by KAMEL AL-RIAHI The gorilla collapsed into orphanhood, uniquely and alone. Naked like a puppy abandoned in a street. His skull sprouted crows that swooped up, consuming identities and swallowing whole worlds. 1- Revolt About one o’ clock in the afternoon. The wind is busy rolling along some beer-can that had been drained of its contents in the deserted street. A massive silence links the arch of the Sea Gate with the enormous clock-tower where Muhammad V Street crosses Avenue Habib Bourguiba. The tranquillity of the deserted capital city is shattered by its well-known nutter: a suspicious man is circling the tower for the last time, before detaching him from people, warning them of the poison of the hands of passing time above. He then starts to throw stones, pieces of iron, houses, trees, crows and goats at imaginary enemies; things that are invisible to anyone else. He imagines that he is picking things up from the marble base of the clock of steel that is adorned like a whore in her last years of struggle. People are enjoying the blessed siesta of the great month of August. The temperature stands at fifty degrees, and the devil of midday clears its innermost parts from the stains of lust. Suddenly the slumbering siesta is slaughtered by the sound of ambulances and police cars, and everyone rushes, with the traces of drowsiness and love-making on them, to the street of streets. Something is happening at the lofty clock tower. Cordons of police officers surround the place. Teams of emergency intervention forces hide behind cold helmets, and press back with sticks the onlookers at whom car horns honk from every direction. Human beings without number look up to the top of the stern clock. A small remote figure, apparently no bigger than a finger is climbing the clock-towerwith the speed of a cockroach. Everybody is amazed. He is about to announce the end of the world. Necks strain to look at the bold climber who finally reaches the top of the clock, holding on to one of its hands. He takes a flask out of his back pocket. He has a drink and then empties what is left on his head. He removes his leather belt and secures himself with it to the iron surrounds of the clock, and turns to the crowds that have gathered below like ants. Nervous police surround the crowds. Auxiliary police run in all directions, talking into their radio sets. Gesturing nervously they ask the man up there to come down from up there; it is out of bounds. Meanwhile he mutters something the content of which is lost in the air. Only fragments of what he says fall like turds from a ram. There is a movement of his left hand and he waves right and left, indicating that he refuses to come down. The police carry on pushing back the people who are circling the tower like dung beetles. They try to ban any photography, to silence voices and to prevent mobile being focussed on the hands of the clock. Traffic comes to a standstill and the cars throb like the veins of a hundred metre sprinter. What is happened is serious. No one has been bold enough to get near the clock since a soccer fan two years ago fell off it in a delirium of happiness after a famous team had won the Republican Cup. On that day, the water bubbling up from the fancy fountain beneath the clock turned into a pool of red blood. From that evening the clock was subject to strict surveillance: it occupied a strategic site in the heart of the capital, regardless of what fools may sometimes say about it. The crowds grow and the front rows are joined by lively tourists who pour in from the beaches and from hotels nearby. The auxiliary police assistants do not use their sticks so much, but they are worried by the growing numbers. They run about everywhere, barricading the pavements and extending the restricted area. Meanwhile the man clings to the end of the hand was at the top of the clock like a gecko. For years there was on the site of this clock a green statue of Bourguiba on a horse, with one of its forelegs raised to the faces of those who looked up. It was said that it raised its foot to the face of Ibn Khaldun whose nightmarish statue had been planted facing Bourguiba and at the latter’s request. After he was swept away by order of the present rider, the statue was removed and there sprouted in its place a giant clock-tower with a cold cement pedestal. It was not long before it gave seed to smaller versions that were planted in each town and village, and statues of the Leader were cleared away from every part of the land. The clock was changed for another that came from Switzerland or England or America – there were conflicting reports about the nationality of the new clock – and a bronze plinth was decorated in the style of Arab art. A statement without any evidence or proof about the clock of unknown parentage was installed in the heart of the city that was heedless of its sons. No trace of the Leader whose statue was moved to La Goulette, gazing at the bitter sea. Spiderman