THE CAR OF
by Jeff Parkes ©
It was a wonderful
car. Not to look at, mark you. It really wouldn't bear a close scrutiny. There
was the size for a start. Barely medium. Four doors, but a squeeze for more
than four people, excluding the driver. And the colour. A uniform and
uninspiring grey. No embellishments or fancy designs. And it wasn't new. Five
years of wear and tear had produced a number of scratches, scrapes and a couple
of dints. An even closer inspection also revealed some early touches of
But for all that, the car was a positive wonder and the pride and
joy of Mustafa Haroun. It was, in fact, unique for it was the only car in the
village; indeed, for a radius of ten miles. There were donkeys in abundance,
for they provided the main means of transporting both people and goods. They
were sturdy, sure-footed and reliable animals that had played a major part in
the life of the village for hundreds of years. A car was an alien contraption,
unsuited to the terrain and expensive, both to buy and
Nevertheless, Mustafa Haroun had bought a car.
you are unable to drive," exclaimed his life-long friend, Mohammed.
"But who is there to teach you?"
"I will go to
Zagora to visit my daughter and son-in-law. He will teach me."
that is over thirty kilometres away."
"To see the family is a good
"But how do you get there?" Mustafa sighed.
full of buts, my friend. I have a perfectly sound donkey and a cart."
"You have indeed, so I ask myself why you want a car."
"We must keep up with the
times. I am sixty-eight years old. I can remember the camel trains passing
through on their long trek to other countries in Africa. They have been
finished many long years. The modern world will engulf us all unless we embrace
it with both arms."
by Locofotives ©
Mustafa Haroun was the Imam for his community.
Chosen by the people for the position. It paid very little, a mere 150 dirham a
month. To make it possible to exist and provide for his wife and family,
Mustafa was subsidised by the entire village, being given gifts of bread, fruit
and meat. He was, however, a prominent member of the community, not a pauper or
beggar. Respected and honoured, he stood at the head of the Islamic faith and
leader of the congregational prayer.
He had been married twice, taking
his second wife only five years earlier, after the death of his first. She had
provided him with four daughters and one son, an unfortunate state of affairs
for any man in Mustafa's position. Not only did a son carry forward the family
name and tradition, he also provided some financial comfort for his parents.
With two, three or even more sons, this burden was shared, but when there was
"It is Allah's wish," Mustafa frequently stated, but then
added, "I wish that it was not so."
Luckily the son, Rachid, was a very
clever boy. He was invariably top of his class at school and went on to
university where he was equally successful. He became a lawyer and set up
practice in Casablanca, a very long way from his family home. He returned
occasionally in the early years and always provided generously for his parents
The visits stopped simultaneously with his marriage to the
daughter of a highly respected and influential banker. Naturally, with respect
and influence went money. Father and son became worlds apart and not merely a
few hundred kilometres. Rachid did not forget his obligations, however. Every
year, without fail, a generous sum of money was transferred into a special bank
account in his father's name. A note was always sent separately. Really, it was
merely a business compliments slip with Rachid Haroun printed on it. The only
concession to the private nature of the communication was a first name
signature instead of the whole name. Nothing else. No news of wife and family;
no enquiries about his father, mother or sisters.
Over the years Mustafa
spent little of the money. His needs were simple. He was over sixty when his
wife died. Even then, Rachid was noticeable for his absence, pleading a heavy
"She died without meeting her daughter-in-law or
grandchildren," Mustafa sadly told Mohammed.
"A dutiful son looks after
his parents with more than money. There is the heart, too."
gave up hoping he would come."
"What will you do now?" enquired
Mustafa furrowed his brow. "Do? What I have always done.
Continue living and preaching the word of Allah."
In fact he did rather
more than that. When a member of his congregation complained that his eldest
daughter was a disgrace to his family for she was over twenty and still
unmarried, Mustafa thought of a perfect solution. He would take another wife.
The wishes of the young woman concerned were not taken into consideration. She
did, in fact, accept the situation in a meek and docile manner, perhaps
realising that a slight deformity in her limbs made her undesirable to most
So Mustafa wed once more and, at the age of sixty-six, sired
another son, this one to be named Hussein. Two years later Mustafa used a large
sum of money from his bank account to buy a car. Abdullah, his son-in-law in
Zagora, taught him how to drive in a remarkably short time, much to the delight
and surprise of them both. The lessons had been given in Abdullah's car, but
once the licence was triumphantly attained Mustafa loaded cans of petrol into
his cart and headed back home.
The faithful donkey was still used for
short trips when Mustafa visited friends or collected produce, but the car
allowed him to go farther afield. As he grew older Hussein often accompanied
his father and the two of them would talk about events, both large and small.
The boy loved to hear his father's stories of the caravans, for he had been on
a few trips in the dying days of the trade.
Hussein was a dutiful,
loving son who was always most attentive to the words and wishes of both his
father and mother. The young woman proved to be a good wife, though she
produced no more children. Or, perhaps, more fairly it might be thought that at
his age it was Mustafa who had now ceased to be fertile. However, he was
content. Allah had been good.
There were some in the village, not
unusually, who envied Mustafa his car. They saw it as an expensive and
unnecessary indulgence. If his son in Casablanca could provide him with enough
money to squander on a car, then why should they be made to subsidise his
income with their produce. They had to work hard all day for little reward. Why
should they give anything to a rich Imam?
When Mustafa became aware of
the undercurrent of complaint he was saddened by the criticism. Envy was a sin
against the wishes of Allah.
