Excerpts from my unpublished novel: THE ANKLET OF TINHINAN
The shabbily starlit sky was of dark-blue attire. A cohort of illuminations made up, by proxy, for the somber celestial koubba of the White City.
From the fifth floor, thirty-five-year-old Maciva, who was still up in the dead of the night despite her tiredness, recorded passively the few uproars coming up from the nearby port. At her far right, the Memorial of Martyr, also feebly illumined for this March night, and at the top of which a red light served as a signal light for both boats and planes (who knows ?), seemed to guard the Algiers’s sleeping dwellers¾and squatters, for sure.
The Algiers Bay was alive of days’ churned-out froth. Below this French-style building, two tortuous queues of parked cars zipped up the already miniature street, waiting for the traffic bottlenecks of morn.
Maciva, her brown hair winnowing in the night breeze and bare slim arms resting on the aluminum sill of the wide sliding window, glanced down at a line of poor palm trees, overwhelmed by quotidian emitted car gazes.
The feminine voice of Al Jazeera’s newsreader, Algerian-born and trained Khadidja Benguenna, called on Maciva’s suddenly awakened mind. A Palestinian is slain every one hour…At the pace of slaughter, these marooned people of the Middle East’s most raped land, would one day go extinct like dinos. The shame would be tarbooshing the heads of docile onlookers of the Arab Umma. ‘From the Ocean to the Gulf,’ as unflagging, ageless Arab rulers would articulate, ‘the condemnation is unanimous, stern and sustained!’ Certainly like their compelling golden thrones! Always athirst for extending their years of unduly caliphate, they make sure that the only interchangeable piece of furniture next to their rooted thrones is a wooden coffin! Still, they perhaps dream of an afterlife remake of their turbid life!
Maciva was so absorbed in hammering away at the Arabian rulers’ turpitudes, that she did not feel her barefoot son getting up from his bed and coming up to her so closely, just behind her waist. “Oh, my darling Yidir,” she said, as she turned back, crouching to hug him tightly.
“I’m thirsty, mama,” he whispered in her ears.
“Oh, my baby. Sorry.” She stood up and fetched a glass of water. She cupped the glass and helped him drink about two-thirds of it. She gulped down the last third.
“Mama, I want to pee.”
“Okay. Come with me.”
When she bedded him down back in his bed, five-year-old Yidir urged his mother to narrate him a story before sleeping back. It was true that Maciva had been getting him used to every fallen night. His fragile head posed on the Pokemon-patterned pillow and the other part of his body covered by a yellow-striped eiderdown. He looked up at Maciva, alacritous to be fed with a fable.
She reached out her palm in slow motion for cosseting his plump cheeks. “Which story would you like to hear my pet?”
“Belajut!” he muttered, innocence in shroud.
“It’s a long story. Don’t you want to sleep, Yidir?” She bent her head a bit, their faces being just one inch from each other. “Once upon a time, lived a young man whose name was Belajut. He was orphan at the age of five. He had just a miserable red-tiled hut, passed on him by his defunct parents. In fact, his modest hut was divided into two parts. By the corner, a tiny part at the left of the wooden door provided an in-hut den for his only she-goat. Of course, piled-up ash logs made up a barrier from the other part of his hut, where he managed to make it a sound¾but not necessarily an inodorous¾living. His hut was situated at midway of the village he thought belonging to and the vale where a rivulet would just flow in winter and spring.” She paused to let it sink in for her unique child.
And Yidir to ask, somnolence being hard to overcome him, “Did he go to school?”
Maciva smiled at him warmly. “Not at all! He lived in a time when there existed neither school nor electricity. His village was nested high in the green mountains. People lived on farming their lands and raising their tamed animals. Goat, sheep, hens, rabbits, cows and donkeys. Belajut had his own small land at the border of the rivulet. The land was comprised of, to be exact, three fig trees, one plum tree, one walnut tree, two pomegranate trees, one medlar tree, and two red cherry trees.” She held his fingers in hers to count him that Belajut had had, in all, in his orchard ten fruit trees.
“He was surely happy to have ten trees, mama?”
“Yes, indeed. Besides, he cultivated vegetables. Then, he had goat milk, fruit and vegetables. For the time of his living it was quite complacent a possession. What encouraged Belajut to love and plow his land, was the abhorrent attitude of the villagers toward him. Belajut did not know the reason, but he promised himself¾and his goat¾to dig up the truth, sooner or later. The few times he would show up in the overlooking village, he felt his wool-clad back bitten by strange and fiend eyes. And Belajut was so shy that he dared not clash with the villagers. He just made his visits to the village less and less frequent. He only attended funerals. As to marriages, when the few people remembered to invite Belajut, he would always s excuse himself after congratulating the newly wed couple with a basketful of fruit and a jar of caprine milk.”
“Had he got some friends?”
She wetted her lips before saying, “Unfortunately, no. His only friends were his goat and the birds pecking at the fruit of his orchard.”
Yidir’s countenance felt for the poor Belajut. “If I were living in his time, I’d have been a faithful friend to Belajut, played with his goat, and helped him taking care of his ten trees.”
Pleased that her growing up child had such a sensitive heart, Maciva said, “I’m proud of you, Yidir. You’re the last hope I’m holding to in my life. May God protect you, my dear son.”
He straightened up to be folded by his mother’s arms. The hug was strong and warm. Maciva’s jet-black eyes started to well as some drops made their way down onto her cheeks, moistening slightly Yidir’s white-T-shirted left shoulder. He felt secure against the bosom of his mother, not knowing the upset noesis of hers when at this very strong moment dormant chagrins got up tormenting her mind unremittingly.
Yidir pulled back as he realized that something had gone wrong with his endeared mother. “Mama, why are you weeping?” He extended his dwarf hand up under her eyelids, collecting with the tips of his cherubic fingers some drops of her tears.
“Am I crying, truely?” she just retorted, finding no other words to utter at his brusque question, ridden with sorriness.
“Someone hurt you, mama?”
“No. What are you talking about, sonny?”
“I’m a man now. I can combat anybody who dares harm you. Believe me.”
Her followed her tears, and if her were compared to the sun’s rays and her tears to the droplets of rain, Yidir could extraordinarily contemplate a facial rainbow of his mother!
“Now, you must sleep, sweet bunny. It’s late for a child of your age. Okay?”
“It’s a long fable as I told you. I promise you every night I’ll narrate you a bit of it. I’m sorry, dear son. Tomorrow, I’ve a lot of work to do. And I’ve to wake up before seven.”
He resignedly accepted to turn in. Maciva kissed him on his forehead, checked he was well covered, then switched off the light.
Maciva stretched alone in her double-bed. The darkness of her room made her feel comfortable. She disliked the intense light, be it natural or man-made. The light shone just to let her see the harsh moments she had been hauling, living, shoeing, wearing, espousing, kissing and licking. For her, darkness had virtues: not to see, and not to be seen. She had not studied philosophy at university, but she could easily make out the philosophy of her own life¾hard life. Wasn't it the bright daylight of August that brought her bad news of her sister, Tinhinan, who committed suicide without warning? Wasn't it, too, the moonlight of May that triggered off her abrupt divorce? ‘You’re divorced!’ he had sentenced. Thrice. Maciva, found it funny¾and bitter¾that she had married him in May and got divorced from him five years later in the very same month. Fortunately, the irony of fate denied all-all accomplishment as the days mismatched. The two diametrically opposed days were nine days apart. In two months, it would have passed one year since her morale-defeating split. And nine months since her salt-rubbing wound of her sister’s unscheduled, irreversible departure. Twin misfortunes, Maciva thought.
So, wound ought to be different in size, deepness and acuteness. Maciva admitted to herself that her sister’s death was bigger, deeper and sharper than her divorce. She knew well that there would be no cure to the stigmata left, even though unsolicited, by her big sis, Tinhinan. Actually, Tinhinan was two years older than Maciva. Instead of offering a nosegay of daisies in the upcoming May’s sixth anniversary of their wedding, and as the wind of divorce shifted the direction of pollen, Maciva would disconsolately lay a wreath for her dead sister on August. Mournful summer. She had been so shocked that she barely broke down. Buried beside her long-dead father, Tinhinan could find under what lacked her above: paternal tenderness. Maciva did not need to close her watery eyes to see back the gloomy miasma of that gloomier family day, come to delete a second member of her family nineteen years later. Why have you done this, Tinhinan? Did we need another monumental loss? Have you ever thought about our decades-long grieving mother? It was unfair from your side, dear Tinhinan. You were graduated in History, and now you constitute a harrowing History of our splayed, dismembered family.
