Translated by Mbarek Sryfi
In the alley of the dead, I tremble every time the street lights up. I was master of my dreams, but they exhaust me at times as I pass through, leaning against the wall of the alley. Creatures move in the alley as well as in my imagination and my legs shake. O whiteness of my childhood! Everything in the alley of the dead is white in the dead of night. Even when I close my eyes and run, things remain milky and dancing seductively.
In the whiteness of the day, when the blazing sun rises, I run towards the alley fearless . . . running my hand over the wall, verifying the details so I won’t be frightened at night. I make fun of myself yet don’t dare tell my friends. I say to myself: These are only marks and that is an old slipper over there, and on the left there is a small palm tree that does not grow. Then why does this short distance frighten me? I record the place and its people in detail, but at night I forget everything and only my dreams come to haunt me along with the stories of those who fell silent at once, and did not utter one word because they saw the unseen and dropped dead, heartbroken.
I remember the grave, the darkness, the two angels and the hammer of repudiation and I hear muttering. I hastened and so did my pursuer: there was a dead woman in the alley, her chest bore sharp marks and blue flies were feasting around the clogged blood. Mother Rahma, the kind, bent woman pushing children into life, was found dead.
The smile of the little girl who was running and fell down there in the alley of the dead. Milk was poured every place she had been: where she played, ran, pulled her tongue at us, and showed us her butt to vex us. I have not drunk milk since then because it reminds me of her limp body. When the dead process to their graves they don’t pass quickly, but they remain in my imagination: chatting, guffawing, playing, falling silent at times because there is nothing more to say and looking sad at the extreme limits of their kingdom . . .
Then I go out in the evening and run to escape the dead. I look around but see only darkness; still, the eyes keep following me as soon as I move. My heart beats harder and I recite the shortest Quran verses, then I see my father entering the house at the end of the alley; I call out to him to leave the door open for me but he doesn’t hear me. The door closes and the key turns in the lock. I reach the door panting; I pound on it while the eyes follow me, the dead, scary, sad and innocent eyes. Those eyes I defy in the morning and challenge them to show up, but I don’t dare defy them at night nor do I dare defy the clouds because they bring double the retaliation on me. I think about stubborn life and about our neighbor with the hairy face, with her full lips as if ready to talk continuously. She sat in the alley all day long counting the dead, most likely, yet she did not die. One day, she disappeared and people talked and talked and searched for her everywhere, then they detected the odor.
In the alley, after the death of full-lipped girl, the news was that she had been buried in the afternoon and they had put thorns on her grave. Women gave us hot bread made with chili. The children gathered without me and they were discussing issues I thought were dangerous. They rushed to her house and I followed them. I entered and they left and closed the door on me and there I was alone with all her things. With her image that never leaves and I thought she would appear to get closer slowly and cover me with her cold shroud.
O salty fortresses in my throat, dryness in the waters of the soul, this shackled sweat and this excessive isolation! I imagine my death. I imagine the dogs in the cemetery barking, woof, woof, woof, and the wolves howling, aaah-ooooooooooooooh! And the dead crashingin voices I am not good at: hmm hmm hmm. As I dream of these very voices, two consecutive months I have been dreaming, and the full-lipped girl flies swiftly around my bed without doing anything to me. However, she would take the skin off her face and put it on again. She advises me to eat nabk and asks me about some of the necklaces the children have stolen and she adds: Comfort my folks. I am very well where I am.
In the alley, right after her, a man passed by with his face uncovered. I was on the roof and I saw his white eyes. Since then, whiteness has invaded me and increased my desire to cry. I bet you that I am now sad for the same reason, for having seen and examined closely and almost fallen if it hadn’t been for a hand that grabbed me. Whose hand was it, I wonder? Whose hand was it?
The cemeteries’ soil was no help me and my mother got tired; that’s why she left and let me grow up and become old. Whiteness got closer to me again, as horrific as always, then my time was up and the woman who was getting ready, as in the movies, when the body leaves itself and doesn’t go far because everything breaks through its hardness. The electrician came too – he was holding the wires without being shocked – and my father said, giggling: “The electrician is my friend.”
The woman came and she chopped a ghost off me and left. Now the ghost is part of me and I am part of him. Yet he doesn’t understand me. He keeps imposing strong desires on me all day long. He roams the alley but I have not gotten used to his night yet. He plays with dead people while I am afraid of them. Then he becomes familiar. Existence is an obscure idea but the years clarify everything. I see the years in themselves, obscure viscous places, the young girl as she has grown up. She does not care anymore about the others’ pranks. She walks with her head high, with wings covering just a little yet not unveiling the softness of the body and the world. I remain in the company of the ghost all the time, in the same alley, and then we began to shorten the distance between us. We have become two companions. We have gotten used to each other . . .
We walk, checking around like a police patrol, without weapons or belt. Things look normal. More ghosts arrive. But my father doesn’t appear at the end of the alley to close the door without me. I strive to draw his old picture, but it fades away. Dust piles up around the small tree and suddenly the ghost doesn’t resemble me because it got tired of walking, as the time never stops. I go back a little bit, to my youth, to seek balance and create what I have missed. I become a father but my son doesn’t wait for me to close the door behind him. He closes the door on me, mocking. I try hard to smile at him. I know that life itself is an alley of the dead. Life where death is looming in every corner. Life that pulls people’s teeth with its pliers. Then I return to my childhood this time, in the alley of the dead, to rest a little bit. My body isn’t delighted because the alley is always like the old one . . .
I walk the alley alone. As in the past, I am frightened and I run to leave it behind. I keep on running. There is someone chasing me. And before I get to where our house is, where safety is, my feet hit something heavy and I tumble down.
Abdelaziz Errachidi grew up near the Sahara in Zagora, Morocco, and now lives in Agadir. Stories from his 3 collections are in many anthologies, including (New Moroccan Short Stories) (Zaman, 2000) and in translation in the Beirut39: New Writing from the Arab World anthology. His novel (A Bedouin on the Edge) (2006) won the Sharjah Arab Prize for Literature. He has also won the Union of Moroccan Writers’ Prize. He directs the Documentation Centre in the Regional Academy of Education in Agadir and edits the journal (Culture of South).