She dances like a snake

She dances like a snake

A Story by Rachid Amrani
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They were lured by the scent of the belly dancers, their husky voices, their looks, and everything that made them females.

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1

The Jeep cruised through the gravel road leaving a thick cloud of dust behind it. It was gray and it bore the word “police” on both sides. The word was painted red. As it got closer to the curve, the Jeep started to slow down until it came to a complete halt. The doors swung open and two uniformed men stepped out. The man who emerged from the driver’s side stretched his arms and then pulled a handkerchief from his pocket and began to wipe the sweat from his forehead. It was June and the air was hot and muggy. He was of medium height and appeared to be on the heavy side with a noticeable belly. The other man was tall with an athletic build. He tipped his cap and took the last draw from his cigarette and tossed it on the ground and then crushed it with his shoes.  They exchanged a few words with each other and then started their way down the hill. They both held black leather briefcases in their hands. As they approached the house a dog came out toward them. It barked but the two uniformed men kept on going. A voice came from the house ordering the dog to quiet down. It retreated to the house but its barking continued. The occupant of the house greeted the two uniformed men and ushered them inside the house.

Once they were seated they opened their briefcases and spread its contents on a small table and began their questions. He had not seen his son since the police had issued the arrest warrant. That far as he was concerned he didn’t care if they hung him or gave him a life sentence.

 

2

She dances like a snake. She dances like a snake.

More than once they heard him say it. His voice rose as he uttered the words. He said it twice; sometimes three times before his voice finally died down. But there were worse nights and that was when he said the words and screamed until he awakened everyone in the house. His mother suspected it was the fever. She was always the first to hear the screams and always the first to check on him. She touched his forehead and his cheecks and then wiped the beads of sweat rolling down his face. She would know if it was the fever, but she was certain as any mother could be that it wasn’t. There were times when she had to prod him and even shake him. Then he would jerk his head and exhaled heavily through his nostrils and then fall asleep again. They reasoned something hunted him in his sleep, thus triggered his hallucinations. Bad dreams, his father thought. Son, you talk and scream in your sleep, his mother told him. Screaming! He said, a startling expression enveloping his face. He doesn’t know, his mother thought to herself. She asked her what he was saying and she told him it was always the same words: ‘she dances like a snake. She dances like a snake.’ It was relief to him that he didn’t spell out her name in his hallucinations. He didn’t want them to know about her. Not his mother and not anybody else for that matter.

3

She was doing her belly dancing “show” the first time he saw her. Where else could he have seen her? After all she was a belly dancer though it wasn’t spelled out in those exact words in her identification card. Occupation: entertainer, it said. To him, the terminology didn’t matter. An entertainer, a belly dancer, or a wench; she possessed his mind the moment he laid his eyes on her.  He showed up to the wedding party an hour later after the band had started to perform. His breath reeked of strong whiskey and tobacco. He stumbled as he made his way toward the tent pushing the other guests with his elbows. The moment they recognized him, the boys flooded him with profanities. He gritted his teeth and clenched his fist and tried to punch the taller boy but missed. They chuckled as they dispersed and veered out of his way. He could be vile, the boys knew, especially when he was drunk. The band was in the middle of playing a song; two belly dancers were already in the dance floor while the other two were sitting on the two chairs next to the drum player, drawing on their cigarettes and sipping a red liquid from glass bottles. Mountif started for the dance floor but suddenly halted. He looked dazed and his red eyes never left the dancer with the long hair. He stood watching her for a short while and then gestured with his hand in her direction and yelled something. His voice sounded hoarse of the liquor. The dancer ignored his advances and continued her performance. It didn’t please him though. Like a mad bull, he invaded the dance floor and took her hands and led her to dance with him. Startled and frightened, she hesitated first but then she began to dance with him, though in slow motion. It didn’t last long. The two giant men stormed the dance floor with wooden sticks in their hands. He didn’t seem to notice them until the giant man with the moustache grabbed him from the back collar of his shirt and shoved him sideway, sending him to fall on the ground. He groaned of pain and cursed.

“Son of a b***h! What did you that for?” He growled at the giant man.

They gripped both his hands and began to whisk him away like a corpse. “I will kill you both. I swear I will. Do you know who I am?” Mountif howled as he was dragged away. They had instructions not to use the sticks unless it was necessary. However, they were to be displayed as tools of intimidation when the likes of Mountif decided to exhibit disorderly behavior and try to ruin the party.

“I’ve got right to dance like everybody else” he protested, the tone of his voice softening a bit. “I’ve got money for the dance. C’mon!” He dug into his pocket and pulled a bundle of four twenty-bills and waved it for them to see it. They glanced at each other and then pulled him off the ground.

