Mohamed Saïd Raïhani’s Website
WAITING FOR THE MORNING
(A Short Story)
In the memory of Mohamed Hadjoum, whose profession has led him to die unknown in the snow traps of Moroccan Riff Mountains in 1995
The Clock Strikes Midnight:
The crackling of the radio mingles in an inconsistent escort with the shivering light around tonight’s lonely candle. The candle tongue burns silently within the pale-lighted circle resisting the crawling darkness.
I no longer bear sleeping in such obscurity on the tables of this isolated classroom built on the wreck of an ancient graveyard below these forgotten barren mountain chains...
How I fear these white graves scattered in disorder around me!
I fear that their dwellers should rebel some day against me. I must be bothering them by my living among their death...
The headmaster, this morning, presented me his condolences for the loss of my work-fellow, Badre Badrawi, and wished me good convalescence. Then, he explained to me the administrative difficulty of procuring an alternative schoolmaster to replace my late fellow and share with me the groups of these school pupils.
The headmaster advised me to be patient and told me openly not to obstruct the natural course of the establishment and attracted my attention to avoid repeating the old catastrophe:
“Animals around here are very hungry!”
Now, I wonder if that jailer, who ran away from the jail in the surroundings riding his warder’s bicycle had heard such an advice, would he had delayed his escape through forest and darkness?...
Probably such calculations are useless when freedom is on bet. That may be the reason why he departed leaving behind his jail-fellows, terribly astonished, whispering in the following morning the new piece of news: the prison-guards found during their pursuit pieces of a torn-out jail uniform discarded about on the shrubs where the warder's motor-cycle wheels kept spinning around near the traces of a human body which had rolled in blood long before disappearing.
The clock strikes midnight:
The puffs of air coming in through the cracks in the prehistoric walls of the so-called classroom shake playfully my candlelight. I surround the candle with both my palms in an attempt to keep its energy the longest possible. The candle's teardrops slide down hot and big before freezing on the tray.
As the candle dwindles persistently, I have to spray granules of salt round the candle-wick to stop it from thawing. This is my sole candle and night is still long ahead. In fact, night has always been so long. Only it was less difficult before as we were two: two schoolmasters.
We used to work alternately in this forlorn classroom planted between these arid mountain chains educating pupils who never miss their classes except in such occasions as wedding ceremonies, ploughing, rain-fall, snow-fall, inundation and funerals…
Sometimes, some parent would drop in, covered up in an empty plastic manure sac, in order to solicit the redemption of his children when a strong fit of rain would catch them at school because trenches and rivers overflow and accordingly would bar all the winding paths swirling through the endless mountains relating school with their homes…
Bad weather would, occasionally, grant us an exceptional day off. So, we would set the pupils free and shut the class-room door and windows on us in order to gather warmth for the night. We arrange the tables in the form of two high beds and stretch our coverlets on them .A cup of mint tea laid next to the pillow before any chat or discussion soon become a third companion. Yet the everlasting winter- nights would use up all our topics. So, we addicted reading prison literature: Humans thrown down by helicopters in terrible detention camps and left to the snow. Even when they try to run away, they are captured again and led back to the place where they are condemned to spend their whole life in…
Stories repeated on and on. However, we read them all night long. Sometimes, we would read the same novel, in the same time, with one voice. Reading aloud helped us keep away silence and folly. The memory of this class-rooms testifies that one schoolmaster out of two has been welcomed into the world of folly through this blessed school's door.
Living and working between graves is such a terrible thing! Teaching and raving between people resting forever: Dead people in a dead place at a dead time. An absolute silence. With everything around tongue less, voiceless… we used to leave the radio on, all night long. We would sleep only to the rhythm of its crackles and dream solely to the sounds of its whistles. We learnt, with the stream of nights, how to have the same dream in the same night. We get ourselves ready for the dream before going to bed, we select a subject in all it meticulous details and in the dream, all our hopes and fears unify in the dream of the running away from the graveyard to the place where living people are. A dream repeated on and on until we woke up some morning on a new form of seclusion:
The door would not open …
We pushed it out with all our force. In vain .We rooted it out of the door-frame:
The snow is knee-deep. It slides away drawing an endless door-step: A blank page wiping away the graves around, the traces of water springs, the deep trenches and all the paths swirling by the orphan classroom..
The snow remained longer than we had ever expected. Its threat rose inches after inches above the knee. At that time, we began to fear that snow should bury us alive in our classroom while we were running short of food…
Our only hope was to see snow melting away within the twenty-four hours to come. Days, however, remained passing by, all alike: Nights without moon and mornings with without horizon to separate the whiteness of the earth from the whiteness of the sky.
Some time in some day, there loomed, in the remote horizon, small living shadows crossing all along the whiteness and planting sticks all along the way: those were the village people and that was their style to make sure of snow depth before advancing. They planted sticks deep in the snow in order to remember the safe way back home. Otherwise, they would, themselves, fall down in the trenches which the snow hides down there as traps for foreigners.
In fact, most of the victims of snow-fall time are strangers who do not know the geography of the region. When the snow melt away, they have their graves dug for them near our classroom and are buried without rituals.