Maciva could never recover from the unforeseen parting of Tinhinan on that broiling August. It was she who had discovered the inert body of black-robed Tinhinan; a lasso around her bluish neck, bulged eyes, bloodless face, sere and creviced lips, red-coral-embossed silver earrings, uncombed black hair, shoeless slender feet flailing half a meter above the wet floor of the bathroom. The scene of the horror had been unbearable, mind-paralyzing, and body-electrocuting, beyond screaming. Maciva’s first reaction when she had finally come to was to dash on toward the kitchen. She had been in a pother fishing for the oops knife. Climbing on the chair Tinhinan had used to stage suicide, Maciva cut like a mad, all sobbing, the oops beige rope which was hanging down from the ceiling. She had almost tumbled down from the chair as she held the relatively heavy cadaver of Tinhinan ¾do corpses gain weight? She loosened the loop, slammed Tinhinan’s cheeks for a desperate resuscitation, ear-probed her chest for a more desperate, beatless, shut-down cherished heart…
At this woeful sequence, Maciva stopped living back the familial calamity of that second Monday of oops August. She turned on her belly, slithering her right cheek from one extremity of the pillow to the other, always in the dimness. She would, since her sister’s great loss, experience nightmares before sealing off the eyelids. It was very difficult for Maciva to surmount two three-month interspaced mishaps. Destiny had not pampered her. Not at all. Work in Algiers compelled her to live away from her diabetic mother, shacking in the high mountains. Many times Maciva had tried to convince her mother to come stay with them (she and Tinhinan), then with her, a grass widow living in a heart-rending Algerian society, deeply metamorphosed by scuzzy terrorism and crawling pauperism, while the oil barrel had been crescendoing over one hundred wings.
Her ex-husband became, as the months crept by, sheer anathema to her the seldom moments he deigned popping up to see their child, Yidir. Hocine’s leman might be strict! His compendious verdict of that oops night of mid-May was still piercing her spirit like disintegrating nails of different sizes. How after five harmonious years of marital life he made up his mind parting with her? Though she recognized that her ex had been a good divorcer. In record time, he had left her this apartment situated in the heart of Algiers, paid the due divorce costs, then went his way, lithe that his pettifogger got him things done hastily, neatly and efficiently. His rank, Maciva full knew, alas, permitted him to act up so. Who can deter him not to ? Her widowed mother? Her gone sister? If Maciva could just find out the reason of his bold decision. She would dedicate the remaining years of her lifespan to unearth the rationale, if any, of her divorce as well as of her sister’s sudden death. It would not be a walk in the park, she owned to herself, before she melted into a sound sleep in the dark.
Imene lived in Belouizdad (formerly Belcourt), Algiers. Belcourt had once been Albert Camus’s refugium over which is located the cave of sixteenth-century famous writer Miguel de Cervantes, who having been enslaved by Algerian corsairs in 1575, had spent five years inside it before he was freed. Her sixth-floor seafront apartment belonged to her husband, Yunes. It was the fourth year of their marriage. Still, no child in the womb. Chores of home bored her as the emptiness of flying days overcame her unmet hopes. However, today there would be some change. Feriel, her sister, would be coming along with Maciva. Imene had not seen her before, but she guessed to welcome a Tinhinan lookalike.
Around ten in the morning, the expected guests belled at the door. Imene covered hastily her head, by reflex, with a makeshift charmeuse, and then paced to open the door but not before checking at the peephole. She saw two women and a child. Heard some chat.
She opened the door.
Feriel, Maciva and Yidir walked in the calm apartment. Indoors, heartfelt hugs followed. Feriel and Imene, first. Imene and Maciva, second. And Yidir, last.
Yunes’s Friday oversleep came to an end in the bedroom as feminine voices reached him. Of course, he knew well of the visit of his sister-in-law and Maciva. When Imene had informed him two days before, he showed gratified comprehension on the grounds of Maciva’s throes. He now switched on the television, stretched out under the crumpled sheets which sent off the aftermaths of last night’s lovemaking.
So, in the living-room the merriment set in. Imene, scarfless now, provided her three houseguests with coffee, milk and plenty of homemade pastries. “I hope you’re feeling comfortable,” she said, taking care of Yidir, first.
“It’s kind of you,” Maciva said.
Feriel told Maciva, “We’ve done nothing special. Feel at home in here.”
“Sure. Thanks for you two.”
Yidir drank his milk with pastries timidly, not paying so much attention to the discussion of the three womenfolk.
Imene held Maciva’s hands and said, with all her heart, “Maciva. I don’t know how to tell you the sorrow I’ve been hauling since Tinhinan’s sudden departure. What's more, I could never forgive myself missing her burial¾”
“Oh, never mind. It wasn’t your mistake,” Maciva cut in, wet-eyed.
“I know it’s not easy to pull through from what happened to you. Yet, life must go on.” Imene paused, caught the eye of Feriel who shortly afterwards walked Yidir to the balcony for some fresh sea-breeze.
Maciva did not know from which angle she would take on the matter of her visit. Or enquiry? Proceed by asking basic questions, she thought. “How did you know Tinhinan?”
“We studied together at the University of Algiers. History. I acknowledge Tinhinan’s smartness.”
“Yes, she stuck to her studies,” Maciva avowed. “She was always digging for more knowledge. Bibliophilic, I’d say.”
Imene added: “God knows how many hours she had spent at university’s library. She drew forth great admiration from former graduation mates.”
Maciva weighed up Imene’s meritorious responses for a while, with a mouthful of moderately sugared coffee, and a maqruta as well. Since her divorce, she lost interest in cooking home pastries. Pastries go well with marital life not with divorcee’s, she used to think. “Do you happen to know the reason of Tinhinan’s suicide, Imene?”
Imene swallowed her saliva at the outspoken question. “No. I’m just wondering as you. Poor Tinhinan. She was a candle of too-rare wax.”
“The last time you met her?” Maciva needled.
“A couple of weeks before her death. Last days of July,” Imene replied, thinking she had wriggled out of the subtle inquest.
But Maciva charged. “What about the foundation, of which you’re a founder-member, Tinhinan had created?”
The disconcertment of Imene grew sultrier. “Oh, it was just a non-profit, voluntary organization, leaguing former History grads, not more.”
“Is the foundation still in activity?” insightful Maciva bespoke.
“We’d meet sporadically since Tinhinan’s departure.”
“Who’s running the foundation now?”
Imene tried to keep a stiff upper lip. “Suad. She lives in Oran.”
“Do you think there’s a link between the foundation’s goals and my sister’s enigmatic death?”
Stuporous Imene bit her underlip. “Maciva, are you talking seriously?”
“Yes, I really am. Tinhinan wasn’t a psychopathic, you know. Do you find it’s just sheer coincidence that her suicide occurred two months after the foundation’s creation? Come on, Imene!”
“Please, Maciva! Her death hurt me too. At times, I ask myself if it’s realty we live in or nightmares we’re enshrouded with. Do you believe in destiny?”
Maciva stared up at a painting featuring the Bay of Algiers, devoid of boats, foamless waves rolling towards the shoreline which was crammed with giant crabs and scorpions. Surrealistic, she guessed. “I believe in the relativity of destiny. It’s like dough; certainly, we’re not responsible of the amount we’re given to kneading, but we’re responsible for the shape we give it!”
Half-smiling Imene said, “You and Tinhinan share the same philosophic view. Inheritance does a good job.”
“Yet, I’m against suicide,” Maciva pointed out. “Algerian people committing suicide are on the rise. A social headache, no?”
“Islam forbids killing oneself. Sorry to say, people are in one side of the river, and Islam being in the other side. No reason can account for the suicide.”
The hour ticked eleven-fifty-two. Yunes finally rolled out of bed, groggy in his white underpants. The guests made him confine in the bedroom for circa two hours, during which he jumped slothfully from one channel to another. When he heard the doorway’s slam, synonymous of goodbye, he felt relieved, saved and freed. He put on his scuffs, advanced toward the window, pulled back the plum curtains to let spring’s rays bleed through, and glimpsed at the near glowing sea.
Imene came in. They kissed.
“Your breakfast awaits you, darling,” she told him, still feeling lustfully the arms of her husband around her hips.
“I’ve to take a bath, first. Friday’s prayer is one hour away. ”
“The bathroom ran out of water. You’ve to do it in public showers.”
Yunes looked exasperated, freed his hands. “Even in Friday, they let us without water. Unbelievable. Will come the day when they’ll cut off oxygen. ”
Caring Imene said, cattily, “Don’t worry, dear. I’ll breathe air into your lungs!”
The Act II came off with heat, doggy-style, till climactic come, seven minutes later.
“Oh, time’s flying,” Yunes said, all satiated.
Imene helped him prepare bath paraphernalia. The time being, Yunes changed his clothes.
“By the way,” he talked from the wardrobe, “what’s the motive of Maciva’s visit?”
Stuffing Pentene shampoo and towel in the bag, she replied, "She thought I knew the actual reason of her sister’s last year’s suicide.”
“What do you mean?”
“Nothing, Imene. Drop it.”
“Tinhinan did what she judged the ultimate choice for her. I’m also trying to unlock the mystery of her death. ”
“What’s for, dear? Dead heads aren't going to come back, anyway.”
“Tinhinan’s loss is an open wound for Maciva. Occurred shortly after her harsh divorce. Two mishaps, you see. ”
“That’s life. We'll discuss that further later, dear. I’m too late now.”
Imene fell silent, while sperm cells were still swimming up to her desperate ovary.
Maciva celled her mother at one p.m. Having lunched out, she felt free to deserve an intermission of cooking at least on Fridays. As for Yidir, she had him take a siesta. His moderate snores broke the apartment’s stillness. He might have contracted tonsillitis, she was afraid.
A male voice responded on the other line. It was her only brother, older than she by three years. He was serving now as a municipal militiaman¾blue-uniformed and Simonov-armed for the majority, a corps created during President Liamine Zeroual’s term in the 1990s to help other established security forces eradicate ever-regenerating terrorism. “Hello, my dear sister,” he said.
