The Drowning Of Idriss

The Drowning Of Idriss

A Story by Rachid Amrani
"

Alone in the room, confined between the four walls, she felt the tears well up in her eyes. That was the hardest part for her.

"


(1)


It all happened in the summer of 1981. I was twelve years-old; maybe a year older or a year younger. I can’t be certain. The thing is my father didn’t declare my birth date to the civil registrar office until a year after my birth. It wasn’t neglect of his part as much as it was time constraint. After all he was working hard, laboring the land and doing odd jobs to put food on the table.


When the clerk at the registrar office inquired about the date of my birth, my father’s face took on a quizzical expression. He was not able to remember the year, the month, or the day.


“Adding a year or deducting a year won’t change anything,” was my father’s response.


But so many things happened in the year of 1981. It was the year I was stung by a yellow poisonous scorpion while helping with the summer grain harvest. The stung prompted my father to rush me to the small local hospital on the back of our donkey. It took five shots to save my life and I was fortunate that the male nurse had just received the monthly supply of shots that week. Those were his words to my father as he slid the needle into my veins. When I was hauled back to our house, I slept for a whole day. My mother would later tell me that "the divine providence" was watching over me. That Friday, she woke up early in the morning and headed to the Shrine. She lit candles and offered loaves of bread and thanked the Spiritual Guardian for watching and protecting her son from the evil and the eyes of envy.


And in that same year, an eleven year-old boy by the name of Idriss fell and drowned in the 400 feet-deep communal well where the villagers got their drinking water. He was sent by his father as he always did- to the well to fill in the two rubber barrels of water. Idriss liked doing the chore because he loved riding their donkey. The two boys who were present at the time Idriss fell recalled that the donkey had abruptly jerked his head and accidentally sent Idriss diving down the well. The well was so dark that by the time the townsmen managed to reach the water, the boy was already floating on the surface. Once his body was lifted from the bottom of the well, they tried everything they could think of in hope of reviving him. What they didn’t realize then was that the boy was already dead.


I don’t think there is anything worse than losing a loved one, especially when the deceased is an eleven- year-old boy. I was there when the poor mother came dashing toward the crowd as they congregated around the boy who lay on his back, lifeless. She wailed and pulled out her hair. She tore her clothes off and hit ferociously on her chest with her fists. She screamed her boy’s name, “Idriss, Idriss, please wake up. Talk to me. ” Her body quivered as the ladies held her and comforted her in hope that her wailing would abate.


I was just a boy then, but I wanted to scream in the women’s faces and tell them to let her be. The woman had just lost her son, let her grieve her loss. But since I was taught that children were not supposed to speak their minds, I held my tongue.


As the mother wailed, the father stood motionless and speechless. His eyes were locked on his son’s body and I could see tears rolling down his cheeks. The townsmen patted on his back and offered words of condolences. Comfort was the only thing they could offer at that somber time.


Idriss’s body was wrapped in a white shroud. Two townsmen volunteered to take him to the family house where his tiny body would eventually be washed prior to the burial. As the boy’s body was carried away, the mother’s wailing grew louder. She was pale as if blood was drained from her face. She collapsed, and the ladies rushed to tend to her. I heard one of the women shouting, "Somebody gets some water and onions. Quick!" In the midst of that chaos, I peered at the mother- a boy's curiosity. she was shaking like a leaf in a stormy night. The ladies held her and lifted her up and took her into the house.


The next day I overheard the neighbor lady- who came to our house to borrow flour- I overheard her tell my mother that the deceased boy’s mother slipped into a coma.


On that same day Idriss was laid to rest in the town’s cemetery. It was a rainy day with thick clouds hanging on the sky, turning the place to a dark cave as if nature decided to partake in the grief that had descended upon the town following the loss of one of its sons. I wasn’t allowed to go to the cemetery to witness the burial as my father had instructed. Since it was school break, I was assigned to take the cows to graze. Yet, I could hear the wailing of women echo in the distance.


Over dinner, my mother would relay to us that the boy’s father led the donkey to the outer side of the town and shot it to death, using a hunting rifle he borrowed from one of the townsmen. Once dead, he dragged it to a jungle and left it there for the predators to prey upon it.