“But you know the rule,” the man with the moustache cautioned, holding him by his forearm, “You can only have one dance for one song, understand?”

He nodded.

 After the man let go off his forearm, he walked past them and started to make his way back to the dance floor. On his way he stumbled and tread on a spectator’s foot. The spectator moaned and cursed and jostled him away. There was laughter among the other spectators but he paid no attention to it. He stood facing the band-which were taking a break- and took a bow and then saluted them as though they were military personnel. He then handed the violinist a twenty-bill and whispered something in his ear. The violinist leaned forward until his chin touched the standing microphone, and then made the announcement. Mountif cheered as the violinist said his name. And no sooner had the band started playing the song than he began to shake his body in a frantic motion that drew laughter and applaud from the audience. The four belly dancers were sitting on their chairs but not for long. Mountif went toward them and hung a twenty-bill on each dancer’s collar and then continued to dance while his eyes never left the one with the long hair. She rose up first and the other three followed. Though he was sauced, he danced so fast that the dancer found it hard to keep up with him. He was the only guest in the dance floor. After all he paid money for the song and he had the right to dance just as he had told the giant men. When the band ran out of lyrics to say, the music stopped. By that time he was sweaty and worn out. The belly dancers returned to their seats for another break while Mountif ran out of the tent and vomited by a nearby olive tree. The boys followed him and uttered more vulgarities but retreated when he hurled rocks in their direction.

“B******s,” he yelled as he wiped the vomit residue that had formed around his mouth.

He went back to the tent and sat on the straw mat behind the belly dancers. When they were not dancing, he initiated talk with the one with the long hair. She resisted at first but she gave up to his advances when he rolled a joint and passed it to her. As she dragged on the joint, he told her his name and asked her about hers. He knew the chances of her revealing her real name were slim if they were none. Saliba was her name, she said. He pretended to believe her and made the comment her name was sweet. She grinned, handed the joint back to him and stood up with the other three women to do their next dance. They talked more until the booze impaired his senses. He was tired and drunk but managed to push himself up and then walked toward an olive tree and lay on his back not realizing it was the same tree where he had puked earlier. The last thing he remembered before he fell asleep was the sound of music coming from the tent and the smell of urine and feces around him.

 As the first rays of sun pierced through the olive tree branches, Mountif jerked awake. His head hurt as if someone had pounded it with a hammer. His body was weak and achy, and he felt a bitter taste in his dry mouth. He sat and gazed around him and saw a herd of dogs not far away munching on a chunk of discarded raw meat. It had happened before: getting up in the morning lying on the hard dusty ground surrounded by human waste and stray dogs. And every time it happened he told himself he would lay off the booze and the excessive partying. But somehow the music and the sight of the belly dancers shaking their buttocks would induce him to defer the matter. And now came Saliba or whatever the hell her real name was. He thought about her as he walked home and wished the next wedding party would come sooner than later so that he could see her and dance with her again.

4

They were already in the dining room having breakfast when Mountif arrived. He had stopped by the well and washed up as to rid of the smell of liquor and cigarette and vomit hoping to dispose of the evidence that would discriminate him in the court of his father. It didn’t do him any good though. The word of his revelry the night before had already preceded him. As Mountif emerged through the door, his father looked up, set the cup of coffee down on the table and stared at him with a sparkle of rage in his eyes. Mountif leaned over, took his mother’s hand and kissed it and then reached to his father’s hand to kiss it but the latter abruptly snatched it from him and gritted his teeth. He didn’t lecture him that morning as he had done a hundred times before as if he had given up on him.

“It’s no use quarrelling with him,” he told the mother later, “He’s a failure and would always be a failure.” 

He sat and they all ate in silence.

5

The day Mountif dropped out of middle school his father beat him so severely that it rendered him crippled for weeks. Had the men whom the mother had summoned for help hadn’t come to the house and freed him from his father’s grip he would have been laying in a grave next to his grandfather’s a long time ago. From that day on, a feeling of abomination for his father had grown within him. So immensely that he wished him dead and after death that he would go straight to hell.

“You were fortunate last time the men had come to save you,” he told him when he was back on his feet again.

He was not through with his punishment and vowed to make his life arduous. True to his words, he assigned him long hours of hard labor at the farm and made sure he was deprived of any form of comfort a boy his age would normally enjoy. Mountif had complied for years but as his adulthood loomed nearer a tide of rebellion began to evolve inside him. He had become defiant afterward and it only enraged his father farther and farther.

