Welcome to Paradise

( 19 )

Overview


Mahi Binebine’s courageous novel takes place in Morocco, where seven would-be immigrants, pulled by the dream of a better life, gather one night near the Straight of Gibraltar, the ten-mile-wide waterway that separates Europe and Africa, to wait for a signal from traffickers that it is time to cross. While they wait, their stories unfold: Kacem is an escapee from the civil war in Algeria; Nuara, with her newborn child, hopes to find her husband, who hasn’t been in touch for months since moving to France; and ...
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Overview


Mahi Binebine’s courageous novel takes place in Morocco, where seven would-be immigrants, pulled by the dream of a better life, gather one night near the Straight of Gibraltar, the ten-mile-wide waterway that separates Europe and Africa, to wait for a signal from traffickers that it is time to cross. While they wait, their stories unfold: Kacem is an escapee from the civil war in Algeria; Nuara, with her newborn child, hopes to find her husband, who hasn’t been in touch for months since moving to France; and Aziz, the young narrator, and his cousin Reda are severed, in different ways, from their families in southern Morocco. They all share a longing to escape and a readiness to risk everything, but the only person who can help them is Morad, a fast-talking ex-con. Welcome to Paradise delves into a world that most readers know only from stories on the nightly news, delivering a compassionate glimpse into the difficulties facing asylum seekers and a striking portrait of human desperation.
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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"...determinedly humanistic and profoundly touching..." —Shelf Awareness starred review

"...A strong, unsparing novel..."—Booklist

“A masterful account of North Africans trying to sneak across the Straits of Gibraltar into Spain . . . A fine debut: richly atmospheric and evocative, at once a sharply narrated tale of suspense and a carefully constructed memoir of inner grief.”
Kirkus Reviews

"...determinedly humanistic and profoundly touching..."
Shelf Awareness

“From often bleak material, Mahi Binebine has writeen a moving novel that is full of life and light, aided by a fine translation from the French by Lulu Norman.”
The Independent

“Binebine describes their plight in crisp elegant prose, which manages to convey compassion but avoids sentimentality.”
Camden Journal

“Mahi Binebine is the first Moroccan writer to give these lives an identity.”
El Pais

“Sober and unsentimental, Welcome to Paradise is a highly moving homage to the new wretched of the earth.”
Le Monde

“Binebine writes with humanity...His is a rare voice, genuine, subtle and wry, even as it tells of private miseries and public suffering.”
Observer

“At once sympathetic to a people’s plight and angry with its self-delusions, this is a brave book to have written and a rich, unsettling one to read.”
Literary Review

"I was profoundly moved by a beautiful, necessary Moroccan short novel, Welcome to Paradise ...exquisitely written and a perfect antidote to quasi-racist hysteria over asylum seekers."
—Catherine Lockerbie, Scotsman

"Why are illegal African emigrants so desperate to gatecrash Western Europe? The answers are explored in Mahi Binebine's terse, bleak compassionate Welcome to Paradise which is both topical and rare in tracing the phenomena to its roots: to the poverty and cruelty the emigrants are escaping."
Financial Times

"The suspense is compelling, and the novel's lyricism assails a dehumanising anonymity. There is a Sisyphean epic unfolding in the endless effort to reach paradise and the repetitive cycle of failure and defeat."
Guardian

William Palmer
It is very doubtful if this novel by a Moroccan author will be read by those who need to read it. That is, those who regard "asylum-seekers" as alien creatures chosen to receive massive benefits from the state and then to beg in our streets... A shame; Welcome to Paradise might allow some light to penetrate their minds.... From often bleak material, Mahi Binebine has written a moving novel that is full of life and light, aided by a fine translation from the French by Lulu Norman.
The Independent (London)
Kirkus Reviews
Moroccan painter-novelist Binebine offers a glimpse into the Third World through a masterful account of North Africans trying to sneak across the Straits of Gibraltar into Spain. There's a touch of Casablanca about the tale, except that the refugees here aren't Europeans and the cafe they hang out in is a good deal less glamorous than Rick's. Narrator Aziz is biding his time with everyone else at the Cafe France, a little place on the beach near Tangier, waiting for the arrival of the boat that will smuggle the group into Spain. Most emigrants from North Africa are poor and fairly desperate, but beyond that this is a pretty diverse group, each person bearing (or concealing) some profound grief that drives him or her to flee home under the worst circumstances imaginable. Nuara's case is fairly straightforward: Her husband, Suleiman, has worked in France for years but only recently has stopped sending money home, leading Nuara to fear that he has died or-worse-found another woman. Aziz's cousin Reda still labors under the shame of his mother's suicide, just as Yussef is haunted by the tragic misunderstanding that led his father accidentally to poison most of his large family. The masseur Yarce is at loose ends, having been dismissed by his rich English employer, who had promised to take him home to England with him. As they wait in the little cafe run by Momo, the thrice-deported Francophile who is the go-between for the smugglers, each of the little group eventually tells his story-all save Aziz, that is, whose own history is murkier and in some ways more troubled than any of the others. When they finally see the light from the ship, all are more than ready to leave. The only remainingquestion is whether they will arrive. A fine debut: richly atmospheric and evocative, at once a sharply narrated tale of suspense and a carefully constructed memoir of inner grief.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781935639275
  • Publisher: Tin House Books
  • Publication date: 4/10/2012
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 176
  • Product dimensions: 4.90 (w) x 7.70 (h) x 0.60 (d)

