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A Migrant from Morocco: A Novel in Four Books

A Migrant from Morocco: A Novel in Four Books

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A Migrant from Morocco: A Novel in Four Books

Länge:
1,179 Seiten
14 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Oct 24, 2011
ISBN:
9781465302533
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

Arab world, third world, backward societies, under-developed countries, unchanging realities: a political status quo whose legitimacy few of us could question until very recently when the riots of the Arab spring broke out and took the world unawares. A migrant from Morocco describes where unrest takes root and what soil renders the growing of freedom inevitable. Hady Hayat, the major character of this novel, begins his struggle in Morocco, his native land, and when he fails, he turns to Europe but finds little to pin hopes upon.
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
Oct 24, 2011
ISBN:
9781465302533
Format:
Buch

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A Migrant from Morocco - Belhaouari Abdelilah

Abdelilah

Copyright © 2011 by Belhaouari Abdelilah.

ISBN:          Softcover                                 978-1-4653-0252-6

                   Ebook                                      978-1-4653-0253-3

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the copyright owner.

This book was printed in the United States of America.

Cover Art by: Marvin Abellana Alonso

To order additional copies of this book, contact:

Xlibris Corporation

0-800-644-6988

www.xlibrispublishing.co.uk

Orders@xlibrispublishing.co.uk

302502

Contents

BOOK ONE

cries and sighs

Chapter one begin at the beginning

Chapter two wars father fought

Chapter three of love and amity

Chapter four the owl and the camel

Chapter five neighbourly yours

BOOK TWO

breaking away

Chapter one Oleah’s shelter

Chapter two Debqua and Chebqua

Chapter three the green march

Chapter four bits here, parts there

Chapter five Omaha beach

BOOK THREE

people to meet

Chapter one back to Daloo

Chapter two troubled times

Chapter three the frontier offenders

Chapter four convalescence

Chapter five countdown

BOOK FOUR

words and acts

Chapter one Marrakech University

Chapter two missing

Chapter three light and candles

Chapter four save me the ghosts

Chapter five the volunteers

In memory of my brother Moustapha (1956-1984)

Who died of hunger and torture!

BOOK ONE

cries and sighs

Chapter one

begin at the beginning

I’m alone in my cell, staring blankly at the bare white walls, the heavy oppressive silence reminds me that human agitation is far behind. I cannot even hear the noise of planes landing and taking off. I’m in the middle of nowhere; I’ve lost my bearings and so I’m waiting for a border guard to come up and show me the way. Toulouse has betrayed me, has given me away to the implacable scent of Illegals’ Hunters. Toulouse I’ve adopted as my second home-town. Toulouse, the same red-ochre colour as Marrakech, my town of birth. Toulouse and the good years I’ve spent tramping its streets and avenues, learning its midi accent, enjoying its healthy food, celebrating its local teams. Toulouse no longer belongs to me, can no longer harbour my dreams. It seems that I’ve worn out my welcome; it seems that I’ve lost out on my undertaking, that the way out isn’t even worth this thinking. But I do wish they could forgive me the mistakes I’ve made hankering after senseless pursuits and making for a frontier without equipment, without gear. I wish I could step back into the old scene and say: I can mend, I can act, I can make up for my wrongdoing, my illegal overstaying, I can repair whatever has gone blooey, I can even out the erratic parts of my life and chide the child I have been. Been! Been, memory, what do you mean? Tassleem! Tassleem! [1]Nothing is now clear and I’ve run out of words, I’ve run out of steam.

They have thrown me away in a corner and told me to stay calm and no spleen; and I’ve stayed calm and serene and I’ve stayed awake and prayed to be spared the torments of my interrogators coming in to carry out an evil scheme. As the night breaks in, they sneak into my cell, make me crawl on all fours then start mocking my efforts to stand up, to fight back, to scratch for a crack-hold in the wall. Because they’re drunk and I’m alone, they start kicking like fury and my body keeps rolling down the floor, the corridor and they continue to roar like lions out of control and their eyes stare wide and they go ape, they go wild and I, all alone, suffering scenes of brutality and what you and I abhor, the horror of silent war. Pacing the floor between my cell and the hall, I’ve heard of magistrates faxing special dispensations, lawyers demanding release, papers signed and hundreds of illegals shunted out of sight. I’ve heard of fellow-inmates suffering discrimination, brutalization and others starving for immediate regularization. I’ve heard of brave demonstrators protesting, blustering and men of law deliberating, but I’ve heard of no name like mine and no mention of my situation; my case deemed beyond legal consideration. So I’m ordered to pack up, to leave, for another adventure, another leap in the dark.

I’m chucked away in a corner without my chattels, without my swag. I’m severed from time, from the people I’ve loved, from the cradle of my hopes, from the town of my re-birth. I’m left without a chance, without a destiny, only my name to suspect, my soul to torment, my humanity to disclaim. I cannot prove anything any more except that I’ve lived and hoped, bothered and troubled, loved and suffered. But I’m no man to bear the burden of these walls, their nakedness, their silence, their violence repel me, afflict my soul. My efforts to start a new life have thus proved vain. I can claim no right for consecration, for culmination, for gratification. Like Marrakech, seventeen odd years back, Toulouse is also letting me down, refusing my assimilation, my integration, my naturalization. And the pains I’ve taken to go my way straight, to search for a fellow to befriend, to mix without constraints, to pull my weight, to work day and night, to sweat for a decent bite, to see where I can fit and cohabit, to queue at impossible hours, before offices and towers, to suffer the wrath of bureaucrats and their associates blinking the facts, blaming the Arab and the Black, failing to consider my fate, why on earth I’m the one who’s late, who can’t remember his dates. And the crucial detail they’ve ignored keeping me away from the refrains of my tale, from prayers faffled out at 3 a.m when they turn back and I’m alone, when they grow darker than the night before and I’m forlorn, with my fears, with my tears pleading why, why, in the blink of an eye, I’m naf and them nobs. It’s a question I can’t help asking and on which depends much of what I’m here developing. Now I have no idea where I shall go, which island can still be willing to offer me a safe shore. Meanwhile I lie here in this cold corner, in this alien space waiting for a border guard to come up and show me the way.

