The afternoon slipped by. He drove over to the Planet Club gym and worked out, his cell phone beside him, waiting for a call from the blonde that never came. Was she spending the afternoon thinking of him while that old man slobbered over her?

          After working out, he walked home, looked in on his mother and father, changed out of his suit into a light Gandoura, and stopped by the riad where he met his friend Prospero who was just leaving. They embraced. ‘Salaam Alaykoum’ ‘Alaykoum Salaam’ ‘Labas’ ‘Hamdu’lah.’

          ‘You’re back. How did your examinations go... congratulations?’ Radouan said.

          ‘Not finished yet.’ Pero sighed, a twinge of concern on his studious but handsome face. ‘I’ll know more in a few weeks, you can congratulate me then... but listen, we have to do something about Fouzia... she’s threatening to poison Nick and bury him in the courtyard. Can you imagine what would happen?’

          ‘I know… She’s going crazy. I spoke to her the other night but...  he’s too much for her...we’ll jus’...’

          ‘They’re making each other crazy.’

          ‘He‘s constantly provokin’ her...’

          ‘But who else is there to look after him?’

          ‘There’s our friend Abel’s sister, she knows about Nick.’

          ‘Abel’s sister is too tender...Nick would destroy her...we need someone solid and strong, some country girl.’

            Radouan smiled broadly. ‘My wife to be!’

          ‘Your wife to be?’ Pero stared hard at him. ‘You’re joking!’ ‘Or maybe you’re not… What’s up?

          ‘My mother again...’ Radouan mumbled, ‘but this time it’s serious... she’s decided on a certain young girl, only fifteen… R’hamna, one of us. I haven’t seen her yet but Fouzia has... says she's very plain.’

          ‘But could you bring her to this ruin? Wouldn’t her family object?’

          ‘Her family is poor.  She has five other sisters and they will be happy to have someone feeding her.’

          ‘So when do you see her?’

          ‘Tomorrow... tomorrow we go for a formal visit...I hope they will not have the L’adoul there... I want to delay as long as possible but maybe I shouldn’t.  Meanwhile, I want to start making some repairs here. You think your family would sell me this place?’

          ‘Yes, of course... happy to get rid of it... you have the money to buy it?’

          ‘Maybe... maybe someone will gift it to me for a wedding present... Inch Allah.’

          ‘Just don’t fix it up too much then... I know my father, if it looks better than he remembers, he’ll want more money.’

          ‘We could move in as it is no problem... if her family comes to visit us we can hide Nick in the Douiriya... in the cellar.  Remember, we hid him there before when his wife sent those spies… I’m just coming to sit with him for awhile, but I’m gonna be busy tonight. Could you come back and keep Fouzia company? I don’t like to leave her alone with him when she’s so stressed out.’

          ‘In fact I have no place to go,’ Prospero smiled, ‘I’ll just stay here and watch TV with him until he goes to sleep, then I’ll study... my last examination is next week.’

          ‘Soon you’ll be a real Avocat!  Mabrouk! Congratulations.’

          ‘Thanks.  All I need now are some clients.’

           Radouan heaved a deep sigh ‘Me... I think I’m trying to do too much at once... but things are workin’ out.  Where’s Fouzia.’

          ‘In her room.’

          ‘And Nick?’

          ‘On his throne,’ Pero laughed. ‘I saw one for sale cheap the other day so I bought it for him… thought maybe he’d be happier if he could sit on something like that.’

          Radouan entered the courtyard, circled the weed choked garden and found Nick slumped on his new - used throne, his large watery eyes peering out cautiously from beneath the tattered blankets and scraps of old clothing.

          A muffled voice rasped from underneath. ‘Painful it is to be born... will we also forget the pain of death?  Death, the destroyer of delight...’   

          ‘Why are you talking this way again?

           Nick threw off his blankets. ‘Because I’ve decided definitely that I must leave this place; it's beginning to spook me. You are not what you seem to be. There’s something inside you, something dangerous for me... some kind of djinn locked up inside you that wants to break out... they do, you know, want to break out.  I mean… I feel this creature is after me... not that it’s your fault...  you’re always you, you never change.  It’s the djinn which inhabits you who hates me!  Is that crazy?’ 

