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, idolatry wasn’t one of them. Worshipping false gods was as well, as far as I can remember, the only sin my father didn’t commit in his lifetime.

I once met a man who told me that he thought we should get rid of names, because they were evil, in that they did not benefit mankind, because they forced us to distinguish. He himself didn’t need a name to be told apart from the rest of us human creatures, for he was a hobo who wore a gold-colored shirt and was always covered in filth from head to toe. I was still a child when I got to know him and did not yet judge people by their appearance, which allowed me to learn the very important lesson he taught me about love.

I recall him pointing at the lions and commenting, “They love you.”

“I love them as well,” I replied.

“No. You may think you do, but you don’t really love them.”

“I do love them!” I yelled, like children do when they believe they are not being taken seriously by adults.

“They all say that, but then they all leave,” he answered.

“But you are still here…”

“Yes, I refuse to forget, for I know what it feels like to be forgotten,” he mumbled, seemingly talking to himself.

When my father saw me chatting with him, he got raving mad and, on our return home, he beat up my mother. He did that every time he got angry at me. He would never hit me, regardless of what I did—whether it be falling off my bike, arriving home late, tearing my pants, quarreling with the neighbors’ daughter, …—he would only strike her. However, for all he hurt her, I never saw her shed a single tear, not even once.

“Those who are dead inside no longer bother crying,” was what my friend, the hobo, said to me the following day, after I had told him, while hiding from my father behind one of the lion statues, how he had decided to punish me for speaking to him.

“Shut up! My mother isn’t dead inside!” I rejoined infuriated, but he just laughed at me.

On the next day, I returned to the square with a bag of rice I had stolen from the kitchen in order to feed the birds with him, but I didn’t find him. I stayed there, waiting for him, until sunset, but he never showed up, not that day nor the following ones. In the end, I was the only one who actually proved to be telling the truth when declaring my love for the lions, because I was the only one who didn’t abandon them.

I don’t want to grow up to be like my father, who beats women and has several wives. My mother wasn’t much of a role model herself though. She never stood up for herself, let alone someone else, so maybe the hobo was right all along and she was just waiting for death to finally take shape.

When she finally drew her last breath, my father sold the few pieces of jewelry she had owned and, with the money he raised, went on a pilgrimage to Mecca. There he cleansed his soul of all sins and returned wearing a white robe. My father died with a squeaky clean soul and was buried next to my mother.

One day, many years later, I went to visit their graves with my daughter. When she asked me who they were, I just told her they had been my sun and my moon a long time ago, and that, in their relentless quest for eclipsing one another, they had wound up colliding.


Written by Mouli Kawther.