The son’s daughter

I was born on cue, although some say I came too early, timing that destroyed the family and provoked one of those upsets that pursues you throughout life. The truth is I don’t know whether I was right to be born. I still think perhaps I shouldn’t have been born that way, like that, on a whim of mine.

The news was recorded on a cassette tape and grandmother said my son, it’s me, your mother, I’m speaking to you from a long way away to bring you news that will make you very happy. Thanks be to God your wife has given birth, and it’s a beautiful little girl. Mimoun listened to the background crackle that recorded tapes have, smiled at the machine, embraced it and jumped up and down he was so happy, as if Lady Luck had smiled on him for the first time in his life. He fetched Jaume and danced for a while, lifted him by his neck, though he was on the heavy side, and went into the street jumping and singing like a lunatic. Then he went to Snack in the square and ordered a couple of bottles of cava; we don’t know if the people there knew him or not, but he invited everyone to celebrate the birth of his first daughter. I’m the father of a beautiful little girl, he said, she’s beautiful, and the people surrounding him must have found it rather peculiar for a Moor to celebrate a birth that way. But nobody complained and they all congratulated him on becoming a father, unaware that if Mimoun was so happy he’d procreated it was because this time he’d fulfilled his dream of having a daughter. Girls are more loyal to their parents, they take more heed of you and love you with all their heart, and aren’t just dutiful children. And girls show it, show they love you whatever you do and their love is always unconditional.

I was born with a duty to be affectionate, with a prickly mother who’d been tamed from the start of her marriage and a father I rarely saw; with that inheritance I had to meet my obligation to be affectionate.

Mimoun always tells how he partied for three days, how he went to all the bars where he was a regular and drank to my health and everywhere was slapped on the back and congratulated. Even his uncle, whom he met by chance in the dive where they once spent every afternoon, had said, very good, you’re a real man. You spend a month at home and give your wife a kid. You can’t have got very much rest, right? How long is it since you were there?

And the question hung in the air, jumped up and down in the cigarette and cigar smoke until Mimoun had a flash of light. Something inside the alcoholic haze in his head went click. Click, Mimoun, just think for a minute, Mimoun. You’re wearing horns like a bull and you’re celebrating your cuckoldry, she did it on you, the fucking whore, she did it on you well and truly. If the girl’s just been born, the pregnancy wasn’t nine months, but seven, around the time when that wretch told me she visited her sick father. Now she’s going to be sick and long term.

Now he must have stopped celebrating and begun to think how he could best salvage his honour.

While I was growing inside a shoebox covered in cotton wool and nobody knew whether I’d live or not, my ears still stuck to my skull with membrane still between my fingers, Mimoun was thinking hard what he could do about all the stuff that shouldn’t happen if you create real bonds with someone.

He’d already sent money to celebrate my birth, but the whole family was agreed on waiting more than the statutory seven days before introducing the new family to the world at large; they wanted to be sure I’d live. And I couldn’t make my mind up and mother put her ear next to my mouth to see if I was breathing or not, and suckled me by extracting milk and feeding it to me with a syringe. I could perhaps have chosen not to live, but with all the effort they were expending on me, it wasn’t really an option.

And on the other side of the straits the patriarch felt half happy and half furious he’d a daughter who wasn’t his or he couldn’t be sure was his. He so much wanted to have female stock he let himself think perhaps I was his. Particularly after calling his father and saying he should let him divorce his wife. Send her back to her father, it’s obvious she’s cheated on me and you’re all accomplices. I don’t want to know the detail and don’t rely on me for anything from here on. What are you talking about? asked grandfather, the girl was born before it was time, weighed a kilo and a half and isn’t quite finished. We’re keeping her in the warmest cotton wool so she can reach a healthy weight. Your wife hasn’t cheated on you, you’ll never find another such a faithful woman. You reject her and I shall disinherit you.

Although grandfather had half convinced him, from then on Mimoun had something tangible to justify his anger at mother and the rest of the world. It was a hard fact she’d given birth well before it was decent, it was obvious the only argument belying his hypothesis was thousands of kilometres away and voiced by his father. What if they were all in it together and my puny size was but an invention to protect my mother? And what if it was all part of a conspiracy against him, simply because his parents preferred his wife to their son?

With all that to-do and in a rebellious spirit I expect I inherited from Mimoun himself, I decided to live on.


Mimoun was beginning to cling to Isabel more than he’d ever clung to that kind of woman. There was no longer the excitement of finding out whether or not she’d let him to do this or that, because she was up for anything. You could say she loved him, for sure. And he her, perhaps, if we accept the premise that Mimoun is capable of love, naturally.

They’d been seeing more and more of each other. Ever since she’d introduced him to his children he was happy to see her almost on a daily basis. Are your children racist or what? he asked Isabel one day when one of them glanced at him and gave a sigh of resignation. No, of course not, you know, they’d just like me to go back to their father, that’s all.

