Abdelmjid Kettioui withering

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Abdelmjid Kettioui withering

“Withering” by Abdelmjid KETTIOUI

“I am superstitious but not the way dearest mother was before she passed away. Mine isn’t at all the kind of superstition where you fear to break a mirror or come across a black cat first thing in the morning. It’s more about things I tell myself. If Mum is taken by one of her epileptic fits and I am the only one present in the house I’d tell myself: “If the door bell doesn’t ring within five minutes, poor Mum will die and I will not see her any more”. Of course such a superstition hinges on no rational basis but is rather a childish game I have so cherished, it has become part of my mental make-up. If I am in my room upstairs doing my homework I’d think to myself: “If Mum doesn’t call me for dinner in less than ten minutes my father will return home cross and batter her as he always does when angry”. Unluckily, I knew I lost when I found Mum and my father joking around together. But it was on my sixteenth birth-day my game turned life-like as I guessed right. On my way home from school a neighbour’s child insulted me and I wanted to hit him hard. But on second thought I decided it better to take the child and tell his father, then I told myself if I had done so I would have met my father on the way. And as usual he wouldn’t listen to me nor expect me to clear things up. He’d act for my father was a “man of action”. He’d beat me rather. And so he did. I rose to the bait nonetheless. And what he did me was lethal. How I’m still alive to tell the tale, I can never tell”.

“How did it all happen, Adam?” I asked.

“Son-of-a-bitch”, spat out a brat as he gave me the finger. With foul saliva drooling over his nostrils and mouth to write bastardy on his contorted face, the brat was lousier than an earthling. This tormented me the most just as it would make you puke on the face of it. Outraged by the bastardization as a teenager would, I dragged the ten years old louse as you would your neighbour’s trespassing dog to have its master apprised of the encroachment. Yet, the materialization of that childish ritual of mine, the superstitious game my mind had secretly empathized in and, which I believe, I can never grow out of, loomed appalling and bleak in the gloom of that night, like the face of a nightmare. I gave my arrow a shot and it hit home. It boomeranged. I was bleeding as profusely as July’s rain showering in a deluge”.

The fluidity of Adam’s outpourings surpassed the dumb’s I saw in The Morgue a couple of days before. It starred a young but prolific writer who went dumb like death for what remained of her life on sighting with her pupils wide open the vengeful, parched flames of vendetta devouring up her library, stuffed with none but the world's rarest chef d'oeuvres like a museum, and igniting her husband and only child like fuel. Only when she lay moribund could she command her tongue, racing death over running her jeremiad through and making known the miscreants. You can figure how flowing she was. Only Adam was outflowing. Whilst Adam, like a lawyer advocating his plaintiff, went on accentuating every syllable he gave breath to, I devoured up his words with an owl’s ear. Truth is I looked like a brilliant student so set on not missing a word welling out of her best liked professor during one of his most ingeniously delivered lectures.

In point of fact, Adam was an English teacher.

After what looked like an interval, I made to push Adam further for I wanted him to let on everything:

“Just go on Adam, I’m listening”.

“No sooner had I reached where I was heading than he emerged out of no where. Hadj Salem, for that was my father’s name, stood gaping at me with as devoid an expression as a cadaver’s. My father’s so baffled me in making clear-cut its rendition I could not get through the façade and see what lurked underneath. As I let go of the sobbing louse my father’s right palm crashed the bones of my cheek so hard my teeth cracked. It was only then that I realized what my father’s look preluded. It was the calm foreshadowing the storm. As monosyllabic as he had always been when gone mad, my father yelled as wild as he could: “Damned bastard”. Only I couldn’t speak word for mad he went. As he dragged me by the ear he slipped off his belt and whipped me till I didn’t feel a thing. I was dead numb. My father landed a blow on my eye. When I opened my eyes I couldn’t see a thing. All I could see was darkness. It wasn’t the darkness of darkness. It was my own darkness. I was blind. Yet, on and on my father went, for he wouldn’t stop till he saw me still like a cadaver. The knock -out was the last of a succession of blows he gave me over the back of the head. The pain was horrendous. My head was bleeding heavily. I was marble still”.

As Adam vented his story, he looked blue like the eyes of a spleen. His muscles twitched. His left eye didn’t wink. It was gaping at me endlessly and his chopped teeth flared up at me in stark indignation. Not wanting to digress any further, I brought him back to his thread:

“You were taken to the hospital then”.

“Well, I don’t remember being taken to the operating theatre of the town hospital. All I can remember is that I was floating out of my body and as I was drifting higher and higher I was aware of a long tunnel with radiant, heavenly light at the end. As I came through it, my late mother emerged from the enveloping white fog. She greeted me and I was elated and blissful.

“If you’d like to come with me, I’ll show you the way”, proposed my mother.

“Yes, I would with all my heart” I thought but said:

“No, Mum, my father and little sister still need me”.

As I returned back to my body, I felt nauseous and awful. But thank God I survived the trauma. I opened my eyes but nothing distinct came into view excepting a thick mass of light. As I groped for myself I knew I was attached to drips, monitors and tubes, and my head was thickly bandaged. Then, I grew aware of a presence around me. There was an expecting, tense silence surrounding the room. When I opened my eyes again I could half-see the room spring back to life with surgeons and nurses congratulating one another. I was saved.

A day later the head surgeon told me I almost died but they resuscitated me miraculously. My left eye was still in a dressing. It was shut and sticky. Unfortunately, I was blind in my left eye. I wished I had passed away. Since then I have had this glass eye you see fixed instead. You asked me about the most traumatic day in my life and I find that this was it. And even now that tragic memory will not go from my mind. It still haunts me in my dreams even. I dream of a blood-stained monster that smashes my skull with a huge hammer till my brain is knocked out, night in, night out.”