As the tramp of footsteps recedes, a feeling of sickness begins to grab my whole being. My stomach growls, my breath grows short, my handcuffs begin to hurt and pinch. I shake, I shudder, my pulse slows down then abruptly sinks. My pores begin to shrink, my body ceases to sweat, my eyes give a last blink. Images, scenes, memories begin to worm into my mind, my heart warms to the comfort of remote reminiscences, my imagination goes wandering, rambling, searching: figures, places, faces of old folk appear, disappear, peer again and I, still racking my brains to put a name, to remember my way between then and now, to hail salaam to unknown passers-by, to shadows fleeting by. Many a time have I tried to utter a cry, to pierce through the dark mile of my life, but I fail, I fail. Then grabbing at the last spark still flickering at the back of my mind, I begin to perceive the scenes of my past coming up in a bubble before my eyes, bouncing, dancing, dispersing, racing, condensing, then sensing my yearning and my tremulous heart, they precipitate into sight: first, the sad episodes of babyhood, then the deprived childhood and last, the dashed hopes of manhood. They now emerge, they surge, they gurge, they merge into images that gather, crowd, collide, criss-cross, cohere, come out clear, to finally converge towards the inevitable round of beginning and end.

My name is Hady Hayat if you permit this casual statement as the beginning of the end. Otherwise I can remember my first steps in life, unsteady steps as a matter of medical fact. I can remember my baby screams, the soft bones, the wobbly feet and when Rahma sits me on a low barrow and my elder brothers wheeling me down the dusty streets in search of Mohssineen [2]to meet. I can remember the crowd thronging around, kids singing songs and generous hands helping with food and alms. I can remember that bountiful lady who, seeing me weak and wan, kneels down, bares her breast and invites me to some Bzizila[3] milk. I can remember those outings, the crowd chanting and my little barrow wheeling on, wheeling down, wheeling far, far until I find myself out in the sticks and have to crawl my way back where I have first begun, but I fail, I fail. Whenever I try again, I realize I’m on the wrong track and my way keeps receding back. Wherever I set foot, wherever I look, it’s not homewards, but beyond, the ugly world of adults, the gross violations of human rights. That’s why I’ve lingered back in the wings, waiting to mature, to grow up, to see my feet build up, to feel my heart beat on. Around the lonely corners of Jam-Alf-Nah[4] Square, I’ve met my peers, kiddies like me, with no voice to whisper their dreams. Back to school, the Makhzan[5] School, I find the atmosphere rife with fear and as I’m about to cross the threshold of my teens, they put chains around my feet, begrudging me the air I breathe and the lessons I’ve learnt out listening to the children of Dabashee[6] Street. So I’m the one who has fed the bloody greed of medieval rulers; I’m the one who has bled to save words from being soiled by the barbaric cruelty of Makhzan lords. I’m the one who has fled the awful dread to be forever chained to dead bodies.

Now that you know the keynote of my improvised beginning, why not consider the purport of my garbled end. I’m no longer a lad scraping a living as a beggar in the crowded alleys of Marrakech. I’m no longer a rebel fighting the tyranny of the Makhzan regime. I’m no longer with my family; I’m no longer in my own country. I’ve left the trails of my story behind me. And ahead of me the debris of a world I have yet to conjure back into order. I’m not even that bird nature has preserved from thundering skies, from routes without end, from smothering man-hands. Where I’m crouching right now, I can see figures patrolling across the barbed wires. In my last dream, the guns they’re holding are real; by day, they go marching along the border line; by night, they wear lurid masks and point towards the ghosts lurking in the murky dusk. Many a time have I heard them shouting: fire! Fire! Many a time have I caught them persecuting the shadows of harmless deportees; many a time have I lent my cries to bodies embarking on the agonies of the night. Haven’t I stayed long enough to witness the racist practices of uniformed men, those who have stripped me of my belongings and sent me wandering like a Fakir[7] groping along without a staff, without a ditty to moan to passers-by? Now they call me a Muhajir[8] because I’m still suffering the misfortunes of the frontier, a foot here, a foot there, my hopes, my life in the hands of hosts who have failed to understand why I have landed right here. More than a foreigner, an alien, an illegal, a paperless, a North-African, a clandestin, a moins-que-rien, I’m also a man with a thousand and one dreams, longing to belong, to settle down, to become legal, to embrace freedom, to join the big crowd, to say hi aloud, to love, to marry, to raise a family, to enjoy the cheerful lights of Christmas, the sunny days of Easter, to bet on the future, to experience the burden of time, to grow old, soul awed, to name my weakness after Adam, to kneel and pray:

Heave no more suffering breast!

Enough battering, relax and rest!

Heave no more, kindest breast!

Pain gone, relief comes next.

Heave no more, gentle breast!

Light is on, the scene is aset,

A mum, a son and the rest.

Heave no more, darling breast!

A baby lying snug and blest.

Heave no more, feeding breast!

Birth’s a wonder, never ever a test.

Heave no more, loving breast!

I’m here happily waiting for mists

To clear and my dear to leave her nest.

Am I not a father willing to do my best

And more anxious to kiss that breast.

The mere sight of it keeps me wondering about my own frailty as a neonate screaming out for milk, Bzizila milk. Now, it’s my son who’s crying out for it, his brave mum leaning over backwards to offer what milk in it. It is nurture. It is delight. But as he starts climbing onto the tender domes of pleasure, I pull back, hunching over my words and reminding myself of duties to come and many a story still untold. Because I was there too, behind the scenes, eyeing a clock and praying to Allah to preserve my wife from the searing pains of contractions. Then when it was all over, I bent over a convalescent bed and picked up my infant: nice boy: nice boy! I sighed and sat down.