remains above the restricted zone, supporting himself with the leather belt from which he hangs as he swings about, like a professional mountaineer. Below the world, bewildered. The crowds grow after office workers leave their places of work. One whole hour passes by and the police are chewing their sticks, unable to persuade the man on the clock to come down. Among the crowd strange things are going on. Thieves and pickpockets are busy stealing mobile phones and necklaces from the women onlookers, and groping baffled bosoms or hidden bums. Climbing to the top of the clock is a serious crime, an unforgivable act of rebellion and what is happening on this day is a problem affecting security. The police are facing a dilemma: how can they get on top of the situation and prevent the scandal that is unfolding in front of everybody – citizens and foreigners and the whole country at the height of the tourist season. The officer almost bites the head off one helpless policeman, asking him for the thousandth time, “How have things reached this pass? Where were you? How did you let him get near the clock and climb up it?” Elsewhere an auxiliary policeman pounces on a tourist and snatches the camera that he was pointing at the clock. The policeman rips out the battery and nervously hands back the camera, cautioning him against using it again. The barricaded area is a restricted security zone. The crowds start to grumble about the behaviour of the auxiliary police who as they clear a large space between the people and the location of the incident. Murmurs became louder when people see the man on the clock waving his hand and addressing the chief of the emergency intervention forces. They understand he is asking for water, as he is waving the empty water-bottle about. Another bottle comes. One policeman scales a stairway inside the clock-tower. He passes the man the bottle, suspended on a piece of string. The man grabs it and tells the policeman who wants to negotiate to get down. We hear none of what is said. We are busy listening to the ravings of one young man who is shouting, “They’re showing what’is happening on the television and you can hear what the guy is saying. Look, I’ve had a text message giving the news with which channel it’s on.” People take out their phones. The message has reached everybody at the same time. The auxiliary police get more excited and frenziedly start to look for something or other among us. Another group of policemen come and busy themselves searching buildings all around for the source of transmission and for the camera that is covering the incident. Some people go home but crowds remain and others arrive until the pavements are packed and people overflow onto the roads. The Funeral I can still remember that day. The clear sky was like the bosom of an old widow, the thick skin of dead hide. The stars were eating themselves and the moon was hanging in the darkness. The trees by the road were like whores in a crowded brothel touting for custom. The gorilla collapsed into orphanhood, uniquely and alone. Naked like a puppy abandoned in a street. His skull attracted crows that swooped down, consuming identities and swallowing whole worlds. He tried to follow in his footsteps. His adversary was dazzling in the light. With a light touch, he played around like a skilled player passing the ball from one foot to another without it ever touching the ground. Like a magician he teased everybody just as he wanted. Sometimes he balanced the ball on his head to everybody’s amazement. Their mouths were agape at the sight of this acrobat. He did not adore Bourguiba in his time, but he had to do so. A target and a refuge, he was his opponent and his pretext for doing anything. Today he sleeps at peace in his earthly palace while the gorilla is torn to pieces by the din. He undertakes the impossible until he is at his side, guarding him from mischievous spirits, from worms and from memories. An official uniform. There was no other way to him – only that blue uniform. To be a guard at the mausoleum. He had to be with him alone. Face to face. The gorilla created by the white god with two blue eyes. Everything changed that day. Feelings were incoherent and the gorilla was full of contradictions. The body of the Leader advanced at the head, stretched out on a military vehicle, draped in a flag. The whole world followed, running. The Leader was like a god, as he processed towards his village that had been turned into a city. He was at the end of the procession, and had to put up with shoves and kicks. Faces and bodies around him pressed to look towards the corpse. Sometimes he was overwhelmed with curses and abuse. He got in the way of the movement of the final dash behind the corpse of the departing god. The gorilla saw himself shouting midst the running crowd, “I’m his child, the child of the great Bourguiba, come on to me, come and mourn with me!” He was drowned in tears of orphanhood and