A woman was two months with child when her husband died. The woman herself died in childbirth, and her sister, who was unmarried and lived alone, took the baby in charge. She was well-to-do, and she lavished all her affection on the boy, so that he never lacked anything. At the same time, she did not send him to school because he did not want to study. Nor did she see that he learned a trade of some sort.
The boy’s name was Mokhtar, but no one ever called him anything but Chico. I first got to know him when he was fifteen. He had grown up healthy and handsome. His pockets were always stuffed with money, and that was what was special about him. His life consisted of sitting in cafes, day and night, and he learned to drink alcohol and to sleep with whores. He was generous and goodhearted, but if he got angry he could be dangerous, and he often got angry when he was drunk .
When Chico was seventeen his aunt died, leaving him her bank account, three houses and a bakery in the city, and a big farm out in the country. He began to give large parties, buying great quantities of food and drink for many friends, and spending even more on girls. Every day when his friends finished their work at the port or on the fishing boats, they called at his house before going home. There everything was ready for them. Each one would find his dinner and wine and a girl waiting for him to arrive. There were white girls, black girls, yellow girls, girls with cancer, girls with syphilis and leprosy. But they all sat together. One would have a guitar, one a darbouka, one a tambourine, and they would sing and dance as they got drunk.
In a short time Chico managed to use up all the money in his aunt’s bank account, as well as what he had got for selling the farm. Then he decided to sell the houses and the bakery, keeping only the house where he was living. One night when a great crowd of us was gathered there at his house, two girls were talking together in a corner. Why don’t we do it? said one. We could even get him sent to jail.
A third girl was listening. You couldn’t do a thing like that! You’re in his house every day, you eat his food and drink his wine. He paid for all the clothes you’ve got on. And you want to hurt him?
The two girls told her: If you don’t like what we’re saying, it’s not our business. Don’t listen to us .
The third girl went into another room and told Chico what she had heard. He did not pay much attention to her. Finally he went into the room where the girls were. The two had already begun to do their work, to poison the minds of the others, and he saw this. What have you got against me? he asked them. This is my house, and the money comes from me. You’ve got everything you want. I pay for it all. And you have something against me?
Chico was drunk. The girls protested.
We haven’t said anything, said one of them, and he slapped her.
Don’t hit me, you maricón! she screamed.
I’m a maricón?
And worse, she said. If you weren’t, you wouldn’t be paying people to come and sit with you.
You carrion! he shouted. I pay for my friends because most of them have no money. Money doesn’t mean anything. It has no importance.
What’s more important? she asked him .
The tongue is, he said, and the words it makes. If you’re careful with your tongue you’ll always be all right.
You’re never going to be all right, she told him.
He hit her in the mouth, and broke three of her front teeth. Everyone rushed in to see what was happening, and while they held on to Chico, the girl ran out.
Not twenty minutes later she came back with the police. They took Chico away with them. They gave him three months in Malabata, but it was not too bad for him because he always had many visitors. He had entrusted his money to one of the girls and asked her to keep it for him.
When he got out of prison and went home, he looked for the money, but was unable to find it. He called the girl and asked her where she had hidden it. She said she had spent it on food, and it was all gone. I bought a few gold bracelets, too, she told him. Chico looked at her. You’re not my wife, you know. I’m just doing you a favor, letting you stay here.
And I’m doing you a big favor, too, she said. I give it to you whenever you want it, don’t I?
The biggest favor you could have done for me would have been to hold on to my money, said Chico.
Well, it happened the way it happened, she said.
Then Chico told me he said to her: Pack up your things, will you? And get out.
Where am I supposed to go?
You go where you please. I want to be alone in the house.
I’m not going to leave here.
Chico got up, gathered together all her clothes, and packed them in a valise. Please, he said. Come on.
He opened the door. Go on. Out.
Always get the last word.
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Don’t you touch me!
He pushed her and she spat in his face. Then he stood looking at her, and tears filled his eyes. He pushed her again, and she spat at him once more. He picked up a large glass and threw it at her. It hit her forehead and smashed, and the blood covered her face. Then he kicked her, and she fell. He dragged her out into the street. People came running up. One man started to fight with Chico, but Chico picked him up and hurled him onto the sidewalk, where he lay while Chico continued to hit him. Once again the police arrived, and drove off with Chico.
What’s the matter with you? they asked him. Do you take some kind of drugs?
I only got out of jail this morning, he told them.
And now you’re going back there.
I know, he said. But when a woman spits in a man’s face, what can that man do to her?
He’s got to get her out of the house without beating her, they told him.
At the comisaría the brigadier said to him: You think you’re strong, don’t you?
If I am, it’s Allah who made me strong.
You’re not worried about what we can do to you?
I’m afraid of Allah, Chico said. But for a person like me, what is there to be afraid of? Everything that’s alive has to defend itself.
