That evening, as the sun slipped below the palms and the moon rose full behind the Koutoubia mosque, casting a spell of lunacy over the city, Radouan and Toni stood on the terrace of Toni’s penthouse where they would later dine. Ten round tables each set for eight, the vermeil dinner service, Crown Derby china, crystal goblets, huge bouquets of roses.
‘What do you think?’ she asked, feeling a bit self-conscious, smiling obliquely at Radouan.
Radouan paced nervously up and down, eyeing every detail. ‘You shouldn't be usin’ all this valuable stuff,’ he said at last, ‘all this gold... no one should know about it. You’ll see, they’ll walk off with it... someone will steal it, if not now then later…’
‘Really, darling...’ Toni smiled disapprovingly. ‘Who would steal it… tell me?’
‘Anybody would, somebody... we never know. I’ll have to get some guys in here posing as waiters to watch... I don’t understand why you’re doin’ all this...’
‘I told you before...’
‘Tell me again...’
‘Listen to me then... If we’re going to continue to live here... really, you must trust me... my instincts in these things. Call it a peace offensive. The people who opposed us will be impressed by some of my guests and act differently with us. Now you have all this money you will have to learn how to manage people... if we’re going to live here, and I know you’re determined to do that, we must cultivate friendly relations even with the people who were against you. The establishment here in Marrakech... families like the Saadi’s...the police... It’s important NOT to let them know how you really feel... you’ve told me that many times yourself.’
Radouan shook his head, ‘you don't understand them. The only thing they believe in is money and how to get it... squeeze and squeeze more... like all the other tricksters in the world but more experienced. That’s the way life is here. We should not be inviting them. Now I have all this money they must come to us… they must crawl. If you show friendship they’ll think something’s wrong... drink your wine, eat your food and laugh at you behind your back... then bite! The world is like that these days... nothing we can do about it... Life is God’s joke…’
‘You really think so? I think you’re being very...’
‘Yes 'bibti... yes!’
Toni sighed. ‘Then what do you suggest we do, it’s getting late?’
‘Don’t you have...?’
‘I don’t have enough of anything else but this stuff which I never use...’
‘I’m gonna call the Mamounia...’
‘Have them send over plates, knives, forks, glasses. You can have the maid start putting this stuff away.’
Radouan called a friend at the Mamounia and arranged to have service for eighty people sent over within the hour. Then he helped Toni and the maid unset the tables and put everything away.
Suddenly Toni stepped back. ‘Darling,’ she exclaimed, ‘you’re helping! I can’t believe it! Never in your whole life have you ever helped...’
Radouan beamed. ‘I want to be with you, close to you. In jail I came to know... began to feel, to understand, that I had... I guess it was being alone in that small cell. It was like… it was exactly like me, that cell... what I had done to myself. That I was livin’ inside a... that I had boxed myself into a shell just like my jail cell. So now I have to break out and hope I can do it…’
‘It’s so wonderful, so marvelous you understand this,’ she whispered, ‘tonight you’ll really have a chance to practice it.’
Radouan sighed, ‘I want to run away from tonight... I need to go out alone drinkin’ in the taverns... cruisin’ around free... The problem is these people are expecting me to revenge myself on them...’
She eyed him nervously, then took his head in her hands and kissed his nose.
‘I’m tellin’ you they’ll be expecting some trick.’ he purred.
Toni pointed over his shoulder and turned him around ‘See the moon, my darling... look what a glorious night it's going to be...’
‘I tell you these people are gonna be very nervous... you’ll see... in the back of their minds they’ll be thinkin’ the food will be poisoned... the roof will fall down on them, or the waiters will pull guns and shoot them all.’
‘Don’t enter your Sicilian mode again, darling... Please!’
‘We people of the Maghreb, we are the Godfathers of those who call themselves Godfathers...’
‘Really... I can’t imagine...’
‘You can’t imagine but its true… it’s a fact... ’
‘But now you’ve had some time to think about yourself... your life... I know you’re...’
‘Yeah... In Boulmaraz I had time to think... to think of many things... really, it wasn’t that long, but for me it seemed endless...’ he gazed at her steadily, ‘I learned something important though... that you are... most of the time you are right! Don’t look surprised, you know I admire you,’ Radouan grinned. ‘Believe me I know, I understand what you’re sayin’ and I’ll be good. Jus' watch and see how good I’m going to be... my anger will be buried deeply... they’ll never suspect what’s going to happen to them...’
‘No, darling, NO...’
‘Yes, 'bibti, YES... You won’t need to know, but for sure you will hear about their difficulties and the destruction that will overtake them.’ His eyes glittered. ‘Their weaknesses.... I know them all... especially the one you call Monsieur Larbi, the chauffeur… you will see. Some night when he comes drunk into the Hamam he will be raped repeatedly by a squad of eighteen-year-olds - something to remember me by. Believe me; I will see that it is done...’
