By Adelouahed Oulgout
By Adelouahed Oulgout
Morocco World News
Tinjdad, Morocco, January 01, 2012
Abandoned by unknown parents, Bilal, a young beggar in Meknes city sat leaning against a masjid in the hope of gaining a handful of money to feed himself. Day after day, Bilal turned to begging as his sole job and livelihood.
Though his stomach was usually full, Bilal still felt a hungry void somewhere inside his body. This curious hunger often provoked him to remember the story of his old but lasting destitution. Yet, all that he could recall was a vast confusion of noise, ghosts, and foggy images about a father and a mother, quarrelling. “What was my sin?” Bilal complained.
That question which he asked himself dissolved Bilal into tears. They had etched two parallel rivers of misery down his round cheeks upon which some fresh scars appeared to represent all sorts of hardship and deprivation. “He had nowhere to live and no one to live with. He is a branch of a broken tree thrown away into nowhere,” said a group of old men sitting side by side with their backs against the wall of the masjid.
One Friday, Bilal went out as usual to earn his lunch and dinner. A boy like him was born not to live, but to struggle for survival. He walked to the masjid with his dress full of spots and dirt. When he reached the place, he sat beside the door with his knees on the ground. Half an hour after the Imam finished the prayer, the boy took off his hat and spread his arm straight to the worshipers coming out from the masjid. He couldn’t utter a word; however, his little miserable face was enough to tear people’s eyes and move their hearts and pockets. Though the boy came back with his pockets full of coins, he still couldn’t feel happy; the void somewhere in his body still and urgently called for nurture- but not any normal nurture.
On the road to Sidi Bouzekri where he would spend the night, Bilal’s attention was caught by a pretty girl standing next to Zitoun High School. Suddenly, He felt as if a beam of light shone into his heart and turned into a wide, warm smile on his face. He couldn’t resist it, or perhaps he didn’t wish to, for it is the return of lost hope that makes one feel fine. “The hunger of heart is worse than the hunger of stomach,” Bilal realized.
One Saturday, Bilal sat in front of the school door waiting for the girl as usual. At twelve o’clock, the bell rang, and the students started leaving. Bilal decided to talk to her no matter what it might cost him.
“But what would I tell her?” thought Bilal.
Before he decided on what to say and how to say it, Bilal, surprised by the girl’s prettiness, traced her in the hope of talking to her. While on the road, the girl felt she was being chased.
– “Who’re you? Why are you chasing me?” asked the girl, roughly.
– “I’m Bilal. What’s your name?” said Bilal in a terrified tone.
– “What for?” replied she.
– “I just want to know,” said he.
– “I’m Hanan. Any more question?” replied Hanan vexedly.
At this moment, Bilal was rooted speechlessly to the spot with his heart broken apart. When she saw tears rolling down his cheeks, Hanan took out a white handkerchief and started wiping the tears from his face. Fortunately, this action eased Bilal’s discomfort and saved him from sure death.
“I’m so sorry, khuya. I was just kidding,” said Hanan passionately.
“Come on with me!”
Together on the road, Hanan held Bilal’s dry hand and took him home. As a way of ensuring that he wasn’t at all hurt by the way she treated him, Hanan added, “I didn’t know you’re so sensitive, Khuya. Please forget about it!”
When they arrived home, Hanan rushed in and cheerfully brought a sack containing some fruits and vegetables, three loaves of bread, and some sugar.
“Take!” said she.
Surprisingly, Bilal’s eyes began filling with tears again.
– “What’s up?”Hanan wondered. “Why are you weeping?”
– “I’m here wishing to feed my heart, not my stomach,” said Bilal hopelessly and vanished in the wink of an eye.
The night fell and a shooting star dived into the heart of the darkness.
“What a shame! How could such a lad cope with such a night? If only I could grab his hand and hug him close to my chest,” I wish.
Seven nights passed and Bilal went back to the drawing board, seeking a new destiny. His mission had been to keep away from the past, experience the present, and confront an unknown future. Now that he had lost his heart, Bilal had to roll up his sleeves and buckle down.
