Black Habiliments

Panoramic view over the city of Constantine, Algeria

Constantine, 1958

A young French officer went inside a bar in the old city, chose a stool to sit down on, ordered a drink and lapsed into a pensive mood. He had had a long day.

The city is perched on a cliff and its historic flair echoes that of goddesses like Ishtar. It is virtually impossible not to feel a little dizzy when standing on any of its seven mighty bridges and looking down the narrow gorge stretching below.

He had felt apprehensive about being in Constantine from the moment he had set foot in it. The problem he had with the city wasn’t the city in and by itself, which he found to be breathtaking, but the moment he had picked to discover it. He wasn’t proud of who he had become in his bid to move up the promotion ladder, but, the way he saw it, respect for human life and sympathy for ...Read more

The Days of Yore

Bordj Bounaama, Tissemsilt Province, Algeria

White clouds scud across the sky. Peace and quiet reign supreme. The sun is shining. It’s a beautiful fall morning and Khaled is wearing a happy smile on his face as he wends his way through the old city. He has gone out to buy antiquities and look at the old houses of the neighborhood. That’s the only thing that keeps him distracted from the unbearable sorrow of having lost his dear friend. He has only recently found the strength to leave the house again. His friend’s demise has hit him hard, perhaps because of how unexpected it has been.

As he strolls down the Street of the World, he starts to mull over what it is that makes something deserve a certain name. “Take this street, for instance,” he says to himself. “It’s a pretty narrow street, but still, it seems to contain everything that makes the world a miserable place: beggars, thieves, mercenaries, traitors, tourists, neets, …” It is ...Read more

The Bitter Taste of a Broken Promise

Fouka city, Algeria

I woke up late and sweaty. The beast I had spent the whole night running from in my dreams had eventually caught up with me. I rubbed my joints and wetted my lips with my tongue. “Today is no ordinary day” I said to myself. I was meeting Louisa in the afternoon. She had promised herself to me. I was to unwrap and savor a woman for the very first time. My body was quivering with anticipation! I had welcomed her suggestion to meet at Le Bungalow with unbridled enthusiasm. I had hit twenty, an age at which men must put their manhood to the test. I couldn’t afford to stay behind in the race to become someone, especially in such an effervescent city like Fouka, and I didn’t want to wind up falling into the category of those Colin Wilson branded as mediocre.

I descended the rusting stairs of the derelict building while staring out over the city stretching before me. The big clock at the square said it was already two o’clock in the afternoon. ...Read more

Ain El Fouara Fountain

The fountain with the statue of a naked woman rising out of it, close to the old mosque and in the middle of the beautiful city of Sétif, was built a year before he was born. He doesn’t like it. According to him, it mars the city’s appearance, because it signifies the values that were held by the French colonizers of his country. He hates himself for it, yet, for some inexplicable reason, he cannot help being titillated by it.

She always seems to be standing in the way when he goes out in the morning to do some shopping or sit down at the nearby café, and he never misses a chance to let the stone woman know how he feels about her.

He is now over seventy and retired. He used to run a café, but he has now bequeathed it to his sons. People show him respect and call him mister, because he attended a Koranic school and should thus be regarded as an enlightened person.

He didn’t mind ...Read more

Romans are a Culture of Soft Daddies

Cerez, Belimour, Algeria

This story is inspired by the history of the castle that lies in the vicinity of the city of Belmour, which was called Thamascani during the Roman Empire.

May God bless you, Sidi Okba, you magical city. The daughter of the Romans sings and dances to the beat of the morning breeze rustling the grass in the fields. She knows her wishes are her father’s commands. What is it this beauty will want next, the oil from the olive trees that grow in this neck of the woods or the fish of the sea? Rejoice, you lucky bastard, for you can have it all. Sleep, Sidi Okba, and don’t worry, because we will watch over the land handed down to us and cultivate it with the seed of our dreams.

The castles of the area have weathered all sorts of calamities in the past and have withstood the passage of time with dignity, the kind maintained over generations by those who inhabit these parts. Bella is smitten with the taste of their ...Read more

A Whiff of Farewell in the Air

Tablat, Algeria

You are headed toward the road flanked by trees. Your heart aches as you remember.