          Radouan groaned. ‘Ah... again you plunge the dagger in my heart and twist it.  Believe me there is no reason for you to think like this. We are friends, old friends... there is no djinn inside me’

         ‘You won’t admit it will you... you refuse to believe.’

           Radouan sat down beside him and spoke gently, ‘There is no way... no reason for you to think of these things... your mind has been fucked up by the Ch’dak J’mel but you are getting better.  Believe me, you are... you are better than you were...’ He gestured at the courtyard.  ‘You need exercise. This garden, like your mind, it is filled with thorns and weeds.  But the old trees give shade and they would look very zween if someone would jus’ trim them up.  Think of all the repairs that we need to make here.  It’s time you interested yourself in these things.  Did you say anything to Fouzia about dying?’

          ‘Why are you here?’

          ‘To see you, habibi... I’m on my way to sit with my father.’

          ‘I wish you would sit with ME from time to time... you never come anymore... some nights it gets very… you know thick with spirits wailing and crying... some terrible things must have happened here... terrible and bizarre. If I do some work will you try to spend nights here from time to time?’

          ‘Yes, of course, but right now my life it’s bezzaf... we need money. I must find it to keep us all alive.’

          ‘And tonight after sitting with your father I suppose you will be off somewhere making someone feel like giving you lots of money?

          Radouan tried to change the subject, ‘I’m supposed to get married soon.’

          ‘What does that mean?  Who’s the unlucky creature?’

          ‘One my mother has picked out.’

          ‘Ah ha, the witch... a regular Jocasta… And what about that English woman you’ve been seeing for years, Toni... whatever she’s called?’

          ‘What about her?’ Radouan said, ‘She’s an old friend.’

          ‘Ah yes, like me I suppose, disposable, and your mother’s choice?

          ‘I haven't seen her yet but Fouzia has. If I marry her I may bring her here to live, she will be serving you.  We will all live here together.’

          ‘Torture, habibi... more torture,’ Nick rasped. ‘Can’t you see this is an idea put into your head by that djinn...? I’m sure your young wife would imprison me somewhere in the Douiriya... I can see it happening.  You say Fouzia has seen this woman?’

           Radouan looked away, embarrassed, ‘She is not really a woman, she’s only fifteen.’


          ‘Fouzia says she’s very plain and somewhat fat... a strong good humored country girl, with rosy cheeks - like a young cow!’


          ‘What you say?’

          ‘HEIFER, HEIFER... a heifer is a young cow... Io, the Goddess, yes maybe it’s her!’

          ‘I thought you said Kafir...she is not that, she is a good Muslim, she can recite the whole of the Qur’an.’

          ‘Why do I always feel so rotten when you come here these days?’

          ‘Because you’re always sayin’ mean things to me... then you feel sorry and feel rotten...that’s why.’

          ‘Where is Prospero ... I thought I heard his voice?’

          ‘You didn’t see him?  He was just here.  I met him at the door, he’s here on business for his family but he’s going to spend the night with you.’

          ‘You think they’ll ever come and claim this place...his family?’


          ‘How can that be?  Surely they won’t just leave it.’

          ‘They have many other properties. They’re running' away from this place because they want to be modern.’     

          ‘Lucky for us.’

          ‘Don’t worry, in the near future someone’s gonna buy it for me... soon it will be ours, yours and mine, I promise you.’

           Nick is overwhelmed. ‘You’re OUTRAGEOUS, you really are!’

           Radouan stared proudly at him. ‘You think so?  Since before we first met I’ve been supportin’ myself, you know... I’m a very practical guy. I want you to work on this garden.  I will give Fouzia some money.  She will get you everything you need.  Start slowly, chouia, chouia . Pull up the weeds and trim the trees.  As your energy comes back you will be able to work harder and harder.  You’re not old.  You act old but you’re not.  Dig up the soil in the garden, dig deeply; there may be treasure under there.  I will bring exotic plants and we will make a fountain... it's always good to hear water splashing and we can have birds and maybe a monkey or two.  What do you say?’

        ‘Inch Allah.  My energy is low but I’ll try.’

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©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006