It was a Sunday morning. Bilal got out of a sewer beside the Sunday Market hearing people unloading goods from trucks, and taxi drivers quarrelling for clients. When he cast an eye towards the crowd, he noticed many boys in his age with two-wheeled carts, transporting goods into the market square. He could see the boys being paid two to five dirhams after each trip. He could also spot a wide smile on their nameless faces when their fingers grabbed the coins in their palms. Bilal rolled up his sleeves and got near a truck.
– “I want to work; I need money,” Bilal requested.
– “Are you prepared to work like a dog? Where is your cart?”
replied the truck owner in a mocking tone.
– “I haven’t got one, but I’ll carry the boxes, one by one, on my shoulders,” argued Bilal.
– “Fat chance! Get away; I’ve no time to waste,” the man retorted in an apparently irritated tone.
– “Please let me give it a shot, please,” begged Bilal.
Moved to sympathy by his determination, the truck owner allowed Bilal to transport the boxes from the truck to a tent inside the market. He put the heavy boxes, one by one, onto his shoulders and took them into the tent. Drop by drop, Bilal finished the task and got his first instant wage.
– “Thank you so much, sir. I won’t forget your favour,” Bilal said gratefully.
– “Don’t mention it; it’s business,” said the man.
– “You know?” Bilal continues. “I hope I can help you unload the truck again and again. I’ve no one to take care of me. I need to work; I need money.”
– “I’ve no objection, but I guess your shoulders are not mature
enough to keep lifting more than your weight every Sunday. Are they?” said the man.
– “I can go on doing that initially, and then I’ll buy my own cart,”
suggested the boy confidently.
– “Good thinking! See you then,” said the truck owner.
The man paid the boy a good compliment and pursued his bargaining.
On the following Sunday, before the sun rose, the boy was already
there. When the truck arrived, the man was surprised to see the boy awake and well prepared. “If only I had a child as mature as he,” said the man under his breath and kept thinking as the boy jumped into the truck, unloading goods.
The man, whose name was El-hajj Olkhir, was a well-known merchant and widower in the city. His lovely wife had been a barren woman; and because of her failure to bear a child for so many years, she died of sorrow and despair, leaving her life partner alone in a big house in the heart of Al-hamria. Though still in his forties, Olkhir had never thought to remarry; his mind was filled with memories of his first love and kept his heart busy thinking about her. Olkhir was rich enough to sit folded arms and let his men run his business as he used to do, but, surprisingly, Olkhir fired most of his employees to take charge of the business himself. He was surely willing to be free of his former love, yet, no matter what he did, he couldn’t fully get rid of it.
The boy finished emptying the truck and turned back to leave.
– “Where are you off to?” asked Olkhir.
– “Where time takes me,” answered Bilal.
– “Stay with me; I still need you,” said the man pleasantly, “You can help me sell the goods and get more money. It’s not that hard.”
– “What can I do?” Bilal wondered.
– “You can do a lot. Do what you know and what you don’t know,” the man said to boost the boy’s enthusiasm. “It doesn’t matter if it doesn’t make sense. Just get people’s attention here. Show me how able you’re to go into trade, boy!”
Little by little, Bilal’s clapping and shouting gathered the customers
around and, soon, the goods sold out in no more than an hour.
Year after year, Bilal, Olkhir’s right-hand man, made a fortune selling and bargaining. He no longer needs to purchase a cart or exhaust
his little shoulders as he used to do, for he is now a business manager, a man of trust and dignity, and a very important person in the eyes of all Meknes traders who consider it a great honor to deal with him.
– “Now that you are head and shoulders above all the guys in the city, I think I owe you a word of advice,” the man said seriously. “You should look for your other half to keep yourself pious; your prayer isn’t enough to save you in such hard time.”
– “What do you mean, uncle?” asked Bilal.
– “Well, I think it’s time to make a change and settle down. Find a girl and have your share of happiness,” Olkhir said. “Do you get what I mean, son?”
– “Ah, I see; but I need time to think that over,” replied Bilal.
– “Take your time and think a lot; but, remember,” Olkhir continued. “Religion should be the standard of your choice. Never trust pictures, son.”
– “Sure, uncle. You can count on me,” said Bilal with confidence. Inspired by Olkhir’s advice, Bilal went out to try his chance.
He drove nowhere else but to the Faculty of Letters and Humanities in Moulay Ismail University, an open space where he used to go in his early youth, not with the intention of making friends, but because of an inexplicable eagerness to be a student. Now that his intention was to marry, Bilal had to open his eyes wide and look forward.
