III- Baya 19 : an excerpt from the Tunisian novelist Kamal Riahi’s novel : Naksa 69

Translated by Feyza Boudabbous.

Everything he said about me is right. I copulated  with half of those who said to me good morning  and I am ready to copulate  with whoever  will say to me good evening . There is something weird about  me which I cannot fathom. Once a man touches me I collapse like a woman of clay.IMG_3792

What I was doing had nothing to do with morality. I was not asking for money. I just surrendered myself.  Probably  « yielding » is not the right word as my men had ever forced me to do  anything. Usually I was enjoying it. Is this a natural readiness for whorishness ? But I don’t see, and I have never seen,  myself  as a harlot . However, I feel  delighted saying to my man « I am your whore ». This is, I suppose,  the only word I say and Whisper  whole-heartedly. I liked it one day when Stella asked me to say it. Since then, and every time I feel he is tired I breathe it forth  for him and he inflames. It was my key and password with which I untie his shackles.

I look big. I didn’t have such a  size. I used to weigh less. My breasts, however, had always been great. Every body used to stare out at them. This had never  perplexed me. I had , on the contrary, always intended to show them.  Once I am alone with my man he never gets lost where to get started , he immediately tucks his head  weltering between them .

Only the writer told me, lifting his head up between my bosom ; « you are an angle !  a real angle»

Yes, he was drunk , yet  he was honest. For this reason I believed him.  Nothing can prevent me from believing him.  And then, I believe in the drunk.  I have never left Stella because he becomes the most wonderful man ever when he is drunk. Even when he gets into the jail I wait for him. This doesn’t mean  that I didn’t have  experiences with other men  when he was absent.  I cannot wait for him for years. I said right from the beginning that I am not capable of resisting any man who puts his hand on me.  Nevertheless ; it is Stella whom I have always waited for and never been to someone else except him.

Chakla abhores me because he once wanted me when Stella had been sentenced to twenty years in prison.  I let him taste in the hope of making him satisfied. But he became an unbearable possessive lover, getting so jealous even of the male fly. when he wanted to beseige my cunt, I deprived him of ammunition till Stella left the jail after being granted a remission. It’s him who tied me today to a chair by a scarf and got down to the café with Stella. Stella would certainly come back some hours later to tell me the stories of the neighbourhood foregone by Chakla who would come first holding the fruit bags. Chakla is the only one who knows what he is doing of me now and it’s him who helped Stella to bind me. He tightens me with the force of a grudge-bearer. I know, He still cannot forget.

 

When Kojak firstly appeared in the neighbourhood, after Stella going back to the prison on another case, Chakla started disgusting and avoiding me.

Kojak was merciless and I was pleased being the woman of both the thief and the informer.

They called me Baya the gustatory and I liked it. It is the dearest name to my heart. My body was like a battlefield under their feet, and my year was composed of only two seasons ; one for the thief, the other for the informer util the day the writer appeared.

 

I hate Wednesday. It is as if all the other days’ misery were crammed alltogether in one day. That ugly Wednesday is linked to my memory with a miserable thread. The writer also hates it. He says that it’s ugly in all the languages he knew.

 

That day,  I was infront of the female shoes shop in the street of Paris when I saw it. It was a pair of  heel less shoes. Its leather bands excited me. I knew it was an adventure. An adventure with unsecured results but the sandal’s beauty encouraged me to get into the shop asking for my size. It was hard to take my shoes off. Looking at the mirror I saw my foot reflected there, I lifted my head up avoiding looking at it and forcefully snatched my shoes.

 

Should I have done it ? It was not an easy decision at all ! But anyway I bought the sandal and left the shop. The girl there was ravingly praising the high quality of the sandal’s brand and its leather. I neither  cared about her nor uttered a word. I didn’t negociate its high price either. Like the prey which was selecting the sharpest knife to offer it to her murderer, I picked out the sandal, paid for it and left.

