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“On a dark and moonless night we led the cow to a faraway souk. I took my dog with me to deter thieves and wolves. Arriving at the souk, the fatigued cow lay down on the ground and the dog cowered beside her for warmth. A blind man came along, led by his wife. She told him that there was a cow with her calf. ‘Excellent! That’s what I’m looking for, a cow with her calf,’ cried the blind man and started poking the animals with his cane to inspect them. I and my associate kept silent, neither confirming nor denying that the cow had a calf. We named a price, and the blind man haggled over it with angry gestures. We reached a deal and sold him the cow and her calf. We counted our money and, while his wife went looking for a means of transportation, we vanished to the other side of the souk. It was just a miracle that the dog remained asleep and neither barked nor followed us. That was the last time we traded in that souk or traded in cows.”
Having brought his tale to a conclusion, Kanfoudi’s father rubbed his hands together and chuckled, his whole body shaking up and down. He unwound his turban, scratched his clean-shaven head with his pincer-like fingers, and began re-wrapping it round his head. Then he took a bit of tobacco between his thumb and finger and sniffed it deeply and loudly and sneezed vehemently into his cupped hands. With each sneeze, he repeated “Allah is great” loud enough to be heard. This time, however, he didn’t hear any of the guests return the customary expression, “May Allah have mercy on your soul.” He wasn’t in the slightest offended by the guests’ incivility, or rather, their deliberate impertinence. He shrugged a shoulder, thinking to himself comfortingly: when hearers refuse to bless sneezers, God deducts an amount from their good deeds and bestows it on the sneezers. This was why he had always stressed that snuff was preferable to cigarettes: it allowed one to accumulate good deeds at the expense of others. Chuckling inside, he brought a napkin to his nose and blew into it several times, then crumpled it into a ball in his hand.
All through his father’s account, Kanfoudi held his chin in his palm sheepishly. His guests were exchanging glances of dismay and consternation. The owner of the halal food chain in Dusseldorf stood up to leave. The other guests, too, rose to their feet to go. Kanfoudi desperately tried to persuade them to stay a little longer. He hadn’t served them the fruit yogurt yet, made with granola, honey, lemon, pineapple, peaches, raisins, and wild blueberries. It was his choicest dessert, prepared on special occasions and for special distinguished guests only. But the guests excused themselves and left.
“Dad, this wasn’t at all the right time nor the right place for stories such as you’ve recounted,” Kanfoudi grumbled reproachfully.
“Perhaps I bored your guests with my tale,” said his father in a disappointed voice. “My intention was to entertain your honourable guests after such a long and arduous day in the pursuit of learning and knowledge that pleases our Maker. But it seems that you erudite people aren’t like us illiterate country folks. Things that are funny for us don’t amuse you in the least! That’s because your great minds are jammed tight with great ideas, with facts and with books and quotations. You’re too serious, without taste for jokes or tales, too civil, too stiff, Allah be with you.”
“But Dad!” cried his son with an undertone of irritation, “you don’t seem to realize that —” He swallowed his words, not daring to utter them; they felt sour down his throat and formed into sharp rocks in his guts.
His father picked up an apricot, slipped it whole into his mouth, and sucked on it slowly. He spit out the pit in his hand, gazed at it briefly with curiosity, then, putting it on the table, he crushed the fruit between his teeth and swallowed it noisily, wiping his mouth with the back of his huge hand. His son grimaced in disgust, clenching and unclenching his jaw. His father grabbed a prune, rubbed it on his sleeve and, having inspected it, ate it, saying loudly, “Better belly burst than waste tasty fruits.” To himself, he mumbled, “These sophisticated city dwellers are such pathetic bores, brash and cocky!”