Although the old Riad in which Radouan and his friend Pero were hiding Nick Brady III was only a stone’s throw from the house where Radouan’s family lived, so hidden was the route between them that only someone born there could find his way.  Arriving at a large door painted blue, Radouan let himself in to a tiled hall that led to a small courtyard. To the right a narrow tile staircase rose to the first and second floors where Radouan’s family lived.

           It was past midnight but so unseasonably warm no one could sleep. His two younger sisters Salwa, twelve, and Majaa, eighteen, were sitting on one side of a long narrow room, while his four younger brothers, Hamid, thirty, Othman, twenty-five; Ali, twenty and Hassan, fifteen, sat opposite them. Between them sat their father in a wheel chair watching television on the family’s new eighty-four-channel satellite hook up which Radouan had given them a few months back.  From the kitchen his mother brought him some brochettes of lamb which she had grilled over a charcoal fire.  Radouan ate in silence as the Iraqi singer Kadeem mesmerized his audience, in an hour long special from Cairo, singing of the plight of Iraq since the Gulf War and the wrenching changes buffeting the Arab world. Still his popularity derived as much from his reputed success with women as from his voice and lyrics. Several heads of state had given him expensive sports cars and a Saudi prince had recently gifted him a Lear Jet!

          As he ate, Radouan observed his father, his sunken face, reflecting the light of the flickering TV screen. His father had been a stern disciplinarian, perhaps too stern and too traditional, but Radouan preferred to remember all the good times they’d had together, before his father’s reproductive drive had overwhelmed the family and plunged them into poverty, trips to the coastal towns of Oualidia and Safi; to R'hamna the family’s ancestral village, or Ourika in the Atlas foothills, Radouan in front of his dad astride a big Harley Davidson, racing through the night to the next tavern where they were sure to meet some friendly girls who would cheer them up.  His father, Ibrahim, was a famously handsome hell-raiser around Marrakech following in the footsteps of his father, one of the grandsons of the famous R'hamna Chief Uld Billah.  When the French left in 1956 and Mohammed V ascended the throne, Ibrahim was pensioned off as a Phantom Fonctionaire for services rendered during the struggle for independence - which left him time to compose lyrics for local musicians, write credibly good poetry under the tutelage of Chaiir el Hamra and spend his nights carousing with his friends or reeking vengeance on his enemies.  Until his lungs and kidneys gave out from inhaling too much kif and the red dust of Marrakech and eating too much majoun. Years ago the doctors gave him three months to live, but Radouan’s mother had kept him alive with herbs and charms; alive enough for her to give him three more boys. Now he sat in the house all day, afraid to go out, barely able to talk – waiting to die. 

          Radouan finished his third brochette and washed it down with a Coke. The emission from Cairo had ended and his brothers and sisters filed out one by one, diligently kissing their father’s hands and forehead.  The old man fell asleep, leaving Radouan alone with his mother whose face, though lined, was still the beautiful face of his boyhood memories. If Radouan had ‘Baraka’, as everyone said, it came from this woman, a descendant of Sufis who traced their lineage back to Damascus to one of the Companions of the Prophet. Nesting her self on a carpet with some pillows like an odalisque, his mother spoke to him gently. ‘I have arranged for you to meet a girl I hope will suit you,’ she said, ‘day after tomorrow at nine in the morning, Hamid, Othman, Salwa, you and I, we will go there... Do you agree?  Unfortunately, your father, in this heat, he will have to stay here.’

          ‘Yes, of course, my mother, if you say so.  Where does she live?’ 

          ‘In Ain Itti, you know it… a terrible place. Once her family was very well off but her father is a spendthrift and now they are poor... Inch Allah... That is why they live in Ain Itti.  But it’s a good family and I’m sure this girl will bring you luck, great happiness and many children.’

          ‘Fouzia tells me she’s fat.’

          ‘She is only fifteen… a little baby fat... chouia, chouia, but she is very strong. You must be tender with her.  I am sure that as your bride and wife she will soon slim down.’ 

          ‘She’s very traditional, I suppose’ 

          ‘Although she does not read or write, she can recite the whole of the Qur’an; quite accomplishment for one so young, but she is not a fanatic and is very eager to learn. You will be able to educate her, teach her to read and write French and English if that is your wish.’ 

          ‘And if I say no?’

          ‘My son that is your decision. Already I have interfered enough in your life; kept you from becoming a musician and singer of songs... made you go to University… Now I am only trying to help, maybe to tempt you.  She has all the signs and marks of an unusual girl, in fact she is a very distant cousin through your father’s family, and her name is Hafida, which means Keeper.’ 

          ‘A very important name,’ Radouan replied, ‘and is she wearing hijab, the veil?’      

          ‘Outside, of course...what do you think?’

          ‘I think I would like someone more modern... most young women her age are not covering themselves.’

          ‘That is up to you, my son, after you marry her she will do what you say.’

          ‘And if I wish to marry a second time?’ 

           His mother stared hard at him: She herself had been only fifteen when she gave birth to Radouan and they both knew she was his father’s second wife.  ‘It is well known,’ she smiled enigmatically, ‘that when men take second or third wives the women start doing maji on each other.  To take a second wife you must have money to set her up in a separate establishment.  Even then, you do not necessarily avoid problems.  These days it would cost a lot of money... are you planning to make big money?’

          ‘I’ve been making big money for some time now, my mother, but it all goes to support this family and all our less fortunate relations.  Now Hamid and Othman have jobs, I will have enough for this marriage, but don't worry, not enough for a second wife... not yet.’ 

           ‘But some day I think…’        

          ‘That’s in the hands of Allah, not ours.’ Radouan stood up and stretched.  ‘I’m going now...’ He bent over and kissed his father’s hands and forehead, ‘and you, my mother, good night.’

          ‘You will not be sleeping here?’ his mother smiled seductively. ‘Then, do not forget, nine in the morning, day after tomorrow... we must leave early or we will die of the heat... where are you going at this late hour?’ 

          ‘To the Hamam... I need to bathe, then I will feel cool.’

          ‘You always say you are going to hamam.’

          ‘You know me too well, my mother... but I enjoy bathing and it clears my brain.’

Previous    Cover    Contents    Book 1     Book 2    Book 3    Book 4     Next


©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006