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 appropriate word, given that its walls lean precariously against one another. Yet, its silhouette against the dark sky still manages to give the owls of Bordj the shivers every time they wing their way past it at night.
Ahmed often asked his dad, “What is that? Who built it and why?”
“It was built by our forefathers to keep the land safe.”
Ahmed could barely rein back his indomitable spirit of inquiry, but his dad’s replies would satisfy him for the nonce so that he could run off and play with his cousins. They would scamper wildly all around the place, and for some strange reason, his dad would feel like he could relax, knowing that no harm would come to them as long as they stayed in the fortress’ shade. It was as if the fortress were actually watching over them.
The boy feels close to the castle, as in emotionally attached to it. He loves everything about it: its yellowish walls, its smashed windows, its wooden doors . . .
He is deeply fascinated in everything related to it in any way, such as the squawking white gulls that skim its surface every morning during their flights, the lizards that hide within its walls, and the flowers that grow in close proximity to it and bloom in the summer.
In the afternoons, Ahmed takes his venerable grandfather for a short walk along the beach, which glimmers with the colors of the sunset. He is a font of wisdom, especially on the subject of the trials and tribulations one has to go through to stay alive in this world. He speaks with the voice of experience about the real bogeymen that spread terror and knows how to puzzle out conundrums of any sort.
One day, Ahmed asked him about the foreign occupation that had brought the local population to their knees. “How did the invaders make it past the fortress wall?”
His grandpa paused for a moment, as if marshaling his thoughts, and then sighed heavily before answering, “Dear lad, the ground under our feet had been stained red with the blood of those who had offered up their lives for the cause of national freedom. Today we have these martyrs to thank for our ability to feel proud of our national identity. Always remember the following scripture: Those who forbear from abusing the trust that has been placed in them are sure to be serving their purposes in life.”
Ahmed committed his grandpa’s homily to memory. He made sure that he would not forget it any time soon even though he hadn’t been able to make heads or tails of half of it. One day, it would come in handy to be able to call his grandfather’s words to mind. He was sure of it. After all, if experience had taught him anything, it was that his doddering grandpa always turned out to be right.
Written by Ahmed Amine.