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“Always remember you were an abandoned child,” she says to me. “And you? Who are you?” I think of saying to her. “You should remember that I also saved you from your father who divorced that slut of a mother of yours. He was threatening to throw you out of the house if you hadn’t married the first person who proposed to you. Everyone says your mother was a slut both before and after she married your father, and today she’s a pimp, now that your father’s divorced her. Who told you that your father is your real father, then? How can you prove that to me?”
Every time we argue, though. I try to make her understand that her existence and my existence are tied to a man and a woman about whom neither she nor I know the complete truth, because no one is born as he wants to be born, they bring him into the world as they want. By the time a person finds himself able to think about his existence, they’ve already imposed a life on him to accept or reject in his own way. A human being is a human being, it doesn’t matter whose son he is.
She interrupts me, forcefully. “You’re an idiot. I’ve married an idiot. I don’t understand you. You’re obscene. And don’t forget that you’re just a foundling.”
The pressure builds up in my head. I’m losing the man who can speak to her in my imagination. I beat her and beat her until she faints. Sometimes I fall down beside her exhausted, or I even lose consciousness as well. She usually wakes up several times during the night. She wakes me up insistently:
“Quick, get up!”
“There’s someone trying to break into our house!”
“Go to sleep, Yamna! There’s no one there.”
“Listen to that squeaking!”
“It’s the wind shaking the door!”
“Coward! Huh . . . are you a man? You’re not a man.”
The daughter of a bitch carries on shaking me, kicking me, pulling the blanket off me and hitting me until I get up. Every time I find nothing. Every time, too, I think of throwing myself on top of her and strangling her. In bed, she turns her back on me. The bitch always turns her back on me. I sometimes spend the night staring into the darkness and at the walls. She often shouts in her sleep, or I hear her repeating nonsense. She sometimes turns me out of bed when I want to make love to her, making me hate all women’s thighs. Sometimes she cries and brings me back into the bed – when I find an opportunity to kiss her, embrace her, wipe away her tears and make love to her – or else she leaves me to sleep on the hard couch on the floor. Several times, she repeats to me stupidly: “Why am I like this? Why? Why?”
I usually don’t know how to explain her situation to her. “Because that’s the way you are, Yamna,” I say, while at the bottom of my heart I am saying, “Because you are a stupid woman, because you’re a member of the revolting human race, Yamna.”
Once I didn’t want to go back to bed after she had turned me out, so she started screaming: “Get up from there, come here!”
“No. I’m staying here.”
“Get up, I’m telling you.”
“Why? Didn’t you throw me out yourself?”
“You frighten me here, looking like that. You’re like a corpse. Get back into bed.”
In the eyes of this wretched orphan, then, I am a corpse. I can no longer recall any happy memories with her. In moments of boredom, I think: “Is this the woman I’m going to spend my wretched life with? This woman who only lets me make love to her when she wants to.” Even when God allows it, it’s difficult and peculiar making love to her. She never opens her thighs. She stretches herself out stiffly. She pulls her thighs tight together as if she were a virgin afraid to be deflowered. For a long time she would not let me kiss her or touch her breasts. “I’m not your whore,” she would say to me. “Go and look for a whore to kiss, and fondle her breasts. Respectable people don’t do it like that. Hurry up and finish, and get off me. You’re too heavy for me, you don’t let me breathe properly.”
I had great confidence in Doctor Fleuris. As far as I’m concerned, he’s a very good young man. Just thinking about him makes me feel calmer. I often go to him with my aches and pains. As soon as I enter his surgery, I feel better. By the time I’ve come out, my pain has stopped completely, so that sometimes I haven’t even bought the medicine. I gave her his telephone number once.
“Take it! This is his telephone number.”
“What do you want me to do with this scrap of paper?”
“Don’t you know your numbers?”
“It’s none of your business whether I know my numbers or not.”