Take him out, said the brigadier. And they took him and shut him into the cellar. Several days passed before his papers were ready, and then they called him before the tribunal. Many of his friends were there to hear the verdict. The qadi gave Chico six months, and they took him away.
I did not know about his latest trouble, until one day I was sitting in a cafe, when a man came up to me and said: Your friend Chico is in jail.
He told me the story. It’s too bad, I said. Chico ought not to be in jail. He’s a good man, but he’s had too much money and he’s never learned how to live. He’s too good-looking and too strong, and at the same time he’s a ruin. He doesn’t know what the world’s about. I’m going out to see him.
I bought some food and cigarettes to take to him. When they called him out, he kept looking at me. I think he was wondering why I had come. I was not one of his closest friends, and I had never gone to see him when he was in jail. I was wondering too why I had gone, but I wanted to help him.
What are you doing with yourself, Chico? I asked him.
Some friends and I are writing the words for a song, he said. We sit and smoke, and each one adds a line or two.
Is there anything else you need? Tell me and I’ll go and get it now.
I don’t need anything, thanks. I didn’t expect to see you.
How long have you been here? I asked him.
Four months now. I’ve got two left. The day I get out I want you to come to my house, and I’ll sing you the song.
Chico went back inside, and I returned to town. The day he was due to be released I went with a group of his friends and waited outside the wall. He came out and saw us, and we all went off together.
The first place he wanted to go was the hammam, and we went there. When he had bathed, he took us to his house, where he put on fresh clothes. Many friends arrived, and they all brought food with them: baked fish, chickens stuffed with almonds, and lamb with olives . The house had been cleaned beforehand, and everything was in its place. We sat and ate and drank and played music. Finally I said I had to go.
Some time passed, and I did not see Chico. Then I began to hear stories of how he had sold all the furnishings of his house, and then that he had sold the house itself, and no longer had a place to sleep. He was sleeping first at the house of one friend and then at the house of another. Then I heard a story of how he had gone with some others up to Xauen, and as they were walking through the town Chico caught sight of a girl and began to talk with her, and invited her to come back to Tangier with him. He did not think she would take him seriously, but when they got to the bus stop she was there with a valise, so she got in and went with them to Tangier. A friend told me that just as they came in sight of Tangier, Chico asked him: Where am I going to take her?
One of the group took Chico and the girl to his house to sleep. A few days later I heard knocking at my door. Chico and his girl stood there.
The girl sat down in the sala, and I took Chico into another room.
Can you rent me one of your rooms? he said. As a great favor?
I stared at him. No, I said. I’m not going to rent you a room, but you can stay in one for a while if you want, until you find something else.
I gave him a good room, completely furnished with everything he needed. He stayed on there with me, and each day he went to the port looking for work.
He was not the same Chico as he had been before. He had changed, and he seemed more calm. When he sat talking with his girlfriend Habiba, they were like two pearls. I would look at him and her, and say to myself: I swear he’s more beautiful than she is.
My friends were of the quiet kind, the sort of men who were always on the side of poor people and who loved music. They would bring their instruments with them, so that in my sala I might have an orchestra with a lute and a kamenja and a tenibar and a guinbri and a darbouka and a tambourine. We began our evening with laughter and songs, and we ended them with songs and laughter.
On a certain Saturday evening we were all playing and singing. Some of the girls were dancing, but Chico seemed bored. About half past ten he turned to me and said: Why don’t we go out to a bar?
And leave my friends? That’s impossible. I’m having a good time sitting here at home, and you want me to go out to some bar and leave my friends alone? That’s why I have this house. So I’ll never go out to bars.
Good, he said. Then he looked at Habiba and said: Come on.
No, she said. I don’t want to.
He glared at her, jumped up, and went out, slamming the door. We continued with our music. About half past twelve someone began to knock on the door. I got up and opened it. A neighbor stood there. Come in, I said, and he came inside.
It’s Chico, he said. He pushed a glass into somebody’s face and the police took him.
Again? I cried. The others were looking at me, and I was thinking: If he’d only stayed with us nothing would have happened. But he wouldn’t listen, and bars at night are bad places to be. The neighbor went out, and the rest of us stayed on, talking, for a half hour or so. Then everyone left.
This time Chico was given only three months. I had a girl called Betsoul living with me, and I had to buy food for her and Habiba, as well as carrying it to the jail for Chico. When I went out I would leave money with Betsoul and tell her: if Habiba wants anything, get it for her. And take her out for a walk.
Each day I took Chico his food. He was in the Casbah prison, so it was not such a long way to go. Whenever friends came to spend a few hours in the house with me, Habiba stayed shut into her room with Betsoul. I wanted no trouble, no scandals.
For three months I lived this way. The day Chico came out of prison a crowd of us went to wait for him and greet him as he walked out. Then he and I set out for my house. I told the others to come later. We went in, and Chico greeted Habiba and Betsoul.
