It was April 14, 1998, a date he would never forget. Outside, the heat was intense, the traffic horrible and as he made his way to Bab Dukala he ground his teeth and remembered those lines of Mafuz that Minna had been quoting.
Arriving finally at his father’s house, he avoided his mother, changed into his best linen suit, donned a pair of new dark glasses and was only a few minutes late as he strode through the lobby of the Mamounia to the restaurant where he found Toni waiting for him her eyes hidden behind dark glasses beneath a wide brimmed Panama.
‘Sorry about last night,’ she murmured, ‘I don't know what... it was all my fault what got into me… when I’m tired you know you were right I was exhausted and I’ve decided you are also right about my getting out of England. Now my Father is gone I can finally pull up stakes and leave... bring my horses down here. You can have my flat. I have some land near Minna’s place, quite a large piece... I’ll build a house out there.’ She rambled on.
Radouan who disliked sudden changes found her exuberant mood disturbing. ‘Pull up stakes,’ he asked, buying time, ‘what does it mean...pull up stakes?
Toni cocked her head, ‘I suppose it means pulling up the stakes that hold your tent up and moving on. British Army slang I reckon or Bedoui. What do you think of my plan?’
‘I couldn't live in your flat; it’s too exposed... the guardian, the concierge, and the maids - all gossips. I have to live in the Medina somewhere, maybe some old riad I could fix up.’
‘What about the country then, you could certainly live out there, we’ll build a special riad for you and your friends...’
‘Now you’re jokin’ me.’
‘But I’m not, I’m serious.’
‘Yes, of course, I could live like that, but I have responsibilities, people to look after every day here in Marrakech...’
‘Couldn’t you commute?’
‘Forty-five minutes drive.’ Radouan fanned away the smoke from her cigarette. ‘Can’t you stop smokin’? In restaurants it’s disgusting and very bad for you.’ He stubbed out her cigarette. ‘You’re beginning to smell like an ashtray... what did you do this morning?’
‘I got up rather early,’ she replied, angry at him for harping on her smoking habit, ‘...played a few rounds of golf. Then I came back here and worked out in the gym, had a sauna and massage... they miss you at the gym, said to say hello.’
‘Who said to say hello?’
‘The usual bunch... moaning and groaning...’
‘You’re attracted to that trainer Boujemaa... but you’ll be disappointed, he’s a Louat... swims on the other shore.’
‘Boujemaa doesn’t interest me at all.’
‘Then it must be Lahcen. You’re always starin’ at him.’
‘Everyone does stare at him and why not, he’s got a spectacular body and adores being stared at...so do you.’
‘Now you’re provokin’ me, habibti.’
‘I’m NOT provoking you, just telling you the truth. Lahcen has a beautiful body... you have a beautiful body and you both like to be admired... why not?’
‘You must not look at Lahcen’ Radouan whispered, ‘absolutely I forbid it! Returnin' Lahcen’s gaze, to him it’s the same as lettin’ him fuck you... believe me to him it’s the same! His mind is like that, very antique, very primitive. You must keep your eyes lowered when you’re around him. He’s Saharoui... he has maji... If you ever brought him home you would have huge problems...’
Toni took off her dark glasses and stared at him. ‘Really, darling! Do think I’m mad! Of course I wouldn’t bring him home.’
‘Oh... but there are many other places you could take him I’m sure. I forbid... I absolutely forbid you to see him again; you must change gyms.’
‘But I like the gym here,’ she said calmly watching his flashing eyes. How handsome he was when she teased him and he became angry. ‘It’s one of my favorite gyms in the world,' she replied, 'in one breath you’re telling me you’re going to get married, in the next that I have to change gyms because I might... just might... happen to glance at Lahcen. Soon you’ll be telling me you’re too busy to see me. If you think I’m going to sit around waiting for you like some veiled concubine,’ she shrugged and lit another cigarette, ‘you’re seriously mistaken.’
