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The International Writers Magazine
: A story about sheep

The Mother Who Chained Her Son
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra


My cousin, Abdul Razak, had barely been eighteen when old traditions and folklore had forced him out of his family and made him marry a seventeen-year-old woman, Salma, who was from a nearby village, and whom her family had just built a small farmhouse on the bank of the Um Rbih River, which runs across the big valleys of the Tadla County of the central region of Morocco.

Before Abdul was allowed to venture out into the real world of farming and husbandry, he had been given a good deal of training on how to raise cattle and grow crops; on how to mulch and till the land his ancestors had left for him; and on how to dig wells and extract clean water, and use all those small details that nobody thinks of, or at least ignores, when in fact, they are very critical to good farming and good living and good saving.

Salma had also been given a good deal of training on how to cook good food and wash the dishes and on how to scrub pots and pans, tend the chicken and the rabbits and shepherd the sheep, and milk the cows and all those necessary chores that were only necessary for women to know, back then, in those dark days. Besides given a few sheep to jump-start their economy, the Razaks were allowed to use the olive trees that both families owned in the nearby lands, across the river. Other than that, they were on their own and they got no help at all.

Abdul had always loved sheep. Sheep to him were like a big fish to a fisherman. Like 24-karat gold to a gold digger. In this region, if not all regions, pride and respect were associated with sheep, let alone wealth. And that was why he was obsessed by the smell of sheep, by the texture of their wool, and the look at their faces, especially when they would sit down and graze calmly and quietly in the field. He loved them so much that one day, when he was a kid, he stole a lamb from a neighbor, ignoring the punishment his father would eventually, later on, inflict upon him.

He had always wanted to buy sheep and raise them, but he had never been allowed by his father to do so, for he had been way too young, and too naive to raise his sheep to term, or to the desire of his scrupulous father, who was a respectable farmer in that whole region.

During the days when he had been single, Abdul had saved a lot of money, working for his father, and for the nearby farmers. And now, with all that money in a rusted, dented coffee can, underneath his bed, he found himself in a dire need to go to the souk (Moroccan market) and buy himself as many sheep as his money could afford. Salma, on the other hand, knew very well how her husband had been obsessed with sheep and didn't intervene at all. She couldn't disagree with him, for she knew he would buy them regardless of her objection.

One early Saturday morning, Abdul woke up before even the sun could reach the horizon, flung his djellaba over his shoulders like he would usually do, and jumped on his restless donkey, and headed for the Saturday Souk. The souk was about seven miles west of his house, and this is very far of a distance, considering transportation in Morocco in those days, but his donkey was young and strong and restless like I said before, and many times the donkey would rather run than walk.

At about 12 noon of that same day, a sheep-loaded truck drew up near the Razaks' farmhouse and killed its engine. Abdul jumped out of the passenger seat like a pirate and walked hurriedly in his djellaba to the back of the truck and turned the hatch up with a loud clang and released his sheep down and herded them out into his farm. The truck left and Abdul didn't even say thank-you to the driver, for he was so happy with his new sheep, so excited, and so was his wife, for she knew that he would be happy with her also, being that happy with his sheep. They counted the sheep over and over again; they drank mint tea to their health, and they patted their sheep on the back, and they made a great fuss of them; which was just as well, for their sheep were not feeling particularly cheerful after what they had gone through, pushed and hustled disrespectfully to the truck, in the truck, and off the truck and into the barn.

Almost all of the farmers of that county knew about this purchase, and some were happy for the Razaks and others, god saves us, were jealous, jealous to the point of steeling the sheep away from them. So after the sun went down the horizon and darkness loomed over the field, four thieves crept up from the bushes nearby the slow-moving river and head for the Razaks' farm. Out there, a silence reigned, broken by no bird or sound of a cow, except for that of the easy wind and the crackling of the cornfield. And moreover, the thieves didn't talk to each other at all, except for some fragments of broken language and codes, for they had already planned on what to do, and they walked like ghosts, so stealthily, so carefully not to knock down a bucket or a can, or stir an animal nearby. In facts, they couldn't be heard at all.