I’ll be right back, I told them. I have to go into the town for a minute.
I went around inviting more people to the party, bought some food, and returned to the house. As soon as I got in, I saw that Chico was getting drunk, and that he seemed very angry about something. Then I noticed his girl Habiba sobbing, and saw that Betsoul looked very sad.
What’s the matter? I asked the girls.
Nothing, Betsoul said.
Don’t tell me that. Chico is drinking like an elephant, Habiba’s crying, and you look as if you’re dying . And you say nothing’s wrong?
Habiba began to talk. When you went out, Chico and I went into the other room. We made love and he didn’t like it. Then he said I’d been sleeping with you all the time he was gone, I tried to tell him the truth, that I stopped having blood only yesterday, and he wouldn’t listen. He thinks we’ve been together the whole time.
You don’t believe that, I said to Chico. I’m telling you I’ve never touched her. And none of my friends even laid eyes on her. From the day you left, Habiba was always in her room with Betsoul. And she never went out alone. Betsoul went with her. But you’re a man with no faith. You’re always looking for the worst, and you’re going to fall into your own trap.
You’re garbage, he told me. You have to get into every girl you see, no matter who she is.
What’s wrong with you? I never laid a finger on her.
It’s too bad you’re not dead.
Yes, I said. They say whoever treats his friends well is going to have to pay for it later. You have a place to live and everything you need. I’ve seen a lot of things here, things I don’t like, and I’ve never said anything.
He jumped to his feet. Shut up or I’ll cut you in ribbons!
I started to say something to Betsoul. She screamed. When I turned my head the knife was in front of my eyes. I raised my arm to protect my face and grabbed the hand that held the knife. But he slashed my arm. I hit him with my other hand. He fell one way and the knife went in the other direction. When he tried to get up I hit him again, and he fell on top of the taifor.
He stayed there, and I leaned over him and let my blood drip over him.
I don’t want to say anything, I told him, because I’d like to have some respect for you, at least. When a man is angry he says whatever comes into his head. He’ll mix what’s true with what’s false, as long as it’s an insult. I don’t want to do that.
Go on. Say everything.
All right. I know you’re a zamel. You’ve slept with me, haven’t you? How many times have you let me do what I wanted with you?
I knew I should not have said that in front of all the others. Only he and I knew what we’d done. But it might make the others wonder. Then I added insults no one would believe.
You’re a coward and police informer, aren’t you? Is that what you want to hear? And finally you cut me with a knife. And you were aiming for my eyes.
I went out of the house and down to the Cruz Verde clinic on the Avenida de España and they put five stitches in my arm. Then I went home and began to drink. The other friends I had invited started to arrive. They saw my arm. What happened to you?
A little accident on the boat, I said.
Chico had taken Habiba into his room and shut the door. Finally he opened it and stood there, very drunk, holding on to Habiba, trying to force her to drink from his glass. Without greeting his friends, he sat down, and made Habiba sit beside him. When the others saw his face, they understood that the trouble had been between him and me, and not on a fishing boat. One eye was shut and his lips were swollen.
Everyone was enjoying himself except Chico. Soon he stood up and said to Habiba: Get up. Come on. We’re going out.
I can’t. I’m too tired.
He began to slap her face hard.
Chico, I said, if you want to go out, go out. Or better, go into your room and sleep . This party was for you, and everybody spent a lot of money on it. And we all want to enjoy it.
I got up and stood in front of him. In my house I don’t want people who aren’t happy.
He glared at me and went out. Then he opened the door again and came back in. He went into his room. I told Habiba: Go in there with him. I thought that might make him stay in.
She found Chico on his knees, searching under the mtarrbas for something, and she knew he was looking for the money he had left with her.
Here it is, she said.
Now put on your djellaba and come with me, he said. She was afraid of him and did as he told her. They went out into the street, and that was the last time I saw Chico alive. We thought it was too bad that Habiba had gone with him.
An hour later she pounded on the door. She was out of breath and she was crying and wailing. All we could get from her was that someone had killed Chico at the Puerta del Sol. I told Betsoul to take her into her room and stay with her. Then three of us went down to the Avenida de España to the bar. Chico had already been taken away. The men in the bar told us that he had smashed a bottle in the face of somebody who had looked at Habiba, and the man’s friend had stabbed him in the eye with such force that the point came out through the back of his neck.
The next morning I went with a group of friends to the morgue in Dar el Baroud and asked for Chico. I explained that he had no family and that no one else would be coming to claim him. We wanted Chico’s body, and they gave it to us.
We carried him to my house. I went out and bought all the things that were needed for washing him, and I asked the tolba to come with me. They washed him and put him in his kfin, and we carried him to the graveyard.
Chico could not live without getting into fights. It was only then that he believed he was really a man, and really alive. In that way he was crazy. No one could have saved Chico from that.