Fiction with Faustine: A Journey Into The World Of Moroccan Soccer
Junior Faustine Dufka of the women's soccer team recently wrote this fictional soccer story for one of her classes. She has decided to share her piece with Husky Nation by releasing two parts a week. Read part one below.
Casablanca. September 12th, 1992
I have no one left but you.
My two wives and my three sons have all been taken by illness and death, yet my faith in God has helped me stay brave in the face of these sorrows.
I continued on, day by day, in an unbounded solitude that only death could relieve me of. I felt like my country had abandoned me, like everyone else, except you.
One day it occurred to me that Morocco had, in fact, never welcomed me home. It had never appreciated me, what I had accomplished: the reality of my existence, unacknowledged by the people to whom I professed my unswerving loyalty.
When the European press called me "the adopted Frenchman", I bit my tongue. Let them believe that, I told myself. I knew that would never be true. I was always a Moroccan at heart.
I thought I had made my country proud. I thought I had brought them honor. They returned the favor by burying me alive.
The day I realized this, I made a decision. I could no longer bear living in a time where I was being ostracized by my own people, like a traitor, banished forever from the soil I was born on.
Don't blame yourself; you tried to keep in touch with me. I never answered your letters. I couldn't stand burdening you with these thoughts.
In truth, there is no one to blame. It is the path I chose for myself, floating between two countries, lost amidst two incompatible worlds. I surrendered the right to call either of them home the moment I stepped onto that ship, relinquishing any claim to my identity as a Moroccan. Had I known this, I may have reconsidered my decision to leave, but it is too late for that now. I have already been forgotten, my existence rendered invisible by the passage of time.
I leave the world today, but I should have left it years ago. No one would have noticed.
Although I have not been spared by my own people, I have hope that I will be bestowed the Grace of God, when it truly matters.
Larbi Ben Barek.
Through the lone window in the destitute apartment, Meriem Zehria could see the boys playing football in the alley, raising clouds of dust as they chased after the ball. Her three sons were among them, their shoes serving as goal posts instead of protection. Their bare, calloused feet moved swiftly as the ball bounced around on the dirt. Too many stones had pierced the once new, tightly bound leather, committing the prized family possession to eternal deflation. Her husband had saved for many months in order to buy the ball for his sons, as a reward for getting good scores on their end-of-year exams.
The odor of cumin, ginger, and saffron emanated from the tiny kitchen. That afternoon, her daughter Souad was helping her make an onion and carrot tagine, with scraps of lamb that Meriem had brought home after bargaining with one of the vendors at the market that morning. What her family ate depended on what they could afford. If the meat was too expensive, they would eat a vegetarian tagine or a bean soup with couscous. If they were lucky, they might have freshly baked rghaif and a nicer piece of fish, but Meriem's four children learned at an early age not to complain about what she served, because she always found a way to put food on the table.
Meriem was a very resourceful woman and an experienced mother, having learned at a young age how to fend for herself and provide for her family. As she watched her daughter carefully stir the simmering onions and carrots over low heat, she was reminded of her own childhood. At the age of ten, her mother had fallen terminally ill and Meriem was left to care for her two younger brothers and her drunken father.
She painfully recalled the numerous times her father had come home reeking of whisky, expecting dinner to be served as soon as he sat down at the table. When Meriem could only serve a meager portion of bland couscous because there was nothing else, he would brutally slam the table with his fist and grab her wrists so forcefully that she would be bruised for several days. Hoping to placate his anger, she would not eat anything on these occasions in order to leave her father a bigger portion, sometimes even going for two or three days at a time without food. Meriem always put her family first, it was what she knew how to do best.
These memories sent chills down her back, even in the sweltering heat of the steaming, poorly ventilated kitchen. Although Meriem was harsh on her children about their manners and their grades in school, she prided herself in the way she had raised them. They were not allowed to play outside until their schoolwork was finished, and she made sure they learned how to read at a young age. The boys were always rewarded for their good scores because it motivated them to study hard. She firmly believed that succeeding in school was the only way out. She had been told on several occasions that her eldest son Mehdi was exceptionally gifted and should try out for one of the Moroccan football clubs, but she was skeptical. Education came first for her sons.
Meriem was almost ready to call the boys inside. Most afternoons, they played football with the other kids in the neighborhood. She encouraged this because it always gave them a healthy appetite. Her daughter Souad, on the other hand, came home early from class to help her with the cooking. Although Souad was allowed to go to school in the morning, the kitchen was where a woman belonged, and her teenage daughter was no exception to that rule.
The door burst open, and the three boys sprung out of the hall into the apartment, like the seeds of the overly ripe tomato she had cut open only moments before. Their labored breaths, still short from running around outside, were all out of sync, creating a cacophony of panting that could be heard from the kitchen.
"Mom, we're starving!"
"Not yet, your father is not home." Her husband Mustapha worked for a garbage disposal company in the city. The bus ride to their home on the outskirts of Rabat was an hour long, and he usually arrived just in time for dinner. When he was delayed because of traffic, they would always wait for him to begin eating, even if that meant the food would be cold by the time they started.
I glanced at the letter quickly, shoving it into my back pocket as I rushed into our apartment, yelling for someone to call the police.
My mother had just sent me across the hall to bring our neighbor some of the freshly baked rghaif she had made. Although we weren't rich, my mother always had a big heart and shared leftovers with the old man. He lived alone and never had any visitors.
I knocked loudly and shouted his name several times. We just called him "Monsieur Larbi," no one really knew his full name. After a few minutes, I let myself in. The door was unlocked, as always, because he was too old to get up and answer.
It was unusually quiet in the hall of the apartment, and I noticed an odd, putrid smell permeating the space around me. I felt my way in the obscurity along the damp wallpaper, towards the small old-fashioned table lamp that I knew, from experience, would be on my right, three or four steps down the corridor. I found the switch easily. The antique provided dim, yet sufficient lighting to find my way towards the back of the apartment. I had an instinct that I was the only person who ever used it, during my weekly food deliveries. Aside from an empty ashtray, it was the only object on the dusty bureau pushed up against the wall.
I could hear the muffled sounds of the television coming from the living room, so I walked in that direction. As I turned around the corner of the hallway, I saw him, pallid, motionless, lying on the sofa. I yelled his name a few times, first with an interrogative tone "Monsieur Larbi?" Then again, louder, and more urgently: "Monsieur Larbi! Monsieur Larbi!!"
I rushed to check his pulse. Pressing my thumb against his wrist, I remained perfectly still and held my breath, searching for any signs of life distantly throbbing below the surface of his waxy, discolored skin. But the only rhythm I felt was the thumping of my own heart, becoming louder and stronger by the second. His hands felt heavy and stiff in mine; they were colder than they should have been on a warm autumn afternoon. I put my ear to his chest in a last attempt to find a faint heartbeat, but there was no doubt in my mind that he was dead.
That was when I saw the letter, tucked underneath a bottle of pills, on the low coffee table beside the couch.
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