Before the big door of the university, there were small bookshops on the pavement.
“Mr. Bilal…hey!” someone from Al-anwar bookshop called, waving to Bilal.
As Bilal got close to the shop, the person whom he knows very well grabbed his hand and hugged him close to his chest, kissing his shoulders- right and left.
– “How is your day, dear?” asked the shop owner.
– “Can’t complain,” Bilal answered.
– “Where have you been all this time?” continued the man. “We missed you a lot,”
– “It’s business; I rarely have time to take a breath,” said Bilal.
– “I know, I know,” the man said. “You are such a businessman,” he added. “Well, can I do you a favor?”
– “I’ll be glad if you can. My uncle’s insisted on me to get married,
and I’ve my heart set on that,” said Bilal.
– “Way to go! What’s the problem, then?”
– “It’s no problem at all. I’m here to consult you to help me make up my mind and make the right choice,” said Bilal. “I know you know all the goings-on over here. Don’t you?”
– “Ha-ha…” laughed the man with pride. “You can say that again.” While still talking, a girl interrupted the conversation.
– “As-salam alaykum,” the girl greeted.
– “Wa-alaykum as-salam wa rahmatu L-lah wa baraakatuh,” replied Bilal and the shop owner.
– “Can I help you?” said the shop owner.
– “Could you please make a copy of this book?” the girl requested.
– “With pleasure,” answered the man hospitably.
While the man was busy making the copy, Bilal couldn’t resist stealing glances at the holy girl beside him. She was such a virginal girl with a long black dress covering her body from head to toe. Her rosy smiling face and little hands looked soft and delicate. Everything about her seemed innocent. “Is she the right choice? “ I wonder.
– “I think you are in a hurry. I need more time to make the copy. The book contains hundreds of pages. You can go and drop by later,” said the man.
– “OK,” the girl agreed. “I’ll be back at midday.”
– “You know, Lahssen?” said Bilal.
– “What?” asked Lahssen with a question mark on his face.
– “I think I saw the girl somewhere before,” said Bilal, putting his right index finger across his lips.
– “Where? And when?” asked Lahssen.
– “I can’t remember, but her face isn’t so strange to me,” said Bilal trying to recall.
– “Well,” said Lahssen. “That was Ms Hanan…”
– “Hanan?!” Bilal exclaimed.
– “Yeah. She is Hanan Al-alawi, the daughter of a well-known sheikh in Rissani. They’ve been settled here for ten years,” Lahssen continued. “They live over there in Zehwa.”
Having mixed feelings about the girl, Bilal grabbed his friend’s hand and drove him to Zehwa like a sheep.
– “Show me where she lives!” ordered Bilal.
– “Okay, okay,” Lahssen responded and directed him to the right destination.
Ten minutes later, Bilal found himself before a well-favored villa surrounded by a glorious garden of sunflowers. The building wasn’t so strange to him either. He felt he had been there one day, but the image in his mind is too foggy to remember. “Business has occupied his short- term memory and distracted it from any attempt to flashback down into the heart of history,” I guess.
– “Well, this is her house, Sheikh Al-alawi Villa. Are you OK, now?”
– “…” Bilal nodded.
It was five minutes to midday, so Bilal and his friend moved back to the shop. As expected, the girl was there, waiting nearby.
– “Sorry for being late, khti,” Lahssen apologized.
– “No need to apologize; I’ve just come,” the girl said graciously.
– “Well,” said Lahssen. “Here is your book.”
– “How much?” asked the girl.
– “60 dirhams if you afford it, “answered Lahssen generously.
The girl paid him the price and left.
Unable to figure out the secret behind that girl, Bilal had to ask more questions to satisfy his curiosity.
– “You said her name’s Hanan and she’s a daughter of Sheikh Al-
alawi? Tell me more about her father,”Bilal requested.
– “Well, as I’ve already told you, Sheikh Al-alawi is a well-known old man of Sufism. People say his grandfather was sherif, for he traces back to Ahl al-bayt. Yet, in spite of his good reputation, some people doubt his honesty and accuse him of being racist and a hypocrite,” Lahssen continues. “Others think he’s a secret agent.”
