After the party had broken up, Francesco, Delphine, Prospero and Nicholas stayed on and recounted the events of the past few months.
‘I must say you look very well,’ Delphine glanced dismissively at Radouan, ‘prison must have agreed with you.’
‘Only because you weren’t there to torment me, my love’ Radouan said flippantly. Why did she always have to gaze at him with such scorn? It was a look he found arousing but absolutely destructive. Why did she have to do this? Suddenly it occurred to him that he had never before been in the same room with both his wives; how to handle them both at the same time was making him doubly uncomfortable.
‘More champagne,” he shouted, ‘More!’
Sensing difficulties ahead, Toni declared loudly that she had enjoyed the party immensely.
‘We should have taped it.’ Francesco said. ‘Then we could have played it back and seen what really happened... iss really amazing to watch things you thought you were living through, a second or third time... so different from what one manages to remember.’
‘Like one of your films,’ Toni teased.
‘I wish,’ Francesco sighed, ‘like Delphine’s debut I hope... my greatest achievement... she’s very inspiring to work with... you will see.’
Radouan lifted his glass ‘I hope so too,’ he replied trying to sound engaged and agreeable. ‘To inspiration… to the success of Delphine’s first film.’
They raised their glasses and saluted Delphine. Then Nick raised his glass, ‘And I would like to thank Toni and Prospero,’ he said solemnly, ‘but for them, Radouan and I would still be languishing in that awful jail... in fact, I’d be dead!’
‘Really, I didn’t do much,’ Toni said. ‘It was Pero who did all the hard things.’
‘Prospero,’ Radouan laughed, ‘through him we have all prospered and now this is over we can get on with our lives.’ Turning to Delphine he asked how long she planned to be in Marrakech.
Delphine ran her hands through her hair, her bracelets clinked and rattled. ‘I really don’t know,’ she replied, and nodded at Francesco. ‘He’s editing right now.’
‘Long enough to attend my wedding, I hope,’ Radouan said coolly trying to provoke her.
‘What wedding?’ She said, pretending not to know about Hafida. ‘Are you going to marry Toni again down here?’
‘Yes, I am, we will see the L’adoul soon but I thought... I think I told you, maybe you forgot... first I have to marry this girl my mother has chosen. Are you getting old … are you forgetting things? All this hashish it’s no good for you... This marriage I have to do it. We’ve been engaged since before Ramadan but I kept putting it off... then it got postponed because of jail... but today, absolutely, my mother told me it has to happen. I have to begin makin’ plans for the wedding party. It will be interesting for you... maybe Francesco can arrange to have it filmed so we can see what really happened.’
Delphine’s eyes narrowed as she gazed at him over her champagne.
‘I can’t believe you,’ she said slowly, ‘I just can’t... those huge unblinking eyes of yours, that naive expression and you tell us these things... these crazy stories. I would like to smash you! Maybe that’s what you want. Does this girl know you are already married to Toni and me...?’
‘Of course not,’ Radouan replied, ‘why should she?’
‘Because it’s her right as a person, her human right.’
‘It’s not her business. Her business is ME, not you or Toni. When you marry me here in Morocco I might tell her, but at the moment it’s not necessary.’
‘How old is she...?’
‘I thought I told you, she’s fifteen.’
‘Yes, fifteen... the same age as my mother when I was born. Many French and English kings have taken fifteen year old wives, believe me, it’s the right age to have strong children...’
‘Just tell us; please... try to tell us exactly why you are doing this.’
‘Because of my mother...’
‘I don’t believe you, not for a minute... you’re a grown man, what does your mother have to do with it?’
‘You jus' don’t know my mother… how our culture works. Women... mothers... they control everything. We men... we’re just fightin’ to stay alive. It’s her, my mother, who must find me a wife... how would I know which girl would be best for me?’
‘But you already have two wives... here we are, Toni and me. Your mother, doesn’t she know about us?’
‘She might, but she knows it’s not her business. Even so, she would think of them as fake marriages because they weren’t performed here. You must remember the R’hamna were never city Arabs. We were pastoralists and holy warriors. Our laws, our customs, they come direct from Qur’an, not the Sharia of the Caliphs or Imams, or intermediaries like Ghazali but the voice of God through Mohammed, transmitted orally for fourteen hundred years. Long ago because the men were always fighting, the women they decided everything... controlled the hearth... the animals... marriages... and sometimes the money. It’s the same today.’
