One of the most unusual literary innovations ever produced, A Life Full of Holes is the result of a singular collaboration between two remarkable individuals: Driss ben Hamed Charhadi, an illiterate North African servant and street vendor, and legendary American novelist and essayist Paul Bowles. The powerful story of a shepherd and petty trafficker struggling to maintain hope as he wrestles with the grim realities of daily life, it is the first novel ever written in the Arabic dialect Moghrebi, faithfully recorded and translated into English by Bowles. Straightforward yet rich in complex emotions, it is a fascinating inside look at an unfamiliar culture—harsh and startling, yet interwoven with a poignant, poetic beauty.
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A Life Full of Holes
When I was eight years old my mother married a soldier. We lived in Tettaouen. One day my mother's husband came home and told her: We've got to go to Tanja. They're moving the barracks there, so we have to move too.
All right, she said. If we have to go to Tanja, let's go.
Get everything ready. When the truck comes to the house, we'll put it all in and go.
Ouakha, she said. She packed everything, clothes and mattresses and cushions, and at noon a truck came. They put the things in. Then we got into the truck too, and they drove us away. We went to Tanja and took a house in Dradeb.
We had been living there three or four months. One day I went out of the house by myself. I did not know the houses or the people in the quarter. I went out and started to walk along, and I kept walking, walking, until I was far away, up on the Boulevard. And night came and I began to cry. A man said to me: What's the matter?
I don't know where my mother is and I don't know where my house is.
He said: Come with me. I'll take you home. He took me to the comisaría. A policeman was sitting in a chair in the doorway. He asked me: Where do you live?
I told him: In Tettaouen.
Poor boy, he said. Come on. He gave me a mat and told me: Sit down there. Are you hungry?
Yes, I said. Then he brought a little food and a piece of bread.
Have you finished? Give me the bowl. I gave it to him and he took it away. Then he said: Come here. Take off those old trousers. Take them off. Don't be afraid. So I took them off. Come here, he told me. Sit down on mylap. He was unfastening his trousers. Don't be afraid, he kept saying. Then I thought I saw a snake in his hand, and I jumped down and ran out of the room. He ran after me, but another man caught me.
What's the matter? Where are your clothes?
In the room, I said. The first policeman came running. Grab him! He's lost. Give him to me.
He put me in another room and brought me my trousers. Get in here. Stop crying. I didn't do anything to you, did I?
And don't say anything to anybody.
He shut the door and left me there, and I slept. In the morning a Spanish man came. The policeman told him: Somebody brought the boy here last night. He's from Tettaouen. He's lost.
Where do you live? he asked me.
In Tettaouen, I told him.
Come on, he said. And he took me to Tettaouen.
The police looked everywhere in Tettaouen for my mother, and they could not find her. And they said: This boy has no family. We'll put him into the Fondaq en Nedjar.
They put me into the Fondaq en Nedjar, where they send children and women too, who have no families. In the fondaq they said to me: Boy, where do you live? I told them: Here in Tettaouen. And they too looked and looked for my house, and found nothing, nothing.
And I stayed there. They gave me clothes and shoes and everything I needed. We ate every day and had blankets to sleep under. And I was still small and not yet circumcised. They saw that and said: You'll have to be circumcised. I was afraid, and I said: No! When I find my mother I'll do it.
They called the pacha. He came and said: That boy must be circumcised now. Two men took hold of me and handed me to the women who lived there. They killed two rams and then they circumcised me. I stayed with the women there until I was well. Some of them gave me candy, and some gave me money, but I did not know what money was. When I was well I went back to live with the others. I was learning to read. From one day to the next I was beginning to know something.
One day the khalifa came to the Fondaq en Nedjar to see the pacha. You must give all the children and women new clothes, he told him, because now I am having my wedding feast. I'm going to take them all to my orchard, so they'll be happy. They have no one to do anything for them.
The pacha called us at noon. Listen, he told us. Go and eat now, and when you've finished come back here. I'm going to give you all new clothes.
Why? we asked him.
Because you're going to the khalifa's orchard. He's going to be married.
We went and ate, and we were talking among ourselves. Allah, my friend, the khalifa's getting married! Now, we're going out to his orchard and everything will be good. A big orchard. We can hide in it and everything. Yes, we told each other.
After lunch we went out to the storeroom and they gave each one of us a shirt, a pair of trousers, a jacket and a pair of sandals. All the children. Then the women came and they gave them clothes too. We went upstairs into the mosque and studied all afternoon. When twilight came they called us. Come down and eat, they told us. When you've finished, you're going in the soldiers' truck to the khalifa's orchard.
We went down and ate. When we all had finished eating they said: Now you will not go up and sleep. Just stay here.
We sat there. Then they said: Go on out. We went into the street and walked through the Medina to the Feddane. In the Feddane under the palm tree we saw the soldiers' truck. We climbed into it. And we went riding, riding, at night, until we got to the khalifa's orchard at the foot of the mountains. We went to sleep as soon as we got there.A Life Full of Holes. Copyright © by Paul Bowles. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.