One day, the elder, the town’s sheikh, announced:
“The day after tomorrow a high-ranking government delegation will be visiting our town in order to send word of our trials and tribulations to the decision-making centers. We will host a large reception in their honor, larger than any event this town has ever staged. For the occasion we will slaughter a cow ‘bright in color and pleasing to the eye’.”
In response to the sheikh’s notification, the town’s fool asked, “And where do we find such a cow, venerable sheikh?”
“What an excellent question! I see you are smarter than most wretched scoundrels from around this neck of the woods,” the sheikh remarked.
After a moment’s thought, he spotted the hoary old widow. She was toiling up the cliff path with the donkey her sterile late husband had bequeathed to her.
As if he were Archimedes and had just puzzled out a conundrum in the bathtub, the sheikh suddenly squawked, “Eureka! Eureka! Eureka!”
He then turned to the town’s fool and said, “Listen, this is what we’re going to do. The hoary old lady is the only one who owns a cow in this town. We will resolutely ask her to donate it to us so that it may amount to a veritable banquet for our honorable guests.”
To this, the town’s fool queried, “But what if she refuses to hand it over to us just like that?”
The sheikh rejoined, “Quit stalling! Just fetch us the damn beast! And if news of our rightful pilferage leaks out, well then, nobody is going to blame the town’s fool, son of the former town’s fool, for being unable to defy his foolish nature and purloining a cow, which happens to be ‘bright in color,’ from the town’s hoary old lady.”
“Oh, venerable sheikh, rest assured your words have been heard,” stated the town’s fool.
The assembly concluded and the doddering old sheikh dwelt on the hoary old woman and the fact that she worked in the fields day and night without cease. It would not prove easy to catch her off guard.
Someone knocked at the door. She opened it. The sheikh was standing in front of her, his mind rife with machinations. His venom was written all over his face. After exchanging greetings, he said to her, “Kiu, the day after tomorrow a high-ranking government delegation is going to visit our town. They’re coming to bail us out of the state of isolation we currently find ourselves in without hospitals, schools, electricity . . . All we are asking of you is that you offer up your cow so that we may receive the delegation in style as a token of our appreciation for their interest in hearing us out.”
Kiu’s face took on a stern expression as she shook her head. “How dare you! You could have asked me for anything else. But my cow? You know perfectly well that not only is she my main source of food, given that she supplies me with milk to drink and cream to cook with on a daily basis, but she is also the only one I have left in this godforsaken world!”
With that said, she slammed the door shut and bolted it to make sure it stayed that way. As the despotic sheikh turned around, he started plotting his retaliation for having been spurned. To that end, he decided to employ some of the tactics he had learned while serving in the army during the First Indochina War. He summoned the town’s fool and told him to set the contingency plan in motion. He wanted to have that bovine bone of contention cracked by sunrise.
That night, the town’s fool sneaked into the hoary old lady’s cowshed. He was taken by surprise by the hoary old lady herself and ended up stabbing her. She fainted and he fled with the cow.
The bright-colored fat cow was slayed the next morning. A big tent was erected and the high-pitched trills of female singers filled the space along with the beating of drums and the piping of flutes. The devil was calling the tune to which everyone was dancing.
They had to wait hours for the arrival of the government delegation. However, their wait was not in vain. A helicopter showed up in the sky and descended on the town’s purlieus. The crowd shouted at the top of their lungs so that the people from the sky would hear them.
The despotic sheikh greeted the government delegation and they all sat down to partake in the sumptuous feast that was being held in their honor. After they had gorged themselves and the traditional dance performance was over, the president of the government delegation stood up and announced with a stentorian voice, “Believe us, we feel your sorrow. We feel it more than we feel our own families’ sorrows. And we feel sorry for all the hardship you are enduring.”
He then began to harp on about everything under the sun to the point where people thought the constant patter they heard could only be chalked up to the fact that it had started raining outside the tent.
Finally, he wrapped up his homily by saying, “I hereby invite you to speak up and voice your concerns. The time has come for you to bare your souls. Don’t be afraid to tell us what frets you.”
The hoary old woman thereupon raised her voice. “Sir, where is my cow? Wait, that’s right! You gobbled it up just before delivering your fine speech. I’ll have you know that the sheikh and the town’s fool ganged up to steal it from me.”
The president was baffled.
“Are you accusing me of eating your cow? Well, thanks for your honesty, madam. I will personally see to it that you are adequately compensated for your loss as soon as possible.”
Days turned into months and months turned into years. Once a new government came to power, the hoary old lady gave up all hope of ever seeing her cowshed filled with life once more and of ever drinking milk again.
Written by Slimane Ouardi.