I saw him enter the school through a side door and head toward the classroom. I heard one of my students whisper from behind, “It’s Ziad’s dad!”
He was rather short, but strongly-built, and must have been about 50. In the solemn tone of voice his son adopted to answer questions in class, he greeted me and asked where he could find the principal’s office. I asked him why he needed to speak to the principal and he told me he had to take his son out of school. I immediately thought that he would need some kind of divine intervention to get the principal to agree to that, but I wasn’t going to be the one to dash his hopes—it wasn’t my place—so I chose instead to remain silent, smile at him and point him toward the principal’s office. People have the right to entertain hope. He, however, must have read the skepticism in my face, because he proceeded to offer me the context needed to understand his decision.
“The rose fields that surround this beautiful town have certainly turned it into a prosperous tourist destination,” he stated. “My wife and I, however, suffer from severe asthma and the roses contribute to aggravating our conditions. It is a shame we have to leave after all the time, money and effort we have invested into these fields, but we cannot risk sharing the same fate my father suffered. He also had asthma and died not long ago from working the fields.”
His revelation left me speechless. He took notice of my reaction and said, in order to cushion the blow, “It’s not the end of the world. Zagora is supposed to be a nice place to live in as well. You are most welcomed to come visit any time!”
It took me a few minutes to collect myself and enter the classroom after Ziad’s father left. I didn’t want the children to see how baffled I was, because I knew they would feel urged to bombard me with questions I didn’t have the answers to. Was moving somewhere else not a betrayal of one’s origins? How could anyone choose to trade the roses of Tazakht, namely, what is supposed to represent hope, for the searing heat of the desertic Zagora, which undisputedly stands for despair? How are we to sort out our priorities? What is more important: our identity, a chance to fulfill ourselves, our place in society, our gender, our financial security, our affectional stability, …? Is it that reprehensible to leave behind the place you were born in if that is your only way to survive?
One thing was certain: I would miss Ziad. He was one of the smartest kids in my class.
The Author, Hassan Choutam:
Moroccan short-story writer and playwright. He has written and published the following works: Sad Saturday (Short stories and aphorisms, Morocco, 2001); Window of salvation (Short-story collection, Egypt, 2014); Out of the building (Theatrical piece, Egypt, 2015).