And Mimoun still found the little porcelain figures on the glass shelves in the dining room quite horrific, not to mention the dog that acted as an umbrella stand and the rabbit fur mats on the small tables between the sofas. That house wasn’t homely, and Mimoun wasn’t really sure why. But part of the fitted furniture opened to reveal all kind of liquor and everything was clean enough.

For a time Mimoun spent more nights at her place than at Hamed’s, but didn’t officially live there. He didn’t take clothes to be washed or play tapes of Rachid Nadori who sang about immigrants and women who mistreat you. Only for a time, until Mimoun decided he needed a woman, that his flatmate was all very well, but he couldn’t provide him those nigh-time caresses when he was half asleep.

Until one day he turned up at Isabel’s house with his cases and the made-in-China blanket. She hid the latter in the back of her wardrobe after taking it to the dry-cleaners, embarrassed by how tacky it was. For his part, Mimoun kept shifting that loathsome umbrella stand until it stood in the ironing room, face to the wall. From the side you could still see the dog’s tongue hanging out.

Isabel probably didn’t think about whether or not Mimoun should have asked her permission to move in, but it seemed a reasonable enough step given the pace at which their relationship was developing. She no doubt thought she was finally re-fashioning her life and her ex would be fucked seeing her with a younger man who was an A-rab into the bargain. I expect he’ll think his is longer and that’s why I want him in my bed. And though size doesn’t matter, she was pleased her ex would be jealous on that count. So was Mimoun. There’s nothing like the feeling you get laying someone else’s wife: but as he’d had more than his fair share of problems with married women, it was ideal having one who wasn’t married but had been.

If he divorced, his wife would be faithful to him to the grave; it wasn’t for nothing he’d had her first.

So things unravelled like this: while I was growing on the other side of the straits wrapped in sheets and anointed nightly with olive oil, Mimoun said nothing to Isabel about having something like a family in another corner of the world. In fact, she shouldn’t care less if he’d a wife and three children in the town near the provincial capital. But better not say anything because in that countrywomen took offence at the slightest thing.

And, of course, he’d not mentioned Isabel to his mother either on the sound recordings he posted or in telephone conversations he had with his father every now and then. Jaume kept telling him, sahbi, can’t you see you’re going to mess your life up, better not meddle where you’re meddling. When they find out what you’re doing, they’ll both chop it into little bits. Then Mimoun went into a harangue about his wife’s infidelity and easily justified his own behaviour. Have you seen your daughter yet? Maybe she’s a spitting image of you and you still doubting you’re her father. You could enjoy yourself no end, if you stopped the devil putting all this rubbish in your ear.

Mimoun got to know me much later, they say when I was seven or eight months old he decided he should come and see his people again. He packed his cases and told Isabel what he’d told the firm he worked for. His mother had died and he had to attend her funeral. And while he was about it he took the opportunity to ask Isabel for money and his boss for an advance. Neither knew Mimoun’s mother would die many deaths in the future to justify other trips and instant loans.

My aunts always say they’d never seen Mimoun as happy as he was the day he met me. That he wouldn’t leave me alone, kept hugging me and they’d never seen him loving anyone that way, not even his own wife. That he was upset when I burst out crying the first time I saw him and flew into a rage with everyone as a result. But after a couple of days I was tweaking his moustache and laughing at him as I laughed at all the people I knew around me.

They say we got so used to one another that we were inseparable. He took me everywhere, where babies of such a tender age aren’t usually taken, and liked to sit down with me under the fig trees in our garden. They say that as I still couldn’t sit up straight, he heaped stones on the skirt to my dress so they supported me and acted as a counterweight to keep my back straight. Poor daughter, mother said, it’s not good for a girl to be roaming so, especially in the places where Mimoun took me.

Up to the incident with the bees when Mimoun doubted once again whether or not I was his daughter. I still don’t how I could be to blame in all that. Mother relates how he’d gone for a walk in the countryside, as he liked to do whenever he came back and stumbled over a nest of bees that stung him all over his face. His eyes swelled so he could hardly open them. Lumps also appeared on his lower lip, and on his cheeks and forehead.

He returned home in that state, at dusk, when grandmother had begun lighting the candles and lamps to give some light before it got too dark. Mother was probably busy over the kitchen stoves. As soon as they saw him come in that state, all the women ran to get mud from the outside yard and put it over his face. His face covered in lumps and all muddy, Mimoun said bring me my girl, I’m missing her. His older children looked at him aghast and quickly ran off to get grandfather, but they took me to see him, because he was longing to see me. And what was I supposed to do, when I saw him looking like that? I expect I didn’t recognise him, or recognised him more that I’d ever done, but anyway as soon as he took me in his arms, I couldn’t stop crying, as if my life was at stake, as if someone had stuck a needle into me, and this was only the beginning and I cried and cried. Initially, he’d made an effort, throwing me into the air, singing songs and trying to play this little piggy with me. All to no avail, and finally Mimoun broke the tear-filled silence to say take her away, I don’t want to see her any more.

