Last Sunday, our tale was about fear and the gallows (God forbid). We said those who are hanged are taken down at sunset to spend the night at “Beb Souika”‘s oil mill to be buried the following day.
Today’s tale deals with the same subject. However, this time, events take place in an earlier period. At that time, the hanged would stay suspended till the following morning.
“El kaadin” or “El kaadin alley” between “Beb Souika” and “Sidi Jebali” was a neighbourhood known for art and entertainment. Singers would host parties at theirs home. One day, a well known singer called “Chema tbursquia” was having a party in her house. After all of the festivity and drinking, they arranged the furniture so that they could all sit and chat. One person kept talking about someone who had died surrounded by his family. He said that while they were grieving him, he suddenly arose among them and everyone ran away terrified. They had been screaming: “He is possessed by a demon”.
Then, one of the attendees said: “I’m afraid of the dead even if it was my father.” As for “Chema tbursquia”, she added: “What’s so scary about the dead after they are gone? Nothing is scary about their possessions whether it’s a table, a couch, or a cushion…I am not afraid of the dead!”
Some believed her, others didn’t. So, she said: “Let’s bet! Test me!”
But how would they challenge her?
Then, someone said: “Today, someone was hanged in “Beb Souika” and he is still there. Can you reach him tonight and cut off the rope?”
Everyone was surprised but she insisted that she could do it. So, they agreed that if she came back with that piece of rope, everyone would pay a sum of money, but if she lost the bet, she would have to pay for their food, drinks, and entertainment.
She went out.
She carried a knife and a chair along with her to reach the high gallows, given that there were no guards. She kept walking in the dark until she reached the gallows. She used the chair to climb and get to the hanged man. She cut off the rope and the hanged man fell down. She untied the rope around his neck and quickly ran back paranoid (like any woman would). Because she was in panic, she forgot her chair and knife. At her arrival, she found the guests waiting for her. She threw down the piece of rope and passed out.
Regarding the hanged man, it is said that he was suspended since sunset. “Uncle Hussein”, the public executioner, had been tired and was seeking to go home. That’s why the knot was not well fixed in the man’s neck but rather fastened to his chin. Therefore, the hanged man had only fainted. Indeed, when the rope was cut, he fell to the ground. And with the wind blowing some gentle breezes, he sneezed, took a breath, moved a bit, and then opened his eyes to find himself lying down on the ground.
What to do?
He needed to escape but where to? The city was surrounded with a high wall and its doors opened only in the morning.
He said: “Anyway, I will figure it out!”
He unconsciously took the knife and hid in the “Tarkhana”. At dawn, the “Alouj door” was opened. So, he put his “kachabia”, a cloak, over his head as he would usually do and went out.
After a few steps, he started running like a horse looking back and thinking: “I am sure they will follow me. This is the only way.” He found a hideout and when it got dark, he hit the road. He repeated that daily. He would sometimes rest somewhere. Some people would offer him a piece of bread, others would kick him out.
After three or four days of fleeing, the tower of a mosque appeared and that is when he knew he was in Kairouan. While crossing “Dhriaa Tmar”, he realized that it would soon get dark and that the city was about to close its doors. He reached “Jneh akther”, a graveyard that had nowhere to sleep or to hide in. He was only surrounded by graves. He sat by a grave. But, when he put his hands on the ground, he felt something moist. So, he touched the grave again to find out that it was new.
(One of the Tunisians’ habits is that they would wait to dig a grave two to three days after death. Usually in every country a grave is built on the first day. This is a brief remark of the Tunisian grave diggers.)
The man was exhausted after having spent the whole day walking. He is only human after all! He laid his head on the grave to sleep. It was only a few minutes when a sound came from beneath the ground. It resembled a human whining. At first, the man had doubts. Then he was sure that the sound was coming from that specific grave. He took the knife and started digging the ground. He was taking one stone at a time until he made a hole in the ground. At that moment, the noise got louder. He was doubtful and sweaty; he kept digging and moving the rocks away making a pile of dirt aside. He finally reached the tomb. High screams arose so he pulled out the tomb and it turned out to be a human being! The sound stopped and it was clearly a woman. She started screaming when she woke up and fainted once the grave was opened. He pulled her out, put her on the ground and slapped her to wake her up.
She said: “May those who revitalized me live and those who killed me die.”
– “What’s the matter?” said the man.
– “I don’t know what happened. I recall being sick at home.”
– “What brings you here?”
– “I don’t know.”
– “You are in a grave!”
– “Maybe when I fainted, they thought I died so they buried me.”
– “Whose daughter are you?”
She tried to remember and answer his questions.
What to do now? It was dark and the city’s doors were closed. Plus, it was cold. He took off his “Kachabia” and put it on her shoulders. After a while, she fell asleep.
In the morning, the city was opened.
– “I will take you home. Where do you live?” asked the man.
– “Houmet jemaa”
– “And where is this place?”
– “I don’t know.”
In fact, women at that time stayed at home and in the case a woman went out, she would get lost. So, the man started asking anyone passing by about “Houmet Jemaa”. Meanwhile, the woman was following him covering her face with his “kachabia”. They reached the place. When the man asked about the house, they pointed at a house with its doors wide opened and people carrying out some chairs from the previous night’s funeral.
The man pointed at the house saying: “Here is your place!”
The woman walked in. The place became a complete chaos. Women were running around pushing one another, for they thought she was possessed by a demon that opened the grave to escape.
A few moments later, everyone came back to their senses and started ululating. They were hugging and kissing each other. Instead of mourning, they started congratulating. As for the strange man, he was very well-welcomed and the father swore he would get them engaged.
They married and lived peacefully till death.