God be praised! You created everything. I didn’t believe she was so illiterate that she couldn’t even read her numbers. She looked at the scrap of paper in her hand. She threw it onto the bed, looked at me then went into the kitchen. “She is a human cow,” I said to myself. I was feeling so ill that I had forgotten she was just Yamna the country girl who didn’t know what anything was called, or even her numbers. She would appear in front of me then disappear. I imagined her as a young child that had soiled her pretty dress, or an adolescent surprised by her first period who didn’t know what to do with herself. “I’ve married a wretched girl who can’t even count her fingers right.” ‘This . . . that . . . this . . . that . . .,’ that’s what she calls things when she doesn’t know their names. When I want to teach her the name of something, she says to me angrily: “I don’t know. I don’t need you to teach me.”
I screamed, gasping from the depths of my weakness: “Get out, take this piece of paper and ask the local grocer to dial these numbers on the telephone for you. Tell him to ask for Doctor Fleuris for you. He’ll come to his shop, then the grocer will bring him to our house. Tell the grocer that I am very ill. Hurry up, go to him. What are you waiting for?”
She began to tremble like me. Her body shook then she burst into tears. She cried and cried until she fell asleep. During the night, I heard her talking wildly in a dream: “Put it all in. Leave it there! Put it all in!”
We reached Feddan Square. Farid was tired but happy. He has great confidence in me. He tells me all the details of his life without the slightest reservation. His masturbation, his wild sex life from which he had been rescued by his marriage to the fair Yamna, and the people who say that her mother was Jewish and her father Moroccan. Before he was married, he used to get on a bus just after twelve o’clock. The bus would be crowded with people at that time. Most of the passengers were students. He would aim for one of the girls’ bottoms, rubbing himself against her while the bus was moving until he ejaculated. At night, he would masturbate two or three times, sometimes more. He had lots of naked or half-naked pictures of singers and actresses and he would masturbate in front of them. I remember Natalie Wood, Elizabeth Taylor, Sophia Loren, Brigitte Bardot and Marilyn Monroe. He also suffered from a metaphysical fear of death and the day of resurrection. He showed me his watch and said: “What do you think?”
“We’ll sell it.”
“He’s become like me,” I thought. “A few days ago, I also sold my watch in the second-hand market in Tangiers.”
We plunged into the crowd in the upper market. I felt a pain in my body. I took a deep breath to relieve my tiredness. I felt sick. I took a sip of water from a cup. Warm water that tasted like snot from a man with a cold. We turned off to the right towards the road that goes through the big garden market. I savoured the smells of the food — fish, bean soup, grilled meat, spices. I savoured them, looking longingly at the dishes displayed in the café windows.
“We’ll take our lunch in one of these cafés when we’ve sold the watch,” said Farid. (My mouth was watering and my stomach was desperate for something to eat – either the food I could see or the other dishes whose smells were wafting from the pots over the fire.) We mingled with people buying and selling. Farid gave his watch to an elderly hawker.
“Show it off properly to everyone,” he said to him. “I’ll pay you more than the basic amount if you show it off properly.”
The hawker had some simple things for sale in his hand. “Ten dirhams,” he shouted, lifting it up.
“He’s got a weak, feeble, hoarse voice,” said Farid. “His voice won’t attract enough attention from people.”
“People will be looking at what’s in his hand, not his feeble voice.”
“You don’t understand much about these things. A strong voice will attract people’s attention even if they’re asleep.”
The bodies around us moved in a sort of limp exasperation. We collided with some of them. Sometimes I felt one of my feet being crushed as another foot squeezed down on it. Sometimes we would apologise and sometimes we wouldn’t. It seemed as though people couldn’t find anything to do except to be in this hellish place.
After about half an hour, the hawker sold the watch for 41 dirhams. It was a good watch. Farid gave the hawker four dirhams. The hawker usually took half a dirham for every ten dirhams. At least the wretched man wasn’t a pimp.