One year has passed and he didn’t know anything. But that day I made my mind up to put an end to the whole matter. We have to face it. When I reached his home he was asleep as usual. His room smelled heavy from drowsiness. He hadn’t had opened his window for a week as was his custom. His beard was growing like a furze tree. I started to collect that heaped pile of litter surrounding him ; drinks bottles, empty cans of beer, glasses of milk, books and an ashtray filled with cigarettes butts. He were as if sleeping in a real dump as he has always been and it was a wednesday morning when I dated him.

–       Baya ? , have you come?

He drowsily said that sentence and went back to sleep. He hadn’t even granted me some time to answer him. I went to the kitchen in order to prepare him his inky heavy coffee. He wasn’t alone last night, there are many beer cans. I am certain he didn’t sleep before dawn.. his deep drowsiness showed that he hadn’t gone to bed until morning. This often happens when he receives his friends who left him a while ago turning over restlessly in his dump. The kitchen was even  more nauseating than his room. I t was a real mess with dishes dirty with some left broth, and burnt cookers due to repeatingly heating food. It took me one hour to turn that mess back into a tidy place suitable for human use. I hold a plate with the coffee and a loaf of his preferred hot bread and went to him lying in his bed like a bridegroom.

 

When he saw me he fidgeted a bit in his bed and turned over. After many attempts to wake him, he lifted the blanket, put it aside and kissed me on the forehead before leaving to the bathroom where he started calling out asking for a book. He wants to read anything in the bathroom. He often told me that he is unable to defecate unless he is reading. Perhaps, for these bad habits I loved him. I later knew that he was imitating other people who were reading while pissing and defecating. But that day was the worst ever. When he got out of the bathroom he caught his first glimpse of the sandal. He smiled faintly for some seconds before grewing pale and drowning in his silence.

 

I , then, knew that it was my end. « He is  tumbling down. » I murmered to myself. I shouldn’t have done it. I should have paved for it smoothly. Seeing me in a sandal was not easy for him. He sat down sipping his coffee in a mournful silence and I sat waiting. This revived the remembrance of myself with a trembling hand polishing my toes. That gap among the baby toe and the middle one was hideous. Like a cave, it has something chilly about it.

« It was eaten by a mouse ! ». Shall I tell him as I was told twenty years ago when I asked about my missing toe ? He didn’t wait for me to tell him anything. . He stood up and like a man failingly pretending to come late to his date, he planted a kiss on my forehead and left. It was as if I were being shot between my eyebrows.  It was a bullet-like kiss.  He was eaten by a mouse. It was a Wednesday.

The next Wednesday, he and his friends  were waiting for the easy woman who never says no, the one with a missing toe. They have given me a new name ; Baya nineteen. I was nicknamed « Baya 19 », this is my full name by which I would become later known. I went astray and got lost since I have lost my real name; « Charrad ».

Stella shouldn’t have let the mouse fully eat his leg. It was naturally obvious that I wouldn’ t accept him.  He was reminding me of my plight, I never regretted treating him  that way. Yes, I used to tighten his hands backwards, throw him  down, and stretch my leg before him. Each time he got near that empty space among my toes with the nail polish brush between his teeth he started trembling tumbling down towards the void.

Their loud laughing ,while he was thrillingly informing them about my lost toe, is still ripping my ear membrane. He asked me to prepare a coffee for them. They were, like foxes, cunningly and furtively glancing at my foot when I was leaving towards the kitchen that morning.

They derisively burst laughing at his discovery and the new name he invented.

–       « Nineteen » screamed Jarou, « we no longer have 18/10, it’s Baya nineteen’s era

 

The coffee overflew twice on my hand when I was almost collapsing in the kitchen hearing his giggles. He followed me to ask about the coffee and found me staring at the roof. Their voices were reaching him while they were repeating the nickname shamelessly. My eyes were staring at his spitting at their void. Head down he went back to his friends asking them to lower their voices.

An acquaintance on the stairs. What can I expect from him ?

He was getting out of the writer’s house and I was running to my friend’s in the third floor lest we miss the examination of supervisors when I collided with him.  He was thin with a long beard and a dishevelled hair holding a military backpack. He looked disturbed. He smiled at me and carried his way on, but I turned and he did too.  am I such a whore to turn ? Goddamn you ; I expected you to say so. I turned so that my dilemma would start. He was gentle like an angel.

