The following morning during the flight to Paris, an attractive young American woman returning from a visit to Marrakech struck up a conversation, pressed her leg against his and when breakfast was served, while questioning him about Morocco which she said she had found ‘fascinating’, let her hand wander down under their trays and started pinching his thigh. Later, as she excused her self to visit the rest room and crawled over him, the feel of her body squeezing past his knees set off a familiar reaction. And when she returned she made it clear she would be staying at the Hotel George Cinq and would like to get together with him.
Radouan was non-committal. Only Nick could have really appreciated all this,’ he thought, the temptations which constantly plagued him, temptations which would have demoralized a Saint.
Closing his eyes, he tried to sleep but was hounded by a bout of self -loathing. Had he really used Toni as badly as she claimed? To him it had always seemed like a fair exchange; and what about poor Minna and Nick? To each of them he’d tried to be a good friend: loyal, correct, always ready to protect them. And yet he’d never been able to surrender to them. Maybe Toni was right and he was really cruel or had a djinn inside him as Nick and Francesco claimed; especially with people who desired him because it was so easy to wind them up and watch them dance. But in the past year, with the coming of his thirty-sixth birthday and still unmarried, an uneasiness born of loneliness had crept into his life - even when surrounded by friends or making love.
What did it mean? Did it mean what his mother was constantly telling him; that he had wasted his life? Sometimes she would point to the Crown Prince on TV and say, ‘Look. He’s the same age as you!’ She was the one who, even more than his father, had insisted he give up his singing career and become an academic. Only to find when he finally received his University degree with high honors that there were no jobs for the likes of him, no place in the Morocco of 1985 for his intellectual skills and NO ESCAPE!
That was the beginning of his real whoring around; when he realized he had physical skills, which equaled if not exceeded those of his brain. All of which had led to a kind of heartlessness, he supposed, especially in the way he’d treated Nick. Was time running out for him? In some weird way he could feel it happening and for the first time in his life, even though his relationship with Toni was now “legal” he found himself seriously frightened. When you are zween life is easy. People had thrown money at him, groveled and shamelessly abased themselves and he had become cynical and unforgiving. What would happen when he was old and wrinkled like his father... like Minna? Who would be there for him? Maybe Toni was right and their marriage had affected him more than he cared to admit; or was it Minna’s downward spiral? How else could he explain the waves of guilt which were preventing him from doing anything about the provocative young woman who sat beside him?
Above Paris the sky was thick with fog and as the plane circled for some time, Radouan found himself wishing it would crash. Then when they finally pulled in at the arrival gate he ignored the American and after Passport Control and Immigration, while waiting for a taxi, became furious with himself. Why was he standing there in the rain in a taxi queue, when at that very moment he could have been enjoying himself with her in the warm privacy of the limousine that had picked her up?
The city was grey and unseasonably cool and it seemed a lifetime before he finally reached the address Delphine had given him on the Left Bank in Rue Cherche Midi. He knew he should have tried to call her from the airport but as her phone was obviously out of order he had decided to take his chances. Maybe he would find her there with someone; in which case he would return to the airport and take the first plane back to Marrakech. Maybe he would surprise her with Francesco; a big problem, or maybe she wouldn’t be there at all!
Arriving at her flat he pressed the button opposite her name and waited impatiently, Then, just as he was about to give up and go find a cafe where he could have some coffee, a sleepy voice answered, ‘Hallo?’
‘Hey, habibti,’ he shouted into the intercom, ‘it’s me Radouan, let me in...’
‘Mon Dieu, Mon Dieu, where have you been? I’ve...’ her voice was stressed. ‘Take the ascenseur to the fifth floor,’ she shouted and buzzed him in.
On his way up he checked himself out in a mirror and smoothed his tousled hair. At her door, Delphine was waiting for him in a pair of rumpled pajamas.
‘I’ve been so worried about you,’ she cried and gazed steadily at him, ‘ a horrible dream, a premonition that you were hurt... some kind of accident and I thought, well, what can I do? How would I ever know? Who would ever tell poor Delphine? Who would take care of the business with Francesco? I called you many times but your phone was dead.’
He held her hands and kissed them and cradled them in his ‘... And I called you many times as well, but your phone was always busy.’
‘Maybe you were dialing the wrong number... did you remember to dial the two zeros?’
She led him into her apartment.
He heaved a sigh of relief and slumped down in a chair. ‘Well, I’m here now... The flight was late... Spent an hour cruising around over the city... but your dream was right... Driving back from Ouarzazate I got caught in a big storm... went off the road and nearly killed myself... my phone went over with the car, so did your phone number. I thought I remembered it but I guess I didn’t.’
‘You see...’ she shook her head, ‘I knew something had happened...’
‘Then things got complicated. I had to take my father to the hospital, and get my youngest brother out of jail... my mother was very upset.’ He slid off his chair, knelt down beside her and kissed her knees. ‘Ah,’bibti! All the way in from the airport I was worrying... afraid I would find you here with someone.’
‘If you were so concerned you could have called information for my number,’ she laughed and smiled down at him, ‘that way if someone had been here I could have got rid of him or her before you arrived.’
