On the walk back to the prison office Toni had invited Le Chef for a drink later that evening to settle accounts. When she had gone he had pondered the meaning of her unprecedented invitation, become excited and dreamt of having a chance with her. As she had married Radouan, he reasoned, it meant she liked Moroccan men and understood how to please them, no? That afternoon he left work early and went to a nearby hamam where he had himself scrubbed and bathed, oiled and massaged, doused with expensive French cologne and donning a smart new powder grey uniform, by seven thirty he was knocking at her door.
A young maid in a white cap and pink apron ushered him into a huge salon with European furniture and strange paintings in expensive golden frames. Soon the English woman entered wearing a sheer white jallaba that clung to her body. He admired her zouk and after she made a drink for him they sat facing each other across a large glass coffee table stacked with provocative looking magazines. Speaking very good French she asked him how much she owed him and he replied that five hundred dirhams (fifty dollars) a minute was the usual rate. As she was there with Radouan for forty-five minutes it worked out to twenty two thousand dirhams - enough to buy his nagging wife a few extra caftans, he reflected.
Expecting her to bargain, he had planned subtly to indicate during the negotiation, that if they could become friends, the price might be much less... certainly she would be able to tell by the cologne he was wearing that he was open to suggestions. Instead she got up and left the room, returning a few minutes later with the money and as he counted it out he realized he could have asked for much more; and thought jealously of Radouan and how much he must have swindled out of her.
When she then asked him if he could arrange to have Radouan moved to the Psychiatric Hospital, however, and that there was a doctor who would certify he was psychotic; although Le Chef was not quite sure what a psychotic meant, he realized she had given him a new opening. Why? -Because she was attracted to him, of course. They stared at each other across the coffee table and it occurred to him that although he might be ten years older than Radouan he was just as good looking and certainly more experienced. She shifted the conversation to Arabic and he was impressed. They discussed the weather and the various notables received by King Hassan II during the past week. It was important for him to find out if she knew the King personally - which could be a big problem for him!
‘You know,’ she said, ‘I don’t even know your name.' Toni said brightly. They call you Le Chef but that’s not a name, is it?’
‘My name is Larbi; I’m a chauffeur, a driver for my superiors.’
‘May I call you Monsieur Larbi then?’ Toni smiled. ‘Le Chef sounds like you work in a restaurant.’
Running his large bronze hands through his curly steel grey hair, he smiled back at her knowingly. ‘Of course, call me Larbi, now that we are friends,’ and waited for her response, which did not come.
Instead, she gazed at him for a moment and then said: ‘So I guess we’d better get down to business. How much would this move cost?’
‘Because Radouan is accused of murder, such a move could cost about two hundred thousand dirhams,’ he replied, ‘I will have to take care of a number of other guys.’
Toni remarked that his services seemed very expensive. He replied that he was a professional and very good at what he did and also was a married man with children to care for.
Feeling constrained by the table between them, he wanted to reach out and smash it. Instead, he let his hands drop to his thighs, rubbed his knees vigorously and gazed at her. She sipped her drink leisurely, lit a cigarette and seemed to be waiting for him to make the next move. Just then, as he was about to get up with the idea of walking out on her terrace and admiring the view, they were interrupted by her maid who announced that two foreigners had arrived in the lift and refused to leave.
Toni excused herself and found Francesco Monte standing in the foyer with a strikingly beautiful young woman whom she assumed must be Delphine.
‘Francesco darling,’ she shouted gaily, ‘how amazing to see you, it’s been ages, you’re looking marvelous... and this must be Delphine. Do come in.’ then she lowered her voice conspiratorially, ‘I have a policeman here collecting money for services rendered. It’s good you came along just now I think he was about to make a move on me.’
Delphine was surprised Toni knew her name... what else did she know? ‘I’m Radouan’s French wife,’ she whispered in French.
‘Of course you are, darling,’ Toni smiled. ‘He’s said some awfully nice things about you, I’m sure we’re going to be great friends... come.’
As they moved into the grand salon Delphine was jolted by the leaden eyes of Monsieur Le Chef as they fastened on her.
‘Monsieur Larbi, may I present Monsieur Francesco Monte and Madame Delphine Benne?’ Delphine extended her hand for him to kiss and received a gentle nibble, which did not go unnoticed by Toni. ‘What will you drink,’ she asked, ‘I believe we have everything from carrot juice to champagne.’