I felt that I was hungrier than Farid. I imagined a tub of spicy bean soup followed by fried fish and black bread. I imagined myself squeezing half a lemon over the fish. A delicious taste flowed into my mouth. My eyes clouded over. My body shook with longing for food. We went into a small wretched restaurant. A horrid smell wafted from it, mingled with the smell of food and spices. Three people were eating. They looked tired and dirty. They opened their mouths as they chewed. Their teeth were rotten and yellow. They moved their jaws ravenously as they noisily sucked the head and backbone of a fish noisily. They swallowed quickly. One of them had a bad eye. It looked like a black, rotten grape. One of their hands was bandaged up in a rag spattered with blood and filth. Farid avoided looking at them. Their faces looked worn out. All their misery was embodied in their faces. For a moment, I thought of mankind’s suffering. I swallowed a mouthful quickly. I had difficulty breathing, so much so that I thought I wouldn’t breathe again. Farid came to my aid with a light blow on the back of my head. They looked at me in silence as they gulped down their horrible food. I went back to eating with tired breath. I began to fear every mouthful I swallowed. I got ready to swallow it carefully. I chewed it well and swallowed it slowly. I gripped the side of my seat and pressed my hands on the side before swallowing. Curse this flabby body that I have to put up with! Just thinking about the difficulty of swallowing tortures me before I swallow.
We went into the Continental Café. I still have memories of this café from 1960-61. It no longer has any vitality today. Cafés become old too. I was sitting in an old café now with Farid, who was almost becoming like the café. Its fresh paint was like powder on the face of a woman living on the memories of her youth. We ordered two beers. Farid’s silence signified nothing. It was a dumb silence. When a pretty girl came into the café he would spend a long time eyeing her charms. I don’t like him when he tries to mix his worries with mine. When we were studying in al-Ara’ish he would exploit his status as an orphan to beg. I would stand some paces away from him as he approached someone he thought would give him something and begin his act: he would contort his face so that he appeared to be ill and speak in a quiet, feeble voice. When he got something, his personality would change. He would rub his hands together vigorously, his eyes would light up and he would walk about with a swagger, talking self-confidently. What annoyed me about him, the bastard, was when I heard or saw him saying to someone sometimes: “For the two of us, me and my friend there. He is studying with me in the same institute.”
I couldn’t bear him pointing his finger at me. I would lower my head as well, cringing, and go off with a worried look as he pursued me.
“Why are you so stuck up?”, he would say. “We are not doing anything to be ashamed of. We are not begging.”
“What are we doing then?”
“We’re asking for help because we’re two poor students, we’re not professional beggars.”
We didn’t always beg for bread. We smoked, and we liked black coffee and the cinema. Sometimes, we would go to visit some elderly whores. We hadn’t received the grant yet. Farid slept with a family who felt sorry for him. The family had two girls who were studying in the institute: one was a consumptive in love with a Moroccan student studying in Syria and the other behaved in an intolerably nervous way. It was with this neurotic that he used to revise maths. The love between them was not well balanced. “She knows that I am a foundling, Salim,” he would say to me. I would spend half the night in a café whose toilet gave off an odour that stung the eyes. Sometimes, rats would come out of the hole in the ground that served as a toilet, wander around in the café then go back into the hole.
Farid got a mighty shove from Yamna. He was reeling.
“Get out of my sight. Get away from here, you filthy drunkard!”
His head collided with the wall. He regained consciousness. I wanted to intervene, but I heard Yamna saying to me: “No, leave us alone.”
“Yes, stay in your place,” Farid added.
I saw him curl up under her to grab her legs. His head was under her breast. She grabbed him by the middle. I laughed to myself. They were two children, while so far I had been in control of myself. They fell down. Farid was on top of her, hitting her.
“My face, my face, you bitch!,” I heard him yell, in pain. “You’re scratching me! Right, then, take this!” He aimed a blow to her face, and the blood flowed from her nose. I heard Yamna’s head bang against the door. Farid got up, staggering about and panting. “Is this what the bitch wants? Curse the day I married her!”
He sat down on the bed, exhausted. I said nothing to him. I watched him in silence. He seemed drained of all will. I felt my consciousness paralysed. He went into the kitchen and I heard some mumbling.
“My head . . . Wait! You’ll see, you son of a whore!”
He began to sprinkle some water on her face while she hurled abuse at him.
• • •
“In a moment we’ll be stopping in Rabat station!” said the conductor.
