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Chapter 7: The Days (1)
Translated by Phoebe Bay Carter.
Monday, August 29th: I woke up this morning to a scream piercing my eardrums and a cold fist of steel clenching my heart. My first thought was that Judgment Day was upon us. But then I recognized my brother’s voice buried inside the growling scream. My heart practically jumped out of my chest at the next scream – a scream of animal fright, in the voice of my sister-in-law. Then the sound of something living hitting the floor. I jumped out of bed and raced out of my room, where I found my mother also running for my brother’s room. My father, meanwhile, was bent over his prayer mat, trying to kill as many skin cells as possible on his forehead in order to make his prayer bump more pronounced. We pounded on the door, but got no answer. Mama’s face was covered with tears and I swear I could practically hear her heart racing in her chest. I had such an adrenaline rush, I felt like Super Woman. I grabbed the door handle and I’m sure I could have forced it open with my bare sweaty hand if my father hadn’t come along right then with the spare key. Luckily it’s the kind of lock you can unlock from the outside even if the other key’s inside. When the door swung open a burst of hot, stinky air hit me in the face like a ghoul’s breath. Or a hyena’s burp. Or maybe the stale air of a Pharoah’s tomb… I took a step back and my father went in first. My sister-in-law was sprawled on the floor. I couldn’t tell if she was dead or just unconscious. I noticed how my father’s eyes lingered on her boobs, which were popping out of her nightgown. Once I went further into the room a dark figure in the corner of the room caught my eye. At first it looked like a monkey in pants. Then I blinked and it looked like a goat sitting on its haunches. I blinked again and it looked like a human dwarf completely covered in hair with the face of my dear brother. Then my vision clouded and the ground started spinning and then slammed against me. Mama screamed. I felt her fingertips grabbing at my neck. The black cloud cleared from my vision and I opened my eyes. I could hear my mother crying in the living room and my sister-in-law was gone. I struggled to get up. I felt exhausted. Like one of the Dementors from Azkaban was crouching on top of me. My eyes landed on my brother’s face in the corner of the room where he was huddled. A chill ran down my spine and I felt sparks of electricity jumping from the floor to my toes. The smell made me feel dizzy and faint. I don’t know how to describe it other than as a satanic smell. No. It’s literally the smell of Satan himself. My dear father finally remembered me and came back to help me up and out of my brother’s room. He closed the door behind me. I lay down on the sofa next to mama who was rocking my poor little niece. She was born with what people call “Mongolian idiocy.” The baby’s mother was hugging her legs and staring off into another world. I’m positive she was trying to come up with the best way to finally escape from her marriage, and from that daughter she could never stand. I have no clue what attracted my brother to that woman. She’s arrogant and materialistic through and through. Mama says that she got pregnant before the marriage and that’s the only reason my brother rushed into marrying that spotted snake. I’ve tried to get the idea out of my mother’s head, so her tongue doesn’t one day slip in front of the wrong person, but I’m also convinced that it was her dirty pregnancy that entrapped my brother, and it was the only thing that made him stay with that vacuous woman who treats this house like a hotel and our family like servants. Sadly, she did not prove me wrong today. After an hour and a half, just as the clock struck eight, we heard someone at the front door. It was the principal from my brother’s school. When he pushed his way in passed my protesting father and saw what had befallen my brother, his face lit up and he left, practically jumping with joy. When I saw my serpent-in-law’s reaction, I understood why the principal was pleased by my brother’s misfortune. this was his golden opportunity to fire him from the school. She had caught on immediately and started fake-screaming as she got up, gathered her things, and left, running away from her husband when he needed her most just like she’d been running away from taking care of her miserable daughter since the day she was born. The rest of the day went by, somehow, and a silence fell over us like a graveyard in the afternoon. The three of us sat in the living room together all lost in our own private thoughts. Little Amal finally calmed down and fell asleep. My brother too stopped his heartbreaking, howling moans and slept. No one’s said a single word the whole day about what’s happened to my brother. We somehow reached an unspoken agreement to swallow our shock and digest it slowly, silently, without sharing our thoughts with each other.
