It was the militia, Les terrorists, El Irhab, people lived in fear and their nerves on edge. It’s only been a couple of years since the curfew was lifted and life has slowed down, some people still not dare to venture out after a certain hour and those who could afford it, left the country or seeked refuge in neighbouring or other European courtiers, but Safia always wondered why it was that she did not whiteness anything herself but only heard about it on TV. Little did she know.
When her plane landed in Mohamed Boudiaf Airport, she foud Amine waiting in the car park, leaning back on his Honda, he helped her with her suitcase, gave her a friendly kiss on each cheek and signalled for her to get into the car with a nod, Safia did as she was told with a sunken heart at his coldness, but as soon as Amine got in the car, he leaned across and swallowed her lips into his and caressed her face tenderly
Amine drives (one hand on the wheel and one in her hand) to the nearest Salon de The in Sidi Mabrook, a chic quartier of Constantine, It took a while for her vision to adapt to the dark room, a cloud of smoke hangs above their heads and she could make out some silhouettes in each corner, couples holding hands, kissing or acting suspicious, Safia felt out of place but they didn’t have a choice, it’s this or sit in the car exposed to peoples stares.
They sit so close to each other, if they pushed more one of them would fall off the chair, feeling the chemistry that was almost airborne, they kiss a lot but try not to make it too obvious, I have more class than these hussies she thought to herself with a smirk, they ordered coffees and some cakes, which remained untouched, until the waiter came around again to take the second order
As Safia resumed her student life in Nahas Nabil and managed to obtain the same room from the previous academic year, her beloved G78, she manages to remain room-mate-free which was very funny since most rooms were over crowded.
At the Micro-Biology institute, she attends only compulsory classes and ducks all lectures, she spends her time hanging out with the girls in one of their rooms, Meriem and Sara share a very large room in building A, number 101, and Safia spends a lot of time there when not in her own, sitting at their window chain smoking, reading her text books but not really holding anything in, waiting for Amine to show up after his classes/family business.
He would drive around and park on the opposite side of the road facing her room window, beep his car horn to notify her, she’ll pop her head out, wave and by the time he’s driven around to the front gate, Safia would be ready and waiting for him to pick her up avoiding any waiting around at the front gate and getting noticed by the Islamists if there were any from across the road on the Emir Abdel Kader Mosque. It was a trick all the girls were familiar with and they all requested street facing rooms for easy communication with their boyfriends since mobile phones are as rare as the times the radiators were turned on in there.
Always at their usual time of seven in the evening, they would drive around town, share a pizza, smoke some cigarettes or just park the car near the university walls where several other couples would be sitting in their parked cars, they would talk, kiss and laugh, the fact that passers-by could see them did not bother them after dark, it was better than drive somewhere dangerous where they could get kidnapped by terrorists or get caught in an ambuscade they thought.
One evening, whilst sitting in his Honda under the bridge near the University, a police patrol came around and started searching the cars, asking for identifications and embarrassing the couples by humiliating the young men in front of their female companions and treating the girls as though they were soliciting.
A number of cars scurried away but Amine and Safia’s car was parked near the pillars of the bridge and wedged between other cars, they couldn’t drive off when the first patrol car showed up and were held up for questioning
Safia sat still as a statue until the gendarme addressed her…
The Gendarme officer gave a cold stare and told them to wait here.
Amine and Safia were not in the mood anymore, they sat in silence feeling oppressed and annoyed, Safia broke the silence
It was the first time Safia had heard him swear and he pulled to the side
The police man walked over to the driver’s side and demanded the car documents.
Amine tried to speak but Safia pinched his arm, so he sat passively waiting for the policeman’s verdict on their being out on the streets at this time of night.
Amine and Safia look at each other with no words said, Amine drives on, when they reach the roundabout at the top of the road, about to drop her, he says nothing and she felt her complaints would achieve nothing but aggravate him, there was nothing either of them could do, so he stops the car, both lean in for a kiss but Safia kisses him on both cheeks to avoid the lips and slams the door in his face, he sits in his car until she’s inside the gate.
Safia walked with determined and noisy steps, without stopping or turning, she headed his wheels screech in fury of rubber against tarmac as he drove off, angry and frustrated; she went straight to A101 to purge her frustrations at this horrible evening where they were chased by the authorities and stopped for questioning because they were a young couple in a car driving around at night.
And in a way to lift up their spirits they decide to spend next weekend in
Amine was distant when he bumped into Safia in the faculty’s many corridors, he was running to a class “Principles of Macro-eco” he said, “I will see you later” he promised, Safia forced a smile and said “riveting” but her heart tightened and her smile disappeared I can’t take this again, why is he so cold, it’s not my fucking fault we live in Kabul, it’s his fucking city not mine! Fucking terrorists ruining my life!
Safia attended her classes that week in full, she even woke up early to go to the lectures she never attended, she had an unsettled feeling she couldn’t explain as though am in trouble she thought and so in an attempt to occupy her mind, she busied herself with her studies, called home twice that week from a local taxi phone, spoke to her mum who told her all about Selma’s project to open her own pharmacy in El Biar, a residential quarter of Algiers and how proud they were of her, she told her, she dreamt of her “I dreamt you were pregnant” Safia’s eyes widened in horror and stood there speechless
can she know I had sex? Fuck…I have a marabout for a mother
Safia felt a wave of relief over her and tried to joke “already!! like rabbits!!” but her mother ignores her crude comment and told her that Leila and Youcef were very happy.