Salim stood in the small corridor connecting the two carriages. It was the first time he’d ridden in a train. Thousands of times he had said to himself: “This is the first time. This is the first time I’ve slept with a woman. This is the first time I’ve smoked and drunk. I love a girl who’s like me. I’m sceptical about life after death. I sleep in the streets like a cat on a wet night. I’ve got a job. I’m thinking of committing suicide. Friendship is false. Thousands of beginnings of this and that. Some of them finished, some of them unfinished, or still beginning. I felt that the five hours from Tangiers to Rabat were long and boring. I drank a small bottle of wine in the buffet on the train. I smoked a packet of light cigarettes. I saw scenes of fields, farm animals, shepherds and wretched Bedouin. I thought about the Gospel, the Qur’an, Beethoven, Michelangelo and Don Quixote. Possibly this migraine and physical hunger are the result of that bottle of wine. The screeching of the wheels got louder and louder. The train stopped. A young girl hugged an old man. Perhaps I will never have such a feverish wait again in my life. It’s enough that I am a son who hates his father. I don’t want to hate or be hated.”
He stopped a taxi.
“The tourist hotel, please!”
In the hotel, he stared at the dirty marks for a moment, then a horrid smell wafted from the bed, when he drew back one edge of the blanket. Someone must have been having fun on this bed. I lay down. An itching feeling came over me. I imagined bloodsucking insects crawling up my body and wandering over my skin, stopping here and there then biting me and sucking my blood.
He went out to the balcony. He felt like screaming. But for what? The cold night was washing him. Rabat. Tmara quarter. A dirty hotel. Insomnia. Stopping his monthly salary because of some administrative error for which he was not responsible. Lights and loneliness. I am persecuting myself for a reason that I don’t understand clearly.
He left the hotel. He stopped a motorcyclist.
“Which way do I go for Mohammed V Street, please?”
“Is that why you’re stopping me?”
He left, cursing me. I felt disappointed. I’ve been packaged like those goods that are dark inside, but bright outside.
He stopped to look at some oranges in a shop window, like sleeping breasts. I am hungry. I like fruit more than meat. The smell of fruit never makes me feel sick. It doesn’t drip blood. He stood in front of four or five dogs who were circling around a single bitch. The dogs were sniffing around the hind quarters of the bitch as she ran away. He remembered the last incident, that stopped the traffic in Tangiers for several minutes. The bitch was dripping blood from her vulva. Every drop made a star shape on the ground. The sight amused the children, but annoyed some of the grown-ups who were with their families. The other dogs were running away then coming back.
“Separate them with a good kick,” said a man to some youths. No one replied. All the cars were trying to pass carefully, so as not to hurt the suffering pair. Salim thought: “I’ve often wondered about the agony of copulation between two dogs. My friend Zinati explained it to me once, just like a simple gardener talking about his flowers.” Finally, a small hero appeared. With a single kick between the hind quarters of the dog and bitch, the bleeding organs were separated. A long, sharp wail could be heard from them. The youths applauded in admiration at the resolution of the crisis. Salim approached the distressed pair of dogs. The other dogs fled, expecting it to be their turn. That is what the youth had done in the Place de la France. Salim hit hard. A wail, a cry, and the dogs fled. They stayed locked together just as they were. He felt disappointed. I’ll try again harder. He aimed his foot, but he felt some weakness stopping his leg from moving.
“For God’s sake, Sir, please give me something!” a beggar woman was saying on Goldsmiths Street.
The young lad turned to her. She was holding her baby between her arms. “For my daughter’s sake,” the woman insisted. “Give me something for the sake of my daughter!”
The young lad was standing talking to another youth.
“Say that to whoever it was made you open your legs to get you this daughter of yours!” he said sarcastically.
The woman was astonished and went away sobbing, without saying anything.
After Salim had gone a few steps away, he saw the terrified dogs coming back to hover again around the distressed pair. “Hotel Majestic” he read on the sign on the hotel door.
