After the bath, strong coffee was served; J.W. had everyone leave their clothes in lockers and supervised the distribution of new undergarments, fine jallabas from Bzu and new babouches. Then leading the way, Radouan and Pero escorted them to a series of tents pitched in a field adjoining the family compound.
In one tent, a bar for the men had been set up. Facing each other across an open space reserved for dancing and entertainment, two larger tents were set for dining: one for men and one for women; lavishly appointed with low carved tables and silken cushions piled high. In a fourth tent, the Tente de Cuisine, a small army of cooks was preparing the wedding feast, while nearby, from several dome-shaped clay ovens, built for the occasion, the pungent scent of roasting camel meat floated out on the evening breeze.
Beyond the tents, the pastureland had been transformed into a Bedouin camp populated by an entire tribe of Bedoui, their wives, their children and their animals, flown in for the occasion from the Sahara. Mounted on their camels and horses, a chorus of these tribesmen sang rousing drinking songs, accompanied by flutes, tam tams and drums; punctuated by sudden volleys shot from antique guns and the high spirited ululations of their women folk.
Radouan’s grandmother had been distributing beautiful new kaftans, scarves and velvet shoes from Fez among the women and accompanied them to their dining tent. Toni and Delphine were seated at a table facing the dancing ground.
One of the mounted Bedoui galloped up to them with his group, fastened his eyes on Delphine, loosened his belt buckle, undid his trousers, patted his groin and burst into song.
Delphine stared at him in disbelief. ‘What does he think he’s doing?’ she cried. ‘Can you follow the words?’
Several Moroccan women paired off and began dancing with each other in front of the tribesmen.
‘He’s saying, now he’s going to sing of the woman who lives inside him...’
‘What?’ Delphine was wide eyed.
‘Of the woman inside him,’ shouted Toni, trying to listen. ‘It’s very complicated, difficult to follow his dialect; he’s going so fast… He’s looking right at you... I think he would like to... really, it’s too confusing for me to translate... amazing isn’t he?’
‘Who is this woman who lives inside him?’ Delphine laughed as she stared back at him.
‘I don’t know... maybe some Goddess or a djinn, I can’t understand him...everything’s so...’
From a raised platform at one end of the field came the strains of the Haouz band ASARI and it was rumored that the great Iraqi singer Kdim might join them after supper in serenading the bridal couple.
Between the house and the tents facing the dancing ground, a pavilion had been erected. Illuminated by golden lanterns and torches held by young boys and girls, its cupola and sides were canopied in scarlet and green silk, embroidered with gold thread fastened with fresh pink rose buds. Inside, a low heart shaped throne upholstered in dark imperial purple from Tunis awaited the arrival of Radouan and Hafida.
Attended by her mother, her grandmothers and many sisters and cousins, the bride was still closeted somewhere inside the house, an ancient fort-like structure with a tower where, if all went well, she and Radouan would spend their wedding night. The moment of truth had arrived for Hafida, and she was paralyzed with fear. Afraid of not looking pretty enough to be marrying the handsome Radouan, now a rich man; afraid, too, of the assault on her body that was about to take place; fear of Radouan’s prodigious strength and well-known short temper. Even her bath in the candle lit Beit Laaraysat, the anointing of her body with rare oils and perfumes, the dressing of her hair and the layers of expensive silks and satins that now covered her - all this was meant to calm her down and reassure her, but it was having the opposite effect of giving her a chill.
From another part of the house, la voix dechirante of the great Umm Kalthoum echoed eerily through the rooms and corridors.
"Why did I go? Why I went?
The sidelong glances from his eyes they burnt me.
When I complained he didn’t even listen to me - to what was
happening to me.
That’s him, my Doctor and my Disease.
Oh, I called from far away and told him my problem and he said it
was not his business.
Oh, see how many times I’ve bent down to him... asked him to
claim my soul... Ah, ah, ah…..
And be sure that one day he must come back and ask for me.”
