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“This is my father,” said Kanfoudi by way of introducing him, struggling to suppress his burning exasperation and to give his voice a buoyant tone.
His father’s palm was wet and rough, and his fingertips heavily calloused. He strongly smelled of tobacco, dust, and the sweat of someone who hadn’t had a bath for a long time. Reclining against a big pillow and pulling the end of his djellaba over his woollen socks, Kanfoudi’s father exerted great effort to follow the lecture, while his eyes wandered blankly from one face to another. Slowly, his eyelids began to drop downwards, and he drifted off into a deep doze. He wiggled a little, uttered a cough, and began snoring. Kanfoudi was annoyed beyond measure, yet felt powerless to do anything, except hasten the lesson to an end.
The moment the tea-tray was brought in, Kanfoudi’s father awoke from his sleep, scratched vigorously his armpits and his backside, and announced, “Today, I’ve learnt a lot. By Allah, it’s a rare privilege to be in the company of illustrious scholars and eminent men of learning. Our Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, commanded his followers to seek knowledge even if it was in China. Well, knowledge is here in my son’s flat! Allah is great, alhamdu lillah!”
Kanfoudi’s father pulled the tray a little closer to himself, lifted the teapot in the air, and filled one glass. He held it to his eyes to inspect the colour of the tea and the white foam on top. He tasted it pensively, shook his turbaned head with a nod of satisfaction, and poured the tea back into the pot, slamming the lid shut with a loud clang. Again, lifting the teapot high above the glasses, he poured tea into the glasses with a flourish and pushed the glasses towards the guests. He took his own glass, blew into the steaming tea, and drank it in long noisy sips. He shoved an enormous bite of pie in his mouth and chewed noisily and vigorously with his mouth open and little morsels of food hanging out.
Having drunk two glasses and devoured a large piece of the pie, he drew out a snuff pouch from one of his pockets, took out a pinch of snuff, and sniffed into one nostril, then the other. He sneezed several times. Each time, he said, “Allah is great!” And each time he said so, the guests responded in unison, “May Allah have mercy on your soul,” upon which he rejoined, “May Allah reward you and have mercy on your parents.” Then he produced a dirty cotton handkerchief from his breast pocket and blew his nose into it vigorously.
His son’s brain was boiling inside his skull with suppressed exasperation and rage like a hot cauldron of tar.
Pushing his yellow golden turban further back from his brow, his father cleared his voice and declared, “The things and affairs of the world are intriguing and mysterious. For instance, once upon a time — it happened before Kanfoudi was born — I think I had then my first son, Bal’eed, who died from a scorpion sting at the age of seven months — once upon a time my associate, Si Rahmani, said to me, ‘Si Benissa, I’m fed up with this lousy poultry trade of ours. I’ve given it a great deal of thought. Why don’t we try something bigger and more profitable?’ ‘Do you mean sheep or goats?’ asked I. ‘No, my friend,’ he replied. ‘I mean buying and selling cows.’ So, we put our money together, went to a souk in the small hours and bought a cow while it was still pitch dark. As the sun began to cast its rays from behind the hill, we realized that our cow was no more than bones in a big bag of hide. She wasn’t even fit for making minced meat. We took the cow home much disheartened. We led our cow from one souk to another without finding any buyer for her, none even inquired about the price. The livestock merchants laughed at us and jeered at our cow. We became the joke of every souk we went to. Si Rahmani told me, ‘You know, Si Benissa, only a blind man would buy this emaciated cow. Just be patient, we’ll sell her sooner or later. Allah bestows a husband even on a hairless girl, a buyer even for a tailless cow. Just be patient!’