All in all, I was well-positioned to grasp how troubled, upset and world-weary Adam was. The impression that swept over me was like the one you get when you uncover that a student of your novel writing course has already his debut in print, an autobiography of a boy with a heart-rending history whose life comes to a tragic epilogue, so laconically and cleverly constructed as to draw your pathos and applause.

Adam was also a fourth-year student of the English Language and Literature. Creative Writing was the core of his monograph.

“I can’t write nor read. All I can do is think, brood to no avail. I have to write ten short stories for my monograph and read my Shakespeare and six other novels for my novel class interalia. What makes the malaise I’m in the more virulent is that I am a teacher. This means I have to fight on two fronts. In truth, I’m on the brink of perdition but I won’t ask you to brew an elixir for me. All I want is your understanding and countenance, nothing more”.

“I see, I see, Adam”, I said whole-heartedly. “Let me assure you, Adam, that I’m intent on making your case my cause, and I do commit myself to serving it. I’ll help you be the person you really are. Just don’t bother that much”.

Adam’s sigh was of relief. The session was over.

Adam was a young man in his early twenties but owing to his short, trim, vulnerable physique, he looked eighteen at the most. With not as much as a glance, you could bet Adam fell into the category of the unapproachable. Once you drew nearer the mirage is no more, for you could approach him in more ways than one. On that humdrum sunless Friday morning in the summer of 2003 Adam was dressed in grey in a fashion that told of nothing but the greyness of his whole life.

Brooding in Limbo

The odds I Defied

With Valour Unprecedented

Browned off with the Fetters of Yesterday


The Sound of Silence I Chopped away

For in Confession Liberty finds way.

Such epigrammatic lines were among the few penned pieces Adam’s dossier comprised. Yet, they were so ample as to epitomize Adam’s present bearings and the course of action he had for ages craved yet wavered to take. While damn sure that upon consent rested his doom and demise he only couldn’t come up with a virile, crucial No. In fact, Adam’s life was as double and dual as hypocrisy itself. And if there was anyone in the world to be held responsible, it was Adam’s father. It was only now that Adam deemed it inextricable to cry out loud “No, No, No”, whenever he was compelled to nod in consent. I thus became his Mecca.

At this juncture, I feel compelled to strip off the mask I have hitherto borrowed to make known Adam’s life history and to probe his “raison d’être”. I am Miss Nora, as you must have already struck home, Adam’s psychiatrist. I was so magnetized by Adam that I decided against having him in my asylum uptown. Besides, it would have been no use: Adam would have barely agreed to the shock treatments we use in there.

“Amazing, impressive and creative” showed Adam’s school reports on English.

“I’d like you to be like Adam”, Adam’s ex-teacher of English would tell his class.

To tell the truth, Adam absorbed everything like a sponge and writing did squeeze him. Besides, he spoke English with such eloquence and accuracy that you could hardly tell him from a native speaker. The prizes Adam piled up were books among which he spent his day and night. As of old and late, Adam went on accumulating books which he used to call his “life’s joy”. Last year, Adam managed to kill two pigeons with one bullet and the loot was fit for a banquet. He came first in his third year at university, while pursuing his training year as a junior school teacher.

“Have you forgotten that you have a date tonight? Let’s go! It’s high time we went. The girls must be waiting”, said Said, Adam’s roommate, but to no end.

“Sorry. I can’t go. I have to finish this novel before tomorrow. You go and I’ll call Mary up and say sorry”.

“Well, Mr. Brainy, I’ll go but you’ll die stuck in one of those bloody books”.

Said, Adam’s chum and fellow teacher, wouldn’t have passed his third year at university hadn’t Adam coaxed him into taking the university exam:

“Come on, Said! I certainly find your indecision over this matter most unintelligible. Don’t you get it, man? Should we capitalize on this year, there’ll be only one year ahead of us to get our B.A”

Whilst swotting up once for the Orals just a year ago in the university library, Adam unbuttoned his brief- case to produce a piece of paper.

“Here you are” said Adam cheerily handing Said the paper.

“This paragraph marks the diminuendo in my short story. Scan it and give me your feed-back”, Adam went on even more gaily.

Dearest Mary,

I feel bound to confess a truth. I have always told you I love you but in fact I don’t. I lied to the very heart that showed me what love is and I held to the lie. To be frank with you, I loved your body for you’re a mermaid but loved you not for what you are. Maybe, I have never been worthy of the trust you lavished on me. But I am not sorry either. I am one that has never known love. I know that you‘re full of forgiveness and pity but do not sympathize with me. Hate me rather.

Hate me for a while and then forget me once and for all. You’re still young and the future is all yours out there in America where you’ll find yourself in a matter of days. Move on. Start a new phase in your life. For my part, I’m moving back already, melting down like wax being liquefied. Do not try to contact me for I don’t like to see anyone. I hate you Mary for you showed me what I really am. I hate my father for he has made me such a person, propelled me to play the fool I have never been, masquerade in a persona other than mine. Am I what I am? No, I am none. As I am writing you these lines I feel grim as all hell. But never mind Mary. It‘s high time you moved on. I wish you all the happiness your noble and true nature is worthy of. Thank you for what you showed me about love.


Adam


“Wow! Wonderful, just wonderful”, Said shouted in admiration.

“Oh! Is it really?” wondered Adam dubiously.

“Of course it is. It’s terse, well-written this passage and above all has the touch of a professional”, Said commented. “I’m dead sure you’ll be a great writer one day”, he added. Touched in the very kernel, Adam lapped up what he took for a compliment.

Admittedly, Adam dreamt of becoming a writer and a poet of non-such calibre, and this marked his first attempt at fiction. Adam always wanted to write a novel. Nonetheless, he knew that long was his way, though not far-fetched his dream.

It was four a.m and the moon was already giving up to the sun. Adam lay on his bed meditating on the new birth the world was about to witness. And it came to pass: Twilight. The day took over the night. Adam sat admiring the locale before the “muezzin” proclaimed the hour for “Alfajhr” prayer.

“How do you do Adam?”

