The Casawi Red Riding Hood Girl – Short Story
By Mohamed Chana
Morocco World News
Casablanca, January 09, 2013
It was fifteen minutes to seven during one of those rainy days when people would rather remain wrapped in their warm blankets, and enjoy sipping a cup of hot tea while watching some boring local programs on TV. Nadia took good care to remember and respect this time, because once she would miss it, she would have to buy it expensively. Time is money in big cities like Casablanca. Every minute you gain is a penny you save.
She walked quickly through the narrow streets of the old city. No one would ever remember her walking slowly or even enjoy walking during the early hours of the morning. Her swift steps were familiar to every living soul in the old city. No one would ever fail to recognize the tic-tack sound of her brown lace-less shoes. As if chased by some unknown ghost, eyes fixed down, she would cling to her black, leather-like handbag. She would not see either sides of the street.
At the bus stop, as had been her habit, Nadia would have to find a sheltering place. She would have to fight her way through groups of men and women to reach her favorite place; a huge tree of some unknown species. She looked at the middle-aged men and women who had the habit of swarming to the bus stop at early hours every day. It was part of their daily suffering that they had to undergo with a mixture of complaint and satisfaction. Nadia was not and had never been part of these people. She would join her sheltering place outside the crowd some steps away from the bus stop. She would have to watch the same episodes of ordinary people who would lament their stubborn situation and would end up with a mixture of sighs and words of satisfaction with their lot. She would not talk or see, but just try to understand and deduce. Some would accuse her of being arrogant. But who would care as long as people’s opinions would remain sheer words that winter winds would blow away.
At her isolated place she would stand all alone by herself. She would not address anyone. She had a world of herself. Every now and then, she would have a look at her watch to make sure she did not miss the time. Then she would make sure to make the watch invisible. It was dear to her, and she would do anything to keep it. The watch was more than a simple gadget that counts time. It was a birthday gift from her sister, Sarah, who was living in France. Nadia loved her sister so much. Anyone who would see the way they talk to each other on the phone every night would believe they were more than soul mates.
She had another look at her watch and she was surprised that it was almost seven. She had a strange feeling that something went wrong that morning. Normally by that time she would be on the way to work. But she was still there in her sheltering place. While she was fighting all the probabilities and possibilities that would make her arrive late to work, a harsh voice cropped up amidst the crowd, “These taxi drivers are really greedy, why would they go on a strike?!” Nadia was struck by what she had just heard. “Luckily, the bus companies did not join in the strike.”
The word bus was always associated with everything she hated and feared. Whenever she would hear the word bus, she would remember over crowdedness, filth, sweat, cockroaches, thieves and pickpockets. She had it as a principle to go to work either by “Petit Taxi” or “Grand Taxi” even if she would pay more money for that. ‘Safety and time cost money’ is an expression that people in big cities would keep repeating a lot. Nadia was overwhelmed by the word strike, “why today!?” she thought, “can’t they put it off for the weekend?” Nadia was not against people going on strikes to claim their rights, but what she objected to was the effects those strikes had on people’s interests.
It was seven sharp, Nadia could not go back home. She sensed that the ghost of her boss was starting to take shape before her eyes. Nadia’s boss was of some inhuman type of people. Nadia would call him the stone-age man. He lacked the least sense of understanding of his employees living conditions. He had never appreciated Nadia’s hard work. The work place was like hell. Nadia tried many times to change work, but she could not. Being absent for work would cost her a day’s payment, plus a warning if not dismissal. She had always worked hard to avoid the last option. All the world’s excuses would never be convincing for being absent or even late. With an audible sigh, Nadia surrendered to the only option she had, the bus.
A strange feeling brought Nadia back to the very harsh reality. She felt a kind of being standing right behind her. She had always stood alone in that isolated place waiting for her favorite means of transportation, “Grand Taxi.” She wanted to turn and see who or what was it that suddenly stood behind her. But she could not. Something inside her made her stood stiff; it could be fear or hesitation or even shyness.
Nadia needed all the courage in the world to just turn back and identify that being. It was a matter of life and death. “I have to turn back!” she thought, “it’s the metropolis, anyone can be anybody, a manager, or a thief, and everything is possible!” she continued. The idea of a thief brought to her memory a host of stories of people being attacked and killed, and stories of unidentified bodies found every day in the labyrinths of this jungle, Casablanca. It was quite natural, whether on a bus or in a taxi, to hear stories of rape, kidnapping, robbery and killing. Something inside her that pushed her to stick to life and fight for her safety; some people call it the instinct for survival. She was not ready to give up her life for someone who had sold his soul to the devil and had nothing to lose. She had plans for the future. She had a whole life in front of her. She was young and her family still needed her. In no time, she had a quick glimpse at the person behind her.
She was about to burst into a wild laughter when she discovered that the person behind her did not look like a criminal. He was a handsome man with a black suite and a crimson necktie. He received Nadia’s look with a smile that inspired her with a sense of security. “It’s a valuable lesson, one should never jump to conclusions,” she meditated, “one should take time to make sure about things!”
Nadia had a look at her watch; it was a quarter past seven. No sooner had she had a look at her watch, than the bus arrived producing a sound that reminded Nadia of her grandfather’s tractor. The crowd at the bus stop started racing to get seats for the journey. Nadia, with reluctant steps, walked to the bus’s back door. It was like dragging a lamb towards an altar for sacrifice. She took a deep breath and put one step into the bus. The man who was standing behind her helped her into the bus and offered her his seat. She whispered a thank you and sat facing the window.
It was like the bus was heading towards hell. The conductor had to start a fight every time a passenger gave him a banknote claiming that he or she had no change. Men and women were complaining, and some of them were disputing about almost nothing. Nadia wondered how could they shout or even speak during this freezing morning. In order for her to speak she had to have her coffee first. The bus slowed down to stop for the next station.
The man in the black suit waved goodbye to Nadia and made his way through the crowd to get off. Then she started meditating about the experience she had just had with the strange man in the black suit. She felt bad because she thought he was a bad person. She thought of telling him what she had felt and thought about him and then would apologize to him.
The smell of sweat in the bus gave Nadia a feeling of nausea. She needed some perfume, so she tried to get it from her handbag. Suddenly, the passengers were surprised by the scene of a young woman screaming and shouting before she passed out. It was Nadia’s voice. Her bag had mysteriously disappeared despite all the precautions she had taken. Her handbag was not a simple one; it was a witness of her daily trips to work and her suffering with transportation. It had become part of her life. None of the passengers knew what really had happened to her. Some rumors were circulated among the passengers that the young woman became hysterical because like other women she must have had a dispute with a passenger over a seat or she did not have her medicines. Before Nadia became conscious to tell her story, the bus driver had turned up the radio to enjoy Khalid’s song “c’est la vie.”