denial, mystifying them with riddles. Alone he followed the corpse like some embarrassing truth. He was separated from him by savage lies. He was consumed by the fever of defeat and he remembered being in prison wearing a heavy German coat that protected him from the cold of a March cell. Suddenly he was possessed by an image of the Leader on the island of La Galite where he spent months of exile in the same coat. Each of them was the same. Each of them had been in prison. Both have been eaten by the cold. The funeral procession continued like the Prophet’s she-camel. Behind him the caravan proceeded as he has wanted, and behind the caravan a gorilla of his type who left him suddenly to his gloom. He loved him only on that day. He took revenge on the mourners at the funeral, when the black car took the corpse. Faces scattered and the tears of the funeral ceremonies evaporated with the departure of the news camera. The gorilla was left all by himself to guard his black fur and the asphalt of the road. He tried to utter his old cry, clapping his hands but was betrayed by his hands that fell to his chest like two cadavers. The self-image of the gorilla collapsed so he felt he was no bigger than a monkey forgotten among the rocks looking for a tree or a branch or some rope or a cobra to sting in order to end the pain. Haunted by gloom he sunk into his old depression. At another time it would have been necessary to take them on with courage. Another time they would have torn him to pieces and thrown him out and he would spend the rest of his life on the reserve bench. Here he is then swinging around the top of the clock like an enraged tiger looking down for his prey among the crowds of ants beneath him. He disappeared two years ago and could not be found until he suddenly appeared on this clock during this murderous siesta time on 3 August, the birthday of the man with two blue eyes whom everyone soon forgot. If only he was the man hanging there on the clock, muttering incoherently for an hour and telling them about what happened to him that day. Flight On that day two years ago, the gorilla had not expected what happened to him. Afflicted by hysteria, he opened fire on Bourguiba’s mausoleum and then disappeared like a black cloud. He took flight and ran into the open country, far from the streets and alleyways, avoiding crowds. He ran away from the city and found his way to an abandoned railway line. The rust of its metal could no longer recall the last train that had passed by. Metal also dies, thought the gorilla as he was running between the lines to the unknown horizon. His ears were now assaulted by the screams of women, the shouts of men and the sound of anxiety among tourists in the square by the mausoleum at the moment he had fired live bullets in his madness. “You’re all like him. Just like him.” He did not know how his finger pulled the trigger to fire the first shot and then not pausing after it. It was as if someone else was grabbing his arm and urging him to fire more shots. His flight from the city of the Leader’s grave was the beginning of his acquaintance with fear. He lay down on his stomach whenever he heard the sound of police cars or a plane or the boom or a hoopoe nesting in a lifeless carob tree. He ran and with him ran adders and mice, lizards and scorpions. They all shared in the gorilla’s flight. A few hours later darkness took them all by surprised. It swooped down on them. The lizards, adders, snakes and rats turned tail as if the night was poison. The sweat on the gorilla’s body dried up. The cold descended, accompanied by a devastating frost. The gorilla picked his way in the channel made up of discarded cement blocks by the railway line. They were what had been left over from a project for a sewage purification scheme. Like an aspirin in water, his weary eyelids dissolved into drowsiness. Not far from the railway line ambulances could be heard howling all night long. He expected they were transporting the wounded from the tomb to the hospitals of the capital. Nightmares did not desert their ready prey. In his sleep the gorilla was chasing after impossible balls that were tearing at his rib like bullets spattering the channel of cement on the remote railway line. He emerged from his nightmare to resume his flight to the unceasing symphony of the police sirens. At dawn he arrived at a residential complex. He rushed towards a tobacconist’s kiosk and asked for two packets of 20 March cigarettes. He bought a bundle of newspapers. The newsagent looked at him suspiciously and asked, “You’re not from round here?” “No, I’m from the south. I’ve come to see a relation.” “Now?” “No, I’m off now. I’m waiting for a bus.” “There aren’t any busses here. You have to take a taxi. Over there.” The man pointed in the direction of some place higher up. “Thank you.” The gorilla clutched the newspapers to his chest and headed off. As soon as he was some distance from the kiosk he changed direction