He didn’t say much more, but everyone knows that was when he was confirmed in his doubts, that it was then he was certain he’d fallen victim to the biggest deception ever.

Abandon or leave altogether, untranslatable.

Mimoun had made that journey to feel he was the happiest man in the world and felt the most unfortunate. It couldn’t really be blamed on outside circumstances, the fact is Mimoun has always felt more comfortable when everything’s going badly, when those who love him suffer, and he feels unloved. We don’t know why peace and quiet upset him so, as if he was missing something. People say it’s all down to some incident in his childhood, but perhaps that explanation is too determinist.

Mimoun returned to the local capital city thinking that was where his final destiny belonged, that he didn’t need to go back ever again because back there things were worse than ever. Besides, the fact he had a family at a distance was hardly worth all the effort he’d put in over the years.

So he clung more and more to Isabel, and got used to her porcelain figurines and children by another man. He never says whether all that was easy or not. But what is certain, however, is that he didn’t have to break her in. She was on offer when he needed it and that was a relief, she’d already been with other men and Mimoun had no need to defend her honour because he was of the opinion she’d been born without any. He would have even have shared her with a friend in need, but Jaume had zero interest in women. Isabel was like so many others, except he didn’t have to pay her and was spared the expense of rent and the upkeep and running of the flat.

What Isabel couldn’t provide was the excitement of the chase, the butterflies in the stomach and doubt-certainty whether the prey will be yours or not. That could only happen once with each woman, so for his own sake Mimoun had to go and try his hand and not get out of practice. She’d never been faithful to him, she’d been with other men before, so why did he have to be faithful to her? Besides, he saw to Isabel’s needs, but he needed more, he’d always been a man and a half.

Mimoun put his duties as a great patriarch into hibernation, only wanted to forget all that and unpack his suitcase for good. He tried to do that by bedding as many women as he could, going out every night and coming back in the early hours. He must have reached a point when not even the chase was as exciting as it was when he was younger: he was perfectly familiar with all the mechanisms that made women fall into the traps he set and finessed the hunt with every outing. A time came when he preferred to keep on drinking than try to get off with the waitress. It was more relaxing getting into an alcoholic stupor than to have to think where to take her, if she’d be satisfied with a one-night stand or wanted to marry him. Because it turns out that in the local capital there were women wanting marriage, who offered sex as a down payment on the stable relationship they hoped to have, who if you told them you were married lost interest in you, and if you said you weren’t they’d ask what your line of business was. In that respect they were much the same as the women in the provincial capital.

His lethargy towards women intensified and alcohol gradually filled more of his night-times. Or strawberries. Those strawberries he pursued by putting coins in a side-slot and pressing little buttons that made the fruit spin round to ear-splitting music. The three strawberries demanded lots of coins, lots of changed notes before they’d agree to ring the bells of victory. They could take a whole night, a night when Mimoun would only take his eyes off the machine to order a rum and coke, and another, and another.

Jaume would see him around and about, and sometimes accompanied him on his bar crawl. Mimoun would say the firm’s only starting and I’m not earning enough money. He’d say so puffing smoke out of one side of his mouth while he counted the change the waiter had given him. You know how hard they find it to trust a Moor. That’s why I decided on that name, you know, Construcciones Manel SA I don’t know what the S and the A stand for, but it’s what you have to put if you want to look like a real company. Or SL. They let you chose. You know, some people will give me work because they know me and know I do a good job at a good price, but sometimes I lose money. It’s the way to get started, so your name gets around. By word of mouth. One problem is sometimes they’re expecting Manel from Construcciones Manel is going to be a shade lighter than I am. And are reluctant to give me work, until they’ve seen me chomp on a sausage sandwich they won’t believe my name is Manel. Jaume listened, as he always did, and probably shook his head like grandfather. Mimoun, you’re on the wrong track, sahbi, you really are. If he was in a good mood, Mimoun might let his friend harangue him on the life he should be leading and wasn’t, but he mostly let out a don’t you start and Jaume shut up so as not be trapped in that dead-end in the bar where Mimoun started bawling his wife had turned him into a fucking cuckold.

At this stage we don’t know if Isabel knew mother, their children or yours truly existed. What we do know is we all knew lots about her life. People said Mimoun would never come back, that he’d ‘abandoned,’ or ‘abdicated’ his role as head of our family as well as a son, brother or father.

Several years went by and the only news we had was that Mimoun was living with Isabel and, you know, when Christian women get their teeth into a man, they never let go. Who the hell knows what that woman gave him to make him forget everything and want to have nothing to do with his own family.

So a good few years passed and it seemed everything would carry on in the same vein until the business of the phone call, that I always say should never have happened, and that was to change the course of our lives.