Short Stories

In the country of Iqbal (2nd part)

  Kevin, who had sensibly settled himself with his guest, leaps up angrily:

  – You’re exaggerating! From the country where the balls are made? Fights! Do you think, perhaps, that at my age I still believe in tales like Snow White and the seven dwarfs? What do I still believe in those extraordinary countries where tiny beings are said to make our everyday objects? Thank you, but I’m past the age of such nonsense! I go to school and I know that objects are made in factories by machines and even robots… Don’t try to mess me up!

  – But I’m not trying to shuffle you. I swear I’m telling the truth: Balls like this one are almost all made in my country, a real country. The pieces are joined with a thread and a huge needle by children my age. As far as I am concerned, I did not count them, but I must have surely sewed a few thousand.

  – Ah, well… Sorry, I don’t like being taken by an imbecile.

  Kevin calms down. Sit down and repeat:

  – Sorry! Explain to me now why you ran away, and especially how.

  – Why, it’s easy to explain. But as it was, I warn you, it’s not easy. I couldn’t even notice it yet!

  – If you didn’t understand, then I want to hear what you have to say to me. Account.

  – It was certainly influenced by my grandmother. She is extraordinary! She’s old, old, and knows things you can’t even imagine … Look, we’re both talking here, like we speak the same language! … I’m sure it’s due to her.

  – Strange indeed … But tell me about your grandmother!

  – She went blind but with her hands continues to work miracles. Heals the burns, drives away evil. People come to see her from far away, pay to talk to her… I like to sit by my grandmother’s side, although she sometimes scares me. Used to say:

  – I feel misfortune hanging over you! Beware.

  One day, he added:

  – Listen, if anyone wants to hurt you, pronounce this word, only this word, and you will be saved.

  He warned me with such a tragic air that the word was soon engraved in my memory.

  – Did you use her because they wanted to kill you? That was it, wasn’t it? Kevin says immediately, struck by the story.

  – In a way … The owner of the workshop where we sewed the balls hit me more and more.

  – Why did it hit you?

  – I realized that he was a thief… I had loaned my father money, and my job would be to help him repay him. I worked until I broke and so did my father, but the debt didn’t go down. There was a ruse behind him, he was a thief.

  – The rascal!

  – You say well. The first time I wanted to protest, it started punching me … One night I got my revenge, flooded him with the stock, the crates ready to go to every country in the world.

  – Well done!

  – Maybe, but he went crazy. He grabbed a huge stick and threw himself at me. I was very afraid and hid my head in my arms. I thought of my grandmother right away, because she always defended me. Without even thinking, the word he had taught me came to my lips. I shouted her…

  – And then?

  – And then I found myself in your house, inside this ball, and it was not pleasant: you gave me big kicks to the head because I did not jump – Iqbal concluded laughing.

  – Stop it! You were very lucky, he could have killed you! … What an extraordinary word that is?

  – It’s not extraordinary, even doesn’t mean anything, my grandmother certainly invented it: Shabatsé.

  Iqbal had already spoken the word when he realized that he should not have done so. And Kevin repeats:

  – Shabatsé, it’s beautiful, maybe…

  The sentence is not quite finished. It suddenly becomes very light, begins to float, swaying. And shouts:

  – Iqbal!

  Too late. And right after his friend, Kevin is vacuumed into the ball.

– Where are we? What has happened?

  Kevin is afraid, he wants to cry.

  “We have returned to my workshop,” Iqbal replies. – How horrible!

  They are sitting on the cement floor of a dark, damp, dirty room. Around them huddles gather. It is the leather that serves to make the balls. Smells bad.

  – Shabatsé! Shabatsé! Shabatsé! Kevin shouts in despair.

  – Don’t get tired! Warned Iqbal. “I tried, but it seems the word has lost all its power.”

  Kevin throws himself at the door… It’s locked from the outside.

  – What will happen to us? I didn’t ask to come here! Shouted Kevin.

  – No one asked to come!

  It was not Iqbal who answered. The person who answered was an even younger boy. It’s standing next to Kevin. He has big eyes, very sad, but he smiles.

  Not the only one to have risen and approached. Three, five, eight more children surround Iqbal, the newcomer, and his mysterious companion.

  – Where did they come from? Worries Kevin.

  – They work with me.

  – And they live here? Do you sleep here? How do they do it? There are rats, no?

  – We get used to it. The rats don’t hurt.

  – It’s gross. Your boss deserves to be arrested.

  No one bothers to agree.

  – And now, what are we going to do?