Tuesday, August 30th: It’s the second day in a row I’m woken up by a scream. Last night, before I fell asleep, I hoped I’d wake up in the morning to find it had all been a bad dream. But the scream in mama’s voice killed that hope in my heart. I jumped out of bed to see what had happened this time. Ya Allah! What a smell. It smells like death. How can my poor brother stand it? On my way in, I noticed that the plate of meat I left him last night was empty. That made me happy. Then I saw why my mother had screamed. I can’t imagine why my brother’s arms were covered in blood. I guided my mother out but on my way I picked up the book lying on the floor by the bed. Something about its strange title grabbed me: The Metamorphosis. I’ll go back soon to bring my brother his breakfast. I left the door open and pulled up the window shades and sprayed some perfume in the air but the smell has seeped into the room and won’t leave. I couldn’t stay in there long. I was afraid my heart would jump out of my throat along with everything in my stomach. My father’s gone back to sleep and mama’s gone out, which isn’t like her. I fed Amal and played with her a bit, then did some housework. Then I started getting my school supplies together, since we’re starting up again next week. Jawad hasn’t left his room since yesterday, not even to use the bathroom. Where is he answering “nature’s call?” Yuck. It’s making my stomach turn – is he doing it in his bedroom? In his bed?! I’m the one who’s going to have to clean it up, wherever it is. I know mama won’t be able to handle it, what with all her diseases. I’ll deal with it. Really, it’s nothing compared to all my brother’s done for me. If he didn’t give up his own dreams to take care of our family after our father stopped doing anything for us, I wouldn’t be able to keep studying. My father has implied more than once that there’s no need for a woman to study. Sooner or later a man will come for her. Until then, better for her to go find a job, any job, and bring her salary every month and place it in her father’s lap and ask for his blessing. Whatever I do, I’ll never be able to pay back Jawad the Generous. The generous never get all they deserve.
Wednesday, August 31st: I couldn’t sleep at all last night. I couldn’t stop crying. What I’d been afraid of actually happened. We’d just sat down to dinner and hardly taken a few bites when my father suddenly turned to me. He said I’d studied long enough and learned everything I need to. He thinks a high school degree and a year at university is plenty – no need for a bachelor’s degree. He says he’s fulfilled his duties to the family long ago and now it’s my turn to take care of the family, seeing as my brother’s stopped doing it. Then he threw an envelope down on the table and said that my brother’s name has been permanently struck from the list of government employees. No more salary, no retirement fund – and no compensation to speak of. No way. That fast? Ya Allah, look how efficient Moroccan bureaucracy can be when it wants to be! So my father says I should start working. Apparently, he ran into an old friend recently who used to work with him when he was bartending who’s now opened a fancy café overlooking Mallabata Beach. He muttered something about how this guy only has the money for this project because he got into the drug trade. He was obviously jealous, and not even trying to hide it. Then he looked at me again and told me his friend agreed to give me a job as a waitress in his café, and I could start tomorrow. Mama started slapping her face and beating her chest in dismay. I swallowed hard and got up. I felt like I’d been drugged. I tried to make it to my room even though I could barely see through my tears. But my father grabbed me by the hair and pulled me back to the table and shouted at me that I was to sit and keep eating until he gave me permission to leave. When I woke up this morning, my eyes were red from crying and lack of sleep. I’d better shower quickly and get to the café to start my new job.
Wednesday, August 31st (evening): I’m back home now. My shift ended mid-afternoon. My feet were killing me by the end and my manager told me I’ll have to get sneakers for this kind of work, since I have to be on my feet for hours at a time. My manager is nice, but my first day was exhausting. And I’m not even really working yet, just getting trained. I peaked in on my brother as soon as I got home. He was crouched in the corner of the room with his eyes closed like he was meditating or something. He opened his eyes when I went in and a smile spread across his face, even though I could barely see it, what with his thick mustache and beard and drooping lips. But I returned his smile and put the minced meat sandwich I’d brought back from the café for him on the bed. I went to shower then came out to bury myself in my mother’s arms. We cried together silently until we heard Amal crying. I changed her and warmed her up some milk.