and went off the road. He went to hide behind what was left of an abandoned house, and took out the newspapers. Alarm struck him as he found his picture on the front pages of all the papers. He turned to the second, third and fourth pages – his picture was in all the papers. They wrote about the foiling of a terrorist operation, committed by extremist groups in the capital and in Monastir. They said that the help of the army had been called in to pursue the extremists some of whom had escaped into the mountains and valleys and that the pursuit was ongoing. Beneath the headline were his picture, pictures of suspects, and an appeal for any information about them. Other pages published pictures of bodies described as extremists who had been eliminated by the authorities. They were wearing strange clothes, had long beards and thick hair. Their mouths were open. Their cold eyes were looking at the scene of the late crime before the bullets. The gorilla ran off with his burden of fresh fear and distanced himself from the town, haunted by the vision of the suspicious looks of the newsagent. He returned to the track in the desert. He was on his own this time without the creatures, running in the path of fear. Even his shadow vanished as if he had committed suicide or as if some false tranquillity was slipping away from him. By afternoon the track took him to the high fence of an unknown farm. He wandered around there waiting for nightfall. Suddenly he was surprised by the barrel of a machine gun in his back and a voice ordering him to put his hands on his head. Thus did the gorilla turn from hunter to prey. That was two years ago. The voice pushed him into a position in which he was spread out on the ground. The voice was on top of him. He felt a pair of heavy knees crushing his back. His hands were tied behind his back. He was lifted up by his shoulders. He found himself facing a man in a mask wrapped in black carrying a machine gun of a strange make. He was pushed forward into the farm through a gate that suddenly appeared. There were dogs all over the farm. Ferocious dogs that did not stop barking aggressively. They seemed about to tear the world to shreds as soon as they were released from their leads. The barrel of the machine gun was pushed into the gorilla’s back again ordering him to walk forward. He stepped out towards the unknown in the dim light of an electric torch held by the man with the gun at his back. He was able to make out a faint track through a field of wheat. The gorilla did not know where he was. The man with the gun ordered him to stand in front of a grass hut after some grim minutes of marching. He spoke in a foreign accent which the gorilla could not make out. Another masked man came out of the hut. He tied a black scarf over the gorilla’s eyes and led him inside. He felt his feet going down some steps and his nose was assailed by the smell of freshly dug earth. The new masked man seemed to push him more violently and continued to push the barrel of the weapon into his back. The gorilla was helpless and did not know where on earth he was. He no longer thought of the number of victims that his mad machine gun had left behind when he emptied it at the Leader’s tomb. He had for some other reason become the object of pursuit. This then is the gorilla today. Here he is on the clock. Precisely on the site of Bourguiba’s statue. He throws away his shirt and bears his flesh. A fire engine turns up. It breaks through the crowds and an automatic ladder is extended to the top of the clock. Its steps are opened out until it reaches the gorilla who clings on to his leather belt. Through a loudhailer a policeman orders him to come down. They then listen to him. The gorilla gestures with his hands to right and left. A Foundling Do you still see him recalling that day on which he took on the epithet “gorilla”? For more than thirty years the gorilla used to pause in front of the picture of Bourguiba smiling. It was there on the wall above the sandwich stall. He was smiling to him, waving at him with his white hand, the other hand holding a sprig of jasmine. The child gorilla below would chew at half a chunk of bread filled with harisa and sardine. His shirt was spattered with drops of oil as the man above smiled a smile that was like an open wound. Sparkling white. His hair was white. His smile was white. The palm of his hand was white. Even his suit was white. The oil with the smell of sardine trickled down the shirt of the little gorilla. Terrible feelings simultaneously of pride and self-disgust then coursed through him like two raging bulls, as he examined his own identity, turning it round and round like a strange coin. On the one hand he is the child of the most important man in the country and this idea makes him look up to that the man in the picture looking down on palaces, gardens, enclosures, meat and fruit. On the other hand he is of no known family and that he is no son, not even of