Till the Bitter End

Church Notre-Dame d'Afrique, Algiers, Algeria

There are nineteen children inside the candle-lit church. They are sitting on the benches and enjoying a dinner consisting of broth, while chatting about the situation outside. They are not heeding Father John Paul’s warning about chewing before swallowing. He goes to the statue of the Virgin Mary, kneels down in front of her and asks her to help him provide for the children. Since its outbreak six years ago, the tuberculosis epidemic has wiped out one third of the city’s population already. The first to die were the elders, who were then followed by the children. The few who managed to survive the disease are now killing each other over the last scraps of food. As if that wasn’t enough, the country has run out of oil. The wells that once dotted the desert have run dry. Hence, it is not safe to live here any longer.

Father John Paul made the right call, when, two ...Read more

The Bath of the Damned

Hammam Maskhoutine, Algeria

Once upon a time, something happened in this neck of the woods, the memory of which still plagues the locals to this day. Despite knowing, by all accounts, it’s best not to dredge up the past, I am going to relay to you the episode that marked a before and after in this town’s history on a night similar to this one.

This is the story of a young man who possessed all the desirable attributes of a Sir Galahad. One day, his father, who was the chief of the biggest tribe in the region, which, thanks to its fertile land, made for a very comfortable and care-free life, fell seriously ill and died abruptly. Hence, the tribe elders assembled and, after a long meeting, decided that they would only agree to name the latter chief’s son—the hero of our story—his successor on one condition: On the day of his nomination as chief, he would have to marry a woman they deemed his equal. The problem with that condition was that ...Read more

The Square of the Lions

Place 1er novembre, Oran, Algeria

Some call it the Square of the 1st of November and some, the Square of Weapons, but its most popular name is that of the Square of Women, even though, contrary to what one might think, there aren’t usually any women loafing about the area.

To me, it is the Square of the Lions, because of the two colossal lion statues that stand in it. Their regal bearing makes them stick out like a sore thumb. I call one “the Sun” and the other one, “the Moon”, which are the names my daughter spontaneously chose for them last time we went by the square. I know they might not seem like the most original of monikers, but they still serve their purpose, which lies in allowing the light of their inner soul to shine through their shell.

My father didn’t like me developing an aesthetic appreciation of them when I was little. He once told me to be very careful, for God could forgive many things, but, apparently, ...Read more

Absent Figure

Roman ruins in Bir Kasdali, Algeria

“Liki? Is that you? I can hear you speak, even though your lips aren’t moving!”

“Don’t be a mammoth, stop believing everything you’re told!”

“A mammoth?”

“Mammoths were very naive. That’s why they died out. When thunder started growling and the advent of an ice storm became glaringly apparent, instead of paying heed to the signs of an impending catastrophe, they froze, both literally and figuratively.”

“That’s sad!”

“Oh, aren’t you the sensitive type! Sing something, I want to hear your beautiful singing voice!”

“Liki, please, stop! Sit down next to me! I don’t know where you get all that energy from! You worry me!”

“You remind me of someone. It might be the mischievous glimmer in your eyes. Do I know you? What are you doing here?”

“Very funny! By the way, is this where you hang now?”

“Sit down, sit down next to me.”

There is something about Bir Kasdali that unnerves me. People in this town are like zombies. They seem to have developed a habit of twisting the truth. According ...Read more

RIP

Reggane, Algeria

Before being brought out of my cell, I was handcuffed and blindfolded. Yet, I could still feel the scorching sunlight pressing against my eyelids. After having spent a whole year hemmed in by four walls, feeling the hot sand of the vast, almost never-ending desert warmed the cockles of my heart, despite the burning pain in the soles of my bare feet. I didn’t know where they were taking me, but, instead of panicking, I chose to focus on the pleasant sensation of the wind blowing in my face.

After a rather long walk across the desert, we stopped. We were about to enter a place with what seemed like a wooden door that was pushed open by one of the two French soldiers escorting me. They untied me and forced me inside, before closing the door behind me. I then took off the blindfold. My eyes took a few seconds to adjust to the light coming from the ceiling. I was locked inside a small windowless mud hut. Feeling enraged and trapped, ...Read more

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