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The International Writers Magazine: Moroccan Stories: From Our Archives

A Leg to Die For
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra

My 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 everybody’s 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. Don’t ask me how I knew all these things, because I myself have no idea how I know all these things. My grandmother’s 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 doesn’t 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 cousin’s 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 didn’t 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 didn’t 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 doesn’t 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 that’s the only way. "If I don’t 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 didn’t 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

Surviving the Moroccan Bath
Sidi Benzahra
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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