Silence.  Silence of the Atlas snows and of the Sahara beyond.  Rustle of leaves in the olive groves sloping away toward Hamra, its dusty walls reflecting the wantonness of the setting sun - Maghreb-al-Aqsa, the farthest West, Hamarra the Red City, Maroc City, Marrakech.  A thousand years of caravans up from Tombouctu bearing slaves, gold and the old maji of the South.  A thousand years of travelers from Damascus, Baghdad, Cairo, Seville and Granada - warriors, brigands, philosophers, courtesans, reformers, troubadours, Sufis and Sultans.  A thousand years of storytellers - three hundred sixty-five thousand, two hundred and fifty nights! Ah Marrakech: its secret treasures, its well-hidden pleasures!

          Gusts of warm air filled the high ceilinged room. The Baroness slumped down in the velvet cushions of a carved ebony chair; her white hair drawn back in a chignon over high cheekbones, her large violet eyes affirming her former beauty as she inserted a cassette in an old tape recorder,  lit up a slender cigarette of kif and hummed along with the famous Egyptian diva Umm Kalthoum.                                                                                                                          

      ‘With that first glance from your eyes, love and passion they consumed

                        me -  set me on fire

      ‘But where are they now oh my lover, where? Oh where? 

             My  lovers eyes have gone.  Oh oh where?

       ‘On the day you promised to be with me you traveled away... your

                       promises were really a farewell…’

       ‘My peerless, my unique one, my only love.’ 

       ‘Very long became the nights for me, endless nights of torture 


        ‘You never told me where you went. Where? 

                      Or when you’d be coming back.’               

       ‘When will you come back, oh matchless love? 

                     When? When? When?’* (1)




          The tape ended, and the call of the village Muezzin echoed across the olive trees - the Voice of Destiny the Baroness Minna thought. The last hours of her seventieth birthday had ebbed away and it was hard for her to accept that sixty years had passed.

‘Impossible!’ She whispered to herself, and drew numbers in the air with her cigarette. Sixty years - sixty years since she’d first set foot here in Marrakech and now what? Pouf!  Gone like that, like a tourbillon, like a whorl of dust advancing across the desert. Sixty years. All the great moments of her life, of love and tenderness, disaster and despair; all the changes she had seen and survived - it was too much!

          Behind her stood Radouan, his hand resting gently on her shoulder looking very smart in white silk pajamas and a new black robe.  For twenty years now, since he was sixteen, they’d been celebrating this day together. 

            She glanced up at him, smiled, patted his hand gently and sighed - Radouan-Jannat, great, great grandson of the Caid Uld Billah, the last great freedom fighter of the R'hamna tribe.  Radouan, his clean shaven face, bright like a slice of the moon; large eyes that had seen too much, long lashes that appeared painted on with kohl and caused people to stare, hair in jet black ringlets capping a profile from Carthage or Rome - ancient face on a husky warrior’s body that could mount a horse on the run - thirty-three generations of equestrian prowess out of Arabi, across Africa to Fez and finally Marrakech.

          The day had been a tiring one for Baroness Minna but now, at last, it was over. She sighed, raised her hand and pointed a patrician finger toward the city. ‘Ah, mon ami, see those walls? Did you know slaves from Cornwall built them, yes, habibi, from Cornwall in England captured by your Corsairs?’

          ‘My Corsairs?’

          ‘Arab pirates, darling... brought slaves here from Britain... blond slaves... had them build the great walls of the city, then bricked them up inside... those walls are filled with skeletons.’ She laughed the raucous knowing laugh she was famous for.

          ‘Iyehwaha... the skeletons in the walls,' Radouan chuckled, 'yes, people are always finding them.  Only fifty years ago Pasha Glaoui was having his victims bricked up there too... very convenient... my father has told me.’

          The Baroness looked surprised. ‘You mean Thami Glaoui, the last great Caid of Marrakech? But he was so civilized.’

          ‘Underneath he was not.’