Finally, as in a trance, her face a mask of makeup and sequined veils, Hafida was led out of the house and carried aloft on an open bronze dish, like a meal on a large platter, by a group of dancing women and young married couples. And there was Radouan waiting for her, Radouan in formal evening dress enthroned like a prince in a beautifully decorated pavilion. Rose petals fluttered down upon her, cameras followed her, flash bulbs popped. So many foreign guests staring unnerved her. The loud voices of the men getting drunk scared her. Was Radouan drunk too? She didn’t think so, she hoped not. He stood up, smiled tenderly as though she were a child and helped her down from her perch on to the dais. Was his smile real or fake she wondered and hoped desperately it was real, but… They sat down. The tension was killing her. Her dress and underwear were too tight. Although she longed to turn and gaze at him, him whom she hadn’t seen since their first meeting, it was not allowed and so she stared dutifully straight ahead, frozen in space and time. So traumatized was she that a great battle could have been raging before her very eyes and she never would have seen it. Guests filed by nodding, murmuring salutations and depositing presents at their feet. The intoxicating music of ASARI, reverberating through the moonlit night made her wish she could get up and dance and whirl about like a dervish. But, of course, that too was out of the question. It was a very serious moment and she must conserve her energy for the long night ahead.
Signaling the feast would soon commence, the pace of the music quickened and ended in a crescendo of yells, whoops, joyous ululations and fusillades from the mounted tribesmen. The women poured into the tent where Toni and Delphine were already seated. And filing out of the tent for drinking, the men sat down on the carpeted earth of their own eating tent around tables set for eight.
Rupert looked around nervously for something to eat with. ‘You must be prepared to eat quickly,’ Prospero warned mischievously
Across the table Nick sighed, ‘Difficult as it may be for you, old chap, I’m afraid you’ll have to resign yourself to using your fingers, there’s no other way.’
By now quite drunk, Rupert stared vacantly at his hands.
Soon Radouan joined his father and several other men as steaming bowls of soup were passed around.
‘Just hold the bowl up to your lips and drink it,’ Prospero whispered encouragingly, ‘makayn mouchkil.’
Great platters of fruit de mer arrived in a bouillabaisse-like stew with loaves of hot bread, followed by pastillas of roast pheasant, quail and doves, filet of beef with Yorkshire pudding, whole lamb stuffed with couscous and sultanas and an Osso Buco of several young camels sacrificed for the occasion. Each course was devoured with such gusto that very quickly only a stack of broken bones remained.
Rupert fell behind and finally gave up. ‘We are all one; I suppose that’s the message, isn’t it?’
‘Community... yes,’ Pero laughed.
‘And if you don’t have a strong immune system you die,’ Nick observed.
‘You must have a strong one,’ Rupert stuttered, ‘I mean immune system... understand you’ve been living here for quite some time.’
‘I went mad here,’ Nick replied stoically ‘... kept prisoner by my students for seven years, alone in an old riad. They were trying to protect me. I saw no one so I don’t think my immune system has really been tested...’ He laughed expansively. ‘Now all this sudden socializing may do me in... It was my fault... I wanted to end it all and took some poison. They brought a woman in who saved me but my brain has never been quite the same.’
Rupert scrutinized Nick. ‘And may I ask just what poison you took?
‘Ch’dak J’mel... Datura...’
‘Datura! Ah yes, we grow it at home... salmon pink variety... fantastic scent... but is it really poisonous?’
‘Yes, very ... even the scent is poisonous... eight seeds will give you night vision; repeat it too often and you will go blind. Brewed in a tea, and given to the victim little by little over time it will... well you saw the result in the mad Youssef...’
Rupert thumped the table nervously with his big thumb. ‘And my gardener has it growing in pots all over the place! Could he be up to something I wonder… hmm... must remember to speak with him. Or perhaps I won’t... just watch him more closely and see what he’s up to.’
The feast ended with mountains of sweets, cakes and tarts accompanied by strong coffee and a tea of penny royal, wild geranium, and oregano to settle the stomach. Radouan and Hafida returned to their throne. Men and women now circulated and the dancing began again: married couples young and old, women with women in twos and threes, men with each other hand in hand, mothers with young daughters, uncles with nephews, brothers with sisters and anybody else who could dance. ‘RAKAS TA YAKBIR, OU MA YANSA H’ZAT LAKTAF !’ Radouan shouted from his throne and slapped his thighs in time with the music, ‘The dancer got older but can still raise his shoulder... Whaha. Whaha. Ayeee...’ As wine flowed and midnight approached, the dancing grew wilder and, overwhelmed by a passionate eagerness and the fervor of al kamar, inhibitions began to dissolve.
Hafida’s attendants arrived, lifted her back on to the bronze platter and carried her away to the bridal chamber where she would be made ready for the night and kept amused while she waited for Radouan.
