“Come on Saloua, hurry up! Adam! You too, get down here from that rooftop and put on your clothes, We’re already late!” Said Naima, who had been ready for about ten minutes and was now adjusting her husband’s tie.
“I’m ready! Adam is the only impediment now!” Said Saloua, quite irritated. A sharp yell came out of the bedroom, at the sound of which Adam came running down the stairs into the house.
“I’m ready, mum! I will go like this!” Said Adam, who wished they would cast him out of their plan. Yet, knowing it to be impossible, shuffled to his sister’s bedroom, which was his too, and put on the same shirt he had worn for the past four days.
Naima, in fact, had on her fanciest clothes, which were a Djellaba and a pair of shoes she had bought a year or so ago only for special occasions, and which she had never worn before as this is the first occasion since the time she had bought them. Her husband, Tariq, an Arabic teacher, also had on a fine outfit: a costume, some cheap sunglasses, and a pair of shoes which, despite the hardships they had undergone so far, still looked fine.
After a few minutes during which quarrels had taken place between the mother and Adam, all four of them were ready and standing at the threshold. The ecstasy of Naima and Saloua could be discerned in their nonsensical conversations, which were mostly about people of the neighbourhood whom they generally looked down on, but of whom they now spoke with a few good words. This was noticed by the father, who did not seem as ecstatic as he seemed embarrassed, or, rather, dreary. And at hearing their blabber, his feelings almost grew to become revulsion. Adam, on the other hand, walked silently by his father’s side, thinking only of when they would go back home.
The four of them were going up the slope; dressed as they were, squinting their eyes and stumbling, as the outskirts where they lived consisted of nothing but pebbles and dust. “So, we’ll go to the one I had told you about?” Said saloua. “Yes,” Said the father. “If that is where you want to go, we can go there; what do you think, Adam?” Adam gave an absent-minded nod, after which, having pondered, said: “But it’s very far, it’s at the other end of the town, are we going to take a cab?”
Adam’s question was exactly what the father has been mostly dreary because of. Now, having been put in what he had been trying to elude, he responded with pretentious thoughtfulness: “Now the problem is, Adam, a cab only takes three; we are four! Anyways, the other end of the town is not that far, the whole town is as big as a stadium!”
“Ugh! I wish I stayed home! What did you have to put me through all this torture for? It’s too hot and the sun-blaze is burning my skin! I am old enough to stay home alone, why did you have to take me out too?” Said Adam with utmost despair. He was never, in fact, fond of such family plans, something which his mother always tried to change in him by compelling rather than persuading him to take part in whatever it is they planned to do. It must be noted, however, that the family rarely planned such expeditions.
Naima, on hearing her son’s complaints flared with her eyes at the poor child with apparent fury, at whose sight the child’s flesh almost melted down his face. And so they walked under the burning sun of that Sunday’s early afternoon, and, as all women do, the two ladies kept conversing the whole way, while Tariq and his child walked silently side by side. Tariq was very uncomfortable in fact, he did not dare say a word to his child; one may even go further to suppose that his child represented his own consciousness, as with every word his son utters, the father cannot help agreeing with him. To start with,, the father had also found it very irrelevant to walk all the way from one end of the city to another; however, taking two cabs means wasting more money, of which they already had too little an amount, something which the father could not dare to say to his son, for he was even embarrassed of admitting it to his own self. On the other hand, Tariq also wished he could have stayed at home, for this whole plan had seemed ridiculous to him the moment it had been uttered by his wife.
“Almost there!” Tariq said blissfully, after a twenty-five-minute, tiresome walk. What was ironic about the situation now was that from their present position it was clear that the fast-food restaurant in which they intended to have their sweet, routine-changing lunch was closed, but they simply pretended as if they had not seen that it was closed. That is because the daughter, being the one proposing this place, did not dare to say a word out of fear, the mother out of heart-rending frustration, whereas Tariq, whose embarrassment and self-contempt had just been exacerbated, had chosen not to say a word until he thought of a mild way of doing so, primarily out of fear of his son, whose rage may have killed the four of them if emotions in themselves had had the power to do physical harm—for it had the power to do the mental one, and the evidence was the father now.