Rage. Vengeance.


Many people in the town-my father included- didn’t approve of the vicious killing and treatment of the donkey. Yet, there was a minority of the villagers that thought the killing was justifiable.


“That donkey pushed the boy down the well causing his death. The father had every right to avenge the death of his son,” I overheard one of the townsmen tell me my father.


My father didn’t argue with the man any further. Vengeance won’t bring the boy back to life; I wanted my father to respond. But again I was just a boy and thought it would be best if I kept my mouth shut. And shut my mouth I did.


To this day I still remember the nightmares I’d had the night following the burial of Idriss. I kept waking up to the images of Idriss lying on the ground, lifeless. His lungs inflated with water. His face scratched and bruised. Blood and foam exuded from his mouth and nose. His eyes were open, but bloodshot. Lying on his back, he appeared as if he was gazing up at the sky. Probably looking at something that nobody else could see.


Water closets were nonexistent back then, so whenever nature called I would go outside the house and relieved myself. But that night, when the urge swept over me, I was so scared by the nightmares and thoughts of death that I deferred the matter until the morning when the sun rose.


And as I lay awake that night, I could hear the croaking sound of frogs coming from the pasture nearby. And from somewhere came the barking sound of dogs. But the barking sounded different that night. It seemed to me as if the dogs were moaning of pain. As if they were caged and chained and wanted to be rescued. Freed. Or could it be that they were mourning the death of the deceased boy.


That night I heard the call of the dawn prayer which was a rarity, because most of nights I slept soundly until my mother would call us for breakfast. The prayer felt so solemn that it made me weep. By the time the prayer sound subsided, a rush of fear came over me. So much that I buried my face into the blanket and yearned for sleep.


And just how agonizing to realize -as I lay awake that night- that Irdiss was no longer in this world. The boy with whom I walked to school countless times. The boy with whom I played soccer after school. The boy I had known for years. That boy had perished forever.


The realization was bitter.


(2)


Days had passed since Idriss was laid to rest. But I was still in shock from what had happened. Still in denial that Idriss was no longer with us. Still clinging to his memory. Adamant to let it fade away. I remember those days. The days following Idriss’s passing. I became withdrawn; confined in my own grief. Not certain if my mother noticed or not. If she did, she didn’t say anything. But I heard her calling my name one day. It was shortly after noon, and I was in the “big room” sewing my shirt.


“The boys are here,” she called out.


It took me a while before I realized she was actually talking to me. Her voice grew louder when I didn’t respond. Mother always preached that when you hear your name being called; the proper thing to do is to say, ‘I’m coming,’ even if you know that it would take you a while before you make your appearance. I put the shirt and the needle away and headed for the door. The boys were inside the house drinking from a large barrel of water. They wore their stained, dirty jerseys, shorts, and rubber cleats. One of the boys gripped a plastic soccer ball between his hands. They all looked up when I emerged through the door.


“You haven’t come to play any games for a while,” one of the boys said.


Before I could open my mouth, mother said, speaking on my behalf, “He’s been helping his father with the harvest,” and good thing she did respond, because at that point I didn’t know what to say.


“Are you coming?” Another boy asked. I looked at my mother, who was holding the straw broom in her hand.


She thought for a while, and then said, “You can go as long as you are back in time to take the cows to graze.”


I nodded, but said nothing. She then resumed sweeping the floor, sending a thick cloud of dust up in the air.


I tied my rubber cleats and trailed behind the boys. When we got to the soccer field, the boys from the other team were already there, warming up. They didn’t acknowledge our presence at first. They continued to pass the ball to each other, and then hit it toward their goalie.


A show of force, I thought.


We flipped the coin and then took our positions. We were about to start the game when a boy from our team clutched the ball in an abrupt motion, and shouted, “We’re down a player!”


He began to take count of the players, pointing his index finger at each player as he counted.


“Where is Idriss?” Somebody else asked.