The clock strikes midnight:
The candle dwindles continuously. The hot tear-drops slide down round and big before freezing on the tray. The candle is burning away, without any smell.
I hate strong odours. Even the smell of the fresh paint with which the classroom walls are stained stifles me to death, bringing the old burning odour back to my mind's memory.
We were two schoolmasters. We used to wake up early to get our breakfast ready here in this class-room and have it in a hurry on the school-tables. Then, we prepare lunch-meal and leave it on the camping-gas at the back of the class-room.
Afterwards, we clean the place before pupils come in. We re-arrange the tables and tidy our coverlets up before hiding them under the tables, following the warning of the administration about lodging within class-rooms. Actually if ever the headmaster should stand a six hours’ walk to pay us a visit in our world here, he will find us baking in the class-room too.
We used to make our bread with our own hands. Badre would knead the dough inside the classroom taking shelter from cold and rain while I set three equivalent stones around one of the pits in the class-room and there it is: A brazier able to lift a pan and bake bread!
After baking, we throw some nails on the remaining embers seeking prevention from the evils of charcoal on our lives when asleep.
In times of snow and cold, the heat coming out of the brazier would warm up the classroom making it fit to sleep in before we woke up some winter night on stifling odours and hot colours waving everywhere in the classroom: Sparks flying in all directions, flames dancing on the tables, snapping it and swallowing it. Fire tongues licking the walls and blackening the place. Wood crackling, splitting, exploding, falling down in burning embers…
The windows collapsed and the wind invaded the class-room. Fire blazed up. There was no time for thinking,. We drenched our coverlets to fight the fiery tongues, striking anywhere. There were fire tongues everywhere poked at us. We strike with all our strengths. Tables and windows, everything has gone mere big embers. We strike aimlessly. Red colour all around us was fading away. We strike with all our force. We strike, strike, strike till darkness prevailed. At last, darkness!
Waiting for the morning, we sat down outside the class-room door coughing out our provision of smoke.
In the morning, crows came back to circle above our heads, above the graveyard, to announce a new morning. Then, there were pupils coming along to school. They were surprised to find themselves changed into tourists as they would not have class that day. They would lean out of the windows to have a look inside, trying to identify their seats out of the order of the coaled table frame-works:
-There, you used to sit!
-And you behind me there!
The classroom turned a pure charcoal mine: Roasted vegetables, bare iron sticks of tables the wood of which was burnt away, coal, coal, coal…
We were not ready to spend another night here despite the intimidation stirred up by the pupils’ parents who came to congratulate us on our safety and make fun of our internal fear, chewing again the old tales about the atrocity of the forest wild night animals: Starving wolves with sharps looks, sharp claws, sharps fangs…
The clock strikes midnight:
The candle has already melted away. There is nothing left of it but tear-drops around the candlewick burning out its last energies. The candle is agonizing and the morning is still far ahead…
No-one can spend one single night here.
In the past, although we were two, night would defeat us. However, with that conflagration behind, we left the "establishment" careless of the night and all kinds of threats of the well-informed people among the villagers: We left.
Travelling on foot is never a problem. Mainly, on market-days when the path swarms with marketers going to and fro. Apart from market-days, the forest is deserted and silent except for occasional frightened birds’ shrieks here or there coming out of the high cedars. The long path winded right and left, up and down. The reptiles rustling on both sides of the path would increase our fear. We were racing against sunset. The jamming trees veiled horizon. Details everywhere in the forest were gradually fading away. Colours blackening. Shades standing erect everywhere, getting bigger. Shades melting in shades to make one only colour: darkness. At last, there came the night.
We could not see further than our footholds. It was absolutely dark. We would certainly have gone astray if we carried on the trip. Pocket-torch was useless in the utter darkness. The fugitive prisoner’s wheel was once again brought to spin around in my mind. I could almost hear its buzz somewhere around here. It was utterly dark and the path still long ahead. It was inevitable to stop. There had to be some rest. I collapsed on the ground, leaning my back against a tree trunk breathing out my fatigue.
My feet were swelling up with heat inside my shoes and sleep caressing my eye-lids. Sleeping on the ground, in the wilderness by night, was a fatal error. I thought:
- Sleeping on the branches might be safer from earthly surprises. Of course, it is uncomfortable but it was only a matter of an ephemeral night.
I Climbed up the tree nearest to my touch and made sure of the solidity of the branches. I called at my friend below the tree to come up and sleep in safety. He refused. He had such a violent sleep. He cannot sleep calmly. I left him alone. I switched the torch on to light him a circle on the ground to sleep within. He stretched up his white coat, within the torch-lit circle, and laid one hand under his head and the other between his thighs. He cannot sleep with his hands cold. Something in the pockets of his coat made him ill-at ease. He sat up to get rid of it. He took a little pocketbook out and handed it to me to lie down again on his white coat.
However, scarcely had his hands warmed up when he tore the whole universe with his shrieks, imploring me for help while I, from over the tree, light with my torch a circle, a stage, an arena inside which twist:
Black and White
(Snores and calls of help)
Black and Red
(Snores and moans)
Black and Blood
(Snores and silence)
From the tree, I watched the live show below: Wild blackness devouring a weary friend.
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