The Muezzins were chanting the dawn call to prayer. Radouan walked briskly through the deserted souks of the Medina to the Place Jamaa el Fna where a few stragglers were still eating at the food stalls, had a large glass of orange juice, cruised past an empty Cafe de Paris, and made his way through Derb Darbachi. On nights like these when the wind died and the heat from the buildings radiated out into the still night air, he longed to leave Marrakech. Every corner, every doorway evoked ghosts of the past: fights and assignations, lost loves, broken dreams and precious moments gone forever. The urge to run and not look back was strong... it would be so easy just to leave. Or would it? At thirty-six, maybe it was already too late for him. He felt his mother’s love, her jealousy, closing in on him. Yes, maybe the proverbs were right, women, even mothers, were to be regarded with caution.
Arriving at a small tiled doorway, he ducked into the changing room of a hamam owned by Ibrahim, a friend of his father's youngest brother, J.W. to his friends, short for John Wayne for the battered cowboy hat he always wore which some rock star had given him years ago.
Stripping down to his shorts Radouan made his way into the hottest of three vaulted chambers where he found J. W. massaging the back of an old man. They spoke in English.
‘Thought I would find you here,’ Radouan said
‘I was expectin’ you... always come on hot nights like this...’
‘When I can’t sleep...’
‘When you come here where it’s really hot, then you go out outside you feel cool, you are able to sleep.’
J.W: forty-five, athletic build, clean-shaven, almost handsome except for a lantern jaw and a strangely vacant expression in his eyes. J.W. was nine years older than Radouan and from the same tribe. In forty-five years he had only left the Marrakech Medina three times: once to the mountains, once to the seaside and once to the Sahara where he was so overcome with spatial aphasia that when he returned to the Medina he never left again. As a teenager in the late 60’s he lived through the Hippie scene in Marrakech smoking hashish and kif with the likes of Ginsberg and Burroughs... later with Jimi Hendrix and Jagger. At his family’s riad near Sidi Bel-abbes he had the largest collection of recorded music in Morocco. There were tapes and CD’s of famous Arab singers like Farid El Atrach, Umm Kalthoum, Abdel Halim Hafiz, Ismahane, Mohamed Abdelwahab; rare recordings of the Lute master Haj Juniis; recordings of European operas like Turandot, and Der Rosenkavalier. All the French Chanteuses from Yvette Gilbert to Edith Piaf were represented. There were 78 and 33rpm’s of early American Blues and Jazz from Ma Rainey to Billie Holiday and Dylan; the crooners from Russ Colombo and Bing Crosby to Frank Sinatra and Elvis, and a vast collection of Rock and American Country Western music. In the hamam day after day, year after year, J.W. had seen and heard everything, become wise, and was often consulted by younger men like Radouan.
‘What’s wrong?’ J. W. said dousing Radouan with hot water. ‘You look pissed off.’
Radouan’s eyes narrowed and lip curled up over his front teeth. ‘It’s my mother... she’s pressurizin’ me again... this time she’s actually picked out the girl. I’m supposed to meet her day after tomorrow. Fouzia says she’s fat!’
‘Well you don't have to accept her... that’s up to you, isn’t it? What about your English woman?’
‘You mean the German one?’
‘No, the English one, Lady whatever her name is... Toni. What about her?’
‘What about her?’
‘Aren’t you going to marry her? She just divorced her husband Rupert, no?’
“How do you know all this?’ Radouan began scrubbing himself with a loofa. ‘Her husband Rupert is my friend. He owns the team I play with. She’s arrivin’ tomorrow night.’
J. W. rolled his eyes, ‘Radio Medina of course’
‘Marriage with Toni?’ Radouan shrugged. ‘My family would never approve or even recognize it... I must marry someone my mother approves of.’
‘She’s jealous of you and will never approve of anyone.’ J.W. whispered. ‘That’s why I’ve never married, ‘But why do you have to get married... look at me I’m alive and well. Take my advice, remain single and count yourself lucky. A Moroccan woman if you marry her and give her your eyes, she will say you are blind and want a divorce! Tha's how it is... you know it!’
‘Then if I marry Toni, I must also marry this girl my mother has chosen.’
‘You’re afraid of your mother?’ J.W. drenched Radouan with hot water.
‘Probably; once we were too close, you know that. She looks weak but she isn’t... I can’t say no to her. She can make things happen to you if you cross her. If she found out about Toni she might try to do something against her,’
‘But you have to marry Toni, she left her husband for you. It was mentioned recently in one of those French magazines. Maybe your mother knows and that’s why she is pressurizin’ you.’
‘Never thought of that.’
‘And if you marry your Toni and then marry this girl, what will Toni say?’
Radouan looked surprised. ‘Does she have to know? Do either of them have to know?’
‘Maybe not, many of our customers have wives in different places who do not know each other.’
‘You want to hear the real problem?’
‘I will tell you the real problem. Toni is fifteen years older than I am and this girl Hafida is twenty-one years younger. I guess I want someone my own age.’
J.W. grinned. ‘Believe me; a girl of fifteen will drive you wild with pleasure. On the other hand the Prophet’s first wife was older than he was and a widow too. Take my advice... marry your Toni first, then Hafida. A woman your own age will come along - and give you more trouble too.’
‘Toni, I like her a lot,’ Radouan replied, ‘we have great times together, great sex, but I’m not physically jealous of her so how can I really be in love? And I’m not sure I’ll be jealous of Hafida either.’
‘You want someone to be jealous over?’ J.W. was incredulous
‘OF COURSE WHAT DO YOU THINK? My problem is I’ve never been jealous of anyone... over love.’
J.W. sighed. ‘Then you’re lucky. It takes too much energy to be jealous... It’s better not to be jealous and be free.’
‘Then you will never really know love, Radouan smiled sadly, ‘Laysa man samiaa ka man aacha - He who has only heard (or read) will never be like one who has experienced.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006