Sunday, August 13, 2006

Today's Super-Special Insomnia Report Guest Blogger: Mohammed Mrabet!

A man named Si Qaddour had been left a large tract of land by his father. There was a big house at one end of it where the family lived, and a half mile or so from the house there was a grove of trees. Here in the shade at the edge of a stream Si Qaddour's father had built a small house and arranged a garden around it. The old man had spent most of his time sitting in the garden, far from his family.

Si Qaddour was a busy man, and never went near the little house in the woods. His son, however, a youth of seventeen, liked to smoke kif, and his grandfather's garden seemed to him the perfect place to do it. He began to spend more and more time there, until finally he moved out of his family's house altogether and went to live alone in the woods. Once a month he would go into the town and buy what he needed, such as matches, or a new pipe, or more kif. Each afternoon he walked to his father's house and got the food he would be eating that night and the next day.

His grandfather had made a pool in the garden, and it was beside the pool that the young man liked to sit. He would stay without moving for long periods of time, so that the birds would ocme and light near him. He had spent many months trying to become their friend. It took patience and intelligence, and a good deal of kif besides, to learn how to sit as he did, waiting for the birds to come. But usually they came, and sometimes they even perched on his shoulder. And it seemed to him that they were trying to talk to him, as if they believed he understood what they were saying with their chirping.

One day a group of relatives from another part of the country arrived to call on Si Qaddour and his family. Among them there was a young mute girl. She sat with the rest of the family for awhile, and then, growing restless, she got up and wandered outside. The orchards were beautiful and so she took a walk. After awhile she came to the grove of trees, and the path led her to the small house by the river.

As she went into the garden she saw the youth sitting by the pool with two birds on the ground in front of him. He seemed to be talking to them. The girl stood still, and her mouth opened in astonishment. The birds were chirping very loud. The young man listened, and appeared to be saying something to them. He raised his arms and the two birds flew away. Then he began to laugh. At that moment, he looked up and saw the girl watching him from the other end of the garden. It seemed to him that he had never seen such a beautiful face.

He called to her: Who are you?

The girl put her hand in front of her mouth and shrugged her shoulders, to say that she could not speak. He went over to her and made gestures, and she saw that she understood.

What are you doing way out here in the woods? he wanted to know.

She made signs to say that her family were visiting at a big house beyond the orchards, and he told her it was his father's house.

He led the girl to the pool and told her to sit down. Then he made her some tea. As she drank he filled his pipe with kif and lighted it. He poured himself a glass of tea and sat smoking at looking at her.

The girl was making great efforts to say something to him, but he raised his hand and said: No. Don't try to talk. I want to dream a little.

They were both silent for a while, as the kif climbed into the young man's head and listened to the sound of the river flowing by.

After a time he rose and said to the girl: Come with me. I'll show you the way back to my father's house.

They started to walk through the woods. He talked to her, and she answered by moving her hands. Suddenly a snake rose up in the middle of the path, as if it were going to strike at them. The girl saw it, and her fear was so great that she opened her mouth and screamed with all her force. The fear had loosened her voice.

The snake went to one side, and lay among the leaves by the edge of the paht.

I speak now, said the girl. The youth looked at her, but he did not understand.

Soon he told her: Now we're out of the grove. And you can see the house up there. Just keep going.

Yes, she said, and she went on to the house, thinking: Now I can speak.

The young man turned around and went back to where the snake was waiting for him. He stopped and ran his hand along its back two or three times, and it slid away. Then he walked on to his garden and sat smoking kif by the pool.

["The Young Man Who Lived Alone", one of Mrabet's stories transcribed and translated from the Moghrebi by Paul Bowles in the collection M'Hashish]