Resolved to satisfy his sister’s curiosity, Radouan spoke to her in measured tones: ‘Listen to me now, my sister; I am going to tell you the whole story which I have never spoken of before... Ecoute moi… listen carefully.’
‘When Nicholas first arrived here twenty years ago, I was sixteen at the time and he was twenty-five. He wasn’t married then or even engaged. I used to see him at Cafe France... when he was in Marrakech he was always there. Probably you never knew I was selling cigarettes at that time, one by one, to get money to feed you... you were just a baby then. Nick, he would order a coffee and sit there studying Arabi. He spoke French and so did I, but I wanted to learn English. Sometimes he would say things to me from his lesson books and I would correct him and ask him to say things back to me in English. He came and he went, but he was always alone, always stayin’ in some cheap Residence in Guilez.’
‘Several years passed and I was hungry for English. There were many English here in those days... I knew it was a key that would open doors for me. Father was getting weaker by the month and the burden of our family was landing on my shoulders, but believe me I never seduced him! He would invite me for coffee at his room around five in the afternoon and we would drill each other in Arabi and English and give each other assignments. Sometimes we would walk down to the big square for somethin’ to eat and when the weather was fine we’d walk out into the country to a palm grove and get drunk.’
‘Our father was the first one to give me wine when I was a small boy so by the time I was seventeen I was used to it. I liked drinkin’ because it wasn’t hashish. Everyone I knew was smokin’ hashish and kif, frying their brains, hobbling their legs. Wine relaxed me, I enjoyed it and I learned faster. Then one evening when we were really drunk, Nick and I, we made love, and soon after that we made love when we weren’t drunk... strong physical love for many months... it was like a huge storm, like the Chergui. Many a time since have I made love, but it’s never been like that first time! So strong, until the storm passed and we became like friends. But then he became a jealous friend and we began to fight and suddenly one day he left town without sayin’ good bye... jus' left and I thought, well, that’s over and probably a good thing.
By then I had learned enough, and was fluent in English, Spanish and French, that I could work as a guide and mix with foreigners, especially the English and Americans who were more generous. I began to meet important people who helped me and still do.’
‘Then, just as I had almost forgotten him, he turned up again. One day I was passing by Cafe France and there he was, sitting with a woman and a little girl... his wife and child! The moment I sat down at their table I knew his wife disliked me... it was like that! Instant hatred because she had guessed immediately that there was some old story between Nick and me and maybe it was out of control. Chatterin’ on and on like a pigeon, she tried to make conversation and I kept glancin’ at Nick and thinkin,’ ‘you’ve exchanged me for something of no value.’ She wasn’t even pretty... but she was rich. A rich woman from a place called Massachusetts and they were stayin’ at the Mamounia for two weeks.’
‘The next day Nick, he rented a room in the place he used to stay and we met there sometimes before lunch, and sometimes very late at night. We didn’t make love... I jus' couldn’t... so we talked. I told him I felt humiliated that he had taken up with this worthless female. She had a way of lookin’ at you that made you feel like shit... it was a trick she had, and the only thing that interested me about her was watchin’ to see how she did it. Mostly it was by saying NO to everything. She didn’t work at it, it was just her nature... jus’ disagreed with everything anybody said and politely complained all the time. Her behavior was completely unconscious and came from deep inside her: a belief that she was a superior being from a superior culture surrounded here in Morocco by animals. To her we were all animals... some of us were pets and others were predators.’
‘As I said, by that time I had become well acquainted with some important foreigners so I didn’t care. To me she was nothin. The two weeks Nick was here passed very quickly and he returned to America with his daughter and his wife who was pregnant with another child. Again I thought... well, that’s finally over. But no, six months later, at the beginning of Ramadan, he returned here alone and began talkin’ about droppin’ out or maybe jus’ disappearing. Again he rented a place and expected me to be there fi moutan walihi, at his bidding, tried to boss me around. I saw he had taken on some habits of his wife and tried to avoid him. After some time he told me he had decided to leave her but was afraid she was going to make a big scandal; keep the children and take all his money. Should he stay and let it happen or go back and fight? If he stayed he would have to disappear which was what he wanted to do, but if he did that he would soon be broke. He was so upset and nervous I was afraid he might kill himself. His passionate nature had overcome his intellect and he began demanding that I give an account of myself for every moment we were apart... Crazy!
‘Then one night he admitted his jealousy and told me he couldn’t stand it any more. That was the first time he ever spoke about it... admitted he was... said he had prepared a poison from some plant and was gonna drink it unless Pero and I helped him to disappear; said we owed him that for everything he’d done for us. We were shocked because he had never spoken to us like that before... never negotiated... so I knew he was losing it... but by this time I was fed up so I told him to drink his poison, I wasn’t going to help him disappear. So he drank it, Ch’dak J’mel, which he had bought in the souk and brewed up.