It had been just ten days since she had called home. Tears were unavoidable, though they could not be seen by her brother. “How are you, Jamel?”
“Fine, Maciva. And Yidir? ”
“He’s fine, too. He’s napping right now. ”
“We miss you. Most our mother. ”
“Pass her to me. I can’t tell you, my dear brother, how I’m feeling a stranger in Algiers. Work doesn’t allow me to rejoin my home of birth. ” Maciva heard a shush.
The voice was deep-throated. “Good afternoon, my dear daughter. I miss you too much. How’s my dear grandson, Yidir, the handsome? ”
Tears swelled on Maciva’s cheekbones. “Mother, I miss you to a high degree. Don’t exert yourself too much. Take rest now. Your health is more important than farming chores. Jamel works. I work. We both give you enough money to live on. ”
“Oh, dear Maciva. I'm used to plowing and sowing my small land. I can’t let it down for any reason. It's not a matter of money. I feel healthier working in the field than being imprisoned at home. ”
“You know, mother¾Yidir is fond of Belajut’s tale. The very tale you would tell us when we were little girls, me and Tinhinan. They were old good days, mother.”
A short silence set in on the distance. Her mother was weeping a bit. Tinhinan’s remembrance brought out wounds that would never heal over the time. Too many interwoven things recalled them of the blackest day of all their life.
Jamel looked down, piteous. Living one hundred and fifty kilometers apart, like two cut-off branches having originally the same deep root, the family members shared the unwritten heritage of Tinhinan’s loss. No comeback. Just heart-bleeding flashbacks carved on the surrounding Djurdjura Mountains.
Between times, Maciva asked herself in the folds of nights, how her mother could bear plowing the soil, which half a kilometer away down their pastoral house ate, bit by bit, Tinhinan’s cherubic body. The paradox of soil, that is, which allows seeds to germinate and bodies to terminate, worms to move earth and bodies to be removed from above world, roots to sustain life above and bodies to sow the seeds of sorrow among alive relatives above.
“Maciva ¾ ”
“Don’t you need anything?”
“Mother! I’m okay. My work meets my needs. All I hope is, seeing you all again as soon as possible. ”
Maciva could not levee the overflowing tears. “Mother, next week-end I’ll try to convince my employer to give me a leave of three or four days.”
“Anyway, my dear daughter, don’t worry about that. I’ve enough forbearance for all life’s trials. ”
“Sure, mother. Take care of yourself. May God keep you for us, mother. You’re our last perfume of the family ”
And her mother repeated the same words to her only living daughter.
“If I have survived to the shooting in the darkness of those jellybabies, I know I’m not going to die anymore for at least one hundred years! I told him it’s too great a risk, but he judged it was worth making it off. I looked lame about it, though.”
“I guess you’re really nutty, Kaddur. A truck full of kif! And they’ve been after your butt for sure since your unbelievable escapade.”
Kaddur shot him a side yellow-toothed grin and then said, “You’re not going to chicken out now, Ahmed? I’ve chosen to hide out by your raunchy nest for safety, the time it takes the government’s to-do to die out. And if I’m not raving, I’m in the right place. In good hands, smelling of kif!”
Ahmed, lanky as a Somalia’s bull, lit his second joint of the night. “Can you tell me one thing? If I’m not mistaken, you’re a myrmidon of a local Escobar? The load you’ve tried to smuggle in wasn’t a laughing matter. Who’s the new ghoul of white chocolate?”
Kaddur, feet in a blue basin of salted hot water, enjoyed the coziness of warmed up calves. He had so run, walked on up and down, also jumped, during his two-day getaway, even throwing
doubt upon his shadow out of scares. That fizzled-out night could have propelled him to grab headlines nationwide and worst of all, bite the dust by way of sizzling bullets or book a lifetime mitten mattress in jail. He could have taken refuge in Oran, where did live his married sister, but he preferred utmost safety by lurking, until further notice, if any, at Ahmed’s hideout, at some eighty kilometers east of Oran: Mostaganem.
The hut was rooted between a mountain of growing garbage and an anarchically favela-ing dusty/muddy deforested area, far from blind authorities. Four bare brick walls, and a makeshift ceiling that even a bird could build craftier, made up the better-than-nothing hole. Anyway, it was out of official peeping eyes.
“He’s,” recovering up Kaddur rejoined, “the son of a holy warrior, believe it or not. His father had freed the country.The son is silly up the land in the four directions, that’s that. His father must have been freedom-addicted, the son kif-addicting poor youths.”
Ahmed, with his face drowned in a thick halo of smoke, laughed before saying, “Do you think the big fish will one day cop it from Mother Justice?”
“I tell you one thing, old chum. Mother Justice is a freak in the hands of powerful people, bathing, as much my feet are now, in the waters of impunity. The gaffer has enough money to buy off the judiciary machinery. Of course, I’m the fuse to be burned down in case they tool my butt.”
“You’re not going to duck for the whole life?”
A two-minute silence followed, during which Kaddur lifted both his relaxed feet, drying them with a raddled towel that even a rat would not take for a sewage rag.
“I’ll ask him money, if you see what I mean. I’m fed up with living like a despised fella.”
Smoke cleared out now from Ahmed’s visage, the time it would elapse till the next lit joint. “Where does he live, the ghoul?”
“The City of Immorality, that is, Algiers. All imperious warriors of the twenty-fourth hour connive there. Fishing in the murky waters of Algiers Bay.”
“Excuse me, Kaddur, but I dare say Oran ranks second in terms of sins!”
Kaddur laughed throatily, this time. “Look what we’ve become, you and me, instead. Where do we live? It looks like we’re clean-handed, which isn’t the case, you see. We all deserve dirt, don’t we?”
“We’re living in a lit-up dirt,” Ahmed pointed out, not without lighting his third joint. “I lost everything. I’m forty-three, you know. My entire family was slaughtered on the bloody January night. In Holy Ramadan, at that! Had Chekala I hate since 1998. I left that land, to escape the ghosts of mutilated souls. I’d rather live like a rat in this hut than go back there. Losing in one night a spouse and her five tots and my sister and my parents and four cousins, isn’t easy to forget. Even these silly joints I’ve been drawing have yet to heal my bloodied sorrows. May God will take revenge of them.”
Kaddur felt sorry for Ahmed’s erased family. He was the only surviving log, as trunk and branches had been sliced off without mercy, and to cap it all, the authorities had advised him to plant for every cut off head a tree, in reprisals to witnessed atrocities. Joint-fed Ahmed told Kaddur the very details of his family’s demise. How the ferocious beasts had not even spared his seventeen-day-old daughter, Basma. She had innocently smiled at the butchers as they rooted through the wooden cradle. Unfortunately, she had been beheaded in her cradle, before the beasts shoved her bleeding body into the oven. His wife had been raped by a couple of beasts, and then they sawed through her sere breasts on up to her throat. “Even Frence hadn’t done such weird things,” Ahmed threw up his sorrow to moved Kaddur. “How will they face God? I’ll never forgive them, here and There?”
Kaddur’s ire flared up at the thought of what was going on in the Land of Liars. “In this silly country, those who have massacred our sons and daughters, our relatives, our friends, the whole populace, you see, are being granted money and cars and honors, for the dirty services they’d carried out religiously in the woods. Do you see that? But when it comes to drug-dealers, the punishment is the severest. No forgiveness. Camelshit of a land.”
“You’re right, Kaddur. poop is all overlaying the country. There, in Had Chekala, I could smell from here the poop which had been ejected by my butchered family, and the whole tribe, during that night of poop and scares.”
“I can feel your deep sorrow. The misfortune put us together. Do you happen to remember when we met for the first time?” Kaddur asked.
Ahmed put out his half-drawn joint, drank water, and then lay down on the do-it-yourself bed, all squeaking. He joined his hands under his neck, gazing erratically at the ternate ceiling, in the middle of which a black electrical cable held a flickering bulb. “Three or four years ago,” he began recollecting things. “It’s funny you picked me up by the side road. I was hitchhiking near Stidia. You know what? Just a few meters away from the sign post GREENWICH. A summery Saturday, July the twelveth. I wanted to go to swim in Oran’s beaches. Then you pulled out behind your semi’s wheel. Kinda you it was.”
Kaddur was stunned by his mates’ memory as to the details. “Oh, yes. We talked like old blokes. Even swigged some beers, didn’t we? I’ve given it up now, you know. I must prepare my no-return trip to the Other World. It’s time, you know.”
Ahmed kept silent, outwardly, for his inside was lava of rueful lost dears, of crushing agitation, of incurable ailment. At the feet of the Warsenis Mountains, Had Chekala was viridescent year-round, full of blooming life and flowers, of satiated cattle, of merry and humble men and women, plowing lovingly their fertile land. Ahmed sighed overwhelmingly at the umpteenth thought of what had happened afterwards in that unforgettable and unspeakable night, when a deluge of blood was sworn in, red-irrigating the once-green land; bloodied heads everywhere, making up flesh cabbage in a rare choreography of carnage, far from any help. His family, like anonymous others, was offed with utmost care by the bearded beasts. Ahmed was lucky to be away during that cursed night, then working in Oran as a bartender. While he was serving booze to clients, his family and tribe were being decimated for non-sense’s sake. When he heard the news at dawn, he felt Falcon Cape quivering under his feet. Since then, he swore to give up booze, not without switching into joints, to soothe his grievances. Kaddur’s woes held no candle to Ahmed’s visitation.