Shepherding infants and small children, grandmothers and widows were the first to slip away; then matrons and teenage daughters took their leave and young wives left their husbands. Finally, Radouan’s mother along with Hafida’s mother, Toni, Delphine and all the other invited women, vanished into the house.
Delphine was disappointed. ‘So that’s it?’ she gestured. ‘You mean we came all this way and don’t even get to...’
‘What did you think?’ Toni laughed ‘That you were going to watch them make love? Intermission, darling... we’re having a little break... entr’acte... we’ll be serenaded by young boys and hopefully there’ll be something for us to smoke and perhaps we’ll doze off for a few hours…’
‘A few hours! Then what?’ Delphine said wearily.
‘The bloody sheet, my dear, the bloody sheet.’
‘The bloody sheet, Hafida’s maiden head...'
‘Are we in Sicily or something?’ Delphine muttered sarcastically.
‘They say many Sicilian customs came from here, from Marrakech’ Toni whispered, 'Sicily was ruled from here for several hundred years… Now we must rest... let our minds wander with the music and think of the happy couple upstairs in the tower... or try to forget them! At some point, the two mothers will come and herd us out into the courtyard where the sheet will be displayed from a balcony and everyone will cheer... bit of subtle irony there for us, don’t you think? And then it’s back to the hamam with Hafida, and the men will go to their hamam with Radouan and after that there will be more champagne, a big breakfast, more dancing and a day of entertainment. I think Radouan has engaged a famous magician from Herat in Afghanistan... maybe he’ll saw someone in half... sometimes these things go on for days.’
Delphine raised her eyebrows and stared at Toni ‘And what if she’s not a virgin?’
‘Who?’ asked Toni.
‘Well... I wouldn’t worry,’ Toni smiled gleefully, ‘I’m sure they solved that problem long ago!’
Outside, as the Bedoui tribesmen joined the musicians from ASARI, many of the older men retired to the bar for some serious drinking while the younger men and teenage boys continued the dance.
In the shadow of one of the tents Francesco had taken Radouan aside and was propositioning him. They were both quite drunk. ‘I know you miss my tongue, mon ami,’ Francesco drawled, ‘miss it caressing your lips, your body, your zahp… Now before you go to her... we have an agreement, you swore a solemn oath... you must...’
With a murderous look, Radouan pushed Francesco away and growled, ‘You can’t have me, you fuck, we’re finished ... 'cause you broke the agreement, I know it... you fucked her, Delphine, and maybe you’re still fuckin’ her... You were countin’ on me goin’ down there in Boulmaraz, weren’t you?’
‘habibi, don’t... do not be so cruel... be tender...’
Radouan grinned and cracked his knuckles. ‘I’m rich now; I don’t have to be tender. Allah the Merciful has rained down His mani on me and you can’t espect me to come runnin’ anymore.’ His eyes glittered in the moonlight as he swayed from side to side. ‘I can buy and sell you now, habibi... Maybe you’ll never work again...’
‘You wouldn’t do that, amico... what about Delphine?’
‘What about her?’
‘She must fulfill her destiny... the realization of her talent, her dreams, her expectations... you said that yourself many times.’
‘You fuck, Delphine doesn’t need you any more... she’s gonna fulfil her destiny avec moi, not like some plastic movie queen... so screw you and your tongue and your slimy...’
Francesco sighed wearily. ‘I disgust you, I know, but there was a time... together we’ve shared many memorable moments... Now juss because you have some MONEY... REALLY, don’t be so boring... so arriviste... nothing more boring than a puritanical maquereau... Infidel! You have this guilt trip inside you, that goes against your pagan soul and fucks you up... you make me want to KILL MYSELF.’
‘Let me help you,’ Radouan purred. ‘I’ll do it for you... you swore you wouldn’t touch her... get away from me. Away! I swear…’
‘Now you are lying again you compulsive liar. I never swore anything; it was you who swore…’
‘No. No. I am Radouan.’ His eyes blazed. ‘You don’ unerstand... se faire compredore que... that I’m divine... a divine creature who cannot be fucked aroun’ with. Now go! GO! I don’ wanna see your face again!’
Francesco grinned wickedly and slurred his words ‘With a God one is always laughing or crying.’
Radouan smiled maniacally, pushed him aside, strode away through the crowd and began dancing with Hafida’s brothers. ‘You scolders of the grape,’ he trumpeted, entering their circle, ‘I will never win your smiles... Jus’ because I went against thee, it’s ill mannered to revile...