‘Immediately, he became malade... tres malade and started seein’ things. I ran out and found an old woman I knew, a specialist in poisons, and brought her back to his room. By then his body was rigid... he couldn't move but his mind was racing. The old woman, she gave him something, a powder and many glasses of warm water that made him vomit and shit. Then finally it was over. The woman said he would live, but he would never be the same again.’
Radouan sighed and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. ‘So now, my sister, you know everything. This place here where we are sitting had been empty since 1950’s when Pero’s family moved to Jerusalem where Pero was born in 1962, the same year as me here in Marrakech. Then in 1969 they came back here because Pero’s father and mother are both Sephardim and became upset by all the fighting there between the Arabs and Jews and homesick for the tranquility of Morocco; so they came back to Marrakech and bought a villa here in Gueliz. That’s when I first met Prospero. We were both six years old, going to school at the Arset Lamaach in the Mellah where Pero’s uncle, Manuel Segrati, was the Director... they had another uncle, Joel, living here in this Riad but he was a bachelor and let it fall apart. Then in 1976, Pero’s mother and father and his two sisters moved to Casablanca where his mother’s family had several businesses and needed Pero’s father to run one of them. But Pero, he loved Marrakech and stayed on here with his uncle because his friends were here; we were all in school together and members of the same sports club. Then when Pero was seventeen his uncle died of an overdose from drinking Mahia at the Mazar of a famous Jewish holy man Issac Abou Hssira, down in Tafilalet. The holy man had been famous for drinking Mahia and dancin’, so those who came on pilgrimage there did the same thing and that’s how Uncle Joel, as we called him, died, dancin’ in the moonlight in Tafilalet drunk on Mahia.’
‘So Pero’s family was happy to let him stay on and look after this property while he finished high school and went on to Marrakech University. We were classmates from the age of six until he left to study law in Rabat. So he gave me the key and I was lookin' after it. Pero would come over on weekends and when Nick tried to poison himself we brought him here.’
‘We thought he would recover quickly but he didn’t. First, when we brought him here, he was down on his hands and knees barkin’ like a dog. We thought it was an act, but it wasn’t and for almost a year he was pantin’ an whinin' jus' like a dog... can you imagine how horrified we were? Pero and I took turns guardin’ him...it was awful but we were scared of being discovered with an American who had no visa; moreover, one who had been poisoned. We knew we’d be blamed for everything and thrown in jail forever. Then one morning we woke up and he had stopped bein’ a dog and became our Patron... just like that, like a Pasha suddenly there he was orderin’ us around like we were servants. You mus' remember that time because tha's when I asked you to help. We were so frightened he would escape and go to the police we kept him drunk...remember?
‘Then his wife, she hired investigators who came to Marrakech to find him. remember?’
Fouzia nodded again. ‘Yes, I remember, they came to our father’s house looking for you... we hid you in that secret place...’
‘Yes, and after some time they gave up looking and went away, but we had to start givin’ to our neighbors here to keep them quiet and still do. It’s not cheap. Some people know he’s still here.’
Fouzia shook her head. ‘They have never seen him ... how can they know?’
‘The other boys who studied with him, they know...’
‘What people really think’ Radouan declared earnestly, ‘is that we are livin’ with a Djinn and doin’ maji... tha's what they say.’
‘Then they fear us...that is good, no?’
‘That is not good! If they fear us too much they will want to destroy us... believe me it’s like that... a big worry for me.
‘This is why you must send him away, my brother… now that you are going to be married, let him return to America....’
‘How do you know I’m going to get married? Who told you that?’ ‘Our mother, of course.’ Fouzia giggled.
‘Our mother wasn’t supposed to tell anyone. I haven’t seen the girl so how can I know?’
‘But our mother has decided.’
‘Whoever she has picked out, if I marry her, I will bring her here to help you.’
‘Inch Allah, Inch Allah, my brother.’ Fouzia smiled for the first time, ‘Do not worry...now I understand the whole problem I will not desert you. If you marry and bring your wife here I will stay here until she becomes used to him.’
‘As you like... our mother tells me she’s a good cook... this girl... have you seen her, tell me?’
‘She is only fifteen and somewhat plump with a big zouk, which should please you. She has firm breasts, a pretty face, round with pink cheeks, large eyes like yours and a very tender expression on her lips.’
‘She must learn to serve Nick. I will teach her not to be afraid of him. I must spend less time with him... these days I seem to make him worse.’
‘There is one problem my brother. At the moment although they are very poor, her family, once they were very rich. They are proud and would never let their daughter live in this ruin.’
‘For now we could live at home with our father in my old room... let her come here and work with you during the day. Don’t worry... I am looking’ for money to make repairs here...so is Pero. Maybe someone will buy this place for me as a wedding present.’
Radouan pouted, ‘Don’t ask... and remember I haven't yet agreed to marry this girl... when I see her I will agree or not agree. Because I’m the one who must pay the bride price and live with her, the decision must be mine.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006