An hour later Radouan had changed clothes at his father’s house, looked in on Nicholas, checked out the orphan Mokhtar and by 1:30, in white linen pants and a LaCoste polo shirt, was sitting opposite Toni over lunch on the terrace of her apartment.
‘You look angry,’ she said, from behind large sunglasses, ‘are you?’
‘How should I know? About something... you look...’
‘I called you many times over the past few days... you never answered... never called back.’
‘Sometimes I don't answer,’ Toni drawled, ‘sometimes I forget and leave the bloody thing somewhere and can’t find it. Was Martin Segal able to help you?’
‘You’re changin’ the subject. You were with Lahcen, admit it. Tha's why you didn’t answer...’
Trying to remain cool had left Toni a wreck, ‘Will you please shut up? I’m trying to prepare myself to forgive you... now please stop it! You know very well that you do talk this nonsense just so you won’t have to explain what you’ve been up to. Really, sometimes your penchant for secrecy drives me...’
‘Drives you mad,’ Radouan grinned. ‘You’ve always been mad... it runs in your family.’
‘We were talking about secrecy.’ she muttered, ‘the way you compartmentalize your life...’
‘Your friend Monsieur Segal was very helpful. Francesco and I signed a preliminary agreement. I must go up to Paris soon to consummate the deal.’
'Consummate!’ she laughed bitterly, ‘sounds like a marriage...’
‘YEAH...’ Radouan snickered, ‘Francesco and me, we’re gettin’ married...’
‘Well, I’m going to be very busy with my architect,’ Toni sighed, ‘but Paris! You, alone there with Francesco! I’ll miss you, I always miss you,’ she smiled thinly, ‘but I’ve come to realize I’m not really jealous of you any more…’
She was faking and he knew it. ‘Now you’re talkin’ crazy again,’ he said, ‘blub blub blub... and don't light that cigarette...’
‘Let me finish, damn it!’ she pouted. ‘You... you always say that I’m crazy when you don’t want to think about something I’ve said...’
‘We must get married soon,’ Radouan muttered, ‘that’s the only solution.’
‘I’m sorry, you’re mumbling. What did you say?’
Radouan scraped his throat and finished off his glass of beer. ‘I said we should get married very soon - IMMEDIATELY. Isn’t that why you’re here... why I’m here... why you got divorced... so we can get married?’
She took off her sunglasses, and squinted at him at him suspiciously. ‘You’re not really serious, are you... just being mean again? I’m never quite sure when you’re serious and when you’re trying to torture me.’
‘I’m serious. Your plane is parked at the airport. Let’s just go somewhere and do it!’
‘And just where would that be, Rabat…the British Embassy?’
‘If we do it here in Maroc it could be delayed for weeks or months while they investigate me. Maybe we have to fly to London and do it there...’
‘You agree to a civil marriage under British law then?’ she asked looking surprised.
‘Of course, why not? But if I agree to that then you must promise me you’ll marry me here in Marrakech according to Islam... not immediately, but soon.’
‘Yes I will, if you will agree to move in here and live with me,’ she replied.
Radouan sighed. ‘We’ve gone through this before… it would cause too much gossip and jealousy, too many problems... dangerous for both of us, even if we were married. After you build your place in the country I will live out there with you, makayn mouchkil, but I will need a helicopter.’
‘Helicopter! What on earth for?’
‘To go between here and there. I have many responsibilities here… every day people to look after... drivin’ takes too much time...’
‘What color?’ Toni asked sarcastically.
‘Dark red the color of blood not fresh but dried...’
‘Blood, blood ...’
‘You mean maroon...'
‘More red than maroon...’
She glanced at him and looked away, stifling a smile. ‘I can see you’ve been thinking about this for some time. Let me get this straight... you want me to call up and order you a helicopter the color of dried blood.’
‘Absolutely, why not? Let them mix the paint and send us some samples...maybe with gold and silver flecks.
‘But can you learn to fly one? I don't want you crashing, my darling, you’re so impulsive, such an awful driver...’
‘I don't like cars, I like bikes. On my Harley I’m an expert. In the sky, I’ll be even better, jus' buy one and you’ll see. I’ll learn fast. You must learn too... we’ll go cruisin’ around together.’
She sighed. ‘Somehow I’d always thought our wedding would be something more than just signing papers in some dreary registry office.’
‘Ah, but we were married long ago, my zweenti... from the first night we slept together.’
‘I’m sorry but it was the second night...’ Toni giggled. ‘Now it’s you who don’t remember. The first night we were both too nervous and drunk to do anything.’
‘Are you crazy? You think I didn’t make love to you that first night? You must be thinkin’ of someone else not me.’
‘My darling, you are... as they say in America these days, “in denial; perhaps because you were only twenty at the time. You’d polished off at least thirty beers and a bottle of wine...’
‘That’s nothin’ for me...you know in those days I could easily drink twice that much...’
‘We did have sex but it wasn’t that good...you were extremely drunk and I was terrified...’
‘Of you! Of being discovered. The second night was a different story...’
Radouan smiled sympathetically. ‘Don’t worry, ’bibti, when we get married here we’ll have a HUGE party... wedding parties in Marrakech... well you’ll see... you’ll enjoy.’
‘I have to tell you, honestly I do not know much about Islam... about as much as I know about Christianity or any other religion I suppose... Will I have to read the Qur’an or something before we get married?’
‘You don't have to read Qur’an or study anything, jus' you have to obey me at all times.’
‘OBEY YOU! Really, darling, please... she suppressed the desire to laugh; we’re living in the twentieth century!’
Radouan glanced at her, wide-eyed, incredulous. ‘You don't want to obey me? After all these years you don't trus' my judgement?’
‘Of course I TRUS' you, but obey? That’s a harsh word, darling... sounds awfully primitive.’
