The fire had spared the conspicuous facial features, the rumors, and the fingerprints left on the white bread. The bicycles, as many as there were people living inside that gray house, had been left unscathed as well. The impression one got from scanning the area, from the color of the open doors to the farther corners lying behind the white scarf, was that of a thwarted welcome, barely muttered by the wind, which made the scarf sway like a handheld fan commanding the outsider to enter and descend to the most dismal place imaginable. It was a spot where the honor of sitting on the ground and reveling in a sumptuous feast ought to be bestowed upon the newcomer. The very first seed had been devised here, the source of all genius and battle.

He started repairing the pedal thread of his bicycle, which had lost some metal teeth due to a failure in the gears charged with stabilizing the chain rings. This time, the kick that usually removed the need to resort to a surgical intervention had not done the trick. Undaunted by his first botched attempts to fix it, he decided to dismantle the pedal thread, mend it, and then put it back together rather than replace the whole bicycle with one from the bunch parked next to the house.

After successfully assembling the different parts of the revolving device, he mounted his bike and rode off to the end of the alley in order to test it and make sure it would endure the daily grind. He returned before the sun had fully risen to emboss his presence on the lavish breakfast banquet, true to his mantra of never relinquishing his morning cup of tea.

He spread the wings of his nimble bicycle and put away the bag of construction tools, the gadgets that assist him with what he does best. He slipped into his war outfit and put his thick plastic shoes on before heading toward his workshop on the outskirts of the city. Along the way, he picked up the smiles the rest of the pedestrians threw at him, the greetings from school children, and the shy peeks of the women by the walls that had been built thick for good reason. He was stopped several times to chat with different people and always tried to shake them off by promising he would devote himself to attending to their needs on his way back later that evening—tomorrow at the very latest.

During his trip, the pedal dared to defy him, hammering on his ankle and bringing him closer to falling at every curve when turning to access a new street, which was most likely going to be narrower than the one he had just left behind. His workshop was located at the intersection of a horizon jammed with palm groves and another horizon extending beyond the border. He stepped on it after crossing through the furrows plaiting the hilly landscape. His overwhelming angst that the day would come when he’d stumble across what he feared most and that doubts would besiege him made him speed up. However, his apprehension did not take over until he had finally reached his large workshop.

One day, those who woke up early in the morning disappeared and their idleness became noticeable. Thick clouds gathered like a snake slithering from a crevice that was not to be vandalized. The bicycle slowly fell, scratching a brick wall that was apparently impervious to its affront.

A heavy sigh allowed him to get things back under control. He gave up on the bicycle the moment it fell to the ground, and his imagination started to carve the tunnel. He kept on drilling until he had managed to widen its diameter by half a meter. He continued to dig on his own, hollowing out pits in the earth for an exhausting stretch: ascending, descending, and slipping. The plump ball of dust that agglutinates the frustration of hard-working people committed to bore holes to sow and bury without any guarantees that they themselves will make it out of the ditch nagged him in the back of his mind.

He tossed his hatchet and it hit the ground, rebounding and lifting a silver necklace that glittered with the distinct sheen of radiation, the kind that had been emitted by the nuclear experiments the colonizing army used to conduct. The necklace had been engraved with the name of a battalion commander’s daughter. She may or may not be buried with him. There was no space left to carry on digging and hunting for treasures in wider holes. Besides, he was not made of magnetized steel.

He rode back to the city with his booty at full pelt, and his mother spread word about the necklace that in no time was the talk of the town. The imam banned him from the mosque and reported him to the police. The gendarmes were the only ones familiar with the way everything was connected.

The early birds returned, planning on digging deeper this time in order to find the battalion commander’s fortune. However, the snipers at the border had sent the corpses far away, scattering the remains throughout the land resting on the other side.

This way, the only hope he could still cling to was his ability to speak up.

Written by Ahmed Lahyanni.

Choose your own adventure

Everyone is against me

a) even though I am always smiling at others.

b) and that is why I am a very smiley guy.