‘Ah, breathe no more the name of wine, and please stop blamin’ me... for I fear your foul tongues will tarnish its fair name… So come and pour it out, my boys, a vintage ten years old, inside my crystal goblet like a lake of liquid gold... an’ when the water mingles there I see a yoke of pearls close strung... a yoke of shinin’ pearls on pearls.”*
Pop up: ( from The Forbidden Verses of Abu Nuwas )
‘Z’waj lila, tadbirou aam!’ someone yelled, ‘Before you get married a night, think for a whole year.’
Sweating hard, Radouan stripped down to his shorts, called for more champagne and began to dance.
An old man outside the drinking tent shouted, ‘Hey there, accumulate as many sins as you can my lads, the Lord is ready to relax his wrath... And be sure that when the Day of Judgment comes, he will forgive you... Waha, before this Mighty King, FORGIVENESS! And brothers, then you will gnaw your fingers to the bone, regretting all the joys which you turned down through terror of Hell’s fires.’ Pop up: ( ibid Abu Nuwas)
The mounted Bedoui joined in repeating the verses, rhyming and punning on them; their drummers beating out the rhythm, their women ululating excitedly. Tam tams scintillated and flutes wailed as Radouan ripped off his shorts, stood naked in his pride, and took a long draught of champagne from a Jeroboam held to his lips by Prospero.
The older men streamed out of the drinking tent to watch; clapped their hands and cheered.
‘Ash briti a laaryan?’ What do you need, you poor naked man?’ Radouan’s father cried.
‘Khattem, a moulay, khattem! A ring, my princely father, a ring!’ Radouan roared.
The crowd exploded with laughter and catcalls. Two circles of young men formed around Radouan dancing in opposite directions. Then, suddenly he was lifted on their shoulders and carried through the house upstairs to the tower room where The Keeper, Hafida, awaited him.
Like Gilgamesh of old with his club, Radouan strode naked into the bridal chamber still clutching his Jeroboam of champagne and stood there swaying, bringing Hafida in and out of focus as her attendants scattered like rose petals before a storm.
Expecting to be rough with her, as was the custom, seeing this nervous child trembling there before him, the terror and desperation in her eyes; his heart melted and he recognized the presence of that inner one he had discovered in prison. In her diaphanous gown, Hafida stood there, a plump nymphet, with the same crooked smile that had first intrigued him.
He advanced toward her, his zahp rich with excitement.
She gazed at it fascinated, whimpered and retreated.
Finishing off the champagne in big gulps, he swaggered around the room after her, pretending he couldn’t catch her, playing cat and mouse and finally cornering her. Slowly he peeled away her coverings until she was standing there naked, staring at him, not lowering her eyes modestly as she should have, but shamelessly staring at him.
His upper lip curled up over his teeth ‘You’ve had someone before me,’ he growled softly, ‘one of your brothers or maybe an uncle, tell me how many men have you have had before me...’
She reached up and slapped his face.
He felt his cheek, looked at his hand and grinned at her. ‘By rights I should beat you for that,’ he said.
She whispered angrily that it was not true, that he would soon see it wasn’t true. Just because she was not shy did not mean she’d done it before.
He drew close and explored her tina with his forefinger, found her hymen intact and noted her large clitoris. ‘It’s this,’ he whispered, ‘you have enjoyed too much with this... maybe I should have it removed.’
‘No, no,’ she replied fearlessly, ‘... I want my pleasure too. How can I give you pleasure if I don’t know it myself?’
‘Your pleasure is to give me sons, as many as possible. That is your pleasure and to worship me... Look, my zahp, I’m going to teach you the many ways to worship it. From now on I am your teacher in love... look here... take hold of it.’
She gazed into his eyes not wanting to look at it or touch it.
He laughed indulgently. ‘Do not be so motaraddid, so prudish... take it... its hot... it will warm your hands... what comes from it, will soon make you a mother. Kneel down and pray to it, kiss it and thank God for it!’
Hafida obeyed awkwardly.
He was smitten by her childlike manner, her nervous surrender. ‘I like your zouk,’ he purred, ‘look how hard my zahp gets when I stroke it... that fat zouk, of yours,’ and slapped her ass gently. Then, holding out his arms he lifted her up and kissed her forehead.
‘It is a good thing to unite with a woman in love,’ he whispered as he carried her to the bed - ‘A VERY GOOD THING.’
©Elwyn Chamberlain 2006