‘If I ever catch you with Lahcen,’ Radouan rasped menacingly, ‘I will kill both of you or arrange for him to disappear from Marrakech forever. You think I’m kidding? Jus' try. Try and see what happens... I will make a huge scandal I can tell you… huge! And put out that cigarette immediately… you don't even see that you’ve lit another one... put it out!’
‘I suppose I should feel flattered you care so much about my health,’ she stared at him and slowly ground out her cigarette in an ashtray.
‘Yes, of course you should. You should be happy to have me for even a few hours a day... or a night. You don't understand how lucky you are.’
‘Oh but I do... I know.’
‘I don’t think you do, talkin’ about Lahcen that way. He’s nothing... he’s kharia.’
As they argued and baited each other a striking young woman with honey colored hair sauntered in on the arm an older man in a rumpled linen suit. Soon they were seated at a nearby table; positioned in such a way that the young woman could stare at Radouan while talking with her luncheon partner and Radouan could return her glance over Toni’s left shoulder.
And stare she did, convincing Radouan that either she must have seen him before somewhere, or she was interested in him and prepared to receive his advances.
Toni toyed with her food and went on about the house she planned to build. The entrance would be Sa’diyan, the courtyard paved with mosaic tiles from Fez, both she and Radouan would have separate quarters with courtyards and pools, and the stables would be copied from the ruins at Meknes.
Finally Radouan interrupted her.
‘Eat, you must eat. All you do is sit there pushin’ your food from one side of your plate to the other, and bahhing like a sheep. You think to be thin is attractive but for us it is not. You’ve lost weight. It’s not healthy and when so many people are hungry you must not waste food.’
‘Someone will eat it, I’m sure.’ she smiled grimly, ‘I had one of those power drinks after my work out. Really, I’m not very hungry.’ She reached in her handbag and found another cigarette.
‘I forbid you to smoke that cigarette.’ Radouan hissed. ‘Already you have had two cigarettes since we sat down... take it out of your mouth at once.’
‘Everyone in this country smokes,’ Toni observed defiantly, ‘It’s one of the reasons I like it here... even in London now they’re trying to make all these rules against it... rules, rules and more rules!’
‘In this the Americans and the English, they are very wise. In America it is not allowed to smoke in a restaurant... that’s good... I like it.’
‘Americans are extremists...'
‘Jus' put it away, s’il vous plait... relax and eat your food.’ He was looking past her now, just past her left ear, focusing on the honey haired blonde who was now caressing her thigh beneath the tablecloth, sipping a martini and watching him. It was obvious she wanted to do something, but how? Inch Allah!
Just as he had mentally put his fate into God’s hands, Toni replaced her cigarette in her handbag and got up.
‘Where are you going?’ Radouan protested. ‘Sit down!’
‘I’m going home... not really all that hungry. I want to smoke a cigarette peacefully and have a long nap.’
Exasperated, yet excited that God’s will had worked so fast, Radouan walked her out though the lobby and put her in a taxi.
‘Call me around seven or just come and wake me up,’ she said.
‘Order supper for us then, have a good snooze and try not to smoke. I’ll see you around nine.’ He kissed her on both cheeks and waved as the cab pulled away.
Back at his table, Radouan noted the expression of relief on the blonde's face as he sat down again. Her luncheon companion, now quite drunk, was experiencing difficulties with his soup. The blonde looked disgusted and glanced furtively in Radouan’s direction. Taking out his cell phone, he pretended to talk while staring steadily at her. Slowly she rose, made excuses to her companion, and went off toward the rest rooms. Her walk left the waiters spellbound. Still talking on his phone, Radouan fumbled in his wallet, scribbled something, counted to a hundred, walked through the lobby and positioned himself at the entrance to the ladies room. When she came out, he smiled and handed her his card on which he had written in French, English and Spanish the following message, ‘ Call this number as soon as you can. I want to see you!’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006