 “Listen, you piece of s**t,” he told him when Mountif had spent the night out, “As long so you live under my roof you are to do as I say and when I say it.”

 It didn’t suit the father that his son shot him a look of disdain, so he grabbed him by the collar of his shirt and pushed him to the ground. Mountif was certain that his father would boot him until he begged him to stop. Enough was enough, he told himself. He pushed himself off the ground, clenched his fist and pointed it at his father but just as he was about to land it on his face his mother came charging toward them screaming in near hysteria. Mountif then dropped his hand flat, backed away and run toward the main road. He was gone for several days. Where he went, his father didn’t care. But he knew that the son he had raised to be obedient had strayed from the path he had established for the family. The mother begged him to let him back into the house when Mountif returned late one day as the first shades of dark began to descend on the town. He took him in but he reminded him that as long as he was alive he would be the sole authority in the house and he would not settle for less than full obedience. Mountif did what he could not to irk his father. He did all the chores and all the hard labor he was assigned to do at the farm but at the end of the day he felt he was entitled to seek some leisure time outside the perimeter of his father’s authority. He was no longer a boy now and his peers who were his age were smoking now and playing cards at the cafe and coming home late at night and when the harvest season was over they would go to the city and then came back with stories to tell about their adventures and the w****s they had copulated.  And so Mountif rationalized now that he was an adult it would be only fair if he explored that world.  

And he did just that.

6

A week later the music band had returned to the town to perform in another wedding party. They were paid by the groom’s family to stay for two nights. Mountif had exhilarated to the news of their arrival and started making the arrangements for the festivity. He got a haircut though he wasn’t due for one. He sorted his garments and picked the most elegant outfit he could find. He shaved and put on cologne and looked into the mirror. When he was satisfied with his appearance, he reached to his pocket and pulled out the cash and counted it. Seven twenty-bills. He had already secured a bottle of liquor and paid for it in advance. He had yet to pick it up from the guy who had sold him the bottle. His father would have buried him alive if he had brought the booze into the house. As he exited the house he found himself thinking about Saliba. He wondered whether she would be performing at the party. He’d made all the arrangements as to impress her and it would be a disappointment if she was not with the band.

She was though.

7

They were already dancing when Mountif arrived. She danced like a snake, he thought, when he laid his eyes on her. As she shook her buttocks, her long blond hair swayed right and left. It took his breath away. She had this necklace with a diamond that sparkled on her neck. Both her wrists were lined with bracelets. And Mountif stood behind the band gazing at Saliba, the belly dancer. He pictured her in his arms and then he visualized her undressed in his bed. He thought of the pleasure she would bring to his life if she were to become his woman. And he wondered how many men she had slept with. She had probably slept with the drummer and the violinist and the pianist as well. But it doesn’t matter, he heard himself say, it would only be a “one night stand.” One night with Saliba and if death comes then let it come. During his visits to the city he saw the women in high heels and short skirts that revealed their legs. It drove him wild. It awakened the lust inside him like the flames of a burning fire. He had frequented the clubs and approached the night girls and paid them what they asked for. It cost him a lot of cash but it was worth it as he would say. The encounters quenched his thirst but only for a short while. No sooner had he returned to the town than his lust would awaken again. And then he would go back to the city and stay there until he spent the last penny he had. News of his adventures had surfaced in the town. People talked about it behind his back. The mother brought up the marriage issue to the father.

“He needs a bride,” she said.

“Nobody is stopping him from marrying,” the father responded, frowning. “He’s a grown man now. Although I doubt any family in this town would wed him their daughter.”

“You’re always harsh on him. He’s a good young man and any girl in this town would wish to marry him. Besides, a wife is what he really needs to straighten up his life.”

“Well, if that what you believe you can start looking for a bride for him as of tomorrow. I will pay for the damn dowry and the costs of the wedding party.”

Just shy of twenty-five years-old, Mountif reasoned he was too young to settle for the marital life. He had seen what marriage had done to the men his age. They went downhill so fast like a motor vehicle whose brakes had malfunctioned. The gray hair started to show up and some grew bald. And when the babies came, the fathers worked long hours to provide for them. He had no intentions of trapping himself in a life where he would forego his needs to feed a family for the rest of his life. At least not when he was still twenty-five years old. As for the satisfaction of his desires he could always catch a ride to the city. He knew where to find the night girls. He was a regular client now and so long as he paid, the girls would be more than happy to provide the service. But he didn’t want to disappoint his mother when she talked to him into marrying.

“I will think about it, mother,” he told her.

