JASMINE SCENT

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Romance  |  House: Booksie Classic
A love story, born in the Algerian civil war between a journalist girl and a young rebellious man becomes through years a memory which effects their lives forever.

Submitted: April 14, 2016

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Submitted: April 14, 2016

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Chapter I:

  Part One:

My grandmother’s hand was as soft as silk and her scent was digging in my feelings to the extent that neither time nor absence could erase it from my memory. I held her hand tightly because, for the first time, I felt that I was going to the place where I was supposed to be for the whole fifteen years of my childhood and youth. I was sixteen, but the way in which she brought me with her was as if she has forgotten that I have grown up. The yellow taxi was waiting for us in front of papa Khaled’s villa in Algiers, she opened the door for me then she entered and asked the driver to go back to Bejaia. She didn’t leave my hand for a second all the way home.

A yelli,” she said in a mild regretting tone “forgive us for all the years we left you living with a step-father, we didn’t want to separate you from your mother and make you orphan twice. It’s enough that you don’t even remember your father.”

My answer was a shy smile, I wanted to tell her that it was the happiest moment in my life and hug her to my breast to breathe her scent instead of the oxygen in the air, but shyness prevented me from expressing all those fervent feelings which captured me.

Jidda Sherifa had no idea that I had no soul, no personality and no existence before that rainy evening of November which brought me out of my step-father’s villa in Algiers. The villa’s walls were high, higher than the palms that filled its large yard which didn’t seem to have an end.  The three floors had nobody to live in; their new furniture have never experienced the fact of being a part of someone’s memories; their only pal was dust and loneliness. Though they were the most expensive furniture one can buy, they were pale and they had no expression in their attendance.  The first floor was the one in which we lived, it was vast to the extent that we, for most of the time, forget that the three other floors exist. Its living-room was overwhelmed by the golden color which took part in every piece of furniture and made it seem like a furniture shop. It was full; every corner was overcrowded with figurines, and the first odd thing that one can easily notice is the exaggerating presence of tables and, especially, chairs.

Papa Khaled’s obsession was chairs, all kinds of tables and chairs were available in his house, round, triangle, square, wooden, glass-made and even argent-made ones. He was able to give any amount of money to buy the chair he wanted to sit in or just to place it in his house or to show it to his first-class friends and guests who come from different countries. Though he was all the time absent, he was the one who chose all the pieces of furniture in the house and the only one who had the authority of deciding who could sit in them and who shouldn’t. He was small and fat; his big belly used to raise my curiosity when I was younger for at the beginning I thought he was pregnant, but I came to discover that pregnancy is reserved only for women, then I thought that he was stashing a watermelon inside his suit, but no one of the assumptions was true. I arrived to the conclusion; he had such a big belly because he simply had such a big belly for questions were not welcomed in that house.

My mother was tall and very beautiful, her large blue eyes and red small mouth were the most gorgeous things in her. May be, I am saying this because they are the only original things in her physical appearance for ,so far, I really still don’t know what is the original color of her hair or the real shape of her nose. My mother’s obsessions were not the same as those of Papa Khaled, but they were not so different. Her love to jewelry, especially gold, was an infinite one, but I don’t blame her because all her friends talk about gold, voyages, their husbands’ achievements and especially gossip those normal, easy going women who don’t make a lot of make-up and who wear the same robe de soirée twice in the parties and weddings. All what they talk about after any party is the robes of women there; the price of the bride’s jewelry and, especially, the marques des voitures. I get bored every time mama’s friends come for a soirée at home because I feel no motherhood in her eyes; I feel a kind of loss in her sights and in her tone, even her laughter was a forged one.

The only time I felt mama in her nature was when I asked her why she was talking to me in Kabyle instead of French or Arabic, the two languages by which she and papa Khaled communicate. “Your father wanted you to know your mother tongue well before to learn any other language, I don’t want to waste all his efforts to keep his language alive through you,” She said in a soft sad voice. Her eyes shone as a star in a July sky and her voice trembled when she added «your father was so tender and honest.” Tears were playing in her eyes as if she was regretting something or trying to forget a bad memory.

The thing that used to release me from that cold house was its big garden which contained different kinds of flowers and trees. I used to stay there for hours and play with my stepbrothers Fodil and Aniss who came only in the summer holidays from Belgium where they study for the rest of the year. My preferable flower in that garden was the jasmine tree because it used to remind me of my grandparents’ house where the scent of the jasmines capture my breath every time I go to visit them. But the jasmines in papa Khaled’s house had no scent; though the jasmine tree was high and large, its jasmines had no scent. Even when I press them to my nose; I don’t smell that terrific fragrance that I used to smell in my grandparents’ yard.

