A Female Shadow

Countryside landscape in Terrai Bainen, village in Algeria

Winter invites the world to retreat under its blanket and pours its cold over the hilly countryside. The soil of the earth gives off the sweet perfume of its people’s hard work. In the valley, the humble adobe houses struggle to keep their secrets inside. Chaos breaks out when the only thing people can rely on day after day to appease a growling stomach is a loaf of plain bread. Nearby, the river twists and turns with swagger, aware of its vital role of connecting both shores, fantasy and reality, with its slippery substance. In its delta sprouts the naiveté of those who bother dreaming. An old veranda casts its red shadow over the meandering desires of the flesh. Finally, the dreamer wakes up only to find himself at the doorstep of a scandal.

He had returned from his stay abroad with another woman reshaping his shadow; he had clearly been blinded by the deceitful glow of civilization. Thus, he destroyed the warm nest where his kids had awaited his return. They had looked forward to finally being able to count on a father to guide them on how to fly with long-winged dreams, a father that would on his return wipe out the darkness his long absence had cast upon them. They had kept their hope of him enfolding them in his arms again alive; indeed, it had been the only star on the horizon able to help them endure the seemingly endless wait. Lastly, their father’s face percolated through the visage they had, spurred on by their nostalgia, engraved on their thoughts and carved on the rocks of the wilderness around them, where they could keep their recollections of him out of harm’s way until the time came when they could see him in person once again. Their jealousy fueled the despair they felt for having thrown their lives away waiting for someone who had ended up choosing another in their stead. And the resulting resentment festered until it shattered the illusions they had entertained in an attempt to avoid feeling grief over his departure.

Just to set the record straight, he was the only one to blame for putting himself in dire straits by showing up followed by a modern and shady woman. She had escorted him all the way from the capital, where he had moved to work. His entire family peered at him, lost for words while the pain of the betrayal stabbed his wife’s heart and prickled her eyes with recrimination. The children goggled at their father’s face as if they had lost it completely in the transition between the image and the object, expecting him to pull out of his pockets a compelling reason for them to mint some long-delayed, cheerful smiles. But all that appeared were paltry coins with which he tried to win them over. However, he immediately dispelled their nagging suspicions when he stated that she was the spouse of a friend of his who worked for the army and who could under no circumstances return home considering the gravity of the country’s political situation. He then announced that she would stay with them for a while, until his friend was released from duty and could return home to look after her. Their father’s plot ensconced itself in their peaceful beds and rocked their innocent hearts to sleep. The only ones to whom he confided his true intentions were his parents, who lived far away and kept their son’s confessions a secret. At the end of the day, the family drifted off into a deep sleep, traveling with their imaginations through the countless alleys the stories of the capital had been drawn with. Their dreams ultimately conveyed a very stereotypical image in their minds about how the urban jungle might look.

The day after his arrival, the man asked his wife to prepare her own room to host their guest, arguing that the house was small and that there was not enough space anywhere else to accommodate her. Although his wife leaned toward seeing the good in everyone and had inherited upstanding morals as a countryside woman, she was still wise enough to exercise an ounce of caution while extending her guest warm hospitality. Her female instincts advised her against losing sight of her husband, and she got a chance to confirm how right she had been to trust her gut when she caught the guest tiptoeing into her husband’s room in the middle of the night.

Smooth-talking the way only men do, her husband asserted that he had only tried to make their guest feel less of a stranger in the house, since he was the only person she was acquainted with. However, on her quest for the truth, his wife grilled him until she had drilled a hole in the wall of lies he had built to hide behind, and the luck he had been enjoying since he had departed from the capital suddenly left his side. He finally confessed to his wife that he had married this other woman while abroad. The sharp words he spat out jabbed at her soul, impairing her to the point where she could not look past the pressing need to avenge her honor. The kids did not know what part to play and looked at the stage, torn between siding with their wounded mother and holding on to the recognizable face of their father a little longer before his unmasking dashed all hope of recovering his countenance. The tears in his wife’s eyes doused the fire of the rage she ought to have felt. The trust between them could not be restored; she had no choice but to settle for a pitiful existence. Her silence rocked his heart to sleep, and when night fell, fire broke out and gutted his unquestionable righteousness. His screams successfully wrecked the ominous silence of the house, but they were too late to rescue him, him and the guest he had been sharing his bed with.

Thenceforth, a dark prison cell housed the betrayed woman, who bled her hatred one drop at a time. The children, whose only fault had been to be born in the bowels of ignorance, were afraid to dream even though all they had ever wished for was to find refuge under parental wings.


Written by Umm Tamim.

Choose your own adventure

His fling from the previous night told him at the door, “Make sure any chick you hook up with in the future is

a) hotter than me.”

b) all your parents ever wanted for you.”