          ‘But I knew him well...’ 

          ‘You knew him?  You really knew him? Why have you never spoken of him to me if you knew him so well?’                     

          ‘Well, we have spoken of him... many times’

          ‘Yes, many times but you never mentioned you really knew him.’

          ‘I suppose it never occurred to me you’d be interested...’ she sighed, ‘I guess my memory is… Ah, to accept the passing of time, it’s very difficult, you know, this dwindling of one’s faculties.’ She blew smoke rings across the room. ‘Perhaps now that you’re thirty-six you’re beginning to understand all this. As to Glaoui... well, it was my father’s friend Winston who put us in touch with him.  All the other foreigners including us... we all thought El Glaoui was our friend... we certainly had no idea he was bricking up people in walls...’

          ‘How could you have lived here and not known it?’ Radouan purred, ‘You just didn’t want to think about it. He turned Marrakech into a huge brothel, for the French army and their camp followers. How did you meet him?’

           ‘Through Winston, Winston Churchill, of course, but I was only twelve at the time, Glaoui was at my twelfth birthday party…Winston brought him.’ The Baroness smiled coquettishly. ‘Officially I guess we didn’t meet until I was presented to him at a court function when I was eighteen, just after the war, the Second World War.’

          ‘You were presented to him? How?  Someone was pimping you to him?’

          The Baroness chuckled, and took his hand, ‘Really, habibi!  Now you are joking of course... trying to provoke me as you always do. My father presented me, of course.  But then I’ve never told you exactly how I came to be here, have I?’

          ‘No, I’ve never asked and you’ve never told me.’ 

          Because I never think of it, she thought to herself. Was she supposed to remember everything that happened to her sixty years ago, did she want to? The past was gone... finished. She looked up at him. ‘Would you like to hear it or would that bore you? Your attention span is getting short like a mouse, not what it used to be’. 

          ‘Tell me,’ he replied, a note of sarcasm lurking in his voice, and sprawled on a nearby sofa.  ‘After twenty years with you it would be interesting to know how you got here.’

          The Baroness stared at him and laughed, lit another cigarette and gazed off into space.

          ‘I was twelve years old when we arrived here from Tangier where Father and I had been resting for some time after escaping from our home in Prussia. Prussia was an important part of the old Germany. My father was one of the first men in Prussia to understand how dangerous Hitler was, so in 1935 he began to liquidate his estates, factories, etc and convert them to cash. My poor mother thought he’d gone mad and became crazy at the thought of leaving her family, her servants and her old castle. One night she went to sleep and never woke up. There were rumors she poisoned herself, but I doubt it.’

          Her jaw set firmly, the Baroness puffed on her cigarette and remembered how heartbroken she had been, how devastated her father - a terrible time of grieving. But her mother’s death had given them an excuse to leave; told everyone they were going to a sanatorium in Switzerland to recover from the shock of her mother's death, traveled in a caravan of four cars with three servants, and four beautiful wolf hounds. Because her father was a member of the Prussian nobility, and they knew he’d been selling things, the Nazis were watching them closely. But for the same reason... because of his wealth and high station... the people who should have been watching them were frightened and afraid to search their cars or open their luggage, which was stuffed with bullion, jewels and bank notes.

          She smiled at Radouan. ‘Of course I was much too young to understand all this. For me it was all a great adventure, something to take my mind off the loss of my mother. My father had telephoned a banker friend who met us just inside the border, loaded most of our trunks in an armored truck and took them to his bank in Geneva where my father thought we might settle down.’

          She sighed. ‘Then, convinced we were being followed by Nazi agents, he became so paranoid I thought he was having a nervous breakdown over my mother, but that wasn’t it at all. He was a clairvoyant and realized how things were going to play out. So as the winter of 1938 finally ended, we moved on, left Geneva and drove down to the French Riviera where many of our friends had villas. And the next summer when the Nazis invaded Poland, we drove to Toulon where we managed to get our four cars, the servants, our dogs and ourselves on a boat bound for Algeria. A month later we finally reached Tangier… What a journey! In Morocco, my father’s words echoed in high places. So when France fell, as Morocco at that time was a French Protectorate, suddenly Tangier was crawling with Nazi agents and we moved south... here, to Marrakech where, I guess, it was Thami Glaoui who secretly protected us, from the Gestapo and Vichy government.’ 

