The next evening found Radouan behind a newspaper standing in a corner of the arrival hall at the Marrakech airport, baseball hat pulled down over dark glasses; a disguise he hoped would render him invisible - too many eyes watching, too many tongues wagging.
Even though he had gone over the problem with Toni many times, she still insisted he meet her there - which annoyed him because she was certainly able to get from the airport to her place in Hivernage on her own. Really what she wanted was for people to see them meeting there; big deal, big mistake! In a place like Marrakech, plagued by intrigues, if he was seen too much with her, linked with her by certain persons, it could mean trouble for both of them.
Moreover, she was arriving in her late father’s company plane and would be escorted by a police officer who was well known to him; a good friend of his mother’s youngest brother! Think about that! About this guy telling his gossipy uncle who would probably tell his mother he was meeting an English woman who had arrived in a jet prive! Think about the possibility that his Uncle’s friend might try to touch her, or stare at her in a certain provocative way as he guided her through immigration and customs... perhaps even taking her into his office on some excuse.
His mind obsessing over these problems as he pretended to read L’Opinion, he suddenly discovered he WAS jealous of Toni and really would probably kill, at least hospitalize any guy who got near her. This scared him a little. But J.W. was right about the Prophet’s first wife, Khadija, who had been older than Toni when the Prophet married her. Was it not good to love older women, to give them pleasure, to keep them feeling good and laughing so they would not destroy the good feelings of others? Yes, of course, especially if you were zween. After all, you must use what God has given you, especially if you have nothing else to fall back on.
The airport was filling up with people waiting for the arrival of a flight from Paris. Trying hard to concentrate on the crossword puzzle, Radouan’s mind wandered back over fifteen years to the days when he first met Toni at a small gathering at the Baroness’ place. By then he had known the Baroness for three years and for some reason she thought he had the makings of a good horseman, told everyone he was a natural and made all the facilities of her stables available to him.
The day he met Toni, Minna had arranged a small party and a riding competition by way of showing off his skills to certain Moroccan equestrians. Several members of the Royal Family and a number of rich Europeans were there - among them Toni and her husband Rupert. Radouan and three other boys had competed for prizes and it was obvious to everyone the Baroness had discovered a great talent, someone to be watched and cultivated. He remembered when they were first introduced, Toni had short hair and he thought she was a boy; Rupert’s son, or maybe his cute boy friend he wasn’t sure, but they exchanged some serious glances. Later when he asked Minna to explain things and discovered Toni was Rupert’s wife, he remembered his surprise at the pleasant sensation that rippled through his body and a premonition that somehow Fate had intervened to change his life.
A few months passed and although they had seen each other occasionally and exchanged more glances, nothing had happened. Until one weekend when Rupert asked him to play on his team in a polo match arranged by a cousin of the King. There she was in the stands cheering him on! He became reckless with anxiety and the desire to win and played very well, scoring all but one of the goals. After the match Rupert was so pleased he invited Radouan for a drink with the other players at the Mamounia hotel where it soon became very clear that by encouraging a friendship with Rupert, he might soon be making love to his wife. Yes, he had to admit it. Even though he liked Rupert he had led him on. Still nothing had happened, Inch Allah, and it was not his style to push things. But then, later that year just near the end of Ramadan, Toni had appeared alone in Marrakech. One day in the Big Square they met accidentally and she invited him up to her penthouse flat in Hivernage. But as he was trying to observe Ramadan, the month of fasting and abstinence, he could not permit himself to touch her until after the sun had set. How well he remembered the two of them there on the terrace of her penthouse, nervously waiting for the big cannon to go off, signaling the end of the day’s fasting and the beginning of love making and wine. And how, before she returned to England, she told him she’d never been in love before. It was cold, raining most of the time and they had never left her flat…
A mob of package tourists had lined up at Passport Control and he moved to a spot where he could watch them; at the same time keeping an eye on the other exit at the Police Post where VIP’s were usually processed.
Again his mind wandered back over the events in his life that led him to be standing there at that moment. If it hadn’t been for crazy Nick teaching him English he would never have been able to communicate with Toni. Yes, everyday he should get down on his knees and thank God for sending Nicholas K Brady III into his life. If only Nick could have understood that his heart was big, that he could love many people in many different ways and that possessiveness was too exhausting. Passion and possession the great confusion! For Nick it had ended in exile and self-destruction, a terrible thing, the thought of which made Radouan feel guilty and depressed.
Through the large windows of the terminal he watched as Toni’s jet taxied in; unmistakable because of the paint job: maroon with a golden stripe from the cockpit to the tail emblazoned with the logo of her father’s company. Last year they had flown in it to Paris for a week - but that was an embarrassing episode he wanted to forget.
