Professor of Translation and Terminology (Cadi Ayyad University, Marrakech)
and revised by W Richard Oakes Jr.
PhD-University of Edinburgh (Independent Scholar)
As you were lying in bed, Father, facing your mighty adversary, in one final lost battle that no one has ever won before, I held your right hand with both of mine, with my head bowed. Without raising my eyes to you, I put your hand over my heart. I brought it close to my mouth. Silently, with my lips, I kissed your five fingers, one by one. From them, the smell of musk leaked into my nose. How sweet is your smell, Dad! your palm brushed my cheek; your hand felt heavy and dry. This hand has always lightly stroked my hair and gently wiped my tears. As someone who fears the unknown, I slowly raised my eyes at your face, and saw your gray-shrouded beard, your withered lips, and your pale cheeks, before my eyes met your drowsy eyes.
After your tongue had become heavy and your voice had become faint, you must have been trying to speak to me for a while with your eyes. Yes, you wanted me to see what you wanted with a glimpse of your eyes. I have not forgotten your story about the two wise friends who were conversing with their eyes in a public meeting without a sound or a signal. They understood each other, although the rest of the people were unaware of what was going on in their presence, even though they sensed in the air that something was happening. You turned your eyes towards me, and I tried to hide my tears from you. I did my best, and suppressed my feelings, so that not a single tear would fall on my cheek, lest you notice it while you were in that condition. I would like you to know, Father, that I love you and obey you. I will do whatever you command me to do, even after you have left us, Father. Yes, you taught repeatedly, every time I cried, that I have become a man, and crying is not appropriate for us men. Yes, father, I will not cry, because I am no longer a child, I am already ten years old.
You looked me straight in the eye. And after your eyes had settled on mine for a moment, you turned your eyes toward the wall of our only room, where there was a shelf on which you put your antique books, and above which hung my grandfather's old sword. Then your eyes returned to my eyes, and they rested on them for a while, then turned again toward the books and the sword. At that moment, I said to you in a quivering voice - shaking my head in a clear signal, lest you could not hear me:
“Yes, I understand, Dad. I see what you mean, Dad. I promise I will do what you want. I will keep reading the Qur’an every morning, even if I don’t understand what I’m reading. Blessings will befall the house, every time I recite the Qur’an, and sustenance will increase. And if I am alive when the Mahdi appears at the end of time, so that he may fill the earth with equity and justice, after it has been filled with oppression and tyranny, then I will unsheathe my grandfather’s old sword, and join his supporters, to redeem him by myself. I will polish the sword from time to time, so that it will always be sharp, just as you used to polish it before me. Rest assured, Father, my grandfather's sword will not rust, for I know how to apply oil to its blade, and wipe it with a clean rag, and then carefully return it to its sheath, and hang it back on its hanger over the bookshelf, just as you used to do.”
And as soon as I had finished saying it, an elusive smile appeared on your lips, and I was overwhelmed with sad happiness. Then your eyes rested on mine for a moment, and you turned your eyes toward my mother and my little sisters, who had their tears spilling silently down their cheeks, on the other side of your bed. But, they quickly wiped their tears away, and drew desperate, miserable smiles on their lips. Your eyes came back to my eyes and rested on them, then turned around to meet my mother and my sisters. I understand. Yes, I get it, Dad. I will be responsible for them, in charge of them, and I will be the head of the family after you. I promise to take care of them, for I have become a man, Father, for I have turned ten.
I felt the significance of my promise. I felt afraid I wouldn’t be able to fulfill it. What can I do for them? Where can I get the money. You did not leave me any. You have always told me:
“We all leave this world naked, just as we were born.”
As an example, you referred to Alexander the Macedonian, the great Greek king, who ruled the whole world, but he asked that his palms be shown out of the coffin at his funeral, so that people would realize that he had left this world, not carrying anything with him.
Yes, my father, but that chief of the Greeks left much gold to his heirs, but you did not leave me anything. Yes, you have repeatedly told me:
“I may not leave you money, but I have endowed you with knowledge and literature. After all, knowledge is better than money. Science guards you, while you guard money.”
Yes, yes, I get it, Dad. But how can I support my mother and my younger sisters without money, and I am only ten?
Our gazes met, and you realized what was going on in my little mind; You focused your eyes on me. After your eyes had settled on mine for a moment, you turned your eyes to the other wall on which hung the hunting rifle you had bought from a British soldier. I got what you meant, Dad. Yes, I still remember the day you woke me up for morning prayer at dawn, and took me out before sunrise. I walked with you at dawn to the river bank, your rifle on your shoulder. And there I watched you lurking in your ambush. As soon as a flock of wild geese passed by, you shot them with the rifle, and rushed to your quarry. We returned home, proudly carrying three geese. On that day, we ate until we were full, as we had never been satisfied before, and I did not feel the dizziness that I felt every time I was hungry, while I was not more than ten years old.
Yes, I get the point of your looking at the rifle, and I know what you mean, Dad. I’ll take the rifle at dawn every day. I will go to the marshes and rivers, to hunt ducks, hares, and deer, and my mother and my little sisters will be full. But...but I hid something from you, Dad. A few days ago, while you were in the throes of illness, I tried to fill the clip in the rifle with cartridges, as you explained to me, but in vain. I didn’t know how to open the clip, and I didn’t know how to pull the feeder, whose name I had forgotten, and I confused it with the trigger. I remained at a loss and I hid my failure from you. But I promise you that I will learn, and I will train till I master the rifle, for I am still ten years old.
I raised my face to you, to assure you, my Father, that I would carry the rifle on my shoulder every day after the morning prayer, and walk with it to the bank of the river or the prairie, and hunt ducks, geese, rabbits, and deer. My mother and my little sisters will not go hungry. But I ...But I found your gaze frozen. And your eyes rose into the empty space, motionless. I felt a deathly coldness in your hand. And there rose the sad weeping of my mother, and the wailing of my little sisters, for you have left us, my father, when I was still ten.