8

He paid for the song that night and danced with Saliba. She let him hold her hands as the danced. When the music stopped the belly dancers sat back on their chairs. He sat behind her and poured a glass of liquor for her and one for himself. They talked as they drank from the glasses. The scent of her perfume and makeup and body aroused him. He wished he could touch her long blond hair and smoothed it with his hands. He wanted to kiss her on the lips and smelled the odor of liquor and tobacco in her breath. He asked her if he could take her somewhere as she downed the last of her liquor. She told him she was a belly dancer and that she didn’t do any escorting or whoring. He caught sight of the two big men with the sticks eying him. They didn’t look pleased that he was conversing with the pretty belly dancer with the long blond hair. Their eyes were filled with envy. He knew they would not hesitate for a second to ruin his fun time. They would humiliate him if they chose to. He knew they could. He decided it would be best if he didn’t look in their direction as not to provoke them. He would ask her again, he told himself. There would be more wedding parties and he would hand her more joints and pour her more glasses of liquor. And well, she might just relinquish to his advances.

The belly dancers rose to perform their next dance. Mountif had drained what was left of the liquor bottle. It was nearing two o’clock in the morning. He felt exhausted and his head was spinning. He stood up to his feet with a great deal of effort and headed for the olive tree. He collapsed on his back and slept through the blaring music coming from the tent until the sun rose.

9

Mountif

A whole month has passed since the verdict. Thirty days to be exact. The judge assigned to my trial had declared my crime heinous. He was even firm to make the statement that the likes of me did not deserve to live. Seated in the defendant box I felt pity for my defense lawyer as he vehemently pleaded with the judge to show leniency in my case. I was handcuffed and chained. Two police officers stood guard by my sides. In their eyes I was a monster and a monster was to be heavily restrained. The judge shuffled with the papers in front of him as my lawyer presented his argument. For all I knew he could have been solving a crossword puzzle or writing a check. The expression on his face revealed that he had already made up his mind and nothing the defense would say would change anything. I didn’t do it. I said it to the police when they took me in and I screamed loudly in the courtroom that I did not do it. The judge rapped his gavel and ordered me to keep my mouth shut. What worse could happen, I asked myself. I was already being tried for something I didn’t do. The judge, the police, the court clerks, the curious people who came to the courtroom to watch the trial because they had nothing else to do. They all condemned me the moment they saw me. To them I have the face of a criminal. But I didn’t do it. I screamed in the courtroom over and over that I didn’t do it. I didn’t care that the judge was wrapping his gavel to silence me either.

My mother didn’t come to my trial. It was a good thing that she didn’t. I didn’t want her to see her son handcuffed and chained like an animal. I know she would be praying for me that the judge listens to his conscience and offers me a fair trial. That the police would dig for more evidence and present it to the court so that I could be acquitted of the charge that I was wrongly accused of. I could picture my mother sitting on her mat in complete serenity, raising her hands up to the ceiling and saying a solemn prayer to the almighty that I pull through this ordeal. I might have strayed as my father always thought of me. But my mother knew in her heart that the son she bore and raised was not a criminal.

My father and I had not spoken since that fateful day. He had not come to my trial and not once had he visited me in prison. He had hired the defense lawyer to represent me solely because he didn’t want the town people to gossip that he had abandoned his parental responsibilities.

10

 The wedding business was booming that summer. The summer of 1981.There was not a single week that slipped by without a festivity or two. And sometimes there were more than two. It was as though the men were in a rush to breed before some wave of impotence struck mankind. To the music band the boom meant more work and more cash. And so they decided it was time to relocate to the town and save themselves the hassle and costs of the trips they had to take to perform in the weddings. They rented a house in the heart of the town and hauled all their music instruments and belongings on a Mercedes van.  The news of their relocation though was not well received by the town folks. It was one thing for the music band to come to the town and perform in the weddings. But quite another for them to live amongst its people. They were seen as outsiders. And their presence should not extend beyond the time frame of their work. Their lifestyle was a bit-well let say flagrant by the town’s standards. The belly dancers consumed liquor and smoked. They dressed “indecently” as opposed to the town dress code. They lived in the same house-males and females- and that made them fornicators. Nevertheless, there was no law in the book that spelled out a music band could live in a town but not in another.  To Mountif, though, the relocation of the music band to his home town was the best thing that had ever occurred to him.

11

Mountif

A: State your name, your date of birth and your occupation.

M: Mountif Harban; June 6, 195; farmer.

A: Do you know where you are now?

M: Police station.

A: Do you know why you were brought in here?

M: The officers who arrested me told me I was wanted for acid attack on the dancer.

A: Did you do it?

M: Did what?

