Paris, October 15, 2048
In the baroque ballroom of a large seventeenth century hotel particulier on the Isle-St-Louis, Hafida sat alone on the polished parquet floor, Radouan’s head in her lap, pounding her forehead with her fists and sobbing. Unfinished plates of food and hastily crumpled napkins littered the empty gilt banquet tables where candles burned low.
Overwhelmed by grief Hafida gazed off into space and whispered to her husband:
‘Less than an hour ago you were dancing here, habibi... like a terrible dream from which I will never awaken here in the ballroom where you fell down, here where we’ve enjoyed so many good times. What can I do my heart? Tell me... my breath is short my body is weak and refuses to obey the commands of my mind… here, waiting for our son Adam to return with his brother Othman... oh, why are they taking so long? Why?’
Glancing down at Radouan, she stroked his forehead.
‘Yes, habibi, I promise you, now at last we will take you back to Maroc where you belong... Right now my stomach is feeling sick and my heart is beating too fast... most times when I have a shock like this I can calm myself... you know that... but now...’
Looking up, she blotted her tears with a napkin, and continued speaking to him
‘My mind is saying calm down Hafida... God the All Knowing, the Compassionate, has taken you away so not to worry but I think my body is saying something else remembering all the times it has waited for you, habibi and doesn’t yet know you won’t come back... Yes you roamed far but always returned. Now you will never return and suddenly my world is lost forever but alive inside me… that’s what I’m feeling right now, my achiki, our life together. What shall I say? It was a miracle. Really, I never dreamed it would be like that... from the first night you knew it, that I was madly in love with you. But I never thought we would become so close like two halves of one being hoping to become one again. Will we be together that way on the other side, my Khalili... my poor darling? Believe me my first instinct was to pick up a knife and stab myself, like those brave wives in India who jump on their husband’s funeral pyres... that was my first thought. I should have done it, we’d be together now but I couldn’t... I just couldn’t. Not out of selfishness, believe me to stay alive without you, no because taking one’s own life is wrong and because of our children and grandchildren... If I show my grief now our whole family will fall apart... Delphine is hysterical. Mokhtar is trying to calm her down... I must be strong.’
Kissing his forehead, she massaged his shoulders.
‘My poor mahboubi, it was not where you wanted to leave this world from was it, this pile of stones, always said you wanted to go from the tower room at Dar Chems where your Baroness left her body may God keep her in the seventh sky... Had it all planned in your mind I know... Mach Allah, God had other plans for you…But how can I go on talking to you like this? Look how I am weeping, look! All our children with us here to celebrate our fiftieth wedding anniversary Delphine and dear Mokhtar too all still here in the house somewhere I’m sure you can hear them weeping…a house of laughter has become a house of tears. They say you’re dead but how can that be…? Such a short time ago you were... now here I am waiting for a miracle. Oh where are you? So gay you were, so proud, dancing with Othman’s daughter between courses the orchestra playing your favorite songs but when you sat down I could see you were out of breath and when you took a bite of whatever had been set before you and began choking... ayeee... choking! I couldn’t believe it how could it be, my darling? You were a great singer, your throat was in perfect condition… in my whole life I swear I never heard you choke but there you were waving your arms and attacking your throat with your hands... see what you did... all the marks the scratches... poor habibi.’
‘Adam jumped up and began slapping your back... Adam a world famous surgeon, he should have been able to save you but he was terrified... after all you were his father... Then Mokhtar panicked and began moaning like he was dying too... You looked up at us helplessly, then your face turned dark and suddenly you stopped breathing... STOPPED BREATHING! Delphine wanted to stay here with me but became hysterique. Mokhtar has gone to give her a shot. “Praise God, a fast death is a blessing,” Aicha said and kept hugging me. Ah... but it’s not habibi not a blessing for me at all or for you. My future is bleak... with your last breath, fifty years are gone forever…What times we have lived through habibi, peace be upon you…you were a fine man and very kind to me.’
Like the flames of a dying fire, the great moments of her life flickered before Hafida’s inner eye. When they were married she really could recite most of the holy Qur’an and was considered something of a prodigy, especially as she was a girl, but still she did not know the meaning of God's word. When she was twelve and should have been studying with a Fakih, she had to stay at home and help her family who were highly impractical people, especially her father a follower of the great Sufi Saint, Yacut, in the lineage of the Egyptian, al Murisi. Huddled together under blankets, half naked and shivering with cold they would often be, while with the money for their supper their father would have gone off to buy song birds at the market and release them.
Before she married Radouan she expected the worst and had been pleasantly surprised that her husband was not as difficult as she had thought he would be. In those days it was still the custom among men his age to keep their wives as ignorant as possible so they could not meddle in their husbands’ affairs. But to her surprise and joy, Radouan sent her to a Shaykh who began teaching her the meaning of the Holy Qur’an. At the same time, because she was a quick learner, Radouan and his American friend Nicholas began teaching her to read and write Arabi as well as English and French.
Ah, but years later I came to know it was Toni, may God reward her, who had insisted you do this.