‘Oh, carrot juice,’ Delphine replied
Glancing at her new guests and realizing he must postpone his plans, Larbi excused himself and Toni saw him to the lift where they had more conversation about getting Radouan transferred and she allowed him to kiss her hand. When she returned, she found Delphine pacing up and down in front of the doors overlooking the terrace. Something about the way this young beauty moved told her Radouan had been right; Delphine was going to make a big splash.
‘And I’ll have champagne,’ said Francesco, ‘but only if you will join me.’
Toni poured out two glasses and toasted him. ‘To your new film, Francesco darling... I’m sure with Delphine it will be a fantastic success! Come, it’s stifling in here, lets move out to the terrace and get some air.’
On the terrace they made themselves comfortable and Francesco told Toni they’d been to see Radouan.
‘And you had to deal with that animal I suppose,’ Toni said, referring to Larbi, ‘I hope he didn’t charge you as much as he did me.’
‘It was expensive, but worth it,’ Francesco replied, ‘Radouan looked fine.’
They sipped their drinks and admired the view. ‘I’ve come here because I think we must have a talk,’ Delphine said at last.
‘Whatever about?’ Toni drawled.
‘Alors,’ Delphine shrugged helplessly, ‘About HIM of course... our husband Radouan, and our relationship... yours and mine.’
‘What about it?’
‘Donc... you married him first. You must think of yourself as his first wife... no?’
Toni shrugged her shoulders, ‘Well, I suppose so... hadn’t really thought about it... unless he’s had other wives I don’t know about.’
‘And I married him after that so I am the second...yes?’
‘I suppose one could say that...’
‘Well, that’s the problem...’ Delphine said matter of factly.
Toni’s eyebrows arched. ‘Really, I don’t quite...’
‘If Radouan hadn’t got me into this film business,’ Delphine went on, ‘it wouldn’t be important to me, but now... well you can imagine what they will say...’
‘The problem is I must not be thought of as second... his second wife. Imagine what they would call me: the number two girl, I’m sure! Can a STAR ever be number two? Never! I must always be referred to as wife number one...’
Toni looked slyly at Francesco, ‘Oh I see... and if I object?’
Delphine smiled mysteriously, ‘Then I suppose I might have to divorce him... but really I don’t want too because I suppose I really love him. It’s all so impossible! I’m sorry I can’t help myself... I need him and I really HATE him too... can you believe that? As I was a psychology student at University I should have known better...’
‘I know what you mean...’
Delphine waved her hand. ‘Not because he’s married to you,’ she sniffed tearfully, ‘that’s not what really bothers me, it’s his attitude... such hypocrisy... doesn’t know the meaning of sincerity.’ Her eyes narrowed, ‘not because he loves you or me or someone else, no, because he loves only himself... that’s why he’s incapable of returning love because he’s only interested in people loving HIM!’ She sipped her carrot juice thoughtfully and said almost to herself: ‘He’s such a wonderful lover I thought it would be different, but... If I’m honest I have to admit that even in bed he’s not really with me... only with himself and whoever he may be thinking of at the moment!’ She burst into tears. ‘If you’re lucky maybe it’s you.’ she sobbed, ‘really he must break out of this shell he lives in and understand there are other people out here. I’m sorry to become so emotional,’ she sniffed, ‘but I have to say these things to someone, another woman I suppose, or I’m going to go crazy... I’m so sorry...’
Toni lit a cigarette and gazed at her thoughtfully. ‘Why not.’ she sighed,’ believe me my dear I’m flattered. For one so beautiful, and you are very beautiful, to be so observant is very rare. Thank you for being so open, but tell me, why are you not like Radouan?’
‘Like Radouan?’ Delphine sniffed through her tears, ‘I don’t understand...’
‘Narcissist... You... you are also very beautiful, very zween.’
‘Oh that... I see what you mean.’ Delphine smiled thoughtfully, ‘Ah well, sometimes things happen to people early in their lives, some shock. They feel isolated and become introvert and if they are also beautiful they fall in love with themselves because they see other people are attracted to them... something like that, I suppose. I come from a provincial family, poor but intellectual... we have a long history of... my father was a schoolmaster and his father and so on. We were a very close family; we read books together... were very loving, very affectionate so I never felt isolated until my father died... perhaps I am narcissist, but not like Radouan.’