A: Did you throw the acid on the dancer’s face?

M: No I didn’t. I didn’t do it. I didn’t-

A: Where did you get the acid?

M: I don’t know what you’re talking about.  I did get no acid. I didn’t do it. I didn’t-

A: Was she your lover?

M: Who?

A: The belly dancer. Were you two lovers?

M: She was a dancer and was a pretty woman. A lot of men wanted to be in her companionship.

A: Including you?

M: Well-

A: But you were more than a companion to her.

M: Well-

A: We have witnesses who can verify they saw you frequent the music band’s rented house almost daily.

M: That’s not true. I only went there when they played the music.

A: So you’re telling me that you went there only to listen to the music and nothing else?

M: That’s correct.

A: Did you pay her money to f**k her?

M: I’ve never said I fucked her. I went there to watch the band perform and the belly dancers dance. And of course like everybody else I had to pay money to watch.

A: And you rolled joints for her and poured liquor for her, isn’t that true?

M: Well-

A: And when the music stopped and the other guests left you stayed and spent the night with her.

M: That’s a lie-

A: How much did you pay to f**k her?

M: I never spent a night with her. The only money I paid was to watch the band perform and to dance with her.

A: Don’t bullshit me! We’ve talked to the band members and the dancers and they all said you got violent with her one night because she asked you for her fee and you didn’t have any money on you. But you wanted to spend the night with her anyway.

M: That’s a lie!

A: You slapped her and you assaulted the violinist when he came to her defense.

M: It never happened. I never slapped her and I never lay my hands on anybody else.

A: And they said you grew jealous when you learned she had been screwing the other guys.

M: I did no such thing-

A: You wanted her to yourself. You threatened to harm her when she told you she was free to do what she pleased with her life.

M: Not true. I made no threats against her-

A: And that was when you ambushed her and threw the acid on her face, didn’t you? You wanted to disfigure her so that no other man would ever look her way again.

M: This is all lies. All lies.

As I screamed my innocence, my interrogator flipped shut the folder he had spread on the table and stood to his feet. He headed for the door and slammed it behind him without saying another word. I sat on the wooden chair shivering with dread uncertain what would happen to me next.

 12

As the dark fell, the drifters flocked to the rented house like hungry vultures. They were lured by the scent of the belly dancers, their husky voices, their looks, and everything that made them females. The rented house was their sanctuary from a world that held nothing for them but contempt. While they were there, they drank to the extent of intoxication. They smoked and inhaled the tobacco into their lungs until they consumed the last of their cigarettes and joints. They spent with generosity though they knew they had labored hard and sweated to earn the spent money. In return, the belly dancers danced for them and smoked and drank with them. To them-Mountif included- the belly dancers filled a void in their lives that not even their families could have filled. For Mountif it was his lust for Saliba that drew him the most to the rented house. He went there every night and stayed until the hosts closed for the night. He wanted to see her dance and moved her buttocks. Her voice soothed him and rang in his ears when he walked home. She was a belly dancer, he knew, yet he wondered if he could make her his wife. He was certain if that ever happened, his father would disavow him and cut him from any family’s estate. Farmers wed farmers and not belly dancers, his father would say. He wondered as he pictured her lying naked in his bed if belly dancers could make good wives and bear and raise functioning children. So far she’d proved to be resistant. Saliba had. He had spent abundantly on her but thus far she had not yielded to his sexual needs. “I’m a belly dancer, Mountif. Not a w***e,” she told him every time he wanted to bed her. And so when his body flared with desire he sought fulfillment in the city.

13

Mountif

I wished I could take back what I had done with my life but I know it’s too late now. As I lay on the bunk bed in my prison cell I wonder about a lot of things. I ask myself if I have a hand in how my life had turned out. And I ask whether I’m responsible for the person I have become today.  I’m what my father calls “the bad seed of the family.” I’ve heard him say the words since I was a teenager until it got into my head that I was actually what he labeled me to be. I didn’t do anything to change it, believing I was doomed to be the bad seed of the family forever. The boys whom I went to school with did a hell lot more with their lives than I have- except for a handful of them who drifted the way I did. They went on to finish school, got government jobs, and started families. They call themselves city folks now. The only time they come to the country is during the summer when school is out. They bring their children along to see their grandparents and uncles and aunts and cousins. At least that’s what they claim they come for. I suspect they only do it to show off. To remind “losers” like myself that they had done well with their lives and married attractive women from the city. I used to run into them. After all it’s a small town and everybody runs into everybody. They shake hands with me and ask how I have been doing though the word had already got to them that I was still a farmer at day time and a drifter at night. I size them up as we speak: well groomed and well dressed; Puffy cheecks. They even got rid of the thick country accent and put on the city slick accent. They brag about their jobs, life in the city, and even their extramarital encounters. Every time they came to visit, they made me feel worthless and reminded me of my failures. And then I would turn to the liquor and the night girls and the belly dancers.