The sun slants across the mountains. You watch the roaring waterfall tumble down the cliff. A sudden breeze rustles the grass. You are not lyrical about what the bucolic setting bodes for the future. The landscape is blanketed in snow. The almond trees are in bloom.

Tablat’s spirit endears the town to everyone who has been lucky enough to traverse its streets. They come like migrating birds, which despite having had to circle around the world several times dare not cover the safe distances the different cultural worlds comprising our globe keep with one another.

On the day of your date, the air smells so sweet that it cloys your senses. We may be meant to be, you think, secretly wishing destiny will allow you to play a part in your own story. You step out the door and Tablat’s sparkling everyday nature unfolds before you. You bang the door closed behind you, careful not to slam it on your heart, which clings to the frame. You stride confidently ...Read more

The Kid and the Fortress

Bordj El Kiffan Algeria

Ahmed is a very bright and inquisitive six-year-old boy who lives in a city called Bordj El Kiffan—shortened as Bordj—which has amazing sand beaches and a formidable fortress.

The old fortress was built beside the sea centuries ago, during the Ottoman Empire. It was erected by soldiers and was once guarded by sentries who would squat down beside the majestic cannons that still crown the fortress today. Their snouts stick out of the bastion’s crenelated walls in order to deter outsiders from approaching.

In truth, the fortress looks snotty, standing there all high and mighty against the celestial blue backdrop that merges with the marine one. However, it probably deserves to feel smug after having gone above and beyond the call of duty to protect the burghers who hid behind its walls back in the day. At that time, the fortress deterred the enemy ships that had crossed the seas in hopes of getting a shot at desecrating the jewels ashore from approaching any further. It still stands to this day—well, “stand” is perhaps not the most ...Read more

Blue Litham

Hoggar Mountains, Algeria

His bleary eyes cast a plaintive glance at the rearview mirror. They stood out from the sea of blue folds belonging to the litham he wore around his head. For a second, it was as if nothing else mattered in the entire world but for what was going on inside those eyes, which reproduced the sky. We were both sitting close to the front in order to show the driver the appropriate turn for the road that led to the Hoggar Mountains.

Time was already dragging, and our destination still lay a considerable distance ahead, at the end of the mostly unpaved track that twisted before us like a frazzled cord clumsily trying to encompass the landscape. Here in the boonies, there was sand as far as the eye could see. I zoomed in on the reflection of Azooz’s veiled face in the mirror in a botched attempt to explore the mystery that shrouded his mien. My attempt had been doomed to fail from the start, but I had to confirm my suspicions before I could ...Read more

Thieves Rise at Nightfall, Isn’t That What They Say?

Ain El Kebira, Algerian countryside

I was folding clothes when a piece of paper came flying through the window and fell at my feet. As I picked it up, I saw it had something written on it. This immediately aroused my curiosity. The paper read, “Behind the forest, where the failed attempt to scrape the sky.”

I would have thrown it away, but then I saw a note on the side that caught my attention.

“Luke 9:11.”

I looked the verse up on the Internet: “But the crowds learned about it and followed him.”

My findings got me all keyed up at the thought of having chanced upon a treasure map. I had planned to spend the next day with my friend not doing much of anything but decided last minute to urge her to embark on an adventure with me.

“Hi! How are you, Tina? How have you been?” she greeted me over the phone.

“Good, thanks! Emma, I called to tell you about something strange that just happened to me.” For a second I balked at revealing my secret.

“Don’t hold back. ...Read more

In Love with the African Coastline

Le parc archéologique de Tipaza

I am from Tipaza, born and bred, and can attest to the fact that it’s a very unique city. It is steeped in history and attracts many tourists because of the Roman ruins that can be found everywhere. Most of its warm-hearted and good-natured citizens live a simple but honorable life working in the fields. It is a safe city for outsiders to boot.

Every year, I invite a friend of mine to spend summer vacation in my city with me and my family. A very dear friend of mine came to visit me this year. His name is Omar alHalbi, and he is a Syrian athlete whom I met at the Grand Cycling Tour of Algeria some years ago. When I invited him, he thanked me warmly for the opportunity I was offering to learn more about Tipaza, its surrounding flora and fauna, and its people, because as he told me, he had fallen in love with ...Read more