For the first few years of their marriage they had lived with Nicholas in Prospero’s riad, which Radouan had purchased and was fixing up. She was assisting his sister Fouzia who had been looking after Nicholas and would leave as soon as she married Prospero. It was Nicholas who had really taught her English while Radouan would give her lessons in French. She smiled as she recalled how Nicholas would make cards for her in all three languages with funny drawings and how quickly she had learned. But she soon realized this American was majnoun and Radouan had explained that Nicholas had poisoned himself out of love for someone in his homeland and the poison had affected his brain. But of course it had been Radouan whom he had loved and who had driven him crazy!’
She gazed down at her husband and massaged his body, hoping for God’s intervention.
‘Yes, achiki, finally you told me everything didn’t you... had to get yourself drunk to do it... but it was a story I had heard before we were married, can you imagine? Can you still hear me, my darling? I KNEW BEFORE WE WERE MARRIED YOU’D BEEN HAVING AFFAIRS…ALL THESE STRANGE AFFAIRS WITH EUROPEANS… so I decided to play the traditional Muslim wife. It wasn’t hard because for you I had a powerful physical attraction. I obeyed, I served and acquiesced, surrendered and never opposed you in any way and you became bored and decided to educate me!
‘I’m sure you thought I would be angry when you told me about Nicholas, but at that time in my eyes it made you very glamorous: that you could know foreigners, speak and make love to them. Then I understood why, after Khadija was born, you moved Nicholas out to Dar Chems with Youssef and Youssef’s trainer, Karl... Wherever did you find him? Such a pretty young man he was and so kind. Did you know Nicholas had a passionate affair with him... you never mentioned it but you must have known or did you plan it that way? At least he died a happy man, Nicholas... may God cherish him.’
When had Nicholas died she asked herself. Yes, it was in 2008, three years after Othman was born... some blood disease they said, but she had always thought he never completely recovered from the poison he had taken.
The night he died Radouan had been out drinking. Suddenly Nicholas had taken sick and she and Mokhtar rushed him to a clinique where they said he needed blood or he would die. Radouan was the only person anyone knew who had the same rare blood type so they called around and finally found him gambling at the Casino. He protested that he was very drunk and there would be too much alcohol in his blood, but the doctors insisted and so he came. She remembered when Radouan arrived Nicholas had been conscious. She was there holding his hand. Radouan had staggered through the door; she thought he was going to fall flat on his face, and then Nicholas said, ‘Why have YOU come here?’ and Radouan answered: ‘To give you my blood so you won’t die.’ Then the strangest thing had happened: Nicholas gazed up at him for one long moment, smiled, blew him kisses with both hands, and died! It was a terrible shock. It was like Nicholas had died rather than take Radouan’s blood and he was deeply wounded. They interred Nicholas in the mausoleum at Dar Chems and Radouan didn’t speak to anyone for days.
Then the strangest thing had happened. A month later they received a call from a bank in Boston, a city in the state of Massachusetts in America, telling them that Nicholas K. Brady III had bequeathed ten million dollars to Radouan’s foundation As-Sabil - the path, the method, the way. Radouan was pleased, but not surprised because he always believed Nick had money hidden away.
So, during those first years of their marriage Radouan had treated her like his daughter, or a toy, or a piece of clay he was modeling. Later on as she got to know him better, she came to the conclusion that, as it was forbidden to make love with one’s daughter, it must have excited him to think of her that way because anything forbidden had always intrigued him! Then when she had discovered she too felt a certain secret pleasure in making love with someone who could have been her father, she became embarrassed and ashamed.
But Radouan had never beaten her, nor had her circumcised as he threatened to do on their wedding night. Even when she had been difficult or talked back to him and made him angry, he would just grab her and threaten her but never do anything - though it was permitted under certain circumstances, she believed.
And it was during those same first years, and again because of Toni, God bless her, who had, after all, experienced great wealth and knew its problems, that Radouan and Prospero had set about organizing something they called, Foundation As-Sabil. Founded in 2000, it was an organization dedicated to improvement of the health, education and environment of the Moroccan people. Over the years it funded many projects and institutions people could identify with as the world around them, the culture they had always known, began to crumble. ‘A path in the night so we don’t lose our way’, Radouan had called it and three quarters of his inheritance was set aside to fund it. As by then the value of the Baroness’ assets which Radouan had inherited, was over twenty billion euros, about fifteen went to As-Sabil.
Thinking about it she smiled sadly to herself. How up till then in Morocco nobody but the poor had ever really thought much about the poor! But when Radouan inherited his fortune he had remembered the days of his youth; selling cigarettes one by one in the big square of Marrakech, and becoming a gigolo to support his family. Where were those charitable organizations then, those Islamic charities? Why hadn’t they helped when his father became sick? Why had no one helped except other members of their family who were also destitute?
Really, from what she had heard about Radouan before their marriage, she’d never expected he would be so generous. Because of his early poverty she had expected he would hoard his money, but no. During those early years she had watched anxiously as he struggled with his conscience between the pain he felt for the plight of the people, and all the advantages and opportunities his sudden wealth had brought him. She remembered the pressure was hard to bear. Strange organizations: financial and charitable trusts, NGO’s no one had ever heard of, political parties, even governments, began soliciting his patronage and sought to control him. At one point he had even been approached to fund militant organizations engaged in Jihad, but Prospero had refused to condone it and threatened to leave Radouan if he did. So they had argued about it for weeks but finally Radouan agreed that his many Sufi ancestors would be pleased if he followed the path of non-violence, self-sufficiency and compassion.