It was the only way I knew how to soothe my wrath.

14

One night Mountif decided to stay longer. It was nearing midnight. The music had stopped and the last of the liquor had been consumed. It was now just him and the band and the belly dancers in the rented house after everybody had left. He approached Saliba who looked worn out and ready for bed.

“I want to marry you,” He told her. His voice was husky of the liquor.

“Go home, Mountif,” She said dismissively.

“I’m serious. Let’s get married.”

“I’m a belly dancer, Mountif,” she responded. “Dancing is the only thing I know. I wouldn’t know how to be a wife.”

“I want you to be mine, Saliba. I want you to be my wife,” he said almost pleading.

“You’re drunk. You don’t know what you’re saying. I’m going to bed now.  Have a good night.”

When she rose to her feet and started toward the bedroom, Mountif grabbed her hand and pulled her toward him until she landed on his lap. She let out a scream that echoed in the house. The band members came scrambling to see what in the world was going on. She was trapped in his lap with his arms wrapped around her, pressing his lips against hers.

“Get off me,” She was screaming.

It was the violinist who charged toward him first, booting him on the head. Mountif moaned of pain and tried to get hold of his attacker’s foot but couldn’t gather his strength. Saliba broke free of his grip and run toward the bedroom in a frantic rush.

“Get the hell out of our house!” The violinist shouted at Mountif. “If you ever touch her again, you will never be allowed into this place.”

Mountif mumbled something and pushed himself up off the ground and headed for the door. It was said that he never set foot in the rented house again.

15

Mountif

The day I spotted the gray jeep loom in the distance I knew they were coming for me. I was terrified and the only thing that came to my mind was to get the hell out of town and disappear. A decision I would regret later on. By skipping town, I gave them the perfect reason to suspect I had done the crime. How callow of me then to think that running away would solve my problems. I didn’t get that far. A week later the cops were tipped to my whereabouts. I was hungry and exhausted and I wouldn’t have hurt a fly when they took me into their custody.  Yet they handcuffed me and chained me as if I was some serial killer.

16

The sky was filled with stars that night. The air dry and hot. There were times when she went outside to seek a moment of solitude. It gave her a chance to clear her head and contemplate her life. It seemed just like yesterday when she was walking to the elementary school making the one-mile daily trip. She overheard her father numerous times confide to her mother that he just wanted her to learn to write and read. That after she finished the elementary school, he would pull her from school. Her mother taught her to bake and cook and sweep and everything else the girls needed to learn to do before they entered marital life. When she reached puberty, the boys started courting her. Her blond long hair and blue eyes drew them to her. She resisted them with all her might. Her mother reminded her again and again that men are liars and cheaters. “They’re the worst creatures God had ever created,” She told her. “They would take your virginity and dump you like some dead bird.” It worked until that handsome boy from the city came to town with his family during the summer. He saw her and smiled at her and something in him aroused her. He was not like the country boys who followed her. He seemed polite and well-mannered. He knew how to talk to a girl, she thought. She fell in love with him-at least that what she thought then- the first time he talked to her. She started to sneak out of the house to see him. They always did it after dark as not to be seen together. He was four years her senior, and already had a government job. After their romance encounters, she would come home, lay on bed, and dream of the life in the city. She knew she was a beautiful girl and that she wouldn’t settle for a farmer. The city was where her life lay ahead, she thought. It was in their second encounter that he kissed her. His lips felt soft in hers. He was gentle and affectionate. Then he began to caress her chest and kiss her on the neck. She could hear her heart beat and heave. Never before had she felt that way. She let him undress her. They made love on the grass under the thick branches of a tall tree. To this day she couldn’t figure out why in the world she gave in to his sexual hunger. The handsome boy returned to the city with his kin. Back to his job and life. He promised to come back to visit soon. Whatever he meant by soon. She never saw him again. A few weeks later, she found out the sad truth. She was no longer a girl. She packed up whatever she could and left town one night. Nobody knew where she headed. She felt no regret for the way her life turned out. Belly dancing is just another job regardless of what people might think of it.  She felt pity for the men who told her they wanted to save her because she had never felt she needed to be saved. A movement coming from somewhere brought her back from her reverie. She jerked her head just as a human shape appeared in the dark. The shape came dashing toward her and tossed something in her direction. A liquid of some kind splashed against her face. She felt her skin burning, and she began to scream. All she could hear was the footsteps of her attacker as he retreated back into the dark.