We all looked at each other in disbelief. Then an awkward silence followed. Like me, they knew of the drowning. Heard the women wail at the funeral. And probably even overheard their parents talk about the burial. Nevertheless, to them Idriss was still living. Still carved in their consciousness, like a freshly-inked tattoo.


As we stood silent, the ardor within us suddenly dwindled. We bowed our heads, and one after another, retreated to the figue tree that lay on the sideline. The same tree we had sat countless times before, seeking shelter from the heat of the mid-day during each half-time. Some of us sat, others lay on their backs. Lying on the hard ground, and through the branches and the green leaves, I could see the blue sky. I watched the bees fly and suck on the figue fruits. And at that moment, I thought of Idriss. I thought of the many times he had sat under the shades of this exact tree. And the myriad of times he had played soccer in this same field.


He was a gifted player, Idriss was. The moment he got hold of the ball, he charged toward the goalie and no defender would ever stop him. And the way he celebrated every time he scored a goal- and yes, Idriss scored plenty of goals. He would run around the field, spreading his arms like a flying bird. It was something he saw on TV when his father sent him to spend some time with his aunt in the city.


Idriss was the first of the boys to watch TV. When he returned home, we flooded him with questions about the brilliant invention. And for days he told us all about it. The soccer games he watched, the TV shows, and the movies. Said his aunt even let him press the power button to turn the TV on and off. And he brought a collection of cards, as well. I still remember. The cards bore pictures of the twenty-two players that formed the national team. A picture of the coach was in the album, too.


I remember when he first showed us the album. He brought it to school the first day after fall break. Said his aunt bought it for him. During recess, he announced with pride that he had something to show us. From under his coat, he pulled the album and waved it in the air like a treasure. We all dropped our mouths open in astonishment. The leather cover of the album was brown. Inside were the cards, arranged neatly in plastic frames. He pointed with his finger at each card as he flipped through the pages of the album. The bottom of each card bore the name of the player shown in the picture. Names we’ve only heard on the transistor radio. Players we’d never seen their faces before. The players who had brought glory and joy to an entire nation. And Idriss knew all their names. Knew which clubs they played for, knew which player played in the national league and which player played in the European league. His face beamed with delight as he supplied the information. He even let us touch the treasure. Idriss did. We took turns looking at the cards until we realized everybody had gone back into the classrooms. Except us, of course.


When we walked back into the classroom, the teacher- a sixtyish man with a moustache- shot a look of disgust in our direction, and motioned for us to approach his desk. He didn’t ease up off his chair. He leaned back and forth as he inquired about our tardiness. Asked us over and over, “What took you so long?” We didn’t give him an answer. None of us said a word. We didn’t want to reveal our secret. Didn’t want to tell him we were looking at the photo album while we were supposed to be in class. Didn’t want him to confiscate the treasure.


He then reached to the drawer of the desk, pulled a rubber stick, and carried his punishment. Each of us received two whips. One whip on each hand. None of us cried, though our palms ached with pain. But we didn’t mind. The pain would eventually subside; we knew it would.


We walked back to our chairs and sat, relieved that the treasure was still safe. Tucked securely under Idriss’s coat.


I gazed up at the sky as I thought about those days, my heart tingling with nostalgia. Recollecting the flashes of those fond memories as if they had happened just yesterday.


Sinking in my reverie, a flock of wild pigeons caught my eyes. In the high blue sky, the pigeons flew in unison, following their leader. I watched them as they flew west, flapping their wings up and down. They didn’t fly far when suddenly a pigeon drifted away, heading north. But it didn’t make it that far. Within an instant, an eagle intercepted the drifting pigeon, snatched it, and flew up higher in the sky.


It all happened in the blink of an eye.


We didn’t play soccer that day, as if we reached a silent agreement to await Idriss’s arrival. As if we expected the deceased to somehow show up unannounced, dressed in his shorts, jersey, and cleats. He would score the goals like he had always done.


And after scoring the goals, he would run around the perimeter of the field, flapping his arms like a pigeon. And after the first half-time, we would sit under the figue tree as the bees buzz around us. He would produce the album, spread it open, and we would all look at the pictures. And yes, Idriss would do the talking. And we would listen just like we did that day during the school recess when he first showed us the treasure.