Soon she was entering the waiting room preceded by two of her Jack Russell terriers on leashes and a third, the mean one, Gerald, in her arms. How he hated, these sly little creatures. How he wished he had the guts to sell them to a woman he knew in the souks who made maji with dead dogs.
The package tourists gawked as Toni, escorted by his uncle’s best friend, approached him smiling and shook his hand heartily as though greeting someone she didn’t know very well. At least she understood the problem, or sensed there might be one. His uncle’s friend, the immigration officer in charge of VIP’s, embraced him warmly and they exchanged formal greetings and salutations along with searching glances. After some meaningless conversation they walked out to Radouan’s car and loaded her luggage and the Jack Russells in the back.
On the drive to town, she began looking him over in a patronizing way as if she’d never seen him before, jabbering on about everything and nothing at the speed of light. Although he sensed she was far, far away from him, he was always captivated by alert green eyes and quirky aristocratic behavior, which somehow saved her from ever boring you.
She asked him stupid questions about her flat: had the new fridge arrived, the breakfast room been repainted, not really communicating at all, not even that she was happy to see him!
Then he remembered she was always like this when she’d been in England; speaking to him in the voice she used for servants. And even when she would finally relax, still sometimes her voice would slip back and forth between one reserved for close friends or lovers, and the voice of a chirping mistress politely ordering him around. ‘Yes ma’am,’ he would sometimes reply, which would bring her down to earth and she would apologize. By then, of course, it was usually too late.
Over the years, however, because he loved her for all the great times they’d had, and understood all the problems she’d faced with her father, he tried to excuse these painful moments. After all, that’s the way she’d been brought up, as the grand daughter of an Earl, daughter of a very rich man, and the wife of a peer.
At her flat she noticed several things out of place and groaned, smiled thinly at him and said she supposed he’d been entertaining people there again. ‘You do know how I hate your bringing people here,’ she winced.
‘I don’t,’ Radouan replied and knew she was picking a fight.
‘Why do you refuse to come to London when I am there? Really! If we could just be together all the time it would...’
‘You know very well why I have to remain here,’ he replied, taking her by the shoulders, ‘my family depends on me... many other people too... Moreover, you know I don’t like London. I’m a Marrakchi; London is very dull for me. You should also remember when your Oxford was still a swamp and your Bastard William had just come over from France, our Karaouine at Fez was already a great university and in Marrakech the Koutoubia had just been built. Here in Marrakech after six hundred years in the same city... really we are very different from you, and you should understand that to us you Europeans... we think of you as very new people... rough edges ...lived in caves not long ago...’
‘Now you’re changing the subject,’ she whispered irritably and disentangled herself from his hold, ‘as you always do when you don’t want to face up to something.’
‘That you do bring people into this flat when I am not here... as everyone else in Marrakech does.’
‘On the head of my mother, I swear I never do! To me this place is like a Zaouia...I honor it!’
‘But when I’m gone you see other people... you can’t deny that.’
Radouan grinned. ‘I’m not a eunuch after all... you know I enjoy myself from time to time when the opportunity arises ... it’s like that... I can’t help it.’
God, how his evasiveness did irritate her... how true it was, she thought, a woman could be happy with any man as long as she didn’t love him. ‘I don’t want you seeing other women,’ she blurted, ‘I don’t like...’ ‘Inch Allah... Inch Allah,’ Radouan nodded coolly.
‘No Inch Allah! I want promises. I want you to be frank with me.’
‘You want me to be open?’
He thought for a moment. ‘Mmm... OK, I’ll be open. My mother has decided that now I’m thirty-six I must get married. She has picked out a girl for me. I am supposed to meet her tomorrow. She’s fifteen. Of course, my mother knows nothing about us... maybe... sometimes I think she has heard. What am I supposed to do?’
She listened to him with a smile of resignation and sighed condescendingly. ‘Darling, you’ve been saying things like this for years... when ever you want to hurt me or make me jealous. You know very well, we’re going to get married soon. Why do you do it? Who’s more important, your mother or me?’
Radouan paced back and forth, hands in his pockets, gazing at the floor. ‘My mother, of course, what do you think? With us, mothers pick out the wives for their sons; it’s our way of life. My mother is still young and powerful and I can tell you she can be tres dififficile... I can’t go against her. She sees the future. She can heal people and make them sick. She knows maji!’ Anyway, my sister Fouzia tells me the girl is fat so I will probably reject her... how can I be seen on the streets with a fat girl? The whole Medina would be laughing at me... even knowing she is inside my house, my friends will laugh behind my back and try to provoke me! It’s a huge problem.’
Toni melted and put her arms around him. ‘habibi... poor darling, don’t be depressed... you must certainly turn her down... this girl. Refuse! Just refuse! Then, of course your mother will start all over again, but maybe she’ll get bored with the whole project. If you’d come to London with me all this could have been avoided.’
