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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes Story about a life

The Death of an Immigrant
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra

This is not the story of Sacco and Vanzetti, the two famous Italian immigrants, who were executed in Massachusetts, or Cesar Chavez, the famous Mexican-American who fought for the migrant workers until his death in Arizona. This is the story of a poor, Algerian immigrant, named Hadge. He was a simple man with a simple dream.

© khuzamistudio

He was average in all, except for some dark secrets and a strange complexion. He always combed his frizzy hair to one side and wore old-fashion European outfits. If you saw him with those clothes you would think he was a Sicilian, but after you heard him talk, you would know he wasn’t. He ran away from a religious war in Algeria and came to America to start his simple dream. On the journey to achieve this dream he met Sally Jones, in a coffee shop, in Dinkytown, Minnesota. He dated her for a few times and one day a right moment came and he asked her to marry him. Since Sally Jones was poor, had coke-bottle glasses, permanent pimples on the forehead, and knew nobody would ask her for marriage again, she agreed. After a month of courtship, Sally and Hadge drove to Las Vegas and got married on the spot. There was no friend or a family member to witness their marriage. I still remember the night I saw his marriage license when I was sitting in my car with his Algerian friend, Noureddine.

Hadge was not a typical Algerian. A typical Algerian would socialize with his compatriots and build a network of friends. But Hadge was a silent loner and preferred to stay silent until the day he died. For some reason he was always in deep sorrow and discontent. His only progress in social life was that he found a few Moroccan friends to play soccer with and became a regular customer at Espresso Royal, a coffee shop in Dinkytown, where he would drink coffee, look at girls, and chat with the regulars. Other than that, his life was monotone. He went to school during the day, went home during the night, and played soccer during the weekends.

Hadge was also a chain smoker. He smoked cigarettes back to back until he went to sleep. His clothes always reeked of smoke, even after he would wash them with heavy-duty detergent. Whenever you saw him sitting outside the coffee shop he would be sucking on his cigarette. There was a cigarette shop right there at the corner of the block, and if Hadge finished a pack he would just walk a few yards to get a new fresh one. Cigarettes to him were like a reservoir onto which he would pour all of his sorrow and discontent. He didn’t know that smoking was harming his lungs, or probably knew, but he didn’t care. He kept on smoking incessantly until one day he felt a dull pain in his chest. The pain came and went. Every now and then it would come for a short visit and then go, but after a few months it became his constant companion and never went. Hadge visited a doctor at Fairview Hospital and the doctor checked him out carefully and said it was lung cancer. In Algeria the doctor would word the statement differently to make the patient feel better, but here the doctors are so honest they make you feel miserable. Later on the doctor did more diagnosis and found out that Hadge’s cancer had spread out to his brains and to his bones. Cancer took a monkey grip of Hadge and became a part of him. Cancer would only go if Hadge went and through out all this bad news, Hadge had told this to no one, but later on, his wife found out and Hadge had to go stay at the hospital for some time.

After six days in the hospital Hadge died quietly at approximately five-fifteen in the morning. You might think that the story ends up here, but the story has just begun, because Hadge left a dilemma behind him. Since Hadge didn’t show up for soccer games, Noureddine and the Moroccans started to wonder what had happened. Noureddine called Hadge at home.
"Can I speak to Hadge?" he asked.
Sally began to cry.
"What happened?" Nourredine asked.
"Hadge died," Sally said primly.
"No way," Noureddine replied.
"Yes. He died," Sally confirmed.
There was a pause. Noureddine was sucking the news and getting adjusted to it. He knew it was true and he knew it from the way Sally cried. Her cry was honest and clean and real as death. There is nothing so powerful than death. There is nothing so indifferent than death. Death is Mrs. Clean. Death is pure and complete and absolute. Death is a democracy. Death is a god. Death is real. Death is the end of life. Death is a one-to-one function: for every one life there is one death. Death conserves. Death doesn’t listen; it just executes. Death loves everybody. Death has a big dick that fucks everybody. Death is beautiful. If you want to know the difference between reality and imagination, death will be happy to show it to you. Death is color blind.
"It can’t be true," Noureddine said. "I’ve just talked to Hadge, not long ago."
"He died in the hospital. Fairview. Cancer."
"Where is he now?" Noureddine asked.
"He’s cremated," Sally said.
"I can’t talk about it now," Sally said. "I am upset. I need to go."
Noureddine was thinking about telling his friends. This was big news for him and for the community. The last big news he had heard on that year, was that his Moroccan friend, Mustapha Alhakeko, went to Hennepin County penitentiary for smacking his wife. They stuck an electronic gadget to his ankle, like they do a migrant bird, and set him free for the weekend, only to report back the following week.
"I will call you back," Noureddine said to Sally. "Please answer when I call you back."
"I will," Sally said. And Noureddine hung up.