(3)


The mother was still confined in her solitude, trying to make sense of the tragedy that had descended upon the family. But no matter how she tried, she couldn’t make sense of what happened. As she lay on the mattress bed, staring over at the ceiling, she asked herself the same questions every grieving family asks when tragedies strike: Why did this happen to us? Why us? What wrongs did we commit to deserve punishment? She asked the questions over and over. And when she didn’t find any answers, she buried her face in her hands and began to sob. Drawn by the sound of sobbing, the five-year-old girl- the youngest of the kids- came running into the room. Breathing hard, she leaned closer to her mother and embraced her.


As she dabbed the tears from her eyes, the little girl asked her, “Why are you crying, Mommy? Is it because Idriss has not come home yet?”


She couldn’t get the words out of her mouth. She was afraid that if she spoke, she would burst into tears again. So she just nodded, and pulled her daughter tighter. She saw all those people flocking into the family’s house the day Idriss drowned. The little girl did. She heard the women wail and the men talk loudly. She couldn’t grasp what was going on. The neighbors kept her away. In the room she shared with her brothers and sisters. They didn’t want her to see him. Didn’t want her to see the coffin. But the day following the burial of Idriss, the questions began. She asked her father why Idriss wasn’t at the breakfast table. She even volunteered to go and wake him up. To tell him that breakfast is ready and everybody is waiting. But he stopped her, her father did. He picked her up, held her in his arms, and looked at her for what seemed like a long time.


He had to think of something to say. Anything but the truth. And at that moment, he hated himself like never before. He wished the floor beneath his feet would crack and swallow him. But the floor didn’t crack, and the little girl was still staring at him, awaiting his response. Awaiting the lie. And lied he did.


“Darling, your brother is visiting with your aunt, you know your aunt who lives in the city,” she nodded, “It’s summer break now, and he has no school, so your mom and I sent him to stay with aunt and spend some time with your cousins. He will be back in a couple of weeks-”


“But who will go to the well and bring water?” She interrupted, her eyes still locked on her father’s.


“Your sister will until Idriss comes back home-”


“But I want Idriss to do it,” she said almost crying. “He takes me with him and let me ride the donkey. She doesn’t.”


“I will ask her to take you with her, darling. Now, go and have your breakfast,” and then his voice began to crack. He patted her back and put her down. But she was still staring at him, wanting more answers. He stood there and watched her until she sat next to her sister. She didn’t eat, didn’t even touch the food. She just sat there and stared blankly around the room. The room that still smelled of death, fresh like the odor of a coat of paint.


And now as her mother lay on the mattress, trying to conceal her tears and her sorrow, she was asking about her brother. Her departed brother, Idriss.


(4)


The ladies-my mother included- continued to frequent the deceased’s household, and offer whatever comfort and help they could. They made sure the kids were fed, the floors were swept, the laundry was done, the cows were milked… Whatever housework needed to be done, the ladies took care of it. They stayed with her for as long as their time would allow. But as the first shades of night began to fall, the ladies would ready themselves to leave. After all, they had their house works to tend to.


There was also the ghost story.


There were rumors floating around of the sighting of ghosts the nights following Idriss’s burial. The rumors that circulated every time death paid a visit to the town. Talks about the bare woman combing her hair by the creek. The infant who woofed like a dog as he climbed the olive trees. And the monster creature with two heads. One second it’s a mule, and a second later it’s a cow. And so the women made sure they left before the dark descended, and before the unwelcome creatures invaded their planet.


One by one, they leaned down and kissed her head. In the process, they wished her a speedy recovery. Flooded her with words of comfort. Told her again and again that what had happened was an act of God. That Idriss is in Heaven with the angels. And as they made their exit, they assured her that they would be back the next day to be with her. Because that what neighbors do. They stick together in a difficult time like this.


With her weak voice, she thanked them.


Alone in the room, confined between the four walls, she felt the tears well up in her eyes. That was the hardest part for her: when the women left, the awful silence would reign over the room, and then the images would come flooding into her mind like the waves in the ocean.


