International Writers Magazine:
Moroccan Stories: From Our Archives
Leg to Die For
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra
mother told me more than once that her father was one of the best
farmers of the Tadla Valley of Morocco. If you happen not to know
where the Tadla Valley is, it is my duty as a Moroccan Citizen to
tell you exactly where that is. It is right north of the Atlas Mountains
and way down south of the Rif Mountains.
The Atlas Mountains
split Old Morocco in half, north and south, and the Tadla Valley sits
right there under the heavy clouds that would always come from the southern
part of Europe and the Mediterranean Sea, and park right there at the
edge of the beautiful Atlas mountains and burst their skin like big
gray balloons, dropping their waters and electricity onto the arable
land, onto the wheat fields and vineyards, the forests and pastures
and up and over the heart-busting slopes of the hills and valleys, onto
the olive trees, and onto the cotton fields; and the orange trees and
the happy animals.
My mother was always proud of the fact that her father was a good farmer.
She was not fully proud of other facts that she would rarely talk about
regarding her father. She said that her father had probably never made
a farming mistake in his life, but he made plenty of mistakes in the
domain of courting women and raising children, in the domain of respecting
his blind wife, who happened to be my grandmother.
My grandmother was very beautiful Arab woman, my mother said more than
once. Her beauty overcame her blindness and my grandfather had probably
married her for her beauty and not for the sake of pity. Moreover, he
knew she would give him beautiful kids and also knew that blindness
could not be transferred to his offspring. But again everybodys
mother is beautiful, and so to convince you that my grandmother was
very beautiful I have to tell you that I saw her more than once when
I was a kid and I could tell that she was very beautiful. Even though
I was only a kid back then I could for sure tell the difference between
a beautiful woman and ugly woman, between wealthy person and poor person.
I could for sure tell you the difference between sickness and health.
Dont ask me how I knew all these things, because I myself have
no idea how I know all these things. My grandmothers beauty could
not be ignored by even a kid and as a testament of all this, her beauty
showed up later on in one of her granddaughters who happened to have
blue eyes and the face of a princess from a faraway British Kingdom.
It doesnt mean that blue eyes are beautiful. It just happens that
blue eyes are rare in Morocco even though I had seen some blue-eyed
kids in my school. In facts, I had once chased a blue-eyed girl to her
neighborhood only to be chased back by her fierce brother who threw
rocks at me, chasing me all the way down from his neighborhood to mine.
I ran away at roughly the speed of a comet, fearing a rock would hit
me on the back of my head.
When I saw my cousin I could not believe that I had a cousin that looked
that beautiful. Because most of my cousins are ugly and I have no idea
why. I forgot my cousins name because I have a million of cousins,
but I still remember the beauty I saw in her face. I will never forget
that face until the day they wrap me in a white sheet and bury me six
feet in the ground and make me face Mecca. My cousin was older than
I was and she married a lucky farmer and moved to a farmhouse nearby
where she had probably given birth to three or four kids. I had not
seen my cousin ever since that day when I saw her face in the shadow
of her fair hair, in the sunny prairies of the Tadla Valley.
One dark gray day, My Grandfather was tilling his land for a new season
when he felt like he cut himself on the leg. My grandfather kept on
working like nothing had happened, when in facts the cut was deep and
long. Blood came out but because of the intensity of work my Grandfather
didnt pay much attention. But after a few moments, he looked down
and saw a big spot of blood on his pants. He grabbed a rag from his
back pocket and tied his leg with his snotty rag and went home.
Once he got home he dabbed his cut with herbs, thinking they would fix
the problem, when in fact the problem needed a good doctor with a good
education and many good years of hands-on experience. Since herbs didnt
work for him, my grandfather talked to some people in the village and
they told him that he needed to have a visit with Lalla Fatima, an old
woman who happened to be a witch and a saint at the same time, depending
on your mood. If you had a bad day, she was a witch; and if you had
a good day, she was a saint. They told him to go to Lalla Fatima, because
Lalla Fatima would blow on the cut and the cut would automatically dry
up like a raisin and heal. My grandfather took his leg to Lalla Fatima
and Lalla Fatima invoked the spirit and did all she could do to heal
his leg only to find out later on that the leg was haunted by a powerful
devil. She told him that this devil is a smart one and that he goes
only to smart people and that he is from the core of hell and that he
is spreading his devilish sickness to the rest of his body, and if he
doesnt do anything soon, this devil would call on him and take
over the rest of the body and kill him. My grandfather thought about
what Lalla Fatima said for a moment and concluded that Lalla Fatima
was a witch. He left her hut without paying her.
The next day, my grandfather decided to go to a nearby hospital and
meet up with a nurse. The nurse took a look into his leg and right away
knew that it is out of her domain of expertise, and passed him on to
a doctor who happened to be sitting in his office right there around
the corner. The doctor studied his leg momentarily and came up with
the conclusion that the leg had to be amputated. My grandfather said
no way, and the doctor said thats the only way. "If I dont
cut off your leg you will die," the doctor said, and my grandfather
slammed the door on his way out and spat two spits on the ground of
the hallway and boosted himself out the main door and onto a dirt road,
dragging his leg to his farm.
Neighbors and county farmers heard the news and came to my grandfather
to console him and coax him into cutting off his leg, but my father
always said no way. How am I going to meet my God with one leg? He would
say to people. He stuck to his word. He would rather die in one piece
than live the rest of his life with one leg. My grandmother told him
that she was blind and that didnt make any difference to her but
my grandfather barked at her and ordered her to go away. After two or
three years my grandfather died in one piece. He was buried in a sunny
graveyard over a hill nearby.
© Sidi Benzahra June 2008
the Moroccan Bath
When I was six, or probably seven years old, my mom always
took me and my sisters to the public bath. Whenever we built up a good
thick layer of dirt on our skin, or had gone two weeks without washing
for some reason or another, she would take us there.
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