a rat or a donkey, and that he dropped, new-born, into a pile of straw and was smothered by oil and sardine, and shame. He melts into a white smile like the skull of a man who has never been heard of. He is simply one of the many children of Bourguiba. When he was accused for the first time in his village of being one of the “children of Bourguiba” he gave a broad grin just like Bourguiba, as if he was confirming his parentage. But he did not smile after that when other words were hurled at him, such as pisser, bastard, foundling, whoreson. He then saw Bourguiba’s teeth as if they were the fangs of some wild beast advancing towards him to crush his bones. That day he ran away from the playground to the cemetery where he stood and wept at his father’s grave. He shouted and cursed until he lost his voice, as if he had dropped it down a deep well. Can you see him today as he remembers unzipping his pants and drenching the grave with hot piss? How much humiliation did he feel after that? That evening he sat with his fair sister watching his “new” father giving his daily speech – “Directives of His Excellency the President” – on the black and white television screen. The screen made those two words – black and white – resemble each other. He realised that his sister was another adopted daughter. She was as white as milk whereas he was as black as charcoal. When he asked her, “Are we really Bourguiba’s children?” his eyes filled with tears and she left and went to her room. She was older than he was and certainly knew of the matter or had heard about it. The family that had adopted them gave them no chance to make assumptions. He was the child of Bourguiba and after that he was the gorilla. Here he is now throwing the water-bottle which he has filled with his own piss down on the crowd gibbering incomprehensively. The bottle was caught by some guy. He was standing under the clock not at the front picking his nose as was his custom as he looked up. News reached him from a girlfriend who was some way away on the other side, defending her groped backside in the crowds. He looked at the black guy up there and mumbled, “That’s him. That’s him. I remember him perfectly well.” Memories from their childhood came back to him. The gorilla was playing football with him and his mates. They were making him goalie because no one else would be. He would go off each day to the playground and stand between two stones and kick away any balls they kicked at him. They shot ball after ball at him but he would save it time after time, returning it to the middle of the pitch with his hand. This guy remembered the strange look he had the day he stood in front of him, wanting to take the ball away. He noticed that his arms were strangely long, so long that his hands reached his knees. He said, “Gorilla. You’re like a gorilla, Salih. Look at your hands.” Kids around laughed and started to call Salih by this new name. Salih’s cheeks quivered. He clenched his fists like a fierce boxer before he grabbed the ball and threw it onto another field. He left the field with the term “gorilla” stuck to him. Urgent News A globe on a screen with space as background and words in Arabic turning crazily to the rhythm of tense music announced the news programme. A broadcaster with a prominent forehead wears a spotted black tie. He opens his eyes wide open. He allows a period of silence during which those viewers who have known this man’s distinctive style hold their breaths. He then speaks in sombre tones, “The main street of the Tunisian capital has been in a state of shock this afternoon following the scaling of the 7 November clock-tower by a swarthy young man. He reached a height of fifty metres. The young man has been clinging to the tower and all the efforts of the police and the police and the civil security forces have so far failed to bring him down. “There are conflicting reports of the man’s identity and objectives. Some reports from among the crowds that have been following the incident say that he is intent on suicide. The young man took some rope that had been handed to him to help him come down and twisted it round his neck, choosing to die rather than to descend. “The Tunisian security forces have decided to ban the media on the spot from photographing the incident and will prosecute anyone who attempts to take photographs, by mobile phone or by any other visual recording device. “We have heard that the young man has refusing to come down for two hours. Civil security officers have managed to get a small military parachute to him, intending that it assist him in coming down. “We will give you more details in our next news bulletins.” The globe returned to the screen and revolved in some unknown sky before dissolving into a lather of Lux soap that a female hand toys with in some bath. KAMEL RIAHI translated by Peter Clark, 2009
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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