The two friends’ meetings resembled a ritual that went back to the years of holy struggle when they would drink more cups of coffee than they could count to give them energy, a small vice Laid Touhami had picked up in the mountains and the mayor at a young age, since his father considered coffee an aphrodisiac and permanently wore a necklace of coffee beans round his neck.
In fact, coffee had been behind Zineddine Ayachi’s flight into the Ouarsenis and his joining the ranks of the Front. One day an enemy unit invaded his house on the false tip-off that he’d been helping the rebels, supplied by a local collaborator who was operating on a large scale for lack of specific names. His information targeted blocks of houses demarcated by roads and alleyways and numbered in sections. The soldiers surrounded Zineddine Ayachi’s house; some of them climbed onto the roof while others kicked in the door with their boots. Four men suddenly landed in front of him as he sat in the yard. He stared in terror at the black jaws of the submachine guns. A finger pointed to the coffeepot beside him and a voice screamed: “Who’s been here? Where are the others?” The soldier seized the single cup and the coffeepot, which he overturned. The black sand of coffee grounds fell on Zineddine Ayachi’s foot, and drips of coffee stained his white shirt in damp zigzags.
“It was me! It was me!” he said.
“This coffeepot is empty,” said the soldier.
“I drank it all, it was me,” said Zineddine Ayachi.
“It must hold at least ten cups. You weren’t alone! Where are the others?”
“There’s only my family. I drink a lot of coffee. I can’t help it.”
“You Arab donkey! You’re going to show us what you can do.”
Zineddine Ayachi’s wife put the coffeepot on the fire, half full of water. The soldier giving the orders filled it to the brim, then poured a packet of coffee into the boiling water. “A man that fond of coffee must like it strong,” he said to Zineddine Ayachi’s wife, who sensed her husband’s imminent ordeal. All the soldiers gathered in the yard. None of them wanted to miss the spectacle of the man undergoing the torture of the strong coffee dose. They cleared out all there was to eat in the tiny kitchen. Zineddine Ayachi started on the first cup and answered questions about his amazing capacity to absorb an entire coffeepot with no damage to his physical and mental health. He was supposed to sip the thick black liquid slowly; disobeying orders cost him a rifle butt across the shoulders. His wife and children were shut, sobbing, in a room. He tried downing the third cup in two gulps. The soldiers were in no hurry, they were just sorry they hadn’t found any wine in the house-one of them said he thought grape juice flowed from the taps in a hot country, this paradise where vines were the only crop. The gulps of coffee fell heavily on Zineddine Ayachi’s stomach, like tar soup. On the fifth cup a nauseating saliva filled his mouth, a gurgle rose from his guts, he tried to speed up the forced tasting, then a blow from the rifle butt across his back caused a retching that momentarily relieved his stomach.
“Swallow it,” said one of the soldiers, “you can’t waste all that coffee.”
Zineddine Ayachi seized the coffeepot, lifted it into the air like a goatskin and let the contents pour into his wide-open mouth. A coffee hemorrhage immediately spurted from his nose, prompted by the heavy punch of a gun right in the stomach. Then the soldiers took him to the Lattifia barracks, where the torture continued: they made him drink saucepan after saucepan of coffee prepared with soapy water, this time with the aid of a funnel. His denials did little to alter Zineddine Ayachi’s fate; the soldiers set about ridding him of his taste for coffee so long as he would not deliver the names of the men who had shared it with him in his home. A possible way out of his ordeal crept into his mind in the brief moments of prayer afforded him by his executioners, for he sensed the end was near. The faces of those he loved, his friends and family, passed before his eyes; invoked silently, he asked each of them for forgiveness, forgiveness for his mistakes and his faults, his aberrations on this earth. In the end, Zineddine Ayachi arrived at the last name, his dead father’s. Helped by the combination of circumstances or the irony of fate, his thoughts returned by a curious path to the cause of his misfortune, and he remembered the coffee bean necklace his father used to wear round his neck.
“I’ll tell you the truth,” he said. “My coffee isn’t really coffee at all. It’s a mixture of burnt chickpeas, black pepper, paprika and coffee. My father loved this drink, it was his secret recipe. It’s an excellent aphrodisiac. A man becomes a bull with that coffee! The more cups, the more thrusts.”
Every time they met in the mountains, Laid Touhami would laugh at his friend’s story. Neither he nor the other resistance fighters had any need of the magic potion Zineddine Ayachi had invented in a torture chamber; without women it would be a disaster. The enemy soldiers sent Zineddine Ayachi back to his house. He was to prepare five liters of his special coffee, which would multiply their orgasms with the fatmas. The future mayor of Lattifia owed his salvation to a psychological trick: he instinctively knew that these foreigners, the masters of his country, would follow their orders but also their lust. A very short time sufficed to say good-bye to his family; the torturers’ credulity would not last long. Zineddine Ayachi had no illusions about the effect of his concoction, yet he was tempted to add a few fluid ounces of piss from his belly, swollen with the soapy coffee ingurgitated through the funnel. On the Ouarsenis paths, he urinated symbolically on the enemy he’d be fighting for years to come.