Ameen, my first new-born son, was born on the stroke of a winter midnight, 1991, a time that had, however, inspired me no fuss. I had just felt relieved that Ameen had come out healthy, that my wife, Rosa Orain, was recovering well. To say that labour begins the moment a lady is told to push and breathe, is not quite true; nor is the common belief that women are often left alone to cope with the strenuous process of pregnancy. My own story, if you care to know about it, started off as a desperate cry for help. It was Rosa, Rosa explaining about her malaise on the phone. The voice was quavering but distinct enough to be alerting. I had been on duty then, doing my nightly rounds in the prison of Muret that I had earlier joined as a second class warder. It was the first time after weeks of enjoyable pregnancy that Rosa said she was feeling sick and needed to see her doctor.

Doctor Kahloon examined Rosa and confirmed earlier diagnoses, namely that physical pain and repeated malaises were a natural concomitant of a body that was naturally gaining size; hence his recommendations to her to soon start a physical activity, otherwise, complications might arise at any time trigging off serious problems of health. Rosa didn’t worry much about the necessity to work out nor did I in any panicky way; but to find time for exercising was something we hadn’t allowed for. As a primary school-teacher, Rosa had a hundred kiddies to look after and back from work, she would still have to devote a couple of hours preparing lessons for future classes. She would often come round to join me in the living room with folders and biros and I would naturally promise to give her a hand could she simply sit by to watch the telly with me. She seldom said no, so I would help albeit reluctantly deeming the busy-work she was doing a bit too fastidious. Of course, she would make faces, disapproving my judgement, but our arguing rarely developed into any serious squabble. The happy news of a child coming up and the commitment it involved had brought us so close together that we had practically nothing left to quarrel about.

Rosa knew her new situation as an expectant mother would not make things easier for her. School, for instance, would still be expecting her to keep it up, take care of the kids and prepare them for higher classes. Home, likewise, was a place that needed keeping and a great deal of attention. I had myself thought the matter out seriously enough and without further ado, agreed to spare some of my time in order to join the sports’ club Rosa had chosen for her pregnancy classes. The place was not far from home and we didn’t even have to take the car. Other couples had enrolled too. The club accepted both concubins and married couples, but disallowed men or women without their wedding rings. The club’s idea was, in fact, to try and bring men and women together to share a bit of time relaxing and taking it easy. My own role, as I got to know about it later on, was simply to do a number of exercises that would help my wife better cope with the stress of being pregnant. The other club’s mates had, more or less, to offer the same help. Though some workshops looked as if conceived for ladies only, men were often called on to take an active part in the classes, if only by assisting their wives. It goes without saying that the purpose was not simply to prepare expectant mothers for their ultimate time of delivery, but to make pregnancy itself an experience for husbands to enjoy.

The first two months were indeed highly enjoyable. We were a group of twenty couples to meet regularly every Friday afternoon. Other classes took place on Saturdays and were given by the same lady: a retired midwife in her late fifties by the name of Ada; average height, blond hair nicely knit into a chignon, a girlish voice and a body slender enough to go in for choreography. She stood on a raised ground in the middle of the room and cast her eyes to supervise the group and the ongoing of the exercises. When she couldn’t see, she would stand on her toes or blow her whistle loud enough to attract attention. The party would meet in a large room, put on sportswear and relax on comfortable mats. Listening was the first thing I had learnt as a helping partner. It was part of the activities we had to go through husbands and wives alike. Learning how to breathe properly in time of stress was another lesson I had also found mind-blowing. Ada’s approach was very simple: to help us find out about our bodies by simply breathing and relaxing. And it rarely took her more than a few minutes to explain about an exercise and how it should be performed. The instructions were repeated twice and it did happen that our coach, for the sake of clarification, digressed, which made the classes all the more interesting. Therapeutic advice was given to mothers who seemed more worried about the weight of their bodies. Recurring questions related to medical care, the health of the foetus or the sleeping position of the mother were also evaluated and gone through.

As an expectant father, I did take part in all the arguing going on and it even happened that I made a point or two about a subject or another. Ada herself approved of men taking initiatives and asking questions. It was the first day, however, that had left me with the sweetest memories. As the ladies began to stretch and warm up, the boys stood close behind, anxious to give a hand. The coach got a whistle which she blew each time something was going wrong. Before I began an exercise, I always made sure it wouldn’t cause any hurt to Rosa, my spouse. I was supposed to be ready at any time my wife felt like exercising; I was also supposed to know basic movements and respond by offering a helpful hand. Eh? Not like a brute, shouted Rosa as I began to message the top of her shoulders. Ada was busy helping the couple next to us.

Sorry, dear, I’m not pressing hard, am I?

Oh dear, you are, she frowned;

Right, I went on, this way then, right,

No, softer, gentler, explained Rosa, you’re not supposed to knead Hady, let your fingers go about it softly,

Why, I’m not, I mean, I can…

Look Hady! Why not watch the other fellows over there, don’t you see they’re managing well?

Well, yeah, yeah, I mumbled then glanced round to meet the pleased gaze of my next-mat neighbour. Amazing, she’s really enjoying it! I said and turned to whisper my words over Rosa’s shoulders.

You don’t seem to be the least serious Hady, do you?

Well, I mean I do, look at me, how do you feel now?

Please Hady, will you stop this kidding, we’re here for some sport, aren’t we?

We are, I acquiesced then let my thumbs gently slide down the nape of my partner.

The first exercises were so easy and so idiot-proof that it took one no effort to repeat them now and again. Sometimes we stopped practicing altogether and instead were told to listen to Ada indulging in a theoretical speech about the mystery of the human body and the respect we, men, should pay to those who had given us life. But few of us bore to stay idle for that matter and miss the sheer fun of exercising for the heck of it. The easier the class, the funnier it turned out; the rules and instructions were clearly stated and had to be followed to the letter. The husbands, for instance, were not allowed to stand in for their wives and vice versa; nor was it allowed to let an expectant mother stand by longer than she could afford. The role of the husbands had thus come simply to mean passing an occasional kneading hand over the wet neck of their sweethearts.