“All the same, doctor”.

I could see he didn’t feel any different.

“To speak true, things are getting worse and worse. I haven’t slept for ten days. I haven’t read nor written a word. I’ve been thinking till my head is empty like a shell. Worst, I’ve been drinking day and night non-stop”.

“But, how is this so?” I asked.

“I don’t know doctor. Maybe it’s because there remains nothing I wish to live for. Even Mary, the one and only hope I have been holding to, is now drifting away from me, too. The best thing to do is to ditch her. On our last dates I found not the love and affection we had garnered up together. What I found was an amalgamation of greyness, emptiness and fear. Look doctor, at the last post card she sent me:

Dearest Adam,

As I am writing you these lines I told myself I ought to be frank with you. I love you Adam more than words can tell. Sadly, I am not sure whether you love me or not. To put it more succinctly, your words and actions do not match. You keep telling me you’re in love with me but I have found none. In fact, you’re trying to fool me, seem to hide something from me. Let me ask you a question. What do you make of our relationship? What is it to you? Can you tell me how far it’ll take us making love in vain? You may have so far fooled me but mind you: I’ll not have you abuse me in such a manner. I told you often and I retell you again and again I will lose my purity only to the person who’ll marry me. Nonetheless, I’ll give you a second chance. If you love me, prove it.

Looking forward to hearing from you.

Yours


Mary

And this was the picture on the post card:



“In fact doctor I intend to send her the letter I included in my short story”.

“Adam! Don’t be hasty. Tell me but this. Do you really love her?”

“Truth is I didn’t love her at first because she was so still and quiet and whenever I looked her straight in the eye she blushed crimson. She wasn’t the sort of girl I’d like to mix with. The last thing in the world I could think about was to couch her. I’m inclined to more uninhibited girls, who do not flush over a kiss in the presence of strangers, nor tell you don’t try anything funny lest their friends at school should see them on such a scene. I was her tutor and I came to her house twice a week. In the living-room I would sit in her proximity and she in mine, as I gave her the lessons. You spend with one four hours a week with only the two of you present in the room so close to each other, you get used to each other. That’s how I grew to love her. Now I do love her, too, not out of sheer lust but out of something true and noble, something I have shown to no one else. You see doctor. It’s her last letter that broke my heart and made it look just like this:


“Be patient Adam. Don’t send her the letter for it won’t help solve anything. Try to win her affection again because she loves you. Her letter is but proof of the love she bears you. She wants you to be hers as she is yours. Think Adam but let your heart pass the judgement ”.

“Ok. Doctor .I’ll think about it and tell you later on”.

“I didn’t know when I could leave the hospital nor was I cheered up by the news in the least. I didn’t like the room I was in because it was painted dark blue and white. I hate blue especially in the vicinity of white. It makes me rather bilious and awful the only thing I feel like doing is puking. I tried to work out the reason why I did so but I couldn’t. Whenever I attempt doing it a combination of things flashes through my head like this:



Blue is reminiscent. It reminds me of a state of soul where I was neither alive nor dead, in-between, when they took me to hospital. It reminds me of the accident and what came of it. What the memory brought back was awful.

It was the end of June, that is, the summer vacation. My father and Mum decided we holiday with my grandparents. So, we’d be heading south, the South of Morocco of course. Ouarzazate was our destination. That agreed upon, I was overjoyed because we travelled little. I wanted to see and enjoy as much of the South as I could so that at the beginning of the school year I’d tell my friends at school about it all. I wouldn’t be embarrassed as usual when they told me about the places they visited in the holidays and I didn’t have what to say. They sneered at me.

My father decided that he’d drive us in his Mercedes. In truth, he was a good driver and got his driving license in the 50s. He’d tell Mum with a smile:

“I could drive in a time when riding donkeys was the practise commonest to most Moroccans”.

My father prided on his achievement just the way I did whenever someone in the street or one of my father’s acquaintances or other addressed me as “Ouald Elhadj”or “the son of Hadj”. It was prestige among us youngsters to be called so, especially in public. It meant that your father made the pilgrimage to Mecca, that he was well-off. My father was prosperous past thought. Only he went to Mecca in1973. Truth is my father had money in the billions. He was a merchant. I mean a real one. And he was able to experience luxury from an early age.

We set off at dawn. It was hazy. My father was fully awake I thought he must have drunk a whole thermos of coffee, pitch black coffee. I was sleepy because I didn’t sleep the night before or I slept with my eyes wide open. The journey so obsessed me that I didn’t care about sleep. Mum who was sitting in the front seat was talking to my father to keep him awake and make sure he was driving at a reasonable speed. I shut my eyes and opened them now and then to check how far we had driven. When I opened my eyes it seemed to me we had thrown a long distance behind us. The car was in a halt and my father wasn’t in. Fear slipped into me.

“Don’t be afraid darling. Your father got out to go to the mosque you see nearby” said Mum as she pointed out the moonlit minaret of a nearby mosque.

To do him justice, my father had never missed one single prayer unless under some most compelling circumstances. He’d tell me:

“To pray in the mosque you get twenty seven blessings, but to pray at home you get only one blessing. See the difference, Adam!”

M

y father came back and we resumed our trip. The next time Mum woke me up we were in front of one of them posh cafés. According to my father we had reached Middalete and that meant we had come half way through. Once we breakfasted, we were en route again. The sun was dark orange and I loved it. I fantasized it as:

And I wanted to devour it up. Only then did I realize that I love orange for its effusion of warmth. Our road started to take a more strenuous and unfamiliar turn but my father possessed road-sense and kept a watchful eye. He was chatting with Mum who was eager to see our family again. Meanwhile, a sudden thought struck me as a thunderbolt and I winced. As a matter of fact, I fear flying planes. When I was a child, whenever I saw or heard one thundering in the sky I shut my ears with my hands and ran to the house to hide myself lest it should crash on top of my head. Now I told myself: “If I see or hear a plane above in the distance, we’ll have an accident and we’ll all die, the three of us”. I grew tense, for breath-taking was the thought.

