by Mohamed Mahou
It was only two days before the annual feast and all the sheep were busy preparing their tribal ritual, often known as Tafaska. In fact, no day in the Mutton Year was more sacred than this one, when they celebrated their miraculous transformation into intelligent creatures. The great occasion also served as a reminder of the day, a few years ago, when the rams achieved astonishing freedom from man’s rule. As a token of revenge, maybe, they all decided to slaughter men and women every year. Pretty much like Orwell’s pigs, sheep enjoyed complete freedom in their land; they became leaders and they were blessed with taser hoofs that controlled humans. However, the mind was boggled at the fact they failed to control their fellow animals. Sheep engineers had recently been working hard in their labs to find a way to add this quality to their hoofs or horns in the near future. Another notable sheep achievement was the Hoof Party winning an overwhelming majority in the local council in the last general election and, as a result, they led the way in the Animal Land, which was renamed the Sheep Land.
Despite the intense heat of the summer, the rams of each family struggled to buy what they needed for the big yearly occasion. Onamir, a three –year old ram, was waiting for his friend on a street corner. Onamir, a polled sheep, was very woolly, rabbit-faced, and self-satisfied. It’s half past ten. The weather is getting hot already, he muttered, looking at his watch on his front left hoof and feeling impatience and heat built up in his fleece. A few minutes later, a sheep with big horns, spotted fleece, and a little chubbiness appeared around the corner and ran towards him.
“Onamir! Onamir!” the second sheep puffed, being short of breath.
“What’s up? Why are you late, Horny?” Onamir asked.
“Don’t call me Horny. You know, you’re belittling our harmless race. We’ve got minds not just horns. Don’t bring the old days back.” The second sheep was still panting from his long run on his short legs.
“OK. But what I’m going to call you then?”
“Napoleon! …No! Hitler!”
“Do you really want to be a criminal?” Onamir asked.
“Yes, the name of Hitler is fine with me. I want to be the first world-renowned criminal in our breed. Look at my incisors; they’re strong and ready to start a fight. Here are my powerful hoofs.” He was looking at his hoofs with great admiration even though, in truth, his taser shod hoofs were not the latest model and they were smeared with dirt.
“All right then Hitler, tell me why you are so late.”
“Ah, yes, um, I was chased by a wandering dog near my house. I hate these dogs. They remind me of shepherds, our ex- enemies from the ancient days. Down with dogs and shepherds!”
“I hate them, too. They don’t let us live in peace. We’re constantly disturbed by these rascals. I wish my taser charged hoofs could control them as well as they do the humans. ”
“I wish it, too. It’s what it is. They’re really disturbing busybodies. I’ll write a complaint to the president of the Sheep council about their annoyance right after Tafaska. It’s unbearable. By the way, are we still going to the Men’s souk, market?”
“Of course! Why do you think I’m waiting for you here till now?”
“OK, let’s go!”
Enthusiastically, Onamir and Hitler walked together. They passed different shops; most of them full of animals, trying to buy the many supplies that a well-laid feast requires. On both sides of Independence Road leading towards the market gate, there were different basins of water and hay. Water troughs were painted in blue while hay troughs were in green. But no animal was seen near them; probably gone were the days of eating hay. Near the gate, the goats were trying to direct the traffic, but they seemed overwhelmed by the crowds. Due to the poor system of governance of the sheep council, these new independent animals were impossible to herd. Two cows were selling tickets for the carriages and carts that wanted to enter the market. It was an overcrowded place. Sheep were scattered all around selling people to animals eagerly looking for the best ones they could afford. Onamir and Hitler squeezed past animals to keep moving forward. Some men were crouching naked near their owners. Others that had just been purchased were walking on all fours behind animals, a rope around their necks. Dust covered the area. Hitler paused to defecate before entering the market.
“Do you want a woman for Tafaska, Horny? Sorry, I mean Hitler!” Onamir asked.
“No! I’m diabetic. Women’s flesh is not good for diabetes.”
“Don’t believe all the crap you hear. I’ll buy one this year for a change. They’re cheaper than men,” Onamir pointed out with a big smile.
“My kids won’t accept that. They’re now used to eating man-flesh.”
“I don’t care about my kids. I care about my pocket. This Tafaska is always making a hole in my purse. I wish they would stop this custom we inherited from our ex-shepherds.”
“Don’t be stingy. It’s but once a year. Let’s not complain about it. Were it not for the miracle, you’d be the diner.”
“Yes! But I’m getting sick of living in this land. Too much festivity and too little work!”
“Are you crazy? We’re sheep, the leaders. We don’t work. Work is for donkeys and camels. We are animals of pleasure.”
“Yes, you’re right. We are animals of eating and sleeping. Look at the wool on your back; it’s as thick as a forest. No sheep cares to shear it for you.”
“Yes, thank God for his blessing. Let’s buy something before midday. I feel a terrible heat inside me.”
“It’s getting hotter. But first, look at this woman. Is she not fat? A big ass, isn’t it? Touch it,” Onamir said, looking at a flock of women near an old carriage. The owner, a woolly, dusty sheep, was keeping an eye on them.
“Don’t poke the buttocks of the women. If you’re looking for good meat, pinch her thighs,” called the owner.
“How much is she?” Hitler asked, poking the woman’s left thigh with his admiring hoof.
“I wouldn’t take less than one thousand dirhams for a fine specimen like her. Look at her milk teeth,” the owner said, trying to open the woman’s mouth with his hoofs. The woman was shaking her head violently. She was numbed once his taser-charged hoof zapped her body.