“Uh? Ahmed?” Kaddur spoke up. “You seem sunken and drunken in your own world? a bit.”
Ahmed twitched his lips, but no word came out. Nothing to be said, after all. The damage had been pooped up. He wished a hurricane had swept through his hut, to get him ridden of yesterdays. Hitchcockian yesterdays.
Saturday evening. Sylvie, deep in her bed, in the silent apartment which the chaos invades…
Reading these lines, in her bed and in her ever stilly apartment, for Yidir had fallen asleep two hours before, Maciva saw herself strangely taking on Sylvie’s character in The Laugh of Laura. Mrs. Sylvie Hasselman, the twin sister of Jocelyne who had breast cancer. Operated by Théo, both the husband of Laura and the paramour of Sylvie, Jocelyne lost all hopes of recovering, and after four years of struggle and hesitation, committed suicide by way of an overdose of the antidepressant MAOI. Jocelyne, Maciva learned further, took bad her missing and ablated breast. ‘What do you want now that I’ve a breast lopped off. I’m crippled, no longer a woman. I haven’t the slightest desire to live more,’ Jocelyne had grouched to Sylvie.
Twin sisters, Sylvie and Jocelyne.
Sisters Maciva and Tinhinan.
Sylvie, a widow, for Mr. Hasselman died as he was forty years older than she, was also the doxy of Théo, whom Mr. Hasselman had befriended.
Maciva began to grasp the first spikes of chaos of her feelings.
Jocelyne made an end to her half-breasted life, concluding that
she was no more a complete woman.
And you, Tinhinan? What lacked you? You’re in your eternal wheel of rest, which I keep on wheeling by my tears of simmering sorrow. I can’t make out the rationale for your suicide. Neither Tewfik nor anybody else did help me unroll your odd suicide. Did you hit off Jocelyne? Have you ever found out something that made you feel a less-woman? The unwritten heritage you bequeathed me is strangling my neck and mind. God knows if I’ll outlive my throes. You see, sister, I speak alone, in this Sylvie-like apartment, like a psychotic, to see what I’ve become since your unscheduled departure, of no-return.
Over the lines, the pages, the chapters, Maciva realized that this awesome novel, the immaterial antechamber which buffered Tinhinan’s spirit of impending suicide, was rife with succeeded individual suicide (Jocelyne), failed attempts (Martin and his girlfriend Ophélie, self-starving), and the referred to collective suicide of the followers of Reverend Jones in Guyana. ‘All love is utopia. All utopia, and then all love, strives to its failure, for the two lead to a static status, a status which has nothing to be desired, and the common end is death. Received or imposed. However, the beginnings are beautiful…’
These bare re-read excerpts made Maciva’s hair on end, and much more as she learned further in the book that a named Marc-André Rondeau was a teacher of history, and more embarrassingly, an aficionado of utopias.
Had Tinhinan adhered to such a weird theory, believed totally in it, and consequently grown aware that death was the hindmost end of her shipwrecked love? Maciva asked the mute yellow corners of the pages.
‘Do you love me? Are you happy? Sign here.’ This always rhymes with utopia, doesn’t it? Ah! Love is a utopia, and the most beautiful portrait of a lover becomes immediately a cage, a hallow effigy, and spike-studded like the ‘Virgins of Nuremberg’. And irrefutably, utopia is one of love’s facets, and it is, undoubtedly, when a man hurries off, with so rage, with so impetus, toward his accomplishment, that he destroys these cute whims with spasm. Thus, triumphant, crashing with his weight the woman or the freedom he has acquired, blows off within himself this last apotheosis ‘nothing can occur to us,’ and, indeed, it is the moment that follows the nuclear blast, the Guyana massacre, the orgasm of whosever, the ecstasies, the azure, the death, the secret of utopias and of Cyther; let’s get on board…’
And Tinhinan got on board! That of death by suicide after her unknown utopias. Now, Maciva would be looking for buried secrets, of her yet buried sister, out of the cursed novel Tinhinan had milked her death from.
Was Maciva making out that she caught a likeness of Sylvie? Sylvie weeps again drop by drop, collects her tears by the end of her tongue as they slide down her fading makeup, and sees herself in the hand glass, pleased of her pesky and desperate face, handed over to its insignificance. She is tired. She does not get up. She will, perhaps, never get up, who knows? She sweeps with her hand the cake crumbs off the bed, scratches her head with her long nails, one of which is broken, and feels that her scalp gives rise to dandruffs she removes a wee voluptuously, again feeling guilty. She is grief-stricken. She is gruesomely soothed. Sometimes, under her already tatty negligee, her hand slips and goes after her breast. Patience. Swollenness will grow…
Maciva patted her forgotten and betrayed breast, which had fed two males: her ex hubby and Yidir. She marked the book at page 241 and closed it. Put it under the pillow, then spurted up the image of Hocine, the man of uniform. He had unilaterally shortened their marital life out of his bestial extravagancies Islam did forbid. She had sloughed off his sexual weirdness. He dissected the sacred bond thrice. For good. And Yidir was the collateral damage between their bed clashes. No dialog was necessary, it was beyond truce as she saw it from her own weakened side. How to do else? She wept on, like Sylvie.
Hocine was a navy officer, stemming from a village about one kilometer from Maciva’s as the crow flies, separated by a green vale. He was born there, yet grew up, studied, and joined navy, in Algiers The Blue. She had met him accidentally whilst she was invited to the wedding ceremony of her student days friend, Ilhem. And it happened that Ilhem was the step-sister of Hocine. He spotted her among all the guests, bewitched by her charm to a high degree, and then asked Ilhem’s help. He spoke to her, then showed off his perks for his being an officer, and got married within nine months. Fast-moving, Maciva lived back the moments she had shared with him. Five oops years, they seemed to her after divorce. She paid her chastity. That’s oops past, she sighed in her gelid, lone bed, stripped of due warmth…
Hocine quit the bed and then lit a cigarette, all naked like Adam’s maiden day on Earth, looking out the window at the far wavering dots of Algiers Bay’s lights. In a week he would hit thirty-eight, eighteen years of which sunken in the navy. He looked high-strung this night, whished he were slumbering in a submarine rather than spitting his muffled desires.
“What’s wrong with you, darling?” Maciva asked, worried in her bed, nude like Eve.
Just puffs of smoke came out of his lips, upwards. He seemed drowned in the unlit seas he was outstaring.
She finally slipped out of bed and came closer to him. She took his cheeks in her hands. “Hocine, speak out, please. Tell me something.”
“Nothing to be said,” he whispered nonchalantly.
“I’m sure you want to reveal me something you’re afraid I know about.”
“Why putting it off?”
“It’s not so urgent.”
“I’m impatient and anxious, can’t wait any longer.”
“I don’t know how to frame it for you.”
“Well, perhaps I can help you out.”
“Sure you could.”
“Have I hurt you or failed to meet your needs?”
“Then?” she implored him.
“I must sleep now. Tomorrow I’ll wake up at six.”
She crossed her bare arms and said, “We shouldn’t let untold problems ruin our life, Hocine. I feel a bit blameable, yet I don’t know why.”
Submarine silence. He just pajamaed himself back after he finished smoking. Got back to bed and pulled the cover up to his haired chest, staring at the put-out television, mulling over.
As she took a clean rose nightgown out of the wardrobe, Hocine unexpectedly torpedoed by saying, “Our love-making is very artless, that’s that.”
She turned back, still holding the nightgown, came to sit on the bed. “Artless? Can you elaborate?”
His tongue untied now. “I mean, we make love like our forebears, that is, unsophisticatedly. They just used to copulate necessary enough to make babies.”
“And what was wrong with that?”
“Past is past. Things have evolved since then. I mean, we’re too conservative in our love-making.”
“Hocine, I’m astonished by your way of thinking. Unload your heart and let me into your preferred menu of love!”
He thought he was freed from concealed caprices and said hopefully, “Love-making like in civilized nations.”
“You mean no moral limits. We’re Muslims, I remind you, dear.”
“We’re legally married, no?”
“We, women, aren’t all created to ply men with unnatural lusts.”
He sighed, flustered. “Maciva! I just wanna enjoy my life like every man, that’s all.”
“Who listens to you, would think you’re the saddest man on Earth. And I find myself, I gather, the culprit.”
“I haven’t said that. Come on, Maciva!”
She was on the brink of crying. Stood up, put her sleepwear on, and joined back her place in the bed, giving him her back in protest.
He reached out his hand to touch her right cheek he realized was wet. “You’re crying, darling?”
“You’ve disappointed me,” she said at a lower voice.
“Don’t make too much of it. We’re just discussing.”
“Such things depreciate women. I’m your wife. God forbids smutty sex in all authentic religions.”
“I don’t need lessons from you,” he shouted.
“Do what seems to you right!”
“Are you defying my virility, Maciva?” he flared up.
“No. You must know I’m defeated and disgusted by your harsh words.”
He jumped out of bed, thought twice by the window, and then torpedoed back, thrice, “You’re divorced!You’re divorced! You’re divorced!”
