The Berber Kiss

June 23, 2012 12:00 pm

Everyone else is asleep. It’s almost eleven o’clock, but I can’t sleep. I lie tossing and turning in my bed. Above me on the wall are framed verses from the Quran. Even I know the characters Allah Akbar, ‘God is Great’.

I smile. Is it his will that I am able to escape from all my problems? Was it his will that I had them in the first place? Was it inevitable? Or did I have a choice?

My mum is in the next bed. She is breathing deeply. I can tell that she is asleep. My cousin is in her bed to my right. Her face is turned towards me. Her eyes are closed. I think that she is asleep too. I get up quietly from the bed and pull on my shoes. I look towards my mum. She looks so beautiful, so peaceful. Will she ever realize what she did to me? I tip-toe towards the door. My cousin is watching me.

‘”Where are you going?”

“Sssh,” I reply, making a gesture with my hand as though I am smoking. “I’ll be back.”

I quietly open the door and close it behind me. I creep down the corridor past the other bedrooms and the kitchen. The kitchen door is ajar. Watermelons, grapes and figs from our supper are still on the table. The cups and saucers for our breakfast are stacked on a corner of it. The tap is dripping. The cat stretches itself on the sink. I can hear the fridge throbbing away in the darkness. The key is in the lock of the door on to the courtyard. I turn it and go outside. The air is warm. The sky is clear. I can see a million stars above me. I cross the courtyard to the stairs that lead to the roof. As I climb the stairs I can see into the neighbour’s house. Someone is watching television.

On the roof I sit down against the parapet wall and light my cigarette. I take a swig from the bottle of rum I bought at the airport in London. I look up at the sky. It is all calm, silent and peaceful. My thoughts carry me back to the first time that I stayed in this house when I was a little girl. A lot has happened since then. I finish my cigarette. Should I have another one? Should I have another drink? Suddenly a barking dog breaks the silence. I jump up and peer through the stone trellising of the parapet. Is there someone there? It is then that I hear two men running down the street. They are coming towards me. I can see them in the shadows. Instead of coming past our door they turn left towards the forest.

Who are they? It is now after eleven, there has been a curfew since ten o’clock, but in El Madher no one moves outside their home after seven. At seven p.m. it gets dark. What are they up to? Which side are they on – the good guys or the bad ones? But which is which?

Why are they running? Have they killed someone or are they escaping from a pursuer? In Algeria the ninjas come out of their hiding places in the forest to strike at night. The forest is so close. It beckons me. Suddenly I need to know what is out there. The forest holds the secret to my future. I must confront it and the people it hides if I am to find out who I really am.

‘A journey among different people is a voyage of discovery of oneself’ is the theme of the GapYear organisation that I work for.

I quietly go down the stairs and cross the courtyard. I open the outside door. There is no one there. But up the path I can see the trees. I walk towards the forest. I pass the house where my dad once lived. In my mind’s eye I can see him as a boy. He is playing with stones. He is wearing shorts. He is barefoot. All the stories he told of his childhood come back to me. I should have been born here too, not have been uprooted from my past, from my ancestors. This is where I belong. To ever think that I was French was yet another illusion. If he had never gone to France my life would have been so simple, so uncomplicated.

I walk on. I am in a trance. The forest draws me to it. I leave the village behind me. Now I am among the trees. I look up. The moon is shining down at me through the branches. It throws shadows around me. I can feel the leaves under my feet. I must have taken off my shoes when I left the village. I push my way through the undergrowth. An animal scuttles away in the dark. Is it afraid of me? I am afraid of nothing.

Nothing can hurt me now.

I am in a clearing. I begin to sing, at first quietly and then louder and louder still. I begin to dance. I spread out my arms to welcome the night. I turn round and round in a pirouette. I think of how I danced with my sister in Algiers the day my mum told me that I would not be returning to France. I continue to dance. It is what I always wanted to do until those drunken men destroyed my dreams with their stolen bus. But I am dancing now and I have an audience. I can’t see it, but I can feel eyes watching me. Why aren’t they applauding me? Why are they silent? But I know that they are there moving towards me.

Suddenly I need a wee. I stop my dance and pull down my pyjama trousers and squat down among the leaves. The urine flows as I feel someone behind me.

He grabs my hair and yanks me back towards him, “Allah Akbar.” I hear him draw his breath as he slashes me from ear to ear. My blood spurts out as he cuts my jugular vein. It is over. All my efforts to escape from my past have been a waste of time. I am a victim of my past. It is my destiny never to know the kisses of a husband or those of my own children. Soon I will be with my dad. My destiny is in my genes. It is in the Sourire Kabyle.

It is in the Berber Kiss.

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