Because of this decision, Hafida remembered, despite all their quarrels and the problems he’d caused her, Toni felt justified that her loyalty and devotion to Radouan had been right. His capacity to endure both good fortune and bad was remarkable. Remembering the desperate days and years of his youth, he had been determined to help lift his country to new levels of prosperity without money leaking into the foreign bank accounts of politicians, bureaucrats or middlemen. This of course did not endear him to his fellow country men.
It had been Mokhtar who encouraged Radouan to begin improving the chances for those young people who lacked the skills, education or connections to do so themselves; an experiment that was successful. God praise Mokhtar, she thought and keep him.
Nevertheless for her, personally, it had been a very difficult time. During her first pregnancy Radouan had been busy working with Pero and Toni and hadn’t had much time for her; made his headquarters out there at Dar Chems where they had moved the Baroness’ son Youssef and down the road Toni was building her own place. Although Toni had been very tender with her, what she remembered most was the loneliness of those days and that she became insanely jealous of Toni. Sometimes in the hamam near the riad in Marrakech she would hear gossips saying that when Radouan wasn’t with her he was with Toni and that they were married. Radouan always told her he was working with Prospero on organizing As-Sabil; that it was a very big problem for them and when he was away for weeks at a time, he was taking care of business. Sometimes he would be in Paris, others in Vienna or Riyadh, or places like Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Tokyo, New York, London or Milan.
She smiled as she remembered the day he bought her a book of maps called an Atlas, and taught her how to read it so she could learn Geography - said it was very important for people to know where they were located. Contemplating how simple minded she had been in those days she ran her fingers through his hair, stroked his forehead and sighed.
‘Ya, habibi, my jealousy of you then was terrible… because I had never experienced such pleasure, such delight, and satisfaction, I wanted you constantly.’
Smiling sadly to herself she thought back on those years: what a saga they had lived through and what a change had come over him when she began to have his children.
After Adam, their third child, was born in January 2001, Radouan decided to organize a trip to celebrate the purchase of their own jet. They had taken the children along. Adam was only 4 months old, Aicha a year and a half and Khadija about nine months. Radouan had hired Mokhtar as his personal servant and she had Mohktar’s wife Fatima as her maid. Radouan’s bodyguard friend Houcein, a doctor, a chef and three women to look after the children had accompanied them. She remembered how difficult it had been to control Houcein, even for Radouan, but Houcein was very tough and very useful at airports when officials tried to swindle them with outrageous landing fees. Houcein carried a Teflon dagger under his jalaba at all times. Radouan said Houcein was there to protect her and the children, but it seemed to her he spent more time watching young girls and boys and in the casinos gambling.
But she had always remembered that trip marked an important turning point in her life. Getting out of Marrakech flying about in the sky in their own plane was a life changing experience; to see how people in other parts of the world lived and behaved was a revelation. She and Mokhtar had never been out of Morocco. Raised up in large very poor families, at an early age they had learned to quarrel and make scenes but traveling seemed to calm them down. There were so many things to see and so much to learn that she had forgotten about herself and her personal problems. It was on this trip that Radouan taught Mokhtar how to use a lap top computer and a cell phone and at the end of each day, had him write down where they had been, who they had met, and what they had done. Now, fifty years later, Mokhtar was still faithfully entering the details of their daily life with a server in Argentina.
On that first trip they had traveled to Cairo, Mecca, Medina, Istanbul and Greece. Although she had never veiled her face before, now Radouan insisted she be covered from head to toe. She smiled to herself when she thought of it, but at that time she was still very shy and felt safer and more secure inside her wrappings.
In Cairo, they visited all the great Mosques, the Malmuk Tombs, the Pyramids and taken a boat ride on the river Nile. In those days the air in Cairo had been so bad every time they stepped out of their limousine, they choked. But Radouan explained that ever since Cairo began people had been complaining about it, still everyone had to go there because the Egyptians were the most interesting people in the world - very deep and very intelligent.
In Mecca and Medina, they had given thanks to God for His Compassion and Generosity in bestowing upon them three beautiful children and Radouan had given generously for the feeding of Pilgrims and the maintenance of the libraries in those holy places. In Istanbul, they had stayed with a Turkish friend of his, one of his old loves, the widow of a very rich Lebanese gentleman who had a beautiful old house on the Bosporous and spent winters in Marrakech. They visited Hagia Sophia, Topkapi and the Palace of Tears; and relaxed in a very elegant Turkish bath, quite different from their simple Moroccan Hamams. In Greece, she remembered, they had visited the island of Delos, sacred to Apollo, and spent a day at The Oracle of Delphi where fields of hyacinths and narcissus were in bloom and far away on the horizon, beyond miles of olive groves glittering in the afternoon sun, they could see the Gulf of Corinth.
