The International Writers Magazine: A story about sheep
Mother Who Chained Her Son
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra
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
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
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!"
"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
in Dreamscapes 2
all rights reserved