17

Mountif

The night the belly dancer was attacked I was out of town. I told the police I had not gone to the rented house since the minor incident with Saliba and the altercation with the violist. And I disclosed to them in great details where I was and what I did that night. I had an alibi, or so I thought. For reasons I didn’t know and I would probably never know, the night girl I bed that night denied ever seeing me before. How cruel of her to lie knowing that my life was hanging by a thread. As I said, I would never know her motive for lying. But again not all our actions are justified.

Without an alibi I laid my ground and braced for the worst. Except that I didn’t know the worst would be ten years in prison. Ten years would be taken from my life for something I didn’t do. What on earth did I do to deserve such harsh punishment? I didn’t know. I did not know.

18

After that fateful night, there was nothing left for the band to do in the town they once called home. They packed up their possessions and left early one morning. For a handful of townies the departure of the band was a sad day though that feeling was not made public. To some, the departure was a relief. Now they would no longer brood that their sons would stray and ended up in the arms of the belly dancers. Those same people believed Saliba, the belly dancer, got what she deserved. “She was a sinner and she was punished for her sins,” the words were mouthed in countless conversations. 

 

19

Mountif

Nine years and eleven months is the length of sentence I have yet to serve in this small cell. I try not to say it in terms of days and nights because the big numbers scare me. Time seems to drag on and on while in confinement. And boredom is the worst enemy. People lose their sanity inside these walls. They scream and hallucinate and pray and cut themselves and fight. I feel I’m heading in that direction if I’m not already there. Some of the prisoners are innocent like me. They were framed by their rivals, wives, girlfriends, bosses and the list goes on. And of course there are the bad guys. Those who committed violent crimes and were put behind bars to pay their dues to society: Murderers, robbers, drug dealers, child molesters, wife beaters, forgers, and every law breaker. Every night as I lay on the bunker bed I hear a prisoner mournfully say a long solemn prayer. After the prayer, he sobs in a sad and loud voice. The word in the prison has it he had raped a seven year-old girl, strangled her, and dumped her body in a dumpster. I was sick to my stomach when I learned of his horrific crime. What is this world coming to? Decline? Decay? But here he is now locked up, praying to the Almighty day and night to forgive his sins.

 Yesterday I received a letter from my mother, my first contact with the outside world since I got locked up. I held the envelope in my hand and stared it at it for what seemed like an eternity and then I kissed it and an urge to weep had taken over me. It has been a long time since I’ve shed tears but I’m not ashamed to confess it felt good and relieving after I wept. I read the letter a dozen times. After the blessings she prayed that the Almighty grace me with the strength to endure my ordeal. Her words were uplifting and brought comfort into my soul. There was no mention of my father but she supplied a list of names of family members and neighbors who send their love. She promised to send more letters and visit in the near future. I folded the letter and slid it back into the envelope and sobbed more like a child.

20

As the first rays of the sun slipped into the cell through the tiny glass windows the prison bell buzzed loudly. It was to alarm the prisoners to get ready for another day. They rubbed their eyes, pulled themselves up and exited their cells. They lined up in the hallway and stood impatiently as the guards took the count and barked the daily tasks. There was a long list of assignments to be performed: food prep to be done, bread to be baked, dishes to be washed, floors to be swept, bathrooms to be cleaned and a whole lot more. Work that required every hand and every arm. Cell number 25 had housed two inmates for weeks until a couple of days ago when the forms were signed by the warden to authorize the release of the short chubby prisoner. He had served his five-year sentence for beating his mother almost to death because she had refused to give him money to buy booze. He had confided to his cell mate that he had learned his lesson and that he would keep out of trouble. Before the released prisoner headed for the door, he embraced his cell mate and offered words of comfort and support. He had been the sole occupant of the cell ever since.

Prisoners were instructed to mouth the word “here” and raise their hands when they heard their names being called. The procedure was conducted each time the prisoners left their cells and each time they entered their cells. But that morning as the guards went through the routine procedure, no hand was raised and no one said the word “here” when the name of the occupant of cell 25 was called. It had happened before when an inmate would feel too sick to stand up to his feet or just too sleepy to wake up. The guard called the name again, this time his voice grew louder. There was still no answer. Silence filled the hallway for a minute. Then an inmate volunteered to go and check on the occupant of cell 25. The guard nodded his approval. A short moment later, the volunteer returned with a grim look on his face.

“You might want to go there and see for yourself, sir,” he said, his body trembling.