          Radouan gazed at her and shook his head. ‘Glaoui was a very hard man for us, especially for the R’hamna who had always fought for our Sultans.  When the French exiled Mohammed V, we knew Glaoui wanted to become Sultan but...’

          Not wanting to think about politics, the Baroness sighed, and stared out at the darkening sky as the scent of jasmine floated in through the open windows. 'Ah yes' she whispered contemplatively, 'now that world is gone, all my friends gone too and the old Marrakech we knew and loved.

So that one hardly recognized it any more with that cloud hanging over the city, she thought angrily, the petrol fumes, black coal smoke from hotels... God, how she hated this thing they called Tourism - worse than Communism.

‘Ah,’ she sighed and settled back in her chair, “How numerous are the cars, how large the fortunes, how bitter the poverty... and how many loved ones have departed from this world”*(2) Soon I will be a skeleton too, like the skeletons in those walls.’

           Puzzled and upset by her talk, tears streamed down Radouan’s cheeks. ‘Jus’ you shut up,’ he muttered softly, ‘No skeleton you... you’re drivin’ me crazy... why are you saying these things?’

          ‘Because I’m dying, habibi... I haven’t told you... I’ve delayed and delayed, but now it is time.’ She stared up at him and shrugged helplessly.  ‘I have an incurable disease and very soon I’m going to die a painful death... yes, my darling’ 

           Radouan was incredulous.

          ‘It’s been coming on slowly, very slowly... this condition…  I... I didn’t want to scare you... postponing it... yes, I have a disease, perhaps two diseases... I’ve been meaning to tell you but I wanted to be sure.   Some degenerative thing... terminal... incurable... diagnosed a few months ago in Paris.  You remember I flew up there for a few days?  You’ve heard of this Alzheimer’s thing…? Something like that.’ 

          ‘Yes, of course, I know it,’ Radouan said, cheering up.  ‘You will forget everything. Every time you see me it will be like the first time. That is great! God is Great! - A good way to leave this world I think - no regrets, no awful memories to make you sad. Can we turn on the television now?  Morocco is playing Tunisia.  It’s a very important game.’

           The Baroness’ eye brows shot up, she tried not to laugh and failed. ‘Mein Gott, habibi, now it’s you who’s sounding crazy ... you don’t know how difficult it is for me to remember what I did ten minutes ago... I’m saying something very important and you want me to watch a ball game... really… sometimes I don't think you give a damn about me...’   

          ‘But it’s a very important game, ‘bibti, I have to see it... all my buddies will be talkin’ about it.’ 

          ‘The subject is NOT THE GAME, HABIBI; we’re talking about my disease.  I can’t endure it... I must find a way out painlessly... sleeping pills... poison... suffocation... whatever, but I need your help.’ 

          Radouan gazed at her incredulously. ‘You want me to help you suicide?  I can’t help you… its haram!  It’s against Islam.’ 

          ‘So is your drinking, but that doesn’t seem to bother you,’ she sniffed.

          ‘I’ve stopped drinking’... almost.’   

          ‘I understand there’s a very good poison made from castor beans,’ she whispered, ‘called Ricine I believe, easy to make, the Russians have it, so does Saddam... it’s very fast... I’ve seen many castor bean plants growing by the roadsides around here.’                            

          ‘Forget it, you’re talkin’ madness... you’re still YOUNG... you’re STRONG!  Dwelling on disease is a malediction... for sure if you don't have it you will catch it, and if you do have it, it will get worse.’ 