‘The Prophet’s first wife was a rich widow whose money and devotion gave him time to listen to the voice of God... and our R’hamna women... mostly they are the daughters of religious men, Sufis, marabouts and so on... But you must remember we are Muslims for only twelve hundred years at most. Before that we worshipped the Gods, and Goddesses, so the memory of those times is in our genes... the memory of Saba and its queen who visited Solomon. So the women, they all know each other... what's available in the marriage market. We men, we do not know... are not even permitted to look at girls, so how can we know? And your mother, of course she understands you better than anyone else; so she knows which girl will be suitable for you.’ He gazed steadily at Delphine and then said quietly: ‘You can divorce me if you want...’
‘What will your mother do when you finally tell her you’re married to us?’ Delphine persisted.
Radouan sighed with impatience ‘Probably she already knows... she thinks I’m crazy, I’m sure, but she would never say anything. To her, more than one wife means trouble... even the Prophet’s wives they fought. Many wives means fighting and maji because of jealousy... which is why my mother would think I’m crazy... which would be true if you and Toni were Moroccan women but you’re not...’ He turned to Nick and Francesco. ‘Everyone knows European women don’t do maji ... ’
‘Oh, you think not? Let me tell you a few things,’ Francesco said.
Nick burst out laughing: ‘European women have powerful maji... they just don't call it that.’
Radouan stared thoughtfully at Toni and Delphine. ‘I see my two European wives have become friends... tha's good... or is it? Believe me, there is no need for this girl Hafida to know anything about the two of you for many years. Be sure, I will keep her busy having children... her hips are made for child bearing... tha's her destiny... she wants to fulfill her destiny. Tell me, what is it to be rich and not have children?’
‘You see this poor girl Hafida like an animal,’ Pero chided him.
‘Of course,’ Radouan scolded, ‘we are all animals, what do you think?’
Delphine gazed at him. ‘Animals don’t wear clothes,’ she said.
‘In Persia dogs and cats always wore clothes… monkeys too,’ Radouan declared.
‘Well, we are not in Persia... and already there are too many human animals on the planet... now you propose to make more... remember you said whoever had the most children would be wife number one...’
‘I never said that, never... what I said was, whoever had the first male child.’
Delphine raised her voice. ‘I must be number one you know that! My career demands it!’
‘Blah, blah, blah...’ Radouan began to yell at her. ‘We all know that. Be number-one if it pleases you. But then you must tell the journalists that you married me before I married Toni... Do whatever you want... it’s not important...’
Delphine dabbed at her eyes: ‘One minute you’re adorable, the next you’re awful... so awful. What can I do? I DETEST YOU!’
Toni closed her eyes and sighed ‘Darling, darling Delphine, please do not do anything rash, something you’ll regret later ... when in doubt, take no action... stay married to him... you must... You see, I have this marvelous wedding present for you which I’m sure you’ll love... but if you divorce him now I’m afraid I’ll have to...’
Radouan glanced sharply at Toni and wondered what she was up to... Why were his two women being so nice to each other when really they should be screaming and tearing-out each other’s hair? It was good they were not, but still very strange. ‘What present?’ he asked.
Toni glanced at her watch, ‘Ah, one o’clock, the perfect time to show Delphine her present. The streets down there will be empty...’
‘Down where?’ Radouan growled.
‘In the Medina, of course.’
‘You want to drive to the Medina now?’
‘Why not? We can park at the Prefecture... riad Zitoun Jdid and walk in. Pero has a car and there’s yours. Delphine and Francesco can go with Pero and you and I will take Nick.’
Radouan remembered he’d promised the orphan Mokhtar he would stop by and see him... so he would be going that way anyhow. On the drive there he tried to get Toni to tell him where they were going and what she was giving Delphine that required a trip to riad Zitoun Jdid at this hour, but she would not give in.
‘Surprise, surprise,’ she hummed airily evading the issue.
Radouan scowled, ‘You know how I hate surprises,’ he said, and tried to think of a way to escape after she’d finished whatever she was going to do.
‘I know, habibi, how you hate surprises, but I’m sure you’ll approve of this one. It will keep her from divorcing you... You wouldn’t want her to divorce you, would you? It would be embarrassing.’
‘No, of course not... but maybe I don't really care. I don’t know. It’s you who is important to me now.’
‘M mmm... ‘Nick crooned softly. ‘Friends, lovers' no more...just friends, but not like before...’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006