The guard shrugged his shoulders and headed for the cell, his black well-polished boots squeaking against the tiled floor.

What the guard saw when he peeked his head into the cell sent shudders of horror down his spine. In all his twenty-five years as a prison guard he had never seen anything as harrowing as what he was witnessing now.  

21

Mountif

They are consumed with revenge.  I’ve heard enough talk about it since they brought me here. The other day I overheard a face-scared skinny young man confide to his companion the first thing he would do once he gets out of prison was to get even with his ex-wife. I don’t know what crime he had done to end up in the penitentiary nor do I want to know. But he seemed obsessed with revenge. The likes of him would care less if they ended up back into prison so long as they get their revenge.

Here is something to consider, I wanted to tell him, forgiveness.

Later that day as I lay on the bunker bed the questions began to linger in my head. I asked myself whether I would I ever forgive those who framed me and locked me up in this awful place. Or is that something I have to contemplate for the next nine years and eleven months left in my sentence?

22

Decedent’s full name: Mountif Harban

Cell’s number: 25

Date of birth: 05/02/1956

Date of Incarceration: 06/03/1981

Date of death: 07/02/1981

Cause of death: suicide

Supplementary information: In accordance with standard procedures the designated authorities have been notified of the death incident at the municipal penitentiary to which an inquiry has been launched. The body had been transported to the municipal mortuary and an autopsy had been completed by the medical examiner. The method of death was determined to have been suicide by hanging. The decedent’s body will be released to the family once all the required forms are signed.

23

The wind howled outside rattling against the only wooden window in the bedroom. She rolled on her side and then jostled awake. It wasn’t the wind that awakened her late that night though. It was something else she had seen and made her body shiver. The young man she envisioned in her dream bore a striking resemblance to her incarcerated son. He was laying face up in a pool of blood. A lot of blood. She reached to his hand and grabbed it. The hand felt cold in her grip as she tried to pull it to no avail as though it was glued. She screamed for help with all the might in her voice. The scream brought her daughter, who was lying next to her, from her deep sleep.

“Mother, are you alright?”

“I don’t know,” she said. Her voice was hoarse but feeble. “I think I was having a bad dream.”

“Dream?” the daughter asked.

“Yes. I saw a young man who looked just like your brother lying in a pool of blood.”

“It’s just a dream, mother. Mountif will pull through his ordeal. And those who put him behind bars would soon realize he’s innocent and then they would set him free.”

“I pray for his release every day. My dear son…” she paused for a moment, and then went on, “I wish that belly dancer had never come to our town…It’s all her fault that my baby is in prison.”

She pulled her closer and embraced her and then said, “It’s God’s will mother. It’s God’s will.”

They both sobbed and then silence settled in the room, except the howling sound rattling against the window.

24

`I’m tired. Tired of the screams, the fights, the obscenities. Tired of the long days and the long nights. Tired of my confinement and my solitude. Nine years and eleven months left in my sentence. I don’t think I can do it. I don’t think I can stay idle in a four-wall cell this long. I’ve tried to adjust to my confinement. And I’ve tried hard to convince myself that what had happened to me was an act of God. A divine punishment for my sins. I admit I’m no angel: I fornicated, I drank liquor, I abandoned my worship obligations. But I’ve never harmed or hurt anybody and I’ve never violated a law in my 25 years in this world. I don’t deserve to be thrown into this place. I don’t belong here.

I’m tired. I’m tired.

25

The municipal motor vehicle drove slowly through the gravel road its rear end bobbing up and down. The driver brought it to a slow stop right after he wheeled it past the gravesite front gate. A small crowd of men and women- wearing black and white garments-congregated nearby. Two men stepped out of the vehicle, walked to the back and propped the door open. They both wore uniforms that bore crescent emblems on their shoulders and backs. They extracted a wooden rectangular-shaped box and carried it over to where the crowd was waiting. Sobbing, the woman in the white garments knelt down and rested her head and her hands on the coffin. She clung to the coffin for what seemed like an eternity until the young girl came and wrapped her arms around her. She helped her up to her feet and they both retreated back to where the rest of the crowd was standing. The two visitors hung around until the coffin was lowered into the hole and the body was buried. They produced the forms and handed them to the family to sign and then got back into the parked vehicle and drove away.

 


© 2018 Rachid Amrani



Author's Note

Rachid Amrani
This is story two of a series of stories that are in progress. The first story had been previously published under the title "The drowning of Idriss." Comments, reviews, and feedbacks are always appreciated. Thank you.

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Added on January 29, 2018
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Author

Rachid Amrani
Rachid Amrani

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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