After Radouan left, Francesco, mightily aroused by Delphine’s haunting beauty, her wit, and earthy frankness had paced the floor of his villa debating whether or not to send Tawfig out to get a couple of girls. But Tawfig had been equally unnerved by her and was too drunk to function.  So out of boredom Francesco had gone to bed, only to be awakened later by Radouan calling to say he was coming over

          By the time he arrived, Francesco had pulled himself together and was mixing two stiff drinks. ‘I’ve been thinking of your Delphine,’ he said, ‘I agree with you there iss something there.  I mean... there was a star back in the 50’s, fabulous woman... great fun... probabilmente non hai mai sentito parlare di lei... Rita Hayworth... she married Ali Khan.  Also in Egypt the famous Houda Sultane whom you may have seen.  This Delphine, she reminded me of them;  that body... the same abbandono... la sua innata quasi sensualita... makes you want to get in there and ride eh?.. From Arles, right?’

          ‘So you want to go ahead with the screen test in Ouarzazate... you weren’t bull shittin’?’ Radouan stared hard at him.

           Francesco lit a cigar. ‘No no... I am very serious and compliment you on your good taste. I’ll make arrangements tomorrow and we’ll plan to leave as soon as possible after Aid Kabir ... but I have to know what’s in it for me if I do this... you see I am getting very lazy, I must have something to motivate me.’

          ‘I told you... you can’t fuck her, she’s mine.  But you will make a fortune with her.’

          Francesco laughed. ‘I already have a fortune, mia amico, I don’t need any more.’

          ‘Everyone always needs more, tha’s life... You will see... she will win the Palm d’Or for you, I know it.  Your fame will spread!’

          ‘I have won the Palm d’Or twice and I’m famous enough already.’

           Radouan was exasperated, ‘Then what do you want? Partouze, I suppose.’

          ‘Not really...’ Francesco filled their two glasses again. 

          ‘You have some trick up your sleeve I can feel it.’

          Voglio te, habibi...’

           Radouan was taken aback, ‘what you say?!...’

          ‘You, my friend - I want YOU.  You can’t believe how tired and bored I am of these women, I can have them anytime, I want you. We have shared many together.  Now I want something different… I want you alone!’

           Radouan laughed uproariously. ‘I can’t believe you...mahboul, crazy old man!’

          ‘I’m not an old man; I’m only fifty six...’

         ‘Tha’s old…  I can’t believe... after all these years… I can’t believe you’re propositioning’ me!’

          Francesco sighed and rolled his eyes, ‘Not propositioning you, habibi...  I am NEGOTIATING.  If you agree, I’ll do everything to make her a big star, a huge cash cow ... otherwise forget the whole thing… iss a lot of work.’

          ‘FUCK OFF!’ Radouan paced back and forth, ‘after so many years of friendship now... You’re drunk... you must be very drunk to speak like this.  I am shocked... Give me another drink.  Jus’ this morning when I mentioned your name to Delphine she said she heard you were a gay. I said absolutely not... now you say...’

          Francesco poured out more whisky ‘You’re absolutely right... I’m not a gay, whatever that is... I just happen to want to make sex with you. Now if...’

          ‘Tha’s your price for helping Delphine?’

          ‘My lass price, amico...’ Francesco waved his hand lazily, ‘when I call, you muss come... wherever I am... drop everything and come -  in Roma, in London, Paris, wherever I am, if you don't come immediately I will stop thinking of Delphine.’

          ‘Kharia!  Fuck you off you’re jokin’ me... you mus’...’

          ‘Never was I more serious, believe me, never.  And don’t tell me you haven’t fucked around with guys because I happen to know you have.’

          ‘No, no, habibi, believe me you are imagining these things, fantasizing.

          ‘Have another drink... Monsieur Paradise’

          ‘Maybe it would be better if you forgot about helping Delphine.’ Radouan said narrowing his eyes, ‘If you make her a star, I know I will lose her...I know it!’

          ‘Now you’re walking away from my shop, my friend... that means you are interested.’

          ‘Interested in what?’ Radouan’s chin jerked up

          ‘This deal... you’re walking away from it juss like in the Souks.  I know this game. I know how to play it!’

           Radouan grinned. ‘It’s my nature.’

          ‘I am very well aware of your nature, Grandissimo Difetto, believe me. But I won’t bargain; not on this one.’

          ‘So it’s me for her.’

          ‘Yes, whenever I call. Of course I’ll pay all your expenses.’

           Radouan looked at him suspiciously. ‘For how long?’ I’m very expensive.’

          ‘I know that…For FOREVER of course!’

          ‘That means after death as well, I suppose...’ Radouan snickered

           Francesco’s eyebrows arched. ‘Your name means Paradise... I would hope so...’

          ‘Be serious, habibi.’

           Francesco shrugged his shoulders, ‘For as long as it takes to make Delphine a real star then.’

          ‘What’s a real star?’  Radouan felt like roughing him up. ‘How much will she have to be makin’ before she’s a real star?’

          ‘Twenty-five million dollars a picture, I suppose.’

          ‘Tha’s way too much. Ten is enough.  When she reaches ten million, you will release me from this bond.’

          ‘Don’t worry, by that time either I’ll be bored with you, or dead.’

          ‘HABIBI!’ Radouan roared, ‘Don’ speak like that... we are old friends. You know how much I like you habibi Francesco... oridouka!  If in three years Delphine hasn’t won at Cannes you have to agree that our deal will be over.’

          ‘Make it twenty then, it takes time to make a star these days.



          ‘Give me another drink, please.’ Radouan narrowed his eyes, ‘I mus’ think about this thing. Really I like you too much... you know it... but we know each other so well... it’s embarrassing... tha’s why I wish you would reconsider your request...it embarrasses me’

           Francesco filled Radouan’s glass. Perche mai?’

