A chattered piece of me

A Funeral Feast

It was on a Sunday evening that I happened to be invited to my cousin’s engagement party. When I arrived to the house at the appointed time, it was already swarming with family members and friends that I scarcely knew half of them. I made my way straight upstairs where the party was supposed to take place. It was a bore to have to wait there until the new weds arrived. I went down and strolled around the house where the women were all engaged in preparing the food and drinks. The way they all worked together made a very deep impression on me. They seemed exactly like an army of corkscrews that could never work properly under less amount of noise.
The cracking and breaking of the dishes was an inseparable part of the noise. There was, however, a woman in whom all my attention and wonder were focused. She was a middle-aged widow with thick eyebrows and a lanky figure who craned her neck over the pots in a goose-like manner to check the seasoning, and who seemed to be the only sensible person in that room. Her attire was a mystery that I couldn’t fathom. She was dressed in a colorful gown of lining, entirely covered with rectangular shapes like coffins and had wrapped the skirts with a black shawl adorned with small and big skeletons. Bahija performed most of the work with meticulous dexterity while the rest of women quarreled over frivolous and petty things that they could not finish unless each one of them approved that it was ready to be served.
I sat on a near coach and watched the swirling and shouting that had not ceased during the entire course of preparation. The whole scene was an immense picture that I couldn’t help pondering upon as I sat gazing intently all around the room, noticing every little change and whisper. It was full of colors, odors and voices that were mingled together and served as the main dish of the feast. It so bewildered my mind that I ventured to ask one of the cook ladies whether I could do anything for help.
‘’Good heavens!’’ She exclaimed in a deafening, hoarse voice as if startled to death by my sudden appearance behind her. She thrust a piece of loaf she was hitherto struggling to hide under her apron in her hand bag, then in an almost inaudible voice she said ‘’No, stop roaming around and go take a seat somewhere.”
There was another woman who caught my attention for the rest of the evening. She was a relative of mine, yet I knew not what was precisely the nature of our relation. The only thing I knew about her was that she was perceived as the wisest elderly in my father’s family, and was accordingly respected by everyone. Seldom when someone dared to address her with her name. I believe her name was Lkbira, the ‘’oldest’’, but she had another name which I heard she disliked very much and which she had changed to Lkbira a couple of years before she got married.
The respect which everyone showed her was so apparently infused with suspicion and fear. During the whole evening, she sat immobile on a chair facing the working women who seemed to grow more stressed and uneasy by her piercing looks. Her silence said worse than words of admonition could do. They were aware of her criticism through every quick glance she darted at them whenever something went wrong that they were obliged to avoid meeting her eyes lest they aggravated what was already a huge mess.
I followed the events with growing interest, waiting eagerly for the old woman to speak. Her stern countenance and craggy face showed no feelings whatsoever. She maintained the same stately figure. Her lips shut and her eyes fixed on one direction.
Dinner was finally served and the women were only slightly relieved, for Lkbira still stared at them as she did before. A most unfortunate woman approached her in an attempted to wake her from what she thought a prolonged reverie. The former, like a frozen status collapsed on the bare ground and a scream followed that she was dead.
‘’Oh horrid! Of all days, she chose to die this night!’’ was the immediate exclamation of the bride who received the news with extreme mortification and unutterable bitterness.

How could I not remember?

One of our old neighbours had a seven years old son. Yassin was two years younger than me. He was a mischievous, naughty child, and a great source of trouble to his parents. We could always hear his mother battering him, when she was not being battered herself by her drunken husband. This latter was too much older than his poor beautiful wife Samira. He was a toothless, brown-skinned, thin-figured, cadaverous old man who worked as a second-rate officer. It was in Ramadan when I had first visited this family, accompanied by Yassin who asked me to help him with his homework. His mother was not there. His father lurched to and fro from the kitchen to the bathroom, before he at last sat on a sofa near us. He kept searching at me every now and then, but I pretended to be immersed in explaining some simple mathematical equations to his son.
“Yassin!” the father suddenly erupted. “Go and bring me a packet of cigarettes before all the shops close.”
Yassin jumped from his place. He was relieved to have a short rest from the head-breaking equations. He begged me to finish them by myself and ran downstairs before even waiting to hear what I had to say about it.
I looked up from the papers, his father was still smiling at me in the same weird manner. “Come and sit here, you must be tired” he said, patting softly on the sofa with his ugly skeleton hand and looking more sharply at me the more I seemed to hesitate. At last, he made me acquiesce by pulling me suddenly from the floor.
He caught my small helpless face between his haggard hands and kissed me violently. I was paralyzed, dizzy, I almost puked when he finally released his clutch and disappeared in the kitchen. I stood nervously looking for a way out before he comes back. The only door leading down stairs was on the other way, next to the kitchen. I was shaking from head to toe, trying hard to force some thought out of my numb brain. At last, I ran towards the door, which first was reluctant to open, my hands seemed to lose strength the more I pressed harder. In a sudden blow, it was opened, making an audible creaking sound, as though the very door wanted to keep me inside. Without looking back, I descended the stairs hastily. I could barely feel my legs. The first person my eyes met when I stepped outside was my father. He yelled at me, gave me a hard blow on the back of my neck for going into other people’s houses. I was dumb with silence, that I quit trying to give him any excuse.
Ten years later, a girl asked me when was the first time I faced sexual harassment. “Well, I cannot really remember, it had been long ago.” I replied in a joking manner, my voice sinking down my throat and refusing to ever come up again.

A promising future

It felt as if it were the beginning of a new fairy tale, or more precisely a recast of some old story, like that of Petrarch. But it was somehow different, in that I was but a normal girl, trying my best to impress my professor, who probably knew nothing about my infatuation or even cared to heed a passion that was forbidden from coming to light. I was equally careful not to do something stupid that would make him think that I was a silly, or child-like girl, and I could by no means allow anyone to depreciate the kind of love I had for him, even if that person was my professor himself.
I was a bit reticent when it came to taking small steps towards something risky. But I liked it. Shaking his hand was something I never thought of doing, for he always kept his distance and I was equally careful not to do something stupid that I might regret later. The moment our hands touched it felt as if the whole space surrounding us disappeared. Noises gradually grew dim in my ears. All I could feel was his hand in mine and all I could see were his beautiful sparking eyes staring down at me.

It ended where it began

And so my feelings waned, like the dry maple leaves in an autumn evening, they were carried with the cold, merciless winds. I sat there, speechless, my heart almost numb, holding my hands to my ears, so as to deaden that voice that had been beseeching me. I was conscious of the whole thing altogether. I liked him, but perhaps I lacked the courage to face him with the truth. I thought it would be best to quit this futile matter. If there was anything that I would hate most about my unstable and erratic feelings, it would be the consequences of acting on them.

Ghizlane Elguil