Part Two:

I entered the home as if I lived all those years in it; the jasmine scent in its yard dazzled my senses and made me feel happy, happier than any time before for I felt that I was home with the persons who were supposed to educate me and to fill the emptiness which governed my heart. That emptiness of being orphan that consumed long hours of my childhood nights and taught me that I was different from those children who had fathers and protection. The house was not so big, but every corner inside it seemed to give me shelter and concord.

“ welcome our little princess,” said aunty Kahina hugging me tight “  ooooh you became a woman lah ybarek, you’ll be taller than me in a few years” she added winking and looking at my breast which became bigger and took a more feminine appearance.

My cheeks became pink then turned to be red and I felt them boiling in my face, but I was happy because aunty Kahina’s comments made me feel more open to her and it’s only with her that I used to feel the meaning of friendship. Though she was my aunt and she was older than me aunty Kahina used to give a lot of importance to me and to my teenage issues and awareness.

“Thiziri is here?” said uncle Idir entering from the living room’s door “aah finally, you’ll live with us,” putting four kisses in my cheeks “ how are you? I hope that that military was not tough with you,” I guessed that he meant papa Khaled by [military] “it’s only now that your mother gave us the permission of bringing you here… her majesty!” he said shrugging his shoulders with anger.

“No uncle Idir, papa Khaled was not tough with me” I blurted.

“I have been informed that your mother will go to Belgium to live with her sons”

“Yes” I said

“Let her go then, you’ll be fine with us, we are your family, your mother is not worth…”

“Let the girl have some rest Idir, don’t bother her by your issues now” said jidda Sherifa interrupting him.

Uncle Idir put his thumbs in his belt and shrugged his wide shoulders “this is your home, feel at ease and if you need anything, do ask me ok?”

“Ok uncle.” I said with a half-smile.

“Idir, where is vava, have you seen him?” asked aunty Kahina from the kitchen.

“He went to the countryside; he said that he would stay there two or three days.” Replied uncle Idir.

“Alone?” Said jidda sherifa “is he going to stay there alone? Oh this old man is driving me crazy; I told him that his health doesn’t allow him to stay there alone.”

vava does what he wants and as he wants. He is your husband and you know him better than me”

“But now, his health is not very good.”

“He knows that, but he has always loved those mountains, his olive trees and his garden. Nobody can force him to leave them.”

“We all want to live there, but it’s an isolated area, it is forgotten now” said Jidda sherifa in a sad tone.

“I will go tomorrow and bring him with me. I will tell him that Thiziri is here; he will come running” Said uncle Idir laughing.

“The dinner is ready, come to eat” called aunty Kahina loudly from the kitchen.

“We are coming right now” said jidda Sherifa to her.

“I will take a quick bath first” said uncle Idir.

 

 

Part Three:

  Aunty Kahina came to the secondary school and brought me with her when aunt  Nadia arrived and asked her if they could drink something and talk. She welcomed her, putting two kisses in her cheeks and said:

 “Of course Mrs. Talebi, do you want us to sit in the salon de thé near the shopping center?”

 “Yes, please” said Tata Nadia with a tired shy voice. Her brown scarf clenched her face tightly and exposed the tiredness of her eyes.

We sat in a cream round table on the left corner near the window, me by her side and Tata Nadia in front of her. I ordered a glass of juice for me and another for her and Tata Nadia ordered a cup of tea.

Her gray scarf made her appear lighter, but one can easily notice that she is a brunette; her large brown eyes were more apparent with the mascara that was noticeably made with careful and sure hands; her lips took the color of pale red without lipstick. She was so calm and sure of herself as usual, drawing a tight smile with a closed mouth, but her smiles are more expressed by her eyes rather than by her lips. Something so special, tender and strong at the same time is vested in the brightness of her eyes, but mysterious is that sight which betrays her smile and slips from her strength to tell that those eyes have seen much, have loved fervently and have cried a lot.

She didn’t open the conversation but waited for tata Nadia to do.

 “I hope that I am not taking much of your precious time Mrs. Ait Zouaoui.” said tata Nadia. “You are welcome anytime Mrs. Talebi, all my time is for my pupils and their parents, I hope I will be able to help you”, she answered in a very disciplined and polite way.

 “I am sure that you are a good teacher and a wonderful tutor to my daughter Kahina, but I am coming today for another issue,” she took a breath and paused for a while then she carried on, “it is a personal issue that I lived much fighting, but I am a woman, I just can’t spurn it. It’s so heavy to bear for more other years”.

My aunt was listening to Tata Nadia’s words and staring at her face, “I am sorry, but I thought it would be something about your daughter and her studies, but”.