Meet the Author


Mahi Binebine was born in Marrakech in 1959. He studied in Paris and taught mathematics, until he became recognized first as a painter, then as a novelist. Binebine lived in New York in the late 1990s, when his paintings began to be acquired by the Guggenheim Museum.
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Read an Excerpt

WELCOME TO PARADISE


By MAHI BINEBINE

Tin House Books

Copyright © 1999 Librairie Artheme Fayard
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-935639-27-5


Chapter One

BACK IN THE village, the old people were always telling us about the sea, and each time in a different way. Some said it was like a vast sky, a sky of water foaming across infinite, impenetrable forests where ghosts and ferocious monsters lived. Others maintained that it stretched farther than all the rivers, lakes, ponds, and streams on earth put together. As for the wise old boys in the square, who spoke as one on the matter, they swore that God was storing up that water for Judgment Day, when it would wash the earth clean of sinners.

It was dark and there was a faint mist. Hidden behind a rock, we could hear the sound of the wind and the waves. Morad had said the sea was calm at that time of year and we'd believed him. We'd believe anything as long as it meant we could get away—as far away as possible, and for good.

A black shadow hovered near the boat. It was the trafficker. We didn't know his name, we just called him "Boss" with a kind of fearful deference, the way you might a teacher brandishing a cane, a cruel-eyed policeman, a wizard casting spells, or anyone that holds your future in his hands. From time to time, strange grunts emerged from his turned-down hood.

I wasn't sure if it was the fear or the cold that was making my cousin Reda shiver. Both, maybe. We were all cold and frightened, but Reda seemed to have it worst. His face looked pale and strained, he was hugging his Adidas bag to his chest and his teeth were chattering. Nonstop. He'd just lit a cigarette when the shadow swooped and grabbed it, and stuck it in his mouth. Reda didn't even react, he just kept on shivering and his teeth kept chattering. Near me, Nuara was nursing her baby. I couldn't work out how old she was from her round, plumpish face. Crowned with tightly plaited hair, her head was rocking to the rhythm of a silent lullaby. A breast hung slackly from her blouse. I stared at it, my eyes glued to the nipple in the minuscule mouth. The baby, whose bawling we dreaded, was kneading it in his tiny little hands. The trafficker had made no bones about it: "Any noise, one mistake, and this'll be a living hell for all of us." But good God, what hell could that be? Was there a deeper, blacker one than the one poverty had cast us into?

Apart from us four, there was Kacem Judi, an Algerian from Blida who'd been a teacher in the days when his country was at peace, Pafadnam and Yarcé, two Malians visible only by the whites of their eyes, and Yussef, who said he came from Marrakesh but whose thick accent sounded Berber to me, probably from the Middle Atlas. It seemed calm enough, our little group. Pafadnam, who was so big he was like a giant, was on his third go. Why did he have to tell us? Only the night before, in the café, Morad, the traffickers partner, had assured us that crossing the Strait of Gibraltar never took more than a few hours. "Its not a trip to the moon," he'd joked.

