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A way to lose your coat
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra

My dad was an auto-body man. He made his living in a dusty shop, fixing and painting cars. He was also illiterate. He had never gone to school and there were no schools back then for him to go to. Of course, there were some schools nearby, but they were only for the rich.

My dad’s family was poor. He lived like a fly on the ground. His dad was a private in the army and his mom was a common, regular housewife. My grand-grand parents were rich and wise and respected religious people. In facts, they were descendents of Omar Ibn Al Khattab, a relative of the prophet Mohamed. But somebody in my family tree line fucked up somehow, and the rest of my family went down the drain with the slime of poverty. When my dad was about fourteen his parents filed for divorce and my dad left the house and started to sell newspapers. I don’t know how he made a living selling newspaper because Morocco at the time was full of illiterate people. It is possible that he sold his newspaper to the French people. There were many French people living in Morocco at the time and some of them wanted to live in Morocco forever. Morocco is not a bad country, after all. It is like California if you look at it from some point of view. I lived in Morocco when I was a kid and I now live in California. Some plants I saw in Morocco I found them right here in San Luis Obispo, California. Rabat, where I was born, is like San Luis Obispo, except that San Luis Obispo has hills, expensive cars, and girls with nifty clothes and big breasts.

My dad was a hard working man. He worked hard but he also drank too. He tried very hard to avoid drinking, but in the end he gave up to it and died jobless and moneyless at age 61. They took his shop and sold his tools and my mother buried him in a nearby cemetery by an old beach and the mighty Atlantic Ocean. My dad was like Dylan Thomas; it is just Dylan wrote poetry and drank himself to death while my dad painted cars instead.

My dad used to wake up early in the morning and leave for work. He had an old, ancient car. When he wanted to make a turn, a bar with red light, would stick out from the side of the car, between the two side doors, and swing up and down like a hand, waving, signaling for the turn. One early, foggy morning, my dad left the house and drove his old car to the parking lot of a small diner up the hill near a vacant lot. It was a sand lot and had three tall palm trees that looked over it, over the diner, and over the Casablanca highway. The fog was so thick and you could hardly see the diner from here, if you stood fifty yards away. My dad usually had his breakfast there, when the business was good and his wallet was full of Dirhams. If he was broke, he would just have breakfast with us, kids, at home.

He entered the diner now and saw his friend, Hassan, sitting at the counter, eating scrambled eggs and drinking black coffee. He was the only customer in the diner and my dad was happy when he saw him. Hassan and my dad were good friends, very good friends indeed. My dad sat up on a stool next to Hassan and a fat cook boosted himself along the counter, towards my dad.
"Good morning, Cherkawi," the fat cook said.
"Morning," my dad responded, wearing a long coat.
My dad sat down next to Hassan and put his arm around him to show an old friendship.
"How are you," he said, looking happy.
"Okay," lied Hassan.
Hassan wasn’t okay. He felt funny this morning. He couldn’t breathe as well. He was short of breath even though the air this morning was clean and fresh.
"Two eggs and a bowl of barley soup," my dad ordered the fat cook.
"How do you want your eggs?" the fat cook asked.
"Sunny side up," my dad said and pulled a cigarette from the side pocket of his long coat.
The two men at the diner talked, the fat man cooked eggs on the plate, and a truck rumbled nearby. The Casablanca highway wasn’t that far from the diner. A black dog walked into the vacant lot and stood in the fog to look around for a moment. He then went to the foot of one of the palm trees and took a leak. He held his head high and from the look on his face you could tell he was enjoying that leak.
"Well, I have to go," said Hassan. "We are expecting some customers this morning."
Hassan was a mechanic. He worked for a French man in a shop at the Boudarbala Avenue of the sea shore. He had a wife, five kids, and a mom; all living together under the same roof. Hassan stood up from the stool and put his right hand on my dad’s shoulder.
"See you, Buddy," he said and walked lazily out.
"See you," my dad said and plunged back onto his dish of eggs. He almost finished. He was about to leave too.

After a minute or so, my dad and the fat cook could hear Hassan turning the crank, trying to start the car. Back then all cars needed a crank to start. Keys were only used to lock cars. Outside, you could see Hassan in the thick fog, bent over in front of his old car, turning the crank clockwise. The car didn’t want to start and Hassan didn’t want to stop from cranking. My dad walked out of the diner to offer help. He walked into the fog and approached Hassan. Hassan slowly stood up and turned around to talk to my dad. Suddenly he dropped the crank and held his chest and made a painful face. He wanted to speak but no word came out. My dad knew it was a heart attack.
"What’s going on?" my dad asked.
Hassan made more of a painful face, holding his chest, leaning back against his old car. The fat cook got out and jumped from the steps of the diner and bounced like a ball onto the parking lot. He had probably looked through the window and the fog and could make out what had been happening. He came running while Hassan was lowering himself to the ground.
My dad was confused. All he could do was, stick out his arms for help. Meanwhile Hassan was going down.
"Heart attack," my dad said to the fat cook.
Hassan was now lying on his back and on the wet concrete of the parking lot. He looked up into the fog and looked at my dad’s face and my dad knew that look. It was the look of the final goodbye.
"Say the final statement for him," the fat cook told my dad. "He can’t speak."
My dad stuck out his index from his right hand and said, "There is no god but God, and Mohamed is his prophet."
Hassan closed his eyes and died quietly.
The black dog walked out the sand lot and ran a little to a house nearby.
That time there was no phone you can use to call the police or the Paramedics. The nearest police station was downtown.
"What should we do?" my dad looked at the fat cook.
"Notify the authority," the fat cook said primly.

My dad took off his coat and lay it down on Hassan, covering his face. Hassan’s face was now covered by a coat and by the thick fog of that gray morning. My dad and the fat cook stood over Hassan’s body looking down, thinking, and sucking the morrow of reality.
When my dad came home, my mom went up to him and asked, "Where is your coat?"
My dad sat down on a chair by the door and began to cry.
© Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra - July 2005
Minneapolis, Minnesota
sbenzahr@calpoly.edu

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