Today was the day I had most fun. I played soccer with my father, my brother and their friends. I enjoy playing sports. When I was in Morocco, we had three physical education sessions a week. Those classes were my happiest moments. They were the only play time I had. I do not remember playing with any kids outside our house or inside our house. I do not even remember I was younger than this. The only friends I had were a few classmates. I sometimes play with my brother. We sing together, dance and we share this diary recording together. Since we arrived, my father has been very thoughtful and nice. He has not seen us grow up. He has missed so much. So, he wants to make it up for us and for himself.
When we came back, my mother was soundly asleep on the couch. My father asked us not to make any noise. He then asked us to follow him to the kitchen after we had cleaned ourselves and changed. He gave each of us an assignment. My brother peeled off potatoes and an onion while I cut the tomatoes and green peppers into thin round slices as advised. Once we were done he asked us to leave the kitchen for the Chef would not want to be bothered or give his secrets away. In the living room, we both sat still on the vacant chair. My mom snored loudly then turned fussily in her sleep. We suffocated our laughter with great difficulty. We simultaneously “shushed” each other by covering each other’s mouth. I turned on the T.V set at a very low volume and we extended our ears as much as possible so that we would follow the action movie that was on Channel 38. The aroma of my father’s food soon filled our nostrils. We suddenly were assaulted by powerful fits of hunger. My mother woke up. Tasty food can perform marvels. She sat on the couch with her eyes widely open as if she were startled. She looked at us for a few second as if trying to remember who we were, then asked in a coarse voice: “who is cooking?”
This time we were unable to suppress our laughter. My mother looked a mess. With the marks of the pillow on her face, her loose untidy hair and her big wide startled eyes, she was just another child. She wore the exact same expression Rachid has every morning he wakes up. She seemed so fragile I felt the need to get up, pat her on the shoulder and hug her. She tied her hair to the back of her neck and smiled awkwardly to both my brother and me. At that very moment, my father showed up with a big tray in his hands and asked us to help him get the rest of the food. We all agreed my father was a good cook. After we had dinner and cleared the table, both my parents asked me to prepare tea. No one could make a better one. I felt honored and proud. I rushed to the kitchen where I still could hear my parents’ stories and jokes. When I brought the loaded tea tray, my parents were involved in a serious discussion about their financial plans. I poured the tea into the glasses and each of us grabbed one. I resumed my seat on the chair and used the remote control to navigate through the satellite television channels till I landed on an Egyptian movie. My brother was still sitting on the couch with my parents with all his senses wide open. Although I was watching the T.V, I still did not miss a word of what they were saying.
My mother wanted me to work on the weekends. Her friend told her she could arrange that. All I needed was a note from the school. She had a job available for me. My father stubbornly rejected the idea. He wondered why would anybody tell him what to do with his children and that Doha was a trouble woman. She should focus on her problems instead of playing madame Leila. Sayida Leila or Madame Leila is a host of a Moroccan radio show that specializes in helping listeners solve personal problems. It was the first time I heard my father talking ill about somebody. Doha was not a failure as my father described her. Her husband did not leave her. He was deported for political reasons. When she invited us to hers, her daughters did lots of talking; especially, the young one. While my brother was playing electronic games with Doha’s son, I had to listen to her girls gossip. They talked about fashion, make-up, actors, actresses and singers. I listened attentively to their talk but stammered and painfully choked on my words whenever they tried to engage me in a discussion. I was not comfortable around them. It takes me time to let my guards off around strangers. Doha’s eldest daughter got a call from her fiancé and left shortly after. We heard her argue with her mother for a while before she left. Although Mona is my age and sounds much less arrogant than her sister, it still was difficult for me to overcome my self-consciousness or feel relaxed. I struggled painfully and cited all the prayers my grandfather made me memorize and repeat every time I was going to take a test. I also remembered that he usually gave me a piece of sugar to put under my tongue. So I grabbed a piece of candy that was on the coffee table and staffed it into my mouth with my shaking hands. I felt a burning sensation crawling up my face. Mona started laughing very loud. “oh , my God!! You are very shy. Are you all right?” she repeated while still laughing. My heart rate gradually slowed down as I painfully heard my voice crossing the knots and ridges of my tongue. “I am fine.” Then I added , “this is too sweet.”
