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SHBAK'S STORY 1

THE DOG THAT CRIED

            Around a big fire one winter night, we sat telling stories. We were encircled with heavy darkness. The wind was blowing angrily as if protesting and complaining about building a fire within the large quiet dark spot of saint night. On the other side of the river dogs were barking incessantly. They kept on barking until we got frightened for we were only lads. Shbak, an old man wreathed in his heavy red "bernous" far from the lighted circle of fire, began to laugh at us. He felt our fright growing inside us when Jillali, who was telling a fairy tale, stopped at once and went deep inside himself listening to the dogs barking through his fear. He seemed chewing up the sour idea of running away. The wind made our fear grew by bringing the dogs' barking from afar. In that deadly silence and tense atmosphere we could hear Jillali swallowing his fear with difficulty. Meanwhile Shbak stealthily came crawling up to us. He lit his Pipe of kif and began to smoke with two deep eyes gazing at the heart of the blazing fire... Then he threw the ashes of the pipe near the fire-place and started hitting the pipe against the back of his big finger-nail. We were all staring at him as if beseeching him to chase fright out of our little hearts that have already been prepared to faint. He seemed to have understood our eyes' message and he began to speak... He said,

            "Don't be afraid my boys! These are just dogs barking over the shadows of each other. There's no real reason for their keeping barking like this all-night-long. They usually bark at night because during the day they are busy doing something else like searching for food or what else. Moreover they wouldn't be heard during the day because the adults are busy with their work whereas children like you have no time for fear because they are busy playing. Their barking has a great effect on people at night. Itís a sort of ritual or a kind of habit; so forget about it."

            He stopped for a moment to see whether his words had lowered our tension or not; and, at the same time to prepare his pipe anew; then he resumed,             

"Once upon long ago, when I was just a lad of twelve, my father sent me to guard and look after our palm-trees which seemed to have been a target for thieves of "dates"(!!). It was a very dark autumn night. The forest was quiet and frightening. I sat beneath one of the highest and the most prolific trees we had, staring at the darkness without being able to see anything. The silence was so heavy for a little boy like me to bear; but I wasn't afraid of anything on earth. After a while I heard as if someone was crawling through the grass. Was it human?? Was it an animal?? Was it a reptile?? Was it a ghost?? I really couldn't make my mind and I was completely in the dark. All of a sudden I stood up full of valor ready to face the danger that was surely coming. There passed a moment I didn't hear anything and I returned back to my seat murmuring with the name of Allah. I thought it was only Satan who came to disturb me that night; and I thought there was no one but only my imaginations. I didn't expect any danger for I personally have no enemies, and those who steal dates didn't know the palm-trees were ours. The whole forest was like my own home and all the animals, reptiles and ghosts were my friends; so I wasn't afraid of anything on earth. Suddenly I heard a dog barking in the vicinity. Gradually the noise seemed moving towards me. I t was dark, I didn't see the dog but I felt it was very close.. Although I didn't move, the dog smelt out my presence. It approached crawling in my direction, but as soon as the dog had known me, he began to weep. He pleaded me to forgive his bad behaviour. He knelt at my feet and continued to cry loudly. I lit my oil-lamp and I saw tears pouring on his cheeks. After all he deserved excuse because the poor, after recognizing me, he showed deep regret... But, still the problem was not cleared up. Even though he knew me, I didn't, and this, I think, is natural for there were many dogs in the fields; and all of them are alike.."

            Hardly had SHBAK finished his story when there were no more barking dogs at all. After the fire had begun to lose its flame and we had no more wood to supply it with, we said our farewells before we parted. Everyone went home trying to forget about that dreary night, but as for me I kept wondering whether Shbak hadn't had the impact of the thing he smoked and... If a dog had ever cried.


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