“Oh! Look at that plane over there” shouted my father in amazement.

“It’s a huge one. I only wonder how many passengers it would seat”.

I went dumb as a graveyard. I was lost for words. But then I thought to myself: “It wasn’t I who saw the plane at first”. So, one of the rules of the game was broken or was I cheating? Maybe what really mattered was whether or not I saw the plane. And I saw it.

From the other side of the road a blue Peugeot 18 came barrelling at us straight. My father started. Quick as lightning, he swerved to avoid it. Luckily, the mad car didn’t hit us. But it was too late. As he careened to the right, my father lost control. Over and over and over our car turned till I was convinced it was our end.

“God forbid! God forbid! God forbid …………!” cried dearest Mum with unshaking faith.

My father was still. When the car stopped I couldn’t believe what I saw. Both Mum and my father were safe and sound. Was I day-dreaming? Mum jumped from her seat and hugged me so tight. She was crying. She wasn’t hurt in the least. My father and I were slightly wounded over the forehead. As we got out of the car we were flabbergasted. On the roadside stood the car, the bonnet in the opposite direction. That a hidden hand or Mum’s prayers saved us I could never make out.

“Seems as if fate has it that we do not make this journey. Let’s go back home” sighed Mum, here face in her hands.

She saw me trembling and shaking. The accident was hard for me. “What man? You were about to kill us. Look at how my child is shivering and sobbing” cried Mum her tears down her cheeks.

“Enough of this, woman! That’s enough! I would rather have died”, retorted my father.

The car didn’t escape some damage, however. The windscreen was in pieces, like broken glass. The bumper was off and both head-lights were smashed .The rear door was stuck. This meant the car had to be taken to a mechanic and we had to return home as soon as possible. So we did, but not before the police made their reports on the accident. Later on, the police reported that the car that was coming our way rammed into a palm tree, the driver dead drunk.

Soon afterwards, I realized I lost the game for good. I saw the plane. We had the accident. I didn’t see it in the first place. None of us died.

That Peugeot 18 was blue and that’s another satisfying reason why I can’t bear blue. Only on that day did I realize that death was hovering around us everywhere. I sensed danger and it made me sick”.

It was on Adam’s last day in hospital that he realized it never rains but it pours.

“Someone to see you” giggled the nurse with big ears.

Adam wasn’t excited by the interesting bit of news. It made no difference for him since no one he knew came to see him during his fifteen days in hospital. Maybe it was because he was in a private one and none of the neighbours knew his whereabouts since he was taken to hospital. The only person Adam wished would have visited him was his father. Only he didn’t. This being the case, Adam didn’t want to see a soul.

In that hospital Adam was better taken care of. Besides, in a public hospital they pack you with people of sorts, people who do not know where their personalities end and yours begins, who still think in terms of we instead of I, nose into your trade or clean their “dirty linen” in front of your eyes even. There Adam felt he had a personality of his own. He was treated as an individual not as a part and parcel of a mass and he liked that. Adam was much nonplussed regardless. Big Ears brought in a bouquet of fresh orange flowers first thing in the morning with a card that read: “I Wish You the Best of Health”, nothing more. Adam loved the bouquet for it warmed the blue room he was in. But that small, humane gesture was what made Adam all the more suspicious. Adam had asked Big Ears several times about who sent it him but she said she didn’t know. He had also questioned her about who brought him there, who “footed the bill”, where his father was and why he didn’t come to visit him. She didn’t know, either. Big questions started to take shape in Adam’s mind. “Did anything bad prevent him from coming? I know my father is cruel but he’s my father after all. Can a father forget his son this easily? Who has been sending me the flowers? Why orange flowers in particular? There must be someone too close to me, someone who knows me from within and from without, someone who knows I love orange. The only person who did was Mum and she’s dead”.

A cloud loomed black and gloomy in front of Adam.

Rapt in these thoughts, Adam’s childish habit struck back. Adam thought to himself if his father didn’t come the day before he was to leave hospital, something terrible would happen to his father.

If this be true, God knows what ruin Adam’s life was coming to. Adam waited for his father to come but to no avail. It was Adam’s last day in hospital and the deadline he set was over. His father didn’t come and he lost hope. Since the accident, his mother’s death and the trauma Adam learned to expect the worst from life so he was never disappointed or heart-broken.

“On that day, I was supposed to be packing by midmorning”.

“A man to see you” re-announced Big Ears, as if to pull me up from the bottom of the ocean, only to my nonchalance. This time it wasn’t she who carried the flowers to my room. It was the man she showed in. No sooner had he come into view than she vanished into air like a bubble of soapy water.

Opposite me was standing a man in his thirties. He was of light brown complexion and medium height. He was well-built and well-made. His looks betrayed poise and inspired trust. He looked more European than Moroccan in his shiny black suit which told not only of a sophisticated taste but also of an excess of wealth. I have never seen the man but something within me; something from my past told me that this face wasn’t unfamiliar to me. Where had I seen him? Where? Where? I couldn’t tell”.

“Good morning Adam” he greeted me knowingly, as he handed me the bouquet. He even knew my name .I was speechless.

“Maybe you don’t remember me Adam but I have known you since you were a little child. It was me who brought you here and made sure you have been well taken care of. I know you are leaving today and therefore I am here. You have been lied to and it’s high time you unearthed the buried truth. Now Adam, let’s go to some other place and talk, shall we?”

“A place like what?” I asked as if to contain the shock.

“A café or a restaurant or whatever you please, a place where we can talk in peace”.

“Sure”, I said.

Truth is I’m afraid of being alone with someone I don’t know. I think they may do me harm. As I accepted the offer I thought to myself that I did the wrong thing. Maybe I did yes, oui, si the man to my own doom and demise. But then I wasn’t afraid of anything. Maybe there was nothing else I was anxious to lose. I killed fear within me so I wasn’t afraid of the man. I wasn’t afraid of death, either.

