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••• The International Writers Magazine - 21 Years on-line - From our Archives

The Two Ghosts of the Christian Cemetery
Sidi Benzahra
Mhimzat’s specialty was rock throwing. He could throw a rock at you and hit you no matter how fast you ran or how quick you dodged.

It was a very sad day for us, the Cherkawi family, to move back from our sunny neighborhood, Douar Rjafallah of Rabat, Morocco, to our old, moldy district of Akkari, which was a couple of miles away. I always preferred to stay in this poor, sunny neighborhood because it was located in the outskirts of town, and had plenty of vacant lots, train tracks, and shit piles.

Anyway, the outskirts of our sunny neighborhood contained plenty of dumpsters and shit piles, like I said. We used to rummage through them and look for copper wires and broken pieces of glass to sell to Father Mustapha Junkyard, and if the price wasn’t good, we would walk a long distance to Bugarba gas station for a better offer.

Our sunny neighborhood had two slightly crazed people. Their names were Mhimzat and Leily. They were both polarized in their minds. Mhimzat’s specialty was rock throwing. He could throw a rock at you and hit you no matter how fast you ran or how quick you dodged. It had been claimed by older kids that once a kid made a turn around the corner of a block, running away from Mhimzat’s rock, and the rock also made the turn to follow him. Mhimzat should’ve been a sharp shooter at the Regragui Military compound, which was located by the back road and the high cliff. He walked fast, and his head was always bent to one side, against his shoulder, like if some invisible person was standing on top of his shoulders, pushing his head to one side. Whenever we saw him, we threw rocks at him and he would right away look for a rock to throw back at us. But by the time he had found a rock, we would have already found a place to hide. We had experience with him at hiding, but his rocks would always hit the un-experienced kids.

Leily was the opposite of Mhimzat. He was a peaceful man even though he always wore black. He had the body of an older man but the brains of a child. He liked playing marbles with us and he always had many marbles in his pocket, which you could hear jiggling whenever he approached us to play. He also had this special marble that was made of steel and he would play with it and hold it with his big, dirty hand, fascinated by it, as though it was the only steel marble in the whole world. He would be playing with us when all of sudden he would collapse on the ground and start to shake convulsively like if he was possessed by a devil. Kids would gather around to watch, looking at him shaking like a dying person, but one of us, experienced kids, who had witnessed this event time and time again, would exactly know what to do. We would shake a set of keys next to his big head, thinking the sound would thwart the devil out of him. He would keep on moving and shaking, white foam oozing out from the corner of his mouth. But then after a moment or so, he would rise up like a phoenix from the dust of the playground, and he would dust off his black pants, and start to play marbles with us again.

We left all these memories when we had to leave our sunny neighborhood and move back to Akkari. This neighborhood was totally different from the sunny one. There was not much dust in it, but there were many people shopping around and plenty of kids running about, not knowing what to do with their lives. I befriended some of the kids, of course, but it was not like the good friendship of the poor, sunny neighborhood.
Akkari was a neighborhood that has power. I was born there. My father grew up in Akkari. He was proud of his Arabic heritage. He participated in booting out the French from Morocco. We caught them and punish them and kicked their ass out to overseas, my father had told me. My father, in these Akkari streets, had told me that we are number one. We are great people, he said. We have a great religion. We invaded Europe, Asia, and Africa all in one shot, he said proudly. He told me to always stand up and deliver. I think my father forgot about his drinking problem when he was telling me this. I wish I knew what to deliver at that time. So far the only thing that comes in my mind is Pizza.

There was a set of buildings in Akkari neighborhood. And there were a few old trees between these buildings and an old Christian cemetery. There was hardly any grass on the ground below the old trees, except for some rusted cans, old dusty pipes, and a few garbage piles careless neighbors would dump at night when nobody was watching. A high wall was erected to separate between the Christian cemetery and the old trees and the neighborhood. This cemetery once stood alone in the wilderness, but because of population explosion, the neighborhood came up to it to push it around. Now this cemetery is engulfed by the neighborhood. Every once in a while kids would monkey up its walls and steel a vase of flowers, an ornament, or a baby angel. If the ornaments were cemented to the grave, they would break them off with a rock and take them. I had never climbed these walls, but I had once gotten inside through the gate and saw the graves and read the names on the epitaphs.

But one afternoon, my sister, Boushra, was playing with her friends next to the street that goes along the set of buildings. She was playing under the trees, close to the cemetery wall, but since it had gotten dark, she moved to the other side of the buildings, to the lighted area by the street. The sun was coming down slowly and the neighborhood was getting dark and the crowd of people was thinning. It was time for my sister to go home. We always gathered in the evening to drink coffee and eat bread with butter. Sometimes if we were lucky we would eat apricot jam instead of butter. But when my sister was ready to go, she heard people saying something and pointing to the direction of the old trees and the cemetery wall. She could see a line of people, looking and gathering. My sister ran to them with her friends and saw two women wrapped in white sheets. These women were walking and sliding and hugging the cemetery wall. They were moving in such a weird way that is not typical of our culture. One arm would hug the wall and push against it for the body to move. Both women were doing the same thing, as they were moving and squirming down against the wall. Nobody could approach them even though they were many tough guys watching. Everybody knew that those women weren’t human, and everybody was scared of them. The women kept on walking and squirming against the wall when all of sudden they went through the wall and disappeared. My sister saw that and she ran away. She came home scared green to tell us the story. I still remember the look on her face when she was telling us the story.

© Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra
Nov 17, 2001

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