A few hours later, saying good bye and watching their plane fly away into the fresh morning sky, Radouan kicked a stone out of the earth and made a run with it across the parking lot. He’d lost her. He knew it. Like a rocket, he’d launched her and now it would never be the same between them. Suddenly he was very lonely and angry with himself for leaving Marrakech without his briefcase; not even thinking about it until it was too late. And for sending her away! Why? How could he have done it?
Back at the hotel, he went up to the suite he had shared with Francesco, packed his bag, and took the elevator back down to the lobby. With luck he would be in Marrakech by early that afternoon.
As he was checking out of the hotel, however, he noticed the same two girls he’d seen at the Dades Valley the night before. Following them into the bar, soon he was buying them drinks and learned that they had missed their bus to Agadir, a resort town on the coast and would have to wait until afternoon for the next bus. Perhaps he should offer to drive them to Agadir, or maybe take a room for a few hours in a private villa there in Ouazazarte. Anything to stop thinking of Delphine, his golden haired Goddess, to obliterate her memory, destroy the fantasy he'd made of her, so at odds with what he really believed. Ordering more drinks, he listened to the chatter of the two girls, bought them lunch in a corner of the bar and finally drove them to the bus station.
After dropping them off, still drunk and feeling more destructive than ever, he decided, against his better judgment, to drive on to Marrakech. With luck would be there by dawn. But near Aqouim, at the summit of the pass, a torrential rainstorm had overtaken him and on a particularly sharp turn his front wheels had skidded off the road out over a deep gorge, the car hung on the edge of the precipice and he had passed out.
Later he was awakened by a tapping noise and opening his eyes he was blinded by the light of a torch. Then the voice of a youngster yelling at him in Chleuh, the Berber language, to wake up and not to move because the front end of his car was poised over fifty meters of air and could easily fall off.
‘You must get into the back seat,’ the voice said gently, ‘very very carefully, and I will try to open the door because only Allah the Almighty, is keeping you from falling into the abyss.’
Radouan, now suddenly sober, managed to slip into the back seat and out the door tumbling on to the muddy shoulder at the feet of a youngster who laughed and helped him up.
As they stood there wondering what to do next, an ominous creaking sound came from the chassis of the car. Trying without success to open the boot, he gave it a swift kick. The boot popped open, he grabbed his suitcase, and the boy pulled him back just as the car slid slowly over the edge and crashed far below.
‘There is no power and no strength, save in God the Almighty, the Merciful,’ Radouan whispered; and studying the boy for the first time, beheld an angel! So beautiful was the face that beamed up at him, he thought it must be Jibril who had come to save him. Certainly it was not a face of this world. Long russet hair tumbled down over a white blanket above sturdy legs and bare feet.
‘Come,’ the boy said, smiling up at him ‘you are wet and hungry. All the coffee shops in Aqouim are closed. I work in one and was on my way to my patron’s house when I found you. Come, we will go back to Aqouim and I will prepare some meat and coffee for you - come.’
Doggedly, Radouan followed him up the road through heavy rain, arriving after a long walk at a food shop. The boy lit a fire, had Radouan strip down to his shorts, hung his clothes to dry and toweled him down. Then, finding an old mattress for him to lie on, he excused himself and, leaving Radouan alone with his thoughts in front of the fire, went to prepare some food in the kitchen below.
Staring at the fire Radouan drifted into the past and saw himself as the boy who had just saved him - remembered sitting in Jamaa el-Fna, the big Square in Marrakech, in front of the cooking fires waiting for food after hard nights selling cigarettes in the cafes and souks around the square. So why hadn’t he told Delphine he wanted part of that five million? She’d even offered him some! With ten percent he could have done all the necessary repairs on Prospero’s riad. What did it mean? Was it his pride? Yes and that he loses control when he’s around her, that he’s in love with her, yes, and now he’s afraid of her! Why? Because he showed her that he enjoyed obeying her and now he could never control her... allowed her into his private world where maybe she could even have stolen his Baraka - then leave him as he had left so many others!’
The angel returned with coffee, brochettes of beef and some bread, squatted on his haunches inside his white woolen blanket, and watched Radouan eat. The storm had passed and a crescent moon shone in through a window. The boy gazed at him in a strange unsettling way.
‘You want to leave this place and come with me, don't you?’ Radouan said.
‘Yes,’ replied the boy, ‘how did you know?’
‘I was a boy once myself, not so long ago. How old are you?’
‘And what is your name?’
‘And why do you want to run away?’
‘My father died of heart failure last year and left us very poor. So my mother married a retired army man who owns this shop and I must work for him. But he mistreats me, knocks me around, and wants to rape me all the time.’
‘And how do we get out of here now that my car has gone down the gorge... tell me?’
‘We must leave very soon and we must walk.’ Ali said eagerly, ‘My stepfather will wonder what has happened to me and will come looking.’
‘And which way will we walk?’
‘Up the mountain and down the other side toward Marrakech, of course.’
‘Your stepfather, does he have a car? Won’t he drive up the mountain lookin’ for you?’
‘He has a motor bike. He will come up the road looking but most likely he will think I took cover during the storm and am asleep in my friend’s house.’