‘If you loved me as you say you do you would stay here in Marrakech and not go off traveling all the time. Sometimes I think you have a boyfriend up there in London. You... you have everything... I have nothing! I come from a tribe that was nearly exterminated a century ago by one of the Sultan’s Viziers! Exterminated! - Then swindled out of its land and mineral rights. We are powerless and I must stay here and protect my family, my friends and relations who are depending on me.’
‘And clients like me!’
He couldn’t believe her, ‘Yes you of course! But why do you want to call yourself a client when you are my beloved?’
Suddenly overwhelmed by confusion, she broke away from him and paced back and forth in front of the glass doors facing the terrace, ‘I think you’re awful, I don’t think I want to see you any more!’ she stammered. Why did returning to him always leave her such a nervous wreck, suspicious and feeling victimized?
Radouan scraped his throat. ‘If you want to see yourself that way... as a CLIENT ... well that’s your problem... RIGHT NOW I WOULD LIKE TO PUNCH YOU. You know I don't think of you like that. You make friendship sound like a business deal. You... you must stop traveling to London. Every time you come back from there it’s like this!’
‘This time you know very well that it was unavoidable. My horses and my children are up there.’ She sighed with the weary resignation of one who bore the burden of great wealth... How could she explain to him the tyranny of her father, that maverick captain of industry who had driven her sweet mother to drink and suicide? How could she explain how he had traumatized her life?
Radouan shrugged his shoulders. ‘You have people there to look after your horses...’
‘But they miss me...’
‘And your children...’ he laughed cynically, ‘I suppose you think they miss you. Now they are away at school and messed up you’re worried, but you’ve never been much of a mother to them so what do you expect? You should stop interfering in their lives... as for the horses you can easily bring them down here.’
‘Bring them here?’
‘Yes why not? Your horses are not at school! You can bring them here. On the coast, north of Rabat near Larache, they keep many horses, you know that.’
‘Would you live with me in this flat then?’
He studied her for a long time, ‘Are you crazy? If this were London would you have me livin’ in some flat with you? What would your friends say?’
‘Of course not, you’d have a flat of your own.’
‘See... there’s your racism again: you think I can live with you, unmarried, here in Marrakech, but in London I would have to live elsewhere.’
‘Oh God! - Then I suppose we can never live together... is that what you’re saying? Tell me... WHY HAVE I GONE THROUGH THIS BLOODY DIVORCE WITH RUPERT IF WE ARE NOT GOING TO GET MARRIED AND LIVE TOGETHER?’
‘I don't know why you got your bloody divorce. Why did you? I never told you to get one.’
‘That’s a lie and you know it! For years now you have been after me to leave Rupert.’
‘I never said get a divorce.’
‘No, of course you’re NEVER RESPONSIBLE FOR ANYTHING... always blameless... when in fact you engineered the whole affair... little by little you did, made fun of poor Rupert... put him down until...’
‘Oh I don't know, until I couldn’t stand him any more. I guess.’
‘And..?’ Radouan asked menacingly.
‘And then suddenly he became your best friend... your buddy.’
‘We are team mates tha's all...’ Radouan replied.
‘Stop drawling like that. You know how I hate it! PLEASE, habibi, please hold me in your arms. I love you. PLEASE, do let’s stop talking like this and go to bed.’
Radouan tilted his head and gazed at her, ‘Not tonight.’
‘NOT TONIGHT!’ she shouted, her eyes narrowing, ‘Oh! You mean I’ve come all this way to be with you and now you’re leaving... I won’t have it!
‘My father is very sick, I only left him to come and meet you... now I must return to my house and carry him up to the roof and sit with him...’
‘I’ve heard that one before...’ she said defiantly.’
‘You’re tired, you need sleep too.’
‘I need YOU, not sleep. You do know that. You’ve got something cooking I can feel it… off on some wanking expedition I’m sure’
‘A crow in a bush, you: wauk, wauk, wauk...’ He shouted at her and cracked his knuckles, ‘Can’t you see I’m trying to control myself? I’m leaving now before I punch you... because I love you and I don't want to hurt you. Good night.’
I won’t allow it...’ she screamed ‘Radi, please!’
Radouan reached the door, she lurched after him ‘I’ll see you tomorrow at the Mamounia, lunch...1:30...’
‘Tyrant, she rasped dismissively, tyrant, tyrant!’
‘Brid min zouk jouatt, Cold as a fisherman’s ass,’ he growled and wrenching the door shut, locked it and escaped down the stairway. Why was she always like this with him, always determined to provoke him? Hadn’t he looked forward all day to seeing her? Then she had to spoil it by accusing him of entertaining his friends in her flat; when the only times he went there were to get AWAY from his friends ... his responsibilities... to rest and be alone and yes... to think of her and dream.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006