Apr 24, 2020
14 Min read time
In a wrenching dialogue, a man searches for human connection, even as he recalls childhood abuse. Translated from the French by Amanda DeMarco. Short Story
This short story was first published in Allies and is featured in our new special project:
When I was little, my parents didn’t do anything to keep the world, Morocco, and the men of our neighborhood from raping me. Raping me again and again.
It was an open secret. And a taboo at the same time.
Touch him. Caress him. Penetrate him. Hit him. Spit on him. Transform him into a sexual object for anyone who is sexually frustrated.
He’s a fag. He’s a fag and he’s for everyone. Help yourself. You can do anything to his little body with total impunity. Touch him. Caress him. Penetrate him. Hit him. Spit on him. Transform him into a sexual object for anyone who is sexually frustrated. He is a communal object. He doesn’t complain. He’s so docile. Such a feminine little thing, prancing around and getting everyone excited. Look, look how he walks and how he makes his eyes dance. It’s his fault, let’s go, let’s go rape him. Everyone gets a turn. Everyone gets a turn.
No one will ever tell. It’s like that here, and everywhere in the world. A universal law, I tell you.
Abdellah. That’s me. They didn’t call me Abdellah, no. For them, I was Leïla, or Zoubida. Or Sawssane. A boy-girl who wasn’t supposed to exist and who, precisely because of this nonexistence, could satisfy their limitless libidos. A body on which a crime could be committed before thanking it with a smile. Yes, just a brief smile. That will be enough. He won’t say anything. He doesn’t need to. Everyone knows what he is. No one is going to go to the police. Nor the king. Nor the courts. This boy-girl is already protected. The devil protects him. He is the devil. He’s not so innocent. Beware. Take another look at how he walks and how he talks. All of him is for screwing, for penetrating, from behind, his mouth, even his ears.
I still don’t know how I survived. How I saved myself. And how I saved another as well, the little Abdellah I was. How would you have done it? Where would you have found the energy? The intelligence? What would you have told them to keep them from destroying you completely? But they did destroy me completely, what are you talking about! They tore me limb from limb. Very quickly I was no longer myself. I was evil. When they saw me pass, women said: there he is, there he is, that demon, that devil, he should change his name, Abdellah is a sacred name in Islam, he should change it and leave this place.
How old were you then?
I don’t know, everything is mixed up, everything is jostled around. Ten years old. Twelve years old. Not more. I know that at some point, I thought that they were right. I was dead. And from that point, from that strange new place, I started to take more risks. To die a little more each day. Suicide, you mean? Maybe that was it, suicide, the idea of suicide, but that wasn’t the word I had in my head. No. The word that obsessed me was revenge. What? You managed to get revenge? Yes, maybe. I’m not dead. I’m still here. That’s your victory, to still be alive? Really? Are you making fun of me? I did what I could at the time. Evil within evil. Evil further within evil. I stole. I lied. I prostituted myself. You prostituted yourself? No matter what you say, I am you and I myself don’t remember that you prostituted yourself. You’re making things up. No, stop contradicting me, I am telling you that I prostituted myself. Often. They gave me five dirhams, Henry’s-brand cookies, ice creams, or brought me to the movies to see Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan. Fine, fine, I believe you.
Violence on the part of some. Silence from others. Rejection everywhere. And my heart, which isn’t my heart.
But what must I have done to God to make him so angry at me that he punishes me like this, with the hard, agonizing members of these awful men inside me, deep inside of me? It’s my fault, yes, I know, and it’s up to me to get out of all of this. Alone. All alone. Forget God, he won’t do anything to save me. Forget my father and mother, they’re too poor and survival takes all their energy. Forget my sisters, life is even more difficult for them. Forget my brothers, they don’t see me.
I am not a victim. I am not their victim. Despite it all, I’m not a victim, and if I become one then they succeeded after all.
I want my revenge. I cherish it within me, as a criminal project openly declared, justified, just, more just than their justice system.
Violence on the part of some. Silence from others. Rejection everywhere. And my heart, which isn’t my heart.
I’m leaving this poor neighborhood, poor Morocco where the poor are forgotten by the rich, by the king, and are pushed to tear each other to pieces. I’m like them, I know it only too well. But to find the strength to go further into evil, I’ll have to go to another neighborhood, in another territory. Far away.
Where? Where did you go, little feminine thing, Abdellah? Toward prostitution again, is that it?