As he drove us in his convertible, the number plate of which was French, we were silent all the way through till he pulled up near an appetizing restaurant called Liberty. It didn’t reek of food or vinegar or roasting or frying at all but its façade was what attracted you like a magnet. On top of Liberty was carved a sculpture of a woman with nothing on, her hands outstretched. The neon signs publicized the varied dishes served there. What a piece of work it was. Art and technology were juxtaposed. And what they meant was that smell, in this case, could be done without, didn’t make up for modernity, was of a bygone era. What was needed to magnetize potential consumers was appearance. And that is what advertising is all about. Liberty was painted orange and that uplifted me.

It was 1 p.m. He suggested we lunch first then talk. I couldn’t resist the temptation as I was literally starving. I said: “Let’s”.

I had the most gorgeous lunch ever and I was full. I felt complacent and debonair like after a hilarious biological fight.

In fact, I couldn’t fathom what was going on. It seemed unreal to me, as if I were acting a role in a movie where the hero finds out a bitter truth that turns his whole life upside down.

After we lunched, we both ordered orange-juice. It was time to speak. And it was me who shattered the silence and it splashed every which way like broken glass.

“Well, sir! I don’t find the words to thank you for what you have done for me. I am much, much indebted to you, but can you tell me who you are?”

I chafed at the hold-up and grew impatient.

“Ok. Adam! My name’s Bashir. Your mother’s brother. That’s the short and long of it. Believe it or leave it”.

He let out in a matter-of-fact manner.

The unexpected piece of news perplexed me in the extreme.

“What? It can’t be” I shouted incredulously.

“Yes, it is Adam”.

“My uncle died in the war eight years ago and his death coincided with Mum’s. My father told me all about it”.

Out of his wallet he fished a black and white photo that showed three people. It was Mum and Bashir and I was in the middle.

Hot tears brimmed over my eyes.

Bashir resumed:

“I didn’t die Adam. It was a lie, an odious lie. Nor did your Mum”.

“What happened to her then?”

“She was killed Adam. She was killed eight years ago and the murderer was caught only the day before yesterday.”

“Look at this”, he said and showed me the ocular proof.

What he showed me was umpteen clippings featuring a man, a woman and their child whose faces I knew perfectly well. But I couldn’t see who was who or what was what. Bare-faced headlines and sub-headlines jeered sardonically at me as my eyes run over the papers. The first one came as:



A Hadj kills His Wife Out of Towering Jealousy”.

I

skimmed the whole article and it read as follows:

Hadj Salem, one of the town’s big personages, killed his wife of eight years, and in the darkness of night disposed of the victim’s body in a nearby river. Only yesterday and after a marathonic quest did police discover the remnants of a skeleton in the town river. After laboratory tests, the body was identified. It was the woman who had disappeared eight years ago in the most ambiguous circumstances. Now that he expects to spend his second childhood of old age behind bars, Hadj Salem confesses it all as he regrets it all. He admits: “I was led to believe she was unchaste but I was a fool. She was true. I’ll never forgive myself”. Truth is we feel that the remorse and sorrow Hadj Salem showed were what only one of Shakespeare’s tragic heroes was capable of showing.

A


nother read:
Hadj Salem Kills His Wife and Lies to Her Son”.

I

had to read the article to get what they meant by “lies to her son”.

Hadj Salem didn’t only kill his wife but disguised the truth from her son as well. He told Adam, his step-son that his mother died and that he was his father. Truth is Adam’s mother was killed by her own husband and Adam’s real father died even before the birth of his son.

Before I finished the article I was sobbing bitterly as I was knocked out piece by piece. I was in the grip of emotions I couldn’t handle and I threw myself into my uncle’s breast.

“Oh me! Father. My father! What father? I have no father”.

“Don’t weep. Don’t weep Adam. All’ll be well. I’ll tell you everything”.

I felt numb and still. I opened my mouth but nothing came out.

What I heard struck me like strong, lethal, successive blows.

“What I didn’t tell you Adam is that I live abroad, namely in France. Your mother and I wrote to each other. She told me everything about you. What you liked and what you didn’t like. I know for instance that you liked orange. Yet, all over the past seven years she stopped writing me while I kept writing her. I told myself there must have been something wrong with your mother but I couldn’t leave the country then. I wasn’t a full citizen at the time. Now I am here for you Adam”.

It took me some time to digest what I had learned. My disillusionment was as overwhelmingly heart-rending and poignant as my illusionment had been. It was as if I were in a nightmare. Only it was real. Just imagine what it must be like when you find out that the person you knew as and believed to be your father isn’t really your father. He’s only your mother’s murderer. Your real father died before you were even born. Does it not make one curse the day he was born? It does. Was I fated to all kinds of sores and affliction? An ill-fated young man?

My uncle and I went to the house, Mum’s house. It was inside Mum’s antique carved wooden box, a token from my late father which Hadj Salem made sure I’d never come across, that we found the letters my uncle spoke of. There was a myriad of them, still in their envelopes like virgins wrapped in their white wedding sheets. All were letters my uncle had sent Mum. As I read them one by one I felt the past, the bitter and the sweet of it, and my head ached past all migraine. I shoved them off.

My uncle lived in France, Paris. He was married and the father of two lovely girls. He told me that before he came to Morocco he had decided he’d visit the country every summer vacation from then on.