The time was noon. Yidir, in his red swimming trunks, was merrily building up some shapes akin to sandcastles. His cleverness was evident. The more his sandcastles tumbled down, the more seawater he fetched from nearby lapping-in foamy waves. Maciva appreciated Yidir’s sand-covered naked torso. She was sitting under a hired beach umbrella, featuring mineral water brand-name Ifri, stem of which was stuck through the middle of the square plastic table and rooted in the warm sand. Maciva was dressed in a not-to-swim manner: grenadine skirt topped by a rose short-sleeved body. Her mood was not fit, she felt, to wet her body even on this stifling June day. Actually, she had been for two days in Oran or Wahran.
On this beach of Aïn al-Turck, westernmost of Oran, a near-perfect panorama of the mosaic Algerian society could be limned. For a supposedly conservative society, the beach’s genius loci offered a paradoxical image. It turned out that conservatism, as Maciva now mused in nose-to-nose with the splendid Bay of Aïn al-Turck, was a matter of scale. As to women, the society’s yardsticks of conservatism, the apparel ranged from strict black hijabs or burqas to calico bikinis. In between, the number of swimwears’ combinations was infinite. As for men, their conservatism was less blameful, though on the beach there were bare-torsoed men with briefs or Bermuda shorts or calf-length pants, and T-shirted ones with decent, less shocking swimsuits. For children, the beach’s swimwears mirrored, in theory, their parents’ hazy conservatism, with a looser handgrip for boys compared to girls.
Maciva’s mind was surfing on the back of successive swells when she felt a warm hand on her right shoulder. She swayed her neck to right. “Oh, Suad! Thanks for coming.”
Suad sat down, slinging her handbag around the back of the chair. She was facing the open immaculate blue sea, swarming with swimming bodies. She wore jeans and a sequined short top. “I know I’m late. Sorry.”
In fact, Suad put Maciva up in her home. After having discussed with Imene back in Algiers, she gave her Suad’s phone number. When Maciva had rang up Suad, wishing to talk with her in Oran during summer, she had accepted lovely, and two months later she welcomed Tinhinan’s sister.
Dragging his bare feet on the sand, Yidir came up to the table for a shadow. As he slid back on the chair, Suad caressed his wet, sand-ridden hair. “I see, Yidir is enjoying himself very well,” she told Maciva. Suad kicked her sandals off, feeling the warmth of sand. “What a shame, depriving oneself of a dive!”
“The sea is large and free, isn’t it?” Maciva joked.
“I haven’t got a cozzie on!” Suad said.
Maciva laughed. “Do as all these scarfed women, bloating as they plunge into water with clothes!”
“Not me, anyway. Swim with my dress! Funny, no?”
“Do you know how many shark-like eyes are on us, in case we don our swimsuits?”
Maciva looked onto the sea horizon where a dozen of adventurers were challenging the far rollers. “Conservative men wrap up their wives, then come to behold the bikinied girls here!”
And Suad to say, “If they’re really so conservative as they put it forth, they wouldn’t put their feet on the beach. But they love that, pretending to be shocked at the sight of semi-nakedness! Utter hypocrisy, no?”
“Yes. Freud’s brain might have been baffled by Algerians’ contradictions,” Maciva conjectured.
“And sex-laden frustrations along the way, that’s the core of the story,” Suad concluded.
The two women laughed like accomplices, drowned out, though, in the cacophonous packed beach, over which were hovering unaesthetically sea-moistened buildings and private houses. Sewage rills cut overtly through the sand, bound for the open raped sea. Disgusted, scattered away gulls shrieked in the winds.
Maciva said when her laugh blew over, “I’ve all the summer to get in touch with every person Tinhinan had closely known, shared ideals and projects.”
“I do understand your situation. I still wonder, like you, why such a smart woman,” Suad remembered, “full of energy and entrepreneurship, put an end to her promising life. Back in university days, she was always at the front-line of Students’ Union struggles for the betterment of students’ conditions of life at campuses. We were proud of her. Looked up to her. You can never guess what life withholds for us.”
“Imene of Algiers told me that a foundation was launched by my sister two months before her death. Foundation of which you’re a member, aren’t you? More importantly, always according to Imene, you’re the current president.”
Suad moved with her bare feet the sand. “Actually, it was just a foundation, gathering up history students.”
“The real goals?” Maciva squeezed on.
“Revamping our confiscated history,” Suad replied.
“Be more accurate, please. I’m sick of mysteries. I lost an endeared sister, your friend as well.”
“I feel your sorrows, Maciva. Every lost dear is irreplaceable. Well, the foundation was in its early days. The scope of its actions wasn’t definitely outlined. However, the first scandal we want to tackle is: the unmasking of fake vets of The Algerian War. God knows there’re armies of them, unending like this froth of seawater. The time has come, we still think, to fix up a historical damage that has been dirtying the noble November ideals.”
Yidir remained tame in his chair, mid-way to doze off as the two women’s blabby conversation was all Telugu to him, at the exception of the word ‘Tinhinan.’ He wished his father were with him, to teach him how to swim. His mother bent upon dragging her child along her trail in search of Tinhinan’s enigmatic suicide. Yidir had enjoyed the bus travel from Algiers to Oran. His eyes discovered other foreign sceneries, learned from the mouth of his mother the names of towns and hamlets, ephemeral rivers and defiant mountains.
“And what are your weapons of restoring trumped-up things?” Maciva inquired impatiently.
The Oranese brunette dug with her heel a hole, pondering. She could certainly not avow the foundation’s executive plans, be it carried out, cancelled or put off until further notice. Anyway, she must give an answer to the woman who had crossed hundreds of kilometers to touch the ropes of truth. “The only weapons we do have, are our courage and perseverance. That’s all. Our intentions are to combat pacifically, yet staunchly, the lies and hypes, imposters and traitors of past and present,” Suad stressed.
Maciva looked a bit discouraged, for she had learned nothing of clear-cut relevance. She ventured another question: “Can’t you help me put hands on Tinhinan’s diary for prior clues of her suicide?”
Her Oranese host turned the most robust muscle of human body seven times before conceding, “I’ll give you something useful to your investigation. For in our foundation transparency is a must, we established different emails for each member with a same password to log in. This way you can read your sister’s archives on the web, at length. Could this bring her back to life?”
“Thank you very much, Suad. I’m thirsty of reading her. The sooner, the better, the lightier. You know, even if her body has turned into dust, her mind and memories are still alive in my injured heart. I’ve been feeling a black knot in my heart, in need of whitening and untying.”
Suad thought she should talk frankly. “You know, Maciva, no human being is free of throes and woes. Let me tell you something terrible, as I see and live it, about women’s status in our society: I’m thirty-eight, still unmarried. My mother doesn’t stop saying that when she had my age she had given birth to five tots. Yes, I recognize growing numbers of unwed women hitting thirty, and beyond, is a real social drama. What’s more, I think that it’s more alarming than suicides!”
“I understand you,” Maciva acknowledged, “but ask me and I’ll blind you with increasing divorces for petty reasons. A dude fired his woman for a meal not cooked on time. Another man because his wife told him jokingly that stables are cleaner than his tobacco-stained teeth. Another husband split from his wife after twenty years, for she didn’t inform him that she had loved another man before she knew and marry him. Another man sent his wife back into her parental home, as she didn’t become pregnant after two years of marriage, despite the fact that all medical analyses he had undergone showed his semen was poorly fertilizing. An the best of all, those men who get divorced just because their wives only give birth to females, though modern science has demonstrated males determine the sex, not women.”
Suad felt free to ask, “And why you divorced?”
Maciva looked at somnolent Yidir and told him to wash his face with seawater to awake.
The child obeyed as he seemed bored by women’s echolalia.
“He’s a lazy penguin!” Maciva joked.
“Children are children,” Suad let out.
And Maciva told Suad the incredibly lascivious impetus of the split. “You see, Suad, the drama you mentioned about unmarried women extends to married ones, who suffer from unpredictable men lusting after their resurrected carnal passions.” Maciva unloaded her heart’s burdens for the second time, to be recorded by immortal ripples of waves.
“Your ex-husband was inhuman with you, behaved badly, like a beast,” Suad commented cuttingly.
The look-alike of Tinhinan accepted reluctantly the honed words of Suad, and fancied to know more about her. “So far, I knew nothing about your manly adventures!”
“Oh, it’s a real mess and miss, I’d say. The only man I loved walked on me. Nadir, a physician. He cheated on me with a nurse, and the remaining story is all nothingness. Froth.”
“You see, betrayal was your unwritten dowry,” Maciva said.
To change subject, Suad swiveled to History. “By the way, Maciva, you see the word ‘Ifri’ on this beach umbrella? In antiquity, Oran was named Ifri, which means ‘cave’ in Berber.”
“And Wahran?” Maciva wondered.
