My steps falter as I amble along the riverbank. The house I grew up in lies close to the well belonging to the town of Quaà Asserasse. I feel a bit wobbly on my legs, unable to brave the wind, which I fear may mistake me for a leaf and send me flying away any minute. Getting high on an empty stomach does that to you. I have been mulling over the possibility of returning for a while now. However, I wonder whether by any chance there is a way of returning to something slightly different from what first brought me into being—whether there is something that will embrace the person I have become. Go figure. The only thing I know for certain is that regardless of how grown-up I consider myself to be now, I feel a little bit more like the child I used to be with every step I take toward home.
Minutes later, I arrive at the front door. The curtains on the door are drawn. I can hear jbala music and smell the sweet scent of fish tagine coming from inside the house. Suddenly, my heart starts racing. My whole body is shaking with emotion. What should I say to him when I see him? What is he going to say to me when he sees me? Is he going to recognize me after all these years?
I knock on the door twice. It opens and I say, “Hi.”
His face creases in surprise. The smoke from the joint he was sucking on gets stuck in his throat and makes him cough and splutter. I offer him the bottle of water I see standing near the entrance. He takes a long gulp and then we hug. His smell hasn’t changed. He still reeks of pot blended with sweat.
“You have become a man, Emad,” he says, conspicuously trying to choke back tears. I am so pissed at him that I can’t help but be rather skeptical about the sincerity of his affectionate display. I don’t say anything, though. Stupidly enough, his performance has rendered me speechless.
“I’ve been told that contrary to your brothers you have aced your exams at university.”
“Who knows what would have happened if they hadn’t felt compelled to stick around?”
He lapses into a pregnant silence, and since I am definitely not going to be the one to thwart his attempt, irrespective of how ill-fated, to conceive of how rosy futures come to pass, the silence lengthens.
“What happened to your face?”
My eyes lift. He is looking at me.
I say, “I got into a fight.”
He doesn’t probe any further. He stands up and walks over to the fireplace to take a gander at his tagine. He then samples it and says, “This tagine tastes real good. It’s a shame that you won’t be able to try it out. You didn’t come at the right time.”
“Apparently, it is never the right time for me to arrive,” I say to myself. Even when coming into the world, I had chosen the wrong moment to do so. My sister told me once that not even my birth had been celebrated.
Next, he asks me, “Remember Mustafa, the bald guy from Chaouen?”
“The one who stole from you?” I question.
He then bursts into a loud guffaw and adds, “Well, I forgave him. He is now serving time in Oued Laou Prison. I was about to go visit him and take him this tagine. You should return to Tétouan and come back at a more propitious time.”
Right after finishing his sentence, he glances at the door so as to elicit an automatic response from me. However, even before I get to consider whether I want to take him up on his subtle invitation to leave the house, he suddenly turns pale. His face hardens as he fastens his eyes on the door. I turn to look at the door myself and see Mustafa, the bald guy from Chaouen, standing in the doorway with a big box of beer bottles.
His confidence falters and he tentatively asks, “When did they release you?”
Dumfounded, Mustafa replies, “What do you mean by ‘they’?”
He repeats the question, “When did you get out of the slammer?”
Mustafa is rather slow-witted. Seeing as he can’t engage in conversation off the cuff, he ignores the question and instead turns to me. “Emad? You the small Emad?”
I suddenly get the impression that he feels for me. I nod assent and take off without saying another word. I hear them pick a quarrel as I walk away. Since I have already spent all the money I had with me on getting over here, I will have to sell my cell phone for a quarter of what it had cost me in order to return to Tétouan. First though, I have to walk all the way to the city of Oued Laou, where I should be able to find some means of transport. There I am, moseying down the beach, when night falls. The fishing boats floating in the sea create patches of color that soil the inky darkness. The moon has ditched the night sky and has allowed the darkness to assume absolute authority. Darkness stands for secrecy. I have given myself over to the arcane and don’t feel disappointed so far.
I chuck away the burden of looking into a bright future and striving to make my dreams come true. Instead, I choose to wrap myself in the unknown and take shelter in the darkness.
Written by Mouad Mouhal.