          ‘Ha!’ The Baroness recoiled, ‘After all these years!  Now all I’m asking for is a little help... a little compassion, habibi, COMPASSION! Please, I’m old now...  going to die soon anyway... it’s not suicide.’                   

          ‘It is... and you’re not going to die... you will just lose your memory tha's all... sad thoughts, guilty thoughts... all will go away.’ 

          ‘Yes, and finally I will lose control of myself.  That’s what they say. I’ll become a mess, darling, disgusting... you won’t want to see me.  I don't want to frighten people... can’t you understand?’ 

          ‘Don’t WORRY; I will stand by you... Always, no matter what happens... you know how much I love you.  I WON’T LET YOU DIE!  Moreover, I will take you to a place where they will cure you.’ 

          ‘You mean Sidi Zween, I suppose?’ She sighed.  

          ‘You know it then... off the route to Essaouira.

          ‘Of course; the Saudis go there, I believe.  A few have been cured.’ 

          ‘Many many have been cured.… Radouan smiled hopefully,  ‘my family... when I was a child they took me there... holy men prayed over me three days for intelligence, strength, health and beauty. You see the result!’                 She laughed gently, ‘I always have, my darling... that’s why I want to die in your arms, while I’m still...’

          ‘What did you say?’

          ‘DIE IN YOUR ARMS, damn it....’ she stared at him wide eyed. ‘Yes... if I die in your arms I’m sure your Baraka will take me straight to the seventh heaven... don’t laugh, I’m serious.’ 

          They laughed together. Her laughter turned to sobs. He rolled off the sofa and knelt before her. ‘Courage, mon ami... Chajaa,’ and turned on the television set. ‘We have a saying in Arabi, ‘When you are destined to die, it is a great shame to die a coward.’


          They watched the game together.  Minna fell asleep and was awakened by yells and cheers from Radouan as Morocco defeated Tunisia 1-0 in the last moments of the game.

          She sniffed and wiped her eyes with a scarf. ‘How would you know anything about courage,’ she said, ‘you’re much too young.’

          ‘What you saying?’ 

          ‘About courage, mein lieber freund. Before, we were talking about courage. You were telling me to be courageous about dying. I’m saying you’re too young to know anything about that.’ 

          ‘Are you kidding?’ Radouan stared at her pensively. ‘I’m not young like before, I’m thirty-six today!  Middle-aged...  believe me, courage, it has nothin’ to do with age, 'bibti, it’s when you must face something dangerous… something so big you can’t run from it.’ He stared hard at her. ‘Then you get the courage.  Courage is facing something that frightens you and saying, Ila al Jahim, SO WHAT!’  

          He got up and paced back and forth, remembering the time when his father became sick and he had to suspend his studies at university to support his family. The whole burden of their lives had suddenly fallen on his shoulders.  He was seventeen at the time... the year after he’d first met The Baroness. There was no one else to support them: four younger brothers and three sisters. He remembered how frightened he had been then... could still feel it in his stomach. Within months there was no money and they had to move from their fine house in Meuassine where he was born to the place where they now lived near Bab Dukala which they had to share with others... it was a shameful moment. His mother’s family began to look down on them, treated them differently... there were times they had gone hungry. 

          ‘I swear, on the head of my mother, believe me, when my father became ill, that’s when I learned courage.’ He stopped pacing and knelt beside her.

          ‘But when we first met, your father, wasn’t he alright?’ she asked.   ‘You introduced me to him.’          

          ‘Yes but two years later we were nearly destitute.’

           ‘Mein Gott habibi, you never said a thing’ She rolled her eyes, ‘Not a word... never mentioned it... you knew I would have helped you... I can’t believe it.’

          ‘I didn’t know... I didn’t know you that well then... I was afraid you would reject me. Rich people generally, I have seen, they are afraid of poor people... afraid to help them... moreover we never discuss our family affairs with others. I must not sit upon your head with my problems... it is written... you always seemed to have so many problems of your own… all those papers stacked up on your desk.’

