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The International Writers Magazine
: Dreamscapes in Morocco

A Strange, Sunny Vacant Lot
Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra

There were many vacant lots in the old city where I was born. The old city exists only in my memory, and it is now completely mixed with my imagination. I wish one day I can walk through some tunnel of imagination and get to that old city and to the vacant lot, I used to play in, and become a kid again, just for one hour or two, and run in it in my shorts, and fall down like I used to, or a bump a lamppost, and get some bruises on my forehead, and play soccer until the sun goes down.

Since there were many vacant lots in my old city, the strange vacant lot was right there on the edge of my neighborhood. We called it Abu Hanbal’s lot. I walked a million times to school through that lot. Many things had happened there. Some of them were good and some were evil. I can only tell you some and I will try to be fair and square and tell you the good things first, and then if I get the courage, I will tell you the bad ones last. There was a deep cliff on one side of the lot and a high, concrete wall on the other. The wall faced east and was all cracked up from the sun, and many large rocks were erected along its foot so that kids would sit on and watch soccer games. When we played soccer there, we always had to beg for a kid to stand by the cliff to catch the ball incase somebody missed and threw it to the side. Bunch of kids had fallen from that cliff, trying to catch the ball, but there were no major catastrophes because the cliff was not that steep, and there were rocks and shrubs kids would hung on.

One of the good things that had happened to me in that lot was I found a turkey. I was walking to school across the lot, head down, kicking small rocks, when something large and black flapped by my side. It was a huge turkey—a colossus of black feathers and clawed feet. The turkey wasn’t wild. Wild turkeys can really hurt you with their claws. But this turkey was fat and domestic. Probably somebody was fattening him up for some occasion but he got loose somehow. The turkey stared at me, his eyes seized with dark fear. His feathers were perked up as though he knew what would happen to him. I saw him and I suddenly dropped my school bag onto the dust and chased the turkey. The turkey swung around in his place and charged on the dust toward the cliff, bouncing, head going up and down, short wings beating on air uselessly. The turkey's body was too heavy for the wings to pick him up, and the cliff was too close when I jumped on the turkey and grabbed one of his legs. I spat the sand and stood up with the turkey in a cloud of dust. His legs were hard like dry sticks when I curled my small fingers around them. His neck was long and awfully ugly. The turkey was tall and heavy and I had to curl up my arm, lifting him up so that his head wouldn't drag against the ground. I decided to take him home, because I knew my mom would enjoy cooking him with couscous. Finding a turkey and taking it home for food wasn’t such a bad thing after all, but it was very bad for the turkey.

Another good thing that had happened in that lot was one day I was dragging my feet to school when I saw a 1000 Rial bill flapping and turning in the wind. It was very hard to find a 1000 Rial bill lying around at that time. 1000 Rials to a kid back then was like 100 dollars to a grownup now. You could have a good breakfast, a good lunch, a good dinner, a good drink from a bar, and even a good cigar. I chased it like my life depended on it. There was always a strong wind in that lot, for the lot was situated in a large clearing where there were no trees or bushes to block the wind. A flux of wind would get generated in the air somehow and grew stronger and harsher and descend on the lot and sweep it and lift its dust and shrubs and debris, and blow them over the cliff and down onto the small panorama of rocks, shrubs, and rusted cars. Whenever I tried to grab that bill it would move away from me, as though it was connected to a string and somebody at the other end of the string was pulling on it just to aggravate me. I remember I was wearing plastic sandals on that day—my mom always bought me Moroccan-leather sandals but I preferred plastic ones instead because they worked well with soccer, so I threw them out and chased the sucker and jumped on it before it got to the cliff. I grabbed that 1000 Rial bill and stood there feeling happy in the dust, my face all dirty, thinking about what to do with all that money. I remember it took me a long time to spend that bill. Everyday I would buy some candy, or pop, and enjoy every bite and every gulp, knowing that one day it would all go away and I would become poor again.

So far, I told you about the good things that had happened in the lot. Now brace yourself for the bad things, my dear reader. Bad things always come last because it is very hard to talk about them. One day my sister, Fatiha, was walking through the lot when she saw a mound of ashes by the cracked wall of the lot. When we were kids we would walk by fences or walls to find paper money, because if somebody loses them, they would get blown off by the wind and stop at the foot of the fence or the wall. My sister was probably searching for paper money when she saw that mound of ashes and thought it was cold when in facts it was cold only on the outside, but burning hot in the inside. She walked on the ashes and she was only wearing plastic sandals and the plastic sandals melted in the hot ashes and onto her skin. My sister screamed of pain and ran to the house from the lot with her melted sandals. My father was working at the time, so there was no car to take her to the hospital. My mom took my sister to the kitchen. Our kitchen was the hospital back then. There was always something in the kitchen to help your sickness. For example, if you have an upset stomach, my mom would boil thyme and give it to you for a drink. If you have sore throat she would mix honey and lemon in a cup and give it to you to drink. If you have a headache she would make you mint tea and mixed it with some secret herbs and give it to you to drink. The good thing about this is you would feel better afterwards. My mom grabbed a couple of potatoes and put them on the counter and sliced them off into disks as fast as she could while my sister was screaming from pain. She put the potato disks on my sister’s feet, so that my sister’s feet would suck in all the juice there was in the disks. This juice was supposed to make my sister heal, my mom had figured. Every time a slice touched my sister’s feet, she would scream and my mom would yell at her to stop from screaming.

