When Grandpa Returned from the Dead

Lahsen Benaziza

© Copyright 2023 by Lahsen Benaziza

Photo by Reiner Knudsen on Unsplash
Photo by Reiner Knudsen on Unsplash

When Moussa was getting married to a nice looking girl from a neighboring tribe that his mother had spotted in some inter-tribal ceremony, his brother Bouazzaoui, a Fqih* with some standing in the family, decided that his brother’s wedding was going to be celebrated with Abidat R’mah*, unlike other weddings in the family in which strict recitation of the Qurʾān was imposed by their father, a warrior in youth turned devout Sufi in old age. With a resolute tone, Bouazzaoui approached his old man:

Father, my brother went through hell in the European man’s war, and he has the right to some fun on his wedding night. The Foqha will be reciting the Holy Qurʾān once in a while in a corner of the tent while Abidat R’mah will be entertaining family and guests the rest of  the time.”

The old man showed his disapproval with a shaking of the head, but Bouazzaoui managed to extract from him a reluctant approval. Before exiting, Bouazzaoui asked his father the important question of whether they should kill a cow or four lambs for their guests. As soon as the troupe of Abidat R’mah started playing and singing, word came out that the old man fell unconscious. Bouazzaoui rushed to his bedside and soon realized that his father had died. Bouazzaoui, known for his calm and steadfastness, wiped out the tears that betrayed his emotion and peremptorily addressed his older brother, known as the softy of the family in these terms:

Mohamed, stop snivelling; this is no time for crying. Compose yourself and go fetch your mother!”

We have to stop the ceremony first, we can’t let the singing and dancing go on while our father is lying dead in here. It’s indecent!”

Okay Mohamed, I’ll take care of it; stay here until I come back with your mother.”

Bouazzaoui stood up, swept his beard with his hand to give himself countenance and walked out. A few minutes later he returned with Aouish, who, after years of trials and endeavours, was frail in body but still strong in resolve. The first one who attracted her attention was her eldest son.

Why is he sobbing? What’s going on?” she asked.

But she instantaneously understood as she glanced in the direction of her husband lying on his back:

O husband, you have never fallen asleep on your back in your lifetime, only fools lie down belly up. How dare you leave this world without me holding you in my arms?”

She rushed to him, raised him from his thin mattress laid on the floor, slipped her knee under his chest, held him close to her frail bosom and started quietly sobbing:

Husband and companion through thick and thin, you have decided to leave first. Your will has finally vanquished mine. I was hoping you would be the one to wash and embalm my frail body and cover my nakedness with your protective hands. But you desired it to be otherwise, so be it, husband; I’ll do your bidding.”

Nobody dared to disturb Aouish’s intimate monologue, not even Bouazzaoui, who had great respect for his mother for what she had gone through in her life. But Aouish, as if she were done grieving over her dead husband, turned to her son and resolutely said, “Now what?” At the matriarch’s invitation to submit opinions on how to handle the difficult situation they were in and how to turn a wedding into a funeral, tongues started wagging in all directions. Bouazzaoui who stood silent all the while finally spoke,

To Allah belongs what He takes, and to Him belongs what He gives. We will later take time to grieve over our father’s loss, but now we have to act as the old man, may he rest in peace, would have acted on such circumstances. The guests were invited to a wedding; so let’s not inflict a funeral on them. Besides, Moussa has seen enough in his life already; so let him have his night despite all. Poor brother, it’s so like him that his father passes away on his wedding night.”

The old matron nodded in agreement, declaring,

Let no one know your father is gone until tomorrow morning. I mean no one! Do you hear me, Mohamed? I know you have a loose tongue; I’ll have it cut out if you breathe a word about your dad’s passing. Now children, go about your business as if nothing were wrong.”

Unbeknownst to Moussa, the celebration went on, though Bouazzaoui made sure Qurʾān  recitation overwhelmed Abidat R’mah’s singing and dancing, to almost everybody’s displeasure, except old men, who would have preferred total predominance of Allah’s Word over Satan’s work. When guests and musicians left in the wee hours of the morning, Bouazzaoui sat by himself in the empty tent and wept, after which he wiped his tears, composed himself and began reciting wholeheartedly from the Holy Book; he was reciting for his father, for the time they had spent together, the feats they had accomplished together, the pain they had both felt when Moussa was gone for so long to the land of war.  He was about to stand up and leave the tent to address the weighty matter awaiting him when he caught sight of his youngest son Kaddour, as he was running towards him while shouting something. Kaddour stood breathless in front of him and started mumbling:

Baba, the old man has come back from the dead; I swear he is as alive as you and I are! Come quick!”