          ‘Because you could become obsessed with me.  It has happened to others ... they start callin’ me the Devil or Shaitan or that I have a Djinn... in side me. This plan of yours could be dangerous for you.’

          Francesco made a face. ‘I am already obsessed with you.  And long ago I decided either you were not really human, or you were inhabited by some djinn.  It’s the djinn who fascinates me... the one inside you ... if only I could capture that one on film I wouldn’t want to have sex with you, but that’s impossible... when you stand in front of a camera you freeze because the djinn hates cameras.  If you could juss relax you could be the greatest romantic comic since Fernandel.’

          ‘COMIC...are you crazy...I’m a very serious guy...SERIEUX!’

          ‘It’s the djinn who is serious, habibi, and very determined to get what it wants. You have this inner battle going on with it which is very charming, unselfconscious and very funny.’

          ‘YOU’RE TRYIN’ TO PUT ME DOWN SO I’LL STOP NEGOTIATIN,’ Radouan growled menacingly...

          ‘But I’m not, au contraire, I’m putting you up; way up on a pedestal beyond my reach. I’m saying I am totally charmed. Your djinn is so sensual, so fascinated with evil.  Would you consider doing this screen test with Delphine?’

          ‘Why not?’ Radouan said grudgingly.

          ‘And you will stick by our agreement: you for Delphine until she is making fifteen million a film or wins at Cannes whichever comes first?’

          Radouan, now drunk, scrutinized Francesco: ‘It wouldn’t be that hard, I guess. I’ll have to think of all those girls we’ve had together. You’re still pretty fit. What do you want?’

            Francesco laughed and toasted Radouan with his glass, ‘Vorrei essere una di loro!’

          ‘You mean to dress up?’

          ‘We could think about that, I suppose... but not for the moment.’

          ‘What then?  How can I know what you want unless you SAY IT?’

          ‘Si... I want to become a woman with you. I want to have the experience!’

          ‘I wanna, Iwanna,’ Radouan slurred drunkenly. ‘Your new name is gonna be IWANNA.  I’m going to start callin’ you that’. He collared Francesco roughly ‘Come here I wanna, did you know you’re crazy, habibi. You think you have to make excuses to have sex with me? You’re a guy.  You can never feel like a woman feels… forget it. Believe me, when a man gets fucked it’s different.’

          ‘You’re an expert then...’

          ‘NEVER, believe me on the head of my mother, I never...’

          ‘I don’t believe you,’ Francesco snickered.

          ‘Listen, I will tell you something important. As a boy I was very zween. My father knew I would have to defend my ass so he took me to a gym where they taught me to fight. By the time I was fourteen I was a fighter...’

          ‘But you lost one and somebody raped you.’

          ‘NO, habibi, be sure I never lost a fight.  Once I put four policemen in hospital...’

          ‘Someday you’ll tell me how you know so much about getting fucked then…’

          ‘I will tell you right now. My father, he was the life long friend of our last great Marrakchi poet, Chaiir El Hamra... his lover for many years.  The poet was an authority on love making between men.’

          Francesco now quite drunk hugged him enthusiastically. ‘I wanna spend the tonight with you... Tawfig’s passed out.  We can begin our agreement right now.’

          ‘Not tonight, Iwanna. I left my father sleepin’ on the roof... it will cool off soon and he will need a blanket. No one else will remember to bring it to him... I will sleep there on the roof with him.’

          ‘Non ti credo’

          ‘Believe me or not, as you like.  Moreover, habibi, our agreement cannot begin until after the screen test.  How can we know anything before that?’

          ‘I think you’re embarrassed by your own sensuality.’ 

          ‘You’re right, it’s not Islamic... gets me in a lot of trouble.’

          ‘Your problem has always been that you are too zween... when they see you, men are attracted … and repulsed because they are attracted... and because they know you can steal their women’

          ‘You’re right.’

          ‘Women are powerfully attracted too, but frightened by the savagery of that heartless djinn lurking inside you… that some day you will go away and leave them because the djinn is voluptuous and wants to wander... not be trapped inside your body.  You must have been beaten a lot too...’

          ‘All the time...’

          ‘So was I.  And now you are sadique, because the djinn has suffered so it wants to inflict pain on you and those around you.’

          ‘I am also masochist.’ Radwan smirked

           Francesco looked surprised, ‘In what way?’

          ‘Lettin’ you touch me, habibi... havin’ to make sex with you. Beauty like mine doesn’t come cheap, habibi, you will have to make lots of money for Delphine and me...’

          ‘Now it’s you who’s being sadique...’

          ‘If I’m gonna sin, if I’m gonna be roasted in the fires of Jahannam for satisfyin’ your whims, then I must receive adequate compensation.  Believe me I’m not bein’ sadique with you, jus' tellin’ you the truth. You’re still good lookin’ but look... the wrinkles... your skin… all those blotches!  Its YOUR MONEY THAT’S ATTRACTIVE, habibi and tha's part of you, I’m not puttin’ it down...  Believe me, money is zween.  Without it there’s nothin, jus' work fuck and eat!  MONEY IS SACRED. In India, those cannibals, they worship a Goddess of Money, called Lakshmi; I get a hard on jus’ thinkin’ about her.’

           Francesco collared Radouan: ‘Hypocrite..! Really, you know some day I think I’m going to kill you... surprise you some night with a knife... slice off that zahp of yours and watch you bleed to death... slowly.’

           Like a bored lion, Radouan gently shook off Francesco’s hold.   ‘If you cut off my zahp,’ he purred, ‘I swear, habibi, it would sprout wings and fly away to the nearest tina! Now I mus' go!  In Ouarzazate we’ll seal our agreement after the screen test. Okay?

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©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006


©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006