That moment the writer opened the door with an open t-shirt waving a broom and started to scream :

I don’t want to see your face. Neither you nor your friends.

When he closed the door, he stood firm on the stairs staring into my eyes with that look of you. I stepped back and asked him :

–       What’s wrong with him ?

–       – he’s gone crazy. A demented man. We wanted to invite him to the college so he kicked me out.

–       That ’s weird.

–       This is what happened.

–       Are you a student ?

–       Yes, in the institute of languages and I live up here, in the fourth floor.

–       The fourth ?

–       Yes right in front of your friend’s flat. I glanced you more than once.

A man who says to you that he caught a glance of you in that warm tone makes you quickly reassure him. I later discovered that it was the voice. Like its owner it was smooth. The beast ! he knew how to turn me on. I then realized that I was late I said good bye as if I were dating him and I flew towards the fourth floor. Thus, I didn’t make it in the exam and I fell in the trap. A few days later I was standing infront of my friend’s flat waiting for him to open the door and pretending to be speaking on the phone. I was worried she would open the door before he appeared. And he appeared. He was clad in a black undershirt, with that same disheveled hair and exhausted swollen eyes. When he saw me, he smiled and held his hand out shaking mine. He was warm that beast. Like a magician a current in his hand swept over me.

–       No body opened to you ? it seems nobody is there.

–       It seems so. I’ve been knocking on the door for a quarter an hour. I have called her now. She got out wth her family and she will be back. I lied and I was about to leave.

–       You can wait for her. Nobody is at home.

We both were as if complicitly stretching the rope tautly.I wanted to know the secret of  the stairs’ angel. I looked at the stairs. Nobody. I returned to him.

His hands were open like the movies stars inviting me to get in. Don’t tell me ; You are a harlot, it’s you who did this of yourself. You didn’t see his fingers. They can never be just fingers, they were rather charmer’s fingers. I didn’t realize it only when I was in the hell. I knew the ugliness of those fingers when they perched on my shoulder the day I heard my new name ; Baya 19. He left me and got out. I couldn’t stay in the kitchen the whole time. I prepared the coffee and returned. I gave them the coffee one by one. They were five. A whole palm and I was with a defective foot.

What do you want me to do with him, this cropped one ; without legs ? his second leg couldn’t survive  without its sister and the mouse ate it as it ate my toe. They returned him a tree trank to me.  A half statue. So I did of him what I did. Yes and I don’t regret. Today I am no longer able to do anything of him. He became a tyrant thanks to them. The whip in his hand is sharp. Whenever he waves it to me he peels my flesh off.

***

 

–        Who is the lucky idiot who ate the spike ?

It’s him who quaked me. He said that sentence tenderly while he was kissing my foot sole biting my toes.

–       Is this a woman’s foot or a prophet’s foot ?

–       Doesn’t the amputated toe bother you ? I said when I saw him putting my foot on his ear.

–       And could it remain in its place ? this is the great emptiness. The beautiful prophets’ordeal. The intimate handicap is the secret of beauty, naive !

 

It was difficult for me to understand him at the beginning. Words, I was not used to hear. But they were like a spell, they lifted me out of a muddy earth to make me dance like a feather on the stairs when I was getting out of his house on the third floor. I loved the sandal and I no longer wore shoes ever since. Only sandals even in the winter. He was entrancing when he was twisting the sandal’s belts around my foot and kissing it with each twist of the brown leather belts.

 

It’s him who returned my whole foot to me. I was walking with one foot. I couldn’t bear seeing it. I wash it turning my face away and putting on my shoes without turning to it. After saying what he said about it that night, I started to sleep looking at my foot which I lift on my other leg’s knee, contemplating that void till I get filled. The writer taught me how to look and how to bathe and how to moan in his lap. He was teaching me over and over till I collapse like a woman of tattoo.I sit in his lap and he reads to me.

He used to end his words mocking : these words are not mine. Do you see why I don’t write ? then he snatches my foot screaming : let me kiss those four angels as a pray for the lifted fifth.

