By dawn the next morning, the two of them were on the roof of her hotel, looking down into the surrounding courtyards where, alone or in small groups, sheep waited nervously. As though they knew something bad was going to happen to them Radouan thought. How he hated this day, yes he had to admit it, all his life since childhood, hardening his heart against its sadness. But he could not, must not, show his sorrow for it was not permitted, must totally suppress those feelings and sublimate them in the worship of God; the remembrance of his prophet Ibrahim, and Isaac his son.
Sensing Delphine’s hesitation if not her remorse, he put his arm gently around her shoulder and said: ‘after having something to eat... some bean soup and bread... I will take you to meet my oldest sister Fouzia, and one American friend of ours she is looking after. He’s a little crazy. There, on TV, we will watch our King sacrifice the first sheep and then I will sacrifice one and after that we will walk quickly to my family’s house where I must perform a second sacrifice of two more. These days my father is not strong enough to do it. In the next few hours at least six million sheep will be sacrificed in Morocco. After sacrificing for my family we will return to the riad and eat brochette...’
‘You must know by now I don't eat meat,’ Delphine whispered firmly and looked away. ‘I don’t eat it at all!’
‘Vegetables are for camels and horses,’ Radouan laughed, ‘you must eat meat. Human beings are carnivores not herbivores.’
‘Before perhaps, but not now,’ she replied. ‘Today meat is contaminated with antibiotics, hormones, steroids and resistant diseases. You can’t tell what you’re eating.’
‘Not with us! Here we don’t have money for these things and it is forbidden for us, as with the Jews, to feed offal back to our animals - our meat is pure.’
‘I can’t stand these poor animals bleating,’ she said at last, ‘can we go down?’
‘Don’t think about it,’ he replied firmly, ‘they are only sheep.’
After bean soup and fresh bread in a nearby food shop they walked together through the deserted lanes of the Medina to the riad where Radouan’s friend, Prospero met them at the door, a pair of black Labrador puppies walking shakily beside him. Radouan introduced Delphine.
‘A friend of mine,’ Pero explained, ‘his bitch had these pups and offered me these two. We need watch dogs here so I took them; also I thought it would be good for Nicholas to have something to look after.’
They went inside. All the trees in the courtyard had been pruned and new plants set out underneath them. They found Nick reclining on the second hand gilt throne Pero had bought him, wrapped in his white blanket, watching the king, Hassan II, attended by Moroccan notables dressed in fine white jallabas, praying in a Mosque at the royal palace in Rabat.
‘Our king is a descendant of the Prophet Mohammed,’ Radouan proudly explained, ‘no other Muslim ruler can match his lineage or challenge his word on religious matters. He ranks above all other Muftis, Imams and Shayks in Islam and is known as The Prince of Islam.’
Behind the TV set, a large ram was tethered to a pillar, standing so still Delphine at first mistook it for a wooden statue or something stuffed; until it bleated mournfully, gazed at her and bleated again as if asking to be rescued. She winced and felt as though she’d been stabbed in the stomach. This was the animal Radouan was going to kill and it was staring at her.
On television, the King had finished praying and was walking with his two sons, followed by Palace Dignitaries and Notables into a courtyard. Attendants stepped forward holding up a large white cloth, waist high, in front of the king while two more attendants stretched the sacrificial animal, a beautiful snow white ram, before him. Wielding a razor sharp scimitar, the King leaned over and in one stroke, deftly separated the animal’s head from its body. Blood spattered the sheet and gushed out on the blue, white and green tiles of the mosaic floor.
Delphine felt sick and tried desperately to suppress an urge to throw up.
Then Radouan and Prospero began untethering the ram.
Intoxicated by the bloodletting on TV, Nick jumped up off his throne, began beating a big drum and cried out: ‘And it came to pass that God, he tempted Ibrahim and called to him.... an Ibrahim he say, ‘Behold here am I Oh Lord..,’ BOOM BOOM BOOM !
‘An' God, he say, Ibrahim listen to me: you take that son of yours, your beloved only son Isaac, and get you over to the Land of Moriah and offer him up there for a burnt offering on one of the mountains which I will show you...’ WHOA WHOA... BOOM KA BOOM... EEYWHA !
Prospero and Fouzia struggled to position the ram for the sacrifice.
KA BOOM KA BOOM ! ‘So Ibrahim he gets up early in the morning saddles his ass and takes two of his young men with him and Isaac his son. While cutting the wood for the burnt offering he lifts up his eyes and sees the place far off - the place of sacrifice!’