• • •
I relaxed. For a moment, I felt that I was my own master, and my tiredness dissolved. I closed my eyes. Things come to me, sometimes, just by thinking about them. I saw one of them in Tangiers taking out some lottery tickets from his pocket. He looked at the list of winning numbers and said to his companion: “Nothing!” Then he looked carefully at the tickets and put them back in his pocket. “If only this number had been here and that number there!” he said to his friend before putting the losing tickets back into his pocket. “My being here now, here in Katie’s house, is like the losing lottery tickets that the man put back into his pocket regretfully. My life now is like a losing ticket, but despite that I cling to it. Waiting for what will happen is always less cowardly in my eyes.” Katie smokes and drinks beer, looking at the walls and ceiling languidly, without interest. “Tick, tock … tick, tock … ten past seven in the evening, March 1967. Julius Caesar was assassinated in the middle of March, and on the thirtieth several Moroccan citizens died in Tangiers, killed by the bullets of the police of the French Protectorate. I was born in March, so my mother said, though she no longer remembers on which day. I played a game with myself. I wrote the days of the month on some scraps of paper. My hand reached out blindly for one of them. I opened the scrap of paper: 25 March. So I was born on that date. Since then I have no longer been depressed about my lost date of birth. I was born at dawn, so my mother added. Our hands touched blindly but firmly as I chose my birthday from among the scraps of paper. Our hands touched gently, then warmly. I saw my face in miniature in her eyes that were filled with moisture. Her hand became warmer and warmer. The warmth of her body drew me to her. Her hand was moist with sweat. Her light moustache became moist like her hand. With my tongue, I licked the moisture of her light moustache. I smelled the delicious aroma of tobacco in my nose and felt the taste of her mouth on my mouth. She closed her eyes, then opened them like a dying butterfly. She whispered nothing. Silence. Tick tock. I am lost in a timeless space. In a single moment, our bodies were engulfed in a fever. In her eyes there were stars and moisture.
He left Katie’s house, carrying his exhaustion into Mohammed V Street. Suddenly, the watchman’s daughter confronted him cheerfully. “Salim, you are here!”
He had last seen her on the beach in Tangiers playing tennis.
“But what are you doing here?”
“You can see.”
“And your studies?”
She shrugged her shoulders, contracting her face muscles into a scowl. “I got bored with everything in Tangiers and came here to work.”
“Not yet. I’m not alone here, I’m with a friend.” She pointed to the Paris Arcade shop “She works there. She’ll be stopping work in a moment. She is settling the sales accounts now.”
Samira appeared, short and plump. Dalila introduced her to him, then hailed a taxi. They got in and Dalila said to the driver: “Brasserie de France café.”
When they got out of the taxi, Salim thought: “Their clothes are scruffy. Perhaps they sleep in a seedy hotel like the first hotel I didn’t sleep in yesterday.” He paid the driver two dirhams and they went into the café.
“It’s a month and a half since we left Tangiers. We’ve begun to get used to our life here, but the problem is that . . .”
“Enough, Dalila,” Samira interrupted her. “Don’t get agitated. You’ll find work too.”
“I haven’t seen your mother since they moved me to another school,” said Salim to Dalila.
The waiter stood in front of them. Dalila ordered a beer, Samira a white coffee, and Salim a beer. “But did your mother agree to you coming here with Samira?”
“I don’t let anyone interfere in my life any more. She wore me out with her advice. I couldn’t stand her when I realised that she wanted to get rid of me. She told me that she was being courted by a very rich man.”
“Be sensible, Dalila. Put on this kaftan. Don’t let people hear us arguing. The man will come this evening.”
“No, I won’t put on this kaftan,” she screamed in her face. Put it on yourself. It suits you better than me.”
“Be sensible,” she said. “You will offer the man and his family some refreshments. Give him the best chance to see your face properly. You are pretty. Be professional when you offer him tea and sweets, be modest. Keep calm. The man is from a well-established Tangiers family, respectable and conservative. Don’t shame us in front of respectable people!”
“What does it matter to me that the man comes from an old, conservative, respectable Tangiers family?” I shouted in her face. “No, I’m still young. I’m not sixteen yet. I don’t know this man and I don’t want to know him. Tell him to look for a proper respectable Tangiers family like his own upper-class lot.”
Dalila fell silent. “And did you see the man who wanted to get engaged to you?” I asked her.