Later, the same year in June, when summer had arrived in Marrakech, they took a second trip to Italy, stayed at the Hotel Splendido where she and Radouan had their first really romantic moments. In his fine cotton jalabas and gandouras, made by an Egyptian tailor, he shone like the sun and was the center of attention wherever they went. From Portofino, she recalled, they had traveled in a caravan of four cars to Monaco, where they had been joined by Prospero, met several officials and discussed buying an apartment there. But Monaco was too chaotic too crowded with summer visitors. The traffic was terrible and Radouan hated it. Becoming concerned that their Italian drivers were not up to it, he hired four new French cars and drivers and they drove on to Nice where they spent several days with an old Corsican woman who had once been a famous chanteuse in Paris. She had finally married one of the godfathers of the Nice Mafia and on his death had inherited a great fortune and a beautiful villa overlooking the harbor.
After touring the Riviera they visited Toni at St Remy in Provence where Delphine and a man she thought was Delphine’s husband called Francesco joined them. By that time, of course, she knew Radouan was married to Toni but had no idea this beautiful young woman was also his wife!
She stared down at Radouan’s pale face.
‘Yes, habibi, you were very naughty sometimes... a real rascal’
And smiled to herself recalling how, from their first meeting, she and Delphine had become great friends; Delphine, nearer her own age than any of the others and they had had fun together. Also, Delphine was very smart and often defended her with Radouan.
‘When you would criticize me for something she would come to my rescue. Or if you would say I was too young to do this or, or to do that, Delphine would say nonsense and insist I be brought along. You don’t remember, but I do, habibi.’
She closed her eyes and asked herself how she could be talking to him like that when he was... And could still see the beautiful gardens at Toni’s estate, the olive groves, the orchards and vineyards and how, after a few days’ rest there, they had flown on to Paris where, even though she had lost twenty kilos, she still felt embarrassed by her appearance. All those beautiful French women, so sophisticated, so well turned out, how they had terrified her. But Toni had accompanied them, understood her shyness and went out shopping for her and brought back some beautiful new clothes. Even so, she had still been nervous around Toni, suspicious of her self-assurance, and her hold over Radouan. Although Toni had saved Radouan’s life and his inheritance, she had to admit she had still been jealous.
Years later, of course, she discovered Toni and Prospero had been having a serious affair and she needn’t have been jealous at all! Poor Pero, constantly together with her working for As-Sabil and not being able to show any affection or any sign they were in love. It must have been very difficult, especially as Prospero was married to Radouan’s sister Fouzia, a naturally suspicious woman, who would have reported anything she might have seen or heard. Perhaps all the difficulties they had encountered, all the secrecy and separations, kept their passion alive for it had lasted until Toni died. And she was certain Radouan must have known about it but didn’t mind as long as Pero could cope with Toni’s neediness. Ah…Toni, Hafida smiled to herself, basically she was a romantic: her vision of life was generous, even wild.
Her Mister Radouan, on the other hand with all his Baraka was not at all romantic or sentimental, but extremely practical, a practical mystic you might say. She recalled making love with him many times when he was called to the telephone and could immediately address the problem at hand and discuss it in detail with the caller. At first it seemed to her he was like a heartless prostitute, turning his love on and off. Later on she realized he had the gift of being able to live simultaneously in many worlds - a gift, and a big problem for him!’
In those days, however, his biggest problem had been Delphine who, unknown to her, had occupied his mind totally and haunted his dreams. It was as if he wanted to punish her for her refusal to obey him - and to get even she was out to destroy his mind. Although he never appeared to be jealous of Toni, of Delphine he was wildly jealous; jealous of her body, her career, her success, and above all her many FANS!’
Hafida, bent over, rested her head on Radouan's and whispered:
‘You wanted fans too, my poor darling…would have enjoyed them so much and you certainly deserved them. Instead, all you got were people kissing your hands and trying to talk you in to doing things you didn’t think were right. They thought you were King Midas and you became bored and annoyed.’
Ah, but they never counted on Pero being there, Pero behind the scenes, advising and supporting him. Even so, Radouan hadn’t been able to hide behind As-Sabil. No… Day and night people came to him for help, sometimes threatened him. Finally, it became impossible for him to go out that he wasn’t asked to do something for some one, so he started travelling in disguise - became a master of disguises.
How well she remembered him at R’hamna in those days outside the village in rags like a beggar walking through a permanent camp of supplicants that had grown up there waiting for him to appear. Which was sad, because all his life he had enjoyed wandering about freely talking with people, going where he pleased when he pleased, and suddenly he was trapped – a victim of his own good fortune. His ideas and proposals were ridiculed and it became difficult for him to lead a normal life in Morocco. Which was why, she supposed, he had purchased this place, here on the Isle-St-Louis - this pile of stones. Because it was so big he’d never have to go out; because Pero had discovered it would be less expensive for them than keeping an apartment at the Ritz, and most of all because Delphine had demanded it.
Still, because of his early days in Paris and the indignities he had suffered there on the boulevards and in the Metro, he had avoided going out and strolling around, fearful he might get into trouble. It was then when he realized his money had only bought a larger prison that he withdrew into the warmth and routine of his family and rarely ventured out except in his armored utility vehicle, Houcein in front with the driver carrying a laser-guided Glock.