Suad, the aficionado of her native city was pleased to share her knowledge about a city which had known since immemorial times a waltz of foreign presence, was it by force, or trade, or pure tourism. “Wahran means a ‘difficult place to access.’ Also ‘the lair of the lions.’ Lions had once roamed Oran. When you come from the eastern side, you make out on the far above the city Mount Murdjadjo, at the feet of which exists a valley. Wahran was successively invaded or occupied by Phoenicians, Romans, and Vandals. Other dynasties set their powers later on, like Fatimides, Almoravides, Almohades, Marinides, and Beni Zian of Tlemcen. Internal rivalries made each dynasty perishable. A Portuguese naval expedition failed in July of 1501 to assault the protected city, as violent winds and storm made their fleet hit rock bottom. They tried to land at Les Andalouses, a dozen kilometers west from here. Wahran was so a prosperous city that Spaniards conquered it on 17 May, 1509, led by Count Pedro Navarro. They had ruled it during two centuries, until 1708 when the Turks, led by Bey Mustapha bin-Yussef, set their governance. But not for so long time, for in 1732 Spaniards came back and were victorious following a battle they won right here in Aïn al-Turk by Count of Mortemar. And that’s not the end of the story. A terrible earthquake, in the small hours of 9 October 1790, ripped through the city, flattening almost all houses, killing more than 3000 at that. Following this calamity, Spanish King Charles IV lost interest in onerous and perilous Wahran, handed it over to Mohamed al-Kebir in 1792. I hope I’m not blinding you with History?”
Maciva said, “Not at all. By hearing you, I call back my sister. Anyway, go ahead, Suad. It’s fascinating what you’re telling me.”
Suad drank water then resumed the epopee of Wahran. “Wahran had generously welcomed a thousand out of the 200,000 Jews Isabelle the Catholic kicked out of Spain on Tuesday, 31 July of 1492. Not to mention thousands sent-off Moresque Andalusians, always out of Spain, who fled reluctantly Grenada, Cordoba and Cartagena. Also, Wahran was subject to decimating epidemics over the past centuries. What’s more, the father of sociology Ibn Khaldun was enthralled by the city and had once written, I quote: ‘Wahran outruns all the other cities as to trade. It’s the paradise of the poor, who comes insides its walls poor and leaves it rich.’ I tell you this legend: In 1847, a horrifying cholera pervaded the city, along with a long, hard drouth. Then Wahran’s bishop headed a procession of all inhabitants, all unshod, in his hands a figurine of Virgin Mary, up to Mount Murdjadjo where had been built Spanish Fort Santa Cruz at Peak Aïdur in 1698. Actually, from Cabo de Gata, you can see Peak Aïdour when the weather is cleared. They implored the bounty of Virgin Mary. And the following day, the rain poured in, washing out cholera! Paying tribute to Virgin Mary’s miracles, Santa Cruz Chapel was erected, which is now the most visited site in Wahran.”
A melting pot of passed and present civilizations. Those who missed Oran’s hallmarks, could not grasp the resplendence of the city of departed pop singer Ahmed Wahbi, assassinated playwright Abdelkader Alloula and legendary raï music singer Cheb Hasni.
Maciva was entertained to stop over Sea-Front, French-designed Place d’Armes, where stood two statues of legendary lions (by famous French animal sculptor Auguste Nicholas Cain in 1888), which once roved the city, Les Andalouses, Aïn al-Turck, Santa Cruz, and Oranese Corniche overlooking the lovely sea.
The hour ticked 12:53 P.M., when two divorcees’ worn lives crossed the 175-meter-high, 160-meter-long metallically wire-suspended Sidi M’Cid Bridge, over ravine-framed Constantine or Qsentina. Astraddle of Oued Rhumel, it dates back to 19 April of 1912, as the sign says, designed by Ferdinand Arnodin. It makes two cliffs lovemaking. Soraya had to pay a visit to a sick-abed friend in Benbadis Hospital.
“I’m sorry,” Soraya began to apologize, “that the first spot of your tour is a hospital.”
“Oh, don’t bother yourself about that. Feel free to fulfill your duties,” Maciva assured her. It had been three hours since she had landed in this picturesque millennia-old city, which goes back beyond assessed times. Just imagine a city built astride canyons! The first impression Maciva had had, was the crowdedness of this eastern city of glorious men over the millennia, like King Massinissa, Ahmed Bey, Abdelhamid Benbadis, and Malek Haddad, to name a few. Abuzz, packed with human moving waves, Carthaginian-era known Sarim Batim made the bridges rock.
Later on, Maciva learned that the patient was a beaten woman, with swollen eyes and lips her husband had brought about, just because she went out shopping without his knowledge. Assia was her name. Naturally, her husband sealed the divorce he was so long waiting for, as four years of wedding denied them a too-dreamed child. Where is the gazelle late Cirta’s writer, Malek Haddad, had hoped to gift to a woman instead of bruises? Maciva wondered. Jumped off the bridge? Could the ‘Quai aux Fleurs’ respond to her angling?
Sitting on the side of the bed, while Maciva was standing, Soraya said to Assia, “May God heal your bruises. Will you sue your unmerciful ex husband?”
Assia, her head sunken in the white pillow, lips ajar, half-closed her eyes and kept silent for a moment.
Soraya and Maciva exchanged worrying glances. The three women had a common stump of sorrow: harsh divorce. Though the sorrow of Maciva was grimmer, for the suicide of her sister deepened the sorrow further.
Assia moved her lips to talk in a low, desperate tone. “Let that down. I can’t afford it. The man has connections everywhere. Money. Influence. Marring a woman is tolerated, anyway. It is the least right we do owe them.”
Soraya lived in Sidi Mabrouk with her mother, who suffered high-blood pressure. The father of the house had died since nine years, just one year after the son, Faruq, had joined the army in Setif. He would come home every other month for an eight-day leave.
The kindness of Soraya toward Maciva warmed her heart. But the unabridged hospitality of the mother had no match, making Maciva tell her, “Let me call you ‘my mother.’”
“My daughter, I did nothing for you. Qsentina hugs the guest with pleasure. Our ancestors bequeathed us this virtue. Help yourself with rfiss. The bradj for later; it’s a semolina lozenge with dates. You’ll love it, I assure you.”
The house was well-kept: dustless green carpets and sofas, large blue curtains, lavender-lacquered walls adorned with well-spaced framed pictures of Cirta, a majestic eight-bulbed chandelier lighting profusely the spacious living-room, nice jars by the corners; in short, a cute house to live in, Maciva so praised. She confessed to herself that this house was prettier than hers.
“Maciva,” Soraya said to her mother, “has crossed the country to ferret out the truth. That of her sister, Tinhinan, who had studied with me at university, you know. Regrettably, last year she committed suicide. Since then, Maciva’s life became bitterer. Add to that, she’s divorced, has a child of five.”
The mother capped her mouth with her fingers, looking at Maciva with sustained pity and consolation. “I’m sorry, my daughter. Two misfortunes aren’t easy to get over, but have faith in God in these painful moments. God never leaves who believes in Him. Our religion forbids us to play with our souls. Only God does have the right to take them away.”
Maciva said, “Thanks for your support, my mother. Until now, believe me, I haven’t found out why my sister put an end to her promising life. I can never forget that sad day of August. I myself found her hanging dead. I still smell her dead body I untied from the rope around her smooth neck.” Her lachrymal gland triggered off droplets of tears. Of regret.
“Your sister was a brave woman,” Soraya assured her consolingly. “Tinhinan had been our pride. She respected us. We loved her. She defended our rights as students. Now, we must pay tribute to her memory and her struggles.”
“Tinhinan slipped out of our life for untold reasons. Tell me, Soraya, do you happen to know the motives, if any, which coerced her to kill herself?” Maciva enquired anxiously.
A lowered voice of maluf music from stereo seemed to fill in the cozy living-room, now drowned out by the muezzin’s call for the afternoon’s prayer, coming in from the minaret of the nearby mosque.
The mother stood up, excused herself, to answer the dutiful third prayer of the day.
When the mother disappeared into the bathroom for ablutions, Soraya said, “Sorry to say, I don’t know why she did so.”
“Is there any link between the suicide and the foundation she had launched, of which you’re a member?”
Soraya’s blue eyes lit up out of astonishment. “How come you know about the clandestine foundation?”
“I’ve carried out my own investigations. I Spoke with Imene of Algiers and Suad of Oran, even read my sister’s Web diaries!” Maciva announced her confidently.
“Well,” taken abreast Soraya exclaimed, “I’m afraid I’ll be of little help.”
Maciva’s countenance turned gray. “I so hoped your help, Soraya.”
“Oh, Maciva! Don’t be so discouraged. There’s absolutely no link between the suicide of Tinhinan and the foundation started off. Let me tell you something: suicides are sometimes hard to explain. Open your ears to hear the following dramatic story of our intelligentsia. Four years ago, a disillusioned nuclear physicist fled the United States to commit suicide by jumping off over the al-Mellah Bridge on April 16, 2001, that is, the National Day of Knowledge, during the official visit of the President to Constantine! His name is Lamine Merrir. He was a brilliant researcher at Michigan University. The US did not allow him to quit the country. He was compelled to dream up a plan to go back to Algeria; he had his family send him a fake death notice of a member of his family. The trick worked well. He never returned there. He had the love of the country, wanted to serve it faithfully. Unhappily, great was his disappointment when he was given a job in local trucks manufacturer Sonacome, wound up working under the orders of unschooled people. He let that down to work in a lower-salary job after years of unemployment and depression. You see, a Ph.D. holder, despised and devaluated, having fled all the perks of the American Dream, found himself begging for moldy bread!”
Maciva uttered, “Terrible! Intellectuals and common people alike have no other choice than suicide in this country or what?”
