The next morning, the village was unusually calm. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary, children ran to school, women gossiped at front doors, peasants held their shovels over their shoulders, looking like they were carrying the burdens of the world with it, but I knew very well that none of them carried a burden as that which my father carried.
We didn’t sleep all night, waiting for someone to notice the unopened grocery store. Noura and I didn’t say a word while my father kept desperately trying to ensure my mother that there was nothing to be afraid of.
“I wanted to kill him” My father said with waning patience. “I really wanted to, but I didn’t. As soon as I stormed into his house, his face went colorless. I didn’t give him a chance to speak, I grabbed him by the neck and pinned hi to the wall and I started screaming things that I can’t even remember and the next thing I know, his eyes turned white and he stopped breathing. He just died like that.”
“So, you think they will think he just died a natural death?” my mother asked, still sounding doubtful.
“Probably, probably” my father sighed. “I just wish I’d cut his throat and drained his blood out with my hands, but I should’ve known that coward would die of fear before anything else”
“I’m glad he did. This will spare us the scandal.”
“It’s his scandal, not ours” My father said sharply, almost in a yell that disturbed the quiet of that dreary morning.
Then we sat in silence, anticipating every noise and every unfamiliar movement outside. Few hours later, people came to tell use what we already know.
It didn’t take a very keen eye to see that there was something wrong with our reaction. My mother cried more than she cried the day her own father died, my father openly showed disrespect for the dead and Noura couldn’t stop smiling.
Thankfully though, everyone was too focused on the tragedy, trying to absorb the shock, for death is never a simple thing to take in. In the process, everyone was singing Abu Ashour Praises, talking about his good deeds, how cheerful he was and what a wonderful person to have known and what a void he had left.
The crowds poured into the deceased’s house, with teary eyes and chocking voices, and everyone was waiting for Naji, for in these situations he was the man to seek. He washed the body, wrap it in white sheets and prepared it for burial. He dig the grave, said prayers and recited verses of the Holy Quran in the funeral, he wasn’t only the undertaker, he was as important as the Imam, the most important clergyman in the village. Despite how pious he seemed to be, having him associated with death gave him a mystic air that, combined with rich superstition, made him an outcast.
But there was a problem. Naji was nowhere to be found. The news spread like wildfire among the panicked crowd. Who would bury Abu Ashour Now? No one was up for the task. They knew anyone who would volunteer to do it would likely end up having nightmares for months if not for years. Given different circumstances, Layla’s father would probably be the only man to undertake this responsibility, but under the circumstances that only he and his family were aware of, he would be the last to do it.
It was agreed finally that the corpse will remain in its place overnight until Naji came back, rationalizing the decision by the notion that this will give Abu Ashour A last chance to bid his home farewell. There was a collective sigh of relief among the villagers that no one heard, but everyone could feel.
Back at home there was a sense of relief in Layla’s family. Noura seemed the most relieved of all. In fact, her eyes shone like never before. She showd no one sign of trauma as one would expect, and it perplexed Layla that she found herself blurting out the words without thinking.
“Are you happy?”
“Happy?” The look in Noura’s eyes gave her answer away before she spoke it. “That’s not remotely enough to describe how I’m feeling now. How can I describe it in a way that you can understand?” She rolled her eyes up as if she was trying to come up with something creative. “Well, let’s say I’m afraid my heart will tear away from my chest with joy”. She let out a long sigh. “But I don’t think you will understand it, not if you haven’t tried the sweet taste of revenge”
Layla was even more perplexed now. “But, father was going to kill him. Haven’t you thought what would’ve happened to him if he did?”
Noura seemed disturbed by that. She looked more serious now and her voice was taking a sharper tone. “What would’ve happened? We would’ve told people what happened and they would know what a pig that man was. They probably would’ve wished to have killed them themselves. It’s about time someone killed him, and since you were too coward to give them a reason I thought I should do it myself”
A shiver went down Layla’s spine. “What reason would I give?”
Noura now moved closer to her, looking her directly in the eye and making her every muscle tremble with fear. “Do you think I’m stupid? I followed you that day you went to buy salt, and I saw how you came out running scared from his store. I thought you would tell, but you didn’t! But then, why would I expect that from a quivering mouse like you? So, I thought it was time I took action.”
“What do you mean?” Layla chocked up tears as hse mumbled her next words. “What have you done?”
“You think I would let that pig touch me? I would’ve killed him before he would lay a hand on me. He’s an 80 year-old man, I can make him tumble over with the tip of my finger. He didn’t do anything to me. Nothing. I made it all up. I had to. Someone had to”
“But… he did nothing to me. I ran away” Layla’s face now was misty with tears.
“Maybe he didn’t do anything to you” Noura’s voice suddenly dropped to a feeble tone, and she looked away “But he did it before, to someone else.”
Everything was clear to Layla now. Noura didn’t do it to avenge Layla, she did it to avenge herself, and all of a sudden she started to see her differently. She was no longer her big strong sister, she was a frightened scarred helpless child who grew up to claim her revenge.