‘Really, you were not prepared for what happened to you, were you habibi. As long as your friends and family had roofs over their heads, even, tents, and enough to eat, you had always been happy. A dreamer you, my achiki… so many years in the hard world of the streets that when you saw the joy in the faces of our children, you wanted the whole world to be like that... newly born and perfect… didn't you? Yet through it all you believed in your own people and continued to initiate projects that would help them that you were unable to live among them was your fate - God’s Will. Even if you had given up everything and become a Marabout or a Hermit, I’m sure they still would have hounded you.’
By then, she remembered, the first decade of their marriage had passed, she had given him eight children and suddenly the world had become a very dangerous place - which was why Radouan had opted for survival and decided to purchase a large property in Argentina, near Cordoba - one of the largest Fincas in the region and the perfect place to vanish in. They called it The Vanishing Point and for the next thirty years spent most of their time there managing As-Sabil, becoming self sufficient, avoiding the mindless chaos and greed of the developed world raising their family and organizing large environmental projects in the foothills of the Andes. Until Toni died out there of a stroke while watching polo on a playing field Radouan had carved out of the bush.
She remembered how all the families in the area and their guests would gather at the Polo ground to drink and feast and watch the matches. They had their own little grand stand that seated two hundred. Toni often took over the microphone and described the action like a sports announcer. Sometimes she wore a top hat and smoked a cigar, a different Toni then, playful and funny; making personal jokes about the players in various languages, which kept everyone laughing - very important during those dark days. And that’s what she was doing when she had her attack and died.
Terrible it was for poor Pero, because he was there when it happened and had to suppress his grief. He and Radouan brought her body back to Dar Chems where it rests in the mausoleum, but neither of them ever returned to Argentina again.
She gazed up at the glass dome of the ballroom now tinted pink by the first rays of rising sun and spoke to him:
‘The shock of what has happened, habibi, I’m afraid I’m not handling it very well. My mind is wandering and frayed... I’m thinking now of all the things we should have spoken of... things left undone... the loose ends... perhaps it’s just old age but I can’t seem to get my thoughts together... My brain is frazzled!’
‘Now I’m back at the Ritz again on that first trip to Paris. You know, I didn’t feel as strange about being an Arab there as I did in Greece but I have to say, I still didn’t want to leave the hotel. Riding around in our big limousine with its tinted windows was fine, but the thought of walking in those Paris streets and boulevards scared me to death. I remember thinking then that Paris was the most beautiful city in the world, and vowing that some day when I’d lost more weight I would return and sit in those cafes and stroll on the those boulevards without all my coverings.’
Returning from Paris that August, Radouan had managed to enroll her at the University of Marrakech for the fall term of 2001 and promised if she did well there they would go back to Paris and she could attend classes at the Sorbonne. He was sure they were going to have many children and she had to be educated so the children wouldn’t grow up stupid. Suggesting that she might study Biology and Medicine, he explained that it was very important to know what was going on inside her own body and the bodies of their children - enough to let the doctors know she knew something and couldn’t be fooled! And if she ever expected to know any interesting people, he added, she would have to study History, Literature and the Fine Arts.’
Thinking of that time, her mind raced back to that horrible September afternoon, just after their return from Paris when the famous Twin Towers of New York had fallen down before their very eyes on television and they knew a strange new age was dawning. ‘The Age of Rage,’ Prospero had said immediately and predicted years of anger, violence, incrimination, perfidy and monumental hypocrisy; likened it to the bursting of the famous Marib Dam 500 BC, Saylu' l 'Arim and the ruin of the Kingdom of Saba, the kingdom of the Queen of Sheba who had visited Solomon. It was a sign, an omen. Had not the women of the Marrakech Medina, shortly after his election, said the new U.S. President had F'TNA written across his fore head?
'Never underestimate the importance of Maji, Voodoo, Sorcery in the present encounter which is about to unfold.' Nick said, 'The British and the Americans have always under estimated this.'
That a few young zealots, hijacking domestic passenger planes of a foreign country and using them as missiles, could have successfully staged such a dramatic attack meant it was a complex and deeply hidden conspiracy, or it was God's Will. Too many things could have gone wrong. The odds against it happening were too great.
God likes to be worshipped,' Mokhtar whispered thoughtfully as they watched the awful events unfold on television. 'But as we Moslems worship Him five times a day, certainly He will stand by us.'
The real meaning, Prospero ventured, was that asymmetric warfare was replacing traditional strategies just as the tactics of the American Revolutionaries, learned from the Native Americans, had defeated the British colonial forces. New high tech warfare had been seriously challenged by guerrilla tactics and the embarrassment and rage of military planners and super-power disciplinarians would, he predicted, bring on horrific consequences. It had happened before with the Assassins, this inversion of fighting power, a strategy that took a hundred and sixty five years to overcome. Moreover, the conflict would surely turn into an economic one whose outcome was anything but certain, considering so many energy sources were now controlled by powers opposed to western imperialism.
She remembered all that afternoon and evening Radouan had remained silent, puffing on a hookah, watching the disaster unfold – watching the endlessly repeated images of the collapsing towers. Until finally he had yawned, muttered the word, castration, and had fallen asleep.
