Arriving in the town of Rommani late in the evening, and having no place to go, Omar entered a mosque, rolled his coat around his shoes as a pillow, and went to sleep. After Fajr, the dawn prayer, Lahcen, the fqih invited him to his room. A long-like corridor, the room was bare save for a bed, a couch, a small low table, and two stools, all old hand-me-downs. He brewed tea on a kerosene stove and served it in tiny glasses on a rusty peeling tray.
“Here, warm your bowels with the tea of Lahcen of Ouled Abbou, made with Sultan gunpowder tea,” he said. “Allah will send us breakfast in due time. In the meantime, let me, my friend, entertain you with the tale of how Lahcen of Ouled Abbou has ended up a forlorn exile in this God-forgotten town.”
Lahcen cooled his tea by pouring it between two glasses several times, then drained the glass in one quick swallow. He poured himself a second glass, blew on it, stared into the glass with glistening eyes, took a sip, and then another. He sighed and began his tale.
A few years past, in his village of Ouled Abbou, Lahcen had offered hospitality to a young man. He received him in his house and treated him as generously as his circumstances permitted, especially on learning that the stranger was a muezzin, caller of prayers, in a mosque; he never bothered to know where. The following day, during the afternoon Koran memorization session that Lahcen was accustomed to give to the pupils of his village, the muezzin begged his permission to take over the class. Lahcen accepted, and the muezzin demonstrated remarkable knowledge and competence. He taught the class for a week. And as Lahcen was by nature prone to slothfulness and too reluctant to quit the warmth of his wife’s bed, he requested that the muezzin lead the Fajr prayers.
“Subhana Allah,” Lahcen said to himself, “this muezzin sits up late and never misses a single Fajr prayer. Verily, he is made of extraordinary spiritual mettle!”
He admired his excellent mastery of the rules of Koranic recitation, his memorization of the Koran, and his exemplary diligence in the fulfilment of his duties. Lahcen harboured not the least jealousy towards his guest. How could he be jealous of a man for having memorized the entire Koran or for his broad religious knowledge and teaching skills? Why should he be jealous of a muezzin who never missed a prayer? Truly, this muezzin, Lahcen told his wife, is a veritable warrior of faith.
In a metal box buried in a hole under his mattress, Lahcen kept hidden from the world eighty thousand dirhams, saved meticulously and industriously over years and years of toil and privation. He planned was to build a large poultry farm to raise chickens. At supper, Lahcen gave his pious and wise guest a detailed account of his poultry project. His guest listened attentively and impassively, and Lahcen conjectured that he had impressed him with his plan.
At length, after a protracted moment of pensive silence, his guest lifted his head and said, “Raising chickens is a very risky business. In the winter, chickens perish easily from the cold; in summer they suffocate from the heat. Besides, chickens are extremely vulnerable to viruses. A successful poultry farm needs a veterinarian, large fans in the summer, and heaters in winter. That incurs considerable expenses, you know.”
“What about a rabbit farm?” Lahcen said, his lips barely moving.
“That won’t work either,” the muezzin replied. “Rabbits are vulnerable to the evil eye; they easily get stressed and starve themselves to death. Forget about this lousy business of poultry and rabbits, think of something more profitable and less risky.”
“What would you suggest? You are an experienced man of the world who has travelled widely in Allah’s land and is well acquainted with the world and with business.”