It was late. Radouan parked his car just inside Bab Dukala. The night wind from the mountains had stopped and except for the famous cats of Marrakech, fighting and foraging, the lanes and derbs were deserted and unseasonably warm. Even so, he knew that hidden eyes were always watching and kept to the shadows, arriving after many turns at an inconspicuous wooden door set in a high wall.
Somewhere a lone dog was barking. Farther away the mournful whistle of the night train to Casablanca brought back the sad loneliness of his childhood. Silently he unlocked the door with a large brass key, let himself in and passed through a hallway of crumbling blue tiles, into a large courtyard over grown with apricot, almond and orange trees twisted together beneath several ancient Cypresses. Moonlight streamed down through the canopy of tangled branches casting ghostly shadows on the crumbling columns of an old riad. From a pile of white blankets atop a battered three legged bed a muffled voice called out in a hoarse American accent: ‘Is that you? I’ve been expecting you... its Christmas Eve you know... eight years now and you’ve never missed Christmas Eve.’
Radouan’s eyes flashed sternly in the dark as they sought out his sister Fouzia hunched over a tajine in a far corner of the courtyard, her beautiful face illuminated by the glow of a charcoal fire.
‘YES, eight years now,’ the voice continued. ‘Always strange to be sitting here alone on Christmas Eve... I keep a calendar you know, in one of the notebooks you bought me’. A pale arm extended itself from a fold in the blankets. ‘Here... see, my lad, how I am crossing off the days... crossing them off... the fucking days of my impriz... my entombment here with you... my avenging angel! My jailer! Do you think we might have a refreshing beverage? YOUR SISTER FOUZIA REFUSES TO GIVE ME ONE!’
‘Champagne is expensive,’ Fouzia muttered loudly from her corner.
‘But... Christmas, my dear Fouzia, it’s Christmas Eve.’
A once handsome man, his face swollen and flushed, emerged from under the blankets, sat up and sang out of key:
‘Oh why should I drink in shade, if I can drink in shine?
Poor and cursed is every hour that sober I must go,
But rich am I when I’m well drunk and stagger to and fro.
Speak shamelessly the loved one’s name, let vain disguise
No good is there in pleasure over which a veil is thrown.
For I cannot. No, I will not drink in shade
If I can DrrrINK IN S H I N E...’*(3)
‘Hot for Christmas in’t it... Goddamn!’
‘It’s not Christmas,’ Radouan growled, ‘it’s my birthday. Why are you all wrapped up in those blankets?’
‘Because it’s Christmas... when I woke up this morning I was sure, I looked at my diary... mmm... yes... have I made a mistake? Yes, yes it is your birthday not Christmas at all but Radouan’s... je m’excuse, melhem, will you forgive me monsieur Paradise? Here in the Promised Land. Yes! That’s what God said to the Moses, wasn’t it?’ Hands fluttered wildly. ‘Champagne! Champagne, we must have Champagne… IT’S RADOUAN’S BIRTHDAY. On to the fridge with you, Fouzia... somewhere around here, I know you’re hiding it... tell me, habibi, will I ever get out of here?’
‘Fuck off,’ Radouan whispered, an’ stop actin' so crazy... jus’ because you want champagne. Leave if you want to… anytime you want to. Go back to your Boston. What would you do there, jus’ tell me?’
‘Hrumpff!’ A pale face stared at Radouan malevolently. ‘I’d buy a Harley and go tooling around surprising all my old buddies who think I’m dead...’
‘That would cost a lot... where would you get the money?’
‘If I stay here I will die of Ishk... blinded by passion... you know that.’
‘If you die of Ishk you will become Martyr,’ Radouan replied coolly.
‘Yes, of course, the money problem. All my old friends are millionaires now but me I am nothing... NOTHING and it’s all your fault... very bad man you are, Paradiso... from a clot of blood! YES... WE MUST HAVE FAITH IN THE UNSEEN... Am I to believe as fools do? Such are they who buy the life of this world at the price of the life to come... to come, to come… their punishment shall not be lightened, lightened, lightened, nor shall they be helped.’
‘Here’s Fouzia with a bottle,’ Radouan said gruffly, ‘drink with me and SHUT UP!’ He walked over to a television set mounted on the old mosaic wall, secretly connected to a power line outside, and turned on one of the many porn-channels available to those who owned large satellite receivers. A muscular black man was fucking a succulent blonde - Screams, loud disco music.
‘I will NEVER shut up, you can count on that!’ Nick shouted. ‘After all, I am Nicholas K Brady III. He who honoreth my name shall be rewarded in other Jannats... believe me... and those who refuse will be punished in the land of no return... yes... BY THE PERPETUAL SATISFACTION OF ALL THEIR DESIRES FOREVER AND EVER... HA!’
