When the tar becomes green

Boukari Fethi
2022 / 11 / 20

Khaoula stood near the door facing the wall. She counted from one to hundred –ten by ten – then turned back. She looked around and lent an ear. Since she failed to catch sight of anything, she stepped back behind the ajar door and shook it. Then, she started patrolling the whole room.

- Uncle, where’s he hiding?
- Who? Ramzi?
- Yes.
I caught sight of him as he was carefully tilting his head up, peeping and waving at me from the cupboard to draw my attention to him. But when his eyes met mine, he winked begging not show his hiding place, and suddenly disappeared. I changed my looking --dir--ection of sight so that Khaoula would not take advantage of that, leaving her discovering his whereabouts on her own.

She was almost Khaoula’s age, and I was one year her senior. Our feet had not grown hard out of running after the harvesters yet, nor had our hands skinned out of working in the stall. We used to run barefoot and eat “El Halhala” (*) like shepherds till our saliva turns into green. Alone we used to talk to one another.
In spring time, we used to enjoy playing hide-and-seek--;-- I would bury my face into my hands and bid her with challenge to hide anywhere for I am to find her. How expanse the places in which she would hide were! : Furrows, leaves, branches of trees and cattle of sheep amidst she would insinuate herself. Neither would the rivers of water, mountains of grass and the forest of olive-trees make her eclipse out of my sight´-or-loose truck of her…

I would walk to spare her time to hide--;-- with a language I didn’t understand and I didn’t even know how it was --print--ed on my mind, I would repeat “ça y est?”(*)--;-- she would strive to answer from afar “not yet”. She would jump gracefully without stumbling and disappear in the precipice of the river. We didn’t have a shelter to resort to and time was our natural criterion for the player’s success´-or-failure--;-- that’s why she would not see me while stepping back , saying “ça y est?”. Making sure that she stood on the right place, I knelt and looked in all --dir--ections. I cunningly would choose the opposite --dir--ection to her whereabouts as if I had missed the right track. I was somehow far away--;-- I left the field of the game, running back to the village, leaving her there. I don’t know how much time she had spent there. But whenever I imagine the effect of the trick I played on her, I would burst into laughter.

In the afternoon, I held my hand out to caress her plaits. She would turn her back on me pretending quarrel. While my aunt was chatting with my mother and spontaneously running her fingers through my hair, I was listening attentively to their conversation, and I would occasionally catch a name evoking laughter and force it into her ear. Then, we would giggle.

Wonderful was our village, marvellous our surrounding. Nevertheless, when fate bit us, bit our hands, we left “Essayala” (**) and went away. With our full conviction and pure love for the dreams of childhood, we went to the city. In the city, our eyes look wider than their scale, our emotion heavier than its weight. Lights emanates from us, craving for the boiling blood within us. There our father left us and shut the door behind us and said:
“Don’t go out so that you shouldn’t be kidnapped by the slippery ways and never come back.”

When I went out, however, I saw the grass never grew on the tar, and I wondered how the road was green in colour, green in taste, and green in smell. When I visited my aunt for the first time, she said:
“My nephew, as you know, people’s eyes are everywhere, and come on, your moustache got longer, have mercy on us”

I hid my pent-up emotions and left even before stirring my cup of coffee. The tarred road is hot in summer, hot in winter, fluid in summer, frozen in winter. I would watch it everyday till my years went by--;-- the children kindness vaporized in it.

It was someone else who came to tell me about her marriage. I hesitated to congratulate her in vain. The door was open wide, its welcoming appetite was so great that I stepped its doorsteps without being allowed to. They were gazing at me without a scrap of greeting. My aunt, I am the boy who shared your lap with your daughter, the child to whom you gave your right knee to lean against and leaving the left one for her. I am the boy who competed with her for your love by calling you “Mom”.

My aunt welcomed me with a kiss on my cheek which I felt its coldness and that civilization was involved in it. Her daughter stretched out her hand to shake hands, introduced me to her husband, and then turned back towards me and mentioned his name that I failed to catch, because my memory had stuck on one side of time: childhood. I cannot remember whether I bade them farewell as I was leaving. All that I can remember is that my mind was unable to keep up with the present and that my days were gone and would never come back as to recognize the role of hider, and girls the role of the seekers...

Khaoula was back on her insistence. She had not found him yet. He must have been hiding behind the cupboard. I shouted at him to get out, threatening him to reveal his hide-out if he didn’t do that. He must leave the role for his sister because it is not fit for boys.

Written by Fethi Boukari
Translated by Zouhair Boukari

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