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October 20, 2016

The Other: A Dramatic Monologue

by Zahir

No, I am not a murderer. I am someone miserably trapped within the suffocating layers of colonial oppression. You might be a policeman interrogating me about my sole crime but even you are a victim. You are also a prisoner of a vicious and pitiless system that believes in killing innocents under the pretext of civilization.

My sincere apologies being for such a rude host; you are after all in my prison cell. I have some dates left over from the journey. Here you go, one for me and one for you. Firstly I must thank you for listening so patiently to me. You might not understand what I am saying but your continued presence by my side tells me that you are a moral man stuck in an immoral situation. To put your mind at ease I will declare to you that I am guilty. But before I declare what I am guilty of I will first beg you to show me further kindness and continue to listen to me.

From the frown lines on your face, I deduce that you are torn between compassion for the Arab jailed in front of you and your justice system which ensures that I face death sentence. I assure you that you have as little choice as I do. There is nothing wrong about that, it is how colonizers and colonized live together. Boundaries both geographically and culturally must be demarcated to ensure the sense of otherness perpetually hangs in the air. Ethnic segregation you must agree has structured our society and will continue to do so. Why you ask? In my opinion it is do with religion on our part and injustice from your side. I know the word injustice unsettles you but you must understand that when you came to Algeria you bought the best lands and left the worst for us. My tribe was hit frequently by famine and forced my family members to seek work on your farms and vineyards. I grew up with the stench of resentment and bitterness hanging around me. There were no roads, electricity and hardly enough food to feed the entire tribe. You see, large family is a sign of prestige for us so it meant there was very little to eat. By the time I was old enough to understand who the thief was and who had been robbed we were dispossessed of our tiny land. The main reason being we did not accept your laws regarding ownership of our land. Hunger is a powerful weapon. One time, we only had piles of wild-lily roots which we boiled and ate. Borrow money? From where could we have borrowed tell me kind officer. If we borrowed from you, you had interest rate rocketing to the sky. For some the only way out was to convert to your religion and denounce Allah and his Prophet and gave their children Latin names. I wonder what they were thinking when the call for prayers was recited five times a day. It must have been humiliating for them, nonetheless a necessary evil.

The hunger gnawed my insides and screamed for change. My hunger turned into a weapon, something I craved to fight against. So I decided to leave my village for the city. My plan was to learn a craft and hopefully send money to my family. I was ready to embrace your countrymen in order to support my dwindling tribe, more than that I had too much pride to be reduced to an illiterate statistic. I did not know my worth until I migrated and saw myself as how you see me. I was and am a faceless Arab who will never learn your ways. No matter how many times you teach me the four rivers of France or how to wear black leather boots instead of my sandals and jellaba, I cannot become what you want me to become. In the city, I worked alongside your people but never formed any friendships even though we all were equal when it came to craftsmanship. I still brought them coffee and carried out menial tasks that were beneath the other workers. The chasm between us revolved around cultural differences and when they made no move to understand who I was, I stubbornly refused to embrace their way of life as well.

Even though I received no proper education mainly because it was extremely difficult for us to enter the education system, I learnt French albeit broken sentences and picked up that our work was threatened by mechanisation. Cooperage was a dying art and our boss refused to increase our wages in order to maintain a margin of profit. It was difficult for any of us to change trade especially when it had been awfully difficult for me to convince my boss to hire an ignorant Arab. Petty money, long hours and building fatigue accumulated our anger but everyone’s hands were tied. My resentment grew and I had no desire to hold it back.

Please help yourself to some of the bread if it is still soft. I hope you understand that I am narrating to you glimpses of my life which will explain to you the reason for my guilt. The last thing I want to do is make you uncomfortable. Shall I continue? Thank you, dear officer. I woke up one day never to return to work. I never gave my boss any explanation for resigning and he never came looking for me. I felt like a slave who was suddenly free. For once in my life I had no one to answer to and no one to support. I was nothing but a dreamer and my heart leapt with youthful glory underneath the blazing sun with hope and the decision to fight back: free Algeria became my daily prayer.