“ what’s sweet?” she asked.
“ the candy.” And we both laughed.
Later, Mona asked the boys to join us to play cards. Then we played a word game. Simou and Rachid got easily bored with the second game and quit. They went back to their electronic games while Mona and I started chatting. I did ninety five percent of the listening. While she was talking, I marveled at the way she talked. She was completely at ease. She did not stammer . Words seem to find their way to her. I felt I was watching and listening to a talented and well trained actress who has had ample time for rehearsal. “I can be a good talker too,” I repeated to myself as I watched her giving her act. I do a lot of talking in front of the mirror or my brother and I do it well. It’s simply difficult for me to be that comfortable with strangers. I never know what they are going to think. Mona talked about the kind of boys she liked, the boys who like her and man on whom she had a crash. Later, she got an album and showed me all the family pictures. I noticed she stopped at her father’s pictures for a few minutes, sighed then commented on the picture.
“Are your parents divorced?” I asked abruptly. Her eyes looked larger and moistened as she looked at me in the eye and said: “No”
There was something in her look that made my heart swell with melancholy and sadness. I felt sorry for her. I also panicked. “Why did I ask her such a question? What is she going to think of me now?” I wondered for a fraction of a second. I wanted to apologize but my tongue curled back in my wind pipe and I felt choking on my words that never came out. All I felt was the flame that crossed my spine and surfaced up my cheeks. I knew by then my face has turned tomato red.
“No, they are not. Everybody believes they are but the truth they are not. Mom never tried to correct the rumors.” She continued. I felt as if I had to say something but words slipped me. My friend was better off without my interruption. She proceeded with her monologue unaware of my dilemma. She was too involved in her memories to pay mind to my inaudible mumbling that was trapped within my guts.
“My mother, hates gossip. She is a very practical woman. You know she likes your mother because she thinks your Nana is actually a very smart and practical woman too. She believes it is a pity she did not receive a formal education. My father would have believed the opposite. For him, those who did not receive any formal education were the luckiest. They have been at least able to save one little chunk of their being: A little tiny self that have escaped corruption” She laughed tenderly and caressed her father’s face with her index. Then she continued: “My father was an idealist. I never knew what he actually believed in. He believed in whatever makes humankind happy. He knew it was impossible. He contradicted himself all the time. Sometimes he advocates for beliefs he ended up refuting. Obviously, my talk does not make sense to you. It does not make sense to a lot of people including me. But I loved my father more than anything. I love my mother too. I think I inherited most his genes. My father was deported because he told a close friend of his that he had joined Alqaida when he was a college student.” She stopped and laughed out loud as she saw my eyes bulging in surprise.
“Alqaida!!!” I whispered and looked over my shoulders to check the corners for hidden cameras or microphones.
“It’s not the Qaida that silly wife of my father’s friend believed and had the police and the bureau of intelligence believe. In the nineteen seventies, Avant Garde movements flourished among university students in Europe and many Arab countries. A lot of chaos governed the country and many parts of the world. Did you know that he did the war in Spain? The war against Franco? No, you don’t. I know you would not know.”
I actually know about the Franco war. I read “As I walked Out One Midsummer Morning.” The author of the book described a few scenes of the Spanish civil war. Almost most of the famous people in the world of Art joined in that war. I did not want to correct her. I would not have succeeded to utter one single sentence even if I had wanted to. Her father was not famous at the time except in his small intellectual circle but he was young, rich and full to the rim with ideas.
He did not stay long with Al Qaeda. Fanaticism drove him away. Many partisans of UNEM (Union Nationale des Etudiants Marocains) got killed by their own comrades because they were blocking the wheel of change. Some were stabbed. Others were thrown from the balconies of the students’ residence. A few others were sold off to the secret services. Mona’s father believed in the power of Art with all its types. He believed that the real war had to be a war against the culture that tolerates totalitarianism. My new friend must have sensed my inability to quite assimilate some chunks of her speech for she suddenly stopped and looked at me the way she had been contemplating her father’s picture.
