36 degrees outside, it is dead quiet out here in Bordj Mnail, a suburban town on the edge of the capital; apart from the sounds of the crickets and stridulations, and the faint sounds of the builders working on the house next door, today she saw them laying slate bricks on the roof, it looks like it’s going to be a stunning villa , she keeps an eye on their progress to pass the time since leaving the house was out of question at certain times of the day around these parts and she had no friends here.
Safia would go up to the roof of her grandparents house to sunbathe and to smile at the young builders working on the roof next door, it was her afternoon routine, she was on holiday and awaiting Baccalaureates results, “I will buy you a brand new wardrobe if you pass your Bac” her father promised, she had worked consistently hard all year, sleepless nights working through her biology lessons, taking extra curricular classes in physics and maths, she dreams of becoming an architect, but she knows everybody wants her to go into medicine “you're so good at biology” her mother said, but her hearts desire was in Art and architecture, which her dad labelled a waste of time.
She manages to peel her moist face off the rug and staggers to the kitchen to take her gouté with the Temina(1) aunt Fatiha has prepared; she sprinkles ground cinnamon on it forming a cross that cuts the plate into four parts, she eats a whole quarter of the plate and drinks her coffee white and bitter to balance the sweetness in her mouth. She was in a bad mood and stays quiet staring into space but I was laughing earlier… to myself admittedly, oh god does that make me crazy? What a question hahaha… oh I can feel my face smiling, better stop now before my craziness is discovered, then she hears herself whisper “too late for that”,
“what’s that?” Aunt Fatiha asks but Safia ignores her and continues staring into space .
The results of the Bac are going to be announced by end of June, she waits at home anxiously whilst her father goes to the lycée she attended in Algiers to look at the list that was displayed inside the glass frame by the gate of the lycée, she thinks about all the people who would see her name and her marks and feels her heart sinking, oh no people would laugh if I don’t pass and would laugh at my marks if I passed
So she stays in her room waiting silently, anxiously biting her nails, refusing to prostrate and pray for fear of appearing hypocritical to God “I don’t want to pray you only when I need something I hope you understand God” until she hears the sounds of ululations coming from downstairs, she feels she lost control of her muscles and tears running down her cheeks, as she tries to run downstairs, she meets the family on their way up to her, they meet her with beaming smiles and ululations and everybody fights to hug her first and say Mabrook (congratulations), amidst all the mayhem of the extended family, she searches the crowd for her father, she wants to see his reaction and longed for his hugs and his pride, he looks so proud, as she meets his gaze, standing at the bottom of the stairs beaming, she makes her way to him, down the stairs through the family’s hugs and pats, reaches her father, he hugs her, pats her on the back proudly and explains how he never doubted she’d pass her Bac but his main concern was at what mark, he has such faith in her but that only added to her pressure.
Safia passed with mention A-bien (Mark B) and before the academic year started in September of 1994 she had her promised new wardrobe which consisted of four pairs of jeans, seven tops, a day dress, three pairs of shoes and pair of Nike trainers, two handbags, one black, one red, a suitcase, new pyjamas and a pink vanity case with a safe lock that she covets for years to come. She received several sums of money from close family as gifts which she saved for her student days, her sister announced they’re going to be cold nights and hungry days and Safia dreamed of starting her new life as a semi-independent, semi-adult at her sweet 17.
(2) a sweet paste made of semolina, honey and butter, traditionally served to celebrate new births.
(3) Come here, this way, coffee is ready