WHOA WHOA KA... BOOM BOOM BOOM !
‘An' he tell his young men to stay with the ass while he and Isaac go an worship there... An takes the wood for the burnt offering and lays it upon Isaac’s back, an’ takes fire in his hand and a knife to slay Isaac wiff.’
‘Then Isaac he speak to his father and say, O father, here is the wood and there the fire, but where is the lamb for the sacrifice?’
WHA WHA WHA!
‘An' Ibrahim he say: ‘Don’ worry, son, God will provide an' ‘Brahim he builds an altar an stacks up the wood, an' ties Isaac, an' lays him upon it.’
KA ! KA ! KA !
‘Then jus' as Ibrahim reaches for his knife to kill his son and sacrifice him, God thunders down from heaven: Ibrahim, Oh Ibrahim.’
‘And Ibrahim he say: Lord here I am. An’ God say: Lay not your hand upon your son! Now that I have seen you would not withhold from me your only son, I know you love and fearest me. An Ibrahim lifts up his eyes and sees a snow-white ram caught in a thicket of thorns an' releases his son Isaac and takes the ram and offers him up for a burnt offering.
Radouan decapitated the ram. Nick jumped up and down like an excited child, dipped his hands in the blood and made marks on everyone’s foreheads.
‘An God say: because you have not withheld your only son, I will bless you, an’ multiply your seed as the stars of heaven and as the sand which is upon the sea shore and thy seed shall possess the gates of your enemies and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed because you have obeyed my voice.’
BOOM ! BOOM ! BOOM !
Delphine choked and threw up.
‘At least we are honest and do it as a sacrifice to God,’ Radouan cried hoarsely over Nick’s ranting. ‘In your country, animals are herded into huge factories where they are badly treated and killed. Every year we confront ourselves with who we really are by killin’ these animals.’
‘I have confronted these things for many years now,’ Delphine responded shakily, ‘it’s why I’m a vegetarian... sacrificing animals like this... it’s barbaric!’
‘We Arabs are not barbarians,’ said Fouzia suddenly, looking very angry.
‘Who’s she?’ Delphine said condescendingly.
‘My sister,’ Radouan replied.
‘I don’t care what she says, what I’ve just seen is barbarous.’
‘You Europeans are afraid of death but we are not,’ said Prospero. ‘We are practical about it. For us death is nothing... an unavoidable consequence of being born which we must accept... and a release from the bondage of this world...Gods will… the good die young.’
‘But does that give us the right to kill these poor creatures?’
Radouan studied her for a long time, bewildered. ‘For thousands of years this sacrifice has been goin’ on,’ he said, ‘you think anyone can stop it? COME... my father’s house... they’ll be waitin’ for me. Wash up and let’s go!’
Delphine retired to a makeshift bathroom. If it weren’t for the presence of his friend Prospero whom she rather liked, she thought, she would walk out on this crazy man.
Fouzia had cut up the sheep's heart, still warm and throbbing, and was roasting the pieces on spits over a charcoal fire.
Delphine stared down at her. Would Radouan expect her to be like that? Impossible! And who was this crazy American who kept smiling at her and ranting on in such a strange way?
Radouan took her hand, walked her quickly to the door and out onto the street. ‘Listen,’ he said urgently, his eyes flashing, ‘you can’t imagine how I hate this day, but it’s something I absolutely must do... I can’t... I can not avoid it... If you want to go, GO! I’ll meet you back at the hotel.’
‘I’ll stay,’ she said observing the look on his face. ‘But why... why must you?’
‘Because I am a fly caught in the web of a spider called tradition.’(Pop-Up) (4) ‘You must help me to break out.’
They were on a short cut to his father’s house where they found the two sheep Radouan had delivered, nibbling placidly at a mound of greens. Radouan’s four brothers greeted them with narrowed eyes and serious expressions. From the second floor his father and mother flanked by his two sisters stared silently down. A butcher stood by ready to perform his task. Delphine thought she might be sick again.
Radouan knelt down facing Mecca and began chanting. As soon as he was finished his brothers brought the white cloth, stretched the two sheep in front of it, and in two strokes they were decapitated. Radouan dipped his forefinger into the sheep's neck and placed dots of warm blood between the eyebrows of his four brothers, then rushed to the second floor to do the same for his parents and his sisters, and returned and pressed his bloody thumb on Delphine’s forehead.
Though seized by a strong desire to slap his face, she found herself paralyzed by his tortured eyes.
His jaws set; he led her upstairs where condescending smiles of suspicion greeted her. Down below, the butcher went to work. Soon choice pieces of heart, liver and kidneys were roasting over a charcoal fire.