Deep in her sorrow, she asked-like she asked the other hundred questions since Idriss had passed away- she asked whether there would be an end in sight to her grief. Or is it that when we lose a loved one, the grief dwells inside us forever.


She recalled the many times she had attended funerals in her life. Saw the grieving families, their faces filled with sadness as they received the words of condolence. “Sorry for your loss,” she said those words so many times.


It never occurred to her, though, that it would be her one day. The day her beloved Idriss departed this world. And she wondered, as she wiped the tears from her eyes, how those grieving families coped with the loss. How long did they grieve? How long did their grief last before they were able to move on with their lives? And is there supposed to be a time-frame for the length of our mourning? Or could it be that we’re doomed to carry the grief until our last breath.


She didn’t have the answers to all those questions. And so she shed more tears, because only in the tears did she find solace.


But it went beyond the tears.


(5)


She was outside in the middle of the night. Her husband found her. He got up that night to check on the cattle, something he had done almost every night. He lit the gas lantern, and as he started toward the door, he felt a sense of emptiness in the room. He glanced around, but she wasn’t there. Was not lying on the mattress bed she had slept on since the tragedy. He then checked the kitchen, in case she got thirsty and went there to drink some water. She wasn’t there, either.


The kids’ bedroom, he thought.


She had done it before when the little one had bad dreams. There were a number of times when they heard her scream, and then the mother would get up and go to the kids’ room. She would embrace her, wipe the sweat from her forehead and talk to her. Tell her that mommy was here with her. That it was all dreams. She would stay with her holding her in her arms, patting her gently, until she slept again.


He cracked the door open, peeked his head inside, and waved the lantern around the room. The kids were all asleep, their bodies crammed against each other like sardines. But she wasn’t there. Where could she be, he asked himself, growing more worried.


He went outside. The night was shrouded in darkness. The sultry air smelt of manure and dead frogs. Somewhere in the distance he heard the dogs bark.


The corral, he mumbled to himself.


She could have gone there. It was a small structure attached to the house. So he didn’t have to go that far. He pushed the door open and flashed the beam of the lantern across the corral. The cows jerked their heads at the sight of him there. But she wasn’t there, was not in the corral.


And then he heard something.


The sound of sobbing, he thought. He stopped and listened for a moment. The sobbing was sporadic. It faded away and then came to life again. It was her. He found her curled up in the reeds that shielded the mud siding of the house. Her hair was bare, and her scarf lay on the ground beside her. She was shivering despite the heat of the night. He leaned over and held her hands. She didn’t look up, didn’t move.


“He’s there. Idriss is there,” She said, more to herself than to her husband.


Her voice was feeble.


“I see him every time I close my eyes shut… riding the donkey to go get water…wearing his shorts, the jersey, and the rubber cleats…I see him…he talks to me, Idriss does…says he wants to come back home…says he doesn’t remember how to get to our house…”


A pause.


She looked up, gathered herself, and said in a pleading voice, “Would you go and get him…would you?” then looked away and began to sob. He gripped both her hands, pulled her to her feet, and walked her back into the house.


She was still asleep when the neighbor ladies came to see her the following day. He told them what had happened the night before. Told them all about it. The husband did. Their hearts ached for her. They prayed for her, prayed that her duress would cease.


When he awoke that night to feed the cattle, she was gone again. Wasn’t in the room. He knew where to find her this time though. Curled up in the reeds, sobbing, as though the reeds became her refuge to escape her sorrow and grief.


It happened the following night and the night after and the night after that. It tore his heart apart to see her suffer. They told him she was possessed. Told him the demon entered her body. The neighbor ladies did. Told him the cure to her duress lied in the hands of Elder. That he was the only one who could banish the devil from her body.


He saddled the mule and went on his journey to summon Elder.


We learned of the journey, everybody in the town did.


(6)


I asked Mother where Elder lived. She pointed west, to the mountains that loomed in the far distance.


“Your father said he lives in a tiny village behind those mountains."


“How far is it from our town, Mother” I asked.


“It takes a whole day to get there.”