My fight was not against an individual or any political party but against oppression and mass killings of innocents. I was a lowly worker who was willing to do anything to regain the once lost land that had been wrongfully snatched from us. Now, in the city I shared my room with another man who after I resigned from my job started asking me about the French I had worked with. He showed me how I was treated like a second class citizen in my own country and something must be done about it. I was pumped with contempt and anger to the point I was more than ready to hit back. My disadvantage was that I had never received formal education but because of work and my youth I was physically fit.

It happened so that my roommate kept me up all night asking me about my family, my opinion on French Algeria and what I thought of justified killings. I was never a philosopher but I knew one thing, I was not going to compromise any further. It was all or nothing. My answer registered a faint smile on my companion and he handed me a slip of paper. On the paper was a time and address that I had to visit the next morning. Looking back, I was extremely afraid to question him about what he wanted me to do or what will happen if I went there. At the designated place, the metal door opened slight and a messenger bag was slipped with a scribbled paper of further instructions. I did not even have a chance to see who had placed the bag or if I even trusted my roommate to pick it up. Yet, somehow I did. I took it and went to the place that I was instructed to drop it off. It was a bustling market square with majority of Europeans decked out in their colonial supremacy. The sun scorched the back of my head and fear trickled down my spine but I soldiered forward. I kept reciting Allahu Akbar (God is Great) and thinking of my dispossessed family. This was for my people, there was no going back.

I notice that you have turned your face away from me. I think you also know what I am about to say next. I am deeply sorry if I have caused you pain with my account but you must understand that it is a lie to say Algeria is French. Yes, one some level I was aware that I was carrying a monster in my bag which blew up the entire square and the people in it. Not only your people were killed by me, but sadly mine too.  My fight had spiralled into this monstrosity which I have never stopped blaming myself for.

After the bomb implant, it was dangerous for me to go back to my apartment so I lived in an abandoned well for a number of days until the heat died down. The dominating presence in the streets was that of soldiers wearing green fatigues with trained dogs ready to jump at any suspicious Arab. It was exceedingly difficult to get out of the walled city at that time but I managed to pay for my passage back to the mountains. I was disillusioned and confused by my actions and my guilt was a parasite that ate my youth away. By the time I arrived back to my village, I was a shrunken man with no hope for the future. I was a bomber who did not know how many he had killed. The uncertainty was worse than any punishment.

Have you experienced suppression so extreme that all you can do is cry out in rebellion? The pain etched on your face shows that you are my companion in such times. I am a simple man, but I have the right to think. And I think that it is better to die on one’s feet than to live on one’s knee.  So, when I went back home to find out that my village was suffering the worst famine to date due to the harsh weather conditions, my despondency grew. I could do nothing but mourn the loss of what I had never really experienced: freedom. Such mental condition can make a man go crazy. I was half deranged with guilt and anger.

A week after my homecoming, I was startled awake in the middle of the night to hear one my family members slinking away in the night. Due to the dense snow and chilly winds, it was unusual for outside trips at such a time so I followed him. He led me to a boulder at the foot of the mountain that cuts our village from the world and there he waited. I held my breath and waited with him. After a length of time, we were joined by a dark figure who exchanged greetings with my cousin. I was unable to hear their conversations without revealing myself but I knew who he had become. He had betrayed his land, his tribe and his family. My cousin was a harki[1] and he must be killed. Allah knows and see everything!

My fight against colonialism came in the form of my cousin and I killed him in the bright daylight for my entire tribe to witness. I slaughtered him with my billhook and showed everyone how far the enemy had infiltrated our lives. My tears flowed as I saw his head separated from his body. They flowed for him and our land which was gushing with the blood of my people.

So, no I am not a murderer but a rebel. By rebelling I acknowledge your power over me but through my account I am making it clear to you that your power is dependent on my subordination. You are the guest in my land and you will leave, I promise you.

I may not believe in your justice but I believe that what I did was wrong in planting that bomb. For that crime I should be punished. I want a huge crowd of spectators hissing and cursing me when I am executed. It is only fair that I receive the same amount of hatred that I feel for them. Hatred manifests into evil. Me, I am a slave. But if I am evil, I am no more enslaved. Death is my liberation and nothing remains for me in this hell. Nothing but to be reborn or die; I choose death.

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