There is no power and no strength save in Allah the Almighty! This lad has either gone soft in the head from too many nocturnal visits to the barn; or, Allah’s Will has set afoot something unfathomable to us humans.”

When Bouazzaoui walked in the room, his father was sitting with his back against the wall, with his eyes wide open, wiping with his right hand the sweat on his face. He looked at Bouazzaoui and said in a slightly exasperated tone,

I told you a minute ago you can have your Abidat R’mah if you want; how come I don’t hear them? Then you asked me whether you should kill a cow or lambs for the celebration, but you did not bother to wait for my answer. Kill a cow, for I don’t want anyone to say afterwards that they didn’t have enough to eat at Moussa’s wedding.”

Bouazzaoui looked around, seeking a better understanding from those who had been in there before him, but he got only the same perplexed look from all, and quickly said to his father,

Father, you have been in Allah’s realm for the last twelve hours. You haven’t been with us since yesterday. Glory to Allah, you have resuscitated by His Will. The feast is all finished with its Abidat R’mah and all. You didn’t want to hear them sing anyway.”

Let your Will be done, O Ruler of the universe,” kept repeating the old man as he bent his head on his right hand. “Did everything go well? Did your brother Moussa enjoy himself? I bet even on his wedding night he could not get rid of that grave look on his face. I wonder what that lad must have seen in that European War.”

They were all overjoyed that their father returned from the dead, looking at the whole experience with awe, as they considered his resuscitation a sign of his holiness. Even Bouazzaoui dropped the matter entirely, knowing that his father always felt humbled to the point of contrition by such happenings. The old man, a bona fide Sufi, used to Qurʾān  recitation and dikr*, didn’t want any of Abidat R’mah’s frolicking in his home, and so it was. The old man had accustomed his relatives to such mysterious élans of faith, but you’d better not mention any of them in his presence. A believer has to chasten his heart of all sins of pride and find refuge in humility to aspire to being accepted in the community of the faithful. That was how the old patriarch thought.

When he was once angered by one of his children’s impudent reaction to his mother, he tried to reach for him to make him pay for his bad manners, but the old woman got in the way to protect her grandson, and the hand that was already gone towards his face hit that of his own mother. For a moment, Mhammed froze in his place as if he were turned into stone. Then he shouted at his daughter Damiah, asking her to put a kettle of water to boil on fire. Damiah, not making much of it, as her father, in the thick of winter always got his water heated for his ablutions; but this time, she did not understand why he insisted that water be heated at a high temperature until he saw steam coming out of the kettle, making what looked like an undulating ear of wheat in the air. In front of them all, he started pouring, without a flinch, boiling water on his right hand and repeating in a murmur, as if he were chanting some magical incantation:

The hand I have raised against my own mother deserves to be burned!”

Everybody was petrified by this unexpected incident, expecting Mhammed’s skin to start peeling off the martyrized hand. When he poured the last drop of boiling water, he looked at his hand, and lo and behold, it still looked exactly like the left one, that is, intact, unscathed as if he were pouring rose water on it. He raised both his hands towards his mouth and started mumbling a prayer. True to form as usual, his wife Aouish exclaimed, “why did you do a foolish thing like that?” They all rushed to him, tried to hold his hand with caution, then noticing that it was unscathed, looked at him in awe, then turned to Aouish and shouted,

Mmi Aouish, your husband is a holy man; he possesses a great Baraka! His hand is unharmed, it is cold like ice!”

Aouish responded with a shrug: “he possesses beans for brains, if you ask me!”


* A Fqih or a Fkih is in Moroccan Arabic a man who knows the Holy Qurʾān by heart (the plural is Foqha or Fokha)

* A traditional male group of musicians drawing their inspiration from hunting and harvest rituals.

* A ritual in which the name of Allah is mentioned and praised


A Brief Academic Bio:

-B.A. in English, Mohamed Ben Abdallah University, Fez, Morocco, 1978.

-M.A (1985) and Ph.D. (1991) in English Literature from Dalhousie University, Canada.

-Taught English Literature at Dalhousie University (1988-91).

-Taught English Literature at Ibn Zohr University, Agadir, Morocco (1993-2020).

-Several papers published in English, Arabic, and French.

-3 book-length critical studies:

1. Romancing Scheherazade: John Barth and the 1001 Nights, Ibn Zohr University publications, 2001);

2. The 1001 Nights in Postmodern Fiction (in Arabic, Konouz al-Maarifa, Jordan, 2017). This study was selected among

the ten best studies out of 128 in the Arab World. 

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