Life of a Rooster

Memoirs of a psychiatrist, journalist and educator

Les Trois Mousquetaires

on January 1, 2014

les trois mousquetaires

My own personal favorite was, thumbs down, The Three Musketeers by Alexandre Dumas: plenty of action there to  enthrall me! In my dreams, I galloped alongside d’Artagnan, Athos, Porthos and Aramis to save the Queen of France, Anne d’Autriche. Since I had also read Vingt Ans Apres (Twenty Years Later), a much darker sequel little known to the English-speaking readership, I also had Mordaunt, Milady’s son, show up in my dreams. Mordaunt was a much more sinister evil character than his mother and definitely frightened me. Once, we were rowing a boat on a river that was miraculously located along the side wall of the embassy, behind a line of poplars, and Mordaunt burst out of the water, trying to topple us and stab us to death. Another time, we were trying to get away in a pick-up truck (talk about messed up time and place in dreams!) in that dusty back street behind the embassy, and Mordaunt appeared on the roof of a house across. He pulled his rifle up and started aiming at us. The musketeers all jumped on the pick-up truck and drove off. I kept running after them, waving my arms and yelling, “Wait for me!”  ineffectively. The pick-up truck revved away, not noticing my failure to grab and jump onto it.  Mordaunt came down into the street, a tall silent assassin. I stumbled and fell. He loomed over me, pulled up my hand, and shot me  … in the palm of the hand! I looked at it: a big black hole fumed in the middle of my hand…

Looking back, I remember sensing in my dream the apprehensive fear of oncoming pain; thus I probably unconsciously changed the shooting target from a much more likely head or chest to the less painful hand. Also, possibly, having experienced being beaten on the palms of my hands allowed me to accept pain on my palms in my dreams. Whatever the subconscious reason, I woke up and saw a red mosquito bite on my palm. Ha!

In the afternoons, after the embassy school classes, which had now shifted to 4:00-6:00pm, we played endlessly in the embassy compound. I usually led the gang in our games. I tried making them follow me in tracking down Milady, but they wouldn’t understand the game. So, we would fall back on pirates and princesses; or robbers and cops; or a fairy tale, which was easier to retell my way than a full novel.


Still, it was a lot of work making other children comprehend my imagined world. “I am a robber,” I would tell Abdul Hamid, “here, I’m coming in the night, trying to find the diamonds in this house. Now you are the police detective. Next day, you try to find clues on the scene of the crime. Go ahead!” He would walk a bit, then grab my arm, “Hey, I caught you!” Exasperated, I would explain, “No, no, how could you catch me when you didn’t find any clue yet?”



One day, we finished playing a pirate story as the sun set. Time to go home, wash up and get ready for dinner. Well, how should we end this? We, the three eldest leaders — Saadia, Shadia and me– decided the princesses should get married to the princes, who conveniently appeared at the end for that purpose. We were 9 and 8 years old. So we told the boys, Hamid, 6; Nuruddin and Abdul Kerim, 4; that they had to marry us. The little ones agreed readily, because disobedience would get them kicked out of the game. But Hamid, being slightly older and therefore more rebellious, refused. “No, I don’t want to get married to Saadia!”

“You have to, no choice here! Come here and stand with her in front of the priest.”  But he retreated and seeing no way to avoid it, ran away as fast as he could. We chased after him, shouting as loudly as we could, “Come back  here! You HAVE to get married! We can’t end the story otherwise! Get back here immediately!” It was already dark and we ran around the entire embassy compound fruitlessly. He had disappeared into thin air. We had to hold the wedding with just two couples.

The next day, Shadia told us that her brother had jumped into the pond in the front yard, which happened to be empty, and had squatted among the turtles until we had tired of searching and had returned home.

I turned increasingly more daring. One day, we noticed a man sitting on the back steps of the embassy, observing our play.  Shadia told me his name was Ma HaBi, and was here from Taif on business. “It doesn’t matter. He should not be bothering us, watching us play.”  I was as bossy as usual. So I devised a way to get rid of him.  I had then made up a song called — what else? — The Three Musketeers. The lyrics were really simple: A-athos, Po-orthos, Aramis sont mousquetaires; E C E-, G E G-, A GA G, E D E-.  And so on. So I changed the lyrics to: Ma HaBi, Ma HaBi, Ma HaBi Ya Ma Ha Bi!  I made all the kids sing along with me as loudly as we could.

It worked. The guy sat on for a while more, then got up and left.

The Ma kids rarely joined us in our daily play. They usually returned home straight after class.  Fawzia was a lady par excellence, already demure, well-mannered and gentle. Kobria was my idol at the time. She, like Ambassadress Li, had slightly protruding eyes that gave her a sparkly look. She always had strong opinions about just about anything, and was always very smart. Number three sister was Rabia, two years my junior, but already very well-versed in the domestic skills of a well-bred young lady: she could embroider beautiful flowers on pillows!  Mama showed them to me one day when we were visiting them. “Look at her work! Such delicate needle craft! Why can’t you do something like this?”


Well, that hurt. Because I was indeed not very good at needle work. In Grade Two, we had a few additional subjects including sewing.  I tried very hard. But truth be told, Mama never asked us to sew at home. She did all the mending and sewing herself. So the one hour a week of sewing never got me very far. I remember one day in class having to embroider some simple design on a handkerchief. I bent over painstakingly trying to get the stitches to look neat. After sweating for a good half hour over that handkerchief, I tried to pull it up to display it proudly to Saadia and Shadia. But try as I might, the handkerchief would not leave its place on my lap. I lifted it from the edge and found that I had stitched it onto my skirt!

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