She enquired about Anis; “he’s rarely home, he stumbles in very late most nights, under the influence of something that I cannot smell”
Safia worried about her brother “what’s papa doing about it” she asked,
After the phone call, Safia went straight to the cantine to pick up whatever fruit they were serving, she found them serving Oranges and some Dates probably full of worms she thought, so she took her part and retreated to her room, she’s been avoiding Room A101 since that night, Amine visited her only three times that week for a quick drive around, which gave them just enough time to talk about their days, their upcoming weekend in Annaba and smoke a cigarette before he dropped her off before night fall “I have things to do” he said, but she never believed him, she knew he was avoiding the situation with the police and gendarmes, and Safia thought …3rd time lucky, it would have to be the Terrorist next.
By the weeks end, Safia had recovered from her feelings of guilt, and Amine picked her up and her two girlfriends from the front gate on the Thursday just before the gate closes at 9pm, somebody was sitting in the front passenger seat, his friend, Karim, when he saw Safia, he took a seat in the back with the girls so that Safia can sit next to her man, Karim was tall, had big brown eyes, beautiful shiny hair that he had the habit to always sweep away from his eyes and a strong square jaw that earned him the Brad Pitt reputation, Meriem and Sara were happy to share their back seats with him and they all set off to Annaba, a seaside City, eats of Algeria near the Tunisian borders, the drive took about two hours, when they arrived in downtown Annaba, and drove by the busy streets, past el Cour and the main placette, Safia was surprised at how many people were out in the streets looking happy and busy, terraces filled with men, wearing berets and smoking cigarettes, drinking coffee, laughing out loud as if they lived in a peaceful haven.
They drove to a nearby Rotisserie where they enjoyed some BBQ sticks “chwa” which they enjoyed with Harrissa and baguette, and washed it down with cold “Hamoud Boualem” lemonade, by midnight they started their way to Seraidi, a small mountain village on the outskirt of the City, where a few night clubs and cabarets were still open despite the terrorists’ threats to destroy all that is considered debauchery promiscuous.
The drive to Seraidi was windy and uphill with a single very narrow lane for both oncoming traffic, the road was carved through the mountain and dense fog, it was reputed to be very dangerous, Karim told them that the terrorists were ever present here and sometimes they’d set-up fake police checks and kill whoever was in the vehicle they stopped, so as Amine drove, meticulously turning his wheel to stay in his lane, they sat up and quietly their eyes transfixed on the road expecting to see a police check and with every bend and every car they met on its way down the mountain, they stopped breathing until that car was gone and they were sure it wasn’t a terrorists or police car, the suspense carried on until they finally broke over the fog cloud and reached the mountain top where the village was, the club was called Galaxy, 200 dinars for the boys and the girls go in for free.
Galaxy was a large open space with round booth tables that surround the dance floor, a large disco globe hung from the ceiling, the bar was at the far end of the room with couples sipping their drinks, sitting on the stools facing the dance floor, Safia noticed a number of girls who looked like working girls, each looking uncomfortable in the arms of her moustachioed, pot bellied customer, smiling and moving as gracefully as she can manage despite the obvious state of drunkenness she was in.
The music varied between top chart hits, Rai and some other dance tunes from Egypt and Spain, Meriem, Sara and Karim got a bottle of Vodka and set about destroying it with shots, chain smoking their way through the night, Safia and Amine not drinking, danced all night, regardless of the tune, their bodies were stuck together, they remained lovingly in a lip lock until 5am when they decided their lips were chafed enough and their companions drunk enough, they all got into the Honda and started their way down the mountain, light sifted through the fog and Safia finally had a look at Seraidi, it was a beautiful, serene village, dense trees surrounded it and there was a crisp breeze that brought the fresh smell of pine, she asked Amine to wait for sun-rise, and they stopped, and all stood near the car watching the sun grow behind the horizon and the breams of light hit their cold faces, Safia snuggled up to Amine, and as he put his arm around her shoulder, she felt him closer than ever and closed her eyes.
They drove back down to Annaba for breakfast, Sarah ducking every time she thought she saw someone who could recognise her even at this very early hour, they drove past her parents house “I just want to see it” she said, so they parked in the street opposite a run down building, the paint was grey and peeled in places, it looked like a colonial building that once was well maintained, she said they lived on the 4th floor, so they all looked up and watched the window of the 4th floor apartment, there was a couple of plants on the window sill of the kitchen and some bedding being aired from the second window,
So they hit the road back to
She hates the journey there, the shared taxi with all the other men who smoke and cough, who stare at her. She always makes sure she goes to the Taxi station early, gets into the first taxi heading to
She sits quietly in her seat, checking her cleavage again, making sure she’s descent and not showing any flesh, she stares at the other yellow taxis parked and their drivers standing outside their cars, shouting out their destination, people hurry over, pay for their seats, load their bags and take their seats. She watched as other girls like her always head early to grab the front seat to avoid sitting with the men at the back.
Two hours later, the taxi stops at the
She catches a bus to her parents’. She meets her little brother Rahim playing in the street with his friends, he runs to greet her, she kisses him and pats his hair and they climb the steps together to the fourth floor apartment where the smell of Bradj was coming from. Before going in she checks her cleavage again and pulls her jacket down again to hide her curves and goes in. her mother greets her warmly with kisses and asks if she’s was hungry. Her father looks her up and down, clearly disapproving of her outfit again, nods a hello and walks to the living room where he waits for lunch to be served. Meriem immediately puts down her weekend bag and starts immediately helping her mother to lay down the table for lunch as if trying to gain brownie points or get forgiven for something she is supposed to have done or said. Coming home always carried a feeling of guilt and a heavy sense of duty that strangled Meriem and made her look sad and pensive.
They eat a lunch of couscous with lamb from a large sharing plate sat in the middle of the round table which they wash down with mint tea Meriem had prepared as it was her specialty, they ate in silence, apart from when the mother said something...