‘Love, honor and OBEY...you have it in your own English wedding vows...’
‘I think OBEY has been thrown out...’
Radouan clicked his tongue, ‘Thrown out! That’s ridiculous… how can it be? What is written cannot be changed. I swear on the earth that covers my grandfather’s grave, you are really mahboul! Sometimes I don't know what to think of you!’
‘And what am I to think of you my love... your saturnine ways, oh Prince of Deceivers... That’s why we understand each other so well... She thought of how debauched her own life had been, so different from his and how despite his libertinism, he had somehow managed to preserve a strange sort of innocence and purity.
‘So you won’t obey me, you don't want?’ he ventured.
‘You’re right, I DON’T WANT...’
‘But you know you enjoy obeying.’
‘I do?’ she looked startled.
‘Yes, of course...’ Radouan’s lip curled up over his teeth in a sardonic grin.
‘How do you know I don’t hate myself for it?’ she said.
‘Because when you obey you don't smoke as much. Which means that obeyin’ me, it makes you feel safe and calm… you relax and don't have to think of what to do next... jus' obey.’
‘Is that why you’re so nervous all the time?’
Radouan looked surprised, ‘Me nervous... I’m not nervous... Maybe.’
Toni was amused, ‘You are... you know you are... and by your own logic it must be because you refuse to obey any one, to bend, to surrender to anyone or anything even in Love... that’s what makes you so nervous..!’
‘I obey the Holy Qur’an; I surrender to God at every moment, to his Grace, to his omens, to his wrath, to his mystery.’
‘Hypocrite! - Darling, please... you break the rules all the time, your own rules, and you don't obey anyone ... usually you hide your nervousness but it comes out when you have one of your fits... Sometimes you should obey ME, and perhaps that might calm you down.’
Radouan gazed at her. The way he had behaved with Delphine, he thought to himself; didn’t he bend, didn’t he surrender to her? Or had he just been acting? As it was clearly God’s will that they met, was it not fit that he should have used all the bows in his quiver to keep her? ‘It’s against my culture and my religion to surrender to a woman,’ he said firmly, ‘the only being I can bend to is God.’
‘God is not a person... God is a force...’ Toni replied.
‘In Qur’an and Hadith everything is there; all that God has advised us to do...’
‘But to surrender to a woman can be very fulfilling... that’s what love is all about...’ Toni ventured.
‘That’s what temptation is about,’ Radouan said. ‘The serpent, the apple and Eve... we are tempted all the time but it is against our teachings. We have an important saying: a man should always listen to his wife’s advice but never follow it. That’s why I could never surrender to you.’
Toni closed her eyes. ‘You obey your mother...’
‘She’s not my wife, she’s my mother. I came out of her womb and… she’s the only woman I must really obey. And what about you, have you never obeyed anyone?’
How could she ever explain to him the tyranny of her father, that captain of industry who had destroyed her will; left her a nervous wreck, victimized and suspicious? She opened her eyes. ‘My father... I always obeyed him because he terrified me, but it was mostly servants I had to obey… jolly well had to or they would beat me,’ she shrugged. ‘Really I never saw much of my father or my mother... they were always off somewhere having fun; going to parties and shooting things... dragging home dead animals to be stuffed.’
She folded her hands under her chin. ‘My first nanny was very sweet, very tender, but she died on me. The second was a first class psychopath. It was she who made me rebellious... beat me... locked me in closets... that sort of thing. I should probably have never smoked if it wasn’t for her.’
‘You never obeyed Rupert?’
Toni covered her mouth: ‘Sweetie,’ she whispered, ‘Rupert was Daddy’s choice - he was fascinated by titles. The reason he married my mother, for example. Knowing me as you do... better than anyone else on this earth... can you seriously imagine me obeying Rupert? You... you’re neurotic; that is why we understand each other so well, but you aren’t mad. Rupert IS mad, certifiably so... his whole family for generations.’
‘No no ... you’re wrong. Rupert is a great soul and a great horseman, his horses speak to him, he understand their language... tha's his life. Jus' because he can’t handle the rest of the world, you can’t say he’s crazy... you... you should be ashamed the way you have disregarded him... Hasab, ancestral renown, is an inheritance from doers of noble deeds... one shouldn’t squander it.’
Toni arched her eyebrows. ‘Well! I’m not quite sure what noble deeds Rupert’s ancestors are supposed to have done…. I believe the first Earl was the lover of a king, perhaps Richard the Lion-hearted, but I do know Rupert was born in the wrong century... like you really, but in his case more extreme. If you’ve lived all your life in eighteenth century houses surrounded by people and servants with eighteenth century attitudes well, naturally, it’s hard to grow up and cope with modern life.’ She shrugged her shoulders, ‘but with Rupert I’m afraid it’s more than that... some hereditary defect I reckon.’
‘You’re right! Maybe that’s why I like him, but don't forget; I’ve grown up in a twelfth century city... in a family with ninth century attitudes. In another time, other ages, I would have been a warrior poet. In Arabi we have had many such poets… right now I’m a poet of the streets... of the night... yeah… high heels and red evenings!’
‘Someday, perhaps, you’ll write about it...’
‘I do. I keep a diary. I write about my life but who would ever believe it? Really I’m too busy livin’ it to write much these days. He stopped and gazed across the table at her. ‘Why are we always talkin’ like this... asking’ all these stupid questions? Go into the bedroom and take off your clothes... I want to make love to you...’
‘Don’t you think we should digest our lunch first?’
‘You know eatin’ makes me want more...’
‘I know. Most men want it when they’re hungry.’
‘I’m always hungry and I’m always ready.’ He stood up, stretched and yawned. ‘Now go… go get undressed and we’ll celebrate our comin’ marriage.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006