– “You mean he works for the government?” Bilal interrupted.
– “I’m not sure. People don’t dare ask him such questions because, as they say, he’s protected by the king,” said Lahssen.
– “What for?” asked Bilal.
– “Because both are shurafa; they both belong to the royal family, I guess,” Lahssen said thoughtfully.
– “I see now how such an old man can make such a bundle doing nothing,” said Bilal under his breath.
– “Well, you’ve bombarded me with questions about the girl. What’s it all about? Why did you burst out when you knew her name is Hanan?” asked Lahssen.
– “Um, I don’t feel like telling you the story right now. Please don’t ask me to say anything before I’m sure,” said Bilal hesitantly.
– “No need to plead. Feel free to talk any time you want to,” said
Lahssen while preparing to leave for lunch.
Bilal went back home to break the news to Olkhir. Lahssen didn’t realize his friend has fallen in love with the girl in black, but he was sure something secretary was going on, something his friend didn’t like to give away.
– “As-salam alaykum, uncle,” Bilal greeted.
– “Wa-alaykum as-salam wa rahmatu L-lah wa baraakatuh, son. Any news?” asked Olkhir eagerly.
– “Sure. I think I’ve found the right person. I’m dying to talk to her father,” said Bilal enthusiastically.
– “What I’m hearing!” said Olkhir with curiosity. “Is that love at first sight?”
– “I don’t think it’s the first sight. The girl isn’t that strange. I now remember where and when I first saw her,” said Bilal. “I was a beggar at that time.”
– “And you’re still begging to feed your soul,” Olkhir interrupted.
– “You’re right,” Bilal continues. “At that time, I was chasing her because I loved her; but she didn’t realize that. She thought I was begging for a loaf of bread to satisfy my hunger. If only she knew that I love her.”
– “Why just wish? You’re still alive. Let’s call her on and tie the knot,” suggested Olkhir. “Do you know where she lives?”
– “Yes, I do,” Bilal assured.
While having lunch together, Olkhir was staring at Bilal eating hastily. He could see how deprivation turned the boy into a little soldier fighting against hunger on the field of honor. The will to get revenge on the devil that forced him out from paradise down to hell pushed him to take it out on the meal and make a pig of himself. Now that he had been back to paradise, Bilal should crown himself, lie down and take a siesta to rest his bones.
Wrapped in dreams, Bilal saw the moon and the sun clashing, releasing seven flames falling down into the seabed. Only two flames could survive and keep floating on the surface, yet the rest- all the rest- could only fade away and join the Lord, the Most Gracious and Compassionate.
– “Bilal, Bilal, wake up!” Olkhir shouted. “It’s time to pray and tie the knot.”
Bilal woke up to the sudden call of Olkhir. They performed their ablution, dressed up and went out along to Masjid Bumart for the afternoon prayer. Later on, both drove towards Sheikh Al-alawi Villa.
– “Is this Sheikh Al-alawi Villa?” said Olkhir to the door guard.
– “Yes, it is,” replied the guard. “Can I help you?”
– “Yeah. Could we see him?” requested Bilal.
– “Wait for a moment,” said the guard and went in to ask for permission.
The door guard allowed the guests to enter and, as soon as he saw him, Sheikh Al-alawi gave Olkhir a warm welcome.
– “Allahu Akbar. Al-hajj Olkhir in my house! I can’t believe my eyes.
Welcome, welcome,” greeted Al-alawi hospitably.
Olkhir was surprised to realize that Sheikh Al-alawi knows him, and he was a bit embarrassed and sorry not to have heard about him likewise.
– “Thank you so much Sidi Al-alawi. It’s a great honor to see you,”
said Olkhir with gratitude.
– “Well, what would you like to drink?” said Al-alawi.
– “No need to bother yourself; we won’t stay for long,” said Olkhir.
– “No, no, you can’t say that again,” said Al-alawi, nodding his disapproval.
Sheikh Al-alawi winked at the maidservant beside him to bring
something. Few minutes later, the servant came with a tea tray and a large plate of cakes on his palm.
– “Well, I thought your wife, may Allah bless her, hadn’t had such a
wise guy. It’s a great grace from him to have granted you this gift,” said Al-alawi while clapping lightly on Bilal’s back.
