The next afternoon Radouan drove to the Medina, parked his car in the parking lot near the Prefecture and walked to his house where he found the orphan, Mokhtar lying in a cool corner playing with the cat.
‘Ahlan, kayf el hal, Hello, how are things?’ Radouan grinned indulgently as Mokhtar stood up and embraced him.
‘Hamdou Allah,’ Mokhtar lowered his head and stared at the floor, ‘I was wondering if you would ever return,’ he said. ‘My food is running out and I’ve been thinking, what I would do if you never came back? I’m glad to see you.’
‘Me too,’ Radouan laughed nervously. ‘Don’ worry, I will always come back... but listen... I want you to get your things together right now. I have a job for you... will you do it?’
‘Of course, whatever you say.’
‘The foreign woman I told you about who lives out off the Route d’Ouarzazate... you remember... friend to me for many years… old and sick... I spoke to you before about her.’
‘I remember about her, yes.’
‘I have learned that certain people could be givin’ her some trouble... I want you to go out there and watch. Will you be my eyes and ears?’
‘In a few days I must go to Paris. I will be gone for two or three weeks. This afternoon we will drive out there and I will introduce you to A’hmed, the head servant. A’hmed is a bowl of shit and a swindler but he won’t try to rape you. He will have to follow the old lady’s orders. I have spoken to her about you. She will take you on as a gardener... can you pull weeds?’ Radouan pinched Mokhtar’s cheek. ‘Would you know a weed from a flower? Anyway, you can learn. This will be a good opportunity for you to get some exercise. I hope you won’t run away on me though. But just in case something happened and you had to get outta there, I will give you some money which you must hide well... and also the key to this place in case you have to come back here... we never know. But believe me, if you try pullin’ anything on me... any tricks... On the head of my mother, I will kill you!’
Mokhtar threw his arms around Radouan and kissed him passionately.
‘Quickly now,’ Radouan whispered, ‘put on some proper clothes, make a bundle of your belongings and walk to the bus stop in front of Club Med. I will be driving a dark red sports car. When I see you I will stop and you will quickly get in the back seat...understand? You know the place...?’
Mokhtar nodded, disappeared upstairs for a few minutes and returned wearing a pair of blue jeans and a white kurta. ‘You look fine,’ Radouan said approvingly, and kissed him on both cheeks, ‘now GO!’
Half an hour later they were on the road to the Baroness’ estate.
‘Someday maybe you’ll take me to Paris instead of sending me off to work like this,’ Mokhtar said after a long silence.
‘Some day I would like to,’ Radouan replied, ‘but right now you are too young and inexperienced, and I have many things to do. You, you should be happy. You wanted to get out of the house and now you are out. Don’t worry... I will return soon and you will come back to Marrakech.’
‘Inch Allah... How do I know you’re not dumping me... bringing me out here so you can put someone else in your house?’
‘Do you think I would do that?’
Mokhtar laughed nervously, ‘You might; you are one crazy guy. We forgot about the cat... what will he do?’
‘Don’t worry; cats know how to take care of themselves. He will know that you are gone and find his food in the streets.’
It was dusk when they arrived at the Baroness’ place. Radouan told Mokhtar to wait, went up to Minna’s suite and knocked softly at the door.
‘Who is it?’ her voice sounded from inside.
‘It’s me,’ Radouan replied, ‘shall I come in?’
‘Yes, of course, I’m just reading...’
He walked across the room, sat down on the side of her bed and held her hand. ‘I’m going to Paris soon,’ he sighed. ‘I will come out and see you again before I leave... a few days... but right now I have a favor to ask.’
The Baroness looked over her reading glasses and nodded.
‘Some months ago I found an orphan on the street nearly dead from starvation. His name is Mokhtar. My sister Fouzia and I have been sheltering and feeding him, but now he’s better he wants to get out and do something useful, so I thought maybe you could take him on for awhile at until I get back.’
‘Of course, makayn mouchkil, I’ll call A’hmed. I think we’re short of gardeners... we’re always short of them. I’m sure he doesn't know a thing about gardens but he can help out the others, some of them are quite old now.’
A’hmed appeared at the door, a grizzled man in a thin white jalaba. Minna explained the situation and instructed him to take Mokhtar on as an extra hand around the garden and make a place for him to sleep. A’hmed who disliked Radouan agreed, wondered what he was up to, and glanced sharply at him several times as they went down to Radouan’s car where they found Mokhtar and got him settled in a small room attached to the head gardener’s cottage.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006