No, Elder had never come to our town before, mother said. That as far as she knew the ills go to him, and he cures them in his tiny mud house. Sometimes they stay in his house for days until the demon is forced out of their bodies.


“What would make him come this time then?” I asked.


She applied more cow manure to the floor and spread it right and left with her hands. She reminded me to stay clear off the floor until the coating dries.


She then said, “He will come. Elder never turns down a suffering soul, and if he has to make the long trip to our town, he would do it…he’s a good man.”


My father appeared in the hallway, his shirt soaked with sweat. Before he could see me, I put on my straw hat and started to fiddle with the lids of the barrels. I didn’t want him to see me standing there doing nothing. Didn’t want to hear any lectures on work and responsibility. So I took the easy way out: fiddling with the lids, pretending that I was readying myself to go to the communal well.


The questions I had about Elder would have to wait, I said to myself.


We waited. Everybody did; the adults as well as the kids. We talked about Elder, we all did. He became the talk of the town. It had been two days since Idriss’s father had left to summon him. But he hadn’t returned yet. The men grew concerned and tense. They asked each other why he wasn’t back yet. They debated if they should send someone to make the journey, find out what had taken him so long. But they decided to wait another day, and if he didn’t show up, well then they would send the two volunteers to find him.


(7)


One behind another, the two mules trotted down the hill slowly, their heads lurching up and down. The sun was still up, and the sky was bright though it was nearing nine p.m., as if the concept of day time and night time didn’t apply in this part of the universe.


I was in the threshing floor filling the bags with hay. My mother had sent me to do the chore as soon as I got back from my last trip to the communal well. The cows need to be fed, was what she said. She then went back inside the house before I could say a word.


I filled the bags, but my eyes never left the two saddled mules. I recognized the first rider, no doubt about it. The man riding the other mule didn’t sound familiar, at least not to me. He appeared small; a tiny figure on the back of a mule. I watched them as they led the mules through a narrow road. I lost sight of them every time they passed by an olive tree.


When they got to the house, they brought the mules to a halt. Idriss’s father dismounted first and then went to aid the stranger. He held the other man’s hand and placed it on his shoulder. The stranger slowly eased off the saddle and leaned down until his body almost rested on his helper’s shoulder. Slowly, he lowered him until his feet touched the ground. The stranger motioned something. Idriss’s father nodded, and then walked around the mule, reached to the straw saddle bags, pulled out a cane, and handed it to his guest.


As they started toward the front door, I ran inside the house, and looked for mother. I found her in the lower room, grinding the black beans.


“He’s back!” I said in a loud voice, breathing hard.


She freed her hand from the handle of the grinder, and asked, “Who is back?”


“Idriss’s father,” I responded. “And Elder is with him. He came, mother, just like you’d predicted.”


Her face glowed with glee upon hearing the news. She then said, “Go and find your sister, tell her I want her to finish grinding the beans. Tell her to put it in the big pottery pot to cook. I will go to the neighbors’ house.”


“Can I go with you, mother?” I said. She thought for a moment and before she could respond I said, “I had already filled up the troughs with hay and filled up all the buckets with water.”


“Find your sister first,” She instructed as she started to put on her rubber shoes.


(8)


When we got to the neighbors’, the house was already packed with the visitors. Somehow the news of Elder’s arrival had spread quickly, like a fire in a field of dry grass. Some stood in the hallway, forming a line as though they were patients waiting to be admitted into a community hospital. Some stood by the closed door of the room where the poor mother lay sick and where Elder was believed to be seated at that moment. They talked to each other in whispers as though they feared Elder would chastise them for gossiping. I got the feeling everybody wanted to catch a glimpse of Elder, the man who was rumored to have the healing touch. The man who extracted the demons from the possessed bodies.


After what seemed like an eternity, the door swung open. The man who emerged from the room looked nothing like the picture I had formed in my mind the very first time I’d heard of him. He seemed frail, old, and drained. His right hand trembled as he gripped the cane. He was fingering the beads of a long rosary with his left hand. His back was bowed and he walked in slow steps. As I gazed at him, I wondered just how a man with his poor physique was able to make the one-day long journey on the back of a mule.