Delphine had called him from Rome and said she thought the importance of the event was being exaggerated. ‘These disasters happen, you know,’ she said pointedly. ‘We have to expect more of them, especially now with world's population out of control. You must stay ahead of the curve, avoid contact with politicians and we must lead our lives as normally as possible. Above all, Foundation As-Sabil must not help these people who want to bring the world to an end.
The most confusing thing for them as they sat there watching the disaster unfold on their screen was the way it was presented; the slick sequencing and timing of images, having to constantly remind themselves they were not watching a Japanese horror film - that Godzilla would not suddenly rise up behind one of those buildings.
‘Godzilla is there,’ Nick observed quietly, ‘you just can’t see her.’
A few days later when it became clear who would be blamed for this event, she remembered how Radouan had received an overseas call from an acquaintance of his who had once lived in Marrakech. For as long as they had known each other, Radouan had suspected the caller had been some kind of agent. Now he was on the phone urging Radouan to send letters of condolence to the President of the United States and the Mayor of New York City.
Radouan went ballistic. Why should this guy be telling him what to do, like the President of the United States was some kind of Sultan one had to flatter and bow down to? He began to pace the floor and crack his knuckles, working himself into a fit.
Hafida remembered she had been so frightened that for the first time in her life she had acted on her own; called Toni in Provence and told her what was happening - how Radouan was about to lose it! God above only knew what the result would be.
Minutes later, Toni called back and spoke to him, told him he didn’t seem to understand this person was trying to protect them, reminded Radouan how rich he was, and that he had a very large foundation, As-Sabil which was giving away vast sums of money. ‘Do we actually know the Foundation hasn’t given money by mistake to charities that are funding these things?’
That was when the debate between Prospero and Radouan about funding Jihad organizations really began. Although they thought they had settled that issue before, of course, Radouan’s first instinct was to fight. Many of their friends were impressed by Bin Laden’s organizational skills, his grasp of economic realities and real politic - after all, five or six graduates of the London School of Economics were Al Qaida members. But finally Radouan came to the conclusion Al Qaida was just the same old scam with new clothes: raiding caravans under a banner of religion and a protection racket posing as a religious revival using masses of desperate young under educated men an women as human explosives. In Holy War nothing was forbidden - as the Jews and Arabs had learned dealing with Christian Crusaders in Jerusalem.
But Radouan hated Osama for his hypocrisy and cynicism, a fake Marabout he thought, and predicted his actions would bring on a new Crusade from the Maishis, which could turn half the world into Gaza.
Prospero was certain some of the Moroccan clans who had amassed great fortunes and felt endangered by Foundation As-Sabil’s charitable activities would use an incident like this to finish them off... Bezaff... As-Sabil would be finished! Radouan must write the letters of condolence.
Hafida smiled down at him as she remembered how, for the sake of his children and for As-Sabil, he had swallowed his pride, called the man back, and patched things up. Pero and Toni collaborated on writing the letters of condolence and Radouan had signed them. She remembered then Radouan became deeply depressed, said the whole affair made him feel like the cockroach in a story by the Russian author Kafka which Nicholas had once read to him, like a Cockroach waiting for humans to come and stomp on him. Later, there had been a meeting with officials in Paris where the Foundation disclosed its financial dealings and tried to prove it had not funded any terrorist groups. But suspicion lingered in high places, especially as Radouan had once been characterized by the press during his trial as an ‘Arab Terrorist’, and because he and Prospero were demanding more transparency and concerned environmental behavior from the companies they now virtually controlled.
‘Horrible times,’ she remembered and shook her head sadly, but what to do? Finally Pero and Radouan had agreed Moslems should not assault the walls of Babylon by turning young men and women into guided missiles. Radouan had a fortune to invest and As-Sabil had even more they had all agreed there must be a third way, a path, and a method: to remain absolutely neutral and focus on improving conditions in their own country. Through their investments they could influence the behavior of government policy makers and transnational corporations. They would also invest heavily in building up infrastructure, encouraging self-sufficiency; updating the past without throwing it away, releasing brain power through first class health systems and education. It was a big gamble, Inchallah.
She remembered how it was just after this that Radouan had decided not to send her to school. Instead he hired tutors from England and France to come and teach her at home. Then he ordered everyone to stop watching television and employed a nice young American from MIT to watch, whom they came to call the Watcher because he watched television day and night, evaluated it, and gave out printed reports. Radouan believed all the TV stations were corrupting the truth and this soon became apparent. At the same time, ‘The Watcher’ trained Mokhtar to use the Internet, explained all its possibilities and three years later when As-Sabil launched its first satellite, they constructed an Intranet.
During that stressful period, Hafida had to admit, she’d been so busy having children and getting used to living with someone like Radouan that she had barely been aware of the world outside.
As the years passed, however and resources became scarce, the world became a playground and a battlefield for powerful elites within governments, business and finance, and the position of Al-Sabil became increasingly difficult. And because these mafias seemed to have unlimited funds, superior communication systems and machines that could destroy anything they disapproved of, they got what they wanted. Slowly the Sufi values that were the basis of Foundation As-Sabil, became increasingly difficult to up hold. Pero had cautioned there would be a price to be paid for not backing either the Crusaders or the Jihadists; As-Sabil would have to pay more attention to its security. Both sides would be trying to trick them, set them up in some way - It was a time of betrayals and financial chaos, sinking slowly into a new Dark Age in which the few had to fight harder than ever to control the many.
