Mokhtar lived in a room not far from his shop, overlooking the sea. There was a tiny window in the wall above his sleeping-mattress through which, if he stood in a tiptoe, he could see the waves pounding against the rocks of the breakwater far below. The sound came up, too, especially on nights when the Casbah was wrapped in rain and its narrow streets served only for the passage of unexpected gusts of wind. On these nights the sound of the waves was all around, even though he kept the window shut. Throughout the year there were many such nights,and it was precisely at such times that he didn´t feel like going home to be alone in his little room. He had been by himself ten years now, ever since his wife had died; his solitude never weighed on him when the weather was clear and the stars shone in the sky. But a rainy night put him in mind of the happy hours of his life, when in just such nocturnal wind and storm he and his great-eyed bride would pull the heavy blinds shut and live quietly in each other's company until dawn. These things he could not think about; he would go to Café Ghazel and play dominoes hour after hour with anyone who came along, rather than return to his room.
Little by little the other men who sat regularly in the café had come to count on Mokhtar's appearence. "Its beginning to rain:Si Mokthar will be along soon. Save him the mat next to you." And he never disappointed them. He was pleasant and quiet; the latter quality made him a welcome addition to a game, since the café's habitués considered each other far to talkative.
Sitting in the Café Ghazel tonight Mokhtar was unaccountably uneasy. He was disturbed by the bonelike sound of the dominoes as they were shuffled on the tables. The metallic scraping of the old phonograph in the inner room bothered him, and he looked up with an unreasoning annoyance at each new arrival who came in through door, heralded by blasts of wet wind. Often he glanced out the window beside him at the vast blackness of the sea lying below at the foot of the city. On the other side of the glass, just at the edge of the cliff, a few tall stalks of bamboo caught the light from inside, stood out white against the blackness beyond, bending painfully before the gale.
"They'll break" murmured Mokhtar.
"What?" said Mohammed Slaoui.
Mokhtar laughed, but said nothing. As the evening continued, his disconfort increased. In the inner room they had stopped the phonograph and were singing a strident song. Some of the men around him joined in the noise. He could no longer hear the wind. As that round of dominoes came to an end, he rose precipetately and said: "Good night", not caring how strange his sudden departure might seem to the others.
Outside in the street it was scarcely raining at all, but the wind raged upward from the shore below, bringing with it the bloodlike smell of the sea; the crashing waves seemed very near, almost at his feet. He looked down as he walked along. At each mound of garbage there were cats; they ran across in front of him constantly from one pile to another. As Mokhtar reached his door and pulled out his key, he had the feeling that he was about to perform an irrevocable act, that stepping inside would be a gesture of finality.
"What is happening?" he asked himself. "Am I going to die?" He would not be afraid of that; still, he would like to know it a few moments in advance, if possible. He flexed his arms and legs before opening the door: there was no pain anywhere, everything appeared to be in good condition. "It's my head", he decided. But his head felt clear, his thoughts moved forward in orderly fashion. Nevertheless, these discoveries did not reassure him; he knew something was wrong. He bolted the door behind him and began to mount the stars in the dark. More clearly than anything else at the moment he sensed that this conviction of having entered into a new region of his life was only in the nature of a warning. "Don't go on", he was being told. "Doing what" he asked himself as he undressed. He had no secrets, no involvements, no plans for the future, no responsabilities. He merely lived. He could not heed the warning because he could not understand it. And yet there was no doubt that it was there in his room, and it blinds. The rain had begun to fall again; it showered violently on the panes of glass over the corridor, and rattled down the drainpipe from the roof. And the unappeased roaring of the waves went on, down at the base of the ramparts. He considered the sadness, the coldness of the damp blanket; he touched the straw-covered wall with his finger. In the black night he groaned: "Al-lah!" and fell asleep.
But even in sleep he went on worrying; his dreams were a chaotic relentless continuation of his waking state. The same accent of implicit warning was present in the sequence of streets and shops which unrolled before his eyes. He was at the entrance to the public market. A great many people were inside, where they had gone to get out of the rain. Although it was mid-morning, the day was so dark that all the stalls were blazing with eletric lights. "If only she could have seen this," he said to himself, thinking of how much pleasure it would have given his wife. "Poor girl, in her days it was always dark here." And Mokhtar wondered if really he had the right to go on living and watching the world change, without her. Each month the world had changed a little more, had gone a little farther away from what it had been when she had know it.
Also, since she is not here to eat it, what am I doing buying meat?" He was standing before the stall of his friend Abdallah ben Bouchta, looking at the cuts that were displayed on the slab of white marble in front of him. And all at once he was embroiled in a quarrel with Bouchta. He felt himself seizing the old man by the throat;he felt his fingers pressing with increasing force: he was choking Bouchta and he was glad to be doing it. The violence of the act was a fullfilment and a relief. Bouchta's face grew black, he fell, and his glazed eyes stared like the eyes in a sheep's head served on a platter for the feast of Aïd el Kébir.
Mokhtar awoke, horrified. The wind was still blowing, carrying with it, above the town, wisps of the voice of the muezzin who at the moment was calling from the Jaamâa es Seghira. But the warnings had ceased, and this was conforting enough to make more sleep possible.
The morning was gray and cheerless. Mokhtar rose at the usual hour, made his daily visit to the great mosque for a few moments of prayer and a thorough wash, and proceeded through the rain to his shop. There were few people in the streets. The memory of his dream weighed upon him, saddening him even more than the prospect of a day of infrequent sales. As the morning progressed he thought often of his old friend; he was consumed with the desire to pass by the market, just to assure himself that Bouchta was there as always. There was no reason why he should not be, but once Mokthar had seen with hiws own eyes he would be content.
