As I walk across the main square in Tunis all I’m aware of is the thin leather sandals I’m wearing flapping against the souls of my feet with every step I take; the straps of the sandals have been broken for quite some time, but I haven’t had the money to get them mended. One of my sisters offered to mend them a few weeks ago but I refused her help in my usual way – a brief shake of the head and a low growl, “No thanks, forget it.” So the sandals remain to be an irritation to me… oh well, such is life.
I pause in the bright sunlight as I feel a tug at the white linen of my sleeve. I turn around to see my younger brother Saul, who’s been following me with the trailer. He knocks off a few of the carrots as he does so, I watch him pick them up quickly… I can feel the heat from the bubbling frustration inside me even now.
“Sorry Mohammed… Do you still want to sell these?” Saul says apologetically, brushing off the dirt from the carrots. “I don’t think it will matter – no one will notice anyway. Why don’t you stop here in the shade to sell them? You don’t want to be too obvious, not when there’s so many people around.”
I brush a fly away from my face as I move defiantly into the sunlight glancing at Saul dismissively.
“No, I’ll sell my things here… I want to attract attention, that’s the whole idea of selling. Here, give me the stuff… Thanks, see you later.”
Saul hands over the vegetables to me which I set down all around me, making them as obvious as I dare. I don’t know what it is about today but I feel so on edge, so irritable my general frustration bubbling just beneath the surface, threatening to break out and erupt like a volcano at any moment. Saul can’t sense this because he turns away and disappears thankfully amongst the crowds of people. I’m left alone which I’m glad about – I can’t share this anger with anyone but I can’t afford to move or even to breathe. I want to sell most of the vegetables before I’m stopped by a policeman. I suspected this, I knew this was coming.
“Haven’t you got anything to give us?” The policeman asks me, giving me a hefty shove backwards. “You’ve been selling stuff… you must have money?”
I stare at him furiously. “I’m not giving you anything – This is all a complete sham! Get lost. Get away from me.”
He gives me a sharp slap across my face, making the blood ring in my ears, I’m so angry. My anger is sizzling within me – fighting for release.
“Don’t you dare… You’d better keep away from me.” I struggle to my feet, beginning to back away. I continue to shout at him half blind by my own fury. “You won’t get away with treating me like shit – who the Hell do you think you are? I’m going to the Governor… So you’d better get ready for the sack!”
The policeman is still laughing, even as I scuttle away amongst the crowds in the main square. I take no notice, I know where I’m heading… the Governor’s office on the other side of the square. The Red Flag flies above it signifying the high point of my anger. I suddenly feel a droplet of saliva hit me on the cheek – the droplet lies against my skin in the warm air of the afternoon. That’s all that I’m aware of as I move forwards, not caring who I’m pushing aside. The high point that I won’t be able to reach before the eruption, the lava flowing down. I run up the front steps of the building, taking the stairs two or three at a time… my leather sandals are still flapping continually against the soles of my feet all of the time.
“I want to see the Governor of Tunis right away – I’ve got the most serious complaint!” I shout in a clear voice as soon as I approach the front desk. The man sitting there looks up at me with only a very slight interest, putting down his pen. He stares at me lazily and yawns.
“Can you tell me your name? If you want to make a complaint you can at least do it properly.”
“My name is Mohammed Ali, and I want to complain about the police insulting me just now in the main square. I want something done. This sort of thing has got to stop!”
The official gazes at me briefly before pulling a sheet of paper towards him and beginning to write. Every movement he makes is very slow, deliberately slow.
“The police insulting you… are you serious? How old are you Mohammed?”
I press my fist on the surface of his desk, trying to control my anger.
“I’m 26. So please don’t treat me like a child! I want to see the Governor.”
The official smiles and shakes his head very slowly.
“I’m afraid that’s impossible. Not for something as insignificant as this. The Governor is a busy man… he has a lot more important things to do with his time. I cannot allow you to bother him.” The red flag is flapping before my eyes, the blood bubbling to the surface.
“I demand to see the Governor right now! Or else I’ll…”
“Or else what? Go away and stop wasting my time!”
I turn away from the desk and walk across the entrance hall towards the wide open doors, every pace in slow motion, as if counting out the seconds, entering the sunlight again, I can feel it beating down upon my head I can feel the ends of my black hair sizzling by the heat and my anger. I descend the front steps very slowly as if moving through a bubbling liquid, like lava, or even blood. I’m moving towards the end of my anger… I feel around in my pocket until my fingers close around a lighter. Drawing it out very slowly, I stare at it for several moments as I reach the bottom. Moving into the spotlight of the white sun, I gaze around as the expectant faces turn towards me… waiting.