          The rising moon hung suspended in the eastern sky. ‘Will you stay and have some supper?’ she murmured, ‘I know how busy you always are.’ 

          He kissed her forehead tenderly. ‘Of course... what do you think... that I would walk out on you on our birthday before I put you to bed?  He went to a bar in one corner of the room and returned with a bottle of champagne. ‘Maybe we should have a drink.  If you noticed I drank fruit juice all the day.’

          They quietly toasted each other, sipped their champagne in silence and listened to the peacocks shrieking in the garden.       

          ‘Alone at last,’ she sighed, chuckling softly, ‘and tranquil.’ 

          ‘What are you laughin’ at?’

          ‘Was I laughing? No. I was thinking of you… of beauty in a man,   how disturbing it can be and how many nights I’ve spent over there in that bed wondering where you were, who you were making love to, inventing tableaux in my mind’s eye, vowing never to see you again, never to let you near me... only to melt the next day when you appeared.’ She cocked her head and laughed.  ‘It’s true; you know it.’ Then she glanced at him with concern and shook her finger. ‘The odd thing is when we first met my reaction to you was not positive at all… I mean I was physically attracted to you, of course, but I thought you might be a big problem for me… you were so very young, but you had maji from your mother, I know that now… must be hereditary… and you used it and I came to need you like a drug. My impulse was to control you, which of course was impossible.  But the problem was I knew you wanted me to try. Ah yes, to try and catch you like some one running after a naughty boy.’ She waved her hand and smiled.  ‘Seems rather silly now, doesn’t it? And all the time you continued to see others... have serious love affairs... believe me, On the head of your mother....’ she intoned.

          Radouan nodded his head seriously ‘After all these years you still don't understand.  You may feel it, but you don't understand that jealousy is very important – it moves the world.  Europeans they want to deny it, but we are saying: Who is not jealous is not in love. Jealousy is delicious. Love without jealousy is like couscous without meat... a waste of time!  You can’t imagine how jealous I was of you!’ 

          ‘You, jealous of me?’ 

          ‘Yes, of course.’ 

          ‘But habibi, how could you possibly have been jealous of a woman more than twice your age?’ 

          ‘Ha... you don't know?  Of course I was jealous of you... so jealous I had you followed night and day.’

          ‘Mein Gott!  - had me followed? I don’t believe it.’

          ‘It was easy... very easy here to have people followed... to know where they go... everything they do.  For thirty dirhams a day... even now you can...’

          ‘Really!  But why?’ 

           Radouan laughed, ‘... because I was jealous of the world you lived in and the people you knew... I wanted to be in that world with you... to be seen with you... it was an easier world to live in than mine.  But of course that was impossible.  I was too young... too rough... hadn’t even the right clothes.’

          ‘For you, habibi, clothes were not important... nobody noticed your clothes.’ 

          ‘At that time I didn’t know...’ 

          ‘That you were so zween?  No, you didn’t.  That was your charm...’

          ‘But I knew I had to have different clothes to be with you... clothes are a very important thing... you taught me that, you taught me so many things. What to wear, how to eat properly with knives and forks, how to have conversations with people. I was always afraid you would meet someone who would make you reject me. That’s why I had you followed. You did some crazy things in those days.’ 

           She smiled grimly. ‘You must know everything...’ 

          ‘Not everything... but I saved you a few times.’ 

          ‘Habibi, really, from what?  From whom?’ 

          ‘Certain people who were getting too close to you... getting’ ready to swindle you.’ 

          ‘Just how did you manage that!?’ 

          ‘I have my ways,’ he grinned. ‘You must know one thing, azizati, twenty years growin’ up in the Marrakech Medina and you know a lot... you have many friends and many enemies.  I’ve always been a fighter... since childhood I’ve been fightin’. When you’re cute like I was you have to be able defend yourself... its survival... you can’t imagine.’