 Tata Nadia interrupted her “I don’t know how to do and who will understand me, I am becoming crazy and you contributed to my situation by a way or another. You have never ceased to reside between my home’s walls… you have always been there between us. I thought that he forgot you and that I am his wife and his daughter’s mother, but what he did  is that he gave your name to our daughter… do you imagine how much pain I bear every time he calls her or holds her in his arms, ah?. Every time he calls her, I lose a part of my motherhood, a part of my womanhood and I imagine myself as his maid or a piece of furniture in his home which doesn’t seem to be mine too. Every time he calls to ask me about his daughter that he captured and who doesn’t seem to be mine too. I die every time he comes back eagerly to turn on the radio to hear your program and every time he opens Kahina’s bulletin to haste to your remarks about her.” Tata Nadia mingled her speech with Kabyle and French, but I could easily notice that she tried hard to say it all in French. She blurted with a vibrating voice as if she was vomiting pain with words, “I feel that he tries every time to hide it, but it’s clear; I can’t throw a blind eye on it. I feel you inside his head and in his thoughts that you are still there. I know that you did nothing to drive him crazy like this, but I am lost and stupidly jealous.”

Aunty Kahina waited until Tata Nadia stopped talking; she stared at her in an intimate sight of a woman who understands what is it like to be a woman and what the painful sides of being a wife are. She moved herself putting her hands on the table to be closer to aunt Nadia drawing a gentle smile as if she was trying to teach a child one of life’s simple but bitter facts, then she seemed more serious, “ jealous of what and  of whom Mrs. Talebi? Can a full green tree be jealous of the ashes of a burned one? Can a new piece of furniture in the guest’s room be jealous of a hoary one hidden in the store of the past? You are the green alive tree which is planted in his present’s yard; he sees you every day and eats from your fruits each season; he stays under your leaves in the heat and you give him your lumber in the cold. But I am the ashes of a burned tree which was one day me and the fire which took years of passion from our youth burned us both; and burned the house which couldn’t unify us. Now, if I come to his mind, I will be brought by a rushing wind of memory which comes and goes in moments, but you will always be brought every day by the morning breeze of truth and present. He gave you his name, his body and his home and he left some ease and madness of youth in my armoire, but that armoire is so old that I forget that I have one day bought it and hidden some of my cherished years in it.”

She said these words in a strange voice, cold and moving at the same time. She didn’t seem to regret anything of her past, but I felt a kind of pity in her eyes. She didn’t look thinking about the past or even caring about it. Not because she didn’t matter, but as if she was tired of looking back to it or so busy to remember it.

Tata Nadia glared at her for a while then uttered, “you were absent for years, and this made me forget you that period, but now you came back. You are our daughter’s teacher and you have a successful program on the radio; you invaded our life and I have no means to make you apart,” Tata Kahina’s mobile phone rang.

Part Four:

She entered very tired to the kitchen to drink a glass of water, “they call you to work, and when you say the simple, bitter devastating and clear truth, they ask you not to be political, what the hell is happening to this country and its people, ya latif,” she said desperately with a loud and hurt voice, rising her right eyebrow. “A ruined country, everybody comes and takes without permission and nobody cares and when you say a word, you are trying to intrude the internal peace and divide the population hmm,” she pressed her lips together holding the cheek muscle on the right side and shaking her head right and left “as if the population was already unified.” she added in a faking smile.

My grandmother was looking at her putting her hand on her left cheek “I told you not to talk about politics a yelli, truth is clear to everybody but nobody cares, everyone is running after his business. You are a girl, work as a teacher, earn some money to buy clothes and some gold then marry to have a husband and children , you will be more respected and steady,”

Yemma, being a girl is not a sin and a girl should be respected for being herself, not because she is felan’s wife. Women should understand what’s happening because they are a part of this society,” she said it with a smile as if she did not want to enter in a serious discussion with Jida Sherifa.

“Eiiih when you marry and have children, you will take part in your society. Look seriously to this matter, every time someone asks for your hand, you don’t even care. You are thirty and you are refusing all the marriage proposals. After some years there will be no one to come and propose to you, you will be older, men prefer young and fresh girls. Avoid politics and journalism… remember your brother Brahim who was assassinated because he was a journalist, we lost him; he went so young,” Jidda Sherifa’s eyes were full of tears; she shaked her head right and left and put one hand on her cheek and the other hand on her knee, “those years were dark my daughter. Every street had the smell of blood and fear. Now, it is better.  At least there is peace and stability.”

