Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 693
The story begins with a description of the Professor (who is not named) being transported by bus to Ain Tadouirt, a town in eastern Morocco. The Professor had spent three days in the town ten years previously, during which time he had established a friendship with a café keeper named Hassan Ramani. The driver asks the Professor if he is a geologist, and the Professor tells him that he is a linguist “making a survey of variations on Moghrebi” dialects. The Moghrebi are a people who live in a region in Africa north of the Sahara.
When the Professor arrives in the town, he visits the café and is told by the waiter that his friend Hassan Ramani is now “deceased.” This same waiter—whose tone of voice is insolent and whose face takes on a look of anger when the Professor inquires about getting camel-udder boxes—agrees, for a price, to take the Professor to the place from which he can “get camel-udder boxes if there are any.”
When they arrive at the place, the waiter-guide tells the Professor that he must proceed ahead alone. The Professor pays him fifty francs and dismisses him. Then, after experiencing mingled feelings of fear of what dangers might lie ahead for him on the desolate road and relief that the guide did not play a trick on him, he starts down the path, which leads into what looks like a quarry. As soon as he reaches the bottom, he is attacked by a wild dog, and while the dog is unrelentingly tearing at him, he experiences the sensation of something “cold and metallic . . . pushed brutally against his spine.” It is at this point that an echo of a phrase or maxim that the Professor has heard in many shops and marketplaces in town reverberates in his mind: “The Reguiba is a cloud across the face of the sun . . . when the Reguiba appears the righteous man turns away.” Who else could these attackers be but the Reguibat, who go about their brutal business quickly, kicking aside the dog and then, with the same vigor, the Professor, all over his body? Semiconscious, the Professor can hear the low, guttural voices of his attackers as they go about emptying his pockets, fiercely pulling and twisting his tongue, doubling him up and dumping him into a sack before slinging him alongside a camel. Later, he is taken out of the sack and is girdled with tin bands around his torso, arms, legs, and face until he is “entirely within a suit of armor.” To celebrate the occasion, one of the Reguibat plays his flute and is accompanied by the general merriment of the others.
The Reguibat keep the Professor for one year and consider him their valuable possession. It is a year during which the Professor entertains the Reguibat by performing a senseless hopping routine, making jangling noises with his tin-banded body, doing handsprings, growling, and making obscene gestures “which never failed to elicit delighted shrieks from the women.”
Finally, the Professor is taken to a town and sold to one of the villagers, but he suddenly enters “into consciousness again” and will not perform for his new owner. The man, who paid a handsome price for him, becomes infuriated, thinking he has been cheated by the Reguibat. He seeks out and finds one of the Reguibat still abed with one of the village girls and gets his revenge swiftly by nearly decapitating him. Meanwhile, the Professor, left unattended in his new owner’s house, begins bellowing as loud as he can, crying out to escape from his captivity. He bangs against the door and when it finally bursts open, he rushes out into the street “bellowing and shaking his arms in the air to make as loud a jangling as possible.” People only look at him with curiosity. A French soldier, after observing the Professor’s strange behavior, says to himself, “Hey! A holy maniac,” and then takes a “potshot at him for good luck” while the figure of the Professor, cavorting beyond the village gate, grows smaller and smaller in the shadow of the “oncoming evening darkness.”