           The Baroness stared at him, ‘Yes, I can imagine. You forget I was an eighteen year old blonde at El Glaoui’s court… sometimes I was not so clever either. Every one was after me.  I have to say it gave me a great sense of power but the intrigues, the plots... not the Pasha himself but the people around him. With me he was always like an uncle. He loved and respected my father so he was very circumspect, very correct.  Mostly he would tell me long, complicated stories... he was a great story teller... sometimes he would get lost in his story but it didn't matter.’ She paused to search her memory, ‘and now I think about it I’m sure he must have been in touch with Maji too… of the darker sort like Voodoo.  The people close to him, his eunuchs, his wives, his concubines, male and female, were constantly inventing things to discredit me.  I never had to fight, physically, but I had to learn to be very clever… keep my thoughts to myself...’

          ‘Which is why you have kept so many things to yourself for too long,’ Radouan observed.

          ‘Yes, I suppose so.’

          ‘If you are going to lose your memory you must tell me everything before you forget it... if you tell me the story of your life now... when you begin to forget I can tell it back to you.’

           The Baroness winced. ‘Interesting thought… but they say about this disease I have... finally, I’ll not remember anything from one hour to the next so it wouldn’t do much good for you to tell me about myself because I’d forget it immediately.'

          ‘Inch Allah, we’ll see,’ Radouan replied thoughtfully ‘All our saints and Prophets have said we must learn to live in the present, and your Isa, he said it too. You must absolutely stop worrying and set your mind on other things.’ 

          ‘But I’m frightened. I was prepared for the serpent but gave no thought to the scorpion... that’s one of your sayings, I believe. Talking about this disease makes it less frightening to me.’ 

          ‘Inch Allah, Inch Allah. You... you’re becoming like these people who visit astrologers... they believe what is told them and it happens... it’s like that.  If you make an image in your head of something dangerous it makes an opening, makes it easier for it to attack you... We have to battle our bodies all the time, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT.


The Baroness guffawed, really darling, ‘If God’s will is so important... fate and all that, why should I fight it? What’s the point? In one breath you’re saying accept, in the next FIGHT!  Why shouldn’t I accept my fate?’

          ‘Because we can’t know what is God’s will. Man takes action, then God he decides… intervenes. We are not gods after all.  Maybe it isn’t your fate to die of this disease... maybe you don't even have it.’

          The Baroness was a little drunk now. ‘Okay, okay... Inch Allah, habibi. But will you think about what I asked you?’ 

          ‘Waha, and be taken off to Jail for murder I suppose... are you crazy?  I could find you some sleepin’ pills, but I won’t be here when you take them... I must be far; far away... otherwise the blame will all come down on me.’ 

          ‘So if I choose to end my life, I cannot die in your arms?’   

          ‘No, you cannot. You have to decide. You can choose to fight, but you cannot choose to die. That is the rule. Either you battle this disease you think you have, and I’ll be here for you whenever you need me... or you must take your life alone.’ 

          ‘I’ll think about it,’ the Baroness said thoughtfully, ‘meanwhile could you find me some opium?’   


          ‘Opium, opium, habibi... THE POPPY... to stop the pain.  I also have this pain in my head... it could be a tumor. I’ve never smoked much opium, but I have friends who have both smoked and eaten it every day for many years and lived long pain free lives...’

          ‘That’s easy enough,’ he said, ‘to get you some opium... meanwhile, I will try to arrange for you to go to Sidi Zween, but as you are not a Moslem there might be a problem.’ 




          Radouan wanted to go. Her talk was depressing him terribly and he was due back in Marrakech. The Baroness looked away. ‘Well... I’ve never told you this before either,’ she drawled, ‘and don’t ask me why I’m telling you right now, but I’m already a Moslem... converted years ago.’ 


         ‘That I’m a Moslem... in fact a Haj...’ she laughed uproariously, ‘Haj Minna!’ 

           Radouan was speechless. ‘Really tonight you are shocking me...’ 