But there was always an exception to established rules. The couple next to us was a case in point, namely Manu, the partner of Betty. Not only did he sometimes fail to do his part properly, but he also tended to put his wife off her stride. At first, his incessant arguing went almost unnoticed; neither the coach nor the other participants seemed to sense any tension building up between the two. I had myself exchanged a few friendly glances with Betty while she was off for a glass of water. And she didn’t seem to be looking any discontented. Back to work, she began to grow angry as Manu went on with his own kidding distracting her the moment she was taking care of her body. Only when she burst into tears did Manu stop mucking about, but it was too late. The whistle went off and the class was interrupted. Ada didn’t have to ask what was going on; she just told us to stand by and for the first time she proposed a class different from anything we had as yet performed. It was a Hatha-Yoga class and it simply consisted of deep-breathing and water drinking.

As Manu and Betty were the couple to be concerned in the first place, they stood by to perform the exercise.

Hi honey, said hubby to wife,

Hi darling, replied wife to hubby.

Ada made a step forwards and stood between them. Now, I want you to relax and do some breathing, five minutes no more, she explained and withdrew. I took Rosa’s hands and listened. The yoga course was on; Ada put the whistle back into her pocket and walked up to Manu, a bottle of mineral water in her hand.

Here you are, Ada said and handed the bottle over to Manu, now show me how nice you are!

Manu walked over to Betty and in a relaxed way, he picked up a glass and faced Betty,

May I offer you some water dah…, before he could finish, Ada ran over and stopped him;—Don’t be stiff Manu! You see, you’re a bit tense, something is still wrong with your posture, I want to see you smiling, I want your words to sound genuine, from the heart, understand, just be yourself! Mean your offer, here we go! Ada moved back and Manu filled up another glass; he had drunk the first one. As he started pouring water, Betty burst into laughter and Manu responded with a chuckle. The coach stood awhile gazing, then whistled the end of the class.

Four months later, the splendid abdomens had stuck out magnificently and so needed to be tended gently and tenderly. Relaxation exercises could do, deep-breathing too. At this crucial stage of advanced pregnancy, midwifery had more to propose in terms of therapy and foetus psychology. But before elaborating on the rapport between mothers and babies, Ada started by evoking the difficult cases she had dealt with in all her born days, then confided she had still enough energy left in her to continue and take care of un-experienced mothers. Bea raised her hand and asked a question:

Do we still have to exercise when we feel too overweight to move?

Of course, no, reassured Ada, judging by the size of your tummies, exercising is no longer as salutary as it has been the first weeks, your foetus is now a full-fledged creature and cannot bear being swung to and fro.

Bea dropped her hand and turned to cajole her partner.

The gait of my wife has changed dramatically, I questioned, is she likely to resume her walking normal?

Yeah, yeah, absolutely, many of you ladies walk with your head leaning backwards and your knees bending in; this process is quite natural because of the weight you bear; so no worry, understand?

Then Ada went on with a speech that seemed to mingle medical knowledge with formulations of her own contriving while the focus remained the same: the living body we call the foetus. The main point is to help expectant mothers realize that it was about time they had considered their babies as independent individuals and not simply as the ones who are not yet born. To set the tone, Ada gave some advice to mothers concerned with the problem of sleep and breast-feeding. Emma asked for more details and was relieved to learn that a baby didn’t mind the kind of milk it was given as long as it was the mother who was feeding.

Now, it’s time you establish a genuine relationship with your babies, cheered Ada, They’re expecting you to mind them, to caress them, to talk to them, to feed them, to love them.

I love my baby, I love my baby, moaned Laeti and the whole class took up the refrain: I love my baby, I love my baby. The emotion was so great that the coach had to use the whistle to call back for silence.

Don’t forget! Exulted Ada, don’t forget that your baby is now able to capture your mood and even guess on what kind of cuisine you feed.

Do they breathe? Asked Rosa,

As you breathe, they breathe, answered Ada placidly and didactically.

Great! Great! Sang the class in excitement.

So whatever you do, do it with passion, with devotion, with love, with faith.

I love my baby, I am my baby, cried a concubine at the back row. A friendly smile from Ada and she lowered her voice to a whisper.

Now, my last words, Ada advised, safety, comfort, peace.

Rosa gave a sigh of relief and nodded to the crowd. Manu and Betty kissed hotly. Laeti wiped off her tears after which Ada motioned us to sit down, so that she could carry on with her long speech.

I don’t want you, and I’m addressing the ladies in particular, I don’t want you to develop any kind of obsession as regards your babies. Just behave motherly and seek as much happiness as you can, for your own benefit and for your babies’.

The faces beamed again and hearts opened up to delirium and dream.

Now, please, now, lend me your ears, if you want to keep your babies in good health, concentrate and meditate! By doing this, your chances of getting through labour are greater.

I let my hair down and watched; the other guys were listening and nodding. The coach stood aloft from the crowd like a proud master. We were half-way through the yoga exercise.

You’ll see, Ada went on, if you keep breathing fairly properly, your delivery is likely to be less painful.

What about medical assistance? I asked,

Necessary, salutary, but not indispensable, she smiled knowingly.

What do you mean? Asked Dédé,

A patient does appreciate the good medicine does her, but she’s much better with her partner beside her tending and comforting.

Right, right, approved the crowd.

Ada smiled again, the whistle tighter between her lips. If Laeti can still walk miles on without having to stop every minute to get her wind, her baby is likely to develop a natural bent for height-climbing.

Whoopee! Whoopee! shouted the ladies while fellow-guys threw their fists up in excitement.

Now, it’s up to you babes to act, gasped the coach then stooped to pick up a towel.