“No. I fled in the evening and spent the night at Samira’s. In the morning, we came here.” Samira put her hands on her knees and smiled from time to time, looking at Dalila with affection and admiration. I looked at Samira with affection too.
“She’s right,” said Samira bitterly. “The same problems were awaiting me. Most fathers are like that now. It’s better to get away from them just as soon as we can.”
“If I can’t find work here, then Samira and I will move to Casablanca,” said Dalila calmly. “It’s the city for work.”
They left the café. A chill breeze wafted lightly over them. Salim stopped a taxi. “Star Cinema,” said Dalila to the driver.
Outside the cinema, I realised that several dozen people’s eyes were following our movements. It was a men’s cinema. I only saw two or three women. I stood between the two of them. I gave Dalila a thousand francs. She was our guide, and she insisted on going to buy the tickets herself. A popular cinema, like the ‘Cazar’ or ‘Capitol’ or ‘American’ in Tangiers.
Samira seemed more serious than Dalila, even though she was the same age or younger than her. Dalila didn’t give back the change. I couldn’t read the titles of the two films being screened together in the same programme.
Salim was yawning when he heard Samira say to a young man beside her: “If you don’t leave me alone, I’ll call the police.”
Someone stroked Salim’s shoulder from behind. “Here you are!” A glass of wine. They drank wine in turns from a single glass here as well, just like in the ‘Cazar’ and ‘Capitol’ in Tangiers. I won’t refuse a glass. The gunshots and shouts of the Red Indians on the screen sometimes mingled with the shouts of the audience. Dalila prodded me with her elbow. “Here’s the second good film beginning.”
We left. Tiredness had robed me of all desire.
At first, Salim had wanted Samira. He didn’t want Dalila. “Taxi,” cried Salim. He no longer wanted to spend the night with them. They lived with two other girls in a single flat. Samira was serious beside him.
“I feel colder in Rabat than in Tangiers,” said Dalila. Salim noticed a movement in Samira’s legs: she was brown skinned, with a face as round as an apple, chestnut coloured hair, and breasts like eggs.
The two girls got out of the taxi and he continued on his way to his hotel. The streets were deserted. “Rabat nights are different from Tangiers nights,” he thought. There, there would be people out visiting the Boulevard and the inside market now.”
He always liked the sun in the morning. He hadn’t slept well. He was walking along, people’s faces passing before him like trees seen through the window of a speeding car. Tireder faces than those he was used to seeing in the cities in the North. I’m here, crushed in this city that I’m visiting for the first time. “Which do you like best, sunset or sunrise?” he had asked his friend Karima in the Picnics Bar one early morning.
She was astonished. “I’ve never thought of the sunrise or sunset before,” she replied, like a puzzled child.
“Try,” he said. “Tell me later which is the more beautiful.”
He met her several times and repeated the same question to her as a joke. Every time, she answered him quite seriously: “One day I’ll try.”
“Start this evening,” he would say to her. “I’ll give you a nice present if you try.”
“Not today. One day I’ll try. I don’t like people who tell me what to do.”
He saw Samira in the distance arranging clothes on the sales cart in front of the arcade. They greeted each other, then he said to her: “I’m going back to Tangiers.”
“Won’t you stay with us one more day?”
“I can’t, I’m working tomorrow.” She put her finger to her temple. “I was going to say something important to you,” she said. “But what was it? I’m often forgetting these days. Ah, I remember! Don’t tell Dalila’s mother that you saw us here. Come back to us one day!”
“And where is Dalila now?”
“I left her sleeping.”
He smiled at her and said goodbye. She waved her hand. He remembered his friend Aziz who had said to him one day: “Sometimes, to feel true love means to be travelling in a train, while your loved one travels in another train in a different direction.” He turned towards her one last time; her smile seemed sad.
I also realised she wasn’t happy about the baby but that she didn’t want to stop it growing inside her. “Have an abortion, if you don’t want it,” I said to her. “No,” she said. “Do you want to cast me into hell? No, do you think I am like you? I am not a criminal.”
The unborn child was imposing itself on us day by day. It was growing, while I was telling myself: “Yet another problem! Its screams will fill the house in what should be its calm and peaceful moments. It will be no different from all the other annoying children in the world. How I hate the screaming of babies! Still, I know that screaming is all a child can do to express himself.”