Radouan glared at him and bared his teeth. ‘You’re makin’ me nervous again I’m gonna have to punch you!’
‘Go ahead. It’s not me, it’s you who are crazy, you lunatic... you who refuse to believe in me, you INFIDEL! Ha! Merry Christmas...err... Happy Birthday.’ Nick raised his glass and toasted Radouan. ‘My eyes are the eyes of flies you know and countless other insects. Nothing escapes them, my spies, wherever you go, whatever you do I am watching you day and night. From the eyes of mosquitoes that attack you in your sleep to the eyes of the cockroach who crouches in a corner watching you piss... I am seeing you and you can’t hide from me or shut me up. If you try to harm me my angelic bodyguards will invent new more delicious tortures to perform on you... yes, yes... oh YES! Are you prepared for that, my darling? Or will you surrender and admit that I, Nicholas K Brady III, am your master. GO ON, PUNCH ME AND SEE WHAT WILL HAPPEN TO YOU! I want you to just admit it, that’s all, and grovel a little bit. Groveling will do wonders and kissing of the hands and feet will be especially rewarded.’
Radouan refilled Nick’s glass, ‘To the Prophet Isa, Merry Christmas,’ he said embracing him, holding him in his arms, patting his back.
Calm for a moment, Nick disentangled him self. ‘We spent our first Christmas here in a tavern, didn’t we? Ah yes... and after twenty-one years, here we are still drinking together. You smelled of horse sweat and orange blossoms... you... you still do.’ He looked about wildly. ‘Where is Prospero?’
‘Pero? He’s in Rabat taking the final exams for his law degree.’ Radouan returned to the TV and switched channels.
Turetting, Nick spun around the courtyard like a dervish. ‘Always remember, al zeen, this world is a bridge... Do not linger upon it too long. No, no! We have strict laws here: rules, regulations and ingenious punishments for ruffians like you… by dedicated I mean DEDICATED disciplinarians. I wouldn’t fool around if I were you. My spies, they stand up and cry out, WHO GOES THERE? IS IT YOU, habibi RADOUAN? Is it you? Come closer Paradise it’s so dark it’s getting so dark... please come closer.’
‘You really want to leave?’ Radouan looked at him sadly.
‘Leave... leave this place, you just said it.’
Nick sighed. ‘Yes I do, I really do... the sooner the later... I mean better.’
‘After eight years here you think you can make it on your own?’
‘I don’t want you sporting... damn it... supporting me any longer,’ Nick stammered, ‘especially in a style to which I am deconstructed... damn it... unaccustomed.’
‘Listen mahboul...’ Radouan pleaded with both hands, ‘you taught Pero and me... you taught many boys here in the Medina to speak many languages - English, German, Spanish and Italian. In our tradition, students, they take care of their teachers, we won’t let you escape so easily.’
‘I may hate a thing although it is good for me, and love something although it is bad for me. God only knows... have I not always been your willing prisoner?’
Radouan laughed cynically, ‘You aren’t a prisoner, and you’re not even that... you’re nothin’... FINISHED! You wanted to disappear and we have disappeared you. From the face of this earth you have vanished. You know it! Except for Pero, Fouzia and me, you no longer exist. You must surrender and embrace Islam. Then only will you be happy and calm.’
‘I know deep down inside you think you can do anything to me because I’m kafir. Believe me; I have embraced Islam too many times!’
‘Do not joke like that it is a sin... you must embrace Allah and Mohammed his Prophet... say: Allah is one, Allah who liveth on without father and without son, and like to him there is none... say it!’
Nicholas K Brady III jumped up on his bed and declaimed in Arabic: Allah is the patron of the faithful, He leads them from darkness to light, and He is forgiving and lenient. Follow the bright star of morning and he will reward you. Woe is me for I have not followed the bright star... woe is me, I have followed a dark star and am eternally damned, drowned in the muddy waters of Jahannam, the nether world... the black hole... woe is me. Mr. Nick Brady... hey Meester, can you give me a life, some happiness in this gloomy world? Radouan? Radouan?’
‘I am here, right here.’
‘Two sable haired Houris I shall you wed for the hour of my doom is drawing near... The moon is cleft in two and I shall see you married ere I depart.’
Radouan switched off the TV and resigned himself to accommodating Nick’s madness. ‘Inch Allah...’ he murmured, ‘Grace is in the hand of God. He bestows it on whom he will. God’s grace has no limits.’
‘Why do you not prostrate yourself when you enter my presence…why?’