“Listen what I am telling you might be confusing and even dangerous.” Again I looked over my shoulder and wanted to tell her to change the topic but I did not for a three-fold reason. First, my vocal cords seemed to have gone still. Second, I admired her dramatic way of speech. I loved how she caressed her hair, tilted her head to the back and raised her eyes to the roof as if fighting a strong urge to indulge in a long sob. Third, I felt bad for her. I wished she had a tape recorder like ours. She could talk into it and she did not have to worry. I also think she chose to talk to me because in a way she felt she was safe talking to me. She is a good judge of character. I was her tape recorder for that night. I did not mind. I was going to purge it out anyway. One of my teachers in Middle School told us that that in Japan, when people are stressed, depressed or wanted to express ideas and feelings that they cannot voice out in public; they go to a forest that was designated to help the people pour some of their internal loads without feeling guilty. One night, when I was back home, I woke up on myself screaming out very loudly. When I opened my eyes, most my family members were in the room where I slept with my brother. My grandfather was holding my hand and reading the Quran He gave me a glass of water. “It’s only a nightmare,” he repeated. I was sweating and tears were still streaming down my face. I had no idea why I was screaming or crying. I simply did not recall a thing. My grandfather told me in a very deep and meaningful voice:
“I am not going to ask you what was it that scared you so much. It must have been a very bad dream. Don’t tell me about it. Don’t tell anybody about it. Do you know any dried up well around? There is one that is over there,” then he pointed in the direction of the very old tree , “ you go there and when nobody is around the empty well about the bad dream.” I did not need to look for the well for I did not recall why I woke up screaming in the middle of the night.
I have already recorded this part but I pressed the rewind button by mistake. Therefore I might be repeating what I have already talked about yesterday. It was an awkward day. On the way home from school we met Rodriguez’ brother again, G.. Yesterday, he came with us to the house. His brother needed a Gameboy game he lent to Rachid. I thought he would wait for his brother outside but he stood right behind me, I hesitated to open the door but my brother pushed it wide open and before I could say a word the three of them were in. Rachid and his friend ran to my parents’ bedroom to look for the game in the closet. While his brother stood in the middle of the living room turning his eyes around every corner and repeating “cool.” I stood away with my eyes on the door and my heart pounding. I was scared my parents would come. I did not know how they would react to finding a young man with me in the house. My brother and friend came soon out . hardly had our guests left that I started yelling at my brother why he let strangers in.
G. has been meeting us very often recently on the way from Rachid’s school. He started walking us home. Apart from a few words to the young boys, we did not talk. The first time he talked to me without the boys being around was after a basketball game. I played well and the coach wanted me on the team.
I heard him saying: “yo, that was cool!”
G. Rodriguez dressed and talked like an African American. Our coincidental meeting have become very frequent. Lately, he has started to wait for me at the corner of the street and does not leave until I am about to get in class. The students frankly look at us and talk to each other while the girls repeat: “Look at you! You already found a boyfriend!” Some of the boys high five him “ My man!” I felt sick each time I heard those comments but I did not know what to do. This morning on the way to school, we met a friend of his and he introduced me to his friend: “ My girl!” I wanted to yell at him. “ I am not your girl!” but again my tongue just curled back up in my throat. Back home, if a man bothered me and it happened only once in the country and a few times on the way to school, I would insult him or give him the finger or run and tell my uncles. Here, it was different. When angry, and it rarely happens, I could only speak my native language.
My brother and I were doing our homework when the doorbell rang. My father opened the door, I heard G.’ voice. I jumped to my feet and ran to the bathroom. I locked myself I was all shivering as if I were a soaked goat. My father called me to come out; my guts jumped up to my mouth and I started vomiting. When I opened the door my father was watching the news and my mother told me. The boy brought the book you had forgotten in school. He said you needed it. Then my father said: “ how can you not remember a book when you have a test the next day?”
I did not say a word. I did not know what miracle strengthened my legs to hold me that long while I was seeing all kind of stars forming a ring around my head just like the ones I see on cartoons when they get hit on the head. As I grabbed the books and jumped to my bed where I covered myself from head to toe, I heard my mother yelling “ Are you sick? I heard you vomiting”
I chattered back from under my blanket: “ I have cramps”
My brother said: “ It’s her period! She always has cramps and vomits when she has her period.”