He rose up and pretended to punch her. ‘Now you’re tryin’ to provoke me... have you been seein’ Francesco?’
‘Of course, I see him every day. But I haven’t been... seeing him... if that’s what you mean.’
He drew her into his arms and kissed her many times. She led him into the bedroom where, still wearing his raincoat, he undressed her and worshipping her body with his tongue, made love until they were both exhausted.
A few hours later, coming awake, Delphine asleep beside him, Radouan had thrown on a robe and explored her flat which, although small, was filled with antiques and expensive objets de valeur. Someone, he reflected, or maybe many ones, had been very kind to her. Was she still seeing these people? Had she slept with Francesco? In his heart he really couldn’t condemn her, but he could see now that he needed her far more than she needed him - and that this was going to make him CRAZY! With money from the film deal, couldn’t she stop seeing all these gift-givers whose grinning faces peered hopefully from expensive gold and silver frames on marquetry tables of the small thickly carpeted salon? Or maybe it wasn’t the gifts that interested her at all, but the look of adoration on their faces - the same thing that excited him! Yes, of course... that was it.
The next few days, between meetings with Francesco, Martin Segal and their advisors, Radouan began to help out around the apartment: went shopping at the local super market, washed dishes, learned to use the clothes washing machine and even tried his hand at cooking. Domestic tasks he could never have performed in Marrakech, where he would have been laughed at for doing women’s work.
How different from the last time he was in Paris with Toni at the Ritz, where being an Arab was perfectly normal and okay; waited upon and shielded from the indignities of daily life suffered by ordinary Arabs on the streets and in the Metro.
Now, while going and coming from Delphine’s apartment or out of curiosity exploring other districts of the city, he had been threatened, insulted, even jostled by a gendarme for no good reason! How had these people, whose ancestors were living like beasts when the University at Fez was founded; how had they come to believe they had the right to behave in this way? Indignant and nervous he worried that he would lose control of himself, suddenly become violent and send someone to the hospital. A big mistake that would fuck up everything! So finally he began to spend hours closeted in her apartment, drinking beer, watching the sports channels and reading the Arab newspapers.
As the days passed, however, although Delphine was charmed by his attempts at domesticity, Radouan sensed she was not impressed and he should not give up too many of his masculine prerogatives or she might become bored with him. Most importantly with her, he reasoned, he must remain unpredictable, and set limits on how far he would allow his fascination with her to dominate him. Often, however, by the time Delphine returned from wherever she’d gone he would be drunk and out of his mind with jealousy. Never having waited more that five minutes for anyone in his entire life, it was a new experience sitting there alone, wondering where she was: whether she’d really gone to the dentist, was really at the gym, the hair dresser, or wherever else she was supposed to be. Or was she lying naked somewhere selling her self for a very large sum of money.
‘I’ve told you I’m not seeing any one else,’ she would say adamantly when he started questioning her, ‘but I have a busy life now... Francesco has already started the publicity on me... I spend half my time with photographers, the other half keeping myself fit and looking good for them... which is why I have to go to the masseur everyday... which takes another hour out of my life... it’s all your fault!’
‘Did you say masseur?’
‘Yes, a nice OLD Indian masseur I’ve discovered. His touch is so fantastic; you’d find it very relaxing.’
‘I don't want you bein’ massaged by this cannibal,’ Radouan burst out passionately, ‘I absolutely forbid it! If I find you’ve gone to him again I’ll make a huge scandal. I don’t want other people touchin’ you... And I’m sure you’re not just seein’ Francesco, you’re fuckin’ him... I can feel it. Attention! If I catch you with him I’ll kill him. I might wait, believe me on the head of my mother, but I would do it!’
‘You’re drunk again,’ she said coolly, ‘I wish you’d stop drinking all this beer, you’re getting fat and puffy.’
‘I’m not gettin’ enough exercise,’ he grumbled, ‘I’m used to an active life.’
‘Go to the gym then.’
‘I don't like to go out. You can’t imagine the things that happen to me.’
‘Yes I can, I can imagine... but you mustn’t worry so much... a little fat is sexy.’
‘I sit here waitin’ for you all day, it’s not normal... I want to marry you soon... you promised! Why else would I be here?’
‘I didn’t promise,’ she responded sharply, ‘and what is the reason without children? You know I can’t have children now, it would ruin my career.’
‘You don't think I’m good enough to be your husband,’ he narrowed his eyes. ‘I know it. Underneath you’re racist like everyone else here... fascinated by the Arab; he’s so exotic, so handsome, you like him for sex, some of you even fall in love with him... but underneath you don't respect him. It’s true or not?’
She smiled and raised her eyebrows. ‘Look, I’m too tired to fight with you tonight. If you want to come with me tomorrow, come... come to the dentist... to the gym... to the old Indian masseur...'
‘I don't want you to go to any of these places unless you check them out with me first... okay!’
‘You want to run my life...’
‘Absolutely... I worship you. And I’ve been helping you out, haven’t I? Now tell me, when we’re going to get married?’
‘I have to have time to think.’
‘About WHAT?’ he roared. ‘We need each other… what else is there?’