I had laughed, but Reda had not. He had a dreadful stomachache, which made him get up from the table every quarter of an hour, only to come back just as pale as he'd left. Morad, whose short, cocky build, carefully groomed appearance, and macabre sense of humor reminded us of the Spaniards in Tangier, had warned us, "If that idiot keeps on getting the shits, we're throwing him overboard!" At this, my cousin had practically fainted and things had taken a turn for the worse. Suddenly there was a pestilential stink, and everyone was backing away from the table. Everyone except me, of course. It was stifling in the café. The Moroccan national orchestra was cranking out a patriotic song on the radio and the blue ceiling was hidden behind a veil of kif and tobacco smoke. Reda didn't dare move. He stayed perched on the edge of his seat, hands clamped to the arms of the plastic chair. Tentative at first, the grumbling from the nearby tables grew nastier as the stink spread, until finally it alerted the waiter, who ran up, foaming at the mouth, like a wild animal whose territory's been soiled. Instantly sniffing out the situation, he began to yell at the top of his voice. I stood up and stuck out my chest, ready to put a stop to his insults, but seeing I only came up to his shoulder, I changed my tune.

"This young man is ill, sir!"

"I'm not his mother, you scumbag!" he cursed, grabbing Reda by the collar of his shirt. I tried to step between them and took a blow to the chin, which left me stunned for a moment, so instead I followed them outside. An abrupt silence had fallen over the terrace, everyone was staring at us. The café waiter, whose shrill voice sounded ridiculous coming from his hulking frame, pushed Reda ahead of him, hurling abuse. A trickle of urine came after. Someone sniggered, then someone else, and the whole terrace erupted. Reda wasn't doing anything. He seemed far away, letting himself be put out like the garbage. Spurred on by the customers' gibes, the waiter triumphantly crowned his bravery with a vicious kick that sent my cousin sprawling into the gutter.

I didn't like seeing Reda on the ground. Id never been able to bear it. As kids, back in the village, everyone, even the puniest boy in our gang, used to beat him up. Whenever the slightest quarrel broke out, he'd panic and be paralyzed with fear. He'd hunch up, using his arms to protect his face, and wait for me to come to the rescue. I always would. It often cost me, but I was always there to defend him, because Reda is my blood. So, in front of this terrace full of layabouts, shoeshine boys, kids renting out newspapers, petty crooks, corrupt civil servants, and other complete nobodies, I bent down and picked up my blood. I didn't even deign to insult that barbarian rabble, though my throat seethed with curses heaven had rarely heard. If they'd caught even a glimmer of the hate and scorn that glittered in my eyes, they'd have stopped laughing and pointing. Because a man from the South, humiliated as I was, is an unpredictable man, capable of the craziest things.

Staggering slightly, Reda leaned his full weight on me, his arm round my shoulder, his head lolling forward. We walked away slowly, in silence. Id have liked to tell him the terrible forms my vengeance would take. That bastards got it coming, Ill have him, you'll see. I've got plans for him ... an ambush ... at night ... some dark alley. He wont see a thing. Lucky I held on to my switchblade; little brother was dying to get his hands on it, wasn't he! (I almost gave it to him before we left. The little monkey had woken at dawn and was standing there, by the dusty lorry that was taking Reda and me north. He looked at me, his eyes all shining, not asking for anything, but I knew how desperate he was for that knife.) See, I was right not to give in. You should always keep your knife on you. Ill make that bastard bleed; he's big, but Ill take him by surprise; I'll slash his face, give him an almighty scar to remember me by ... This is a son of Tassaout you're dealing with here. Believe it.

So I carried on plotting bloody revenge, but Reda never knew. He walked beside me, his arms dangling, his bag slung across his chest. We headed for the street pump—a bit of a cleanup was looking pretty urgent. No offense to him, but my cousin stank like rotting meat. The grilled sardines we'd forced down at midday near the port must have had something to do with it. Anyway, the ridiculous price should have tipped me off. Still, I pretended I couldn't smell anything. The setting sun cast a peachy glow over the walls, the shops, the animals, and people as we walked, and the pump wasn't much farther. Some snotty-nosed kids were playing round it. It was not a reassuring sight; I knew what that scabby mob could do if they caught Reda having a quiet wash in the middle of the street. I knew exactly how ferocious they could be. When I was a kid, God forgive me, a beggar coming to wash at the pump was pure heaven for us. We'd lie in wait like cats until he had his ass in the air, then leap out and put him through all the miseries known to man. We'd steal his bundle or his skullcap or wed tug at his hood, making him fall over backward. That was the funniest sight on earth. To see him soaked to the skin with his trousers round his ankles and no way of running after us, frothing with rage, ranting and cursing, had us in complete ecstasy. We'd roll on the ground, splitting our sides with laughter. We'd clap our hands, shouting victory to the skies. But now, in this putrid, muggy dusk, with my pitiful cousin in his pitiful state, laughing was the last thing on my mind.