“Just leave her alone. Where is she from?” Hitler asked.
“I sold five of them yesterday. This is the only one left. She’s Emirati.”
“Thanks. We’re going to look around to see if we find a better one. We’re looking for something from our country.”
“Are you crazy? Our women are sick and skinny because of drought,” the owner said.
“We’ll see. Thanks, anyway.” Onamir said as they moved off deeper into the souk.
Onamir and Hitler continued trotting by, looking at the men for sale. They poked a few with their hoofs, but they found them uninteresting.
“Look here, Hitler! A European man, he looks like purebred German. Look at his big jaws. He’ll cost a fortune but he might be worth it. How much is this man, please?”
“Sorry! He has already been sold for 5000 dhs.”
“How much? Are you kidding?” Onamir asked.
“The German race is the tastiest in the world,” a black nose sheep said.
“You nailed it! That’s why I’m called Hitler.”
“Let’s walk away, Hitler.” Onamir said, nudging his friend to move forward, but Hitler just stood still.
“Look, Onamir! This young man will do. I guess he’s from here. He’s well-built and handsome. How much for this one?
“1500 dirhams,” said the seller.
“Can I see his teeth?”
The sheep tried to open the teeth of the man but in vain. The man, though he was tied in hand and foot, turned away his face. The owner suddenly flew into a rage and slapped him hard in the face with his hoof. He got hold of the man’s hair and threatened again with his hoof, forcing open the man’s mouth. There were four teeth missing.
“He has lost some of his teeth in a fight with an Algerian. This is not a problem. Look at his muscles, solid as bricks.”
“Look at his teeth. He’s as old as the hills. His flesh will be tough as bricks,” Hitler said with a mocking voice.
They walked away without further comment until they stopped near a goat Grrab, who was selling mineral water to the shoppers. He had a basin full of water and small blue bottles of Aman N Wasif and Sidi Fad flowing inside. Onamir and Hitler were by then so thirsty that they drank two each. Onamir wanted to pay the goat from the bag he was carrying around his neck. But Hitler asked Onamir to walk away without paying. The goat, shocked, gazed at them without uttering a word.
“Slow down! We’re not in a hurry,” Onamir said, not realizing that Hitler had not paid.
“Hurry up! The wandering dog is behind us. Don’t look at him.”
Suddenly, Hitler bolted down a crowded alley and disappeared in the herd of shoppers. The dog ran after him, but he could not catch him. Panting, the dog returned to Onamir and shouted in full, angry scorn, “Do you know that sheep?”
Onamir did not like the dog’s tone and just stared back.
“I’m talking to you, mutton chop. Do you know that sheep?” the dog repeated with a vicious look in his eyes.
“No! I’ve just met him in the market. We chatted a bit about the high price of people this Tafaska. Why do you ask?”
“He’s a thief. He robbed my wife this morning as she was coming back from the bank. If I get my paw on him, I’ll break his neck. He ran away with the money I saved for the feast.”
“Do dogs also celebrate the feast?”
“What do you mean?” the dog asked.
“I mean this is the beginning of our Mutton Year. Why do you care about it? In your shoes, I wouldn’t celebrate it.”
“We, dogs, don’t have our special feast. We follow the winners. Before it was Man’s year, now yours.”
“Do you do the same thing we do?” Onamir asked.
“Yes! We celebrate just like you, by sacrificing men or women who once enslaved us. I’ve got to find that dirty sheep before the market closes,” the dog growled and ran in a flash.
Onamir wandered in the market for another hour before, still, without either man or woman, he decided to go home to have lunch and to tell his wife about the prices this year. A few meters from the threshold of his house, he found Hitler checking one of his taser shod hoofs. He was surprised to see his friend there.
“Hi again. Did you buy something?” Hitler asked with a fearful voice.
“Why did you run?” Onamir said, ignoring the question.
“I told you a while ago that the dog hated me for no reason.”
“Did you steal his money?”
“Steal his money, he said that. No, of course not—” he stammered.
“Yes, you robbed his wife of her money.”
“Alright, yes, I did. I needed that money for the slaughter. My family was gnawing at me to buy a big man.”
“Tafaska is not only about eating meat, you stupid sheep!” Onamir said, shaking his head.
When Onamir reached the threshold, he was stunned to find the door ajar. His wife was waiting for him.
“Where is the man?” she asked.
“Not yet! Be patient! The souk is still hot. Tomorrow I’ll buy a woman.”
“No woman! We want a man.”
“Men are pricey today. Let’s buy a woman this year. They cook easily in a tagine.”
“I said no woman. Here is some money.”
“Where did you get it?”
“I sold TV and the iron to a dog. We’ve never used them anyway.”
“Are you nuts? Who told you to do that?”
“No! I didn’t. I have my money with me to buy my Tafaska.”
“But your friend, Hitler, came over and gave me your message. He said you wanted me to sell all the furniture before you come home.”
“Yes, a dog was with him. They gave me half of the price; the rest I’ll get it tonight. Here is the money.”
“What? This is fake money. They tricked you, stupid sheep.” Onamir tossed out the fake paper money he was holding between his teeth and got ready to go.
“Where are you going?” She asked, standing in front of him.
“I’ll kill those bastards. Sell the whole house this time!”
“What a dumb wife I have! Sheep will always remain sheep! ” Onamir yelled. He then shoved her aside and slammed the door shut behind him.
About the writer:
Mohamed Mahou is a Moroccan writer of short stories, poems and plays. His work has appeared in Adelaide Literary Magazine, Indian Periodical, Messenger of Morocco, bigbridge.org