‘Then we’d better leave right now,’ Radouan said as finished his food quickly, got up and stretched and put on his clothes. ‘Is there anything you want to take with you?’
‘I have some clothes downstairs and I will take this blanket.’
‘Have you an identity card?’
‘No, I’m not eighteen. But I have a certificate of birth.’
‘Good, then hurry, let’s go!’
Out on the road, the air had turned cool and they walked briskly in the half moon light, turning around every so often to see whether Ali’s stepfather was coming. About a mile above the shop Ali took Radouan’s arm and pointed. ‘Look there he is on his motor bike. He’s come to the shop to check up, now let’s see what he’ll do.’
They watched as the bike remained in front of the shop for a few minutes, then moved slowly back toward the highway and went down the mountain again.
‘Well that’s that,’ Radouan said, ‘now what?’
Ali hung on to Radouan; ‘Let’s keep on walking if you don't mind... the farther away from him I get, the better I will feel.’
‘Why have you never done this before - walking away?’
‘Because I never had money; he would never give me any money.’
‘And now you have money?’
‘No, but I have you and I am sure you will give me some because I just saved your life.’
‘You’re right,’ Radouan grinned, ‘I will, but where will you be headed for?’
‘Casablanca, of course; in Casa I can make money easily, I know it. I would like to stay in Marrakech but my stepfather would surely find me there and make me return to his shop.’
Just then they saw a pair of lights below and soon heard the roar of a truck grinding up the grade.
‘Here comes our ride,’ Ali cried hopefully, ‘we must hurry up to a flat stretch where he can stop.’
A few minutes later the truck stopped, the driver leaned out and shouted that if they needed a lift they should jump in the back; which they soon discovered, was filled with red onions for the morning market in Marrakech.
‘If we ride back here our clothes will smell awful, don't you have room up there?’ Radouan yelled.
‘You think you’re some kind of Pasha?’ the driver yelled back, ‘I don't let people ride up here with me, take it or leave it.’
‘We’ll take it,’ yelled Ali, and to Radouan whispered, ‘don't worry I will spread out my blanket and we can lie on that. When we get to Marrakech I will wash it, come on let's go.’
They climbed aboard. The driver revved up the engine and started up the road again. Ali spread his blanket over the onions and they lay down. Soon he had managed to snuggle up against Radouan. ‘Really, I think I would like to stay with you,’ he said, ‘where are you going? You look like you might need a good boy like me to take care of you... cook for you... run errands... are you married?’
‘Not yet but I am engaged and very soon I will be married; I live in Marrakech but I have to stop at the bottom of the mountain where I have some business to take care of.’
‘Let me come with you then... in a few days I’ll be off to Casa to make my fortune,’ Ali smiled up at him.
‘I’m sure you will.’
‘Make your fortune... all you need is the will to do it, and you seem to have plenty of that. Before I go I’m gonna give you a thousand dirhams... which should be more than enough for you to live on ‘til you find something in Casa.’
‘Make it three,’ Ali replied, ‘after all I just saved your life.’
‘Three is too much,’ Radouan grinned, ‘what makes you think I carry that much money around with me?’
‘Because your bag, it’s very expensive.’
‘How would you know it’s expensive?’
‘My father, before he died he worked at the airport in Ouarzazate. Some times I would help him carry bags. I know what they look like, the expensive ones.’
‘You’re very smart. I’m sure you’ll be a rich man some day, maybe by the time you grow up I will be a beggar and you will come along and give me some money.’
Impulsively Ali threw his arms around Radouan and kissed him. ‘Believe me, I would,’ he said.
Radouan reached in his pocket, brought out a wad of bills, and counted out two thousand dirhams.
‘You have more there, give me my three thousand dirhams.’ Ali grinned. ‘I will need them.’
‘You won’t need them,’ Radouan laughed, ‘a boy with your looks can make money anywhere. You know it!’
‘One thousand more, please,’ Ali pleaded, holding out his hand, ‘you promised.’
‘I didn’t promise. You asked but I didn’t promise. If I gave you another thousand what would you do for it?’
‘Any thing you want. With you, I would do it without money, but I need the money.’
‘I don't want you to do THAT,’ Radouan laughed and reached in his pocket again. ‘Here. Here is one thousand more. I don't need you to do anything. I have a boy who takes care of me and I’m gettin’ out at the bottom of the mountain.’
By the time they reached the top of the pass Ali was fast asleep in his arms. The feel of the boy against his chest dispelled his feelings of loneliness. He thought of Delphine again, wondered what she was doing at that moment, and wished he could call her but his cell phone had gone over the cliff with the car. As they began their descent, the rising sun illuminated the plain below and in the distance, Marrakech. At the foot of the mountain the road straightened out and the driver sped up. A few kilometers further on Radouan tapped on the window and requested him to stop. Then he woke Ali, told him to hide the money he had given him and buy a money belt as soon as he reached Marrakech. After that he gave him a long tender kiss and jumped out of the truck with his bag.
‘If you ever need me you will probably find me mornings sitting in one of the cafes in Gueliz.’
‘Which one?’ yelled Ali as the truck pulled away?
‘Any one...jus' look around.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006