We sat down by the pump, without speaking, without even looking at each other, and, huddled together like two lost beggars, waited patiently for night to fall.

Chapter Two

WHAT ARE THOSE lights over there? Reda asked.

A gust of wind sprayed us with damp sand, making everyone shudder.

"That's Spain, isn't it? Isn't that Spain?"

Nobody was in a chatting mood.

"Morad did say that on clear nights you could see ..."

"Shut up!" growled the trafficker.

"If paradise were that close, son," murmured the Algerian, Id have swum there by now.

We all smiled.

Reda felt emboldened: "So what are those lights then?"

"They're lightships," said the Algerian, as if he were an authority on all things illegal.

Reda stared goggle-eyed.

"A lightship is a floating beacon, son, which gives sailors their bearings, important ones. But that makes it dangerous."

"Dangerous?"

"Deadly sometimes. The coastguard are often lurking nearby. And those bastards'll sometimes imitate the lightships by turning their searchlights so they shine straight up at the sky; the novice smugglers get drawn in like moths."

Reda's teeth set to chattering again. His complexion turned green, making me dread another explosion from the gut area.

The sea spray and the sand kept up their attack, whipping our faces at regular intervals. The rock that sheltered us wasn't very high; I didn't see why we couldn't have picked another one.

Leaning against the boat, which lay upturned on the sand, dressed in an incongruous three-piece suit, the Algerian began to explain in a reassuring voice that an experienced smuggler would never fall for such childish tricks. And, judging by his appearance and composure, our gracious Savior looked a proper seadog. Look how he's scanning the sky, you can tell he understands the language of the stars. Believe you me, he's a past master in the art of reading the night. Oh, you have to be an artist as well to do this job, my children, a true artist!

Having made several attempts to cross, Kacem Judi knew what he was talking about. And they'd have been successful, too, if it weren't for the rotten luck that clung to him, if, like most of his countrymen, he weren't cursed by the gods—he, Kacem Judi, the survivor of the butchery at Blida. Because bad luck is like lice: once it takes hold, it's very hard to get rid of. Not that it had affected his longing to escape; he'd always come through his countless adventures unscathed. And this time, he could feel it in his bones, this was going to be the one ...

Just when we were least expecting it, because he seemed to be asleep, the baby started bawling. Very loudly.

Back in the village, we have a house made of mud and spit, with two furnished rooms (grass mats, sheepskins, and cushions); a stable housing one scrawny cow, two goats, and an old she-ass; and a small yard mainly taken up by a large well with adobe. Doors are rough woollen blankets woven by my mother. I'm the eldest of eight brothers and sisters. In other words, no stranger to screaming kids. But this little maniac's crying took my breath away: it was a shrill, sharp, siren wail; quite impressive for such a wisp of a thing. The shadow stirred and gave another grunt. Reda's teeth, which had only just stopped chattering, started up again. Nuara struggled to comfort her boy with exaggerated rocking movements, humming a tune that made the little mite cry more instead of calming him down.

The pressure mounted: on tenterhooks, we waited for the trafficker's verdict. There was going to be one, and from such a prickly individual we knew it would be harsh. But he was taking his time, while the bawling grew louder. I was keeping an eye on Reda, whose courage could have deserted him at any moment that night. Kacem Judi was cleaning his nails with a Swiss army knife, just like one Id been given by a tourist I'd shown around for a few days. Salvation eventually came from Yarcé, the Malian who up until then hadn't uttered a word.

He was a timid, unassuming little fellow; wed almost forgotten he was there, so buried was he in darkness and silence, a shadow among the nights shadows.

"Just put him under the boat and lets be done with it!" he muttered, as naturally as could be. At first the suggestion seemed absurd, cruel, but on second thoughts it wasn't so foolish. Yussef even backed him up, saying that under the boat the baby would be out of the cold and damp that were chilling us to the bone. The argument sank in, we weighed the pros and cons, and still hesitated. But when the trafficker turned to Nuara with a determined look, we all agreed the plan was worthwhile, sensible, and in the end, the only option.

At first the young woman shook her head; she hugged her child to her and tried to give him the breast again. Then, slowly getting to her feet, she fixed her pleading eyes on ours, which were lowered but unyielding, and then, without a word, she took to her heels and vanished into the dark. She didn't run far, poor thing. We were a long way from the city, in a deserted, lifeless place with hostile cliffs, gusting sand, and just the melancholy echo of the odd drunk and a few nocturnal seagulls trailing an invisible trawler. The safest thing was to stay with us, Nuara knew that, which was why she came back a little later, looking sheepish, her head bowed, heralded by the shrieking of her offspring.