She remembered how she thought it would never end, and how Radouan would put his arms around her and console her saying: ‘Time rushes by, my darlin’…nothin' lasts forever.’
So lost in thought had she been that now, gazing around at the empty ballroom she was surprised to see it was still there. Where was Adam, she wondered. Before he left he had mentioned that she should start gathering her thoughts, as she would soon have to speak with the press. ‘We don’t want to anger them,’ he’d cautioned her ‘but we don’t want to tell them too much either.’
Looking down, she patted Radouan’s forehead and spoke to him softly.
‘Achiki, I have solved that problem. Instead of sitting here answering all their questions about your scandalous life, I will use up the time speaking about our children - and Delphine’s. I know they will try to demonize me as an ignorant Moslem woman who refused to practice birth control... some kind of fertility witch... I know that, habibi, and I’m prepared. I shall tell them giving birth was a joy... and for you being a father was a life changing experience... so why not? We had no financial problems... why not enjoy giving life and multiplying? Of course, they will be hoping to trick me, thinking that like many rich mothers I won’t know what’s going on in my own family, but I have a surprise for them and I’ve memorized the whole of it’
‘My husband Radouan-Jannat al Uld Billah has gone on ahead, and is survived by his two wives, Hafida and Delphine and twenty five children all alive and well...’Hamdou' Allah... Praise God. May he grant them long lives and comfort them with joy.’
‘I had twenty-two children and my co-wife Delphine had three. In order of their appearance they are:
Our first daughter, Aicha, born July 23, 1999, the day King Hassan II died. I remember it well... watching the funeral cortege with my first born child at my breast. Now she lives in Fez with her husband, a Cherif, and ten children.
Our second child Khadija, born in May 2000, is an art historian, living in London with her husband, a publisher, and five children.
Adam, our first son, was born in late February 2001, and was followed two years later by a second boy, Othman, born in 2003. Both of them live on our place in Argentina with their Argentine wives and children. Adam is a surgeon, and runs a clinic out there. Othman is an Avocat with degrees from the University of Paris and Harvard Law.’
‘Khalili... I’m thinking as both you and Pero are now gone Adam and Othman must come back here and run things... I will send Faysal and Taha down there. They’re both single, handsome, and out of control... send them there to find good wives. What do you think?’
‘Our next child was Hamza, born in 2005. He is an Arabic Scholar, and a world authority on the civilization, languages and dialects of the Arabs of Yemen, currently teaching at Princeton University in America. Hamza was especially dear to his father’s heart; a great story teller and could always pull Radouan out of his dark moods by reciting many of the legendary stories spawned in ancient Arabi.’
‘Soufiane, our sixth child, was born in 2006. He and his second wife, a very beautiful Lebanese girl, have their own apartment here in the house and manage all our family affairs.’
‘Then Hind and Ismail arrived 2008, the twins, a girl and boy. Hind is married and lives between Paris and Southampton, Long Island with her husband, a French banker, and seven children. Her twin brother Ismail, a bachelor, is a barrister in London and lectures at Oxford on the Malikite interpretation of Sharia Law in Islam. He has written several books comparing the legal systems which evolved from the Greeks and Romans, and those which developed in the Middle East from Hamabouri, Moses and Mohammed.’
‘Fatima, our fourth girl, born in 2011, lives in a place called Hana on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, with her husband a descendant of the original Hawaiian Royal family. They spend their days surfing, raising their seven children, and managing a large organic pineapple plantation on the other side of the island. Hana is unforgettable; untouched by time, so tranquil you can forget the world and all its cynicism. It’s a very long trip for me now, however, so I tune in on them with my communicator.’
‘Then came Batoul, born in 2012 - Batoul the most beautiful of our girls. She is married to an Italian Prince. They live in Monaco; have four children and a busy social life there on the Riviera. I believe he works for an American investment firm...’
‘Or is he Greek, habibi? You know I’m vague about him because I dislike him so much... so pompous about his family, his money etc. - and not a very good husband either. I wish she would divorce him and find someone more compatible, but the children... well there would be a big court case wouldn’t there?’
‘Yazzine, our sixth son, was born in May 2014.’
‘My favorite son, I suppose, because he reminds me so much of you, habibi.’
‘Yazzine lives here in Paris where he divides his time between writing and music. He is an accomplished performer on the Lute and the Kanoun, writes and sings his own music and has a band which is a big success. Very handsome he is and seems to have a new girl every few months. We manage to see him two or three times a week and he has been a great comfort to us.’
‘His younger brother Ibrahim, born in 2016, is a well-known Bio-Environmentalist and lives in London where he works full time for Foundation As-Sabil.
‘Did you know that along with his Japanese girl friend, he now has an English boy friend - and worries about his future all the time?
‘Then came dear Laiya who was born in 2017. Laiya is a scholar in Buddhist Studies at Stanford University in California. She is working on a book about Neo-Platonism and Buddhist Influences among the early Sufi masters.’