He halted his steps and glanced around, as if startled by the sight of the crowd of visitors awaiting his appearance. The talking faded and one after another, the visitors took turns kissing his hand. The women kissed his head as well. And between the kisses, his lips moved, as if he was mumbling something. I was standing next to my mother. And as we approached Elder, she asked me to bow and kiss his hand, which I did instantly. His hands felt cold though the heat was unbearable that day. When he uttered his blessings, his voice sounded weak, but bore a tone of authority.


I wanted to stay longer, but my mother had other plans. Said there was more work still needed to be done. Work never ends for us farmers, was what she always said.


On the way home, I flooded her with questions. My curiosity was eating me alive. I asked her how long Elder would stay in town, how he would treat the poor mother, and many other questions that mother didn’t have the answer to.


All she could say was that Elder was a man with a gifted power, and would do whatever it takes to force the demon out of the ailing mother’s body.


(9)


In the following weeks, the visits to the house became less frequent. I heard from Mother that some folk in the town had put their wedding plans on hold until the passage of the forty-day mourning period, out of respect for the deceased and his family. But now that the forty-day mourning period was over, the weddings would resume. There were also new births. And since a birth only happens once in a life time, the families felt they were entitled to celebrate their newborns in the manner they deemed fit. But truth be told, the festivities were kept to a minimum, more of a courtesy to the departed’s family.


Elder was gone now. He ended up staying a whole week. The town people made sure he didn’t leave empty handed. His saddle bags were filled with rosters, eggs, figues, cans of olive oil, legume, and bread. Enough stock to last him for months. My mother gifted him our reddish-looking roster. She had been fattening it for months, in anticipation of my uncle’s visit.


Well, we will just have to fatten another one, she said as I helped her catch the roster.


Nobody really knew if Elder treated the possessed woman-and if he actually treated her- nobody knew how he managed to do that. However, there were rumors that the whole thing happened in secrecy. That Elder spent prolonged periods of time with the woman in her bedroom. Just the two of them with the door locked. The husband was not allowed to be present during those sessions.


Elder repeatedly explained to the husband that for the treatment to work, nobody is permitted in the room except the patient and the healer.


I don’t claim to remember all the details of what happened during the time Elder were in town. After all, this all happened in the year 1981. I was just a boy then. And sometimes our memory tends to betray us when we try to recollect events that had occurred a long time ago. But there were talks of screaming and wailing coming from the house, and talks of visible bruises on the woman’s body.


Again these were only talks and rumors.


After Elder had left, mother resumed her visits the house. I was dying to go with her and see the poor woman after her “treatment.” But my father didn’t consent to the idea, and, instead, assigned me more chores to do.


I remember when she got home from her first visit, my father asked her about the woman’s condition. I happened to be nearby at that very moment. Mother’s response, though, was brief, as if she was holding back on the details. As if she had seen something she didn’t think it would be appropriate to share with another person. As though she was sworn to secrecy. I overheard her relay to my father that the woman’s health was indeed improving. That the hallucinations and the late-night trips to the reeds had ceased. That she now wore a leather locket around her neck, and that the locket held a talisman.


That was as far as Mother could go on the details.


(10)


Every Friday Mother took one of us to accompany her to the cemetery to visit my grandparents’ graves- her parents. That Friday it was my turn to go with her. She awakened me early in the morning. The sun was still sinking behind the mountains. The air felt humid, a sign that the heat would only get worse in the upcoming days. She wore her traditional white dress, a white scarf, and her open leather shoes. She handed me some change and asked me to secure it in the pocket of my pants. It wasn’t much, but enough to cover the reciter’s fee.


She stopped to exchange pleasantries and words of comfort with the other women that we passed by on our way to my grandparents’ graves. I could never recall where my grandparents were buried and if it wasn’t for my mother I would’ve never found their graves. We took a narrow path. And as we walked down the hill, Mother pushed aside the branches that hung from the trees as to clear our way.


She pointed with her finger to two graves enclosed by rocks and said, “There!”


