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The Loss of Allah

Tunisia, North Africa, 1997

Early morning.

As always, the sun threatened to cover everything, making it hotter. By noon, the heat was intolerable.

Identical sounds came each day with the sunshine: the alarm clock, her husband’s steps to the small bathroom, his predictable relief at the toilet. From the kitchen, the sounds of boiling water, utensils banging at the table.

Leila waited for her husband to wash in the scuffed old bowl, using the same water to wash herself. She finished and dumped the contents into the descending cobblestone street.

Words were scarce between them and not necessary. After years, there was nothing left to say.

The husband raised a hand in a silent salute of “goodbye.” He stood at the door longer than usual, trying to catch his wife’s attention but failing, turned briskly and left.

Aziz was a good husband and a good worker. An artisan, hundreds of copper plates passed though his hands. He etched them with original patterns and polished away scratched imperfections to make a perfect product.

No distractions could interrupt his concentration. His intensity kept him on task until he finished –because today, he had to finish.

Abdul was Aziz’s supervisor. The boss followed a daily routine, made rounds to check the workers’ progress for quality production to ensure higher profits. He never worried about his worker Aziz. The young man remained at his duties until noon, when he and the rest of the laborers stopped for prayer and a lunch break. A shy and reliable young man, Aziz had asked, a few years ago, for a three-day vacation to get married. He was then smiling and a little distracted –just once.

Abdul prepared to lock the shop. The warehouse now deserted, he walked to the bathroom.

How strange! Someone had turned off the lights, which were always lit! He examined the fuse panel; it was not blown.

“A blackout,” he thought entering the toilet stall.

A heavy bundle suddenly hit him, pushing him out forcefully. He jumped back, afraid of being attacked. He calmed down, recovered for an instant.

Cautiously, he opened the door. There, suspended by ropes used to tie heavy boxes of merchandise, was Aziz, hanged!

“Oh, Allah, Allah, no, no!” he screamed. Should I get him down to see if he is still alive?

With a closer look at the man, the opaque eyes of death faced him. Aziz had left this earth.

Returning from the warehouse with a pair of scissors, he clumsily cut the killing ropes suspending his worker. The body fell heavily, taking him down with it. Abdul shrieked at the physical contact with the dead man, pushing him away.

Police Headquarters was a few blocks away. Abdul limped in, flushed and sweating. He wanted immediate attention but the policeman in charge raised his hand.

“You must wait. Others were here before you. Justice takes time,” he enunciated solemnly.

An hour went by and then another. The police station started to fill with people with complaints, mostly about robberies.

Abdul’s mind kept returning to the site of the tragedy, to Aziz alone at the shop, trespassing walls of life and death. Why, why?

Leila finished her domestic chores and checked her wristwatch. She had found it on the ground at the Medina –some tourist had dropped it. It was a good watch. The hours, minutes and even the date in the small circle gave her great pleasure, measured her daily life. She brought clean water from a bucket, took off her garments, rubbing jasmine perfume over her body. Then she put on the same old dress, pulling it down harshly. And then, the veil.

“I hate it, hate it!” She snapped away the jeela-veil, tearing it. Looking intently at a mirror, Leila saw a beautiful woman of twenty-two, huge black eyes on a pale face with sensuous lips. Her hands followed the contours of her body as she envisioned her whole being; shapes of flesh and bones, full breasts, and her heart, placed so deeply inside her, hiding but always beating. What a deceiver it had been! A rebel at the impositions in her life, concealing a secret never to be revealed. It could cost her. She kept thinking of the past, hitting her present with new blows almost daily.


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