Well-versed Soraya remembered and said, “Former Director of the newspaper La Tribune, Kheiredine Ameyar, shot himself in the head. And you know, terrorists took care of the others by knifing and shooting journalists. Remember Tahar Djaout, Smail Yefsah, Said Mekbel, Mekhlouf Boukhzer, Omar Ouartilane. Oh, my God! The roster is longer.”
Maciva said: “And now, to make the ink blacker, the government charges journalists who write freely. That is to say, the razor-sharp words have been compelled to die off, allowed just sugary words. Perhaps, when the tolerated vocabulary has been shrunken, intelligentsia sees no sense for their thirsty pens!”
Soraya asked: “Do you think, Maciva, on grounds of your political sciences background, that the less a country is democratic, the more its people kill themselves?”
“You know, even in democratic nations, people commit suicides. Of course, the motive would be different from our country’s. Anyway, every one who kills himself, takes with him a buried secret. Then, I think that those who commit such things are selfish, for they don’t give a oops of interest for the sorrow they leave behind for the parents, siblings, relatives and friends. I wonder about the swing-moment of the hard decision to commit suicide; a point of no return. I know a twenty-year-old man who killed himself just because his friends used to call him ‘granddad’ as his hair turned out white.”
Soraya agreed. “Taking such a crucial decision means the parents deserve no thought from the point of view of the person on the brink of suicide, leaving them afflicted for the last of their lifetime. So, I think that the more parents and their progeny are drifting away from each other, the greater is the likelihood of suicide”
Maciva nodded. Her heart felt lighter, as burdens of sorrow set about to lurch over the many bridges of Constantine. She gathered that not only her sister opted for suicide, but also a world of people, having laid down hopes of a better life. An unbearable life to which they had said farewell, no matter the gulches they cut through left relatives. Le Malheur en danger, Malek Haddad had versified back in 1956.
Five days after the emotional burial of the village’s three municipal guards, which had seen an unprecedented rush of the condoling hills, a woman knocked at the door of late Jamel’s door. She lived in a village across theirs. Jamel’s mother opened the door and ushered her into the living-room, where sat Maciva and Yidir. The put-upon house smelt of engulfing sorrow, visible on every item and corner she glanced at.
“I come late,” she said to the mother as she sat across Maciva, “to condole with your son’s fate.”
The mother said: “Thanks. God’s Will. Who are you, my daughter?”
The condoler stared up the wall, where Tinhinan’s photo was tilting down toward the floor. “When I read the names of killed guards, I learned that a brother of Tinhinan was, alas, amongst them. I was Tinhinan’s friend, as a matter of fact.”
Maciva cleared her knotted throat and spoke at last after a long silence. “I think, I’d seen you during her burial but you didn’t introduce yourself then. Am I wrong?”
The mother understood that the two women needed to be let conversing alone. She took the hand of Yidir and paced out, not
without walking back in later with a copper tray of coffee with home-made pastries and cool Djurdjura water, to disappear again.
“My name’s Kahina,” she replied softly between two sips.
“Kahina!” Maciva uttered echolalically. “I ran across your name in Tinhinan’s archives, you know.”
“The foundation, you get it.”
Kahina did not look surprised, anyway. In the wake of unpitying terror, nothing seemed out-of-the-way. “A lost dream, you can say.”
“Let History aside,” Maciva suggested,” but do you happen to know why my sister had committed suicide last August? I recognize that after Jamel’s death, I see no reason to ask for that, but for you’ve walked in, I ask you that.”
Kahina looked up once more at Tinhinan’s portrait, as shattered moments flashed back to her mind, and then sighed regretfully. “I don’t think it’s a fit time to reveal you secrets.”
“Please, “Maciva implored her, “I’m getting mad. I’m looking forward to throwing off the heavy burden I’ve been carrying on my head. Talk, please. Whichever is the motive of her suicide, that’ll change nothing as she’s dead now.”
“I wonder if you’ve necessary courage to confront the truth you’re questing for, much problematic after the recent harsh killing of your brother,” Kahina probed as saying, with her soft voice.
“Don’t worry about that. I’ve so gone through thorns that I feel rather stronger than weaker,” Maciva assured her with nineteenth-century Lalla Fatma N’Sumer’s stout-heartedness.
Eleven months seemed eleven centuries for Maciva.
Kahina spoke after a few minutes of falter. “As a woman never buries a secret, I’ll give it out for you.” She paused, the time it took to unfold the mystery of a would-be suicide.
Maciva’s heart sped up, to catch up with an impending revelation, repose. She made out, this very morn, before her room mirror, that her beauty had withered under the rays of sudden sorrow.
“Your sister¾” Kahina choked off her words for a while before she broke into an unthinkable confession, “Tinhinan has been murdered, by disguise of a suicide.”
Maciva was left aghast, widened out her tired eyes to make sure she was not in the cauldrons of nightmares. But she was all the way in, nurturing her blood stream, short of nursing her gaped wounds. She did not know what to say, as chaos catered for her guts, and crippled her thoughts. “Non sense,” she muttered.
Kahina produced a two-page printed letter. “Tinhinan’s last mail to me.”
Maciva held it. Devoured it with her haggard wet eyes.
I’m afraid it’s my last mail to you. Pressure and doubt have been bothering me since the last threat I received on the face. The man of hand once crossed my way, and pretended to ask his way for an administrative institution in Algiers. I haven’t finished guiding him so before he veered off the subject of his stopping me, telling me that his protégé, a son of a 1954 martyr, owning nightclubs and lavish shops of clothes in Algiers and elsewhere, ordered me I had better abort the foundation, in a minatory tone. When I asked him why he thought I’d likely abide by his barks, he answered back that my life was worth it, if I saw what he meant. No need to fish details of sharks he advised me. Certainly, one of us women blew the whistle. Who? You’re my only confident, hope have your cooperative help. My hypothesis is that one of us women works as informative agent for an unknown influential group. Government’s hyphen? I don’t even know if I’ll survive these lines. Kahina, I’m so anxious. I was betrayed along the paths of our uncertain cause. To every dissonant voice and struggle against falsehood, dishonest hearts beat threatingly, filthy mouths spew out fake History facts. Still, we shall never surrender. Yielding to threats is more than betrayal. Though our foundation is meant to be a pacific, yet active engine of our History revamp, they shiver in the shadows. Why are they so frightened of a blog, wherein people will find the virtual doors open¾short of padlocked real ones¾to spell out, under anonymousness, their closest fake warriors of after 19 March, 1962? Perhaps more than fifty percent of deceivers don’t even know to read their soiled names, nor to scribble them. Scandalous! The essence of our country’s ruling is half-rotten, half-unripe. Ghosts of threat torture my mind. SOH will surely cost my whole life. What to do? To live with the feeling of being menaced every second, everywhere? Or to cut things short and hang myself? I see blackened paths, studded with blades. Disappointment injures my heart and impedes my hopes. Change is a gamey fruit in our land: to eye it would book you a place in dungeons; to daunt picking it up would merely fire you into dirt. My dear confident, maybe you’ll find my lines political, or even philosophical, but believe me, I feel my end ever nearer. I thought Algiers meant ‘The Islands of Seagulls.’ Now, after all, I liken it to ‘The Islands of Vultures.’ Besides, I know it’s death-defying a business, and boring. How will I cope with dullness and stirred uncertainty? I wasn’t born to live like this. I know well that only my writing to you, dear confident, will spare my skin from jeopardies of life, and there are so many in front and behind me. I don’t know why I ended up here. I flew my hills to cities, arrogant with their concrete and rusted iron. Fly away, back to my forgotten hills, where eagles have built their eyries in peace, placidness. People around me are not complacent at all. I feel drunken out of nothing swigged, maybe just froth of pervert life. Life should have a sense, every time, not to be cordoned off. Men I prized despised me by return. I deserve it. Materialist men who seek to copulate every woman, crowing their stolen heavy pockets and accounts. What else to do? The charms raised as formidable weapons. Targets? Well, our betrayed, bare, bloke breasts. My confident friend, should something bad happen to me, please, don’t be so stubborn to keep on living the aim of our samizdat, to spare your life, as the day of truth has yet to pop in. The night seems longer and darker, sunrise further, air chiller, heart weaker, hope narrower. Dear Kahina, take care of yourself. Don’t betray the hills’ soul. Bye. Tinhinan, Algiers.
It took Maciva six minutes to read thoroughly the awesome letter of her sister. Now she grasped the sores of Tinhinan, felt well her death’s fears, made out she had borne the country’s purulent wounds poultices could not alleviate. A world of questions crowded at the tip of her tongue, lips on the brink of blast. “Was it possible that Tinhinan had been murdered? I’m lost. It was a suicide, no? Come on, Kahina! I myself found her hanging. Besides, the autopsy confirmed that.”
“Not directly,” Kahina put in.
“First of all, when did you receive this mail of hers?” Maciva asked impatiently.
“One day before her death. I didn’t think things would be going faster and fatal for her. The mail was written a day earlier. I was away of Algiers, I do remember. In my own hamlet. I didn’t believe my eyes that I’d read her desperate mail a day, and the following day her death occurred mysteriously, though.”
Maciva asked earnestly, “Who was the killer? Who betrayed her? Please, clear me things up. I feel I’ll break down before sunset.”