What struck me the most about uncle Bashir was that he was pious like Hadj Salem. Only he was gentler and friendlier and wouldn’t wake me up from the bottom of sleep at four a.m or thenabouts like a mad snooze while reciting the Koran like Hadj Salem, as loud as he could, had almost always done. So, I didn’t have to shut my ears to sleep in peace. He wouldn’t walk prone in humility, as if searching for something he had dropped, ready to take the slap on the left cheek or lest he should give in to public temptation the way Hadj Salem had done. I still very vividly remember that when Hadj Salem took me out for a walk he led me as if I were an ass. He pulled me from behind with a firm hand. Hadj Salem didn’t allow me to play with girls when I was little, and when my girlfriend at school came once to borrow my copy-book and inquire about something, he told her with the most serious of faces I wasn’t in and shut the door in her face. He hit me hard and told me if she came again he’d tear me to pieces. As a result, I grew to view girls and womankind as a forbidden territory. Uncle Bashir recited the Koran off-handedly and never missed a prayer in the mosque. His voice was so deafeningly luminous and touching that I couldn’t help crying when I listened to him. It woke something within me, something deep and unfathomable. He sometimes interpreted the Koran for me and corrected me as I recited it. He made me see the Koran again and renewed my extinguished love for it. The honest-to-God truth is the liking I had had for the Koran was incredible. I liked it even before I recited it and whenever I did so Mum bought me some chocolate candies and biscuits as she had promised. I remember being the only one in class to perform prayer properly when asked by the teacher of Islamic culture. As the years passed by, I became so possessed by the Koran that when I didn’t read it for more than two days I felt all the tighter as if aboard a plane and it went up all the higher or worse than a drug-addict whose lips hadn’t kissed a fag for a whole week. Whenever something happened that unsettled me or I was wronged or hit by Hadj Salem or I couldn’t think clearly, I recited the Koran till my eyes were full of tears and I was relieved and set free like a new-born. I felt freer than a Catholic after a confession. I felt convivial and I could face whatever the day may bring.

I last recited the Koran was since uncle Bashir departed.

“I want to tell you something Adam, but I am afraid you may not accept it. What I’d like to tell you is that I want you to go with me to France and finish school there”.

Uncle Bashir insisted that I accompany him but I wouldn’t. I didn’t want to leave Morocco. Maybe it was because I was so anxious to fulfil Mum’s wish that I’d become a writer and write about how lousy and wretched her life was with he that once was my father. Now that I had just got my baccalaureate I’d go to university to study the English Language and Literature. Nevertheless, I accompanied my uncle to the airport. But only to see him off.

“Ok. Adam! Let’s keep in touch .Take care and see you next year”.

“I promise. Have a nice trip”.

As the plane took off I felt how hard separation was.

Uncle Bashir was the mother and the father and all my family.

It was as if all hope of a new, warm life waned and withered by his departure.

I felt blue and forlorn like unconsoled bereaved or a newly plucked rose.

For so many a time I had contemplated suicide, being alone in the world. And what’s dying? Isn’t it but a parting of body and soul? I expected worse from life and I got the worst and maybe the worst is following me to the grave. Don’t they say life’s a school? I don’t find it is. What life has taught me was gall after gall. Mine stretches rather insipid and galling in front of me. For me and the likes of me it’s rather a comeuppance. I first knew about suicides, doctor, was when an old man in our neigbourhood hanged himself. I thought it hard dying in such a way. Could I put an end to my dreary life or did I hold it so dear? I knew well it was against God’s will to sin in such a heinous way, make all heaven and earth weep. Did I fear God?

Hadn’t it been a sin I’d have tried it.

Can I make it?

This question, doctor, resonates hollowly and monstrously in my head whenever I find it hard to think or concentrate.

And this was the poem I wrote then for my poetry class.

D

Dry Tears did I Weep


Drowning in the Deep

Dreaded not the titanic Shark

Diving in the abyss of the Dark

Danced the sinned and the Damned

Daring the kings of the other Land

Only a week or so before I started seeing you, doctor, I rushed to the nearest bookshop and singled some best-selling psychology books out. I wanted to know where in the world I stood. Only sadly I was at the bottom of humanity. While I was reading one of the books, I couldn’t choke the urge to thumb the dictionary now and again to check some word or other. In fact, I felt most of what I was reading rested above my head. My head worked as slowly as a child learning to read. Truth is I was appalled in the extreme that my case verged on nothing other than hopelessness. I was confronted by words that frighted me the most as I felt their directness and significance suited me the most. Words such as neurotic, paranoid, hypocrite, introvert and schizophrenia which is another word for personality split stunned me as they summed me and totted me up. Last, I realized I was a sadist and a masochist simultaneously, though the juxtaposition may seem too far a possibility. And that was what “took the wind out of my sails”.

Just a couple of weeks before Mary took her baccalaureate exams, she moped grievously in the house and ate very little till she thinned and became invisible like a ghost. She was afraid that because of the new system, which dwarfed the academic year to one semester so that you were supposed to be examined on what you had studied the whole year, she may fail the exams. But I didn’t let such hallucinations creep into her head nor weigh her down for she was a bright student and could make it. I was supposed to tutor her English but that didn’t mean I didn’t help her in subjects other than English. Philosophy, French, Arabic and what have you. No boasting, doctor, hadn’t I showed her the way she wouldn’t be at university now. When she rang me up and told me she had succeeded I was far from delighted. Her parents loved me, often invited me and said I was welcome whenever I pleased. I called them aunt and uncle. I decided to drop by for I had missed them greatly.

It was on one of those summer days when I felt like wearing little that I headed for Mary’s. It was Mary who opened the door which meant there was none else in; otherwise her parents or younger brother would have answered the door. She was wearing an orange t-shirt and a mini-skirt whiter than snow. It was rather hot. Mary’s lips were wet and I imagined how it would feel like inside her.

“Oh! It can’t be. I thought you’ll never come back again. Come in, come in, Adam”.

And as I guessed true:

“My parents are away in the country for a few days”.

“I missed you darling” I said as we hugged tight.

Her skirt was so transparent she looked more naked in it than without it and I wanted to peel her off, squeeze her dry and gulp down her juice of womanhood.

“You must be parched. I’ll bring you something to quench your soul”.

She was right. Only I was parched past all thirst. As she made for the kitchen I followed her immediately. I drained the cold glass of orange-juice she gave me. She warmed me up.

