That was why I was surprised that she agreed to hang out with me. An average looking guy walking alongside a woman of this caliber didn’t seem quite right. And when we walked outdoors, we were sure not to hold hands in public. I was still going through a divorce, and I didn’t want anyone to know that I was seeing someone else.
We met at the parking lot at the Marriott Hotel in Bethesda. She was a parking attendant and I had seen her there a couple of times on my way home from work at the National Naval Medical Center. I avoided talking to her at first, but before long, curiosity got the best of me. I was immediately blown away by her accent. Her soothing Arabic accent emanating from her delicate lips encased by her sleek nose and thick brown eyes. Her wooly hair wrapped by a beautiful camel-brown shawl.
We talked unobtrusively — hoping her manager would not see her, and then we parted ways, we texted, we talked, we spent hours nestled on the phone and then we vowed to meet again the very next day.
I picked her up at her place in Hyattsville, many times where she lived with her brother. But she would never allow him to see us together.
“He would never approve of you,” she warned. He was a Muslim and he would never allow his sister to marry outside her religion.
Her mother was Ethiopian, her father a Yemini who had passed when she was just a child. But she had told her mother about me and her hopes to marry me some day. She wanted to meet me — everything was a blur, but we had high hopes that it would all work out.
We spent Valentines Day together, and then I took her to see my parents in Georgia. We walked down Main Street during the annual Blessing of the Fleet, where many of my high-school classmates had raised their kids and had come out to celebrate the impending big catch. We caught looks, stares. People wondered what was going on, why a Black woman and an Asian man were even together. Our eyes caught their suspicion, but we simply didn’t care.
Save for the color of our skin and the God that were prayed to, we were perfectly matched. It was a passionate springtime of love.
She told me stories from her own country, and I told her mine from ships and the sea. And although I didn’t understand the customs, I was mesmerized by her vivid memories.
She took me to her favorite Ethiopian restaurant, Dukem. We first washed our hands then out came platters of food.
I immediately noticed something was missing. “Where’s the utensils?” I asked, almost immediately regretting the question.
“We don’t use utensils here,” Lena replied matter-of-factly. “We use injera instead to soak up the juices.”
Injera is a crepe-like dish which we wrapped with golden beef tibs, sauteed onions and tomatoes, red lentils, yellow lentils and collard greens. It was sweet and had a nice, smooth taste. The veggies were perfectly sauteed and the beef tasted as if the flavor was infused into it.
U Street is home to the largest ethnic Ethiopian community outside of Africa. That’s why Lena came to DC from Ethiopia, and that’s why U Street is her favorite hang out.
The server immediately asked her if she was Eritrean or Ethiopian.
“No,” she replied, furiously shaking her head, not even bothering to give eye contact.
I wondered why she hid the truth. There was nothing shameful about interracial dating And she shared with me later that Ethiopian men did not like other races dating their own.
“And why don’t you tell your family about me?” I asked.
“It’s even worse intermarrying. My uncle and brother would not approve of this relationship,” she replied.
We drove to my condo in Solomon’s Island. That’s when I proposed to her on the beach. She asked for a specific diamond ring which took a few weeks to make. It would not be ready by the date she wanted me to propose to her. So I had to order a placeholder engagement ring.
“Why did you leave me there when you went to Home Depot?”
“Because I actually have work to do in the condo. Unfortunately, I don’t compartmentalize work and play. I do them hand-in-hand. It works better this way,”
Before long, Lena sadly realized that I was unable to provide her the love that she needed.
And then just like that, summer came and our hearts mysteriously withered away.
And then she went back home to Ethiopia, and I wonder what would have happened if she was still here.
Years later, I suddenly heard from her again. She had returned to DC with her daughter. Her daughter was turning into a bright, beautiful young woman. Her mother was doing well, but unfortunately her brother had passed away, and she was still single.