Late that afternoon Radouan left the flat and drove to the Medina where he spent an hour sitting with his mother listening to her plans for his coming marriage and ignoring her remarks designed to trick him into committing himself to a specific date. After that he walked to the riad where he found Fouzia cursing Nick who had become stuck in the branches of one of the two ancient Cyprus trees that towered over the garden.
‘I came up here to start trimming this tree as you suggested,’ Nick shouted breathlessly from above. ‘Then SHE came out, your dear sister, insisted I was doing it all wrong and while arguing with her I cut off the branch I was standing on! Now look... can you imagine... so here I am one foot dangling in the air, can’t reach the bloody ladder; and she’s refusing to move it! All she has to do is push it forward o meter but she refuses... wants to torment me... and she’s saying we’ve run out of booze which I know is a god damn lie!’
Suppressing an impulse to laugh, Radouan addressed his sister sternly. ‘Why must you always be provokin’ him? Go home and I will sit with him for awhile ... but you must be back here by nine.’ He pushed the ladder up against the trunk of the tree and Nick climbed down. ‘You’re right,’ he panted, ‘exercise is what I need.’
‘Don’t do too much at first... you made a good start though.’
‘After exercise one requires a refreshing beverage don’t you think?’
‘Of course but only one,’ Radouan replied, ‘we’re not young any more... our hard drinkin’ days are over.’ Retrieving a bottle of whisky from its hiding place he poured out two glasses.
‘What have you been up to?’ Nick asked.
‘I’ve seen the girl my mother has picked out, Hafida. She’s cute, maybe a little wild underneath ... something mysterious about her. But now a huge problem has developed: yesterday I met a gazelle from France and she likes me; met her by chance, Inch Allah, so it must be important.’
‘And you’ve been to bed with her, of course.’
‘Not yet! We can’t do anything until she finishes her shoot... she’s a Vogue model - incredible...’
‘What’s her name?’
‘Delphine. I just told you, her name is Delphine.’
‘You didn’t tell me, you haven’t mentioned her name... I can see you’ve been very busy...’
Radouan heaved a sigh, ‘Yes, too busy! You know I never expected Toni would move to Marrakech. We’ve been friends for many years, but now she’s divorced her husband, she’s planning to move here permanently and build a place outside of town - having dinner with the architect tonight! And on top of that, now she expects me to marry her!’
‘You’re a good Musulman, aren’t you?’
‘Yes. Of course I try to be!’
‘It’s very simple then… you can have four wives, no problem.’
‘But I can only have more wives if I can support them... where’s the money for that? You know how I have to scramble...’
‘If you marry the English one first you will have plenty of money. Isn’t she rich?’
‘Yes, but I can’t take her money.’
‘Of course you can... you have for years.’
Radouan shoved his hands in his pockets and paced back and forth. ‘Now you’re bein’ sarcastic,’ he said finally, ‘what I know absolutely is I must have this girl Delphine. Something happened to me when we met, I shook and trembled all over, couldn’t stop. That’s never happened to me before, believe me, it was like bein’ born again...’
‘A born again lover...’ Nick hummed idly,’ praise be to The Almighty…’
‘And she wants me too,’ Radouan continued obstinately... ‘I can tell.’
‘Does that surprise you?’
‘Yeah... she wants me for some purpose, but I don’t know what... I spent the whole day thinking about her...’
‘In love at last...’
‘Really, you’re so crazy, habibi... hemq.... anta majnoun!
‘Why? - Because I might marry three or four women?’ Radouan grinned, ‘It’s your fault because you have put this idea into my head, but don't worry, I could keep them happy…My father’s father had four wives and over fifty concubines. One of them was my grand mother’
They consumed their whisky and Radouan prepared a tajine of chicken with potatoes, lemon slices and ras hanut.
After they had eaten he held Nick’s hand and stroked his forehead until he fell asleep. Gazing down at him, Radouan wondered who could possibly understand how he felt about this man. No other person in the world except his father had influenced him so much. With his father it was always excitement or discipline, but with Nick it was different, a relationship which gave him courage and tools that had unlocked many doors. Looking back, he knew he’d made a huge mistake doing the physical thing with him, but what to do? Mach 'Allah ... They were young and lusty then. What had always surprised him was that their relationship should have gone on so long and affected them both so deeply.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006