“Thank you honey. Come now” I said as I gave her a you-know-what-I-want look.

“Hang on Adam. We’ve got all the day in front of us” she giggled.

I pushed her down to the couch. Her heart was pounding.

“Come on. What else in the world is beauty made for if not to be enjoyed?” Under her bra her bosoms rose and fell with every breath she took.

She whispered in my ear:

“I love you Adam”.

“I love the way you taste”.

I undid her fish-net bra and slipped her pants off exposing the last of her treasures. We closed in and did everything a couple does. It felt so gorgeous that the docile Mary turned as boisterous as a furious ocean. I so turned her on she loved my throbbing hunk of manhood and I gave her more than she wanted. And the master being a sadist submitted to the will of the slave, a masochist. However, I wolfed her to the bones and I was creative in approach. As we orgasmed we fell exhausted and powerless yet peaceful and contented.

“Tell me Adam. Do you really love me?”

She demanded emphatically.
“Do you doubt that?”

I replied in a matter-of-fact way.

“I love you Mary and promise that I’ll never marry someone other than you. Only I feel no need to shout it”.

“I fear that one day you may forget me, I being away and you after new fancies”.

“Look Mary! I’d like you to trust me just as I trust you. I’d like you to remove such things from your head. I’ll never forget you whatsoever, Mary. I was just so tied up that I couldn’t come and see you”.

I spoke seriously.

I saw her melt and she leaned with her head against my chest.

She was crying and that astounded me.

“Why are you crying? Am I the cause of these tears? Tell me Mary what have I done that so upsets you?”

“No! Adam. You haven’t done me any wrong. I’m very sorry for it was me who has wronged you. I’m sorry for what I wrote in that post card. I just couldn’t endure your absence. I thought you were just like any other boy. My mother told me that once a girl gives her virginity away to a boy he’ll never marry her. He’ll think her impure and just as she has given him the jewel of her maidhood she could have done so with any other man. He’ll hold her loathed rather. I’m awfully sorry for that post card.”

“Oh! Never mind. I almost forgot about it. I admit it puzzled me somewhat but I told myself there must have been something wrong with you. I’m no such man to treat you as such. I promised you I’d love no other girl but you. I’d like you to know that when I vow to do something I perform it to the last. By the way, how is your sister and how is she doing with her study in the U.S?”

“Oh! She telephoned us only yesterday. She’s very fine and she told us my uncle Ismail and his American wife would come to Morocco next month to visit us and tour the country. I wish you are free by that time so that you can come and talk with them”.

“I hope so”.

She was weeping again.

“What’s the matter Mary?”

“I don’t know. But I feel I’ll never see you again”.

She mumbled and embraced me heartily. I wiped her tears away and kissed her goodbye.

In fact, it was only the first time that I was true with Mary .I felt all I told her came from my heart .I realized I really loved her.

“I know Adam. I know just how much you’ve suffered. What I want to tell you is be yourself. Accept your bitter-sweet past then forget I repeat forget all that made you suffer. Believe in yourself for all I can but say you’re great and true of heart. And I think it won’t be any different whether you get your B.A this year or the next”.

“To put up with what I have in spite suffered I can endure it but to fail this year I can hardly believe it. Truth is I’d rather die than give this year away. Just imagine, doctor, how it’d be like for someone with fifteen A’s. The problem is since I’m a teacher I can’t attend all my classes at university. Besides, I am eighty five kilometres far from university and twenty kilometres away from where I teach. That means I have to commute daily. Going to and fro has so taken it out of me and so used up my time that I thought I could have written as double short stories as my Creative Writing professor required of us. The only course I can attend is Classical Drama and the students in my class won’t be so kind to give you their notes to xerox.

Most of them think it unfair that you are a teacher and still vying them. You got a job and that was the end of the world. They’d think. However, the only person who, I think, will help me is Said, my ex-roommate, whom I’ve lost touch with for about a year.

It was my professor of Drama who made me hold anew to what was once my life’s joy and has been drifting away from me. I wanted to stand out just as he did. He was so well-versed in Shakespeare that he made me love Shakespeare past all empathy. His idiom was select and excelling and the command of language he was capable of did dwarf many a lecturing American professor on more occasions than one. I still remember when an American lady professor lectured us on Shakespeare on Stage. Only she fell too short of that quality he possessed. He did with language what he willed. He was a true scholar so to speak. He has not only taught in the most renowned universities and colleges in the U.S but he also stage-directed many of Shakespeare’s works. When he asked us how the American lady was and whether we enjoyed the lecture, I replied in Shakespeare-like phrase: “You may relish her more in the director than in the scholar”, to his astonishment. The way he approached Shakespeare did not only stress the universality of Shakespeare’s theatre but also its relevance and suitability to our present day.

My professor of Drama impressed me the way I impressed him. Every now and then he’d stop in the middle of a sentence and I almost always filled in his thought. It wasn’t the first time I cited there and then the very quote on the tip of his tongue when he made me blush:

“I’m so impressed by this gentleman that he has reached such sensitivity in language as to read my mind and that he can cite Shakespeare off-handedly”.

“I felt ecstatic and blissful and elated. That’s why I’m trying to win this year, doctor. I’d like to go as far as my professor has gone”.

Adam let out as if aware for the first time of what he was capable of doing.

Out of all the cases I have so far handled Adam stood apart. And it’s only now that his story being done that I realize fully what made me feel whole-heartedly for him. Adam and I have a great deal to do with each other. Truth is it’s me Adam resembles at heart for I, too, had as lousy and dreadful a childhood as Adam. Just imagine how it’s like when the two persons you have been calling dad and mum since you came to life turn out to be fake and that your real parents are dead. The disillusion is what makes the illusion for you start to doubt whether you yourself are real or sham as well. I confess I was bowed down by grief and tried suicide but I couldn’t give up life, ambition and the promising future awaiting me. I persevered and triumphed over myself. I accepted what happened to me and was intent on making my way through life. Now with a husband and two children I feel well-contented. Had I given in to despair I wouldn’t have wished anything from life. Yet now there are a plenty of things I wish for in life with my family.