  Kevin changed his tone. He began to realize. He is no longer worried only for himself, but for all the children that chance caught in a trap in that foul hole.

  Iqbal wanted to answer, but didn’t have time: the key turns in the rusty lock of the only door. In a panic, the children disappear. They go back to bed and pretend to sleep. Iqbal himself runs away too, but returns; You have no right to leave Kevin.

  The man who comes in is huge, a brute. The eyes are as cold as shotgun bullets:

  – Oh! These here! You always came back! Where did you get in? But don’t lose for the delay!

  He is about to pounce on Iqbal when he suddenly stops: – And who is this?

  He had discovered Kevin and understood that he belonged to another world.

  “It’s my friend,” Iqbal mutters.

  – Your friend… Your friend…

  The man hesitates. She hesitates all the more that Kevin is no longer the same. Not only had he stopped shaking, he is now the one who attacks:

  – You should be ashamed! My teacher told us about people like you, but I didn’t believe it! I will tell you everything and we will write to the Minister, the President of the Republic, your Head of State! It will pay dearly!

  The cruel-eyed man hesitated only a moment. Laughs.

  – You stupid alien! You will not tell your story to anyone. You will not leave here again. I’ll reduce you to sting and you’ll have to be eaten by rats.

  With one hand, he grabs Kevin by the collar, lifts him up like a straw, and leans him against the wall. Raise the other hand, close the fist, gain the necessary momentum … You will fulfill the threat, but stop at the last moment.

  Turning around, Kevin let go: his wild animal instinct warned him that there was danger in his back. You are surrounded by a band of mutinous children, trapped against the wall.

  As might be expected, Iqbal and his companions are in the front row, but the rest have come to their aid. There are already thirty, forty, in tight lines, and more and more people arrive. They held their working instrument, a fearsome needle, as sharp as a dagger. But even more disturbing is the sparkle of his eyes.

  Man will never get the best. He knows it well, despite his narrow-mindedness. You can scan the first row and then the second row. Like soldiers ready for sacrifice, others will take their turn. Sooner or later you will be defeated.

  In order to get rid of them, you prefer to surrender.

  Forget Kevin, and raise your arms.

Children give their executioner no chance.

  With the sturdy rope that sews the balls, they arrest him immediately and abandon him. Now it’s each one for themselves: they all disperse and flee.

  – Let’s go to my grandmother. Only she can help you get back home, ”Iqbal tells Kevin. To leave that gigantic city, they have to walk for hours before they reach the first fields, furrowed by an irrigation network.

  Some fragile wooden shacks nestle at the intersection of two lost paths.

  – That’s it, declares Iqbal.

  Indicates one of the houses to him.

  They enter the single division with no one, since at that time the family is working in the field.

  Iqbal’s grandmother is sitting far away from the entrance in the middle of a pile of rugs.

  – I was waiting for you! – says. – Come closer, so I can see you better.

  In order to see better, as you say, you caress the children’s faces with their old hands full of softness.

  – My God, they’re exhausted! Give him a drink! Receive your friend as it should be.

  Over a burning brazier somewhere, the water boils. Iqbal prepares the tea. Serve him to Kevin with all the ceremony.

  – You know, grandma, the man wanted to kill Kevin. You have to punish him. Go…

  – Chiu!

  Grandma puts a finger to her lips. Ask Iqbal to shut up before continuing:

  – Kevin, my son … Your name is Kevin, isn’t that true? Am I not mistaken? Rest first, recover from so many emotions. Then, when you are ready, say this word: Namasté and you will return to your room.

  Kevin doesn’t hurry. He finishes the tea, claps Iqbal’s hand, promising that he will try to see him again, although he doesn’t know how, pronounces the formula, and disappears.

– Kevin! Kevin!

  Kevin sits on the bed, awake in a start by his father. He had slept all morning.

  – Get up. The ball is waiting for you outside. There’s nothing left anymore, jumping like a kid.

  – What ball?

  With his tousled hair and heavy sleepy eyes, Kevin has the air of someone from another planet.

  – You know? Your supposedly broken ball … I had time to go to the store. It is spotless. We must have dreamed… But the salesman reassured me. There have been a lot of problems lately, a lot of weird things happening with these manufactured products you don’t know where… You even told me about a punching ball you just received. You know, those big leather bags that boxers train with. Whenever someone punches them, one gets the impression that the bag cries and moans! As if someone were locked inside! It’s weird, isn’t it?

  Jacques Venuleth
  Au pays d’Iqbal
  Paris, Ed. Magnard, 2001

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