"I'm not leaving my baby alone under there," she said, in a strangled voice. "If you let me, Ill go in with him."

She knelt down, her trembling hands gripping her baby tight enough to suffocate him.

"Now there's a wise decision!" exclaimed Yussef.

Our anxious glances all rested on the trafficker, who acted as if he hadn't noticed a thing. He was wearing an enormous green oilskin with the hood lowered over his face like a cowl, which made him look like a sea ghost. His agreement, when it came, was a huge relief. A chorus of sighs greeted the outcome and again we praised Yarcé's suggestion. He'd already shrunk back into himself, miles away from everything.

Four of us got in position to lift the boat, which weighed a ton. Mother and child slipped underneath and lay down on a snarl of ropes, and we lowered the hull, taking care not to crush them. The effect was instantaneous and unexpected: the baby immediately fell silent and Nuara stopped sniffling. Flashing his silver teeth, the trafficker turned to the Malian and nodded. Though jealous, we all did the same. It was the first time our gracious Savior had shown a trace of human warmth, and we were inordinately grateful for that small gesture, as if he'd granted some extraordinary boon. Yussef went so far as to hold out his hand, which the trafficker declined; after all, courtesy had its limits.

What had happened underneath the boat? Kacem Judi, who had a detailed explanation for just about everything, declared that mother and child had simply gone out like a light and sunk into a deep sleep, as any of us would have done. I had a different take on it, although the Algerian wasn't really wrong; we were all so exhausted that we could have gone straight to sleep in the roughest conditions. But for me this upturned boat on the sand prompted strange thoughts, images without beginning or end, a parade of fantasies I couldn't get out of my head. Yes, that boat covering living souls made me think of a giant coffin, a bottomless box open to the shades below. I saw the earth pregnant with a mother nursing her child, life and death joined in the same, lonely silence. I saw the sand breathing, the night conspiring. Mother and baby warm and dry, their hearts at peace, huddled together in the dark pit of a stomach, where the roar of the sea sounded, as in a shell. Were they still alive? Had they tasted the first fruits of that bliss my grandfather used to speak of, that ineffable peace on the banks of everlasting night? Whatever the truth of it, for hours on end and until the first barking of the dogs, no one heard them so much as twitch.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from WELCOME TO PARADISE by MAHI BINEBINE Copyright © 1999 by Librairie Artheme Fayard. Excerpted by permission of Tin House Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 19 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted December 26, 2012

    Chi

    Im back!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Frostfang and Applefoot

    The two toms paddd in.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 5, 2012

    Sharkit

    Erin Hunter first result. The post was titeled, "To Help"

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 4, 2012

    Snowdust

    "Moonfade!" Sha said happily

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2012

    A small kit

    *it layex on the ground dead*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2012

    Stormbird

    "Um...sure." Stormbord meowed.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 27, 2012

    Chi

    Chi goes back to Chi's clan.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Shiverkit

    *glared at all the cats around her and layed down to sleep.*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    Chxjvive

    She pads around boredly.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 22, 2012

    To wolfstar

    Can i rp emberkit

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 25, 2012

    To silverfire

    Im there

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2012

    Spottedpelt and kits

    Spottedpelt-"I got braces today."
    Redkit-*Leaps onto Featherkit*
    Dewkit-*Bats at Spottedpelt's tail*
    Featherkit*Sqeals and bats Redkit*

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    Emberpaw

    He snored softly.
    (Be back Sunday)

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    Firespark

    Nyaah sorry i been gone so long D: haha

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 20, 2012

    Kit

    Mews

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 19, 2012

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 18, 2012

    The she cat

    No she hissed if i did id put u in danger there after me my kit will b safe here her name is Icekit just make sure shes loved and ok she runs off into the forest

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 2, 2012

    snowdust

    Looks for someone

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 24, 2012

    TO ALL

    Please help Snowclan at fdsa results one to nine by advertizing in erin hunter all results. Wolfstar and me are friends. We are a jointed clan too so you guys can come into our teritory when ever you please. Im locked out of erin hunter for some reason. So please help advertize my clan! Stonestar. Ps. If you can read my story the golden cat at golden girl all results and ask questions at qu second result and ill answer the question in result four at qu. Read nightfall's job at qu third(chapter one) sixth(second chapter) and fifth (chapter three/last chapter) results. Thank you so much for reading. The auther(Stonestar too)

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