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The Wish – Part 1

“Only three pairs of shoes sold today, just enough money to buy semolina.” Zulikha leaned over their little table with a sigh, wishing she had been able to provide her sisters with a better meal.

“People still wear shoes though!” Leila said.

“They just don’t wear ours,” Baya said. She stared at the sad and worried faces of her older sisters.

“The village is quiet tonight,” said Leila, changing the subject from their endless money woes.

“The French are busy with the war. They don’t have much time to scary us with curfew and night rounds,” Zulikha answered with certain bitterness.

“They stole Father from us, I don’t understand why we, we, Algerians, are forced to fight this war and yet, it’s the French problem, not ours!” Baya said.

“There’s no point in bringing up painful souvenirs. Father is gone. Even if he had refused to join their army, they would certainly have killed him,” Zulikha said.

“If he was French, they would have spared him from going there. A widower with three girls..!”

“Baya please, we need to wake up early in the morning. So stop ruminating on the past and let’s have a good night’s sleep.” As the oldest sister, she often assumed a motherly role towards her sisters. She washed the dishes, and by the time she was finished, her younger sisters were already in bed.

#

Zulikha awoke during the night, as she often did from worry. Leila had also awoken, and spoke to her quietly. “It’s been a year already, isn’t it?”

“Yes, it was last spring.”

When their father had gone away to fight, the girls found themselves alone. They had an old uncle living a few houses far from their home who visited them from time to time to inquire about their health, but he was too poor to offer any material aid. Their neighbours were close and watched out for one another, helping where they could when one of their own fell upon misfortune. Now they were orphans, without parents and without husbands.

But, still, they did not feel themselves completely unfortunate. They had their house, small but cosy, the furniture consisting of two small tables and four chairs. For beds, they rolled thick sleeping mats on the floor every night. The house also served their workshop, where they made fine leather shoes. Zulikha prepared the sheep skins, Leila cut the patterns, and Baya sewed the pieces together.

Unfortunately, during these difficult times, money from a sale was rare. With the war, even the French were suffering.

But, still, this day had been a fortunate one. They had had a dinner.

#

The next day, the girls woke and finished their work early, for they had been invited to a wedding. Baya and Leila could barely contain their excitement as they walked to the celebration.

“Well, we will eat chakhchoukha for sure!” said Leila.

“And cakes,”Baya shouted. “I just I can’t wait to see the cakes!”

Zulikha smiled. “Try to behave yourselves little sisters, maybe some old woman will notice you and ask to marry her son with…”

“I don’t want to marry,” Baya said. “I want us to stay together forever!”

Leila asked. “Don’t be silly sister, if I find a suitable husband, believe me, I will not say No.”

Zulikha smiled, happy to see her sisters having a holiday. They would eat, dance, and laugh. Though life was hard, they were not so poor that they could not afford to add to the joy of the house. When they got to the party, they greeted their neighbors and offered their present to the bride: a pair of white leather shoes perfectly made.

When it came time to be seated for the dinner, Leila and Baya stayed with the younger girls, all laughing and talking loudly. Zulikha chose to sit with the old ladies, as she found their gossip entertaining. Her attention was drawn towards two ancient crones who were leaning towards each other in earnest conversation. Zulika leaned closer, but not so close that she would appear to be eavesdropping.

“…she managed to get her daughter married in a blink of an eye!”

“How did she do that?”

“As far as I know, she went to see Aicha/Kadir.”

“And who are they?”

“No, it is the same person, we know her as Aicha but… her contact is a male: Kadir”

“Contact..?”

“A sort of djinn, I think.”

“Oh, this is scary. And are you sure that it worked?”

“The girl was about thirty-nine years old, she was not pretty and she had no money. She got married to a rich young man of thirty-two years old, within two months!”

“So old..! And that quickly! And how much did they pay for that?”

“I don’t know exactly, someone told me that this Aicha/Kadir had a strange way to… to get paid. I think she, or they, take something particular from each customer. It is not necessarily money… no, no… We must not even think about it, my dear. Those things are forbidden and dangerous. No one knows the price it.”

“You talk witchcraft!”

The old woman looked around, and then continued in a low voice. “A few years ago, I heard about a couple with five children. They had five children and they could not make a decent living. So one day, the woman went to Aicha and asked for help. Aicha promised her wealth.”

“Did the family become rich after that?”

“Yes they did, but…”

“But what..?”

The youngest child of the family lost the ability to walk a few weeks after the… visit.”

“Was it an accident? An illness..?”

“No accident happened and doctors did not detect any illness.”

“You mean that…”

The hall filled with ululation. The old crones leaned closer to one another to continue their conversation, but Zulikha could not hear. She kept her eyes on their lips, straining to catch their words. The hall did not silence again until the dessert plates came around.

“…but most people are desperate when they go see them. They do not think much about the consequences.”

Could that be true? Zulika considered. She wished she could have heard what price was paid, but knew better than to ask, lest she be thought of badly.

The wedding dinner ended with another chorus of ululation, and the women, both young and old, expressed themselves with local dances. Hair floated, hunkers shook, bare feet stamped joyously on the thin carpets which covered the dance floor. Men were not allowed here. Fathers, brothers and husbands made merry in a different hall, with their own excellent dinner and casual conversations.

To be Continued…

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