She walked toward the graves, with me following behind, clutching the pocket of my pants as not to lose the money I was tasked to secure. She stood there silent for a moment, her eyes moved from one grave to the other. She turned her head toward me. Her eyes were moist, but she didn’t bother to wipe the tears.


She pointed to the grave on the right side and said, “That’s your grandpa’s grave, May his soul rest in peace.” A pause. “I was pregnant with your oldest brother when he died.” Another pause. She then pointed to the other grave and said, “And that’s where your grandma is buried, May her soul rest in peace. She died a year after your grandpa’s passing.”


She said the exact words every time I accompanied her to pay our respects to my grandparents. By doing that, I had the hunch she wanted me to know that like other kids, I also had grandparents who were caring and loving. The grandparents I had never met as they both died long before I was born.


In the midst of that emotional moment, she sighted the reciter and motioned him over. He came toward us, taking slow steps. With his mellow but sad voice, he recited the verses, and said a solemn prayer.


“Amen.” My mother said when the man was done with the prayer.


She then looked in my direction. I then slipped my hand in my pocket, and pulled the change and handed it to the elderly man. He took it from me and pocketed it.


Mother flooded him with all the words of gratitude as he started to walk toward another family.


We walked in silence for a few minutes, and then I asked her, “Where did they bury Idriss?”


She thought for an instant before she said, “Over there. Next to his grandparents a few feet away,” pointing to a wooded area not far from where we were.


“Can we go visit his grave?” I asked.


“I don’t see why not,” she responded.


(11)


The boy was dressed in shorts, a jersey, and rubber cleats. He stood in the middle of a soccer field. Alone. The figue tree was swarmed with bees. The tree fell to the ground. The swarm of bees flew toward the boy, and landed on his body. He waved his hands to drive them off. He tried. The boy did. But they were too many of them. Too many bees.


“You were screaming, son,” My mother said, prodding me. “You were having a bad dream. I shouldn’t have let you see the grave.”


I looked up, my eyes barely open. The room was filled with darkness.


“I saw him, mother,” I managed to say.


She began to rub her fingers through my hair. I felt a sense of peace take over me. Peace that I hadn't felt since Idriss departed this world. She began to whisper something in my ear. A song? A prayer? I didn't know. She stayed in the room with me until I fell asleep.


And I slept. Slept for a long time.


 



© 2017 Rachid Amrani



Author's Note

Rachid Amrani
This work is entirely fictitious. The names, events, characters, and places are all the product of the writer's imagination. I hope you enjoy it! Reviews and comments are appreciated.
Note: Do not copy or reproduce this work in any form. Thank you

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Featured Review

Oh my god, this is so sad yet so beautiful at the same time. I love how you portrayed every detail and filled it with so much emotion. I also like how your sentences are short, yet they hold so much personality which is what you want when you're doing a first person point of view. It really puts you into the character's thoughts and feelings and connects you to the story more. All in all good plot and good description. Keep up the amazing work :)

Posted 2 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Rachid Amrani

2 Months Ago

Thank you so much for taking the time to read the story and taking the extra time to post your const.. read more
Asir Y.R

2 Months Ago

Your are very welcome but really there's no need to thank me. I should be thanking you for taking t.. read more



Reviews

Oh my god, this is so sad yet so beautiful at the same time. I love how you portrayed every detail and filled it with so much emotion. I also like how your sentences are short, yet they hold so much personality which is what you want when you're doing a first person point of view. It really puts you into the character's thoughts and feelings and connects you to the story more. All in all good plot and good description. Keep up the amazing work :)

Posted 2 Months Ago


1 of 1 people found this review constructive.

Rachid Amrani

2 Months Ago

Thank you so much for taking the time to read the story and taking the extra time to post your const.. read more
Asir Y.R

2 Months Ago

Your are very welcome but really there's no need to thank me. I should be thanking you for taking t.. read more

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Added on October 30, 2017
Last Updated on December 29, 2017

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Rachid Amrani
Rachid Amrani

About
I've always had a passion for story telling. Sometimes I wish I had more time to do more writing but with a full-time job that takes most of my time and drains me out it's very challenging. I'm gr.. more..

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A Story by Rachid Amrani