One mistake my cousin had made was that he hadn't gotten himself a dog. A fierce fussy dog would be very useful in shooing thieves, or at least waking up his owner. Almost every farm around in this area had a dog or two for protection. Some even had five or six dogs, but my cousin and Salma had just started a new life together and hadn't got enough experience to protect their property.
The thieves scurried like rats into the barn, where the sheep were rested, and began to hustle them, one by one, stealthily, quietly, out of the barn. Salma and Abdul were so tired because an early romance had been consummated, and now they couldn't even move or roll over.

The next morning was like other mornings and yet gloomy among mornings. When Abdul woke up to say hello to his sheep and to check up on them, all he found were the chickens and the wind blowing crazily about. The chickens were clacking and the wind was blowing, and the vane on the rooftop was swinging left and right with an almost-steady uninterrupted rhythm. The sheep were gone. Not one lousy lamb was left for him to herd, not even a sick one.

When Abdul saw no sheep were around, he knew exactly what had happened. He began to cry at the beginning and then he started to wail at the end. You could hear his wail a mile away in the middle of the wheat and the corn fields. In facts, he wailed and wailed, and spun twice in his place, wailing. He then ran back to Salma and shook her in bed violently, trying to wake her up even though she had been already awake. She had heard him wailing and had known exactly what had happened and all she could do was think in bed.
"Wake up, Salma!" he cried. "Salma, wake up!"
"I am awake, Abdul!"
Salma sprung out of bed throwing her blanket to the side. She stood up and stared at Abdul like a crazed ghost. The news was so hard for her to handle.
"What happened?" she asked even though she knew what had happened.
Abdul was collecting his breath. "The sheep are gone, Salma!" He said.
"Gone, where?" she asked.
"They were stolen!"
"Stolen by whom?"
"I don't know!"

On her hard bare feet, Salma went outside and investigated the barn. And just as she confirmed the theft, and confirmed it again, Abdul no longer became sane. He departed from the world of sanity and plunged into a pool of madness.

Every morning he would wake up and go to the prairie to look for his sheep, thinking they had just been lost, hadn't been able to find their way back home. And then he would walk down the valley to the river to see if they were floating or washed out to the banks. In the beginning he had begun to talk to himself softly, but as time wore on, craziness cracked his skull and dug in deep in his mind, and the fact that his sheep were stolen took root in his mind, he began to talk to himself even more loudly. Sometimes, in his dirty clothes, you could see him alone coming down the field, talking loudly, and moving his hands widely about him as though he was in an argument with an invisible companion.
Nearby farmers knew about Abdul's insanity now, but couldn't do anything for him. Some of them understood it and went on with their farming life ignoring him, but others, especially the kids, thought he was possessed by the devil and began to give him hard times.

Salma tried to console him. She told him to be patient and strong. She told him more than once that she loved him and that she would help him, but Abdul just cried and talked to himself. Finally Salma had to leave him, for she found him to be unbearable to live with. She couldn't even make him tend the rabbits, or raise the chickens, which were, still are, the easiest tasks in farming. Her family, on the other hand, being patient as they had always been, had looked carefully into Abdul's case to see if he could come back to his senses, but, as it had been expected, conclusions were drawn, and official papers were signed upon at the Municipal County office, that everything about Abdul was irreversible.

Unfortunately, the story didn't stop here. Abdul had become the victim of the children of this village. Whenever he was seen, rocks were thrown at him from every direction. Whenever he walked down the village towards the field or the grocery store down on the hill, children chased him and hounded him. And on one sunny day, when Abdul was sitting in the sun against a wall, a rock, as big as a man's fist, came, flying down from an unknown direction and landed on his head, splitting the skin of his skull wide open. Abdul jerked in his place momentarily and let out a long agonizing whoop, especially after he saw and felt his warm blood running down his face. He stood up and walked hurriedly to a well and washed the blood off his head and face, and went back to his place and sat down in the sun, drying up the long cut on his skull.

He sat there for a long time soaking up the sun, when finally his mother heard about the incident and came up to him and dragged him home. She cried and cried about her son, and thought deeply about what to do with him, and finally decided to chain his feet to a beam in the house so that he could never leave the house without her leaving with him.

© Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra May 2005
sbenzahr@calpoly.edu
Los Angeles

Death of an immigrant
Sidi Benzahra

More fiction in Dreamscapes 2


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