You can see how much Adam and I have in common for which I dismissed the aptness of having him in my asylum. And I proceeded with him in an altogether different way, consequently.

The stratagem I contrived was two-fold as what I levelled at was as such. First, to make him speak out what he felt tormented him the most for on our first interviews he was scarce and said little. Second, to make him capable of something he was best at, writing, and to newly create his love for words. So, I asked him to bring me all the pieces of writing he had written of late and he read them to me. Besides, before we started an interview Adam warmed up a little. I gave him a blank paper and asked him to write what agonized him. During the first days he returned me the papers as void as he had received them. But, week after week and fortunately he started jotting down disjointed phrases and sentences and he almost did most of the talking himself. That was because he began to feel much more himself as I asked him to read the Koran daily since throughout our interviews he confessed how soothing and relieving was the Koran for him. The more he recited the Koran the freer he felt. And only the month before what Adam wrote was a very fine piece. I was glad at heart that what I had done with Adam proved well-worth the doing. Truth is I knew that Adam’s case wasn’t incurable and saw his wound healing by degrees. In fact, it was Adam who steered and I only showed him the way. This approach is what you may call patient-centered. And it did work past thought. What I didn’t foresee was even far from rewarding. I realized all the papers Adam had been writing during our interviews and which I piled up for reference would, I was sure, make Adam a good source of inspiration. Adam had to write short stories for his monograph and the material at hand would certainly make an unusual read if made fictive. I knew what Adam was capable of. He didn’t write nicely but too well. What fiction is all about is unusual people with unusual ways of thinking, doing unusual things. And I believe Adam would find his story unusual enough to write about. What more luck could Adam wish for better than that with such material at his disposal. Only he had to pull himself together as quickly as possible for three months are what remained of this year for Adam to take his exams.

It was a clear Friday morning when Adam woke up late. The night before he swotted up till he stayed up late because Adam didn’t know when to stop once he started. That morning Adam felt guilty of a sin he didn’t know. Maybe it was that he felt he wasn’t as honest as he should have been with Mary. He didn’t tell her when he last visited her he did not love her at first as she had guessed true in her post card. He felt he wanted to go to her and confess it all, as he had concealed it all.

As quick and frightening as a quake or lightning, Adam’s childish ritual echoed and echoed in his head till he didn’t see a thing. It was a long time since someone had telephoned Adam or he had rung anyone for his mobile was out of credit and he had no time to recharge it. Adam told himself: “If my mobile rings before I go out I’ll hear bad news”.

Just before he closed the door his mobile trilled, to his fright .He pressed yes to take the call.

“Hello Adam”. The voice was urgent and hurried and it was a girl’s voice.

“Hello” echoed Adam as if lost for words.

“It’s me, Adam” gasped Mary as if after a race, her heart pounding.

“Listen to me, Adam. Just listen. I have something urgent to tell you. I’d like you to come as soon as possible. You’ll find me in the university library”.

I rushed immediately to where she was, trying to puzzle out what she was going to tell me. Maybe she was pregnant after all and her parents found out what we did. Neither of her parents knew what was between us. I knew her father would have killed her had he known. The more I thought about it the more terrified I grew. I felt I was going to die.

Oddly enough, Mary was weeping bitterly as if she was going to be taken away to a wilderness and left there cut off humanity and me.

“What’s the matter, honey? Why are you crying? Has your mother or father done you anything that so grieves you? Tell me Mary. Oh! Do not cry. Do not cry”.

I took her to the university cafeteria and ordered orange-juice for both of us for I wanted her to calm down.

“Adam! Maybe you’ll not see me for a few years. Maybe you’ll never see me again”.


“Why? Why’re you telling this, dearest?”

“It’s the truth Adam”

And she paused a little before she went on:

“I’m going to the U.S”.

“It’s not possible”.

“I wish if it weren’t. But, it is, it is, it is, Adam. It was only yesterday that I learned about it. My mother was always dogging me to try for U.S.A Lottery. Only that was the last thing I could have thought of. However, my mother sent an application letter of me including my photo and everything about me without me knowing. And it was yesterday she told me I was admitted. She was so over-joyed and serious about it that she made me believe going to the U.S.A was the only natural thing for me to do and to do otherwise would be to let her down. I tried to tell her it wasn’t necessary for me to go as I thought of the life I may have with you. Only she wouldn’t hear of it.

“Look how your father is on the verge of retirement and we don’t possess a penny to speak of. But if you go there we’ll count among the richest in town. Besides, you’ll stay with your sister and never feel alone. The future is all yours, my girl”. My mother was judgemental and what she said was final. This is the truth, the whole truth, Adam. Believe it or disbelieve it”.

“In other words?”

“I can do nothing other than comply. If I disobey her maybe her curse will be following me all my life and I won’t endure it. But I do love you Adam. I’ll never forget you. I’ll keep in touch with you. And who knows we may marry after all. I may just stay there to pull myself together and come back to you again”.

Tears were flowing down her cheeks and she threw herself between my arms. My heart was breaking and I was crying, too.

“Let me, too, be frank with you. I didn’t love you at first and as you guessed true I was trying to fool you. But as the time went by, I grew to love you, not for your body’s lust but for your own person and what you showed me about love. You gave me a second chance as you said and I proved the love I bear you. Sometimes, I was cruel to you. All I’d like to ask of you now is to forgive me for my dirty nature. But I don’t like you to judge me before you listen to my story. Then it’s up to you to love me or hate me, pity me or despise me. Before this, I’d like you to be sure I’ll never forget our love and, as you said, we may be fated to each other and get married after all.



This is my story: The blind hand of death robbed me of the dearest a child could have, my mother and before her my father............








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