I went to look for strangers, to find in them the echo of what I am, the traces of my unhappiness and of my evil and of my blight. Strangers will see how dirty I am, dirty, defiled, defiled, defiled by everyone and by myself. Strangers who no longer believe in this world, in this heaven, and in this silent Allah, these blind parents, good beings broken before me, destroyed, pulverized and waiting for a miracle, the last light in the very depths of the dark well of this existence.
And did you find them?
Stop making fun of me! I know that you are me, but that doesn’t give you the right to treat me like that, with arrogance, irony, disdain.
Go ahead, get on with your crucifixion. I already know the story anyway. You’re going to tell us about the Frenchman on the beach of your city, Salé, is that it?
Yes. I have to talk about him. Yes. I have to talk about him. I believed that he was an angel. An ally. A sage. The Frenchman, white and pure. He was called Frédéric. He was handsome, Frédéric. Very handsome, Frédéric. He was on the beach of the city of Salé, yes. On the sea wall. At the very end of the sea wall. He wanted to watch the sun set. He was waiting. And not far from him were all of Morocco’s rejects: drunks, the deranged, murderers, phantoms, sex workers, and sorcerers. Frédéric wasn’t afraid to be there, surrounded by us, we who were so black and so dark and so bad. Maybe that was what attracted him, the beings at the bottom, on the ground, finished and, ultimately, free.
Free of what?
I didn’t hesitate. I walked up to him and I sat beside him. I knew intuitively that he would love me, repair me, not do me wrong, understand everything, and, without a word, renew the energy and ardor within me, in my little body. Yes, you are going to do all of that, Frédéric. You don’t seem like them, you’re like us, these puny rejects on the sea wall of the beach at Salé. You’re handsome and you’re tall, you’re like Jesus in the films I saw on television. The same whiteness, the same goodness, the same calm, the same beard, it makes me want to embrace you, to kiss your feet and hands and even dare to ask you for a miracle. You’re beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Frédéric, take anything you want. Of me. And everyone else. You’re the Savior. I see you like that. You are the fresh blood that, mixed with my own, will shed new light on things. I will wander with you and on your body and in your skin. In that way, you will see everything and, in my stead, you’ll say everything. I know that I ask too much, too much. I won’t talk. You hear everything and you understand everything. A little effeminate thing, Abdellah, doesn’t need to say the words, it’s enough to look at her to grasp everything. And you understood everything, didn’t you?
And he understood everything, this French Frédéric who was white like Jesus?
Yes. At first. The first time on the sea wall. And after that, the five other times, everything got dark, became tragic again. He was French and with that identity, he could allow himself everything. He could stop understanding us when he wanted. And help himself to what he wanted. Just help himself to us. To me. He did it as well, he made me lower my pants and his hard member spilled all his semen inside me many times. He never spoke. Never. Said nothing. Nothing. The man who said nothing and fixed things in me, in us, later became nothing more than silence that killed. That continues to kill. Like my father’s silence, my mother’s, the neighborhood’s, Allah’s.
Frédéric is a colonizer, that’s all, Abdellah.
Stop boring me to death with your intelligent discourse. This word colonization, I didn’t understand it, I didn’t see it. I saw a white man who could go everywhere, and everywhere he could allow himself whatever he wanted. And he could leave. Leave without paying. That’s what happened. He entered my ass ten times and he never paid. I should have made him pay, this Frenchman, stolen his money from him, his watch, his cross, started my project of revenge with him, treated him badly, badly, very badly, see what it was he hid so well under his white skin. Indifference and rejection, that’s what he was.
What a romantic you are, Abdellah!
It’s not my fault. It’s not my fault. Egyptian films, the sentimental Egyptian comedies, ended up wrecking everything inside me as well.
Stop boring me to death with your intelligent discourse. This word colonization, I didn’t understand it, I didn’t see it.
Then . . . he left, Frédéric did. And two years later, he came back. In the same season. Same weather. Same place. The beach at Salé. The sea wall. The sun setting and growing red, blood red. I couldn’t believe that he was there again, he wasn’t ashamed, he said that he didn’t remember me. Do you see? Two years had passed, I’d changed. You were changed then? I wanted to kill him, this Frédéric, to throw him off the other side of the sea wall, out where there were huge waves, waves that kill. He didn’t have the right to come back here, to our place, the territory of the accursed, after what he’d done, leaving without saying goodbye, without even paying. But what nerve, how low! He allowed himself to go anywhere, this Frédéric. This is Morocco, it’s not France anymore.
