gets a new look !
Rallia, 19, gets out of a rickety red and yellow bus in the middle of a mountain desert.
Her smooth, fine features, long neck, dark eyes and very short hair are rarely seen in these parts. Women here don’t cut their hair, what’s more, they keep it hidden beneath scarves. But this girl is from somewhere else, beyond the big city, from a foreign land. Isn’t she from a country where “children eat three meals a day?” a young hunchbacked mountain woman wonders. Rallia’s life didn’t begin in this mountain, although she has returned to it.
She wants to find her family, her father and mother. The first relative she meets is her grandfather who lives in a ramshackle stone and thatch house in the middle of the plateau under the blistering sun. A bony, wiry old fellow, he subsists by selling asparagus that he gathers from beneath thorn bushes.
She introduces herself to the silent man: “I’m Keltoum’s daughter.” Overcome with emotion, he looks at her and says, “I’m Keltoum’s father.” Grandfather and granddaughter meet and hug each other. He avoids answering her questions but Rallia insists on knowing her mother’s whereabouts. He averts his eyes and tells her that she works in the big city and returns to the plateau by bus every Friday. He says nothing more and Rallia doesn’t press the point. She waits for Friday to come.
Rallia waits for Friday in the house in the desert “where even the reptiles have fled its harshness” with her grandfather and his other daughter, a tiny, crazy, wild-haired woman in her forties called Nedjma. She dresses in rags, walks barefoot for miles every day along the mountain trails followed by a donkey laden down with jerry cans of water that she delivers to the old people living in shacks scattered around the plateau. She is the only young person still left in the desert. Misery and poverty have driven everyone else to villages and cities. Old people linger, in couples or alone. They no longer have the strength to lift or carry anything heavy and patiently wait for Nedjma to pass by each day, give them a hand and bring them their ration of water that she collects from a spring.
Rallia also hoists the heavy jerry cans on her frail shoulders. While waiting for Friday to come, she lives like Nedjma, with Nedjma. The city kid becomes the girl of the desert. And what if Keltoum doesn’t come? What if the grandfather was lying? What if Keltoum has abandoned her father and sister, fleeing poverty, the mountain, the way she has abandoned her daughter Rallia?