‘Look, I want you... I need you. You know that... I can’t think of my life without you, but why do we have to go through this meaningless ceremony?’
Radouan chuckled at the irony of it all. Wasn’t this exactly what he’d been saying to Toni two weeks ago?
‘What are you laughing about?’ she said angrily.
‘I’m not laughing, ’bibti, I’m thinkin’ how much alike we are.’
‘You’re afraid of something,’ she said. ‘Are you afraid I’m going to run out on you?’
‘Probably. Probably you’re gonna be very famous... so famous that at some moment in the future you will leave Radouan behind in the dust bin... To you... for the first time in my life I have opened up... it worries me... it’s like a wound that won’t heal... an itch that won’t stop.’
‘You mustn’t feel so...’ She stroked his head. ‘I don't want you to feel insecure. I would never do anything like that; believe me, just so you know I mean it... OK, we’ll get married in a civil ceremony. I hate the church... we just have to find out how to do it...’
‘You must promise you will marry me later on in Marrakech according to our customs.’
‘Why? Is Islam so different? All these religions are the same. I hate them!’
‘Yes and you are a Libertine!’
‘You would be happier if you accepted Islam. You will see... you will be happy all the time... I will make sure you are happy.’
‘You think we can really make each other happy?’ she sighed, ‘We’ve both been professional lovers... I’m not so sure...’
‘That’s why it will work... because now for the first time we’ve discovered who we really are... I’m not interested in anyone else’.
‘The problem is our lives have been too easy,’ Delphine said thoughtfully, ‘you... you’re a beautiful guy. Me, I’m a beautiful woman... but we’ve become cynical and have this really low opinion of ourselves. When people say they love us we think they’re weak because we can’t imagine anyone really could; we don't respect them, find them boring and depressing. The question is, ARE WE GOING TO DO THIS TO EACH OTHER?’
‘What I just said! Use each other... become dishonest… fuck each other up... not respect each other... You’re a hustler; I’m a hustler... its habit forming! I don't want us to fall into that trap...’
‘Using each other, not respecting each other...’
‘Then we should try to understand each other, no?’
‘But you’re not; you’re constantly accusing me of seeing other men, of fucking Francesco. You want to invent something I’m not doing. Why, because it excites you? Or do you feel guilty about something you’re doing? I don’t know what... What are you doing that you feel so guilty about?’
‘Why should I feel guilty about anything’? Radouan replied indignantly, ‘I jus’ made you five million dollars and yesterday I got him to give you a million more!’
Delphine’s eyes narrowed. ‘How did you manage that?’ she asked. ‘What sort of hold do you have over him?’
‘I have a great avocat, one Martin Segal.’
‘Oh come on, please I’m not stupid.’
‘Then don't ask...and I won’t ask you what you do when you go to the hairdresser...’
‘How about the masseur?’
‘Get a masseuse. I don't want any guy touchin’ your body... bad enough havin’ cameras pointin’ at it day and night... like so many zahps...’
‘That’s my business, my work... getting fucked by cameras... that’s why I’m good at it because I do feel like I’m having sex with them...’
‘Where do I fit in then...?’
‘Habibi, habibi,’ she laughed tenderly, ‘you’re the real thing! All my lovers, they have bored me, cameras they excited me... now you’ve changed all that.’
Radouan gazed around the room, ‘As soon as we are married we mus' get a new apartment this one, is drivin’ me crazy… way too small. Tha's why I negotiated an extra million from Francesco... an Arab must pay the bride price... consider it your bride price. We can use it to pay for a really nice apartment. Or we could live at a hotel like the Crillon for example or the Meurice where the great Spanish artist Dali once lived... the Meurice has the best mirrors.’
‘The Crillon... how would you know about the Crillon or the Meurice?’
‘You see what I mean... Arabs like me from a place like Marrakech shouldn’t know about those things...’
Delphine made a face, ‘I’m just asking... really!’
‘No, no, you were not jus' askin’, you were puttin’ me down. I told you I’ve been in Paris before... I know this city well... Places you could only dream of going to I’ve already been to, especially around Place Vendome and Place Concorde... Right now it would be too expensive for us to keep an apartment at the Ritz, but the Meurice is nice... it would be good for your career to be seen there... I’m sure I could work out a deal with them.’
The following day Delphine made some inquiries and discovered that even when they got all the proper documents together, in France there was a forty-day waiting period; quite logical, she thought, but certainly wouldn’t suit Radouan.
They were having lunch with Francesco at the Ritz to celebrate their engagement when she broke the news. Radouan was furious, but Francesco distracted him by suggesting that they could get married in Italy where there was no waiting period. Told them he’d just finished a rough outline of the film, wanted to fly to Rome the next day to scout locations, and suggested they come along.
‘I will take you to the village where I was born,’ he waved his hands expansively, ‘a la Campagnia east of Rome... I know everyone there... you can be married with no problem by the Communist mayor. A wedding in the country with a local band and great food would be fun.’ Delphine and Radouan agreed it was a splendid idea, toasted each other many times and in a drunken haze spent the afternoon looking at apartments - the Crillon and Meurice were fully booked - and finally settled on a large opulently furnished place opposite the Isle de St Louis with spectacular views.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006