Another bad thing that had happened in the lot was actually very strange. You might not believe this, but it is true that it had happened. I once was walking through the lot coming from school, dragging my feet, when I saw a guy standing by a dry brush and masturbating. Yes, you heard me right, the guy was masturbating. In facts, he was pumping his penis like pure gold was going coming out it. He was an older kid, about eighteen. I was in my early teens. He didn’t see me. He was masturbating and shaking and grimacing with pleasure. I started laughing when I saw him acting funny like that. The masturbator heard me laugh and when he saw me he stopped pumping. He looked at me and then he looked at his penis and made the connection that what he was doing was inappropriate. I could see that in his face and in his reaction. I got scared and prepared to run. He moved towards me and I started to run. I knew he wouldn’t catch me because I was a very fast kid. Somehow I could run very fast. The masturbator chased me and I could see him trying hard to approach me. I picked up the speed and after a while he knew it would be impossible to catch me and he picked up a rock and threw it at me instead. I yelled, masturbator, a couple of times and kept on running until I got to the center of my neighborhood. I walked home laughing to myself. My mom saw me laughing and she became curious. Since I couldn’t tell her she grabbed a sandal to spank me.
"Why are you laughing?" she asked. I knew she would hit me if I didn’t tell her.
"I saw a guy pooping, Ma, pooping by the wall of Abu Hanbal’s Lot."
My mom smiled, let go of me, and went to the kitchen.

Finally I have to tell you the very bad thing that had happened in the lot. Back then to be a homosexual was a death sentence. I don’t know about now. I’ve been in America for a long time. In facts, I lived in America more than I lived in Morocco. I have no idea what’s going on in Morocco these days. But then, if you were gay and people knew about it, you were done with. They would shun you, isolate you, and beat you up if an opportunity came their way.

In our neighborhood there was a kid who was secretly gay. His name was Mernissi. Every kid in the neighborhood knew he was gay, but since he didn’t come out, they weren’t that sure. One day a bunch of kids were planning to play soccer in the lot so they got together and asked me to bring Mernissi over to the lot. Mernissi somehow trusted me more than he trusted any other kid. I was a good kid back then. I am still a good person, I guess. I asked Mernissi to go with us and he said yes. My best friend, Mustapha, brought his leathery sun-beaten soccer ball, and we all met at Omar’s bike shop on Al-Farabi Street. We hawked a plastic container from Omar’s shit-pile in the back of the shop, and filled it with water from the fish market fountain and walked down the dirt road between the sunny squares houses of our neighborhood until we got to the lot. One of us kids kicked the soccer ball to the lot and we all ran after it. We played a great deal of soccer until we got tired and then we scrambled down the cliff to the rusted, stripped cars that lay down below. I was talking to my best friend Mustapha when all of sudden a kid wrestled Mernissi to the ground. A second kid came to Mernissi and started pulling down his pants. A third kid pulled out a big carrot from his pocket and went behind Mernissi. I didn’t know how that kid managed to hide that big of a carrot through out all that running, tackling, and hustling during the soccer game. What they were trying to do to Mernissi was very bad. A part of me knew what they were doing was wrong, and the other part was getting suppressed by the peer pressure. Three kids were holding Mernissi and poor Mernissi was looking at me, crying for help. Suddenly I saw the carrot kid readying the carrot to shove it up Merniss’s ass.
I cried loudly.
"Why?" one of the kids said. "He is Hassass." Hassass means gay in Moroccan Arabic.
"I don’t care," I said. "You better stop."
I was a very strong kid. I was a good wrestler too. I was somewhat skinny but very strong. My mom fed us good food, mostly fresh vegetables.
One kid let go of Mernissi and Mernissi looked at me for help. He was still crying.
"Give me the carrot," I told the carrot kid. "Give me the fucking carrot."
The carrot kid didn’t want to. I picked up a big rock and held it over my head ready to swing it at him. I wasn’t going to; it was just a scare tactic. Mustapha picked up another rock and stood by my side. The carrot kid saw the two rocks and studied them carefully and handed me the carrot. I threw the rock away with one hand and snatched the carrot with the other. I snapped the carrot in two halves. I didn’t want to snap the halves into two, because I was afraid I wouldn’t be able to, because the carrot was thick and hard.
Now that the carrot was snapped, all the other kids let go of Mernissi. Mernissi, tears on his cheek, pulled up his pants quickly and came to stand behind me and Mustapha.
"Mustapha," I called. "Let’s get the fuck out of here."
Mustapha threw the rock away and boosted himself up to the foot of the cliff. Mernissi followed him and I followed Mernissi.

After I came to America I barely kept contact with Morocco. When my mom came to America for good, she told me that poor Mernissi had died. I felt very sad. I still feel sad when I think about him. I am very proud I saved Mernissi from that rape. I am very proud I wrote this story about him.
© Sidi Cherkawi Benzahra

Written in Los Angeles Airport
Flight NW 320 was delayed 3 hours.

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

More Dreamscapes Stories here


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