It was the last relaxation exercise before the end of the class. The ladies had to lie supine with their eyes closed while the guys had to move round and start patting and stroking the gorgeous abdomens of their beloved. Laeti was incredibly ticklish; every time her husband slipped his hands under the bulging tummy, she would burst into giggles and right after the giggles, a hot wind whose exotic essence my nose detected but failed to snuffle away. Eating for two sure was pretty enjoyable but can also cause some incidental discomfort.

As confidante Ada still expected more; the ladies knew it, the guys too. Now that the classes began to take the form of free chat, she wished it could evolve into some kind of intimacy, some genuine conviviality. Bea was the first to have anticipated the course of events. One day, she came up with the x-rays’ photos of her foetus and a voice choked with excitement.

Come on dear! What’s up? The photos are gorgeous, aren’t they?

It’s a boy, mumbled Bea tearfully.

Great, that’s good news, isn’t? So come on, let’s know more!

He’s kicking on all the time, pretty hard, she explained, a note of pride in her voice.

Just like mine, remarked Lilly,

Anxious to be out, that’s foetus’ nature,

Sure, sure,

So what has the doctor said?

A healthy boy, likely to be taller and stronger than his dad,

You’re telling me, the kids nowadays, intoned Rosa,

So stop blathering now! went on Lilly,

Things are looking up, aren’t they? I said,

They are, except for a detail.

Ada who had been watching from a distance, came round to see. What’s wrong then? She broke in,

His name?

Whose name are you talking about?

The baby’s

How about it? Insisted Ada,

Dédé and I can’t agree.

But does it really make a difference whether he’s Paul or Pat?

It does madam,

What makes you say this?

The attitude of Dédé,

The father, you mean did he… . ?

He’s being resentful, Bea hugged the x-rays again and started sobbing.

What do you mean?

He doesn’t like me to give a French name to my kid, he’s okay for Paul but I’m not,

What’s your choice then?

Pat! That’s what I want, that’s what my father and mother want, that’s what my grand-parents have agreed upon, no, no, it can’t be Paul, she sighed then burst into tears.

Be calm! Be calm now! It’s okay, your baby will have a name, nobody else is going to choose for you, are they?

Not even I, sang Dédé and threw her a wink.

Bea looked up unbelieving; come on darling! Say it again! Pat is so nice a name, isn’t it?

Yeah, yeah, replied the crowd, it does sound nicely French.

By the time Bea had wiped her face, Dédé came up and said he was dropping Paul for Pat.

Can you hear him? Cried Bea, can you hear him? she smiled then threw her arms out to embrace her man. The couple kissed and cuddled amidst the cheers of the party.

At home things didn’t turn out the way I had expected them to; Rosa had barely two months to go before joining her childbirth bed and had already begun to grow impatient and less inclined to put a curb on her caprices. She no longer waited for me at the doorsteps with smooches and sweet words. Now when I arrived home, I found her relaxing comfortably on the sofa, her head bent forwards and her hands gently over her abdomen. Shush! I’m listening to the ticks of life, she would whisper when she heard my footsteps in the doorway. Enjoying it? I would promptly ask,

Yeah, tremendously, I just can’t tell you how pleased I am, she would sigh and I would approach closer to make sure everything was alright with the baby. But she sometimes wouldn’t bear me asking her more than she could abide.

Why not go and see to the kitchen honey, there’s some cleaning and washing to do, will you, sorry dear, I haven’t had time to keep house, you can see.

As soon as I started looking after the kitchen, Rosa would call to remind me that she was starving; then when I’d have finished cooking and cleaning and thought to join her for some intimate chat, she would grab at any excuse to keep me moping round the kitchen.

Later on, a couple of weeks or so before the birth of Ameen, Rosa grew much more stubborn and difficult to reason with. Her mood changed considerably so it was impossible to make her agree on anything. She would say yes and no at the same time and when I started coaxing, she would grumble me away. Helpless, I would retire to the kitchen again and bide my time hoping she would soon recover her mood. A while later, she would get up to tell me she had no idea what to eat for dinner. Then once the dinner was ready, she would pull faces and frown at the dish as if the hands of a monster had tampered with it. Even the Tajines[9] and the Marrakechi meals she had so often favoured and enjoyed, she no longer bore to taste, let alone to swallow.

So tell me what you want for dinner?

Nothing, nothing, just leave me alone Hady! Don’t you see I’m putting on weight?

But you can’t go to bed on an empty stomach, can you?

Please, no food! Spare me all that! May be some chalk, yeah, that’s what I want, that’s what I feel like eating, please go and get me some white chalk!

Rosa, Rosa, what are you talking about? You’re raving or what?

No, no, I’m not raving, I’m just kindly asking you, Hady please hurry up to my desk and get me some white chalk, I’m craving for the white powder, please Hady, make it snappy, for the baby’s sake; the chalk appeals to me, stays my hunger, so go and fetch me a stick or two! You’re my loving husband, aren’t you?

But I was not a fool to listen to folly and let my wife sink as low as dieting on crushed chalk. As the fridge was always full of good food, I’d fob Rosa off with some dark chocolate from Bayonne or Brussels or else resort to the old ways of Ada whereupon Rosa would lean comfortably against my chest and I would practice some kneading and massaging until all desire for chalk would die down. When I saw that she was at last willing to have some sleep, I’d make her at ease adjusting the pillows the way she liked and letting her choose the sleeping position restful to her and to the baby. Sometimes she would wake me in dead of night because the back pains were unbearable or because the foetus itself grew restless.

Hady dear, listen, it’s the baby’s talking to us; come on press your ears! Right here, no, lower, do you hear now?

But I could hardly open my eyes and the voice of Rosa sounded as if it were miles away. Even when she insisted pricking me hard in the ribs, I’d grumble vaguely shaking my head in the dark like a nursling nuzzling about to find the soothing tits of his mum.

