Outside on the street, Radouan climbed into his car and headed for his father’s house in Bab Dukala.  Just inside the big gate, however, he accelerated on a short cut to the parking lot near the Prefecture on riad Zitoun Jdid and proceeded on foot to the house of the dead poet. Chaiir al Hamra.

          In the courtyard, the gnarled old lemon tree cast eerie shadows on the floor tiles. Standing there mopping his forehead, he unbuttoned his shirt and breathed deeply, his muscles relaxed and the waves of bitterness subsided. Emerging from the shadows, the cat sidled up to him, purring loudly, followed by the smiling eyes of Mohktar who embraced him warmly, helped him out of his clothes, produced a small stool and buckets of water and began to scrub him. 

          Mokhtar, ‘The Chosen One’; orphaned when his family was swept away in a flash flood near their mountain village a few years back. Radouan had brought him to this old house, which he’d secretly purchased a few months back and locked him up here, bringing him groceries and supplies until he was fit enough to handle himself.

           When he was finished, Mokhtar doused Radouan with buckets of cool water, dried him with a towel and brought a fresh pair of shorts. Radouan turned off his cell phone; they spread out a carpet under the lemon tree and made love. Afterwards, gazing up at the moon while Mohktar slept in his arms, Radouan thought about jealousy, and asked himself why he was keeping Mokhtar locked up. Could it mean he was jealous of him, could it mean he was in love?  Impossible because he was not a Louat!  It was for the orphan’s own protection he was keeping Mohktar under lock and key.

          The following morning when Mokhtar brought him coffee and some barley bread, he sat down and told Radouan he would like to go out and make money.

          ‘Pas encore,’ Radouan said tenderly.

           Mokhtar pouted.

          ‘Makin’ some money means sellin’ your self to the highest bidder,” Radouan continued. “I know... and you are right, believe me, you could make a fortune.  But I won’t allow it.  You’re too young and it’s too dangerous out there for a country boy like you... in a few years you would be dead… Trus' me, I will see what I can do for you. I have a friend, a kind old lady who lives in a Ksar off the route d’Ouarzazate… known her since I was your age.  She might let you work there and be sure the other servants didn’t trouble you.  I will speak to her.  You could also be my eyes and ears out there.  She is old and sick... no tellin’ what tricks people may be playin’ on her when I’m not around...There is an old servant out there, A’hmed who swindles her daily, and there is a new one Zouheir who needs watching.  I try to protect her but I’m a busy guy. You could help me by watchin’ and listenin’. Think about it and I will speak to her...’

          ‘Wakha Sidi,’ Mokhtar nodded dutifully.

          ‘Do not worry… be patient... you have your life before you... I want it to be a good life!  Be happy for now that you have food in your stomach... jus’ look how much weight you’ve gained... and nice music... and someone like me to look after you.’

            Mokhtar kissed Radouan’s hands impulsively ‘I will wait...’ he whispered, ‘you saved my life... you are my mother, my father, and my friend... I will always love you.’

          The boy’s declaration unnerved him. They embraced. The boy kissed him hungrily and Radouan wished he could skip lunch with Toni.

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©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006