Being unable to confess that Bilal wasn’t his son, Olkhir kept silent; he didn’t dare to utter a word, for this might be offending to Bilal’s face and feelings. However, Bilal intervened and spoke the truth.
– “I’m a foundling; I’ve no one but Allah and this generous man whom I call uncle,” Bilal revealed nervously.
Olkhir turned his head away, unable to bear the truth of this
miserable creature that time had cast away and turned his luck upside- down.
– “Well, is that what you’re here for?” asked Sheikh Al-alawi to keep
the ball rolling.
– “Not at all. We are here to get him married with your daughter, by the Sunah of Allah and his Prophet, salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam,” Olkhir stated right away.
– “Salla Llahu alayhi wa sallam,” repeated Sheikh Al-alawi.
– “Bilal is a wise guy; he’s suffered a lot to make a living and stand on his feet. He’s no longer a beggar; he’s now my sole son and successor,” argued Olkhir.
– “Well,” whispered Sheikh Al-alawi with close attention. “Hanan isn’t my daughter,”
– “What?” Bilal and Olkhir exclaimed.
– “This is the fact. She was a beggar. She used to spend most of her time in bus stations, pleading passengers to lend her a hand,” Sheikh Al-alawi took a deep breath and continued. “She suffered a lot, too, before I took her in to cover her up.”
– “What a coincidence!” Bilal wondered. “She’s just like me. I went through such humiliation, too.”
– “Your eyes look like hers, too,” said Sheikh A-alawi for fun.
– “Ha-ha…ha-ha…ha-ha…ha…ha…,” the men burst out laughing and slapping on their knees.
Indulging his imagination in dramatic scenes of rise and fall, Sheikh Al-alawi went upstairs to consult his daughter- I mean the adopted Hanan.
– “A smart guy downstairs is requesting your hand, dear,” said
– “…” Hanan bowed her head and kept silent.
– “He’s called Bilal,” added the father.
– “What?” Hanan exclaimed.
– “As you heard. He’s a man of trust and dignity,” said the father. “He’d been a poor foundling before a businessman adopted him and wrote all his fortune in his name. I think you know that generous man; he’s Al-hajj Olkhir, a famous trader in the city, do you?”
– “Yes. I know the boy, too. I’ve seen him this morning,” said Hanan. “I first saw him five years ago when I joined high school.”
– “He was still a poor guy at that time, was he?” he added.
– “Yes. I remember that he was chasing me. He was here at the doorstep one day. I thought he was hungry. I gave him some money, but he burst out weeping and ran away,” Hanan shed tears passionately and squeezed Sheikh Al-alawi in her arms.
– “I see, I see. He wasn’t begging for money; he was begging for you.
He surely loves you, but you didn’t realize that,” Sheikh Al-alawi added. “Now that you know who he is, do you wish him to be your husband?”
– “…”Hanan smiled and retreated into a world of silence and shyness.
Three days before the wedding day, Bilal and his friend were busy distributing the invitations and making the final arrangements. They went to Marjan where Bilal purchased a wedding robe for his bride, and then he notified the Marjan private distributor to take charge of the needed wedding meals and staff and bring them in due time to Bilal’s New Villa.
“THE ADOPTED SON OF THE FAMOUS OLKHIR GETS MARRIED,” reported Tafelalet news headlines.
It’s the wedding day. Al-hajj Olkhir and Sheikh Al-alawi, dressed in white and stood at the entrance, welcoming the guests. Lahssen was busy flapping and clapping; whereas, Bilal, surrounded by a glorious halo, was sitting there beside his bride. Hanan was such a white butterfly, and Bilal was her sole heart and holy love.
It’s six in the afternoon. People, the VIP, were still there gathered in the house, waiting the couple to enter their room. Suddenly, after nearly half an hour, an elderly woman like a ghost broke into the hall, screaming and crying.
“No, no, no,” the woman wailed. “She’s your sister, your sister…” Shocked and traumatized, the couple felt as if the sky was falling
down on their heads. Ah! She’s their biological mother, the woman whom divorce threw into the heart of darkness and murdered five nestlings out of the seven her miserable marriage gave her.
The bride broke down, and the little defeated soldier fell on his
knees, unable to breathe a word. Sooner not later, the sun set, casting its dying rays over the Billal’s New Villa.