‘Really, you know she’s prolonging her stay out there because she’s still having an affair with that Indian computer genius who lives in San Francisco and won’t divorce his wife to marry her. It’s difficult. Remember how angry you were with him for making her so unhappy... thinking up all sorts of schemes to bankrupt him...’
‘Next came a second pair of twins, Omar and Malika who were born in 2018, a very difficult birth I remember. Omar is a graduate of The Wharton School of Economics and an investment adviser for a big bank in Malaysia.
‘And still married to that rich American girl whose family do not like the idea of an Arab son-in-law…ayee… how you hated them. No children there yet, thanks to God the All Knowing, so there’s still hope they’ll divorce.’
‘Omar’s twin sister Malika owns and runs a wonderful Islamic book store in London and is married to a Jewish boy of Iraqi origin. They are very happy and have three divine children. The boy’s father, heir to a large banking fortune, always gave Radouan good advice over the years and we often visited their place in Gloucestershire.’
‘Then came Farouk, born 2019, who graduated from Brown University in America a few years ago and has started his own publishing company in New York. Farouk married Nazreen, a Pathan girl from a Pakistani family. They have two children and live on Prince Street in downtown Manhattan. She’s very sweet, my favorite daughter-in-law. Her father is an American, and her mother a Pathan from the Hindu Khush.’
‘After Farouk came Zineb, born 2020, and Zoubida in 2021. Both girls attended Cambridge and are married to Moroccan boys. Zineb lives in Rabat and Asilah where her husband manages our real estate holdings in Morocco and Zoubida lives in the big house at R’hamna with her husband, a Botanist, who works for As-Sabil. Both girls have two children.
In November 2023, Faysal arrived. Later in life he attended Harrow and Oxford and lives in London.’
‘Yes, I am definitely going to send this rascal to Argentina. Like you he is charismatic, dashing, plays polo like you, and like you he drinks too much... which is why I’m going to send him out there to find a nice girl and get married... what do you think?’
‘Meryam, our twentieth child, was born in 2025 and recently graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in America where she majored in Psychology. She is very intelligent but still not quite sure what she wants to do - thinks she might like to start a Public Relations firm.’
‘You had a husband picked out for her, Achiki... that rich boy from Mombai, handsome but not too bright. Now that you’re gone, habibi, I doubt she’ll go through with it. You never knew it but at the moment she thinks she’s a lesbian and refuses to leave New York; lives with a girl she calls her ‘significant other’, whatever that means, who is after her money I know, and sees me as a big obstacle... What do I do?’
‘Soumaya came next in 2026, and is a senior at Vassar College in America where she has been majoring in Arabic studies and Foreign Relations and wants to come back to Morocco and contest a seat for Parliament.’
‘Last night at the party I told her, ‘Ehbel Terbah, my loved one, make your self look stupid and you will be the winner.’ Good advice for anyone entering politics don’t you think?’
‘And last, but certainly not least, is Taha born 2028, the baby of the family. He attended Harrow a year behind Faysal and lives in London.’
‘But hated it, my darling, because he was always in Faysal’s shadow…You never understood this, that he should have gone to some other school and now he’s my greatest worry. Perhaps it would be wrong to send him off to Argentina with Faysal. Really, he’s been so spoiled and bossed around by this family he has no mind of his own... needs to get away from us all... but where? He's in that flat you bought him in Eaton Square, stays out all night, sleeps all day, and isn’t interested in going on to college or doing anything constructive, or even traveling. What’s wrong? Delphine says he just needs time to find himself - whatever that means - and I suppose she’s right. Still it’s very painful for me to stand by and watch him destroying himself... it’s as if he’s very unhappy about the direction his life is taking and wants to revenge himself against the whole world... the same self destructive impulses you once had, habibi. Last night when you had your attack I thought Taha was going to suicide. Maybe I have to find him a beautiful girl from R’hamna who will bring him down to earth... and now you have left us I’m sure the tabloids will focus on him.'
‘All these my children and forty-one grandchildren were here last night when my husband had a stroke and died, he was eighty five or six we can’t be sure...'
‘Ya habibi, you were embarrassed that you were causing such a scene weren’t you? And furious that you weren’t dying as you had planned; saying good bye to your children and grandchildren one by one in the grand bedroom suite of the Baroness’ where she herself had died... what a thing to happen. Mach Allah, Al-insan moussayer,wa laysa moukhayer: man proposes, God disposes!'
Ah- ya... my poor brain is unraveling. I can’t imagine how I’m still able to function but I must!’
She closed her eyes, and there were Delphine’s three boys, she must not forget them: Yahya, born in April 2004; Jebbor, born in November 2006 and Bachir, in May 2008. Three boys, one after the other, it was quite a time. Now Yahya is a motion picture producer here, not surprising as his mother had been a great star. Jebbor is a very good painter who has had a number of exhibitions in New York and Tokyo as well as Paris where his abstract calligraphy is very much admired. And Bachir is an Investment Banker and handles his mother’s Finances.
‘Thank God, habibi, or by this time she would have spent it all!’
She remembered how fond Radouan was of all three boys, especially Jebbor who took him for long walks in the Bois de Boulogne, played backgammon with him and read to him in the evenings. All three of them had been there last night with their wives and children.
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006