Rosa had become so intimate, so close to me that there was no part of her body I had not explored: the plump tummy, the charming outie, the shiny creases round, the gentle curves and of course the things no reader would care to know about. To keep our intimacy stronger, Rosa and I had continued to ring up Ada, the coach, to ask her for help, especially when Rosa happened to be suffering. I would myself pick up the phone and meticulously jot down the urgent things to be done and for the most crucial part of the night, I would ask my wife to sprawl out on the bed and listen to my nightly instructions. But much of what I would also dictate accounted for my own intuition as husband, let alone father. I did sense, therefore, that something great was going to happen and change my life. So I just set my mind to it and lived up to older pregnancies, older births, older dreams. Home and its demands, however, offered me no scope for such a flight unto the remote spheres of my past, and if you still remember dear reader, I had Rosa to tend, Rosa and the promises she was holding deep in her womb. Her fears were mine; her worries I’d adopted too. Even at work, Rosa was not quite behind, but suspended somewhere at the back of my mind. At break-time, when the job was done, I’d retire to a lonely corner in the open patio of the prison and dream beautiful dreams about our life together. Then, quite unconsciously, my thoughts would stray away to Morocco, the country I’d fled and which was still present in my heart of hearts. As you can see dear reader, there is no way for me to skip essential details and leave my past thus stranded in the amorphous alleyways of Marrakech. Aware of the challenges ahead, I would submit myself to the cosmic order of here and now, this and that and stitch my story along the patterns I’d committed myself to follow.

Rosa had begun to lose much of her early motivation and so preferred to wait in the last resort. But waiting had rendered her somewhat peevish and less confident about herself. As the process of physical change had come to an end, the natural pride of being mother had receded back estranging Rosa from her dearest dreams and making her feel as an unwanted body, a repulsive sore, an oddity the world dreaded, shrank from. Labour had thus become but an impending anguish, a distressing experience, an obsession to end all obsessions. It was precisely at that time I had myself begun to understand that married life was not simply two spouses living together, but a future to build, to apprehend. Lack of experience began, however, to weigh me down and to cope, I had found no alternative but to vent it out on Rosa whom I slapped for the second time since our marriage, because she missed her pregnancy classes, because she had grown too obstinate. She said the club’s fellows were no longer as friendly as they used to be and that she had no longer any reason to go there and waste her time. I had failed to make her change her mind, and she had failed to prevent me from keeping in touch with Ada. Duty-minded I had stayed, though, ringing my sweetheart several times during the day to make sure she was feeling well, alright, alright’ she would mutter and I would renew my call to hear the same reassuring phrase. At long last, Rosa had resolved to stay home and bide her time. She told me she didn’t mind expecting as long as she had got recipe books to leaf through and films on tape to see. As for house-keeping, we had agreed to leave it for the week-ends when both of us were staying home.

A few weeks before the happy birth of Ameen, Rosa had slightly recovered her sober mood and finally accepted to cope to the bitter end. To help her enjoy more comfort, I’d cut her a little slack arranging the living-room as she had wished and providing extra pillows together with warmer sheets so that she could relax for hours without having to go back to the bedroom. I’d also bought a pair of armchairs in case some of her colleagues would want to come by and see her. As the living room was large enough to hold more furniture, I’d bought her a lounge chair and spared a corner for the tallboy, useful for her medication and hankies. To wait on her still more dutifully, I’d ordered a small Christmas tree days in advance and was trying to find a place where to keep it. As for the decorations, I’d prepared them since early December and was looking forward to offering Rosa a gorgeous gift.

The only problem I had had trouble dealing with was Rosa’s growing dependence on tinned food and to a lesser extent the Halal Charcuterie. At first I didn’t want to blurt anything that would put her out; I just cleaned up the mess and went about my business leaving my wife to her nibbling and her pecking. On week-ends, I would spare more time to look after the house, but on work days, the living room would gnaw at me the very second I got my nose indoor, making it impossible for me to just stand by and swallow my anger. The scene of yesterday, for instance: as I picked up the vacuum cleaner and bent over the disorder, Rosa scurried over and grabbed my hands, stop this machine! Will you stop this machine Hady? She begged; why, because Rosa couldn’t bear the noise of that inhuman gear.

Here you are Hady, take this broom or this one! No, this one can do, the place is not unclean,

What about the rugs Rosa? I raged,

I’ll fetch the hard brush then, she proposed.

The living-room looked terribly untidy with crumbs of charcuterie food on the floor and papers tossed any old how on the sofa and under the telly table. To tell Rosa she was becoming careless and failing to keep house would not be the right thing to do, so I would go my tolerant way hoping she would soon start to realize that being pregnant was not tantamount to staying idle and laid-back.

One day, we were arguing quite amiably when the phone rang; it was Ada. Rosa didn’t wish to answer, so I picked up the receiver and said hello. After a brief exchange of salaam-Aleck, Ada asked me about the situation conjugale and I told her the truth. But she quickly reassured me that the way Rosa behaved was not uncommon amongst females expecting a baby for the first time. She added that most pregnant women, quite significantly, enjoyed disorder because it seemed to prepare them for the harder tasks of childbearing. Being very close to her term, Rosa had thus to follow in the footsteps of her elders and by the same token, rehearse the self-same mess her baby was likely to make once let out into the world. Considering the scientific assumptions put forward by the coach, I had decided to let Rosa go about her life and take it upon myself to keep house and clean up Rosa’s mess. It had, however, occurred to me once or twice to get in a strop because of the growing disorder in the house. Rosa understood my attitude and didn’t argue. The Friday before she was admitted to hospital, she allowed me to make her bed, arrange her odds and ends, but she didn’t want me to switch anything around.

What about the bed-clothes? I argued,

Never mind, I’ll see to them later on, she explained, but the living-room had by then begun to resemble a toy’s room and you didn’t even have to be a child or under five to stand by and say: there is a game to play.

