13 Steps to Nowhere, 1st prize National Competition of Creative Writing in English in Morocco, American Language Center Marrakesh Morocco, Berkane, Cadi Ayyad University Marrakech, Dr. Fatima Araki, ESL teacher, fiction, Hicham Sbaa, Kelâa Sraghna, Marrakech, Morocco, Ralley des Colombes Morocco, Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University, Taroudant, TESOL educator, The American Embassy Morocco, The British Council, The Last Passage, The Moroccan Association of Friends of English, The Regional Cultural Center Morocco, The Regional English Language Office RELO, Tiznit Morocco, Union Automobile Club of Morocco
Wind blowing away, caressing her beautiful, gray hair, with a smile on her face, she’s sitting there on her rocking chair on her front porch, sipping a cup of coffee. She loved sitting on that wooden chair, beautifully handcrafted years ago by her late husband. He had made two rocking chairs with a nice, small table for them, so they could sit there and have some of those long-lasting conversations about life, which she loved so much. Now she just lingers there, alone in her chair, reading the newspaper or watching the neighbors’ kids playing and running around.
Years ago, she had a daughter and a son whom she loved with all her heart. She cared for them until they were old enough to thrive on their own; and the first thing they did was leave home, leaving her alone. Now they visit once or twice a year, but they hardly ever call, and since the death of her husband a few years ago, she had been completely alone. She was lonely. It was fine at first; she had some of her old friends and neighbors to keep her company. But year after year, she watched them die one after another, and before she knew it, she was alone again. She had always thought that it was such a gift for someone to live to be eighty, ninety or even a hundred. Now she thinks that it is more of a curse. It was just too painful to see her friends and loved ones die out throughout the years.
Being alone again didn’t bother her as much at first; she tried to keep busy. She took up a few hobbies, gardening lessons among them. She started working more and more on her flowers and plants, and in a couple of weeks, she turned that wasteland of her front yard into the most enchanting garden in the neighborhood. But day after day, week after week, she gradually lost interest, and her beautiful garden lost its charm again. It is a shame really; everyone loved that garden. It has always amazed me how some people can invest so much time and hard work in something so beautiful, only to let it die as if it were nothing, as if it had never mattered, all that effort and time in vain.
A few weeks after that, she started learning how to knit; knitting had always fascinated her. She had always wondered about it. Making beautiful clothing out of a bunch of yarn balls is like making a gorgeous portrait out of some useless paint. It is all about paying attention to the small details; just one small mistake might mess up the whole thing. It is all about using the right colors with the right knitting pattern and stitches. It is an art in itself. She thought that knitting some colorful wool socks for the grandchildren she never gets to see anymore would be fun, but that didn’t work out so well either. After a couple of months she got bored and eventually moved on to the next best thing.
She started spending most of her time outside, going from one shop to another, using money to buy her a few hours of pleasure. She knew that she would never use most of the stuff she was buying, but still it made her feel good just to get dressed, to brush her hair, to put on her make up, to take the metro train, to buy things, to socialize with people, to see the world. She was somebody again. She was happy again.
It did not matter to her where she was going or what she was doing. All that mattered was that she was out there, seeing others and others seeing her, and somehow that was enough. It is funny how something so small, something most of us take for granted can mean everything to someone.
One of those days, she made her way from her house to the metro station as usual, swiped her card, took the stairs, and found her train waiting for her. She took that long metro ride to the heart of the city; she couldn’t wait to get there as fast as she could. Just the thought of going shopping again and treating herself to some fancy clothes or expensive jewelry was enough to make her smile. She started looking through the window next to her while holding her purse close to her chest. The train started speeding down the track, but she felt like she was just sitting still while everything else was speeding by. She was enjoying watching the world flying by her window, watching the scenery changing from trees, to buildings, to streets. And then, suddenly, it was black as the train disappeared into a tunnel, the first of many underground tunnels; her view now was nothing but her own strange reflection.
She looked at that woman in the window who was staring back at her. “Is that lonely, old woman really me?” she thought to herself as she was caressing her gray hair. She started looking at her old, wrinkled skin, at the bags under her eyes, at her nose, at her lips; she managed to find flaws in everything. A lot of questions were going through her puzzled mind: “Why do we have to get so old? Why do we have to get so weak? Why do we have to get so lonely? How come when we’re young everybody wants to be around us and when we’re old, others barely notice us? What is the point of living if we are all going to die like this anyway?”
A single tear started rolling down her cheek, as she started thinking about her husband, her children, her friends, and how much she loved and missed them. She started feeling a bit tired, so she laid her head against the window and closed her eyes for a minute, just to rest for a little; but instead she fell into a deep sleep.
Suddenly, the train burst into a dazzling brightness, into the city. Hours and hours went by while she was sitting still in her seat with her eyes closed, speeding down the track from one station to the next. People got on and off the train, sitting next to her, but no one took any notice. She was in that train for the rest of the day, until people finally figured out that the old lady sleeping next to them was not just asleep.
Published with permission. The Last Passage (2011) received 1st prize in the National Competition of Creative Writing in English in Morocco.
Hicham Sbaa was born in 1987 in Tiznit, Morocco. He received his B.A in English studies and literature from Cadi Ayyad University in Marrakech in 2008. While growing up, Hicham lived in many cities all over the country including Tiznit, Taroudant, Kelâa Sraghna, Berkane, and Marrakech. After his graduation, his love for other cultures and languages inspired him to sign up for a facilitation program for intercultural dialogue at the American Language Center in 2009. He later joined the ALC teaching staff and has been an ESL instructor for the past two years. His dream is to be a teacher trainer in ESL one day.
Hicham writes short stories in his free time. In 2009 he won his first local award for a combination of 3 short stories. His story, 13 Steps to Nowhere (2010), won the 1stprize award in the first edition of the National Competition of Creative Writing in English in Morocco. The following year he won the 1st prize award again in the same category in the second edition of the competition for his latest story: The Last Passage (2011). In 2011, it was organized by: The Moroccan Association of Friends of English in partnership with The Regional English Language Office (RELO), and The British Council in corporation with Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University. In 2010, it was organized by The Moroccan Association of Friends of English in partnership with The Regional Cultural Center and The American Embassy in corporation with Sidi Mohamed Ben Abdellah University.
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Text copyright ©2011 Hicham Sbaa. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Michelle Schwartzbauer. All rights reserved.
Illustration copyright ©2012 Barbara Redmond. All rights reserved.