Kahina stood up and came to sit down at her side, to narrow down the distance of tongue from ears. She gently wrapped her right arm around Maciva’s neck. And Kahina told her what she knew, skipping no wee detail of the seemingly suicide of Tinhinan.
Maciva dredged up Tinhinan’s last letter to Kahina. Pressure and doubt have been bothering me since the last threat I received on the face…
The rusty, westering solar testis was brimming over Algiers Bay when Maciva took the Tafurah-Café Chergui ghoul of bus. The very same trail of Charles V’s sodden and humiliating withdrawal, roughly half a millennium ago, when he had nose-dived to seize The Regency of Algiers, thanks to the cloudburst which made much of his huge armada and ships sink down in Algiers Bay in late October 1541. Maciva remembered having read that the mother of Charles V, Joanna the Mad, had bathed in the thermal Bath of the Queen in Oran during the Spanish occupation in the first decade of the sixteenth century. Maciva miraculously found an empty seat, stiff like a chondrite. The awful traffic jam along the seafront highway made the grubby trolley cough, here and there, its exhaust fumes to the bay which seemed having unwillingly signed an eternal contract with the sewage of al-Harrach Wed. The middle-aged driver could not hide his gall on the bare wheel. After forty-three minutes of drive, Maciva felt a bit relieved upon shifting to a J9 van for
al-Marsa, formerly known as Jean Bart. There, she descended at Quatre-Chemins crossroad. She turned left and walked her way, searching for Karun Adrim’s villa. She had the address, and because she came here for the first time, she had difficulty to pinpoint the scene of crime. When it comes to serious matters, people do recall even the color of sockets or stockings you were wearing, to say nothing of your phiz and nose, and harelip, if any! So, she discarded asking for her way. It was almost Stygian there by night. An idea lit up her face when she strode past a cybercafé. She burst into it, connected to Internet and then Googled the name of the street she was looking for. She found out al-Marsa’s street map. At her bliss, she realized that the street in question feathered with the one where she was. Good, she sighed. Fortunately, the Earth is round enough to roll forth on the silly Karun; cocker him, before sending him swigging the froth of the filthy waves...
Coming back from the nearby beaches, the pavings were hoatching with boys donning colorful Bermuda shorts and girls with their low-necked summer dresses. Restaurants and pizzerias fleshed out with hungry holidaying crowd. Maciva crept on, almost incognito, as she strived not to be called back by nosy masses, should her denouement come off this night. A smoking scallywag, bracing his shoulders against a poor post, volleyed a lopsided gaze to her, for he took her, by her sexy wears, for a harlot. She ignored his foul words and paced on, bloated with choler like a mahovna’s mast.
Mr. Adrim’s lucullan villa could have compelled nearby Fort Matifu to join unspotted Atlantis had its roundshots not deterred raptorial warships of old. Actually, Karun Adrim had been stirring the seas to buy Fort Matifu, pull its three-and-a-half-century History down in a fortnight, and then let push up a five-star nightclub…
His half-washed dreams took vacation as the bell’s chime echoed inside the villa. He looked up at the golden clock; it was ten to nine. His heavy testes revved up like a mortar, yet the stunning Maciva would have her impending naysaying. He thought having succeeded to press-gang her into accepting the nightclub job.
The steel-wrought portal buzzed for a second and then automatically slid open. She walked in, and the outer world closed down behind her, to find herself ushered into a mysterious island, peopled by wethers of unreachable world.
The marble-slabbed ground started from the portal on to the French-style ornate door. Numerous three-lantern lampposts flooded the villa’s surroundings with light, making the night emphasized only by the stars and the moon. Yet, fears benighted Maciva’s mind. At her left, a lawn-sandwiched cobbled path snaked into the west-breasting swimming-pool, designed so as to trammel chunks of Algiers Bay’s crimson sunsets. Eight chaises longues with umbrellas came into her view. At her right, a tennis court was not to be sneezed at, lined with junipers, palm and plane trees…
Maciva shivered when Karun Adrim jangled the door open, standing lofty in his light green bathrobe. He shot her a theatrical , as his balls banged like castanets. He stretched out his arms like an Andean condor and said, “Welcome to my modest house, dear Maciva! I so waited you!”
She let her feet inch toward her impendent victim. “It’s an impressive residence,” she corrected him, a far cry from her hovel of an apartment. She should come through her fears to avenge her tears. She thought at her brown leather handbag, sagged with a dabbler’s murdering kit.
They hugged in the portico, lustfully for him, artificially for her.
“Are you hungry?” he asked her as they drew back, fingers entangled in hers. He walked her into his luxurious world, dreaming of a Rosette Nebula night, smeared with carnal supernova.
“No,” she lied. Actually, since she had breakfasted with crescent rolls and white coffee and cocktail juice, her stomach was left to its intestines. The only thing she craved for, was to eat up his sieved brains. Tinhinan, I’m closing in on your killer. This night you’ll be proud of me. You’ll take the real rest you’ve been looking for from your dark grave.
The anteroom was red-carpeted, on over three stairs opening to a roomier living-room, rife with too-expensive paintings, Italian furniture, Iranian rugs and French windows and doors giving access to many rooms. A huge Panasonic plasma TV took up half of the kitchen-facing wall. Oddly, the featured channel was AXN Crime. Lovely But Lethal, Peter Falk was starring, eons before his Alzheimer’s disease. Columbo was after a cosmetics queen, Viveca Scott, who had turned out a murderess for a miraclulous wrinkle cream…
“Feel at home,” he said to goad her, relax her muscles and nerves. He headed to the bathroom, his putz tumefied.
Maciva looked at an uncorked bottle of red wine, set on a high square ceramic-topped table. Mr. Adrim had already downed a snifter of it, she noticed. She had an unexpected idea. Gut-wrenching and at her perils, she rooted hurriedly through her handbag and produced a mix of ground Valium and Nardil, and floured it into the Burgundy beverage. She stirred it in the bottle just by whirling it many times. She got back to seat on scarlet sofa, and made as if she glued her eyes onto the TV. She could not think at the easiness of the plot’s execution. He had just to drink on his wine, and that would hit home; he’d be history.
Mr. Adrim staggered back, playful as a cardsharper. “There’s roasted lamb in the kitchen. I’m not vegetarian like Hitler, you know! Help yourself, dear! You’ll need energy!” He unbelievably poured a glassful of wine.
Maciva skipped a beat.
“Do you want some of it?” he embarrassed her.
She felt her throat clogged with panic, her tongue locked up her thin lips, while her eyes froze out of cold sweat. Yet, she stuttered out, “I don’t drink alcohol.”
He gave her an Archaeopteryx grin. “Just a mouthful of it! Come on!” He drank it down.
Maciva barely whelmed her disbelief. At least, The Laugh of Laura had instilled her how to burke an extravagant top banana.
Karun Adrim filled another snifter of red wine, and then came plonk down beside her semi-naked beauty. He slithered his big right hairy arm around her bare thin shoulders, let his free hand cup the indifferent, right breast.
She soughed falsely. Good God, when will the drug have its effect? She just could not stand the strokes of her sister’s Cain. To fend him off, she made him by means of her cheek caresses tope the tainted red wine. The wine of death. She whispered, eyes aping desire, “I read that wine enhances men’s libido!”
“Really?” he grunted.
“Tell me, Karun. What’s the extent of your wealth?” Meanwhile, she bribed him with a kiss on his thick winey lips.
He squeezed the other breast. “Well, the truth is beyond your understanding. But I let you know this: I belong to a very influential caste, having its word in ruling this country in the gloam. Politics is business, that’s it. Wealth strengthens us, enlivens us. I myself own over forty villas, five in Algiers, the others elsewhere, even abroad in Spain and France and Luxembourg. We’ve factories. We cash in on import and export. We smuggle stuff in, and out as well. We’ve fat bank accounts in the Old World. We’re untouchable, you see.”
Maciva whished to tell him that death could snap everybody, from citizen lambda to pretentious bozos like him. Fortunately. It’s just a matter of time, and you’ll meet it defensivelessly, she ruminated. “Do you love this country?” she stoned him. Again, Tinhinan’s last words stormed her thoughts. The essence of our country’s ruling is half-rotten, half-unripe. Ghosts of threat torture my mind… I see blackened paths, studded with blades… Change is a gamey fruit in our land…
The drug set about flagging down his erection, while his skin turned cold, and he began to see sexual arousal die down. Yet, the ingested drug sent him hanging between hypnosis and delirium. He took off his bathrobe, remained in his white briefs having his paunch as a fleshy awning. His chest was gorillian, presaging a boskier pubic hair. “Who hates his country? My father died for this dear land. Freed it from De Gaulle. We, sons and daughters of martyrs, deserve all the perks. The land owes us bags of things. We’ve right to rule, appoint or erase whoever we’d like to. We’re getting mightier, even crueler. We’re only satisfied with a lion’s share, not less. We take hold of bees and honey and wax. You get it…” His voice trailed off. He felt dizzy, and tremored a bit. “My head aches me… mouth’s drying up…”
She stood up to fetch him more wine! She even helped him sip some gulps of it. “You’ll feel better, Karun!”
He sprawled out his body on the sofa, like a big child crying for a nap in a bigger cot.
Anyway, there’s no a jimhickey of a Columbo in Algeria, she amused herself…
Her amusement stalled when the doorbell’s chime sounded in the villa. Someone was about to find her out drug-handed…