‘Because I am created from Fire,’ Radouan purred, ‘I cannot bow down to anyone.’
‘It is you who led me to Sin, al zeen, and because of that it is inevitable that I obstruct your wishes... sad but true, al fahl, you are my nemesis... I’ve known it since the first moment I saw you. And I am yours.’
‘I AM NOT OF THIS WORLD.’ Radouan intoned.
‘Yes. Maybe I’m the only one who knows that. What you are exactly I do not know but many times I have the impression I have seen you before … yes in another life, another world... are you a messenger?’
‘I am God’s messenger and no other...’ Radouan replied steadily, ‘believe in me and I will save you. I am descended from Marabouts.’
‘You? - You are descended from tormentors who revel in driving their victims mad. IT’S YOU WHO MUST REPENT, NOT ME... I, Nicholas K Brady III, I will what I will, but I am merciful to those who believe in me. With thine eyes, al zeen, with thy tongue and strong limbs thou seduced me. Yes it is you who are SHAITAN... not me as you would like to think. Messenger thou may well be, but of destruction... yours as well as mine... And Fouzia, here, she must also repent.’
Nick fell back on his bed and passed out.
Fouzia jabbed angrily at her cooking fire with a stick ‘Tonight he is more crazy than ever, my brother,’ she grumbled.
‘The full moon excites him but he is not crazy, my sister, he is tryin’ to recite Qur'an. That is good.’
‘That is not good, it is Sinful... he is drinking. You are both drinking. When I was a child I remember he was not crazy, but now he is... and it is you, my brother, who have made him so. He is right! You must let him go back to his America.’
Radouan strode across the courtyard and squatted before her. ‘You mus' remember one thing my sister, officially he is dead. Can you imagine the problems Pero and I would face if we tried to make him legal? We could say we found him after eight years, wanderin’ on the edge of the desert, somethin’ like that, but if he did go back someone would have to go with him... at least until he could function. He has no money. Trus' me, he will not leave this place easily.’
Fouzia gazed at him steadily. ‘You think you are wise, my brother, that is your mistake, you are haram!
‘Bein’ wise does not make a man haram.’
‘Tell me why you must support him. Why?’ Fouzia said sharply.
Radouan stood up and paced back and forth, ‘Because I am not infidel, no matter what he says. Because after leavin’ Marrakech he came back; left his wife and children and came back here because some fatal attraction existed between us like earth and moon... strange, because now we fight all the time and he feels guilty because once years ago he yielded to his passions. It was out of his control... of mine too... it was God’s will.’ ‘Believe me, my brother, this is so,’ Fouzia said and poked at her cooking fire, ‘He is your father and your mother in one person... our own parents were too busy having children to take much notice of you. For him you are the son he never had, his son, except that fathers and sons do not usually... ’
‘You know that ended years ago.’
‘For you maybe but not for him. Also now he is getting very expensive... all this champagne... you feel guilty you cannot satisfy him, so you spend all this money.’
‘At customs I have a friend, it doesn’t cost me much. Really it’s not your problem. I don’t want to speak about it. Do you need anything, maybe a new jallaba?’
Tucking some loose strands of hair under her head scarf Fouzia stared at him, ‘Believe me, my brother, I am not jealous of the money you spend on him but he is a big problem for me because it’s me who has to stay here caring for him... I am his servant!’
‘Everyone in our family must help out, you know that. Maybe our little sister can relieve you from time to time, but I’m not sure she’s old enough... she’s very young.’
Immobilized on his bed unable to get up, Nick came awake again and began to rave: ‘And Shaitan said there was the promise that God made you... I too made you a promise but I could not keep it. I had no power over you but I called and you answered. Do not now blame me, BLAME YOURSELF, Yes, Yes. You had better be good, better not shout for Santa Claus is coming to town YES ... He knows when you’ve been naughty he knows when you’ve been good... YES, THE DAY OF RECKONING FOR MANKIND IS DRAWING NEAR when we shall be asked of all our business here. What can we plead? What can we pledge? What arguments allege when we are called to render our account on Reckoning Day? Yet we persist in unbelief and listen with ridicule to each fresh warning our lord gives us. Our hearts are set on pleasure... God knows my heart has not been set on pleasure but on PAIN. Just put your hand under your arm, then pull it and it will come out White! DISASTER! DISASTER!’
Nick jumped up and looked wildly around, ‘I am that disaster... you want to know what disaster is, just look at me... just wait. On that day we shall become like scattered moths and the mountains like carded wool...’
Fouzia burst into tears.
Nick collapsed back on his bed and passed out.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006