On January 14 2011 , Zine El Abidine Ben Ali stepped down as president of Tunisia after 23 years in power. He was forced out by mass protests. The people had been angered by the death of Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vendor of fruits who set himself on fire to protest the seizure of his wares. This happened on December 17 2010. He can be said to have sparked the Arab Spring. This is a fictional account of his last moments; and it is dedicated to the youth who rose up and fought for the future of their countries.


They walked away. Clutching the basket like a rubbish bin, like its contents were ripe for disposal. I thought of how much I loved it. I had held it with all the care and love I could muster. With the sale of each fruit there was one more drop of hope on this helpless desert. A good day’s sale and the family eats one more day. My mom would look at me with pride that her tears could not shield. My three brothers would quickly grab whatever food I had brought, while I would call my two little sisters to the side and give them a treat or two. And I would go to see Aisha, and give her the fresh baked loaf I bought for her. Her pretty smile was all I needed. Her father wanted to give her away but I wasn’t bothered. My Aisha would wait for me.

I sat on the pavement. My cheek red from the slap I had received. But it didn’t hurt. Neither did the fruits they had seized. It was not the fact that they had taken away my hope. No. It was how they held it, like it was nothing. Each orange, each grape, was my family’s life, my hope of marrying Aisha, my blood, my life. And yet they held it as if it were rubbish. Street vending is illegal, and I had no right to do it. My family then, had no right to live. I had no right to marry Aisha. I had no right to live.

As they turned the corner two pomegranates fell. They rolled onto the pavement as the tears rolled down my face. One rolled into the gutter. One onto the road, waiting for the tires of a vehicle to kill it. Waiting to die. Death. I had thought of it before. I hated it. My father died when I was three. I remember he was there. Then he was there no more. I could never forgive death for taking my father away.

But as I watched the pomegranate waiting, I thought to myself, ‘What would happen if I’m gone.’ I would not say ‘dead’. I would not embrace death if it were the only one offering me solace. I could never forgive it. ‘What would happen if I’m gone?’ Aisha would finally get married, and be happy. Without the fruits I’m useless to my family, just one more mouth to feed. I can’t watch them starve. I can’t bear tears on the cheeks of my little sisters. No. I hated that more than death.

I got up. Dried my tears. Walked to the shop just across the street.

‘I’d like a box of matches please’. The shopkeeper, a pleasant looking woman, probably in her forties hands it to me. ‘Do you have kerosene?’ I ask.

‘No’, she replies. I hand her money for the matches.

‘I just need to burn something. Can you help me out, a little petrol perhaps?’

‘No. Sorry.’
I turn back. I walk away. I am 26. I quit school at 10. I have no hope of getting a job. Some of my friends had asked me to join them in opposing the government, topple the dictatorship. I knew they were wasting their time. What could we do against the power of the police? The might of the military? The purpose of my life was to feed my family. Why waste efforts on a fruitless venture?

‘Wait!’ I turn back towards the voice. It’s the shopkeeper. She’s carrying a recycled water bottle, half filled with some liquid. ‘I have a little paint thinner. I hope this helps.’

‘Thank you’, I say. I pull out some coins but she refuses. She hurries back to her shop as she sees a customer making way there. It is the will of Allah, I think to myself. I start to run. If this kind lady knew what I intended to do with this she will never forgive herself.

I cross the road. I see the pomegranate. Somehow it had yet to be squashed by a vehicle. I sat back on the pavement. I poured some thinner on my clothes and a generous amount on my hair. I took one look at the pomegranate. The sun was shining hot. From its reflection on the shiny red foot I saw my mother’s face. I saw my siblings. I saw Aisha. Suddenly a shadow was cast on the fruit, and they were gone. The shadow was from a big truck steadily coming along.

I struck a match just as the truck was a few metres from the fruit. Its huge tires were sure to crush it. I threw the match on my clothes. They lit immediately. I got up. I run straight to the truck. I wanted to save the pomegranate. ‘No! No!’ I screamed. I could feel my skin melting. I heard the horrible sound my hair made as it singed. ‘No! No!’ I screamed. One tire got it. It flattened the fruit. Pieces of it were stuck to the tire. The truck moved on steadily.

I stopped running. I couldn’t see anything. I fell to the ground. I stopped struggling. I was screaming. I felt people all around. I felt water being poured on me. Too late, I thought. With my final consciousness I thought of my mother. Her beautiful face those years of hardship and pain had failed to make ugly. Forgive me mother, I thought. Forgive me??


Jerome Wematu Kuseh


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