‘Stop it right now, you don’t mean a word of what you’re saying... Vengeance is mine sayeth the Lord.’
‘What is that?
‘The Bible... over and over in the Bible, poor God is always saying this but no one is listening.’
‘We Muslims do. We say Inch Allah. God’s will be done. We say man takes action, God intervenes. I have Baraka... I will pray to God and he will help me punish these evil doers... I’m sure...’ Radouan smiled at her.
‘STOP! Right now, now and forever... Perhaps we should think about living somewhere else if you’re going to be so...’
‘ My place in the world is Marrakech and the Haouz... the place of my people for hundreds of years... since the time of your Queen Elizabeth we’ve been fightin’ here for our Sultans, defending our Imams and marabouts. These people comin’ tonight are all arrivistes. We will stay here, let them leave!’
Later, Toni managed to get Radouan into the bath and afterward massaged him, especially his head which always seemed to bear the brunt of his despair. And while they readied themselves for the evening, a team of boys from the Mamounia came over and set the tables, stocked the bar and brought food.
By nine thirty when their guests began to arrive everything was ready.
The atmosphere was subdued but cordial and everyone who had known Radouan marveled at the change that had come over him. Supper was a great success and as the champagne flowed he rose to the occasion, toasted his friends and his enemies alike, cajoled and flattered them, told amusing stories and even sang a few songs with a small Andalusian band he’d engaged.
‘A love letter came to me,’ he crooned in Arabic as the band warmed up.
‘From the moon, a gift of light
Whose words increase in loveliness
Like blossoms of delight.
It has lightened my heavy load
And eased my sore affliction,
Which had, O Lady, cast my heart
Between pity and caution...’*
*(Free translation from The Thousand and One Nights - 183rd Night)
As he sang, Radouan gestured gravely toward Toni and toasted her, his marvelous voice eliciting a glowing response and cheers from the guests, especially the local Marrakchi's, though not from Delphine who sat in a corner with Francesco, and pouted and felt ignored.
‘O Lady, you know my great love
And you know my great desire
My eyes that sleepless burn with love,
My heart that burns on the pyre;
My tears that never cease to flow
My ever yearning fire,
O by my sacred love for you
By my unholy wish I say
That my poor heart has harbored love
For no one since you went away.’*
A flaming dessert arrived, borne aloft by dancing girls and a group of Gnoua musicians. Brandy and coffee replaced the champagne, and as the candles burned low, a woman long noted for her naughtiness and her erudition, eighty years and pencil thin, one of Morocco’s more eccentric notables, made her way to Radouan’s table and began to sing.
‘When a soft, curving shape led him to my embrace
As if he were by a thick vine entwined
And with its softness softened his hard heart
He yielded, though at first he had declined,’
Her red hair disheveled, her diamonds sparkling, she gestured toward Radouan.
‘Fearing detection by watchful spies.
He came with caution’s armor, the spies to defeat,
His waist complaining of his hips that weighed
As heavy as a camel’s load upon his feet.
He came with the sword of his glances girt,
And clad with the mail of his dusky hair.
His fragrance brought me news of his approach,
And like a bird uncaged, I flew to meet him there.’
Applause and cheers interrupted her. No one had heard her sing in years. She beckoned to the musicians who came forward to accompany her with lute, kanoun, flute drums and tambour.
‘I laid my cheeks for his sandals to tread,
And their dust, salve-like, healed my ailing eye.
I embraced him and raised the banner of our love,
And loosed the knot of my love gone awry,
And held festivities; and in reply
Delight came unalloyed and crystalline.’*
* ( translation from The Story of Qomar-al-Zaman and His Two Sons Amjad and As’ad)
The flute rose above the lute and the drums subsided. An apparition in the flickering light, she cocked her head coquettishly, dabbed at her forehead with her scarf and smiled tenderly at Radouan:
‘The moon hanseled his mouth with star like teeth
Like bubbles dancing on the face of wine.
I tasted in the prayer niche of delight
What would make a sinner repent.
And swear by the signs of his glorious face
That I’ll never forget the sign God sent.’*
* ( translation from The Forbidden Verses of Abu Nuwas)
Her finger then to her lips, like an oracle imparting an omen, she stared wildly from side to side and sang,
‘Hush and be patient you who wish to part
For to embrace is lovers joy.
But fortune’s nature is deceit
And at the end does love destroy!*
* ( from The Story of Qomar-al-Zaman and His Two Sons Amjad and As’ad)
Everyone joined her repeating the final chorus; tambours shook and a big drum beat slowly as the party broke up and the guests magically disappeared into the sultry Marrakech night.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006