And you killed him, this Frédéric?
I spit on him. And I left again. I went to my neighborhood. The drama of departure, long after any hope was gone. Frédéric was hope. Then he was the death of hope. Even France, so seductive though I don’t know why, could crush a little effeminate thing like me. In the mid-eighties, France had sent an ambassador, Frédéric, to transmit this message to me. I listened to him, Frédéric, speaking without speaking. I spit on him and I left again.
There’s no more hope.
Love doesn’t exist anymore. So, where to live? With whom? And all of this evil in me, in my heart, my blood, how to handle it, satisfy it? How to become someone else? How? Morocco and France seemed so allied against people like me. So powerful and so arrogant and so false.
The world is empty.
I am not a victim. I am not a victim. I am not a victim. Somewhere a pure source of life must exist. I have to find it.
And while you were waiting, what did you do after this French disappointment? Where did you find salvation and new allies?
I didn’t find anything.
I started to talk to myself. A voice in me spoke about me, in me, all the time. It said silly things. Grandiose phrases. But I let it talk. What else could I do? There was no more love, there was no more space for fags, then as now, it’s the same tragedy and the same solitude. That they screw me, rape me, kill me. I want to die, to die now. There’s no more love. It’s certain from now on.
But you aren’t dead, Abdellah.
I have to continue to love them despite everything. To cry, I don’t know where, and to cling to them. After all, like them, I’m poor, a poor person so poor and so violated among the poorer of this Morocco so unjust to its own citizens. I have to love my father. I have to love my mother. They fed me, that’s something. They let me sleep under their roof despite my reputation in the neighborhood, that’s something. And my big brother, he’s a hero. A hero lacking all sense and all courage, but I’m so in love with him, I want to be him, I continue to see him as a hero. My hero. The hero of the house. He’s going to lift us out of poverty. He’s a role model. He’s culture. He’s cinema. He’s power. Our revenge. I’ll steal everything from him. Make an ally of him in spite of himself. Suffer. Suffer, Abdellah. You are a disgrace, an obstacle in the path, the path of heroes, your big brother. Don’t say anything. Not to him. Not to the others. Let them touch you. The cocks that enter you and spray their milk in you, you’ll end up getting used to it. You’re fifteen, that’s already old. Don’t be fragile, always sick, don’t be a little capricious girl, take their cocks, take their semen. It’s your fault, after all. And God really isn’t happy with you. Do you understand? Love the world as it is. It is how it is.
I am not a saint. I need help. I’m not even a fixed identity. I’m nothing. I understand everything that happens in the world, I see it, I analyze it, but that doesn’t help, it doesn’t help at all. They’ve hurt me so badly.
Oh, quit moaning. You’ve caused hurt as well. Lots of hurt. Everyone suffers. Take your turn suffering. There’s nothing new in this story. Suffer and one day, maybe, a hand will reach you.
A tender hand. A simple heart. A tender heart. A heart that holds the world. Somewhere it exists. In 1985. And in 2019. I know it. I know it. I can forget myself. I can. Hope that my ally is already walking toward me.
You’re making a poet of us, is that it?
I have to love my father. I have to love my mother. They fed me, that’s something. They let me sleep under their roof despite my reputation in the neighborhood, that’s something.
I was so small and they knew that I was homosexual well before I did. That’s my misfortune. My truth will never belong to me. They knew about me long before I did, they knew everything my body said to the world without my permission. How to survive? How?
Listen to a song. Listen to Umm Kulthum. Listen to Samira Said and Abdel Halim Hafez. Listen to Ana Carolina and Caetano Veloso. Watch the films of your beloved Bette Davis. Especially The Letter, where she’s a murderer and regrets nothing. Watch it again and again. Get out of yourself. Yes, get out of yourself. There’s no more hope in you. Your parents aren’t there anymore. They’re dead. French Frédéric isn’t there anymore. He disappeared. Your rapists aren’t there anymore, they’re married and have children now. But there are the others. The others. Forget yourself and go toward the others. Leave your little territory of identity, so safe, so certain, so petrified, which suffocates you a little more each day. You aren’t just a fag. Look at the others. Take a good look. And hold out your hand. Yes, your hand. Your hand, your hand, please.
This hand, extended toward them despite everything, is your last hope. Do you understand?
Close your eyes. Open them. Get up. Walk. Over there, you see them, they’re waiting for you. Go on. Go on.
There is another way to love this world.
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April 24, 2020
14 Min read time