Finally, the son spoke with a calm, rather tender voice: “It is closed father.” Adam’s attitude, henceforth this moment, changed radically into complete calmness and warm-heartedness, not because he took delight in this frustration which had struck the three of them, but rather because he totally understood what his father was feeling. In fact, he had always understood. Adam , despite his being remote from his family, had always cared so much for his father’s feelings. Three months ago, he overheard his father being scolded by Naima for being “too dull” and for “caring only about his pigeons and his idle writings, while having no actual life outside of this little box.” And at the sound of these lacerating words, to which Tariq did not utter one single word, Adam went straight up to the rooftop, stood in front of the pigeons’ loft, and started weeping heavily, such behaviours from the part of Adam were already known to the father, as he mostly headed to the rooftop after such words from his wife and, seeing his son like that, retreated in silence and went outside to light a cigarette.
Now, getting back to the present predicament, the father felt greatly relieved at the sound of his son’s words. He knew, of course, that Adam’s behavior is out of compassion and, even, pity, which tortured him to an extent. Yet, for the present moment, that was all that was needed, compassion and pity between the four of them.
“It’s okay,” Said Naima, “we’ll go to that of last time.”
“But it is in the city-center, Mama!” Said Saloua.
“So what?” answered Naima aggressively, almost yelling.
Saloua said nothing.
And so our four heroes started walking back to the city center, already perspiring profusely. The mother and daughter were leading the way silently, whereas the father, now gaining some confidence after his son’s behavior, rested his arm on Adam’s shoulders and said:
“Have you fed the pigeons this morning?”
“Oh yes, papa, of course! I also refilled the water, it was contaminated. Oh, I almost forgot, I have some great news! Costo’s little squabs are out into the world now!”
“What great news! I can’t wait getting back home to check on them!”
Naima, having been listening attentively to what they were saying, could no longer restrain herself, turned around, and started into her fits of harmful talks:
“I am sick to death of your terrible lifestyle! You talk pigeons at home, you talk about pigeons here as we are trying to have a good time, and when you don’t talk you write about pigeons, and then you go and spend our two Dirhams on buying the damned pigeons and their food. I am sick to death!”
Adam and Saloua exchanged glances of uneasiness, while the whole atmosphere was very tense; it was already too hot, everybody was sweaty, their lips were too dry that some blood, at least on Tariq’s lips, could be seen.
It was no atmosphere for quarrels.
“What am I to do now? If I answer I will probably say what I must regret later! Remember yesterday’s quarrel, remember the tears, the remorse, and the harsh words; remember the whole analysis you have conducted of how you imagined your life would be and how it has actually turned out! Remember this! And above all remember the disgust with which you looked at your own wife. All of this was caused by a single word you uttered that was irrelevant!” All of this flashed through Tariq’s mind as he was standing there, as still as one executed by hanging.
Finally, he said nothing and turned back to his son and smiled. The mother, having taken offense at what she regarded to be an appalling attitude, turned back and said to her daughter: “Let’s go back home, this is not going to work out.”
Tariq was on the verge of losing his temper, he actually surprised himself at how far he could be dragged without losing control of his wits, and now, too, he had succeeded in controlling himself. “Naima, please, let us not defile the children’s happiness, let us go and have a little bit of fun!” as he said this he felt so tired, he was in fact exhausted, probably because of how long they had been walking and that was all, but it may have also been due to the effort he had invested in controlling himself, which surely surpassed that invested in walking in such an atmosphere.
After Saloua pleaded her mother, and even Adam, not to spoil this beautiful time they were having, Naima finally got back to her wits and they went on walking until they arrived at the restaurant.
The place was extremely, and even abnormally hot, it was so stifling that it was very hard to a point where it seemed as though there had been no air to breathe. It was very poorly decorated; the walls were dyed white, a colour which had almost turned brown because of dirt. Overall, it was a very miserable, poor place.