"Why bother yourself?" Mohammed asked when
the two old men were enjoying a cup of mint tea.
"There will always be
those who want more. Feel nothing but pity for them."
"Perhaps they are
right to complain."
"No, my friend. You have been a good imam to them
and their families. They can ask anything of you and you will give, if it is
within your power."
"Except my car," Mustafa dryly murmured.
was still the only mechanised vehicle in the village which meant that petrol
always had to be obtained in the nearest town. On one occasion Mustafa
miscalculated and the car became immobile half way there. He had to abandon it,
walk back to the village, tether his donkey to the cart and go back to town the
traditional way. He was fully aware of some sniggers and barely contained cries
of derision from some of the villagers.
As he passed the car he shook
his head sadly.
"Perhaps they are right. I am a vain and covetous old
fool," he said to the world at large and his donkey in particular.
took him all day to get the petrol, fill the car and go back to the village.
But then he had to return to the car. After all, he was unable to drive both
car and donkey.
"You ride with me, Hussein, and then you can return on
Secretly he would have preferred to
drive the car, but knew full well that a six year old boy could do no more than
ride a donkey.
At the end of the day nothing had been achieved except
to fill the tank of the car with petrol. Mustafa had even forgotten the
original purpose of his journey.
On another occasion problems were
encountered when the car refused to start. There were more ribald comments made
by a few people as a mechanic was brought from town, once again the only motive
power being provided by the donkey. At least the mechanic was able to drive
himself to and from the village. Mustafa was secretly worried that the car
would be beyond repair and almost gave a whoop of delight when the engine once
more burst into life. Hussein felt no such restraint and performed an impromptu
song and dance, much to the bemusement of the mechanic. After all, it was only
Aicha, Hussein's mother was a happy and contented woman. She
loved her husband, even though he was old enough to be her grandfather, and
positively adored her son. Hussein was a lively, adventurous boy who was always
keen to hear about the world outside the village. Academically he was nowhere
near approaching the level of his half-brother, but he possessed an enquiring
mind and a thirst for knowledge.
The ground was stony and wresting a living
from it was forever a struggle. More and more young men were going to work in
factories in Casablanca, sending money home, as Rachid had done. There was,
however, a large difference in the standard of living. Aicha could only picture
such a future for her son. Despite his tender years, she wanted more for
Mustafa was amused by her fears. "You worry too soon. Let him be a
boy before he has to be a man. Changes come ever faster. A few years ago the
French ruled over us. Now we are free to decide our own future as a country.
Life will not stay the same."
"Mothers and wives lose their menfolk to
the factories far away. That is the change I fear."
"You are worried I
will go to Casablanca?"
Aicha laughed and gently knocked her husband's
arm. "You know it is Hussein I speak of."
"He is a good boy. I am sure,
no matter where he goes you will not lose him."
Aicha would have liked
to take comfort from Mustafa's reassurance, but the example of his other son
was all too strong in her mind.
A cold wind was blowing through the
Atlas Mountains and a hint of snow hung in the air on a morning that would
never be forgotten. The car was a burned out wreck, smoke still lingering
around its body. Whether the fire was started by accident or design nobody ever
found out, but what did it matter? The result was the same.
stood with tears in his eyes as he gazed at the remains of the car that had
brought so much joy. As for Hussein, he was heartbroken. He had loved riding to
town with his father, the horn tooting at every opportunity. Passing a car;
toot. A donkey ahead; toot. A pedestrian perilously close to the road; toot. It
was a glorious sound. Commanding and authoritative.
"Make way!" it said.
"Mustafa Haroun and his car are coming. Toot!"
still feel the heat from the fire as he leaned in and pressed the horn. There
was no sound.
"Be careful you don't burn yourself," Aicha warned.
"Why?" wailed Hussein. "Why did this happen?"
"It is the will
of Allah," his father replied.
The boy was a little weary of always
receiving that response. Allah had little to do with burning the car. Somebody
in the village had a grudge. Somebody in the village should pay. But nobody
The years passed. The car, once a mobile instrument of pleasure was
now a rusty wreck still sitting in the place where it had burned. It was a
favourite playground for Hussein. He would sit behind the remains of the wheel
and imagine he was driving far away. Casablanca, Marrakech, maybe even Tangier.
They were only names to him. Large cities in Morocco, strange and exciting. In
his lessons he had also heard something of other cities even further away and
in other countries. Paris, London, New York
there was a whole world to
explore, but all he had was a burnt out car and his imagination.
His scholastic studies were going well and
eventually he took an examination for university. He passed, not with flying
colours, but at least well enough to gain entry. More and more tourists were
visiting Morocco and Hussein decided to specialise in languages. Translators
would always be useful. He already spoke French as a second language, so he
decided to take a course in English.
After he left university Hussein
obtained employment with a large tourist organisation and had a good job
advising, informing and leading English speaking visitors. A secretary working
for the same company caught his eye and before long he was proudly taking her
back to the village to meet his parents. She was an attractive and lively girl
who quickly became a part of the family.
His father was now retired and
living happily with Aicha. He still received the annual sum of money from
Rachid and most of it went towards furthering his second son's ambitions. By
the time Mustafa died he was 101 and Hussein was married with a son and
daughter. His wife, Khadiza, and children all knew the old man very well,
visiting him from their home in Marrakech at least twice a year.
naturally saddened by the death of his father, but felt the old man's spirit
was never far away. Whenever he visited his mother, Hussein would spend an hour
in the wreck, fondly reminiscing to his children about the days when Mustafa
drove the only car in the village.