No matter how hard I tried to stop myself from shaking I couldn’t. A few minutes later my mother brought me a glass of boiled cloves and asked me to drink it so that cramps would go away. Hardly had I sipped some than I had to run to the bathroom to vomit.
The next day, I rehearsed and rehearsed what to tell him. He could not continue to bother me anymore. He was waiting for me at the corner of the street. I did not say hello back to him and tried to keep calm till we get the kids to school. On the way back his hand touched mine and I could not stop myself from yelling: “ I am not your girl!” and ran as fast as I could. In class, I was more silent than usual and did not take notes.
The following day he was not there. I took my brother to school as usual and felt some relief I could walk alone and nobody was high-fiving somebody by my side. As I approached the classroom, girls were staring at me in very angry and disdainful ways while a boy said: “Bitch!” It was not a big problem. I did not use to talk that much to them anyway. I simply took my seat and tried to stay focused in class.
It has been a week now since I have not seen G. It has been a week also since my classmates and a lot of students have been behaving bizarre with me. It would not have been a problem if they had not started to be more direct in their assaults. A boy this morning has tried to trip me while a few classmates repeated: “It serves you right bitch!”
I was home studying when I saw the book he brought that night. It was a math textbook that was not mine. I opened the book and saw a rose and a letter which most words have been erased by the withering rose. I read the first paragraph. It was not written in the “yo, cool” language he usually uses. It was like the ones I read in books or romantic stories. He talked about how I made him feel and how in love he was with me. He described me in very beautiful ways. I felt uncomfortable and put the letter aside.
It has started to be very cold these days; my frequent malaise feelings have become worse to the point I missed a few classes. My father sometimes comes around 7:30 am and drives us to school. Every time my father drives us to school I have to wait at least forty minutes before school starts. Those forty minutes become an opportunity for the girls and boys to make me feel as uncomfortable as possible. Today at the basketball practice I felt I have become the basket for most balls were aimed at me to the point I fell twice. I felt a huge wave of rage silently crossing its way from my toes to my torso and making all my muscles tense. I suddenly pushed a girl who was coming at me instead of the ball, jumped, grabbed the ball, bounced it and swerved in every direction and threw it with all the strength of my rage at the basket. No sooner had the ball hit the ground than I picked it and ran into the opposite direction and threw the ball in the basket of my team not paying attention to the referee’s whistle or the players’ shouting and booing. I was about to pick the ball and ran to the other direction when the coach forced my hand off the ball and pulled me to the bench. I did not hear what the crowd was yelling or waited for him to talk; I simply blurted out in the highest tone I have ever used: “Tell them to stay the hell away from me I am not the basket!!” and finished the rest of my words and insults in Arabic. They were suddenly all silent. I sat on the floor as he instructed me, held my head in my hands and started sobbing. They all circled around the coach and started talking. All I heard were noises. Later I was called to the principal’s office. My eyes were hurting from all the crying I did. I was asked to stay home for three days and to have a parent see the principal. I did not know what I was supposed to say to my father or what they were going to tell him. I forgot to get my brother from school and walked straight home. Fortunately, on the way out of school nobody addressed a word to me. My brother came home on his own. He told me that his friend told him I had been mean to his brother.
I did not prepare dinner. I slept right after I covered myself from head to toe and assumed a fetus position. It was nearly eleven o’clock in the evening when my parents came. I woke up on their talking but did not uncover my head. I was thinking on how to break the news of my being suspended for three days. To my complete apprehension, I heard my brother saying:
“ She is sick again. She got suspended from school. Rodriguez told me. She was mean to his brother. They hated her. His brother is nice. You know, father, he is. But Radia is not mean..”
He went on in a very fast talk. I got mad at him. He has never told on me. He sided up with his friend against me.
I felt short of breath as I heard my father coming towards my direction while my mother went to change her clothes and prepare dinner. I felt trapped. At that very moment I wished I had had the “ the hat of invisibility” my grandfather talked about in his tales. My father tapped on my shoulder gently. I held my breath and did not answer. He pulled the cover.
“ you are awake!” he said.
“ So, what happened?” he asked.
“ I don’t know.” I answered
NANA is a novel written by Jamila Ouriour