Think of Rosa going out for a walk one December afternoon arm in arm with her husband, Hady Hayat, a newly regularized paperless Maghrebi; eight months had conspicuously left her without much guts to manage her steps until Hady Hayat offered valuable support. Think of Hady himself edging his way through the charming streets of Toulouse and begging his wife to keep pace. Think of nasty onlookers waiting on the sly, eager to enjoy the scene. Think of what it felt like to fancy a hermit suddenly quitting the confines of his hole and emerging out from the dark to be reconciled to sunlight, to the vistas of secular life. Think of that bit of a man walking his bride through a town pulsing with the joys of life, all colour and light. More interesting still, think of the indoor scene that had preceded the promenade proper. Think of what can be good and bad when a couple is expecting a lad. Think of the little intimate chat when a man and a woman are clapping on the same hand. Rosa first, before going out, she would try on many skirts and end up choosing the one I had lately bought her, the baggy one with a belt and pockets galore. As for the shoes which I would display in a colourful array before her eyes, she would ignore, preferring to put on her old slippers and do without the socks. Then came the delicate question of the abdomen which kept tilting slightly downwards and so needed to be propped up by a belt, a safety belt as a matter of medical fact. Once the belt was adjusted, Rosa would walk up to the looking-glass to preen herself. Then, she would beg me to come in and take care of her beautiful hair and after that, the kiss that would usher both of us outdoor.

We crossed the bridge between the halls of residence at Daniel Faucher where a great number of students lodged and La Croix de Pierre place where the bus n°12 stopped to take passengers down town. Then arriving at Fer-A-Cheval Street, we turned right to join Saint Michel Avenue and continued further up to Trinity Square, the starting point of our stroll round the Occitan town. Walking on the sidewalk towards the heart of Toulouse, I suddenly remembered a short cut that most regular unions’ demonstrators took up to reach the central authority at La Prefecture of Saint Etienne, an old building guarded by police and gendarmes. I mentioned it to Rosa but she didn’t seem to care. Then I explained that the place had to do with politics and policy-making, that people sometimes set for it up in arms, namely when their own welfare was at stake. Still Rosa didn’t react.

Which way can we go then? I asked calmly,

Let’s just walk Hady! Better this way,

So we took Des Lois Street and walked down as far as the shrine of Saint Sernin. Then Rosa insisted that we should walk round the holy basilica to watch the magnificent architecture and after that, have a drink in a café-shop nearby.

So we made for the first café-shop on the way; entering, I spotted a neatly-set table at the back and hurried to take the seats. Rosa stood behind watching the waitress, a lady of uncertain age, lightly dressed with a ciggy nervously stuck between her crimson lips and a look winking back to the turmoil of youth. As she bent over to take orders, she made a curt smile and addressed a friendly nod to Rosa; before she turned to go, a niff of bad wine wafted round; I crinkled up my nose and frowned. Rosa didn’t. I picked up my glass and began to slurp my tea. Rosa kept gazing at the lady; she just couldn’t get her eyes off the waitress. I poured her some more tea and smiled to get her attention back, but Rosa ignored me.

Would you like some more tea darling? I offered,

No, thank you,

What’s wrong with the lady, anyway? I resumed,

Which lady, Hady?

The waitress, you’re not staring, are you?

No, me staring, I just find her awesome, pleasant to look at, I mean her way, her gentle manners, the way she moves about, light and gracious, don’t you see?

I see, I see, she’s cute indeed, I said,

Cute, what do you mean? Glared Rosa,

No, no Rosa don’t get me wrong, I simply want you to stop looking at her the way you do, that’s all, now let’s stop this nonsense!

Rosa took a sip and grimaced, this tea in undrinkable, she winced,

What’s wrong with it? "Rosa grimaced again and pointed down to her stomach. I paid for the tea and we left the café-shop.

Walking out towards the boulevards, we stopped at a small café for another drink. I let Rosa go ahead and followed behind her. Inside, the place looked a bit untidy, but not uncomfortable. Seeing the crowd, Rosa hesitated, but I took her hand and headed up towards a corner. Customers kept swarming in as the sky began to darken. Rosa felt uneasy and kept harassing me about the way to the rest-room. I asked the waiter who pointed to a door leading out to an open patio outside the café-shop. I accompanied Rosa and stood waiting. A man stared at me and walked on; back in the café, we found more people settling down and the clicking of glasses began to fill the whole place. I looked out for the waiter but couldn’t see him; ahead of me a row of men leaning over a counter and chatting boisterously.

What would you like to drink honey?

Rosa smiled to the waiter who kept swinging a tray; two coffees, repeated the waiter and walked back to the counter. As soon as Rosa had finished her drink, I reminded her that it was about time to leave and go out to brush the cobwebs away. She nodded and I helped her up. Of course, I’d have liked to take her to the British Garden behind the church of Saint Etienne as the sky had cleared by then, but she gently took my hand and walked me back to the old town.

I love to see people moving round, she began, I love to hack my way through the bustle and hustle down town, she went on, I want to see the crowd darling, I want to hear the tooting and hooting of horns;

But it’s not good for a lady in your situation to get herself trapped in the traffic, and the air is smoggy, can’t you see the pollution overhead?

I’m alright honey don’t worry, I can walk, why can’t you show me round where the shops abound?

Sure, sure, I’m just trying to see which way is shorter, fine, take my hand now!

As soon as I ventured into the alley of Saint Rome than I began to feel the pressure of the crowd at every step I made. Rosa didn’t seem the least concerned; the gaze of some passers-by was fairly discreet, others, mostly ladies, didn’t mind getting in your way and eyeing you from head to foot.

Ladies are more sensitive to beauty, commented Rosa, a youth with a dome-like tummy is more likely to arouse curiosity, she explained;

I let go of Rosa’s hand and paced up ahead. Rosa didn’t seem to be minding. She even enjoyed ladies stopping to watch her; not only did she return them approving smiles but she also made as if challenging them to a street-corner chat.