Delphine whispered to Radouan in English: ‘I cannot eat the organs of these animals which were functioning just moments ago.’
‘Forgive me for getting you into this, please, but do not now embarrass me. You will find them delicious!’
‘I will not find them delicious and I will not eat them!’
Just then Radouan’s mother brought a plate of the choicest pieces for Radouan and Delphine and from the corners of their eyes the whole family watched to see if she would eat.
‘Please eat,’ Radouan said softly, ‘it is considered very unlucky if you do not eat part of the sacrifice.’
After finally managing to swallow a few pieces of liver they escaped and on the walk back to her hotel she scolded Radouan. ‘How can you... how can you kill those innocent…’
‘It’s a ritual we must perform. It marks the end of human sacrifice... the sheep will be killed anyway... we are not barbarians, as Muslims we are even prohibited from killing ants and bees.’
‘I don't know; In the Qur’an God says it, or maybe it’s in the Hadith... it’s an old teaching. You know I hate doing it, this sheep thing, but if the father cannot perform the sacrifice then the eldest son must... if the eldest son is too young, then an uncle...’
‘I wish I knew why I’m so attracted to you,’ Delphine blurted out suddenly, ‘As a French woman your customs make me very nervous, it’s very difficult... sometimes...’
‘Sometimes what?’ he asked.
‘You forget, I didn’t come here on my own, I was brought by a magazine... me,’ she shrugged, ‘I would never have come to a place like this on my own.’
Ah, he thought, so Moroccans were a backward race, stranded forever on the sidelines of history. ‘But you like it here a little... No?’ he asked gently.
‘I like and I don’t like. Sexually I find you...’ she sighed, ‘I’m very attracted to you... but psychologically I find my attraction sick because I know how really crazy you are. I’ve seen a lot of men, you know. But there is also something else...’
‘I feel your pain too much...’
‘I thought you enjoyed pain...’ Radouan smiled at her, ‘I think you’re afraid of me ...why?’
‘By letting me have my way with you, you’ve trapped me. Sometimes I look at you and see the Devil... lose my self... lose everything.’
‘No no, you’re just imagining these things, you won’t lose; you are going to win big! You will feel happy and peaceful because I will always be there for you to torture...for whatever you need I will be here... You are too beautiful. The effect of your beauty on others will cause you many problems... you need an expert like me to protect you.’
‘You sound like you’re applying for a job...’
‘Habibti, why are you speakin’ like this to me?’
At the hotel she smoked some hashish and felt her anxiety ebb away; imagined herself as one of the sheep Radouan had slaughtered and was surprised to find herself strangely aroused - that she might enjoy being a victim sharpened her pleasure with him and goaded him on.
‘I come from a very crazy tribe.’ he whispered hoarsely. ‘We claimed all animals belonged to us so we never branded them; had many beautiful women and handsome men as well... successful warriors, fearless and peerless, who took what they wanted when they wanted and no one told them what to do...’
‘So?’ she replied.
‘So I have those feelings deep inside me and I try to control them but really sometimes it’s very hard... many times I feel overcome by something stronger than me ... that I’m livin’ in the wrong time...’ Delphine gazed at him. ‘You think you’re coming from the past to confront the present?’
‘Yes, that’s what scares me... in this modern world which is not really mine, I become nervous, lose my temper and have done terrible things... taken what I wanted, rejected what annoyed me.’
Delphine pushed him away gently. ‘You, you are SAUVAGE and I’m sure you are infidel too.’
Radouan raised himself on one elbow and stared into her eyes ‘Of course I am sauvage... What do you think? But I am not Infidel. I’m faithful to those who love me.’ He kissed her eyes and nibbled at her ears. ‘But if you mean am I loyal in love to only one person, the answer is yes and no... My heart is big... I can love more than one person, makayn mouchkil... no problem, especially women... it’s me... it’s my nature.’ He grinned at her... ‘I enjoy because they enjoy, but I don't love all. No. Now I see this thing you call love is much more than I thought ... Yes, because of you, I am feeling something new. Here, people really don’t know about it. We have friendship, we have the passion, but I think your love is different, maybe better.’
Delphine smiled thinly. She couldn’t believe he was really serious. ‘Look,’ she said, ‘the problem is we are both professionals. Our lovemaking is fabulous because we’ve had lots of experience... anticipate and lead each other on... but I think it might be dangerous. We might go too far with each other and spoil it all… still; we have not really opened up to each other, if that’s what you mean by love.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006