Noureddine called everybody he knew. The Algerians, the Moroccans, the Tunisians, the Egyptians; he even called a Jamaican friend, Hadge knew through soccer.
Ibrahim, one of the ring leaders of the community, suggested they get some of Hadge’s ashes to pray on for the replacement of Hadge’s body. In Islamic tradition, a dead body needed to be washed and moved to a mosque so that people can pray on and say the final goodbye. We need the powder, everybody in the community said. You need to call his wife back and ask her for some of Hadge’s powder. Noureddine called Sally Jones.
"Hello," Sally said over the phone.
"Hello," Noureddine said. "Hadge’s friends and the community need his powder as a replacement, so we can pray for him in the mosque."
There was no response. Sally was thinking. Sally didn’t have Hadge’s ashes.
"Hello," Noureddine said.
"I am sorry I told you Hadge was cremated. He’s still in the morgue. I don’t have money to buy a spot for him at the cemetery."
"What?" Noureddine recoiled from the phone.
"I lied," Sally said. "Hadge’s in the morgue at Fairview."
"You mean he’s not cremated?"
"Yes, he’s not cremated," Sally said. "I am sorry, I lied."
"You can’t do that," Noureddine revolted. "You can’t lie, like that. You can’t lie about somebody’s death. Why didn’t you ask me for money? The community could give you all the money you need. This is a matter of death. People give money."
"I am sorry," Sally said. "I didn’t know."
"That’s okay," Noureddine said. "We need to go see him in the morgue. We need to get his body out here in the mosque so we can pray for him."
"That’s fine," Sally said.
"Did you call his family in Algeria?" Noureddine asked.
"I didn’t," Sally said.
"Why?" Hadge revolted.
"I don’t have their phone number."
"He never gave it to me."
"I will call them," Noureddine said angrily.

How can she be his wife and not know his family’s phone number? Noureddine said to himself, shaking his head. He called the community and the community found Hadge’s family phone number, and Noureddine called the family in Algeria. Noureddine was calling Hadge’s family overseas all the time. He became so jazzed by Hadge’s death he forgot that whenever he made a call, Verizon Wireless would add the call minutes to his bill. After this ordeal, Verizon Wireless sent Noureddine a phone bill of over a thousand Dollars. Noureddine couldn’t pay, Verizon Wireless cut him off, and the community retreated. Anyway, let’s not dwell on Noureddine’s phone bill. That’s another short story in itself. Before this, and later on, Noureddine found out that he had to contact the Algerian consulate to facilitate the transportation of Hadge’s body to Algeria. People in the community started talking about Hadge, and how his wife lied about his cremation, and how she was unfair to him, lying like that to the community, and that’s when I came in. They told me about Hadge but I couldn’t remember who he was. So I got curious about him, for I am always curious about dead people. Some friends told me that I had met him before, but for some reason I couldn’t remember who he was. I wanted to see his face to make some contact and say the final goodbye like everybody else. I thought if I saw his face I would probably remember him.

The following day the Algerian consulate sent somebody from New York to Minneapolis to check on the body and make sure Hadge’s death was not due to some criminal act. That night, they brought Hadge to Columbia-Heights Mosque to wash him off and that’s when I went to see to him. Four guys, including Noureddine, were working on him when I knocked on the door.
Noureddine came out and closed the door behind him. His face was grim.
"He’s in a bad shape," Noureddine said. "I don’t think you want to see him."
"It’s okay," I said. "I want to see him."

Noureddine moved out of the way and opened the door to let me in. I walked in and I saw Hadge lying on a stretcher, completely covered with white linen. Beside me, there were four men in the room. The person in charge of the cleaning seemed to be a white American Muslim, with piercing eyes, and a long white beard. He was still wearing his yellow latex glove when his skinny hands were maneuvering over Hadge’s head to uncover it. The head was small and stiff as he was uncovering it. I was waiting for the head to show and I knew it wasn’t going to be a pretty picture.
"He’s in a bad shape," the American said. "He’s been in the morgue for quite some time."
I could see Hadge’s face now. There was no way I could make out who he was. His eye sockets were covered with two little cotton balls and the rest of his face was dark gray, with three or four black spots on the cheeks and one on the forehead. They looked like bruises, but they were just discolorations from the long stay at the morgue. In facts, they looked like the black spots tomatoes get when you leave them in the fridge for a long time. I put my hand on his covered shoulder and said, goodbye, and left the room. The next day, Hadge’s body was put in a plane bound for Algeria. Hadge’s simple dream has never been achieved.
© Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra
March 2005
Los Angeles, CA.

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Sidi is a regular contributor to Hackwriters and works in education in the field of nuclear physics

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