 

It’s not impoortant if he was then drunk or under cannabis influence, what is important is those words he told to me and to that foot of mine. It’s true that he avoided me afterwards as if nothing had happened, but that night changed my life. He taught me that life is not a property and that happiness comes only once like an astonishment. I learnt how to enjoy seeing him opening to another woman. I used to say she would take her share of life. When he closes his flat’s door with his visitor I rush to my room, lie down and imagine myself with him. Reaching this stage was not easy for me, I had already gone through long weeks of suffering and jalousy. I bore rancor towards every woman getting into  his house. I once threw soap under a woman’s feet and broke her leg but I then gave in. Sometimes, when I am in my room I start thinking, did what I related really happen ? did he really tell me those words ? I waited for him to come to me one day drunk, but he didn’t. He remained hung in his apartment.

Whenever I knock his door and ask him : do you want me to wipe someting to you?, he turns his head right and left and thanks me refusing. But I kept cleaning the stairs , sometimes throwing soap under the feet of those women I don’t like breaking their legs.

One day when he noticed my sadness he handed me the key of his flat in order to clean it when he is absent. He was as if handing me the paradise key. I few, and got down, popping downstairs from the third floor in only ten steps.

The day after I was in front of the building. I cleaned nothing. I was standing in the green cleaners’ uniform waiting till I saw him leaving. I ran to the room, opened it and started dancing. There was a billow of smoke. I rushed to his clothing smelling his sweat like the arabic white and black movies heroines. I jumped into his bed which I saw him getting in with his mistress, whom I broke her leg, days ago. It was tidy as though it was not touched. I lept on it and started throwing his heaped books on my head, as if taking a cold shower. I danced long then I jumped and slept on my stomach. I slept until he came back, as Stella did. The first one tore me into two desires and the second broke my back.

Believe me,  I was not cruel. I was just heartbroken. I didn’t think I would collapse as such. How can I stand seeing him like this ? I felt as if he were another strange man who ate my man and took his place. They forcibly handed him to me and told me : this thing is yours. They didn’t give me a space to refuse, object or say : I don’t know this man. This thing is not mine. My man got out days ago and hasn’t come back yet. They left him between my hands on the wheelchair, I found myself pushing him towards the house and they jumped into the ambulance and left. The whole neighbourhood came, snatched him from me and I was happy he was no longer in my hand. The women who were kissing me and crying were those who took me to my apatment after I fainted. When I woke up I found him lying next to me looking serenely ; the same humiliated look I saw in the hospital. No body can convince me that that look was Stella’s. That man seemed strange that’s why I didn’t pity him. He mustn’t have, after I was involved with him, to pee and I wash his filth every day. Stella can never do it. Stella left that morning after we made love as in every dawn. He hugged me and and we slept again. He waited for me till I happily immersed in dreams and left. How do you want me to receive him, after days, a man with one leg and the other about to be amputated ?

Kamal Riahi – Naksa 69.

 

A propos kamelriahi

KAMEL RIAHI Kamel riahi: tunisian novelist and journalist , born in 1974. He works as a cultural correspondent for prominent universal broadcasting including; newspapers, televisions and news agencies. He worked as the head of translation department at Arab Higher Institute for Translation in Algeria .In 2010, he returned to Tunisia where he joined the ministry of culture and took charge of the cultural panel in important spaces in the Tunisian’s capital. In 2007, got the “Golden Alcomar” prize to the best novel named “the scalpel” in Tunisia.In 2009 he was the only winner in “the Beirut 39” literary contest organized by high festival foundation to choose only 39 best arab novelists .One of the best five writers under the age of forty selected to participate in “the Bouker’s competition for two rounds. He issued a set of literary and monetary books such as; “Gulls memory” , “Stole my face” , “the scalpel” , “the gorilla” , “the movement of narrative fiction and it’s climate” and “thus spoke Philippe lejeune” and “the novel writing of wasiney al aaradj”.Some of his works have been translated into French,English,Italian,Hebrew and Portuguese languages.
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