Now, at this point, Adam felt really miserable and terribly compassionate with his father, whose features, having peered at the walls and the whole place inconspicuously from the corners of his eyes, displayed horrible agony and embarrassment. It must be noted that the father had not taken off his sunglasses until he stopped checking the whole place in an attempt to conceal his investigation, which had been noticed but by his son. And in fact Tariq was in total despair, for this place had suddenly brought to his mind all what he had been trying to avoid thinking of for the past 20 years, but of which, unfortunately, he found himself thinking almost every day.
“I have not been in bed with Naima for almost a year now, what a terrible thing it is! My fourteen-year-old feels sorry for me, whereas my daughter is scared of me! But I have not done her any harm ever! Why is she so scared of me? I know she has a lover; I am actually very happy for her and not at all angry! I have read their messages, they both are innocent and I love that. Ah, what moments I have spent myself back in the days of college! Why did I marry this woman? I never loved her; I never cared for her, she is not educated, she does not know anything but idle talk and her bloody religion, what a predicament! I do not know what to do now but I hope there is no more than a few years left for me to live, I will only miss my children and my pigeons. I do not hate her of course, I simply will not miss her. Ah, a man will simply decide that he wants death the moment he understands that this reality of his is not as wonderful as one has been taught to regard it to be. Nature is simply abominable; Now awaiting death is a human act,for only humans are capable of such oppression of wits.”
He was awakened by the sound of plates being put on their table, he was surprised when he understood that his son, having seen him in a state of deep reflection, ordered food for him too without disturbing him out of that state, Adam knew exactly what his father liked to eat and what he did not.
As they started to eat their food Tariq’s eyes met those of Naima, she simply looked at him indifferently, while he smiled. Later on, they got up, he put on his sunglasses, payed what they had eaten, and they walked off.
“Let’s take two cabs home, you must all be very tired!”
“Taxi! Ho! Taxi!” shouted the father as he waved with his hand. “go, the three of you, in this cab, I have just remembered I have to go to the lycée to see to some business of mine. I will follow you later. Adam, check on the pigeons, I shall go to the lycée and follow you.”
The three of them got into the taxi and it took off, while Tariq stood there for a minute, looked about him, lighted a cigarette and, as though not knowing what to do, started walking slowly.
“How did they not notice that today is Sunday and there is absolutely no business to be at the lycée? Ah, I thought Adam at least knew me enough to save me; but It turned out that all of them really have grown up; all of them, including Naima. I have wronged her on many occasions, she had suffered with me, the poor little soul, I am the reason she has grown as tired of living as she is now! She had left a house of tyrants to that of a frivolous, destitute pigeon keeper! I am terribly sorry my beautiful Naima. Ah! Naima, I had always found your name so delicate. I hope you do not sell my pigeons to those who will slice their throats; they are not food, they are living creatures which have more abilities than Man does. Especially Costo, please do not kill costo. I wish I said this somehow to you or wrote it somewhere, but that would make of it an “incident”, too theatrical. It is just another man deciding of his own free will what he wants.”
By this time he was already in front of a four-storey building which was exactly in the city center; it was half past four, and the Adhan could be heard. He ascended up to the building’s rooftop, stood on the edge, frightened by the view of the street down there, far away laughing back with words:
La ilaha ila alah…”
Exactly as these words faded away, he closed his eyes and let himself fall forward and, in a moment, a sound like which people never heard before sent its rays through all of the vicinity, that of his fall. The poor man had always wondered what people think of during the period they fall from a rooftop towards the ground, and whether they remain conscious or not. I, now, wonder whether he did think of that or not during his last seconds, I hope he did, for that is a serious and almost divine truth.
Meanwhile, as his family arrived in the neibourhood, they met a friend of their mother’s.
“Oh look at the fancy lady and her offspring! Where were you? “
“Oh, Tariq and I took the children out for some fun, that’s all!” And they walked into the house as proud as they went out.