Toni nodded. ‘You’re so right... he’s incredibly self absorbed. When you have his attention, it’s like the sun is shining on you, like you’re the only person in the world. Then he leaves... leaves and forgets you, and you feel very cold, and he hasn’t a clue what he’s done to make you feel so miserable. I’ve known him now for over twenty years... loved him and grown up with him. You’re right to speak of shock. If you knew what he’s lived through perhaps you would understand. His father is mad, certifiably so, and drives everyone around him mad; claims to be descended from Sufis, but who knows; a very tough man though, beautiful specimen until he got sick. Everyone in the Medina adored him... and was frightened of him. From the age of six Radouan spent his childhood on his father’s knee in the taverns of Marrakech, terrified because his father really enjoyed pushing people around and beating them up... he beat his wife, he beat Radouan and his brothers and sisters constantly. Radouan’s mother was a beautiful fifteen year old girl from the country, steeped in maji but very innocent of the world. Eight children and two miscarriages later she’s a wreck poor thing. Radouan is the eldest son, sensitive and brilliant, but he’s borne the burden of his mothers passion for him and the brunt of his father’s depravity; his drinking, his tantrums and jealousies has left our husband wounded and traumatized, until... really sometimes he becomes almost autistic... you know autistique?’
‘Yes, of course...’
‘Well, I’ve tried to help him steady himself and control his temper over the years and perhaps I’ve succeeded up to a point, but really he should see a specialist. Of course, he won’t hear of it; refuses to take any medication even vitamin supplements. No… he’d rather eat brochette of camel or horse by the roadside than spend a few dirhams on something that might help him. If he weren’t so attractive and physically strong, no doubt by now he’d be institutionalized or roaming the streets begging. One of his classmates at University here with a further degree from The University of Paris is doing just that; begging on the streets of Marrakech as we speak, can you imagine?’
Francesco touched his forehead and said: ‘He has too much energy….’
‘That’s why some medication might be good for him,’ Toni said.
Delphine smiled grimly, ‘I’ve known so many people who’ve taken these things. The problem is they begin to feel like vegetables so they stop taking them because to be normal seems so stupid. They enjoy their craziness; the excitement, the drama. Really psychotics enjoy imposing their madness on everyone around them...’
Toni took Delphine’s hands in hers. ‘I’m so glad you understand these things, darling, perhaps together we can help him. Really, though, I think you should hold off divorcing him, you might regret it... and I... I’m perfectly willing to share him with you, as I’m sure I have with many other women for years. But if you want to be known as wife number one you should think about it because when there are two wives it generally means the man got tired of number one and took another...’
‘Ah, these French women,’ Francesco sighed, ‘this iss exactly what I have been trying to tell her.’
Delphine laughed self consciously, ‘I guess I wasn’t listening... I... perhaps it was just an excuse to get here... I was so broken up.... desole!’
‘Well it really doesn’t matter,’ Toni said, ‘you’re here and it’s wonderful to meet you... call yourself number one, number two or three... you mustn’t think of it that way.’
‘You don’t know about number three then,’ Toni laughed mischievously.
‘No, of course not!’
‘Oh dear, perhaps I should have kept quiet,’ she glanced at Francesco and rolled her eyes. ‘It hasn’t happened yet, but he’s engaged... that’s the important part... the two families have agreed to the terms in writing so it will happen... a girl his mother has picked out and of course he must obey his mother. Among Arab men mothers are terribly important because mothers know their sons and what kind of woman will suit them. The girl is very young... fourteen or fifteen, I understand. Of course she knows nothing of us.’
‘Fourteen or fifteen!’ Delphine moaned.
‘And rather plump, I believe, Toni added, ‘I think Radouan finds her somewhat embarrassing, but she comes from an old, currently impoverished family within his tribe and his mother is absolutely determined...’
‘He told Francesco the wife who has the first male child will be number one,’ Delphine exclaimed, ‘I heard him say it...’
‘Ah yes,’ Toni said, her voice tinged with irony, ‘I’m sure this one will have many children. Not long ago Radouan’s tribe were victims of genocide organized by the wazzier of the sultan Abdul Aziz... less than a hundred years ago. Since then they have regained their numbers, thanks to women like Radouan’s mother who turned themselves into breeding machines.’
Delphine stared at Francesco: ‘You must promise me the press will never hear of this.’
‘Of what?’ Francesco asked
‘That I’m married to him, of course.’
Francisco shook his head. ‘You must stop worrying... as far as the press is concerned you will remain forever available... at least until the proper moment!’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006