Thursday, September 1st: Before going to sleep last night, I read the story of The Metamorphis that I took from my brother’s room. My goodness – it’s so similar to everything that’s happening to us right now! Sometimes almost word for word. And now I’m afraid the ending will be the same too. It’s a story about Gregor Samsa – traveling salesman, self-sacrificing young bachelor who gave up on his dreams to support his family – a father, a mother, and a little sister – after his father lost his business and started drowning in debt. The young man was forced into working a job he didn’t like to save his family from poverty. But one morning, he woke up to find himself turned into a monster. A giant insect. That day, everything changed for the family. First, because Gregor was late for work, his boss sent someone to enquire after him. And so his metamorphosis was discovered, which led to the loss of his job and his family’s only source of income. His parents had a hard time processing the metamorphosis. His father was rough with him, and when he pushed him into his room on the first morning, he broke one of his son’s many legs. Only the sister took care of her brother, bringing him leftovers of different dishes so he could choose what he liked, and cleaning his room for him. Because the maid and the cook had fled, it also fell to the sister to take on the housework alongside her mother. Then the mother had to start working as a seamstress from home, and the father had to find a job. After a few days, the sister noticed that her brother the insect liked to crawl around the room and on the walls. She thought it would make sense to clear out some of the furniture he no longer needed, to give him more space to roam about. At first the brother was happy, but the little bit of humanity that still coursed through his veins led him to climb the wall and cling to his favorite painting, to keep her from taking it from him. When the mother and sister returned to his room after carrying out a box of his clothes, his mother saw him clinging to the wall and was so frightened, she fainted. His sister went to find something to revive her mother with, and her insect brother followed her out. Just then, the father returned from work and saw that his wife had passed out and the insect had upset a water jug. He started hurling apples at the insect to get him back to his room. The insect was so large that it was difficult for him to turn around, so he suffered several more blows from the flying apples as he made his way back to his room. One of the apples pierced his back, which really hurt. Finally, Gregor was able to retreat to his room, where he passed out from the pain. The apple stayed in his back and started rotting and making him sicker and sicker, especially because he stopped eating and began growing weak. The sister started working too, and stopped taking care of her brother, who by now could hardly move. Later on, three men would come to rent a room in the apartment and the family would become their servants. One day, after dinner, the sister picked up her violin and began playing for the tenants. Gregor had always adored his sister’s playing and had set aside money for her to attend lessons at the music institute. Enchanted by her playing, which he’d really missed, he came out of his bedroom, forgetting all about the three strange men who, as soon as they saw him, started fuming, threatening to prosecute the head of the family and saying they wouldn’t pay their rent, because he was harboring an insect in the house. The tenants left, and in a moment of anger, the sister said the time had come to get rid of the insect. This insect wasn’t her dear brother at all, she said. If her brother had still been somewhere inside the insect, he would have been ashamed of himself and left a long time ago, to spare the family all this suffering. That night, Gregor decided that the only solution was indeed for him to disappear. Early the next morning, he died. The family awoke to the joyful news. The three of them decided to take the day off work and go to the countryside to enjoy some fresh air. On their outing, the parents noticed how grown up their daughter had become, and that she would make a beautiful bride.
I just got interrupted from my story by a text from Aymen. He was wondering why I’ve been absent and if we can meet. I couldn’t stop thinking about Kafka’s strange story and how much like my family’s story it is. I wrote back to him and told him that I can’t go out today because we’re having guests. He asked me who they were so I told him they were distant relatives coming to arrange my engagement. He replied with the emoji of a face slapping its cheeks and then a crying emoji. I asked him what was wrong. He reminded me that we were in love. I told him the matter’s out of my hands, but that my dad would definitely approve of his family and I could stall for a few days if he came to ask for my hand before the weekend. But he stopped responding. My trick didn’t work on him.
Friday, September 2nd: At breakfast today, I told my father about my idea for earning some extra income for the family that would allow me to go back to school. There’s this website where you can rent out rooms, and we have an extra guest bedroom. I showed him how the site works and how easy it is to use. He was excited about the idea but gave the condition that we would only rent to foreign tourists. No Moroccans. And also that we would register the account with his phone number so that he could communicate directly with renters on his cell phone and not have to use email. Step one: complete.
 The prayer bump, called zabibat al-salah, or “prayer raisin” in Arabic, is a callous that sometimes develops on the forehead from repeatedly touching one’s forehead to the ground in prayer. Some regard it as a mark of devotion, while others regard it as a form of performative piety.
Notes from the translator:
We’ve crossed the halfway point of our story! Thank you for joining us thus far, and for all of your comments and engagement. And a special thanks to Khalida for her feedback last week – I’ve incorporated her suggestion into the new draft of Chapter 6, which you can listen to in Paula Haydar’s superb narration.
In this week’s chapter, we see the story’s narrator cede the stage to the sister Hind. Not only do is someone new telling the story, there’s also a change in the form of telling. Whereas the narrator was bombastically telling a tale with an awareness of a vast audience, Hind is writing in her diary, for herself. And she’s right in the thick of the action, recording it and processing it as it unfolds. In the Arabic, Hind’s diary entries have no paragraph breaks, minimal punctuation, and direct syntax, in order, as Mohammed wrote to me, to give her thoughts a hint of childishness. In the translation, I similarly tried to find Hind’s voice, with its blend of childishness, brashness, and tenderness, and tried to strike the right tone for how she would write in her own private diary.
Does her voice feel believable and consistent to you? Are there words or phrases that jumped out at you as out of place for Hind’s character, or for a diary entry? Leave your comments below.
Until next time,