To avoid getting in a tight corner myself, I’d beg Rosa to stride off and ignore the crowd, but my wife would deliberately slow down and make as if wanting to recover her wind, then when she saw that I was shops ahead, she would shout out my name reminding the crowd that she was up the spout.

Why Hady, they’re friendly people, there’s no shame in showing off, they’re just pleased to see me carrying,

That’s right, but I’m not hurrying Rosa, I’m just asking you to keep pace,

So take my hand and let’s walk together!

We’ve got to hurry Rosa, it’s a bit late,

Late for what?

It’s past seven and we’ve got to look at the sales, don’t we?

May be not Hady, let’s first find a shop for babies’ clothes!

Fine! I said and waited for the lights to turn green. Across, Rosa spotted a patisserie and said she felt like wanting some cookies.

Do you have an idea what you want darling? I asked;

Rosa ignored me and headed up towards the counter; the queuing customers turned round and smiled; the elegantly-dressed girl motioned us to a small table and Rosa winked from the table and I understood what she wanted. I took a pancake and two Jesuites. Rosa produced a tissue out of her handbag and started through the pancake. As there was no other stool available, I crouched by the table and watched my darling biting heartily through the savoury patisserie.

Esquirol Place was full of shoppers and tourists coming down to see the town at the approach of the Twelve Days of Christmas; as we resumed our stroll, the crowd had grown larger and denser, then turning a corner towards a by-street, Rosa nearly bumped into a passer-by walking out of a boutique.

A gorgeous tummy! stammered the lady by way of an excuse;

Rosa didn’t respond but turned to me a large smile on her face.

What did the lady say darling?

She said you’ve got a nice baby,

Did she?

She did, you look splendid Rosa,

Do I look largish or something? Whimpered Rosa,

No, no, you’re alright Rosa, you look wonderful, it’s just cute to see you with a baby of this size,

May be we need to start looking for some clothes already darling, don’t we? I’m sure I can find my baby nice clothes, said Rosa, what about trying one of those shops across the street? she went on,

Why not? I can see plenty of ladies going in there,

Yeah, yeah, said Rosa and we crossed arm in arm.

As soon as we got inside, Rosa let go of my arm and headed towards the babies’ wear corner. Two saleswomen rushed up to offer help. I took a back seat and sat down to watch. Rosa was immediately taken care of and piles of babies’ clothes were put down for display; there was some friendly chat going on and approving smiles being exchanged time and again between the three women. Once in a while, Rosa would look up from a colourful pile of clothes at her feet and I’d merely wink encouraging her to make up her mind. In fact, I knew nothing of sizes nor about clothes not even about prams, but when it came to matters of colour, Rosa knew I had a say in the matter; so I would nod or gently gruff : not the purple one or the grey one, take light-brown or dark-brown,

A good piece, a good choice, Rosa would concede.

Even if I was sitting shelves away from the corner round which three cookies were murmuring secret murmurs and anticipating the celebration of a child who was not yet born, I did catch gleanings of their confab and preferred to keep quiet. Then I saw Rosa standing up and making for the rest-room and pretty packages being wrapped up and put away.

So you’re going to father, very soon, began the slimmer of the two sales-girls,

Yeah I am, Inchallah, I replied reservedly,

We’ve got all the things you need for your baby, added the plump one.

The name is Ameen, isn’t it?

If it’s a boy, I answered,

And Meena if it’s a girl, resumed the slim lady,"

Nice names anyway, helped the other saleswoman,

Thank you ladies, they sound like all Moroccan names, I added improvising a smile,

No need to worry Mr Hayat, in silk cloth your infant will be clad, a safe pram we’ll offer him/her for bed and a teddy bear to befriend.

We drove up to Daloo village in the Ariège country a sunny day of February 1992. Ameen was nearly two months’ old and was happy to be doing his first trip to the country of his grand-parents. Lena Orain, Rosa’s mother, was anxious to see him; only once had she heard him crying on the phone when Rosa had still been under care in the maternity ward of La Grave Hospital. But I had thereupon sent her photos of the baby napping, feeding and fidgeting in his crib. She then admitted that his features were undeniably Mediterranean and waited to see; there was no excitement in her voice, no sudden outburst, no emotional crooning, nor any sentimental excess. She calmly put down the receiver and said she was waiting. Because Mrs Orain had always waited: for the sun to beam, the day to draw out, the weather to get milder and the hopes of old to come back and rekindle.

A few months after the death of her husband, the late Felix Orain, Lena turned her back on the world and stayed home to grieve; but then, she found no consolation, no solace, no commiseration. And when it really came to the crunch, Rosa girded herself up and went to the rescue of her mother. The neighbours were there too, happy to see l’enfant du pays back in the country. Entering the house, Rosa found her mother in a blue funk; maman! Maman! called Rosa; Lena made a jerk and woke up. Rosa helped her mother up and they embraced warmly. Rosa put her luggage away and glanced round; she wanted to make sure the house was clean and tidy. As she made for the bedrooms, Lena muttered something and Rosa turned round.

Sorry mum, here I am, can I help?

I’ve got some medication to take; can you tell me which ones? Lena took her bag and handed it over to her daughter. Rosa took out the prescription and Lena stood gazing.

Come on mum! Let’s go to the kitchen, you need some water,

Lena followed behind. The kitchen looked orderly but terribly dusty. Rosa dabbed her fingers across the table and winced up at her mother.

So much dust, mum, she remarked,

Yeah darling, sometimes I wonder where all this dust comes from.

Rosa picked up a stool and made towards the window.

These shutters are tough mum, aren’t they?

They are, honey, they must need some repair,

I’ll see to that mum, no worry,

Where are the cups? Asked Rosa,

The shelf behind you dear,

Rosa helped her mother with medication and went to look around. The first room on her right was her parents’; it was closed. She made as if trying to open the door, then remembered it was unwise of her to ask her mother for the keys. The door of the bathroom was wide open; her bedroom was just opposite. Without

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