Tata Kahina went straight to Jida Sherifa; she enclosed her by her arm putting it around her shoulder kissing her forehead, “Ok, Yemma, the most important thing is to see you happy, you are my life.” Her eyes were shining, her smile was wet of pain and her sight was fixed in one direction as if she was remembering something or thinking about it. Then she looked at me smiling as if she didn’t want to remind me about the past. She didn’t know that I was struggling to remember; not to forget.

Jeddi Ali entered wearing his white Bernous, ‘it’s so cold outside; this winter is going to be tough. Apapapapapa oooow close the door, close it!” I went and kissed his forehead, “you are here my daughter, welcome to your home a yelli, everything in this house is yours, you are not a guest; do not be shy” he said holding my hand firmly then he turned to aunty Kahina  “  What’s for dinner?” he said in a humorous tone.

 His white beard and long rough body used to give me a slight description of my father whom I didn’t remember or see except in the Photos that Jidda Sherifa used to show me every Eid.

Aunty Kahina stood up to take the dishes saying, “aslama a vava, we prepared some couscous, but if you want Aghrum, and shourba, I will warm it for you”.

 Jeddi Ali stayed on a chair and replied “Allah yselmek a yelli, give me some spoons of couscous, just some”. He was tall and thin; his cheeks pale and his moustache grey and full to the extent that they hide his upper lip. His grey eyebrows stashed his eyelid. The lines that covered the area around his eyes, under his cheeks and around his mouth gave him a special look as if he were one of the wise scientists in Aunty Kahina’s old book of sciences. Though jeddi Ali was thin, his shoulders were high and large as the olive tree’s branches in the middle of our yard in the countryside and his body seemed tough and strong.

He looked at Jidda Sherifa then looked at me shaking his head and closing one eye in a funny way asking about the matter why Jidda Sherifa was upset. I did as if I knew nothing.

“What’s up a thamgharth? Did the cat eat your tongue?” he asked her.

 “Nothing, I am just a bit tired,” answered Jidda Sherifa.

“Then come and let’s eat together,” he said “you know that I don’t like to lose the tradition of eating together. The thing that our society and families began to lose, support my hoariness for the few remaining days of my life and then if you want to eat alone, do it!” he added looking to me and to aunty Kahina.

After dinner, we washed the dishes together then we went to the bedroom. Aunty Kahina was reading a book entitled Le Quai aux Fleurs ne répond plus. She didn’t look caring about aunt Nadia’s issue or all what she told her; she was inside the book as if she was one of its characters. I wondered if she was all that strong or just escaping her burdens by reading and working. I wanted to talk to her before sleeping, ask her a lot of questions because she was the one who taught me to ask questions. I remember very well her saying “ask, don’t be shy and don’t let anyone prevent you from asking questions!” but she was reading and I didn’t want to bring up any painful issue.

I was thinking about my father, whom I didn’t know; I closed my eyes very tightly trying to remember anything about him. I wanted to smell his sweat or his perfume; I wanted to hear his voice or to touch him only for a while or even remember how his kisses and hugs feel like. I was trying hard to remember anything about him. Was he tough or tender? Was his voice like that of Jeddi Ali or different. How were his smiles and his gestures; his fingers and his beard? In vain, my memory was void of him but my heart was full of his presence. I was wondering how my life would be if he were alive. It would be different for sure, but how? 

I went to my little closet and took the box where Jidda stashed some of my father’s things for me. I came back to my bed with the box; it was black, mingled with red and some white sharp lines at its four ends. I opened it carefully as if I was trying to catch some of my roots, my childhood and my father’s hopes. There were some of papa’s pictures when he was at the university, in Algiers, in the mountains of Tizi Ouzou and in the mountain of Imma Gouraya with his friends taking a guitar in his hands. Those pictures gave me a slender image of him physically but sometimes pictures are so callous and mean; they give you no gestures, no scent, no feeling. They stare at you crying but they stay smiling, I was looking at his picture as if begging him to have some pity and stop smiling at my harms, to come to my memory, to come and hold me in his arms but my papa was still smiling in that picture.  I hided the photos under my pillow then took some of his writings that I couldn’t fully understand. He wrote them with his hands. His handwriting was so beautiful; he made his letters high and shaped them to the right as the italic mode of writing. One can easily notice that the letters were written confidently and with strength of vision or with anger for they were pressed in the other side of the page and even in the other pages. The last thing in the box was a pen; it was blue with a transparent cover that shows that its ink was half consumed; there remained a half of the tube of ink inside it. I took it in my hands; I smelled it to find the smell of papa’s confident hands on it. I wondered what kind of hearts had those people who killed him, how could they shout him without any pity, how could they take the decision of orphaning me just because of some words he dared to write. I hated them; I felt spiteful hatred fretting in my soul like a fire raging on a bush.


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