A week after the birth, I came across a scrap of paper written in a childish hand. The letters had no dots, and the lines were slanting. I showed her the scrap of paper. She threw it away and started to tremble. “Take it away from me. Where did you find it?”
I snatched it back. “I found it slipped inside The Entertainer.”
“Get it out of the house. No, keep it. We’ll look for someone to cancel its effect. A sorcerer’s work can only be cancelled out by a sorcerer as powerful as the first one.”
Clutching the child to her, she started to weep. She was kissing him and stroking his head affectionately. “A curse on all envious women! A curse on me as well! I wish I had been born a man! You men have all the luck. It’s us women that bear your burdens!”
After some effort, full of nausea and uncertainty, I gathered from her that some childless woman must have laid this spell for her to make her sterile and take her fertility from her. I made her understand that it was only a chapter of the Qur’an, written in a confused way and full of mistakes, and that fertility and sterility had no connection with magic. But her delusions were deep-rooted. She took some money and went off to look for a powerful sorcerer who could cancel out the effect of the spell. “A sorcerer’s work can only be cancelled out by a sorcerer as powerful as the first one,” she kept repeating to me, tense and fearful.
“There are demons wrestling in my soul. Curse me for marrying a man like you, afraid of his own shadow!”
After the shock of the spell, she began to suffer from serious nervous attacks. She would ask forgiveness for imaginary sins she had not committed. “What have I done, Lord? I am innocent. They wish me ill. Save me from them. You alone know well what is wrong with me!”
“Recite a chapter of the Qur’an for my sake. Reciting the Qur’an will lessen my woes. Recite a chapter to me. I am so miserable!”
I recited her a chapter or two. After I finished, I asked her: “And now?”
“I feel better now.”
Her high-pitched crying would continue on and off for hours, mingled with the screaming of the child. I’ve married a sick, stupid woman, I thought. I’ll no doubt end up sick and stupid like her. Even the child wasn’t wanted by either of us. What exactly made me marry her? I don’t know. I must have been out of my mind, in despair of waiting to find the girl I dreamt of, hating masturbation. Sex! This is my problem, Salim! Sometimes we would come to blows as the child screamed. Once I shouted in her face: “Enough! You’ve won!”
We confronted each other. We were both panting, miserably, stupidly. “Do you want us to go on?” her looks said to me. “No! I’ve told you you’ve won!” I imagined myself replying.
I divorced her. This was the only solution for her. Her father came to see me. I was out of the house, watching Muhammad Ali Clay beating his English opponent on the television in the café. I found her father waiting for me in front of the house. He told me that we would talk. When we had gone inside, I asked him to sit down but he refused. I could see evil in his eyes. “Why did you hit my daughter?” he asked. “Speak, you bastard. Speak!”
He didn’t wait for me to explain. He threw himself on me and we started to exchange violent blows in this very room. He was biting me and cursing me in that peasant accent of his that I couldn’t understand. When we were tired out, we collapsed onto the bed and he started speaking to me:
“I’ll kill you, you bastard! You don’t know yet what country people are! I saw the evil in your eyes the first day you came to ask for my daughter in marriage. A lot of people told me I’d be mad to give my daughter in marriage to a bastard like you. Everyone knows that you’re a foundling who grew up in an orphanage. God wouldn’t be happy with this relationship. But I took pity on you. I told them it didn’t matter. It’s enough that he’s a man who wants to be like everyone else. He is a Muslim and a Moroccan citizen. Someone told me that your mother didn’t have any fixed religion. I didn’t believe it, but today I believe everything that’s said about you, you animal! You ruined my daughter’s upbringing, then divorced her to wander around in the streets.”
Women and children had gathered at the door. A red foam was . . .
“Men Have All the Luck” [“Al-Rijal Mahdhoudhoun”] was written by Mohamed Choukri in March 1967, and translated by Paul Starkey from Choukri’s collection of short stories Al-Khayma [The Tent], published by Al-Kamel Verlag, Köln, Germany, 2000.