          ‘It happened so long ago I never think about it.’ she shrugged self consciously, ‘And as I said, I’ve learned through sad experience to keep my mouth shut.  Before you were born. I was in love with a man from Fez so I converted... even gone secretly to Mecca with him, but I’m afraid I’m not a very good Moslem... any more than I was a good Christian. I don’t keep Ramadan and I’ve never celebrated Christmas... Does it make any difference to you? I mean in our relationship.’ 

          Radouan looked serious. ‘Yes, of course, it changes everything... look, it brings tears to my eyes. I would have treated you differently.’ 

          ‘Would you have been more faithful?’ 

          ‘I have always been faithful... I have never deceived you.’ Why did you hide it? Are you ashamed to be Moslem?’

          ‘Of course I’m not ashamed.  My relationship with the Fassi did not turn out well... it was for his sake I converted... then when everything ended I stopped thinking of myself that way. I’ve never been what you call a devout anything!’ 

          ‘You must try. Now you must try!’

           She gazed sadly at him and sighed, ‘I knew if I told you, you would say that... that’s why I never have. You know, sometimes you are like these new Islamists, when it suits your purpose to be so... something of a hypocrite too since you don't go to mosque, don't observe the month of fasting and drink like a...’ She scowled at him playfully. ‘I just knew if I told you, you would start lecturing me and ordering me about… I do truly believe in the life of the spirit, in the world behind the world and the ultimate mystery of our existence... holiness and compassion... yes, I believe in all that. But I dislike, I detest, all these organized religions with their self appointed helpers of God... I HATE THEM ALL.  Certainly God doesn’t need their help... All these religions get made up after the leaders die... made up by the disciples to keep the money coming in and the believers from starving... that's organized religion.’

          ‘You are cynique ma cherie, a terrible cynic.’ Radouan mocked her and frowned.

           The Baroness shrugged her shoulders, ‘Yes, of course I am, especially about this God every one fights over… after all, I’ve lived through most of the twentieth century!...  Tell me, if he’s so great, so merciful so compassionate, why is there so much pain? Why are so many devout people suffering?  Why is it the more they suffer, the more devout they become? Religions feed on these people... Sometimes this God he is wrathful, sometimes he is generous, but mostly it seems to me he is just neurotic and one is never permitted to ask WHY?’

          ‘How can you say such things?’ Radouan raised his voice, ‘You should get down on your knees and PRAY. We are like tiny ants compared to Him.  God is Great... since he created everything, the sky, the stars, the mountains the sun... He must be very large... we can’t know him... we can’t possibly understand his ways or his plan.’ 

          ‘So why should we pray?  What good does that do? If all those who pray to God were to perish you think there would be any God left?  Isn’t God completely dependent on his worshippers for his existence?  After all, he’s their invention.’

          Radouan gazed at her and replied cryptically, ‘If all the ants in the world died there would still be a God. Please don't speak of these things now, ‘bibti, you’re tired and upset... You must enjoy... you must see the beauty... embrace the terror of the vastness, the majesty.  I know you’re afraid of dyin’ but...’ 

          ‘I’m not afraid... I’m ANGRY!’ 

          ‘But how can you be angry?  We will all die. Everything that’s born dies even stars, everything has its day. Time is nothing. In a few years I too will be a skeleton. Where we come from and where we go nobody knows so we must learn to live in the moment... be happy in this moment with simple things... making love, doing good to others, not being selfish.’

A warm night wind redolent with the scent of Musk-leil drifted in though the windows and server brought supper up.  Radouan remarked that he was new.

          ‘Haroun is too old to carry these heavy trays.’ Minna replied. This is Zouheir from Fez...someone A’hmed found.’  She introduced him to Radouan who thought he’d seen Zouheir somewhere before and vowed to check him out. They dined in silence watching one of the late night TV dramas out of Cairo that Minna found hilarious.

          Finally Radouan turned off the television and they sat together in the moonlit room holding hands while he told her stories and she fell asleep. Then he carried her to bed, kissed her forehead and, deeply troubled by her condition, drove slowly back to Marrakech.

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©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006