A little before noon he boarded up the front of his shop and set out for the market. When his eyes became accostumed to the dim inner light of the building, the first person he was was Bouchta standing behind the center in his stall, chopping and slicing the meat the same as any other day. Feeling immensely relieved, Mokhtar wandered over to the counter and spoke to him. Perhaps the note of excessive cordiality in his voice surprised Bouchta, for he glanced up with a startled expression in his face, and seeing Mokhtar, said shortly: "Sbahalheir." Then he resumed hacking at a piece of meat for a costumer. His rather unfriendly look was lost on Mokthar, who was so pleased to see him there that was momentarily unable to perceive anything but that one fact. However, when Bouchta, on completing the sale, turned to him and said abruptly: "I´m busy this morning," Mokhtar stared at him, and again felt his fear stir within him.
"Yes, Sidi?" he said pleasantly.
Bouchta glared: "Twenty-two douro would be a more welcome offering than your foolish smile," he said.
Mokhtar looked confused. "Twenty-two douro, Sidi?"
"Yes. The twenty-two douro you never paid me for the lamb's head as last Aïd el Kébir."
Mokhtar felt the blood leap upward in him like a fire."I paid your for that the following month."
"Abaden"! Never! cried Bouchta excitedly. "I have eyes and a head too!" I remember what happens! You can't take advantage of me the way you did of poor old Tahiri. I`m not that old yet!" And he began to call out unpleasant epithets, brandishing his cleaver.
People had stopped in their tracks and were following the conversation with interest. As Mokhtar's anger mounted, he suddenly heard, among the names that Bouchta was calling him, one which offended him more than the rest. He reached across the counter and seized Bouchta's djellaha in his two hands, pulling on the heavy woolen fabric until it seemed that it would be ripped off the old man's back.
"Let go of me!" shouted Bouchta. The people were crowding in to see whatever violence might result. "Let go of me!" he kept screaming, his face growing steadily redder.
At this point the scene was so much like his dream that Mokthar, even while he was enjoying his own anger and the sight of Bouchta as he became the victim of such a senseless rage, was suddenly very much frightened. He let go of the djellaha with one hand, and turning to the onlookers said loudly: "Last night i dreamed that I came here and killed this man, who is my friend. I do not want to kill him. I am not going to kill him. Look carefully. I am not hurting him."
Bouchta's fury was reaching grotesque proportions. With one hand he was trying to pry Mokhtar fingers from his garment, and with the other, which held the cleaver, he was making crazy gyrations in the air. All the while he jumped quickly up and down, crying: "Let go! Let go! Khlass!
At any moment he is going to hit me with the cleaver," thought Mokhtar, and so he seized the wrist that held it, pulling Bouchta agains the counter. For a moment they struggled and panted, while the slabs of meat slid about under their arms and fell heavily onto the wet floor. Bouchta was strong, but he was old. Suddenly he relaxed his grasp on the cleaver and Mokhtar felt his muscles cease to push. The crowd murmured. Mokhtar let go of both the wrist and the djellaha and looked up. Bouchta's face was an impossible color, like the sides of meat that hung behind him. His mouth opened and his head slowly tilted upward as if he were looking at the ceiling of the market. Then, as if someone had pushed him from behind, he fell forward onto the marble counter and lay still, his nose in a shallow puddle of pinkish water. Mokhtar knew he was dead, and he was a little triumphant as he shouted to everyone: "I dreamed it! I dreamed it! I told you! Did I kill him? Did I touch him? You saw!" the crowd agreed, nodding.
"Get the police!" cried Mokhtar, "I want everyone to be my witness." A few people moved away quietly, not wishing to be involved. But most of them stayed, quite ready to give the authorities their version of the strange phenomenon.
In court the Cadi proved to be unsympathetic. Mokhtar was bewildered by his lack of friendliness. The witness had told the story exactly as it had happened; obviously they all were convinced of Mokhtar's innocence.
"I have heard from the witness what happened in the market", said the Cadi impatiently, "And from those same witnesses I know you are an evil man. It is impossible for the mind of an upright man to bring forth an evil dream. Bouchta died as a result of your dream." And as Mokhtar attempted to interrupt: "I know what are you going to say, but you are a fool, Mokhtar. You blame the wind, the night, your long solitude. Good. For a thousand days in our prison you will not hear the wind, you will not know whether it is night or day, and you will never lack the companionship of your follow-prisioners."
The Cadi's sentence shocked the inhabitants of the town, who found it of an unprecedent severity. But Mokhtar, once he had been locked up, was persuaded of its wisdom. For one thing, he was not unhappy to be in prison, where each night, when he had begun to dream that he was back in his lonely room, he could awaken to hear on all sides of him the conforting snores of the other prisioners. His mind no longer dwelled upon the earlier happy hours of his life, because the present hours were happy ones as well. And then, the very first day there, he had suddenly remembered with perfect clarity that, although he had intended to do so, he never had paid Bouchta the twenty-two douro for the lamb's head, after all.
(extraído de "Collected Stories, Paul Bowles. Santa Rosa: Black Sparrow Press, 1997, pp.193-7)
obs. I love Paul Bowles short stories. Existem provavelmente várias falhas ortográficas no texto copiado e não revisado. De toda forma dá para se ter uma ideia da maestria do narrador. O clima atmosférico, mais que propriamente seu tom fabular, é o que mais me encanta. E de algum modo me faz lembrar certo parentesco com cineastas contemporâneos de Bowles, como Jacques Tourneur.